Protecting Our People Means Protecting Our Land, Too
Bipartisan legislation in Congress would empower local communities to protect their land and wildlife.
For generations, Americans have passed down an irreplaceable legacy—our shared natural heritage. Presently, it is our responsibility to cherish and carefully tend to this inheritance, dutifully stewarding and building upon it for future generations. A crucial aspect of this stewardship is wildlife conservation and the protection of threatened species.
Recently, a group of ten bipartisan senators cosponsored the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to do just that—underscoring the fact that protecting our natural ecosystems is a responsibility we shoulder together, not to be ground ceded to the left or considered a strictly blue issue.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) was first introduced in 2016 with the goal of funding on-the-ground conservation efforts across the country. The bill’s goal is to protect threatened species before they become endangered as well as to promote the recovery of those already endangered. This Congress, the bill is championed by Senators Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, and Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina. With Democrats, Republicans, and even an independent as cosponsors, it is clear that the bill satisfies a range of important stakeholders.
RAWA proposes a commonsense idea, one that conservatives can champion: Community stakeholders, such as local wildlife departments and tribal nations, are better equipped to protect their backyards than are policymakers or bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. The intimate connection to a place that local stakeholders possess fosters a deep knowledge and expertise that surpasses any white paper and study. Their first-hand experiences and profound understanding of local ecosystems are invaluable assets in safeguarding America’s wildlife.
Conservatives in favor of the bill, such as Sen. Tillis, support the legislation because of the profound impact it will have on wildlife conservation initiatives: diminishing the need to designate new endangered species while offering essential resources directly to local entities most in need of them. Recognizing and empowering these champions is key to effective and impactful conservation efforts. By providing resources to these stakeholders, we can ensure the best folks for the job are empowered to do the work required. This legislation, if passed, would represent the most significant investment in wildlife conservation in a generation, but further debate is needed to ensure that there is a clear and responsible funding mechanism for the bill’s provisions.
As we derived the natural world from those who came before us, we must ensure that our children and grandchildren also inherit a world that is safe and clean, with intact and vibrant ecosystems. This is the fundamental reason why conservation efforts should be a priority for all Americans, regardless of our political leanings. We all share the hope that our children will bear witness to the beauty of this nation, to have their spirits, too, stirred by the grandeur of their surroundings.
We hope that posterity will have a connection to this land and its animal inhabitants that allows their imaginations to run wild even as their hearts are bound by reverence for the gift of the natural world. Our well-being is intrinsically linked to nature’s well-being. The ecosystems that wildlife depends on also support human life. Wetlands and forests support animals that hunters and anglers harvest for their families. The agricultural land across the Midwest provides food to the rest of the country and the world. Mangroves in Florida’s Everglades reduce the destruction associated with hurricanes.
To properly steward the environment, we must stop viewing ourselves as separate from it. Instead, we must understand the link between a thriving environment and prosperous communities. To have one, we must have the other. For too long, we have held onto the mistaken belief that the flourishing of our communities requires degrading the environment. Conversely, we have also wrongly assumed that true environmental well-being can only be achieved by halting societal development.
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The reality is quite the opposite. To protect our people, we must protect our land. Only by recognizing our interconnectedness with the environment can we effectively serve as caretakers of creation, understanding that the health of our communities hinges upon the health of our surroundings. Embracing this holistic perspective allows us to realize that safeguarding both people and nature go hand in hand.
This approach, of course, does not start and end with legislation like RAWA. While a bipartisan consensus on an essential issue in Congress is always encouraging, the work begins on the ground. As RAWA is centered on local engagement and expert stakeholders, we must empower communities to care for themselves and their environments.
Local communities, rather than bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., possess the best knowledge and understanding of how to safeguard both their inhabitants and their environments, be it through the preservation of endangered local species or the eradication of invasive ones. It is crucial to recognize that protecting either aspect in isolation is not a viable choice. The reciprocal relationship between humans and nature is vital for our well-being and the resilience of our nation.