The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in a 231 to 190 vote last week. The bill, which would dedicate millions of dollars to conservation and habitat restoration nationwide, now moves to the Senate.
The bill’s current language would provide $1.39 billion annually to state agencies and tribes to recover at-risk wildlife species, with $97.5 million of that going to tribal nations. Already state agencies have identified 12,000 plant and wildlife species that need conservation assistance. A minimum of 15 percent of the total funding would go toward recovering specie that are listed as threatened or endangered; a 2018 report found that more than 150 U.S. species have gone extinct, while an additional 500 species haven’t been seen in decades and are potentially extinct.
To pass the Senate, RAWA will require continued bipartisan support. The bill was sponsored by Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who sought Republican co-sponsors like Roy Blunt (R-MO), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and John Boozman (R-AR) “who,” he says, “really care about this effort.”
Like the Great American Outdoors Act and the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, RAWA is a unifying force in a divided Congress. Both Republicans and Democrats understand the importance of helping wildlife, and not letting critical species decline. Heinrich acknowledges that bills that focus on public lands and wildlife conservation tend to be the ones that seem to garner true bipartisan support.
“We all sort of figured it out during Covid, how important access to the outdoors is,” Heinrich tells Outdoor Life. “Everyone has a favorite wildlife story and people really care about wildlife … Irrespective of where you are on the political spectrum, these outdoor spaces and the wildlife that rely on them are things that really pull Congress together. It’s an opportunity to accomplish something deeply meaningful.”
Heinrich says one goal of RAWA is to intervene before these species “are in an emergency room kind of situation” and end up on the endangered species list. He hopes that RAWA funding would help support wildlife now before the situation becomes too dire—and too expensive.
“It’s really one of those rare pieces of legislation that brings people together,” says John Gale, policy and government relations director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “The great thing about this bill is that whether you hunt or fish or enjoy wildlife through your binoculars, there’s something in it for everyone and there’s a reason for everyone out there to really care about it.”
With an August recess looming and several readings of RAWA already completed, Heinrich—along with most outdoorsmen and women—are anxious to move forward with approval of the legislation despite pushback from opposing legislators. In fact, he says he’s focused more on working with those legislators who already favor of RAWA rather than convincing naysayers to support it.
“You can spend a very long time going down the rabbit hole of the members who seem to be against everything,” says Heinrich. “But we’ve really tried to focus on the doers and the pragmatists who have shown through other pieces of legislation that they value getting things done. And if you look at the list of co-sponsors for this bill, it’s a list of doers.”
For now, Heinrich and his bipartisan co-sponsors will continue to push for floor time because that increases their chances of moving RAWA to President Biden’s desk.