Being Frank: Tribes Need to Be at the Table to Conserve Wildlife


Treaty tribes have been working for decades to get federal support for our essential wildlife programs.

We’re counting on the U.S. Senate to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) to finally make it happen. The time is right. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in June with rare bipartisan support.

The federal government has a trust and fiduciary responsibility to protect our fish and wildlife for future generations and to make sure that tribes have the capacity to manage all aspects of our wildlife programs. And yet, despite our treaty-protected rights, previous legislation left tribes out of the equation, directing funding only to states.

RAWA would provide long-term and dedicated resources to both tribal and state law enforcement, fish and wildlife programs, habitat management and other conservation and recovery efforts. When tribes are at the table, everyone benefits. We are the original caretakers of the land.

The proposed legislation would provide $97.5 million to tribes and $1.3 billion to states to co-manage species of greatest need. Tribal natural resources managers will be able to determine which species those are and what actions are needed to protect, restore and enhance them.

At least 15% of the money would be spent on species already listed under the Endangered Species Act or considered threatened or endangered under tribal law. We could invest this in their recovery and eventual delisting. In addition, we’ll be able to take action to protect other species before they become threatened or endangered. This will save us effort and money in the long term.

Tribes shouldn’t have to piecemeal together funding to protect threatened species across tribal lands. We know that 12,000 species are in need of conservation actions in this country. Because of insufficient funding, natural resources managers have to limit their focus to conserve just a few species of concern, while many others deteriorate in numbers. RAWA could help all of us reintroduce imperiled species, restore lost habitat and fight invasive species such as European green crab.

Tribal wildlife managers have an additional role that also lacks sufficient funding. We have a treaty-protected right to manage the wildlife we hunt and the plants we gather for spiritual and traditional purposes. Right now, there are more programs for invasive, endangered and nongame species than there are for tribes to manage animals we harvest for cultural and subsistence use. RAWA could help fill that funding gap.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, and co-sponsored by all of the House Democrats from the state of Washington. When it passed the U.S. House of Representatives in June, it received 231 votes, including 16 from Republicans.

The Senate needs to bring this bill to a vote as soon as possible. This bipartisan support gives us the opportunity now to take action to reduce the number of species in decline and prevent their listing under the Endangered Species Act. RAWA finally will give tribes access to our share of the funding we need to manage wildlife.


Ed Johnstone is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.