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Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way

Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way
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In the aftermath of the State of the Union and the Senate’s acquittal vote, Americans are wondering whether Congress can agree on anything this year. Health care? Nope. Immigration? No chance. Climate change? Not yet.

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden's climate plans can cut emissions and also be good politics Acting Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia As Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on MORE(R-Ky.) was asked specifically what this Congress could accomplish, he responded, “We’re looking at infrastructure. We’re looking at a park's bill. We’re looking at Land and Water Conservation. There are, even in the midst of the election, some things that I think we can do together.”

This answer shouldn’t be surprising. Infrastructure and conservation are two issues with overwhelming bipartisan support and actionable bipartisan solutions. Three-quarters of voters regularly say that rebuilding America’s infrastructure is extremely or very important and more than 80 percent of voters support conservation priorities, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans.

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Conservation investments in America’s wildlife, national parks and public lands, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund have quietly emerged as rare uniting issues during this divisive time.

In the past few years, Congress overwhelmingly passed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, a wildfire funding fix, a pro-conservation Farm Bill, and the Senate recently passed the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act.

\More recently, Republicans from the Senate and House, led by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Let's give thanks to Republican defenders of democracy Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts MORE (R-S.C.) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerHillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities Democrats vent to Schumer over Senate majority failure MORE (R-Colo.) and Reps. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastHouse Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members Mast fends off Democratic challenge to retain Florida House seat Warren, Porter to headline progressive fundraiser supporting seven swing state candidates MORE (R-Fla.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Cuomo reverses on in-person Thanksgiving plans with family Women of both parties must seize the momentum MORE (R-N.Y.) joined forces to create the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus to advance constructive solutions to environmental challenges.

It’s strategic that Leader McConnell highlighted conservation. Repairing the crumbling infrastructure of our National Parks and other public lands is wildly popular — with support from 82 percent of Americans. Every year more than 500 million people visit our nation’s public lands to hike, kayak, camp, birdwatch, fish, and hunt.

The problem is that decrepit roads and boardwalks, overgrown trails, and deteriorating education centers are impairing the ability of American families to enjoy our spectacular parks, cultural treasures and wildlife heritage — leading them to spend less time and less money supporting local businesses. Led by Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBiden says transition outreach from Trump administration has been 'sincere' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHarris shares Thanksgiving recipe: 'During difficult times I have always turned to cooking' Biden leans on foreign policy establishment to build team Trump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin MORE (D-Va.) and Reps. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopRepublicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it MORE (R-Utah) and Derek KilmerDerek Christian KilmerHillicon Valley: House panel says Intelligence Community not equipped to address Chinese threats | House approves bill to send cyber resources to state, local governments House approves legislation to send cybersecurity resources to state, local governments Is Congress reasserting itself? MORE (D-Wash.), the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act creates a five-year fund to address the backlog of deferred maintenance projects in these special places. 

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Similarly, securing full, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), as proposed by Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Voters split on eliminating the filibuster: poll OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (D-W.Va.) and Gardner enjoys the support of 74 percent of Americans, including 70 percent of Republicans. For more than half a century, LWCF has created and supported urban and rural parks, hiking and biking trails, waterfront access and expansive wildlife habitats.

The fund is authorized to receive $900 million a year from offshore oil revenues at no cost to taxpayers but has only received that full funding twice.

Another critical opportunity is the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, led by Reps. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellGM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards Ex-AG Holder urges GOP to speak against Trump efforts to 'subvert' election results McEnany disputes any Trump 'advocacy' with invite to Michigan lawmakers MORE (D-Mich.) and Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryOn the Trail: Five House results illustrate a politically divided America Save wildlife, save ourselves Lawmakers cry foul as Trump considers retreating from Open Skies Treaty MORE (R-Neb.), which enjoys more than 80 percent public support and has more than 170 bipartisan co-sponsors.

Right now, one-third of all wildlife species in the United States are at heightened risk of extinction. The bill would fund proactive, collaborative efforts at the state level to help prevent thousands of at-risk species from declining to the point of needing more restrictive protections under the federal Endangered Species Act, reducing the need for regulation and litigation and saving taxpayers and industry tens of billions of dollars. The bill recently sailed through the House Natural Resources Committee on a huge bipartisan vote of 26-6 — including a majority of committee Republicans. 

Even infrastructure legislation is advancing key conservation measures. The partnership between Environment and Public Works Chair John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (R-Wyo.) and Ranking Member Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Kerry says Paris climate deal alone 'is not enough' | EPA halts planned Taiwan trip for Wheeler| EPA sued over rule extending life of toxic coal ash ponds Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline GSA transition delay 'poses serious risk' to Native Americans, Udall says MORE (D-Del.) has produced two substantive infrastructure bills: America's Transportation Infrastructure Act, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE highlighted in the State of the Union, and America’s Water Infrastructure Act, which passed in 2018. (They’re drafting another water infrastructure bill now). 

Both of these bills thoughtfully incorporate conservation provisions, such as restoring natural defenses, like healthy wetlands and forests, that bolster community resilience, sequester carbon, reduce air and water pollution, and provide wildlife habitat.

The Transportation bill achieves significant emission reductions and improves driver safety by supporting wildlife crossings that will reconnect migration routes bisected by highways. These bills also work to deliver projects more efficiently without adversely impacting fragile natural resources.  

Despite conventional wisdom that nothing can get done in Washington, conservation can bring Congress together. As President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Of all the questions which can come before this nation … there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.” 

Congress has an opportunity to show that Roosevelt’s adage still resonates by swiftly taking up these commonsense conservation priorities.

Collin O’Mara is president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. Jeff Kupfer is president of ConservAmerica. Benji Backer is president of the American Conservation Coalition.