Oklahoma could have received $16M annually for wildlife conservation
By KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF
National hunting and conservation groups expressed dismay as a landmark wildlife conservation bill failed in last-minute negotiations to include it in the year-end omnibus spending bill late Monday.
Despite broad bi-partisan support, and coming as closer to passage than ever in three previous Congressional sessions, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act struggled with funding-source debates.
The bill dedicated $13 billion over 10 years to state, territory, and Tribal agencies for wildlife habitat projects targeting “at risk” species. Supporters touted the measure as a means of long-term savings by heading off the heavy costs and regulations that come with Endangered Species Act listings that are destined to increase.
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation officials estimated the bill would have funneled more than $16 million annually to wildlife and habitat management efforts. Wildlife on the state’s at-risk list includes bobwhite quail, monarch butterflies, painted buntings, and numerous other songbirds, as well as dozens of shorebirds, native fishes and mussels, amphibians, and reptiles.
Ultimately, a search for immediate offset funding held up the bill. While early iterations of the bill considered a variety of funding offsets, the latest was cryptocurrency legislation that would close a loophole not available to traditional market investors by barring crypto investors from selling it at a loss and replacing it with the same investment within 30 days of the sale, according to E&E News.
“Bipartisan support for RAWA is still strong, but this critical conservation bill did not reach the President’s desk in the 2022 session,” Bethany Erb, director of governmental affairs for Quail Forever/Pheasants Forever said in a press release. “We look forward to connecting with new members of Congress in 2023 while utilizing the strong voice of our membership to make RAWA a reality.”
Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Board President Matt Wright agreed the move was unfortunate but said this should not mark the end of the bi-partisan effort.
“It’s unfortunate that bi-partisan support for landmark conservation legislation designed to protect our environment and that likely paid for itself in avoided regulation entanglements ultimately failed in favor of a tax loophole,” Wright said.
“It continues to be concerning that meaningful long-term conservation legislation is passed over for short-term financial gains. We will continue to pursue significant local and national conservation legislation to protect our environment as it is vitally important to our future.”
Groups as diverse as the Audubon Society, the Wildlife Society, Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and ConservAmerica backed the bill and expressed continued dedication to the idea even as it failed to pass again.
“The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is the most important wildlife legislation in half a century, and we must find a way for it to pass,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, in a press release.
“Inaction is the ally of extinction, and we will continue to push tirelessly to ensure that the bill does not meet the same fate facing thousands of species of wildlife and plants,” he said.
Kelly Bostian is an independent journalist writing for The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans.