WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed America’s Conservation Enhancement Act on Thursday by a voice vote, effectively sending another piece of bipartisan conservation legislation to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed.
“Right now, when Washington is divided on so many issues, we are grateful that the U.S. House of Representatives rallied together across party lines to enact bipartisan investments to restore wildlife populations and conserve our outdoor heritage,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “At a time when one-third of wildlife face heightened risk of extinction, the ACE Act restores essential fish and wildlife habitat like wetlands and the Chesapeake Bay, eradicates wildlife disease — especially chronic wasting disease — addresses invasive species, and engages the next generation of sportswomen and sportsmen. We urge President Trump to swiftly sign this common-sense conservation measure into law.”
The ACE Act was largely led by Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) as well as a large group of delegates from the House. The legislation passed the Senate unanimously for the second time two weeks ago which gave it steam heading into the House. Organizations like the NWF and Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation were integral in getting the bill passed as well.
“Passage of the ACE Act builds upon the already historic accomplishments achieved during the 116th Congress. Collectively, these policies will secure more access to public lands that hunters and anglers use most and benefit our nation’s natural resources for generations to come,” said CSF President Jeff Crane. “CSF commends CSC leaders for recognizing the priorities of sportsmen and women, the needs of fish and wildlife, and for remaining steadfast in their commitment to passing this legislation.”
Among many big-ticket provisions, one of the most important pieces of the ACE Act is the establishment of a CWD Task Force within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will develop an action plan for state and federal agencies to increase research of the virus and ways to combat it. According to the NWF, the legislation also commissions a study by the National Academy of Sciences that will look into the “pathways and mechanisms of the transmission of chronic wasting disease.”
The bill also reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act. The reauthorization of NAWCA will provide $60 million over the next five years. NAWCA was established in 1989 to provide federal funding to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and, according to the USFWS, over the last two decades has funded over 3,000 projects totaling $1.83 billion in grant monies. The USFWS further notes that more than 6,350 partners have contributed another $3.75 billion in matching funds to enhance 30 million acres of habitat.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act originally established a governing board of nine directors to be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior and prohibited condemnation by state or local governments of property owned by the Foundation. However, the land had determined by the director of the USFWS to be “valuable for purposes of fish and wildlife conservation or management” to meet the criteria of the Act. Since then, the board of directors has increased to 25 on Nov. 1, 2000. According to the USFWS, other changes in 2000 included [setting] conditions for the Foundation to acquire and convey property (including agency approval) and invest and deposit Federal funds and [prohibiting] Foundation funds from being used for litigation expenses or for lobbying Congress.
The ACE Act also authorizes the National Fish Habitat Partnership for five years, annually providing $7.2 billion to continue protecting and enhancing fish habitat. According to the USFWS, “The National Fish Habitat Partnership program is a comprehensive effort to treat the causes of fish habitat decline by maximizing the impact of limited funding for fish habitat conservation. Under NFHP, federal, state, tribal, and privately raised funds are leveraged through regional Fish Habitat Partnerships to address the nation’s biggest fish habitat challenges. FHPs are the working units of the NFHP, implementing strategically identified fish habitat conservation actions on the ground.”
Another important piece of the ACE Act is the reauthorization of the Chesapeake Bay Program, as well as the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails network and Chesapeake Bay Gateways Grants Assistance Program to 2025. The Chesapeake Bay Program was formed in 1983 and has been integral in protecting the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and adjoining land since, and with the passage of the ACE Act will now receive an initial $90 million and increase to $92 million over the five-year period. The Gateways and Watertrails network and Grants Assistance Program is run by the National Park Service and “provides $6 million per year throughout the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed in technical and financial assistance to state, community and nongovernmental partners to increase public access to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” according to a release by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) The same release notes that Van Hollen, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) were integral in securing these provisions in the bill before it passed the Senate. One of West Virginia’s major waterways, the Potomac River, is part of the Chesapeake Bay system.
Other provisions in the bill, according to the National Wildlife Federation, are the establishment of a program to provide grants to states and Indian tribes to compensate livestock producers for losses due to predation by federally protected species such as wolves or grizzly bears and the establishment of the Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize for technological innovation to reduce human-predator conflict using non-lethal means.