The recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act was monumental in reestablishing the United States as a leader in the fight against climate change. However, we are also dealing with an unprecedented extinction crisis that’s fueled by our destructive activities. The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will position us to mitigate the disastrous effects.
Climate change continues to alter the world as we know it, resulting in exorbitant temperatures, historical droughts, famines, population displacement, sea level rise, reduced air quality, and a multitude of other effects that we have been inundated with. While it’s promising that this emergency is being widely discussed, we can’t forget about the other disconcerting trend that scientists are currently warning us about. There have been five mass extinction events in the earth’s history, including the one that led to the elimination of all the dinosaurs and the subsequent rise of mammals. What’s appalling about the sixth one that we’re beginning to experience is the increasing rapidity of species that are lost within a given time, statistics that paint a bleak picture of life on our planet than how things were millions of years prior.
As early as 2011, studies were being published detailing the biological circumstances surrounding organisms which were paving the way to a mass extinction. One of them titled, “Has the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Already Arrived?” was submitted to Nature by lead author Anthony Barnosky. Right now, three quarters of all extant species could go extinct in the next 300 years (Barnosky, A., Matzke, N., Tomiya, S., et al). That alone sounds petrifying and incredibly tragic given all the beauty we have in our world to observe even if it just happens to be within our own backyards. Just attempting to fathom a life without a majority of wildlife we see today is not only depressing but detrimental to our survival as a species.
All organisms are bound together by endless connections that make us interdependent of one another, a concept that will shake the foundations of human society if only we put forth effort to fully grasp it. Even the smallest species play a keystone role, bees certainly one of them. They are responsible for two out of every three bites of food we take and nourish us with most of the crops we are able to grow. The mutualism that is shared between them and numerous flowers can’t be taken for granted, especially when a majority of bees that are native to the U.S. are endangered.
Habitat loss, industrial activity, overuse of pesticides (e.g., neonicotinoids), unsustainable farming practices, and climate change are all factors that correlate to their plight. Despite there being other pollinators, bees carry the greatest weight. If we lose them, then all humans in addition to swathes of other biodiversity will be gone. This alone ought to make us realize the dire straits we have entered, but the current zeitgeist our culture propounds is wasteful and entirely disregards the imperative of encouraging sustainability. The priorities and endeavors we engage in alone only support this unfortunate truth.
Going back to the study, the team explored extinction rates of mammals in the past that are represented in the fossil record, positing that they had normally lost two species per million years. In the last 500 years, about 80 out of 5570 species have gone extinct. This was found to be above the documented rate of mass extinction events that had taken place before, therefore pointing to signs of one that will unequivocally trump the last five (Barnosky, A., Matzke, N., Tomiya, S., et al). Thankfully, if we do what’s right to ensure that vulnerable species are protected for future generations, we can try to lessen the impacts of it. This is where bills like the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act come at the appropriate time.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will ensure that funding for preserving species under the Endangered Species Act will be properly utilized instead of being lost through loopholes that often come at our expense. It establishes a subaccount of the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Account to support the work by states, territories, and the District of Columbia to recover wildlife and plant species that need it most. The Department of the Interior will be directed to incorporate a portion of the funding to award grants to state fish and wildlife departments, the District of Columbia fish and wildlife department, those of territories, nonprofit organizations, and regional associations. These will spur innovative methods to aid species under the ESA and to manage the preservation of their respective habitats.
To best supervise progress made by states, territories, the District of Columbia, and tribes in carrying out these duties, the Government Accountability Office will study and report on them. That way, there are less chances of the funds being misused. What sets this legislation apart from others is the more pronounced authority it grants to tribal nations in determining how they manage their own conservation goals. Indigenous cultures have always possessed a greater sentimental perspective of important wildlife, so to have them gain extra resources will only behoove us in our overall agenda.
The Endangered Species Act has been an effective law ever since its implementation with almost all of the species listed having undergone significant recovery. This bill will only improve its capabilities, something we need more than ever to combat the newest extinction crisis. By no means can we save every one that needs help, but we must not let complacency undermine our moral obligation to right our wrongs. If we can’t do that then there is no use of trying at all.
Finally, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act establishes and funds through the Endangered Species Recovery and Habitat Conservation Legacy Fund. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to use the fund to create an Endangered Species Recovery Grant Program, address responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, work with nonfederal entities to conserve species that are at risk and address the development and permitting of voluntary conservation agreements under the act. The inclusion of the different agencies coincided with tribes will broadly cover all necessary areas of the outlined goals.
The President has the duty to annually submit to Congress a list of threatened and endangered species for which recovery plans will be developed or implemented from funds by the Endangered Species Recovery and Habitat Conservation Legacy Fund. As for reporting, the Interior will be responsible for information pertaining to the amount of grants and contracts that are allocated under the bill to HBCUs and other minority serving educational institutions. Having less represented communities served is another plus to the bill. All of the information I gathered here about it can be accessed at H.R.2773–117th Congress (2021–2022): Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2021 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress.
Considering that the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has bipartisan support in the Senate, it should easily pass the second chamber of Congress and head to President Biden’s desk. This is a chance for the United States to reaffirm its commitment to helping endangered species when it matters most. More importantly, the public ought to voice its own support for the bill so that we can tell our lawmakers how much they mean to us. If we unite on this front, the differences that can be made are limitless.
If you haven’t, read more about the bill and inform your community of the implications that may accompany it. Write a letter to the editor, speak to your friends and loved ones, write to your senators, and ultimately keep pushing for its passage. The Inflation Reduction Act was prodigious by itself, but this is what we need to focus on the species front of our dual crises. We can’t falter on one end without suffering the consequences, and the ones to ensue from the failure to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would be sorrowful indeed. Do your part today!