Historic bill would be a win for Texas wildlife

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Shorebirds, fish, songbirds, domestic bees, freshwater mussels, and many other species of wildlife – our country is facing an unprecedented decline in wildlife. Habitat loss, invasive species, disease and extreme weather are all factors affecting their losses. In fact, there are more than 12,000 endangered species across the United States in need of help. There are over 1,200 of them in Texas, including the Texas Horned Lizard, the Black Skimmer, and the Bobwhite Quail.
To help reverse these declines — and to save taxpayers money in the long run by preventing species from becoming endangered — we need actions that are proportional to the scope of the problem. Enter legislation that would be the most important of its kind in more than 50 years, the Wildlife Restoration America Act.

This bipartisan bill was passed by the US House of Representatives in June, and it is now ready for a vote in the US Senate. It will fund $1.4 billion in conservation projects nationally each year, with more than $50 million directed to Texas. And you will do so without any new taxes.
Texas is a paradise for hunters and bird watchers. The natural riches of our outside world are a vital component of Texas’ economy, especially along the Gulf Coast. Outdoor recreation in Texas provides nearly 300,000 jobs and $14.1 billion in salaries and wages. It also provides a much-needed respite for Texans and tourists alike.

Unfortunately, many of the fish and wildlife that this offshore economy depends on is in decline. There are 3 billion fewer birds in our country’s sky than it was in 1970. Now 40 percent of the country’s freshwater fish species are scarce or endangered. Sixty percent of the country’s freshwater mussels – clean water indicators – are at risk.
The Wildlife Restoration of America Act will allow states to work with local partners to work on the scale needed to restore degraded wildlife and their habitats, including the native plants that grow in those habitats. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will direct funds to eligible projects implemented by a wide range of nonprofit organizations, state and local agencies, universities, and more. The funding will also provide a great opportunity for private land owners who want to be good stewards of the wildlife resources on their property but may not have sufficient financial resources or technical support to do so.
Restoring riverine, coastal and estuary habitats would benefit a range of upland, freshwater and marine species—even critically endangered birds like the whooping bird. These projects will also help absorb floodwaters and provide more natural barriers during hurricanes and storms. Some may create new hiking and kayaking trails, observation decks and other infrastructure that will boost outdoor tourism in coastal communities and connect more Texans with nature.
The natural resources of our state and the desire to preserve our natural heritage for future generations is something Texans from all walks of life support and deeply care about. The Restoration of America’s Wildlife Act has 42 bipartisan sponsors in the Senate, and it has a good chance of passing when it comes to a vote. It would be a win for everyone – wildlife, business, and people. We hope that Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz will vote yes to this vital legislation — and create an outdoor legacy we can all be proud of.

Elizabeth Waddell was born and raised in Beaumont and graduated from Monsignor Kelly High School before attending the University of North Carolina. She is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Park Conservation Society and one of the founding trustees of the Edaren Foundation. She and her husband, Ross, raised their children in Beaumont, and love spending time on the Texas Gulf Coast. If you have a potential guest column for The Enterprise, email your idea or the column itself to Opinions@BeaumontEnterprise.com. If you have something to say, we want to hear from you!

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