Critters we care about: Bill would make protecting fish and wildlife a priority

Grizzly bear. Photo by William C. Gladish.

Bambi, Yogi Bear, Woody Woodpecker — they should matter, too. These characters may be fictional but their real-life counterparts are often what we think of when our minds drift to the woods. They’re also what we hope to see when we actually venture out to our forests. Even spotting a baby deer alongside a city bike trail is a thrill, let alone watching a brown bear scoop up a salmony snack in Alaska.

Somehow, though, the federal government has never issued clear standards requiring agencies to include making the protection of these common but idyllic animals a priority when it comes to making decisions about managing our national forests.

A bi-partisan bill introduced by Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wisc., and Walter Jones, R-NC, would change that. Their America’s Wildlife Heritage Act would require agencies to place a higher value on maintaining healthy populations of wildlife.

The legislation also provides federal agencies with science-based tools and methodology they will need to get the job done.

It would also tackle another thorny problem — the fact that creatures with wings, fins and hooves don’t travel with GPS units or have access to government maps telling them when they’ve crossed from one agency’s jurisdiction to another. The act thus enhances coordination between federal and state agencies as they work to manage natural resources including wildlife.

“The bill gets all the federal agencies on the same page so that they can best manage our forests,” said Michael Francis, the national forest program director at The Wilderness Society.

Francis said the act is a commonsense bill that will bring the management of our federal public lands into the 21st Century.

“For too long, our national forests and public lands have been managed without adequately considering the health of the fish, wildlife and plants found on those lands or the people whose livelihoods and traditions depend on them

The bill is off to a promising start thanks to support from The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Sierra Club, and scores of local conservation organizations.

“As stewards of the people’s lands, one of the most important responsibilities of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management is to ensure that America’s fish and wildlife continue to thrive,” says Peter Nelson, Defenders of Wildlife’s federal lands program director. “America’s Wildlife Heritage Act gives land managers the tools they need to accomplish this fundamental stewardship mission.”

If the bill becomes law, that page would be part of a storybook ending for Bambi, Yogi and Woody — and for everyone who hopes to visit them some day.