Apr 19, 2017 | Alliance Op/Ed

Bipartisan bill to support wildlife partnerships

Commentary: New measure offers reauthorized support for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, with improved priorities.

Earlier this year, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, led by Chairman (Sen.) John Barrasso, R-Wyo., passed with bipartisan support S.825, the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver (WILD) Act. Among other things, this important legislation would reauthorize the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, known as the Partners Program, as well as improved and prioritized management of invasive species.

The Partners Program demonstrates a workable process to reconcile inherent conflicts brought about by multiple demands. This program already has the infrastructure and relationships with landowners to get effective habitat work done for Endangered Species Act-listed and candidate species. The Partners Program is involved with projects on the ground all over the country and helps support yeoman’s work to preserve habitat for toads in Nevada, sage grouse in Wyoming and the mountain plover in Colorado, to name just a few success stories.

The Partners Program is successful because it employs experts who are on the ground working with landowners, instead of crafting mandates via biological opinions and the corresponding “reasonable and prudent alternatives” from far-removed government offices. These federal officials recognize that if a species exists and thrives on a property — public or private — the ranching practices that currently occur on that property will not harm, and could even possibly protect, that species.

The Partners Program is uniquely positioned to fulfill the direction of the ESA for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage threatened and endangered species. The WILD Act would increase funding for the Partners Program from $75 million to $100 million for each of fiscal years 2018 through 2022.

The WILD Act also includes important provisions intended to protect water and wildlife from invasive species. Administrative and legislative actions, as well as funding, are needed for biological controls, mitigation management, and elimination of invasive species like quagga mussels and striped bass.

Balancing invasive species removal, native restoration In the Colorado River Basin, for example, there is a need to balance invasive removal efforts with an emphasis on restoration of native plants and the river processes that sustain them. Provisions of the WILD Act could increase and coordinate the removal of invasive plants that negatively impact the natural water cycle, and native plant and animal endangered species (examples are tamarisk/salt cedar, Russian olive, golden algae and other phreatophytes).

The WILD Act protects water and wildlife from invasive species. It requires that specified federal agencies plan and carry out activities on land they directly manage to protect water and wildlife by controlling and managing invasive species. It requires those federal agencies to implement strategic invasive species programs, to prioritize the least costly methods for controlling and managing invasive species, and to allocate not less than 75% of funding for on-the-ground control and management of invasive species.

Western farmers and ranchers know that partnerships — not top-heavy regulations and litigation — can best provide for real species protections and recoveries. And, there is a demonstrated need to emphasize the proper management of invasive species.

It is encouraging to see strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for legislation that addresses these important concerns.