Prior to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the largest bay in the country was so polluted and disease-ridden that oysters, seagrass beds, and blue crabs declined in alarming numbers, threatening the economy of the region and wreaking havoc on ecosystems.
Since the creation of the program in 1983, the conditions in the bay have been slowly, but surely, improving. The HELP for Wildlife Act (S. 1514), which passed out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public by a vote of 14-7, is a comprehensive (though controversial) recreational hunting and conservation bill that reauthorizes the Chesapeake Bay Program.
The HELP for Wildlife Act authorizes appropriations for the program at $90 million for each of the next five years without making any other changes to the program as codified in current law. This is a sizeable increase from Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations ($74 million) and stands in stark contrast to President Trump’s proposed elimination of the program and the House’s 18 percent cut in its FY 2018 appropriations bill. In addition to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the HELP for Wildlife Act also authorizes $50 million per year for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, $6.5 million per year for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act and establishes a new “fish habitat conservation program” to be authorized at $7.2 million annually. Furthermore, the bill authorizes funding for projects that restore and protect critical wetlands and bird habitats and helps rehabilitate upstream rivers and tributaries by codifying the National Fish Habitat Partnership.
Despite positive moves to reauthorize popular conservation programs, there was strong opposition to its passage due to riders that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act and that would remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes. Chairman John Barrasso (WY) called the legislation a “bipartisan conservation bill designed to enhance recreational hunting and sport fishing activities, ensure commonsense environmental regulations, and protect wildlife and wildlife habitat” and said he anticipates it will see floor time after the August recess.