Georgia wildlife officials and advocates are pushing for the passage of a major federal conservation funding bill – WABE

Georgia is home to more than 3,400 species of plants, 265 species of freshwater fish, 89 reptiles – and for shellfish fans – 129 species of freshwater mussels. It is one of the most biodiverse states in the nation. However, it can be difficult to get funds to protect all these plants and animals.

For this reason, Georgia wildlife officials and advocates are urging Congress to pass legislation that would give a major boost to conservation work here and across the state.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, or RAWA, which has passed the US House of Representatives and is awaiting a Senate vote, would provide states, territories and tribal nations with about $1.4 billion annually.

According to supporters, Georgia will receive more than $27 million.

“It has the potential to be a game changer for species in Georgia and beyond, and is truly landmark legislation,” Jennette Gayer, director of the Environment Georgia group, said at a virtual meeting Thursday.

She and others are pushing for the law to pass before Congress leaves in a few weeks. Otherwise they would have to start all over again in the new year with a new congress.

The bill is bipartisan. It has bipartisan sponsors in the US House of Representatives, where it has already passed, and in the Senate, where it is pending. In 2021, the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution asking Congress to pass the law — with no one voting against it.

“We have been working on this for several years. And we’re literally a hair’s breadth from getting this through the United States Congress,” said Mike Worley, CEO of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, who is leading support for the law in Georgia.

It would be a dramatic increase in funding for wildlife conservation in Georgia; The $27 million estimate is nearly double the Wildlife Department’s total budget for this year.

But even that doesn’t capture the magnitude of the potential boost, according to the agency, as that budget includes grants that were earmarked for targeted uses — such as funding the purchase of a specific property.

One of the primary ways the agency funds its non-wildlife wildlife work is through the sale and renewal of Georgia’s butterfly and bald eagle license plates. The section can also typically rely on about $1.5 million a year from the federal government, and this with other competitive grants from the federal government and other donors, about $300,000 a year from the state, fundraisers, and a state income tax return fill up.

Brett Albanese, deputy director of conservation at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said the additional money would allow the agency to do more for the state’s 640 most important plants and animals, including land conservation, and work more proactively to protect species from the endangered species list, education and law enforcement to combat poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

“With RAWA, you get that big chunk and you can spend more time on the conservation projects and less time shuffling the grant paperwork. So that’s a huge secondary benefit,” he said.

Worley said there had been concerns about how the Wildlife Act would be funded, but a proposal is now being drafted to tax cryptocurrencies differently and use the proceeds from them.