Bald Eagles

Bill offers opportunity to fund endangered wildlife in Kansas without new taxes

Bill offers opportunity to fund endangered wildlife in Kansas without new taxes

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Michael Donnelly is a member of the Communications and Celebration of Cranes committees of Audubon of Kansas and editor of Prairie Wings magazine.

Residents and visitors to Kansas can still hear primal sounds that speak to attentive humans of the very essence of wilderness.

One is the rattle of migrating sandhill cranes, rising with the sun by the thousands from their roosting areas at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge or Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and returning at dusk. Another is the wonderfully resonant distant growl of prairie chickens that gather in the spring on their ancestral leks to mate and ensure the continuation of the species.

People — even those who would usually pay little attention to nature — may be drawn to the bald eagles that come down in the fall with migrating waterfowl, and even now stay to nest in Kansas. Many people have their favorite bird: the echoing song of the busy, perky and inquisitive Carolina Wren, the descending notes of the meadowlark in the field near the road or behind the house. There are rarer experiences with guests who show up briefly on migration – the soft, fluting cry of the wood thrush, the essence of the deep hardwoods, more common in our eastern counties.

You can always hope to hear wood thrushes singing in Kansas – you heard them every spring. But to do it now, you have to work much harder than before. The national wood thrush population fell by 60% between 1970 and 2014, leading Partners in Flight to add this thrush to its yellow watch list of birds in decline.

This demographic crash would be appalling even if it were an exception. But it’s not. Depressingly, it has become common. In 2019, a report in the journal Science showed that over the past five decades, North America had lost 30% of its birds.

That’s three billion birds. Faded away.

As one of the report’s authors, ornithologist Peter Marra of Georgetown University, said after such a revelation, conservationists can’t just get back to business as usual. Fortunately, there is now a chance in Washington, DC to avoid going back to business as usual. A bill before Congress would provide states with an extraordinary tool to help bring back birds and other wildlife.

Since its introduction to the House on April 22, 2021, HR 2733, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2021, has now spent just over a year making its way through various committees, subcommittees, hearings and discharge by the interested sub-committees. This bill is at the top of the agenda of conservationists and for several years has been supported by members of both parties in Congress. So while the law-making processes may seem excruciatingly slow to the public, HR 2733 has so far passed the mark with every relevant committee reviewing it.

This bill has been called the most significant wildlife conservation bill in nearly half a century. Its beginnings date back to 2006, when Congress required each state to write a wildlife action plan and submit it to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for approval.

But a plan without the money to carry it out is meaningless.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide $1.3 billion a year to the 50 states to carry out their plans. Kansas’ share is estimated at $17.6 million per year.

The nice part is that the money is already in the US Treasury. Most funds for wildlife conservation now come from license fees and taxes paid by hunters and anglers. This money is spent to protect and increase game numbers. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide dedicated funds from general federal funding to protect not only wildlife you can hunt, but non-game species as well.

In other words, the pieces are in place: the need (3 billion extinct birds), the plans (federally approved wildlife action plans), and the money ($1.3 billion). per year).

The Kansans are fortunate enough to still hear the distant rumble of prairie chickens gathering in the spring on their ancestral leks to mate and ensure the continued existence of the species. (Greg Kramos/USFWS)

Ecologically Significant Areas (EFAs) have been identified by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks through its Critical Habitat Assessment Tool, which is part of the Kansas Wildlife Action Plan. State. Of the 14 terrestrial EIS, nine relate to grassland habitats, three to wetlands and two to forests.

Wetland EIS centers on Playa Lakes in western Kansas and two large wetlands in central Kansas, Cheyenne Bottoms and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira Wetlands have been designated Wetlands of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention, with Cheyenne Bottoms also being declared a Site of Hemispheric Importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and an Area of ​​Global Importance for Birds by the National Audubon Society.

About 45% of shorebird species in North America use these wetlands during their migration. The survival of these birds is absolutely dependent on the continued existence of these habitats to rest and refuel during their long migrations. But years of drought and the continued depletion of water available to wetlands due to over-irrigation pose an existential threat to the survival of these unique resources.

In terms of grassland biomes, tallgrass prairie once occupied about 150 million acres (60 million hectares or 230,000 square miles) in North America. However, conversion to other land uses has made this grassland a globally threatened resource. According to a report by the World Wildlife Foundation, in 2014 alone, the Great Plains region lost more hectares of grassland than the Brazilian Amazon region lost rainforest. Estimates of remaining tallgrass prairie range from 1% to 18% of its former distribution. But we here in Kansas still have a share in the only vast, untouched remnant of that prairie: the Flint Hills in Oklahoma and Kansas, totaling 3.8 million acres.

Given these statistics, it’s no surprise that the loss of grassland bird species is among the greatest environmental disasters of our time. Of those 3 billion birds lost, grassland birds were the hardest hit of all habitats, losing 53% of the population.

According to a 2007 report by the National Audubon Society, losses of even two of the most familiar and typical species of the Kansas prairies – the grasshopper sparrow and the eastern meadowlark – accounted for 62% and 75%, respectively, of their global populations in the past. 40 years. More than 280 local species would benefit from the bill, including small prairie chickens, barn owls and swift foxes.

Funds from Recovering America’s Wildlife Act could help all of these creatures, and many more.

These funds could be used for large-scale habitat-creation projects that would bring back the birds that need grasslands – those that suffer proportionately from some of the greatest species declines. The western Kansas playas could be protected by devising ways to ensure the continued availability of essential amounts of water, ensuring waterfowl and migrating shorebirds have a place to feed and rest during migrations. .

Grasslands and wetlands could benefit from controlling invasive plants that alter the structure of habitats. The law could support research into population collapse that is not well understood, as well as funding measures known to be necessary but currently too costly to undertake. More importantly, since most land in Kansas is privately owned, it could ensure broader conservation measures by compensating landowners for their participation in habitat restoration and preservation.

It’s an unprecedented chance to do something that’s good for wildlife and also good for people.

As Kansas Audubon shows with its Crane Celebration to provide opportunities to see endangered whooping and whooping cranes and the Kansas Lek Treks Prairie-Chicken Festival to visit thriving grounds for prairie chickens, the ature viewing can be a source of tourism revenue, as well as a way to educate the public about the value of these habitats and their inhabitants. This is too important an opportunity to miss.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, HR 2773, is the culmination of years of effort, research, lobbying and dedicated commitment to developing national wildlife action plans, identifying species most needed for conservation, designing measures to halt their decline and preventing the thoughtless destruction of critical habitats.

To carry out all these efforts, now is the time for the US Congress to act. Sens Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall and Rep. Sharice Davids have already agreed to sponsor the bill. Ask Representatives Tracey Mann, Jake LaTurner and Ron Estes to support Kansas wildlife and landowners who engage in conservation by supporting the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, HR 2773.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own review, here.