Young sponsors bill to help protect wildlife

Alaska congressman promotes bill to set funding for program

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Hunting enthusiast Rep. Don Young is sponsoring legislation that would support efforts to protect some of the world's most endangered species.

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Young, R-Alaska, whose Washington office is filled with big game mounts, is promoting a bill that would stabilize funding for the Wildlife Without Borders program, created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1983 but thinly funded.

The bill would authorize $5 million each year for fiscal years 2009 through 2013.

The program focuses on conservation in five areas around the globe: Latin America and the Caribbean, Mexico, India, China and Russia.

"Conservation of wildlife is a global responsibility and the survival of wildlife species largely depends on habitats extending beyond political boundaries. With the world's most valuable species and ecosystems rapidly disappearing, regional programs like the Wildlife Without Borders Program are becoming increasingly essential," Young said is a statement Wednesday.

The program differs from some others that target endangered species in that it focuses more on working with people in the host country to help them appreciate and protect their animals, said Herb Raffaele, chief of the Fish and Wildlife's Division of International Conservation.

"It is an attempt to address grass roots problems in a way that is not through confrontation or litigation but how we get people to develop pride in their wildlife," he said.

For example, Raffaele said the program held a workshop in Mexico to help educate people that a salamander unique to one lake does not cause miscarriages as popularly feared, he said.

The program also provided funding to educate young people on St. Lucia in the Caribbean about a parrot that lives only on their island. After the program where wildlife educators went into the schools dressed as parrots, numbers grew from 100 to more than 500 birds now, Raffaele said.

"The people are part of the problem and the people have to be the solution," he said. "We need them to care about those resources."

The program's achievements include providing money to conserve habitat in Mexico for monarch butterflies, protecting jaguars in Yucatan and conserving endangered sea turtles in Guatemala.

Money also has gone to help Russia purchase equipment to assist law enforcement to manage wildlife there, including leopards, tigers and various cranes.

Last year, a grant was provided to assist wildlife managers in protecting long-billed and white-backed vultures in India.

Young, who has twice gone on African safari, has an image of being an avid outdoorsman and hunter, and he is, said Steven Hansen, Republican spokesman for the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, of which Young is the ranking member.

What people might now know is that Young has a long history of going to bat for endangered and threatened species around the world, he said.

Just last week, President George Bush signed into law Young's "Multinational Species Conservation Funds Act" to support conservation programs for African elephants, rhinoceros and tigers, Hansen said.

The Wildlife Without Borders bill, co-sponsored with Rep. Jim Saxon, R-N.J., will allow Congress to authorize and appropriate money for the program's operation. Since 1983, the program has received $13 million in federal money for 583 conservation projects.

"It is very thinly spread," Hansen said.

The bill also sets up a process to keep in place a mechanism for private sector funding, which - with $43.7 million since 1983 - has far outpaced federal support for the program.

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