Birds win with sweeping new public-lands bill

Natural Resources Management Act
Cerulean Warbler. Photo by Lenny Beck

UPDATE, MARCH 13: President Donald Trump signed the bill described below into law. Some observers noted that the new law contradicts the budget proposal he sent to Congress this week.

Federal bird conservation work received a significant boost today when the U.S. House of Representatives followed the Senate’s lead and passed the sweeping Natural Resources Management Act (Senate Bill 47). The House vote was 363-62 while the Senate’s tally on February 12 was 92-8.

The bill includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which supports the protection of federal public lands and waters. It also designates wilderness areas, six new National Parks Service units, and other public lands that will help conserve habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Birds will also benefit from the bill’s reauthorization of the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA), which provides direct conservation support for 386 bird species and their habitats in Central and South America, where many birds winter. The Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, and Cerulean Warbler are just a few bird species that benefit from the NMBCA.

The new bill approves $6.5 million for the NMBCA each fiscal year through 2023. At least 75 percent of the funds must be spent outside the United States.

“Thanks to NMBCA funding, we have created a network of reserves to provide essential wintering habitat,” said Andrew Rothman, director of the Migratory Bird Program at the American Bird Conservancy. “The NMBCA is one of very few sources of funding available to help protect the full life cycle of migratory birds in the Western Hemisphere. These species engage in one of the greatest animal migrations on the planet. NMBCA is the lifeline for our migratory birds.”

Since 2002, the NMBCA has supported 570 conservation projects — including habitat protection, monitoring, research, and education — on more than 4.5 million acres of critical bird habitat across 36 countries.

Jennifer Cipolletti, director of Conservation Advocacy for ABC, adds that “birds are sensitive indicators of how we are protecting our environment as a whole, so this is an important step and a big win, not only for birds, but for the economy as well.”

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‘Overdue victory’

The National Wildlife Federation called the bill’s passage an “overdue victory for parks and wildlife habitat in America.”

In particular, NWF notes that the Land and Water Conservation Fund uses fees from offshore oil and gas revenues — at no cost to taxpayers — to invest in urban parks, walking and biking trails, wildlife habitat, historic sites, national parks, and other open spaces. “Congressional inaction last fall meant the fund lapsed, putting hundreds of projects at risk across the country. Permanent reauthorization is a critical first step to ensure the fund will continue to support recreation and wildlife spaces for future generations,” according to NWF. “The next — and vital — step is for Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund instead of continuing the long-standing practice of siphoning off money for other programs. Americans overwhelmingly support this vital conservation program, as evidenced by a poll commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation last year.”

Bipartisan agreement has been nearly non-existent during the Trump administration, and, in fairness, it was rare during the Obama and Bush presidencies as well. While the National Resources Management Act, at 662 pages, has had broad support in Congress, Outside Online notes that it’s “an act of compromise that leaves some wary of its effects.”

Author Frederick Reimers writes that a portion of the bill “would allow Native Alaskan armed-services veterans who missed a historic 1971 homesteader land allotment to claim 160 acres of federal public lands. The problem, according to critics, is that it’s a wrong that was already righted in 1998 and currently there’s nothing to stop beneficiaries from selling their land to developers. That puts some 448,000 acres at risk.”

Conservationists generally don’t like the provision, but “they didn’t view it as a poison pill for the larger act,” Reimers writes.

All indications are that President Trump will sign the bill into law. If he doesn’t, each house of Congress has the votes to override a veto.

Mother Nature News: Why the new U.S. public lands bill is such a big deal

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the conservation of birds

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

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