Celebrating Somerset Lake
Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, talks June 10, 2022, about the reopening of Somerset Lake.
Brian Whipkey, The Daily American
Under a federal proposal, Pennsylvania would have received $20 million a year for wildlife conservation efforts, but that funding didn’t make it into the federal government’s spending plan
“Unfortunately, Recovering America’s Wildlife Act did not make it into the spending bill, which means that’s not good for industry, it’s not good for wildlife and it’s not good for the agencies that are responsible for managing these species,” said Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The overall bill would have dedicated $1.3 billion annually to state and wildlife agencies across the United States. Pennsylvania’s money would have gone toward the management of 684 fish and wildlife species.
Each wildlife agency has developed its own wildlife action plan.
“It’s basically a blueprint for recovering these species of great conservation need as well as threatened and endangered species,” said Burhans. “It was hopeful the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would be the tool that would finally put some effort into, what I basically refer to as moving the needle and work on getting species off the list or recovering species so they no longer need to be on the list.”
The funding hurts industries that build roads, construct buildings and harvest timber, he said.
Some of the species he’s concerned about range from Northern goshawks to dwindling numbers of bats that are dealing with fungi like white nose syndrome.
“We’ll continue on with a good fight. This is a fight that has been going on for decades,” Burhans said.
Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the state’s Fish and Boat Commission, said the proposal has had bipartisan support.
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The goal with the funding, Schaeffer said, is something that everyone should want.
“Keep common species common and keep species off the endangered list through proactive conservation,” he said.
One example is the blue catfish reintroduction by the Fish and Boat Commission. In October, his agency reintroduced blue catfish fingerlings in the Ohio River, Pittsburgh. The fish, that grow to weigh about 100 pounds, were native to the area 125 years ago but died off from pollution.
This bill’s funding would help grow programs like this one as well as the agency’s work with mussels that filter and purify waterways, Schaeffer said.
Since 2005, 23 species have been removed from the Pennsylvania list of endangered species, and RAWA would have increased the “pace we work on imperiled species,” Schaeffer said.
Sean Saville, campaign manager for the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife, said the RAWA legislation brought stakeholders toward a shared vision of conservation funding.
“It’s been decades in the making and something that really had gained traction and bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress over the last six years because of the wide applicability of this solution to wildlife conservation funding across the country,” he said.
A reintroduction:Tiny blue catfish, able to grow near 100 pounds, were reintroduced to the Ohio River in PA
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“This is one of the most frustrating parts of this job,” Saville said about not seeing the legislation make it across the finish. “We’ll live to fight another day and hope to get it done in the next Congress.”
Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on this website’s homepage under your login name. Follow him on Facebook @whipkeyoutdoors.
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