Blue-winged Teal preening his feathers on the pond
Blue-winged Teal preening his feathers on a pond. Credit: Norman Bateman / Shutterstock

Patrick Comins, executive director of Connecticut Audubon, has been waiting a few years for Congress to pass what he calls the most important piece of wildlife legislation since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 2773). The bill has received bipartisan support and now goes to the Senate. If passed into law, the legislation will make funds available to the Department of the Interior for grants and other support for wildlife conservation.

The bill is especially important now, Comins said, given the increased interactions between species like black bears and people. Under the legislation, $1.3 billion will be appropriated annually for state fish and wildlife agencies to implement their wildlife action plans. Officials said Connecticut’s allotment would be around $12 million.

Connecticut Audubon has been pushing for passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act since 2018, Comins said. The bird population in the state has seen a 30% drop over the last 50 years, one of the trends Comins said he hopes will start to reverse should this bill pass. Among the species that would benefit would be the Piping Plovers, Blue-winged Warblers, New England Cottontails, and wood turtles.

“Conserving the land is just the beginning. You can’t just conserve it and lock it away and not manage it,” Comins said. “You have to manage the habitat for specific creatures that are utilizing the property that is now protected.”

A similar bill (S. 2372, also titled Recovering America’s Wildlife Act) was voted out of the Committee of Environment and Public Works in April. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, is listed as a co-sponsor of the bill, “which would dramatically increase federal investment in Connecticut’s efforts to protect endangered species and support conservation work and the long-term health of fish and wildlife and their habitats,” according to an emailed statement from his office.

It is not unusual for there to be similar bills from the House and the Senate on the same issue. The Senate can either take up the House bill, pass its own bill, or the two could negotiate the text of one bill that the Senate could pass before it goes back to the House.

“In the case of this bill, Senator Murphy is open to any option that advances this important piece of legislation and gets it signed into law this Congress,” the statement from his office read.

Meanwhile, Comins said the legislation can usher in a new golden era for conservation in Connecticut, but if it doesn’t proceed, wildlife populations will continue to be adversely impacted.

“We are not going to have the resources to address these trends, and more and more species will end up on state and federal endangered species lists, which creates more and more conflict and regulation,” Comins said. “Whereas if we can get this passed, we may see it’s the most important wildlife legislation of our lifetime, at least since the Endangered Species Act.”