Guest column: Bill may unleash a new era of wildlife conservation in Louisiana | Opinions and Editorials

From white-tailed deer to whooping cranes, wildlife is a big part of what sets Louisiana apart. Unfortunately, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) estimates that 362 species in the state are already endangered. It’s part of a larger national trend where more than a third of America’s wildlife is heading towards extinction.

Right now, Congress has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help protect our national wildlife heritage. Bipartisan bill called Restoration of America’s Wildlife Act $1.4 billion will go towards proactive and collaborative efforts to help endangered species. It is a solution commensurate with the scale of the crisis – and it has real momentum.

The US House of Representatives passed the bill on a bipartisan basis in June. The Senate version has more than 42 co-sponsors, including 16 Republicans, and is expected to be voted on when the Senate meets again after the midterm elections. This bill will give the LDWF $15.4 million annually to help the state’s 362 endangered species. Although Republican senators from Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas support the bill as co-sponsors, United States Senators Bill Cassidy and John F. Kennedy have not yet shown the same support.

This bill makes sense for Louisiana: LDWF has decades of experience using fees and taxes paid by anglers and anglers to make sure Sportsman’s Paradise has plenty of fish. The department has the expertise and mandate to help game-changing wildlife, but it lacks funding.

The plight of Louisiana’s freshwater turtles illustrates the depth of the crisis: More than half of them face an increased risk of extinction.

For example, the ubiquitous alligator turtle has not recovered from excessive harvesting for decades. This iconic mega turtle is expected to decline by 95% over the next 50 years due to a range of challenges, including habitat loss, water quality issues and overfishing.

The alligator tortoise’s reproductive rate is another obstacle. Female muscle turtles are slow to mature and only lay one set of eggs every two years. The nests of these ancient turtles face modern challenges. Invasive species from fire ants to wild boars eat their eggs while their riverside nests are at risk of increasingly frequent floods.

Raising and releasing crocodile chicks—such as LDWF does well with sport fish—shows promise, but a lack of funding has prevented this from being studied or implemented on a large scale.

Steady and predictable funding for fish and game species has long ensured that Louisiana remains an athlete’s paradise. But when wildlife like turtles are in trouble, the same types of resources aren’t available. As a result, the alligator snapper will likely soon join another 25 Louisiana species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

RAWA will fund proactive and collaborative conservation efforts so that LDWF can work with landowners, universities and other partners when species like the snapper begin to struggle — rather than waiting until they are on the brink of extinction, as we are doing now.

An annual $15.4 million in Louisiana will unleash a new era of wildlife conservation such as monarch butterflies, rose spoons and pocket spoons — and game species like pintail ducks and cloth ducks as well.

RAWA’s rational and cost-effective approach will benefit Louisiana’s economy. Outdoor recreation alone generates more than $5.5 billion annually.

Inaction is the ally of extinction. We urge Senators Cassidy and Kennedy to seize this opportunity to help save our wildlife by joining their fellow herders and helping to pass the America’s Wildlife Restoration Act.

Rebecca Trish is the executive director of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation. Colin O’Mara is the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

Leave a Comment