Texas conservationists, including state parks officials, gathered at the San Antonio Zoo Wednesday to urge the U.S. Senate to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which was approved by the House the day before.

The act would create an annual fund of $1.39 billion that would go to states, territories and tribes with the aim of aiding their wildlife conservation efforts. These funds would help protect vulnerable Texas species on the Texas Conservation Action Plan, such as the whooping crane, the Texas horned lizard and the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, a nonprofit advocacy group that conducts research relating to environmental issues.

“This is a once-in-a-generation investment in wildlife and habitat conservation,” Metzger said. “So this is an enormous deal.”

Metzger and other leaders from Environment Texas joined the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance and zoo executives in front of the zoo’s whooping crane exhibit to encourage everyone to call or write Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz to support the legislation.

The Texas Conservation Action Plan is a “statewide roadmap for research, restoration, management, and recovery projects meant to address the Species of Greatest Conservation Need and important habitats.” The plan was created by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department through funding from the State Wildlife Grants program.

Danté Fenolio, vice president at the San Antonio Zoo Center for Conservation and Research, holds Vivianna, the Texas Horned Lizard, which is an endangered species.
Danté Fenolio, vice president at the San Antonio Zoo Center for Conservation and Research, holds Vivianna, the Texas horned lizard, which is listed on the state’s Conservation Action Plan as a vulnerable species. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

While the plan has been around in some form since 2005, getting funding for its projects has been a whole other issue, Metzger said.

If the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act becomes law, Texas conservation agencies and their partners will receive roughly $50 million per year to implement projects to help “protect and preserve the wild things and the wild places of Texas that we all love,” said Meredith Longoria, Texas Parks and Wildlife deputy director of the wildlife division.

Longoria called the act “an investment in our future,” and said it would help Texas to better protect the 1,300 species of concern living within its borders.

“It’ll allow us to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to protecting declining at-risk plants, fish and wildlife,” she said. “These funds will encourage voluntary collaborative projects to save at-risk species before they require costly emergency room-type measures.”

That is important because once a species is in decline, it’s harder to help save it, said Danté Fenolio, vice president of the San Antonio Zoo Center for Conservation and Research. Following the event Wednesday, Fenolio offered the San Antonio Report a tour of several labs in the zoo where scientists study and breed vulnerable and endangered animals, such as the Texas blind salamander and Mexican blind catfish, both of which could be helped by passage of the act.

The money would help keep animals off the endangered species list, Fenolio said.

“The San Antonio Zoo is thrilled that [the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act] was approved by the House yesterday,” he said, “and we very respectfully asked for the guidance and leadership in the Senate to get the job done.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.