Some great news came from Capitol Hill heading into the 2020 Fourth of July holiday weekend. On Wednesday, July 1, the House of Representatives voted to pass an infrastructure bill (H.R. 2) that had been amended to include the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). The Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society (RGS & AWS) has been working towards passage of RAWA legislation for nearly three years as a member of the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife, a broad coalition of organizations and businesses.
What is the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act?
Congress requires a State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) to be developed for each state. These plans identify proactive management measures to benefit Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) – those that are declining or face significant future conservation threats, but are not yet listed as endangered species – to prevent the need for future listings under the Endangered Species Act. Available conservation funding falls well short of what would be needed to implement the SWAP for each state. Ever since a Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources introduced the basic concept behind RAWA in March 2016, wildlife agencies and conservation organizations have been making the case for Congress to implement the legislation in one iteration or another to address this funding gap.
Ruffed grouse are identified by 19 states as SGCN in their SWAP, while American woodcock are identified by 29 states. Management for grouse, woodcock, and numerous other wildlife species with similar habitat needs could benefit from the funding RAWA would provide. Broad bipartisan support has been cultivated, but passage has remained elusive. With this latest development, RAWA language has passed a chamber of Congress for the first time.
Some changes made to the most recent version of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R.3742) by amendment 139 which incorporated RAWA into the H.R. 2 transportation bill. The most significant changes included:
- A limitation to this iteration is the structure of a 5-year authorization, subject to the reauthorization process of the transportation bill. This means funding would be authorized but not permanently and indefinitely appropriated.
- A beneficial approach incorporated is the requirement to provide non-federal matching funds has been dropped. This means $1.5 trillion would be appropriated through H.R. 2 to cover RAWA implementation by the states through FY2025. Matching funds would accomplish even more work, but would not be required, which may be especially crucial in the earliest stages of implementation under budgets strained by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Comes Next?
Passage of RAWA will require the Senate and House to pass identical legislation. The Senate is currently out of session until July 20. Congress has a very full legislative schedule after the Senate returns and before the August recess, even including another conservation priority – getting the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422) passed by the House, after efforts by RGS & AWS and other partners secured passage through the Senate.
Despite these challenges, leadership in both Chambers have indicated they want infrastructure legislation and additional coronavirus relief passed by summer recess. RAWA is now attached to infrastructure legislation, and would have considerable benefits assisting with coronavirus relief in addition to boosting conservation. The on-the-ground habitat management RAWA would support will benefit the nation’s economy by creating as many as 33,500 new jobs annually, provide future economic growth in the outdoor recreation sector through infrastructure improvements, and increase resiliency and recovery of imperiled species and their habitats. RGS & AWS is very thankful for the leadership of Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) on this bill that has brought 182 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives together as cosponsors.