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How Build Back Better May Protect Virginia Wildlife

More than 50 endangered and threatened species could be protected through programs funded by Build Back Better.
Wildlife Center of Virginia
More than 50 endangered and threatened species could be protected through programs funded by Build Back Better.

Many of the projects that could be funded by Build Back Better are designed to improve air and water quality – a benefit to all living things, but there is also money earmarked specifically for wildlife. Six billion dollars, for example, is set aside to restore coastal and marine habitats according to Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

“When we restore our coastal dunes and our wetlands and living shorelines and oyster reefs, they obviously provide incredibly important ecological functions, but they also provide great storm protection,” he says.

Another $200 million is set aside to help the nation’s 1,600 threatened and endangered species. Here in Virginia, for example, certain shore birds, fish, fresh water mussels and invertebrates, the Shenandoah salamander, flying squirrels, fox squirrels, various bats and turtles, one beetle and one butterfly are all at risk. O’Mara says we need to focus on restoring the places they live.

“It could be everything from milkweed for pollinators or restoring wetlands or grasslands, reducing pollution, reducing threats from invasive species or disease, but the idea is to try to bring back species before they pass the point of no return.”

The bill includes ten million dollars to map the paths of migrating animals so states can build bridges or tunnels to cross highways and remove what O’Mara calls a series of Berlin Walls.

“Barbed wire, things like that that aren’t really being used anymore, but they impede wildlife from getting from different areas at different times of the year for food supply or for mating, so it’s a way to try to re-connect some of these habitats,” he explains.

And there’s money to take down old dams so fish can swim freely.

“Rivers have been channelized," O'Mara says. "we have small dams that are obsolete, and so across Virginia there is a lot of these older infrastructure that’s no longer used, but it does make it harder for aquatic species to migrate.”

The bill includes $2.5 billion to plant more trees in our cities. That will cool things down for people and wild animals and should address what he calls tree inequality.

“A lot of wealthier neighborhoods have a lot of trees. A lot of poorer neighborhoods traditionally don’t, and I think there are some huge opportunities in places like Hampton Roads, in Richmond, Roanoke. Some neighborhoods have incredible historic, and others not so much," O'Mara says. "When you have a healthy tree canopy, the area gets a little cooler, right? There’s more shade, so temperatures go down – that urban heat island effect that you hear about sometimes. Trees are also wonderful at reducing pollution – having roots suck up pollution before it gets in waterways and reducing flooding.”

The $2.2 trillion bill must still win Senate approval where O’Mara says it’s enjoyed the strong support of Virginia’s Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief