Shupe & O’Mara: The biggest wildlife bill in 50 years needs Vermont’s support

This commentary is by Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, and Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

From brook trout to moose, Vermont is home to some of our nation’s most cherished wildlife. But currently, nearly 1,000 species in the state are in decline or require conservation attention because they face threats from habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, toxic chemical pollution, climate change and other challenges.

It is part of a larger national trend where more than a third of America’s wildlife is headed for extinction.

Fortunately, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help save Vermont’s incredible biodiversity through a bipartisan bill in Congress called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. The bill will give Vermont $11.5 million a year for proactive, collaborative efforts to help fish, wildlife and plants at risk. It is a solution that matches the scale of the wildlife crisis.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has broad support. The House has already passed the bill on a bipartisan vote and the Senate version has 47 cosponsors, including 16 Republicans. Vermont’s congressional delegation could play a key role in its passage by pushing for its inclusion in the final year-end omnibus funding bill.

The plight of the wood turtle illustrates the depth of the wildlife crisis—and the opportunity offered by the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

Wood turtles were once a common sight in Vermont’s cobble-bottom streams, but today they are in rapid decline. The adults are injured or killed when they are run over by cars and agricultural machinery. They are poached for the pet trade, and their nests are increasingly destroyed by climate-driven floods.

The Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, conservation partners and the wildlife agencies in the other northeastern states have long worked together to share research and create comprehensive plans to bring back wood turtles and keep their numbers strong into the future. But there is little funding to put these plans into action.

This is exactly the kind of proactive, collaborative effort that would be funded by the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. The goal is to save the full diversity of wildlife through non-regulatory, locally driven conservation efforts, rather than waiting for species to decline to the brink of extinction. It is the ultimate ounce of prevention.

With six Vermont species already federally listed as threatened and endangered—and more that way unless we act—we need this kind of funding more than ever. The simple, cost-effective approach of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a good fit for the Green Mountain State, where wildlife viewing is the most popular recreational activity.

Our wildlife can’t wait. For wood turtles and hundreds of other species at risk such as Canada lynx and the eastern meadows, it would be a shame if this bill died inches from the end zone. We hope that the entire Vermont delegation can effectively fight for the inclusion of this historic legislation as part of the omnibus package.

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