State wildlife conservation program at risk
By Frances LambertsPerhaps, as a vehicle owner through a “Watchable Wildlife” license tag or in other ways, you show appreciation for conservation of the biological resoures of our state.
Such concern from private citizens had a government counterpart, since 1974 when state legislature passed a law to see to it that not only game species but other wildlife be “managed to ensure their perpetuation as members of ecosystems and [for] human enjoyment.”
The law charged the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency with this work.
Despite the law and given its quite limited funding, the battle for “perpetuation” of wildlife kept falling behind.
Nationwide by the year 2000, more than 1,200 species were on the federal endangered-species list, facing risk of imminent extinction. Among them was a unique and beautiful wildflower from our state (Echinacea tennesseensis), which required a three-decade-long effort to rescue it and make its survival secure.
That year, Congress wisely passed a law to help prevent species reaching such a state of depletion that an Endangered Species Act listing would be necessary.
It created a State Wildlife Grants program, these grants being awarded competitively.
Conservation planning for wildlife before species reached critical-intervention need, so the visionary plan by Congress would be not only more effective of outcome but also less burdensome for commerce, businesses and all involved than ESA listing and the long and costly process following it.
Thoughout the next decade, under the Bush and Obama administrations, the initial funding level of $50 million was maintained by Congress.
Tennessee annually received, on average, about $1.2 million, or roughly 15 cents per Tennessee citizen.
Through these funds, the “Teeming with Wildlife” program supports protective action on behalf of a multitude of common creatures.
In Tennessee, the bog turtle is receiving special help through the program, some of the cranberry bogs around Mountain City having been acquired through it.
As Bill Reeves of the TWRA states, this 15 cent-per-Tennesseean funding under the federal program “is the only money TWRA has for all the ‘other’ 99.9 percent of critters in Tennessee.”
With change in makeup of the Congress in 2010, funding has been drastically reduced.
The House of Representatives has tried twice to cut the program entirely. The U.S. Senate was able to restore it, though only at 60 percent, the last two years.
Now, fiscal year 2013 funds are proposed to be cut by another 50 percent.
The 2005 comprehensive conservation plan for wildlife in Tennessee found more than 600 terrestrial and aquatic species — not including 541 now rare plants — to be in need of protective planning if they are to remain “common” and off the endangered species list.
The additional funding cuts proposed will doom many of them.
Tennesseans should be concerned. Our senators and representatives need reminders of the great importance of maintaining our wildlife heritage.
The 15 cents per each of us should be restored.