Op-Eds

WILD (Act) for Innovation

Carper is and the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Barrasso is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

Jun 06 2017

Innovation changes everything.

The innovative spirit is transforming wildlife conservation worldwide. National and state wildlife agencies, conservation groups, private technology companies, environmentalists, researchers, farmers and ranchers are all working together to create new solutions to some of our most pressing wildlife management challenges.

As the chairman and the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, we are committed to using innovative technologies to deal with two problems: the global pandemic of poaching and the dramatic damage done to native species by non-native invasive species.

The illegal ivory trade has resulted in the African elephant population being decimated. In March, one of Africa’s last great “tusker” elephants was shot and killed by poachers. In 2015 alone, more than 1,300 African rhinos were poached to satisfy demand for their horns in Southeast Asia.

Across America, invasive species are also wreaking havoc. An “invasive” is one that isn’t native to an area, but, once it is introduced, it can cause considerable harm to local wildlife, driving already-imperiled species closer to extinction. While some species have come to the U.S. unintentionally by attaching themselves to ships and planes, many invasives are brought to new areas by people who want these animals as pets or these plants as decoration.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, the northern snakehead fish, originally an Asian species, preys on the local fish populations. The snakehead was introduced to the area in 2002 by a single person who dumped several of the fish into a pond in Crofton, Md. These extremely aggressive snakeheads grow to be much larger than most local fish and multiply quickly.

In Florida, the Burmese python has become a deadly menace. Originally brought to the area as pets, the snake — which can grow up to 23 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds — has wiped out up to 99 percent of the area’s native deer, raccoon, bobcat and possum populations.

Across the West, cheatgrass infests hundreds of millions of acres. Cheatgrass threatens the soil, soaks up water for other plants, provides low-quality foraging for animals and can fuel catastrophic wildfires.

At a committee hearing last month, we confirmed that more than 4 in 10 endangered species in America face competition or other threats from invasive species that contributed to their listing. Finding ways to protect endangered wildlife and manage these invasive species must be a priority.

New and innovative technologies are paying dividends. Wildlife managers are using drones, mobile apps and thermal imaging cameras to track poachers. They are applying DNA analysis to track illegally traded ivory and rhino horns. Similar DNA advancements can provide early detection of invasive species. Innovators have even developed fish passages that automatically extract invasive fish from streams.

These are the types on innovations we need.

To help address our environmental challenges, Congress must also be more innovative. Our committee has now passed bipartisan legislation that will promote technological innovation to both protect threatened wildlife and control invasive species. It is called the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver (WILD) Act.

The WILD Act incentivizes innovators by establishing cash-prize competitions for technological innovations in several categories. Prizes will be available for new technologies that prevent poaching, promote conservation, manage invasives, protect endangered species, and use nonlethal methods to control wildlife.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, along with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, will administer these prizes, and a panel of experts will judge the entries.

The WILD Act also reauthorizes successful government conservation programs. These include programs to protect some of the world’s most beautiful and rare animals, such as the African and Asian elephants, the great ape, the tiger, the rhinoceros and the marine turtle.

The legislation also reauthorizes the Department of the Interior’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. This important conservation program works with private landowners to restore and improve fish and wildlife habitats on their lands. Additionally, the WILD Act instructs government agencies to implement strategic programs to control invasive species.

Conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund and agricultural associations like the Family Farm Alliance agree that we need to pass the WILD Act. It is supported by Republicans, Democrats and independents across the country.

Conservation is not a partisan issue. We all want to see our fish and wildlife protected for future generations. We all want to keep dangerous invasive species under control. We all agree that innovation is one of the best tools in accomplishing these goals.

The WILD Act will help drive that much needed innovation.