© Joel Sartore/joelsartore.com
When Woody Guthrie sang “this land was made for you and me” back in the 1930s, he neglected to mention the plants and animals it was made for, too.
Enter America’s Wildlife Heritage Act, introduced into the House of Representatives in June by Representatives Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.). The bill aims to ensure that the government manages national forests and other public lands by making the health of ecosystems a priority. Too often, conservationists say, wildlife takes a backseat to development activities such as logging and oil and gas leasing on federal lands.
If passed, the legislation would provide the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with clear objectives and science-based tools to sustain and monitor healthy populations of fish and wildlife and their habitat in national forests, grasslands and BLM lands. “This is especially important today as the land comes under increasing pressure for resource development and energy production, and global warming threatens to change much of the habitat wildlife relies upon,” says Peter Nelson, Defenders’ federal lands program director. About 20 percent to 30 percent of plant and animal species alive today are at risk of extinction by 2050 if average temperatures increase more than 2 degrees F, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Protecting habitat could help some of these species adapt.
Forest Service and BLM lands hold some of the last remaining intact wildlife corridors for large animal species, such as pronghorn and elk, and provide habitat for countless other species, both imperiled and common. These public lands are also home to some 3,400 bodies of water that replenish aquifers, provide drinking water and irrigate farmland.
“In the face of rapidly changing habitats brought on by global warming, America’s Wildlife Heritage Act will help protect the wildlife treasured by all Americans,” says Nelson.