In Georgia, 640 species and habitats have been identified as a top priority for conservation efforts. (Photo by Pete Nuij, Unsplash.)

By Hannah E. Jones

Proposed legislation Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) would provide a significant chunk of change to help protect vulnerable ecosystems around the country. This would be a game changer for Georgia’s 640 at-risk species and habitats, with current funding offering less than five percent of what’s needed to save these animals.

On Dec. 8, conservation group Environment Georgia hosted a virtual seminar on RAWA. The nonprofit invited a panel of experts to discuss the impact this bipartisan legislation could have on wildlife around the state and country. 

The panel of local conservation experts. (Image taken from virtual meeting.)

Under the proposed bill, the federal government would allocate $1.3 billion in annual funding to help at-risk species through habitat restoration, controlling invasives, reconnecting migration routes and more. If passed, Georgia would receive $27.4 million of those funds. This would be a significant increase compared to the state’s 2022 funding, with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources receiving about $1.4 million in State and Tribal Wildlife Grants.

During last week’s meeting, Environment Georgia Director Jennette Gayer was joined by the following panel: 

  • Mike Worley, President and CEO of Georgia Wildlife Federation
  • Jennifer Mickelberg, Zoo Atlanta vice president of Collections and Conservation
  • Brett Albanese, Georgia Department of Natural Resources deputy chief of Wildlife Conservation

The bill — co-sponsored by Senators Ossoff and Warnock — passed through the House of Representatives this summer and is ready for a floor vote in the Senate. Time is of the essence, though.

“This is the time to make this work,” Worley said. “We are the lame duck of Congress. This bill has to start over again if we don’t finish it in the next couple of weeks. We really need to progress on this.”

Gayer agreed, describing the bill as a “gift for Georgia’s wildlife.”

The expert panel is confident that the increased funds would have a significant positive impact on the health and survival of Georgia’s at-risk ecosystems. The same applies to the 12,000 threatened species and habitats nationwide. 

“We know that species across the country and in Georgia are being threatened by a variety of pressures — developments, climate change, droughts, wildfires – and we’re not doing as much as we could and should,” Gayer said. “The Endangered Species Act passed in 1966 and [since then,] there hasn’t been the progress we need to really make a change. [RAWA] has the potential to be a game-changer for species in Georgia and beyond. It’s really a landmark legislation.” 

The additional environmental funding will allow the state to offer more wrap-around conservation and recovery services, like anti-poaching efforts.

“One of the great things about RAWA is it broadens our scope. We expect to do a lot more wildlife-related recreation projects, education and outreach, plant conservation,” Albanese said. “Also, you can spend money on law enforcement if it’s directed towards the species of greatest conservation needs. We have serious issues with illegal wildlife trade in Georgia, as well as poaching, and we can direct more resources to our law enforcement division to help with that.”

Among residents, the support for the bill is there. According to a recent Data for Progress poll, 86 percent of respondents back the bill, with 92 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Republicans.

For folks wanting to help RAWA pass through the Senate, Albanese recommends contacting their Senators to “encourage them to put this on the floor and get this vote done.”

“By supporting [RAWA], it really allows us to support and invest in not just the future of our wildlife, but in the future of humans and ensuring that we have healthy ecosystems to live off for generations to come,” Mickelberg said.

Click here to learn more about the proposed conservation legislation.

Hannah Jones is a Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for...

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