American Widgeon. Credit: Andrea Pokrzywinski/Flickr

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe testified before a Senate Environment and Public Works panel yesterday, urging lawmakers to renew the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). The bill was enacted in 1989 to provide administrative support for a wetlands conservation and habitat restoration grant program, but that funding is scheduled to run out at the end of October. Passing the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act of 2012 would ensure funding for wetland conservation and restoration projects for the next five years. Wetland protection is important for all the benefits those ecosystems provide, such as wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, carbon sequestration, flood control and water purification. Several migratory bird species like the Reed Warbler and American Widgeon rely on these wetlands for food and shelter during their seasonal flights.

Some examples of wildlife habitat protection work that rely on NAWCA funding include the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Reed Warbler. Credit: coniferconifer/Flickr

NAWMP started in 1986 after waterfowl populations saw record lows and wetland acres continued todecrease. An international plan committee — including Canada, Mexico and the U.S. — oversees the program and helps figure out long-term strategies to protect migratory birds and waterfowl habitats. To date, the pla. n has helped protect 15.7 million acres of waterfowl habitat and has invested $4.5 billion in wetland restoration. As Ashe pointed out in his testimony this week, this is not only good for birds, but all other species that live in wetland habitats.

Ashe also advocated for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization Act of 2011. Established by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation distributes public grants with private matching donations for conservation projects. Since its start, the foundation has been able to literally triple every federal dollar for conservation and restoration projects. Since federal agencies are experiencing funding cuts across the board, it’s encouraging to see that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been successful in the past, leveraging federal funding to do conservation work.

Extending NAWCA may only guarantee funding for these programs and their work through 2017, but it signifies a growing commitment from Congress to invest in wetland restoration, now and in the future. Investing in the health of wetland habitats will benefit generations to come and give future restoration projects a foot (or wing) in the door.