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 McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day 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 GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus New polls show tight races for Graham, McConnell Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing MORE (R-S.C.) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe US military has options against China McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill Group of GOP senators back more money for airlines to pay workers MORE (R-Colo.) and Reps. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastMost Black women since 2004 running for office this year Democrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers House Republicans push back against proxy voting MORE (R-Fla.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikHouse Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden, Obama reunite for socially distanced conversation 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 PortmanPessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senators holding behind-the-scenes talks on breaking coronavirus package stalemate Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns Senate Intel panel approves final Russia report, moves toward public release MORE (D-Va.) and Reps. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopTrump signs major conservation bill into law Overnight Energy: House passes major conservation bill, sending to Trump | EPA finalizes rule to speed up review of industry permits House passes major conservation bill, sending it to Trump's desk MORE (R-Utah) and Derek KilmerDerek Christian KilmerOur national forests need protection — and Congress can help Democrats debate how and when to get House back in action Cornell to launch new bipartisan publication led by former Rep. Steve Israel 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) ManchinHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic 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 DingellMichigan Rep. Debbie Dingell easily wins House primary Court orders release of Black Michigan teen who was jailed for missing schoolwork Lobbying world MORE (D-Mich.) and Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberrySave wildlife, save ourselves Lawmakers cry foul as Trump considers retreating from Open Skies Treaty Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way 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 BarrassoLatest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Barrasso nuclear bill latest GOP effort to boost uranium mining MORE (R-Wyo.) and Ranking Member Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat | White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus | Trump faces another challenge to rewrite of bedrock environmental law NEPA White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Del.) has produced two substantive infrastructure bills: America's Transportation Infrastructure Act, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test 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.