CHEROKEE COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - Bipartisan supporters of proposed federal wildlife legislation are wanting to take a proactive approach to protecting natural habitats in the U.S.
The proposed legislation is called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). House Resolution 3742 would provide $1.3 billion annually to state initiatives, and $97.5 million to tribal nations to support at-risk fish and wildlife populations and their habitats.
“It’s trying to enhance a species before it gets to be threatened or endangered. This is not taking species to [the] Endangered Species Act," said Michael Banks of Texas Conservation Alliance. "It’s trying to prevent them from getting there.”
Many parts of East Texas have a vested interest in the bill. Texas is home to more than 1,300 of the 12,000 species identified nationwide as Species of Greatest Conservation Need, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. Many iconic fish and wildlife species are in decline, including the much-loved Texas horned lizard, pronghorn antelope, Guadalupe bass, sea turtles, and many grassland and coastal birds.
H.R. 3742 is being called a once-in-a-generation opportunity to save these wildlife species, and to provide more regulatory certainty for businesses, land developers, the oil and gas industry, and governmental entities.
“H.R. 3742 would be a game-changer for fish and wildlife in Texas and across the country,” said John Shepperd,” Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife spokesman. "The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a cost-effective way to recover fish and wildlife populations without the more reactive, ‘emergency room’ measures of the Endangered Species Act. Once a species reaches the need to be listed as Threatened or Endangered, the process of recovery is more difficult and expensive. It is much smarter to act before these at-risk populations reach a critical point.”
“Healthy fish and wildlife populations are the backbone of Texas’ multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation economy,” Shepperd added. “Which includes hunting, angling, wildlife watching, kayaking, nature tourism, camping, and hiking. Research has proven children do better in school when they connect with nature. Functioning ecosystems provide food, fiber, timber, pollination, and clean air and water, which benefit all of us.”
In Deep East Texas, parks like Mission Tejas and Davy Crockett National Forest are surrounded by species the state is wanting to protect. Just south of Alto, there are nesting grounds for the red-cockaded woodpecker. Farther east, there’s the Neches River, where crews are protecting its shores from tornado debris.
Banks, a native of Jacksonville, said he’s hopeful the wildlife legislation could protect the river in other ways.
“There are fresh water mussels in the Neches River that occur only on the Neches River," he explained. "[University of Texas at Tyler] has done extensive research on these, and these are so helpful because they improve the water quality in the river.”
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act gained a lot of support in the last congressional session. One-hundred-sixteen members of Congress cosponsored the House bill, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Texas had the second highest number of cosponsors of any state, 13 total, including 6 Republicans and 7 Democrats.