America’s Conservation Enhancement Act is a Bipartisan Win for Wildlife

It’s no secret Congress is as polarized as ever, but wildlife conservation continues to bring both sides of the aisle together. This month, the House and Senate passed America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act with overwhelming support emerging in both chambers. 

The ACE Act is a comprehensive package of bills that empowers partnerships and work happening on-the-ground, and makes significant investments in wildlife conservation. From reauthorizations of programs like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act to the development of new, innovative programs to address emerging threats facing our nation’s wildlife, the passage of the ACE Act represents a win for our nation’s treasured fish and wildlife and outdoor heritage. 

Here are just a few examples of ways passage of the ACE Act will help fish and wildlife

Protects Wetlands for Waterfowl and Migratory Birds

A male red-breasted merganser in breeding plumage.
A male red-breasted merganser in breeding plumage. Photo: Rinus Baak/USFWS

For more than thirty years, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) has been the only federal grant program entirely focused on conserving wetlands for waterfowl and other migratory birds. Since its inception, more than 5,600 conservation partners—ranging from private landowners to large corporations—have implemented projects in all fifty states leading to the restoration of more than 33.4 million acres. This program improves water quality and is good for the economy, having created nearly 7,500 new jobs annually. Of course, it’s also good for the species like the Red-breasted Merganser and the Long-tailed duck.

Addresses Wildlife Disease

Mule Deer on Wildlife Refuge.
Mule Deer on Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Shelley C. Koerner/USFWS

The ACE Act took an important step in the battle against Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) by establishing a task force within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a framework and plan for coordinated state and federal action related to the disease. It also commissioned a study by the National Academy of Sciences to determine the pathways and mechanisms of CWD transmission in the United States.

Chronic Wasting Disease is a prion disease that has serious consequences for the deer, elk, and moose populations it impacts. Once contracted, the animal becomes emaciated—literally “wasting away” and eventually dies. The disease is documented in 26 states, and it presents a fundamental threat to the health of these wildlife populations and the outdoor recreation and conservation interests that depend on them. The CWD provisions in this legislation are essential to the United States ramping up its understanding of the disease and our ability to respond quickly and effectively.

Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration

Blue crab.
Blue crab. Photo: Jarek Tuszyński

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the U.S., and it provides critically important habitats for hundreds of bird species and a plethora of other wildlife. It is also an economic engine, supporting a commercial fisheries industry that contributes billions of dollars to the regional economy. However, the health and resiliency of the Bay is threatened by pollution and climate change. This legislation helps protect this treasured area by reauthorizing and increasing the funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network.

These programs are essential to on-the-ground watershed restoration and enhance outdoor recreation and public access throughout the Bay. The bill also authorizes $15 million annually for a new Chesapeake Watershed Investments for Landscape Defense program to create a grant program that supports ecosystem preservation and restoration efforts to improve the health of the Bay ecosystem and community resilience.

Blue crabs are beloved in the Bay, and are considered a “keystone” species in the Bay system’s food web as they are ecologically vital predators and prey. However, they are under increasing pressure from habitat loss, nutrient loading, and over-harvesting, and since the 1990s there has been a dramatic overall decline in the crab population. The Chesapeake Bay programs in this legislation will help protect iconic species like the blue crab through projects like underwater grass restoration and working with farmers to reduce runoff. 

Innovative Solutions to Wildlife Conflict

Grizzly bear
Grizzly bear. Photo: Bernadette Barthelenghi

As wildlife—like grizzly bears and wolves—rebound across the West, there have been conflicts between these incredible species with humans and livestock. The ACE Act includes innovative ways to reduce conflict between wildlife and livestock by fundinga grant program for states and Tribal nations to compensate ranchers and other producers for livestock losses they experience as a result of depredation from federally protected species. 

States have been working for years to develop programs that address livestock loss, largely without support from the federal government. In Montana, the state legislature established the Montana Livestock Loss Board to address economic losses ranchers face because of conflicts with wildlife, and fund projects designed to prevent predator conflicts. The program has been incredibly effective in the state with some areas reducing grizzly bear conflicts by 93% because of preventative efforts. However, the program has faced budget shortfalls because of its popularity. Federal funding for these types of programs will alleviate some of the financial burden states and tribes have been carrying. 

Fish Habitat

Desert sucker in creek
Desert sucker, Turkey Creek, Gila National Forest. Photo: Craig Springer/USFWS

The ACE Act also includes authorization and funding for the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act. Since 2006, this program has supported more than 840 projects benefiting fish habitat across the country by leveraging on-the-ground partnerships. 

In New Mexico, this program partnered with local groups—including the Catron County Youth Conservation Corp—on the restoration of 5.5 miles of riparian habitat along the Tularosa River. They installed fences, and did a series of willow plantings to reduce bank erosion. This small, but meaningful project will improve the river habitat native species like the loach minnow, desert sucker, longfin dace, Arizona toad, and the common blackhawk depend on. 

Passage of the ACE Act represents an important step for wildlife conservation in America, and we hope it is quickly signed into law.

This important, bipartisan legislation shows that even though gridlock pervades our nation’s capital, wildlife conservation stands out as an area for bipartisan collaboration.

These wins for wildlife are more important than ever, with more than one third of our nation’s wildlife in need of proactive conservation measures. Our fish and wildlife are truly in crisis, and we urge this Congress to continue considering other mechanisms needed to meet the magnitude of the challenges facing them in the 21st century—including the bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, to fund the critical, collaborative wildlife conservation work of states and tribes. 

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