Portman reaches across aisle on important bird bill

Ohio Senator Rob Portman has reached across the political aisle to Maryland Senator Ben Cardin to introduce a bill into Congress to reauthorize the Neotropical Migratory Bird Act.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, has reached across the political aisle to Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, to introduce a bill into Congress to reauthorize the conservation-crucial Neotropical Migratory Bird Act.

It is a feather in both senators’ caps, pun intended, in this shameful era of polarized hate-politics marred by lack of cooperation and failure at doing the business of governing the country that federal politicians are sent to Washington to do.

The bird bill, designated S. 1537, would help sustain populations of migratory birds that face threats to their health and habitats. Its new form is called the Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act, and it promotes long-term conservation, education, research, monitoring, and habitat protection for more than 350 species of migratory birds, including Ohio’s state bird, the northern cardinal, and Maryland’s state bird, the Baltimore oriole. It also boosts investment in critical conservation programs that have demonstrated marked successes through public-private partnerships and innovative granting and conservation strategies.

“Hundreds of bird species migrate through Ohio each year, making Lake Erie one of the most popular destinations for birdwatching,” Portman said. “Birding contributes more than $20 million to Ohio’s tourism industry and attracts visitors from across the world each year. I am proud to work with my colleagues on the Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act to protect and conserve these bird populations so that they may be enjoyed by future generations.”

Added Cardin: “Our goal is to continue to sustain healthy populations of migratory birds that are not only aesthetically beautiful, but also critical to our farmers through consuming billions of harmful insects and rodent pests, pollinating crops, and dispersing seeds. This simple legislation reauthorizes a cost-effective, budget-friendly and highly successful federal program to protect birds, including the Baltimore oriole, that have seen a steady decline in their populations despite being protected by federal and state laws.”

For nearly a decade, federal investment in habitat protection, education, research, and monitoring of neotropical migratory birds has been vital to the well-being of the U.S. economy. Nationwide, 47 million bird-watchers are part of a larger wildlife-watching community that spends $30 billion annually. Ohio is home to the annual “Biggest Week in American Birding,” based at Maumee Bay State Park. Last year, the week-long event brought in an estimated 77,000 visitors. That event alone brings some $40 million in fiscal impact to the western Lake Erie economy.

The renewal bill would continue programs with a proven track record of reversing habitat loss and advancing conservation strategies for the hundreds of species of birds considered neotropical migrants – birds that spend summers in the United States and winter in Latin America.

Since 2002, more than $58.5 million in grants have been awarded, supporting 510 projects in 36 countries. Partners have contributed an additional $222 million, and more than 4.2 million acres of habitat have been improved. In 2016, the grants totaled $4 million, with nearly $17 million in matching funds across 17 countries. However, migratory birds continue to face threats from pesticide pollution, deforestation, sprawl, and invasive species that degrade their habitats.

In 2014, Portman worked to pass a resolution to recognize the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the last known passenger pigeon, once the world’s most abundant bird. The resolution highlighted the importance of conserving wildlife populations.

So, hats off to Portman and Cardin, whose positive, cooperative work is a breath of fresh air in otherwise disgustingly gridlocked, polarized, stupid, ugly governance by both Congress and the current White House. Conservationists of all stripes can only hope their bill succeeds and becomes law.

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