As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, many may not realize a century ago; wild turkeys were on the brink of extinction. Conservation groups are pointing to restoring the wild turkey population as evidence of what is possible and needed for many other species facing threats.
Congress is considering the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would address the estimated one-third of U.S. wildlife species facing an elevated threat of extinction.
Bob Long, wild turkey and upland game bird project leader for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said as recently as the 1970s, there were only a few thousand wild turkeys in Maryland, but a 30-year restoration effort brought the population up to its current level of around 40,000. Long thinks the model shows the potential of the bill in Congress.
“I think it does show that through some dedicated funding and real work on the part of state agencies and partners, there can be some amazing success stories regarding wildlife,” Long contended.
The Act would invest $1.4 billion annually to save at-risk species by restoring habitat and migration routes, addressing invasive species, and studying emerging diseases.
In 2001, Congress mandated each state and territory submit a Wildlife Action Plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a condition of receiving money from a State Wildlife Grants program. The action plans, originally submitted in 2005 and updated in 2015, contain guidance on preserving more than 12,000 threatened species. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act relies on those action plans as models for each state’s conservation efforts.
John Kanter, a senior biologist for the National Wildlife Federation, sees the benefit of studying these species in depth.
“Let’s get to species, understand their populations, what they need to thrive before they head towards extinction,” Kanter urged.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in June with a bipartisan vote. The Senate bill has over 40 co-sponsors and is ready for a floor vote.