South Dakota is blessed with a diverse array of fish and wildlife and over 660,000 people spend $800 million a year enjoying wildlife-related recreation here. However, while many of our wildlife species are thriving, others are declining in numbers.
State fish and wildlife agencies have identified 8,000 species nationwide in need of conservation action. In S.D. alone, 101 animal species have been identified as species of greatest conservation need.
Nearly two decades ago, Congress created a program that would help prevent wildlife from becoming endangered. However, this program has remained woefully underfunded. S.D. received $480,000 in 2016 — a fraction of what is needed. This means hundreds of species continue to slip through the cracks and could become endangered.
But it doesn’t make sense to wait until a species is on the brink of extinction before stepping in. The Endangered Species Act is an American success story that has benefited thousands of species, including the bald eagle, green sea turtles and southern sea otters. But it would be better — and generally cheaper — if we could prevent at-risk wildlife from needing the Endangered Species Act’s expensive and occasionally restrictive measures in the first place.
Game, Fish & Parks regularly assesses the health of wildlife in South Dakota and what it takes to stop the decline of species in trouble. This document, required by federal law, is known as a State Wildlife Action Plan. It is created collaboratively with input from scientists, landowners, conservation groups, the outdoor recreation community, and businesses. But GF&P lacks the money to implement this plan the way it would like to.
There is a solution on the horizon. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) and Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) would direct existing revenue from oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters toward state-led efforts to help wildlife species in decline. If it passes, South Dakota will receive $16 million without any tax increases or new fees.
The legislation builds upon the successes of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson) and the Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson) that have allowed America to lead the world in the conservation of game species such as deer, elk, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, and many species of waterfowl and sportfish. State agencies have a proven track record of using those funds wisely and effectively. This approach has support from diverse interests, including outdoor enthusiasts, the recreation and energy industries, and others.
Without dedicated funding, hundreds of species will face increasing risks. Taking action before at-risk wildlife requires listing under the Endangered Species Act makes sense fiscally and morally. Using existing revenues from our non-renewable natural resources is a pragmatic solution that will allow us to help protect our natural heritage without burdening taxpayers.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is the solution we need to address America’s wildlife crisis. This type of proactive conservation is good for wildlife, good for taxpayers and good for business. I hope Rep. Noem — along with Sens. Thune and Rounds when introduced in the Senate — will co-sponsor and support this groundbreaking bill.