Senate bill introduced to reauthorize multiple conservation programs

By Jamila Blake

©Eric Kilby

The Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act (HELP for Wildlife Act), S.1514, introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) at the end of June, is making its way through the Senate. The bill seeks to reauthorize several programs that contribute to conservation of wildlife. The bill also includes provisions to clarify language in other pieces of legislation to address concerns with baiting migratory birds, gray wolf (Canis lupus) management, and public target ranges.

Funding authorizations for several federal conservation programs have expired in recent years. While these programs have continued to receive annual federal appropriations from Congress, reauthorization will help to ensure funding for key conservation efforts continues. The HELP for Wildlife Act  would reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act (NFWF), the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA), and the Chesapeake Bay Program through 2022. The Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act would also be reauthorized through 2023.

Separate legislative attempts have been made to reauthorize these programs individually. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced legislation to reauthorize NMBCA (S.1537), — for which The Wildlife Society signed on to a letter of support — the Chesapeake Bay Program (S.1429), as well as NFWF (S.1513). A bill to reauthorize NAWCA (H.R.1099) was introduced by Rep. Robert Wittman (R-VA). Earlier this year, all six of the living former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service directors sent a joint letter to Congress expressing the importance of NAWCA.

The HELP for Wildlife Act garnered bipartisan support — co-sponsors include Sens. Ben Cardin, John Boozman (R-AR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Shelley Capito (R-WV), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) — in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing held on Jul. 19. In addition to program reauthorization, the bill would provide clarification for language within the Migratory Bird Treaty Act regarding baiting of migratory birds to alleviate ambiguity as to whether agricultural practices may be viewed as violating federal baiting laws when hunting. The bill would also amend the Pittman-Robertson Act to expand the ability of states to use funds to construct and expand public target ranges, and would establish the National Fish Habitat Board — composed of 25 members — to recommend partnerships for fish habitat conservation.

However, some Senators raised concerns over provisions that would reissue USFWS’ final rules to delist gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region and Wyoming and declare them ineligible for judicial review. An amendment to the Toxic Substance Control Act that would restrict the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating metallic lead in fishing tackle also raised some controversy.

During the markup hearing for the bill on Jul. 26, committee members took advantage of the opportunity to offer amendments to the proposed legislation. Three amendments added to the bill would authorize $15 million annually for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center (introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)); allow land grant universities the opportunity to utilize land they own to satisfy the in kind cost share requirement under the Pittman-Robertson Act (introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)); and permit importation of 41 sets of legally taken polar bear (Ursus maritimus) trophies into the U.S. from Canada (introduced by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK)). A fourth amendment was introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) to remove the gray wolf provisions from the bill, but it failed in a roll call vote (11-10). Carper voiced his opposition to the provisions, stating that legislatively delisting the species is not consistent with science-based management and allowance of judicial review is warranted.

The bill was approved with the three amendments by the committee and awaits a full Senate vote.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on Wolf Restoration and Management in the Contiguous United States.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on Lead in Ammunition and Fishing Tackle.

Jamila Blake is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Jamila's articles here.