The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) passed the House this week with the support of 16 Republicans. Like any bipartisan legislation, it isn’t perfect and could be improved with some targeted changes, especially on the revenue side. Still, it deserves support in the Senate because it addresses a real and immediate problem and does so in a way that upholds and promotes traditional conservative principles of federalism, fiscal responsibility, and respect for private property rights. The legislation removes the one-size-fits-all federal approach to wildlife conservation and creates a more sustainable funding model.

More than 1,600 species in the United States are listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). While the ESA has successfully prevented extinction, it has not been as effective in recovering and delisting species. Fortunately, there is a growing consensus that state wildlife agencies should have a more significant role in monitoring and managing at-risk species while encouraging more innovative techniques, tools, and partnerships.

Congress’s original intent for the Endangered Species Act was to promote federal and state collaboration. However, from the ESA’s inception, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asserted broad authority over recovery efforts, undermining state and local participation.

RAWA is designed to shift the onus back on states, strengthening protections for at-risk species through local knowledge and state-based management. The legislation removes the one-size-fits-all federal approach to species protection and creates a more sustainable funding model.

Under the act, each state will develop a State Wildlife Action Plan that identifies at-risk species and outlines steps to protect and recover these populations. Wildlife is regional, and, given the varied needs of different species and ecosystems, conservation efforts are best with local knowledge.

RAWA invites private landowners to participate in conservation efforts rather than requiring them to sacrifice their property rights and bear the additional cost burdens of federal regulation. As such, it recognizes the importance of private lands in sustaining wildlife.

In 2009, for instance, Fish and Wildlife reported that approximately half of the ESA-listed species depended on private land for at least 80 percent of their habitat. According to the Audubon Society, more than 80 percent of the grasslands and wetlands that provide essential bird habitats are privately owned. However, the ESA’s regulatory limitations placed on landowners lower property values and impose significant costs. Private landowners trying to provide for their families and save for retirement are often forced to skirt regulatory rules to stay afloat, which often results in the unnecessary destruction of critical habitat before it can be designated – precisely the opposite of the desired outcome.

Our approach to funding species protection needs to change. On average, the federal government spends more than $19 million to recover a species once listed as endangered. The cost to the private sector is estimated to be three to five times that of direct costs, regulatory uncertainty, and lost economic opportunities.

RAWA instead provides states, territories, and tribes the necessary resources to restore and maintain the health of local wildlife populations before they become candidates for listing. The legislation is also fiscally responsible, requiring states and territories to pay a 25-percent match for federal funding, increasing the available resources to accelerate species recovery.

The program is also partially funded through fines and enforcement actions. That provides a significant revenue stream and logically connects violations of natural resource policy and conservation goals. Most conservation funding comes from a single source: hunters and anglers. Broadening the available funding sources will increase the program’s effectiveness and long-term viability.

Wildlife is best protected when federal, state, and local governments work with private landowners. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act applies conservative principles, including respect for private property rights, to advance a bipartisan solution. This collaborative and sustainable approach to conservation will help create resilient communities, support thriving wildlife populations, and reduce the need for costlier solutions down the road.