Wildlife Act would mean $14.6 million for South Dakota

Source: National Wildlife Federation</p><p> Elisa Sand
esand@aberdeennews.com

The river otter, swift fox, ornate box turtle and greater prairie chicken all have something in common.

They’re each on South Dakota’s list of 104 species in need of conservation assistance. These species aren’t endangered yet, but their populations are at risk. Determining why that is takes research and establishment of habitat, both of which require funding.

That’s where the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act comes in. It’s backed by the National Wildlife Federation and has been introduced for a committee hearing with the U.S. House of Representatives. If approved, it would set aside $1.3 billion from general fund dollars into a specific fund for state-led conservation efforts.

South Dakota currently gets about a half million dollars from the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program.

Allocations for each state are based on population and state size. South Dakota would get about $14.6 million each year with this plan, according to documents outlining the proposal, but accessing the money requires a 25 percent match by the states. In South Dakota’s case, state officials would need to set aside $4.87 million to access the full $14.6 million.

But, Eileen Dowd Stuckel, wildlife diversity coordinator for the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks, said the way this program is set up the federal funding will be issued to the state as it is requested. Stuckel said she envisions states requesting the funding pieces at a time based on different projects aimed at improving habitat, introducing education programs or developing wildlife-related recreation.

Stuckel was one of several guest speakers on Sept. 14 at the South Dakota Wildlife Federation Convention in Aberdeen. She and Jill Feldhusen from the National Wildlife Federation provided an overview on the Wildlife Act, which has been revised and reintroduced to Congress.

The new version of the act was introduced in July and currently has 118 co-sponsors. Stuckel said while there are both Republican and Democrats co-sponsoring the bill, there are currently more Democratic sponsors, and the Wildlife Federation has yet to get support from South Dakota’s U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson.

In an interview on Sept. 13, Dave Dittloff, regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation and outreach coordinator, said the bipartisan support in the U.S. House is encouraging, but he also realizes a committee hearing is just the first step. The act then needs a hearing before the full U.S. House of Representatives. And, the same process is needed in the U.S. Senate before it goes to President Trump for his consideration.

The act was one of several items of discussion at the annual convention for the South Dakota Wildlife Federation this past weekend in Aberdeen. In an interview with the American News, Dittloff, Joe Long, vice president of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, and Bill Antonides, past president of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, discussed the benefits of the act.

“It’ll help species from becoming endangered and keep them off the list,” Long said.

Once a species is considered endangered, Long said, laws become more stringent about what can be done.

Dittloff said the act is aimed at determining just what’s causing population decline in a particular species or if it is, in fact, declining. He used the monarch butterfly as an example. Today, he said, its population is about a tenth of what it was 10 years ago.

“Right now there are very few staffers who can do research and find the status of these at-risk species,” Dittloff said.

Passage of this act, Dittloff said, would be a game changer, but he admits finding $4.8 million in the state budget could be a challenge and he doesn’t know if the state can get partial funding if, say, $2 million is set aside for matching funds instead of the full $4.8 million. Antonides said funding depends on the perspective of the Legislature.

“If legislators understand the $4.8 million investment will greatly increase the fish and wildlife revenue from residents and non-residents, they’ll realize it would be foolish not to give out the matching funds,” Antonides said.

Dittloff said that’s because conservation efforts for one species impacts others. Antonides said butterfly habitat like pollinating plants, for example, also helps pheasant habitat.

“There needs to be a little bit of a philosophy change on how to deal with the non-game stuff,” Dittloff said.

As drafted, Stuckel said, this act would provide an annual infusion of funding for states that would help with long-range planning and studies that can’t be considered right now. New funds would be added annually, Stuckel said, unless Congress puts a limit on the funding.

States would have two years to seek reimbursement for the funds set aside in a particular year, she said.

“If it really does help us work across state lines, it could really be a good thing,” Stuckel said.

But, she said, states do anticipate difficulty in fully spending money set aside for the first few years.

If approved, Feldhusen said, it would be “the largest influx in wildlife conservation” in at least a generation.

“It will fundamentally change how we do things.” she said.

Greater prairie chickens in the Flint Hills region of Kansas.

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act would redirect $1.3 billion in existing revenue toward wildlife conservation efforts. Here's how states in this region would benefit and the 25 percent match required by the state.

Iowa

  • $15,178,318 in federal funding
  • $5,059,439 match

Minnesota

  • $24,112,270 in federal funding
  • $8,037,423 match

Montana

  • $26,864,666 in federal funding
  • $8,954,889 match

Nebraska

  • $16,528,900 in federal funding
  • $5,509,633 match

North Dakota

  • $13,278,141 in federal funding
  • $4,426,047 match

South Dakota

  • $14,631,367 in federal funding
  • $4,877,122 match

Wyoming

  • $17,697,183 in federal funding
  • $5,899,061 match

Source: National Wildlife Federation