07/29/2011 at 05:00 PM EDT
Ian Somerhalder may play a murderous bad boy on The Vampire Diaries
, but in real life, he's got a soft spot for humans and animals
"Wildlife and environmental conservation has always been not just a passion, but a priority of mine," he testified in Washington, D.C., on Thursday before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources.
Speaking on behalf of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, which is dedicated to "habitat conservation, species protection and clean energy initiatives," the actor urged Congress to pass a new conservation act. This would ensure continued funding for the protection of species like the African elephant, rhinoceros, tiger and Asian elephant.
"With the U.S. leading the effort, governments around the world are able to begin investing in their ecosystems," Somerhalder said. "We are finding that species conservation is paying off in terms of both the environment and local government action."
Somerhalder then named several animal species, including marine turtles and great apes, who remain endangered and in need of being looked after in their natural habitats by the U.S.
"Due to instability or indifference in the areas that many of these species call home, for most of them, we are the first, last, and only hope for survival," he said. "As the ones with the power to make a difference, the responsibility rests with us. It is imperative that we live up to it."