Senate hearing examines biodiversity loss

By Laura Bies

A Senate hearing last week examined the historic loss of biodiversity and tools for addressing it.
Credit: BLM Oregon & Washington

During a hearing last week, U.S. lawmakers highlighted threats to wildlife and the loss of biodiversity as well as how to address these issues.

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee specifically explored how to handle biodiversity loss. Witnesses spoke to the threats to biodiversity, as well as possible legislative, regulatory and voluntary mechanisms to slow or even reverse its loss.

Committee chair Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) opened the hearing examining the drivers, impacts and solutions to biodiversity loss, by touting the committee’s bipartisan record of success on wildlife issues. He noted that “though the current state of biodiversity decline paints a bleak picture for the future, there is hope.” Carper called on the committee to build on the successes of the last Congress, such as the inclusion of wildlife crossing provisions in the highway bill. He also stressed the need for Congress to provide “robust funding for wildlife protection.”

Leah Gerber, founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes and professor of conservation science at Arizona State University, testified that “more species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction now than at any other time in human history. Twenty-five percent of all species, including 40% of amphibians and 30% of marine mammals, are threatened with extinction.”

Gerber was a lead author of a 2019 report developed as a result of a United Nations request, which warned that 1 million species worldwide were at risk of extinction in coming decades. The Wildlife Society, the American Fisheries Society and the National Wildlife Federation reached out to Congress in June 2019, after a hearing on that report, calling for transformational change in the way the U.S. funds fish and wildlife conservation.

Andy Treharne, senior director of external affairs for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, also testified at the hearing, urging the passage of the “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act” (H.R. 2773), which he called “a historic step toward addressing biodiversity loss.” The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide about $1.4 billion to state, territorial and tribal wildlife agencies for the conservation of thousands of fish and wildlife species vulnerable to extinction. Treharne also voiced support for State Wildlife Action Plans and noted these congressionally-requested, state-prepared plans only receive 5% of the funding needed to implement them — a deficit that the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would help to address.

Other witnesses offered testimony regarding successful cooperative conservation approaches to addressing biodiversity loss. Edmund Sullivan, executive officer of California’s Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency, spoke in favor of landscape-scale habitat conservation plans, while John Schmidt, with PARTNERSCAPES, a national organization that connects private landowners with partner organizations to improve conservation efforts, championed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.

Watch the entire hearing here.

Read TWS’ Standing Position on Conserving Biological Diversity

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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