A bill proposed in Washington could help South Carolina protect more than 800 plants and animals considered wildlife of conservation concern.The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide an additional $1.3 billion to states to help them conserve species that could be slated for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, the management of game species is funded through an excise tax on equipment used for hunting and fishing. However, the vast majority of species on the list are not hunted or fished.
The Act would amend the Pittman-Robertson Act to allow for additional funding to flow to a subaccount.
“The purpose of the subaccount is to fund conservation, management and restoration for species that are of greatest conservation concern within a state,” South Carolina Department of Natural Resources state wildlife action plan coordinator Anna Huckabee Smith said. “Each state has a Wildlife Action Plan that lists those species of concern.”
South Carolina has 494 animals and 332 plant species that are considered species of concern.
The state gets $650,000 a year for its program through the State Wildlife Grants Program, but its allocation is based on the federal budget and is not consistent from year to year. The bill by U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE, would make the funding permanent from revenues generated from energy and mineral development on federal lands.
“It’s not taking funding from anybody else,” Huckabee Smith said. “It’s money that’s just going into the general fund.”
She said, with the new bill, South Carolina could receive more than $15 million annually. “We cringe every year wondering if the State Wildlife Grants Program is going to get cut completely or we’re not going to get enough funding to even continue doing what we already do,” she said.
South Carolina would be required to match 25 percent of the funding, roughly $5 million, but Huckabee Smith said the matching money could come from federal sources. “That’s completely doable because the bill allows for some federal funds to be used as match as long as they don’t come from the Department of the Interior or the Department of Agriculture,” she said. “What a gift!”
“The goal is proactive conservation. It costs taxpayers and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars each year to restore threatened and endangered species,” Huckabee Smith said. “These could be avoided or greatly reduced if proactive, voluntary conservation actions were implemented first.”
Money would be used to research and survey species of concern in South Carolina, and for“ habitat manipulation to help restore species across the landscape.”
Among the species of concern in South Carolina are wood storks, red-cockaded woodpeckers, striped bass, loggerhead sea turtles, gopher frogs, oyster reefs and rare crayfish species.
The state has preserved wildlife in the ACE Basin, heritage preserves, state parks and wildlife management areas. Efforts to improve habitat would have the dual benefit of protecting water quality which people rely on as well.
Huckabee Smith said the Act could provide funds to implement cooperative efforts with private landowners that have not been done before due to lack of funding. “Landowners are our partners in conservation,” she said. “Over 88 percent of our state is in private ownership so without them, we can’t have an impact.”