Salt Creek tiger beetle, pallid sturgeon, interior least terns — names familiar to Nebraskans who have heard of conservation efforts directed at these endangered species.

But they're far from alone; Nebraska Game and Parks has officially denoted 30 species of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and plants as endangered or threatened in the state. Nationwide, some 12,000 species are classified as being of "great conservation need."

Efforts to save these species from extinction and preserve their fragile habitats are vital to Nebraska's ecosystems, though a finite amount of funding at the state level can limit the reach and number of species aided in this process.

A new bill, introduced by Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, aims to provide federal financial support to such voluntary, incentive-based recovery efforts nationwide. This bipartisan bill, which has a Democratic cosponsor, is a commonsense means of preserving and improving our national natural heritage.

By diverting funds collected on mineral and energy rights on federal land into a fund that would be divided up among states and territories to best address conservation programs they deem most important. The legislation is revenue-neutral and disarmingly simple: Turn money made off the land back to the states to invest in the land and its species how they see fit.

All in all, the act sets aside $1.3 billion in its first year, of which Game and Parks estimates Nebraska to receive about $15 million. That money could be used in any number of ways — including expanding species preservation efforts, partnerships among wildlife agencies, urban habitat development and countless others — building upon the state's tradition of thoughtful conservation.

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Investing in more proactive, voluntary conservation projects would advance Nebraska's legacy of forward-thinking stewardship of the land. Land and water endure forever; the people who occupy them are fleeting. However, we have the responsibility to preserve these natural resources as best we can for future generations.

Nebraska's wild, wonderful natural habitat is among the most diverse in the nation. The lush green forests and hills along the Missouri River give way, as one moves west, to the Platte River valley to the south and unique Sandhills to the north before reaching the Panhandle's rocky landscape.

Each of those distinct landscapes, however, faces its own threats, whether manmade or natural. Animals and plants dependent on the state's rivers and waterways, in particular, are disproportionately represented on Game and Parks' list of endangered and threatened species.

Coordinated campaigns to turn the tide of these species' declining populations are best handled with local control, by experts who know their states best. Fortenberry's idea of infusing these efforts with federal funds made off the land is one Congress should certainly explore in greater detail.

— Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star

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