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Jared Kushner is finally granted his security clearance. Also on our nationwide rundown: A new lawsuit seeks the release of a gay man from ICE detention in Pennsylvania; and protecting an Arizona water source for millions near Phoenix.

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A Plan to Safeguard Wildlife Before It's Too Late

New Mexico could do more to help threatened plants and animals if Congress passes the Recovering America's Wildlife Act. (nmwildlife.org)
New Mexico could do more to help threatened plants and animals if Congress passes the Recovering America's Wildlife Act. (nmwildlife.org)
December 18, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Legislation aimed at taking a proactive approach to conservation has been introduced in Congress, in hopes of protecting wildlife species before they end up on the Endangered Species list.

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act would direct money collected from oil and gas development to states' wildlife management plans. Deputy director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Todd Leahy, said if the state doesn't find a better way to save at-risk species, it could mean a hit to New Mexico's tourism industry.

Leahy said he believes everyone has an improved outdoor experience when they see wildlife up-close.

“If you're out on a hike and you see elk, it just adds something to the hike - it makes that hike a little bit more special,” he said. "So, everyone benefits from better wildlife management and habitat improvement."

Leahy said non-native species, habitat loss and severe weather are just some of the serious threats to multiple native species. He added that if the measure passes, New Mexico could see an increase in conservation funds - from $800,000 to $26 million annually - without requiring new taxes.

The National Wildlife Federation is also backing the bill. NWF President Collin O'Mara said species that need safeguarding include monarch butterflies and bees, since their numbers have declined - by 90 percent for the monarch and 50 percent for native and honeybee populations that pollinate many food crops.

He said the legislation is a way to bring partners together for a collaborative approach before emergency efforts are necessary.

"With so many things that have big price tags, as they're debating heath care and tax cuts and increases in defense spending, it's just making the case that this is worth investing in,” O’Mara said. "So far, we're in the early stages, but there's been good bipartisan support on both sides, saying that this is a better solution than the status quo."

He pointed out that the number of species petitioned for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act has increased by 1,000 percent in less than a decade. The Recovering America's Wildlife Act is co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, and Democrat Debbie Dingell of Michigan.

More information on the bill is available at NWF.org.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM