Op-ed — The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act: an unprecedented opportunity that is good for wildlife and people
Connecticut Audubon has been advocating for several years for passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. The Hearst Connecticut news group published Executive Director Patrick Comins’ op-ed on the issue on May 6, 2022. Click HERE or read it below.
By Patrick Comins
Executive Director, The Connecticut Audubon Society
There are people in Connecticut who think the most beautiful song in the bird world is the song of the wood thrush — a flute-like ee-o-lay heard at dawn and dusk in spring and early summer.
Wood thrushes migrate north in May. You can hear them singing in Connecticut well into the summer. But to do so, you have to work harder than you used to. The wood thrush population in the state has fallen by 2.4 percent a year, for 50 years.
Do the math. That’s a 73 percent overall drop. Basically, three out of every four wood thrushes have disappeared from the state.
That would be appalling even if it were an exception. But it’s not an exception. Depressingly, it’s become common. In 2019, a report in the journal Science showed that over the last five decades, North America has lost 30 percent of its birds.
That’s three billion birds. Gone.
When it comes to protecting birds, no more business as usual
As one of the authors of the Science report, ornithologist Peter Marra of Georgetown University, put it, after a revelation like that, conservationists can’t just go back to business as usual.
Luckily, there’s a chance now in Washington D.C. to avoid going back to business as usual. A bill before Congress would provide states with an extraordinary tool to help bring back birds and other wildlife.
Earlier this year committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. This bill is at the top of conservationists’ agenda and for several years has been supported by members of both parties in Congress.
Its beginnings go back to 2006, when Congress mandated that each state must write a Wildlife Action Plan and submit it for approval to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But a plan without the money to carry it out is meaningless.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide $1.3 billion a year from the U.S. Treasury to a fund to be distributed to the 50 states to carry out their plans. Connecticut’s share is estimated at $11.8 million per year.
Most wildlife conservation money now comes from license fees and taxes paid by hunters and anglers. It is spent to protect and increase the number of game animals. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide money to protect wildlife you can’t hunt, including Connecticut’s birds.
In other words, the pieces are in place: the need (3 billion birds gone), the blueprints (federally-approved state Wildlife Action plans), and the money ($1.3 billion a year).
In Connecticut, it isn’t only wood thrushes that are vulnerable. The number of scarlet tanagers — colorful songbirds that nest in the forest canopy — has plummeted by 65 percent. Federally threatened piping plovers are hanging on only through extraordinary conservation efforts. Saltmarsh sparrows seem headed toward extinction within decades because of rising sea level.
Funds from the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act could help all those birds, and many others.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will help the fight against climate change too
There are broader-scale benefits to passing the act as well. Connecticut Audubon showed in its recent Connecticut State of the Birds report that there is an extraordinary opportunity to improve habitat to both help bring back bird populations and get closer to the state’s climate change goals.
As explained in Connecticut State of the Birds, about 80 percent of the state has been identified as having high value for birds and high value for capturing and storing the carbon that is responsible for global warming.
It includes vast forests in the northwest and southeast of the state, urban and suburban areas throughout Connecticut, and tidal marshes along the coast.
Protecting and restoring those lands would bring Connecticut almost one-quarter of the way toward its carbon reduction goal.
Funds from the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act could be used for the habitat restoration work that would make that happen.
This is an unprecedented chance to do something that is good for wildlife and also good for people. And it is too important to miss.
Connecticut Audubon has made a strong recommendation in its 2019, 2020, and 2021 State of the Birds reports for passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.
The time for the U.S. Congress to do so is now.