Sportsmen Discuss Wildlife Recovery with Congresswoman Dingell

On a rainy Friday in February, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12) met with leaders of conservation and hunting organizations and key staff with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at the Detroit Zoo, joined by members of the zoo’s conservation staff, to discuss the bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which Dingell co-sponsored with Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) in December.

bison cow and calf
Bison cow and calf. Photo by Mike Borgreen/USFWS.

The group toured the rehabilitated bald eagle exhibit, directly across from the bison exhibit – perhaps America’s most iconic wildlife species, and two of its greatest successes in saving species from extinction. After the short tour, the participants sat down for a round table discussion about the legislation.

“More than a third of species are at risk of extinction right now, so we have a crisis,” said Mike Shriberg, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Office. “This bill is the bold action we need to begin to reverse this decline.”

“The legislation takes $1.3 billion, annually, of existing revenue in oil and gas royalties,” said Dingell, “and it gives it to the states so that they can implement their state Wildlife Action Plans.”

moose family
Photo by David Spier.

Each state has an existing Wildlife Action Plan which lists its species of greatest conservation need, and specific steps it plans to take to conserve and recover those species. In Michigan, this includes animals like bald eagles, common loons, moose, sturgeon, and monarch butterflies which, Dingell noted, have declined by 90% in the past 20 years.

“Michigan’s Wildlife Action Plan is really about proactive conservation to keep species off the (endangered) list, but it also allows for some reactive conservation,” said Amy DeRosier, Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “These plans are really developed and ready to hit the road running.”

After a round of introductions from each participant, much of the discussion turned to how the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act can leverage sportsmen’s dollars to improve both game and nongame habitat.

Congresswoman Dingell (middle) discusses RAWA while MUCC’s Dan Eichinger (left) and NWF’s Mike Shriberg (right) listen. Photo by NWF

“The sporting community – at least so far as I can speak for them – is really enthusiastic about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. When we look at all the different interrelationships between game and sportfish species and nongame wildlife, you know we don’t manage habitats in silos and they aren’t compartmentalized spaces. These are places that are being used and utilized by both game and nongame species,” said Dan Eichinger, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

“Historically, conservation funding – at least in the state of Michigan and this is generally true across the country – has been born primarily by the hunting and fishing community through the excise taxes on our sporting arms and equipment through (the Pittman-Robertson Act) and (the Dingell-Johnson Act), but also through our hunting and fishing licenses,” Eichinger continued.

“More hunters are aware, but sometimes they’re not, about how much conservation is driven by the investments they make,” said Brent Rudolph, conservation policy director for the Ruffed Grouse Society. “But there’s still far more work that needs to be done, which is testified by the fact that we have these Wildlife Action Plans.”

Michigan has used the limited funding it’s had for its Wildlife Action Plan to work with partner agencies and organizations to recover species including ospreys and the Kirtland’s warbler.

Representatives from the National Wildlife Federation, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Ruffed Grouse Society, Michigan DNR, and Detroit Zoo with Congresswoman Dingell. Photo by NWF

The Detroit Zoo, for example, worked with the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on numerous bird projects through the years, according to Dr. Paul Buzzard, field conservation officer for the Detroit Zoo. “We were involved with the reintroduction of osprey to southern Michigan and we still work with that species on some monitoring and banding efforts. We also work on the piping plover recovery, which is a federally endangered species.”

“We have a demonstrated success of working with rare species, and I’ll use the Kirtland’s warbler as an example,” said Dan Kennedy, the DNR’s endangered species coordinator. “We’ve been able to take that species from the brink of extinction, to now they’re considering de-listing that species.”

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act received an introductory hearing in the House Committee on Natural Resources – Public Lands Subcommittee on February 15. While no vote was held on the bill that day, the roundtable participants were optimistic about the opportunity provided by the legislation.

“This is a really nice way to extend the purchasing power of our sporting license dollars and be able to bring in a new funding source to deal with what we all acknowledge is a huge backlog of need,” said Eichinger.

“The state Wildlife Action Plans are exciting; they’re there, they’re ready to go, and with the configuration of resources this way, it’s going to have major impacts on species across the board,” said Shriberg.

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