Texas could gain millions in federal funding to help at-risk fish and wildlife

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas could receive more than $50 million annually to pay for initiatives that support at-risk fish and wildlife populations under a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress. 

Known as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), House Resolution 3742 would provide $1.3 billion every year to states and $97.5 million to tribes. The Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife says the funding wouldn’t require new taxes. It would be supported by existing federal revenues.  

Under the Endangered Species Act, which Congress passed in 1973, species can be listed as “threatened” or “endangered.” The law doesn’t allow a person to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect a listed animal without a permit. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the goal of The Endangered Species Act is to “recover” species so they no longer need protection under the law. 

Janice Bezanson, executive director of the alliance, calls RAWA “one of the most important pieces of legislation that’s come down in decades.” She says RAWA would help conservationists and different business industries work together to conserve species and avoid the expense of having them become endangered. It’s about being proactive, instead of reactive.

“[Natural ecosystems] fuels outdoor recreation, the hunting and fishing industries,” she added. “Natural ecosystems provide clean water, clean air and a place for people to get outdoors. The quality of life that is brought to us by wildlife and wildlife habitat in the state can’t be calculated. It’s enormous.”

The Lone Star State is home to hundreds of fish, butterflies and birds. There are around 5,000 species of native plants in the state as well. 

According to a report by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, conservation challenges in the state have led to more than 1,000 species being identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the Texas Conservation Action Plan. Challenges include invasive species, wildlife diseases, habitat loss and extreme weather.

“Populations are declining,” Bezanson said.

The Texas Conservation Action Plan aims to provide a statewide outline for research, restoration, management and recovery projects that can help with improving the status of these species. It strives to keep these species from getting listed under the Endangered Species Act. Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Texas include the San Marcos saddle-case caddisfly, the Texas horn shell and Texas wild rice. The Texas horned lizard, sea turtles and other birds are also in decline. 

Ridley’s Sea Turtle. (Courtesy: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

The report also highlights several different ways potential funding would be used to protect Texas’ habitats and species populations. How the department would achieve this goal is broken down into several named strategies: Protecting Environmental Flows, Prairie Streams Initiative, Restore Iconic Species, Engage People Through Wildlife Recreation and Connecting Children and Nature. It states that “through agency operations as well as partnerships with the conservation community, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department would invest approximately 70 percent of potential funding toward stewardship of Species of Greatest Conservation Need.” Around 10 percent of potential funding would support programs to increase access to the outdoors and more participation. Twenty percent would go towards educating, informing and engaging Texans about the Species of Greatest Conservation Need. 

“Conservation groups, land trusts, universities, researchers, state agencies and private landowners who have a species of concern on their land, any of these people could come to [the Parks and Wildlife Department] with a project and apply for some of the funds,” Bezanson said.

“That would be an absolute gamechanger for wildlife in Texas,” she added.”

Romey Swanson with Audubon Texas, a group that works on preserving birds and their habitats, says there are more than 600 species recognized for birds.

“Texas serves as an important corridor for migration,” he said. “They’re actually using the habitat here in Texas to produce babies, to survive winters during migration or they’re here year-round.”

Golden-Cheeked Warbler. (Courtesy: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

Since a majority of Texas’ land is privately owned, he says RAWA could help with funding the right programs to put tools in the hands of landowners.

“What we hope for is an opportunity to incentivize those landowners to provide them meaningful tools, to share our technical guidance, to provide meaningful research and to provide other meaningful incentives, whether it’s cost-share programs or to actually figure out ways to pay landowners for the good work that they’re already doing,” he said. “It would allow us as wildlife managers, as natural resource managers or as private landowners to intervene while populations might still be fairly common or while it’s cost-effective.”

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