As More Venture Out in AR, Groups Work to Protect Habitat, Wildlife

    Arkansans are turning to nature in record numbers during the pandemic, and supporters of the Recovering America's Wildlife Act (RAWA) recently introduced by Congress said the bill would help preserve state species and put more people to work in Arkansas' $2 billion outdoor recreation economy.

    Chris Colclasure, deputy director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said the additional $15 million in federal funding would boost fish and wildlife habitat restoration efforts.

    "With the passage of RAWA, you're really looking at investments in proactive projects and education and those sorts of measurements to keep species from becoming rare in the first place," Colclasure explained.

    Colclasure pointed to Monarch butterflies, whose numbers have declined by 90% over the past two decades. Funding from the Act would help Arkansas restore habitat for the monarch by planting native plants, including milkweed.

    He noted his agency has seen an increase in outdoor recreation during the pandemic, and explained improved habitat and more thriving species would benefit Arkansans who enjoy the outdoors.

    "We had about a 17% increase in resident fishing license sales, and about a 7% increase in resident hunting license sales," Colclasure reported.

    Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said the bill would build on the conservation work of the Great American Outdoors Act, which Congress passed last year.

    "And so this builds on that bipartisan legacy," O'Mara remarked. "In fact, it could be one of the biggest wildlife wins in going on 50 years."

    The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said 377 species need conservation help, including the Eastern collard lizard, red-cockaded woodpecker and lake sturgeon. The state currently relies on around $600,000 to protect these species.

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