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Loggerhead shrike

The loggerhead shrike, like this one at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Garden County, is a declining grassland bird that could benefit from the passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

As Nebraskans, we are connected to our environment and our wildlife in many ways.

Whether you seek the thrill of a mountain bike trail ride, enjoy afternoons helping a grandchild go fishing or rise before dawn to view an elusive songbird, wildlife is interwoven into our culture. If we value our wildlife and want to ensure these experiences will persist for future generations, then they cannot be taken for granted. Our wildlife and wild places need our help.

In Nebraska, nearly 90 species are threatened with extinction. Nationwide, about 12,000 declining species are deemed of “great conservation need.” But currently, there are no dedicated funding sources to conserve declining species that haven't dwindled to the point of being designated as threatened or endangered.

This could change. This month, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Debbie Dingell of Michigan introduced a bill to fund state wildlife conservation using existing mineral and energy royalties from federal lands. If passed, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would invest in proactive, voluntary, incentive-based habitat conservation projects with private landowners by implementing Nebraska’s State Wildlife Action Plan, called the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project. Up to $1.3 billion annually would be allocated to state wildlife agencies, with an estimated $15 million coming to Nebraska.

If funded, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would have tremendous impact statewide on both wildlife and Nebraskans. For example, in central Nebraska, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is collaborating with landowners and Pheasants Forever to remove invasive cedar trees and restore grasslands. Together, they are designing a landscape system in which landowners can safely perform prescribed burns. These burns improve grassland health and grazing, prevent cedar invasion and provide habitat for declining grassland birds.

Similarly, Game and Parks partners with Ducks Unlimited to restore wetlands that benefit many shorebirds and waterfowl.

Additionally, Game and Parks biologists would increase and diversify habitat management on public areas, such as our state parks, to manage wild habitats that would provide declining species a place to thrive and humans a place to enjoy. The agency would be able to support more urban habitat development, including pollinator gardens and green spaces, both of which are becoming increasingly important to wildlife.

The legislation also would support recreation such as wildlife viewing, trail development and educational activities, including the expansion of both nature centers and naturalists in park areas.

The Prairie Corridor on Haines Branch, located just outside of Lincoln, is a tangible example of how a project can create habitat for rare and declining pollinators, with direct benefits to people. This visionary project seeks to enhance tallgrass prairie while creating a trail system that connects Pioneers Park Nature Center to Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. Nebraska has tremendous potential for similar projects that invite Nebraskans to reconnect to their natural areas.

Fundamentally, the legislation will work to prevent new threatened and endangered species listings. With the funding of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, wetlands, prairies, forests and the plants and animals they support will continue to thrive, and Nebraskans and Americans everywhere can continue to enjoy them.

Kristal Stoner is the Wildlife Diversity Program Manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Contact her at kristal.stoner@nebraska.gov.

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