RAWA would help fund grassland habitat projects and collaborate with agencies, NGOs and landowners to find ways to preserve prairie and reverse the trend of species loss in North Dakota.  Simonson Photo.

By John Bradley

The Peace Garden State is home to some of America’s most cherished wildlife. Nationwide, North Dakota is known for its incredible game species with hunters coming from all over to experience our fall migration of waterfowl, trophy quality deer hunting, and rolling upland prairies. Unfortunately, North Dakota has seen a troubling trend in wildlife and habitat, with more than 115 species that are at a heightened risk of extinction. Extinction is forever; the time to act is when animals are still plentiful. We need to address the threats leading to extinction: from habitat loss and fragmentation to invasive species and degraded water quality.

What is happening here in North Dakota is part of a larger national trend where more than one-third of America’s wildlife are edging toward extinction. Fortunately, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help save North Dakota incredibly rich biodiversity through a bipartisan bill in Congress called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). The bill is designed to fund proactive, collaborative, and locally led efforts to help recover at-risk fish, wildlife and plant species. North Dakota could receive more than $14 million annually.

RAWA has significant bipartisan momentum. The House passed the bill back in June with bipartisan support. The bill has more than 40 co-sponsors in the Senate, including 15 Republicans. Right now, the bill will likely be added to the omnibus spending package. North Dakota’s Congressional delegation can help to get RAWA across this finish line. We need our members of Congress to help bring this vital funding back home to North Dakota.

Here’s why the bill makes sense for North Dakota: we can build upon the locally driven and collaborative successes that have been the hallmark of North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department For decades, Game & Fish has done innovative work with the license fees and taxes paid by hunters, anglers, and trappers to restore species like mule deer, bald eagle, northern pintail, beaver, and white-tailed deer in our state.

Today, there isn’t the same type of funding to help at-risk species like the western meadowlark. Our state bird used to be so common that five other states recognize it as their state bird as well. Unfortunately, conversion of grassland breeding and wintering habitat for energy development, urban development, and agricultural uses have put the western meadowlark on a concerning downward trend. Other grassland birds are also trending downward. The North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s 2022 State of the Birds Report shows that over half of all bird species are in decline. The one bright spot in the report, thriving waterbirds and ducks, highlights how proactive, dedicated investments from laws like the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and North American Wetlands Conservation Act can make a difference. Now more than ever, North Dakota’s grassland birds need RAWA to fund conservation efforts like incentivizing landowners to keep grasslands intact and curb the spread of invasive grasses. 

That’s where this legislation comes in. RAWA gives North Dakota the financial means it needs to prioritize proactive, local collaboration and innovation. RAWA will give North Dakota the ability to save our full spectrum of wildlife now and avoid federal regulation that comes with federal listing. The old saying rings true, “an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.” RAWA is the ultimate ounce of prevention.

After all, what would North Dakota be without its wildlife? Outdoor recreation generates over $1.4 billion annually for North Dakota’s economy, and this recreation is dependent on healthy wildlife. Our state has awe-inspiring public lands and waterways, but without our majestic wildlife these amazing spaces will lose much of their magic.

Inaction is the ally of extinction. We have an incredible opportunity to pass RAWA during this congress and help curb the extinction crisis. North Dakota’s elected leaders need to seize this chance to save wildlife through collaboration by helping to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. If not now, when?