Photo credit: U.S. Sen. John Barrasso

Innovation is one of the best tools to conserve endangered species and keep invasive species under control.

By: U.S. Senator John Barrasso

Wyoming is home to some of the most incredible wildlife on the planet. People travel from all over the world to experience our state’s natural beauty and see our thriving populations of bison, grizzly bears, mule deer, wolves and elk. People from Wyoming have a special appreciation for wildlife conservation. We are determined to protect these wild animals from the threat of invasive species and illegal poachers.

Conservation has remained a priority of mine for years. In 2005, as a member of the Wyoming State Senate, I supported the creation of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust. By combining donations and state funds, the trust bankrolls projects that conserve wildlife habitat and natural resources across the state. Now, as chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I am working to protect our wildlife in Wyoming and around the globe.

In March, President Trump signed into law legislation I introduced — the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act — or WILD Act. It will promote technological innovation to protect threatened wildlife and control invasive species. It also reauthorizes the Department of the Interior’s successful Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.

This important conservation program works with private landowners to restore and improve fish and wildlife habitats. In Wyoming, the result has been decades of successful partnerships among landowners and conservation groups. These partnerships have been key for protecting threatened species and confronting the threat of invasive species, which are foreign species that are introduced to a new environment and then take over. They present a threat to native wildlife, water resources and the landscape, often clogging pipes and fueling catastrophic fires.

Invasive species also push local species to the brink of extinction. Almost half of America’s endangered species face threats from invasives. In Wyoming, we struggle with cheatgrass, which steals water from other plants and provides low-quality forage for animals. The WILD Act instructs government agencies to implement strategic programs to control cheatgrass and other invasive species.

The law also supports innovators who are creating new methods for battling invasive species. The WILD Act will support this development by establishing competitions with cash prizes for wildlife innovation. Awards will be available for new technologies that promote conservation, manage invasives, protect endangered species, prevent poaching and use nonlethal methods to control wildlife.

The people of Wyoming have seen firsthand how devastating poaching can be. Earlier this spring, the Sheridan County Sherriff’s Office charged one man with poaching more than 100 deer. In 2018 alone, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department issued 160 citations for hunters failing to tag big or trophy game. The numbers are staggering.

This issue isn’t unique to Wyoming. Several other states struggle with poaching, and it has become a pandemic overseas. Some of the world’s most beloved species are on the verge of extinction. Over the past decade, international poachers seeking to cash in on the ivory trade have reduced the population of African elephants by 75 percent.

America’s innovators are developing cutting-edge technologies to fight poaching more effectively. These approaches include the use of genetic testing to identify the origins of illicit ivory and drones to locate poachers in our national parks.

The WILD Act also reauthorizes successful conservation programs to protect some of the world’s rarest animals, such as elephants, tigers, great apes, rhinos and marine turtles.

The people of Wyoming understand the importance of protecting wildlife. Innovation is one of the best tools to conserve endangered species and keep invasive species under control. The WILD Act will help spark that innovation.

John Barrasso, a Republican senator from Wyoming, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.