Members of Congress Ask $100 Million for Wildlife

WASHINGTON, DC, April 21, 2004 (ENS) - In the current tight budget environment, America's wild animals and plants are being left behind, a majority of U.S. Senators and a fourth of U.S. Representatives fear. The concerned lawmakers signed letters sent to the heads of Congressional appropriations committees last week asking for $100 million in funding for next years' State Wildlife Grants Program.

Last year the program secured $70 million in funding. The White House Fiscal Year 2005 budget proposed increasing the program to $80 million, a level the Members of Congress believe is still too low.

Created by Congress in 2001, the State Wildlife Grants program is the nation’s core program for wildlife management. The letters attempting to communicate with the subcommittee chairmen who hold the purse strings are the product of an effort that includes some of the nation's largest environmental organizations and lawmakers from across the country.


Senator Conrad Burns of Montana chairs the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
"Many species of wildlife have declined dramatically over the past 30 years. The amount of federal dollars now needed to protect and/or restore endangered species is far greater than would have been required to prevent their decline in the first place," wrote 52 senators in their letter to Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, a Republican who chairs the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, and Ranking Member of that subcommittee, Brian Dorgan of North Dakota, a Democrat.

Senator Burns' only formal statements about wildlife protection this year are in favor of taking wolves off the Endangered Species List and supporting Montana ranchers' right to shoot wolves seen as a threat to their livestock. "It is no secret that wolves have been and are thriving throughout Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. I know what a frustration this is for many Montanans," Burns said on March 5.


The endangered gray wolf has been reintroduced into Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. (Photo courtesy Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)
Among the senators who signed the $100 million wildlife funding request is John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.

One hundred and eleven members of the House of Representatives signed the request letter to House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Charles Taylor of North Carolina, a Republican, and Ranking Member Norman Dicks of Washington state, a Democrat.

Their letter was identical to that sent to the Senate appropriations leaders. "The fundamental goal of the program is to keep common species common," it states.

"Through early strategic intervention, we can recover declining wildlife populations and prevent conflicts over endanagered species listings," they wrote.

"In the long run," they wrote, "the State Wildlife Grants program will save taxpayers money by keeping species from declining to the point of being endangered."

A matching requirement leverages federal funding from state and private sources, often doubling the impact of every dollar of federal funding. In its first few years, the program has helped restore degraded habitat, reintroduce native species, and encourage the effective stewardship of private lands, the lawmakers reminded the subcommittee heads.

Congressman Taylor's environmental legislative efforts have been confined to support for President George W. Bush's Healthy Forests Reform Act which requires rapid agency action to clear forests that administration officials deem a wildfire risk.

The State Wildlife Grants program is supported by Teaming With Wildlife, a national coalition of more than 3,000 groups representing sportsmen, environmentalists, wildlife management professionals, and businesses that rely on outdoors activities.


The piping plover is endangered in the Great Lakes watershed and threatened elsewhere. (Photo courtesy USFWS)
“We are extremely grateful to our Representatives and Senators who have joined together in this strong show of support for wildlife conservation. In a tight budget year, this bipartisan group of leaders is standing up for a program that really works,” said John Baughman, executive vice president of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The Association's governmental members include the fish and wildlife agencies of the states, provinces, and federal governments of the United States and Canada. All 50 states are members.

The Association is one of the Teaming With Wildlife Board Members, seated on the Board with the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and The Wildlife Society, among others.

The campaign for the letters was led by a bipartisan group of Representatives and Senators. Senator John Warner, a Virginia Republican and Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat led the Senate letter.

In the House, the letter was led by Representatives Robin Hayes, a North Carolina Republican, Jim Saxton, a New Jersey Republican, Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat, and Mike Thompson, a California Democrat.

Today there are 391 animals, and 599 plants in the United States that are officially listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

In addition, 128 animals and 147 plants are listed as threatened, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.