Toasting to conservation: Three champions for the sportsmen’s community recognized at our annual gala

Conservation philanthropist Louis Bacon, Sen. Martin Heinrich, and Sen. James Risch recognized at eighth annual awards dinner

At its eighth annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner last night, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated three honorees building a legacy of support for fish and wildlife on Capitol Hill and across the country: Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), and conservation philanthropist Louis Bacon.

Image courtesy of Kristyn Brady.

The gala event, held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., brought together policy-makers, conservation advocates, and outdoor industry leaders.

Bacon received TRCP’s 2016 Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award after more than two decades of supporting efforts to conserve threatened habitat, protect open spaces, and safeguard clean water through The Moore Charitable Foundation, which he founded in 1992.

In his opening statement last night, TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh extolled Bacon’s remarkable work with former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create the 170,000-acre centerpiece of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, the nation’s 558th unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the efforts of all the honorees to embody Roosevelt’s words: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”

“Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy is one of great environmental success, but conservation success today requires as much, or more commitment than in Roosevelt’s time when tens of millions of acres of natural wildlife habitat could be set aside with the stroke of a pen,” said Bacon. “Conservation success today is also about tackling the issue of environmental justice. We must guarantee that all citizens have access to clean water and clean air as well as access to the outdoors that we all love.” 

Sen. Heinrich and Sen. Risch were presented with the 2016 James D. Range Conservation Award—named for TRCP’s co-founder, a conservation visionary, and presented to one Democrat and one Republican each year—for their dedication to protecting what sportsmen value in Congress.

As he accepted his award from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Heinrich lauded the overwhelming bipartisanship of last week’s Senate vote to pass sweeping energy modernization legislation including big conservation benefits for fish and wildlife. “Marble halls and concrete are certainly not my natural habitat, but I’m motivated to be here and ensure that the outdoor experiences I’ve enjoyed all my life are possible long after I’m gone,” said Heinrich.

In his time as senator, Risch has co-sponsored legislation designed to reauthorize key conservation programs and put an end to fire borrowing, and as governor of Idaho, he was instrumental in creating the state’s roadless rule—a fact highlighted by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a 2013 honoree who presented Risch with his award. “We can accomplish conservation in America if we all come to the table and enter the collaborative process with a spirit of goodwill,” said Risch.

Learn more about the TRCP’s Capitol Conservation Awards.

Barbecue, Beer, and Sportsmen: Celebrating Conservation with Secretary Jewell

Jewell discussed the power of hunter and angler voices in Washington and her dedication to public lands access and sage-grouse restoration at annual barbecue on the Potomac

Last night, at a celebration of her final year in office, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell thanked American sportsmen and women who speak up for conservation funding, habitat management, and the protection of public lands access. The event was hosted by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership at the Potomac Boat Club.

Image courtesy of Kristyn Brady.

After chatting over barbecue and beer with conservation community leaders from across the country, Jewell addressed the crowd and was candid about her remaining goals related to conservation, hunting, fishing, habitat restoration, public lands, and youth and minority engagement.

“We’re going to keep our good momentum going,” said Jewell, who highlighted the landscape-scale conservation effort on behalf of sage grouse and the need to look to the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. “Every day is a tricky balance between the here and now—non-renewable resources, fish and wildlife habitat, the livelihoods and heritage of the tribes and ranchers—and what we leave to future generations. People expect us to be in the forever business.”

Jewell also had advice for conservation advocates: “Never stop talking about how much sportsmen and women contribute to the economy. You represent a constituency that is Republican, Democrat, Independent, hunting, fishing, Latino, Caucasian, new generations waiting to get outside, and people like me, who grew up in the outdoors. All these people can help to make progress on the things we care about,” she said.

“We have a great conservation ally in Secretary Jewell, who understands the clout of the outdoor recreation industry and the restorative power of spending time on our nation’s public lands—in solitude or with family and friends,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “Throughout her term, she has been a champion for many of the things sportsmen stand for, including making better investments in conservation, improving fish and wildlife habitat, balancing multiple uses of America’s public lands, and securing access for all. We’re anxious to work with her this year and see these priorities through.”

Key to success in conservation: Hunters and anglers like YOU

Annual report highlights 2015 growth and success in service of guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish

We just released our 2015 Annual Report detailing the our diverse array of accomplishments benefiting habitat and sportsmen’s access in the last calendar year. It’s all thanks to hunters and anglers like you; thanks to our growing coalition of 46 formal partners, 23 corporate affiliates, and thousands of supporters across the U.S., you’ve helped us affect positive policy changes and conservation investments in service of Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy and our mission to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.

“Too often, people mistake action for accomplishment. Nowhere is this more true than in Washington, where how many meetings you attend is often mistaken for actual success,” writes TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh and Board Chairman Weldon Baird in the opening pages of the report. “For the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, 2015 was about accomplishment— achieving real results that will directly benefit fish and wildlife habitat and Americans’ access to those lands and waters.”

Despite ongoing threats from well-funded anti-conservation interests, the benefits of last year’s work will extend to marine fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, greater sage grouse and other sagebrush species of the West, headwater streams and wetlands across the country, and all Americans who rely on public lands for their hunting and fishing access. The 501(c)(3) organization also confirms its accountability to donors by sharing 2015 financials and accolades from charity-watch organizations, including a third four-star rating from Charity Navigator.

Read the 2015 Annual Report here.

Glassing The Hill: April 25 – 29

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate and the House are both in session this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The House NDAA includes a greater sage-grouse provision that is sure to ruffle some feathers. The House Armed Services Committee will hold a mark-up of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation which helps fund our military, on Wednesday, April 27. The chairman’s version of the bill includes language from “The Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act,” which would undermine conservation plans in core habitat areas. Congresswoman Tsongas (D-Mass.) is expected to make a motion to strike the provision to be stripped from the underlying bill. So far, this effort is playing out precisely as it did in 2015.

Aquatic habitat improvements that benefit wildlife and improved access. On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will mark up the Water Resources Development Act, which would address various aspects of water resources administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Sportsmen should be pleased with a possible addition to the bill calling for use of nonstructural, naturally-occurring infrastructure, such as wetlands, in place of sewer and stormwater inlets. Using natural infrastructure would improve water and habitat quality and enhance hunting and fishing opportunities.

It’s open to debate. The Senate will continue considering “The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act,” which will not include a rider to block the administration’s clean water rule after Senator Hoeven’s (R-N.D.) amendment failed to pass last week. Later in the week, the Senate will begin consideration of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill. The House will consider two bills: a resolution to prevent retirement investment regulations from being altered; “The Email Privacy Act,” legislation that would require the government to obtain a warrant before accessing people’s electronic devices.

Here’s what else we’re tracking:

Tuesday, April 26

Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing on oil and gas development in different environments and economies

Wednesday, April 27

House Armed Services Committee mark-up on the National Defense Authorization Act

Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing on the Clean Water Rule 

House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing entitled; “Bureau of Land Management’s Regulatory Overreach into Methane Emissions Regulation”

House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans hearing on renewable energy resources

Thursday, April 28

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s role in the Pebble Mine case

Senate Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining hearing on invasive species

House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing entitled; “Locally-elected Officials Cooperating with Agencies in Land Management Act”

House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on public land management along The United States’ border

This Chopper-Aided Wildlife Study Looks Dramatic and Has Lasting Impacts on Conservation

Our Wyoming field rep gets up close with big game species in an exciting capture-and-collar study

Most people, especially hunters, are intrigued by the idea of wildlife captures and studies. The data is critical, but the logistics are mind-boggling. So is the prospect of being that close to a live big-game animal. I get a lot of questions about the captures happening around Wyoming when I mention that I work on wildlife migration for TRCP —when I clarify that I work on policy, I’m usually met with blank expressions.

Well, prepare for my bar stories to get a whole lot more exciting, because a few weeks ago I was able to help out with the captures to help study mule deer and bighorn sheep migration, right here in my hometown of Dubois, WY. I’d seen photos and videos of the process before, but to be there in person with a helicopter buzzing overhead, and to carry and hold down a live animal, was an intense experience.

There’s no shortage of people willing to help the Wyoming Migration Initiative and Wyoming Game and Fish Department staff with these captures, and joining us over the course of two days were volunteers from the National Bighorn Sheep Center, Muley Fanatic Foundation, a local education program called SOAR, The Nature Conservancy, and many other groups. The folks running the show were actually more concerned with keeping volunteer numbers to a reasonable level than not having enough help. It made me wish we had this nice-to-have problem when asking sportsmen to engage in policy decisions.

One of the younger volunteers expressed concern that the captures seem stressful for the animals—you may be thinking the same thing when you watch the video above. A skilled marksman in a helicopter flies over and fires a net gun to capture each animal, which is then blindfolded and hobbled before being flown in mid-air to a field where a bunch of people are prepared to install a collar and take all kinds of samples including blood, fecal, ultrasounds – a whole lot of poking and prodding to a stunned creature.

The important thing to remember is that the information collected helps us study their diseases, body condition, and movements, so captures are invaluable to making sure our wildlife herds stay healthy. Armed with data, wildlife and land managers can make informed decisions to help reduce disease transmission, improve habitat quality, and conserve areas that mule deer are known—not just assumed—to frequent.

This is actually where my work at the TRCP comes in. Based on the best science and data, we’re able to advocate for the places where habitat protections are needed, like migration corridors and stopover habitats, to ensure healthy wildlife herds.

Image courtesy of Jessi Johnson.

Prior to the use of GPS-collars, biologists had a rough-to-good idea of where herds migrated and identified these areas with only a simple line on a map. With GPS-collars affixed to big game animals, it is now possible to get accurate location and timing data that identifies stopover areas and the full width of the corridor over its entire length, along with being able to model the high-use corridor. Looking at the old routes, compared to the new information, you can see how useful this is for wildlife conservation—less guesswork means more improvements that keep herds healthy.

Left: Data previously available for mule deer migration routes in the Big Sandy area.
Right: The data available now that includes the mule deer corridors for the Sublette Herd showing the Red Desert to Hoback high-use corridor (black outlined) and stopover areas (pink polygons).

Joining these captures gave me a new perspective on what it takes to get the data that is so necessary for wildlife conservation. Even though I worked crazy hours as a hunting guide and field biologist in the past, I was impressed by the crew’s stamina in getting all the animals captured and sampled safely, and Dubois was just one stop on their tour. It also inspired me to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure the science gets translated into good policy, so that the stress these animals endure benefits their future.

Image courtesy of Jessi Johnson.

This is where you come in: We need YOUR help to let decision-makers know that sportsmen want the best wildlife science resulting in strong policy. A few months ago, when the WY Game & Fish Commission was updating their strategy for managing migration corridors, comments and feedback from hundreds of sportsmen really made the difference.

I hope we can count on you and your voice in the future. Policy isn’t as exciting as being out on the hunt or wetting a line, but it’s critical to ensure that our hunting and angling opportunities and wildife health continue to be unmatched throughout the world.

Be the first to know about sportsmen’s issues and how you can help. 


Public Lands, Fish, and Wildlife Get a Jolt from the Senate Energy Bill

Sportsmen have been fighting for years to move these conservation priorities across the finish line

The Senate has just passed a comprehensive energy reform bill that includes key conservation provisions to benefit fish, wildlife, and sportsmen’s access. This is a true bipartisan achievement that highlights our uniquely American conservation values.

“Sportsmen’s groups, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and virtually all of our partners, have been working for years to pass comprehensive legislation that enhances access and conserves vital habitat,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “This bill succeeds on both measures, and hunters and anglers should applaud its passage as an indication that enthusiasm for conservation is very much alive in Washington.”

Sandy River, Oregon. Image courtesy of BLM.

“The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015” would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a critical program for enhancing public access to the outdoors. It also includes a provision known as “Making Public Lands Public,” which specifies that 1.5 percent of LWCF dollars are to be used to establish and expand recreational access to national public lands, in particular.

“Permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund means we never again have to experience uncertainty for the program,” says Bethany Erb, a Mule Deer Foundation board member. “Over the past 50 years, the LWCF has enhanced public access for hunters and urban families alike, and the ‘Making Public Lands Public’ provision would ensure that improvements for outdoor recreation—a robust driver of spending—are adequately funded.”

This is the first energy reform legislation passed in the upper chamber in nine years—a feat in itself—but hunters and anglers are especially pleased to see that many elements of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 (S.405) have finally found a way forward through an amendment offered by Senators Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) It passed 97-0 yesterday.

The amendment permanently reauthorizes the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, “a critical conservation tool for Western lands,” says Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “We applaud this bipartisan action to advance the permanent authorization of FLTFA, which uses proceeds from strategic federal land sales to protect high priority federal conservation areas that preserve important fish and wildlife habitat, increase recreational opportunities, and protect our nation’s special places.” Prior to its expiration in 2011, FLTFA leveraged strategic federal land sales to fund 39 priority conservation projects, including many that expanded sportsmen’s access to world-class hunting and fishing opportunities.

Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts.
Image courtesy of Anna-Marie York/USFWS.

The amendment also reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), a grant program through which each federal dollar invested is matched an average of three times over by non-federal dollars. “These investments have major on-the-ground impacts for the management and conservation of wetlands for waterfowl and other wildlife,” says John Devney, vice president of U.S. policy for Delta Waterfowl. “In the prairie potholes region, for example, NAWCA dollars could mean the difference between the protection of grasslands and wetlands and the disappearance of key breeding habitats in the Duck Factory.”

Recreational anglers would also get a boost from the amendment, which authorizes the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act. The program was created to foster partnerships that improve conditions for fish species and enhance recreational fishing opportunities. “The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act brings together state and federal agencies as well as conservation organizations to better coordinate watershed restoration activities,” says Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited. “It’s really just a commonsense approach to restoring and protecting fish habitat, which also creates great opportunities for the angling community. We’re thrilled to see it approved by the Senate.”

The energy reform package must now be reconciled with the House bill (H.R. 8), which was passed in December 2015, and sent to the president’s desk before the end of this Congress.

Glassing the Hill: April 18 – 22

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Both chambers are in session this week, and there’s a lot going on.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The energy bill has been jolted back to life. Last week, several Senators released any hold on that big, sweeping energy bill that we keep talking about, so the bill can finally move forward to the Senate floor. Senator Stabenow (D-Mich.) decided to find another vehicle to address the Flint, Michigan water contamination crisis, and Senator Cassidy (R-La.) also dropped his amendment that would have allowed a greater share of federal revenues from offshore energy production to go to Gulf Coast states. “The Energy Policy Modernization Act” could be considered on the Senate floor as early as this week. The resurfacing of the energy package is a win for hunters and anglers, because several provisions from “The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act” have been included in an amendment offered by Senator Murkowski (R-Alaska).  These provisions include reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, and the establishment of “The National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act,” all of which help implement conservation projects that benefit fish and wildlife habitat.

The news on spending levels isn’t all bad. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) is optimistic that individual spending bills will soon be ready for floor consideration, and he continues to schedule mark-ups on the appropriations committees and subcommittess. On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee will mark up the spending bill for agriculture, rural development, the FDA, and related agencies, plus the “The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.”

Last Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled their 302(b) allocations, leaving the Interior-Environment spending bill with $134 million less than what was appropriated for fiscal year 2016. Cuts weren’t as deep as expected, though, since there is a $4.6-billion hole to fill in order to boost veteran’s programs.

But there is one major threat to clean water. Senators will now turn their attention to the Energy and Water Development Appropriations package on the floor this week. Sen. Hoeven (R-N.D.) is expected to offer an amendment to this bill that would defund the administration’s Clean Water Rule—this would be a blow to sportsmen who celebrated the rule’s improved protections for headwater streams, wetlands, fish, and waterfowl.

And that all-too-familiar threat to sage grouse still looms large. We’re learning that the Senate Armed Services Committee will begin a three-day mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on May 11. As we reported last week, the House version (scheduled for mark-up on Wednesday, April 27) is expected to include Rep. Bishop’s (R-Utah) “The Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act of 2016,” which would prevent implementation of federal conservation plans for the bird and create an unprecedented shift in management authority of America’s public lands. More on that here. The TRCP is working hard with partner organizations to keep greater sage-grouse provisions out of any final NDAA package.

House Republicans punt Puerto Rico bill mark-up. Further discussion of “The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” (PROMESA) was postponed, because of disagreements on the debt-related provisions of the bill. (GOP members want the bill to make investors the top priority over public pensions and unions.) We have a bone to pick, too: It’s the part where Congress would transfer the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which would then be clear to sell off public lands. Look for a mark-up on PROMESA in the House Natural Resources Committee next week.

Here’s what else we’re tracking:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe headlines the list of witnesses for a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the “Recent Changes to Endangered Species Critical Habitat Designation and Implementation”

Spending bills for the Environmental Protection Agency and agriculture-, energy-, and water-related agencies

Oil and gas development in different price environments, to be discussed in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing

Mineral leasing in the Alleghany National Forest will be the subject of a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Water conservation compliance and funding, plus a salmon conservation bill in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing

Using innovative technology to improve the water supply, to be explored in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing

The process for delisting endangered and threatened species (of which there are 2,258) will be discussed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior in a hearing

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Greater sage grouse conservation could be in the mix when the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness meets to mark-up the National Defense Authorization Act (see above)

Legislation impacting public lands in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, and Virginia, to be examined in a jam-packed Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining hearing

This Threat to Sage Grouse Conservation is Giving Us Déjà Vu

One lawmaker has gathered up the remnants of a very bad idea and could try to make them stick to must-pass national defense legislation

Have you ever binged too many episodes of The Walking Dead and later woke up from a nightmare about trying to kill the same zombie over and over? Well, then you have an idea of what it feels like to work in Washington. Here, it seems, all victories are short-lived, because bad ideas, horrific talking points, and dangerous legislation just keep getting revived.

You may recall that in the summer of 2015—the year of the goat according to the Chinese Zodiac and the year of the greater sage grouse in our circles—Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would do all sorts of bad things for the imperiled grouse. The amendment would halt sage-grouse conservation measures already in progress, undermine ongoing collaborative efforts to protect the species, waste millions of taxpayer dollars invested in planning and management of federal public lands, force federal agencies to adopt state conservation plans, and delay a listing decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 10 years.

Image courtesy of Jeannie Stafford/USFWS.

Of course, sportsmen and other groups were vocal in their opposition, the amendment was withdrawn, and a few months later the greater sage grouse was not listed for Endangered Species Act protection, as long as the feds, states, and private stakeholders followed through with implementing conservation plans that everyone worked overtime to create.

Still, that doesn’t mean happily-ever-after for sage grouse or sportsmen. On March 15, 2016, Utah Representative Rob Bishop introduced “The Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act of 2016” (H.R. 4739), which would allow Western states containing sage-grouse habitat to enact state management plans on the federal public lands within their borders, negating many key conservation measures and creating a recipe for potential range-wide failure of the bird. Success of this bill would also represent an unprecedented shift in management authority on America’s public lands, and it could be offered as an amendment to this year’s NDAA in just a few weeks.

Around the same time that Bishop resurrected this bad idea, the threat of which is no specter but very full-bodied indeed, lobbyists were sowing the seeds of some old, discredited rhetoric: That an endangered or threatened species listing would have been better than living with the constraints of the federal conservation plans. Here’s how bogus that line really is.

This is not a bad dream—it’s a serious affront. We’ll be working diligently with our partners to make sure that all the collaboration and investment in creating a three-part recovery effort—one that will take federal, state, and private-land conservation efforts in order to pull off actual, legally-defensible results for these birds and all sagebrush species—was not wasted. But we need sportsmen and women like you to be just as unrelenting. Your voices helped to hold lawmakers accountable less than a year ago, and you’ll be our most effective messengers once again. Don’t wake up in a cold sweat years from now wondering what might have been.

Proposed Sale of National Wildlife Refuge Could Set a Very Dangerous Precedent

This bill would allow thousands of acres of the popular Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to be sold by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Image courtesy of Maritza Vargas/USFWS.

You don’t hear us talk much about conservation in the Caribbean, but a bill that’s being marked up this week in Congress deals with the economic stability of Puerto Rico in a way that could set a very dangerous precedent for all of America’s public lands. Section 405 of “The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” (PROMESA) would transfer thousands of acres of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, voted fourth best in the entire refuge system in 2015, to the commonwealth as a bargaining chip to help address Puerto Rico’s financial crisis.

This portion of the refuge could be sold off to private interests, while Puerto Ricans could soon be saying goodbye to a chunk of fish and wildlife habitat that was painstakingly conserved from a former superfund site. Not only is this bad news for sportsmen and women who rely on access to the refuge on an increasingly urban island, but it could clear the way for Congress to take similar steps right here at home. But selling a treasured resource for short-term financial gain fails all tests of economic sensibility, and is akin to burning down your house to stay warm.

Help Us Make Some Noise

Does this fight sound familiar? It should. There are other Congressional attempts to get a foot in the door and open up public lands to being sold off or closed off forever. Here’s one way you can help: Sign the petition at sportsmensaccess.org. We will literally drop it on the desks of lawmakers to show them that hunters and anglers like YOU are opposed to this very bad idea—and at 25,000+ names, it makes some noise

Official Status of BP Settlement Means Conservation Can Finally Roll On

A few signatures kick off the next phase of oil spill recovery that could revive long-term habitat health in the Gulf

Image courtesy of Louisiana GOHSEP.

BP and a federal judge have finally made it official—the historic settlement between the states, the federal government, and BP has been signed. Now, the Gulf of Mexico’s fish, wildlife, and habitat—not to mention the communities that depend on outdoor recreation dollars—can move forward in the ongoing process of repairing damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The details of the settlement weren’t breaking news by the time U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier made the consent decree official with the stroke of a pen on April 4. In fact, many of the particulars, including the $20.8-billion total penalty, were released to the public after all parties agreed in principle last October.

This doesn’t mean that we’ll be breaking ground on ecosystem-scale restoration projects tomorrow. After all, BP has more than 15 years to pay in full. It does, however, mark another important milestone in a recovery effort large enough in scale that it could repair the damage caused by the spill as well as ongoing habitat losses and water quality impairments that threaten the long-term health of the Gulf.

The agreement also means that the veil can be lifted on the volumes of data collected by state and federal agencies intensively studying the adverse effects of the oil on fish, birds, turtles, marine mammals, and thousands of plants, crustaceans, insects, and other invertebrates that play a crucial role in the intricate Gulf ecosystem. Gag orders during ongoing negotiations prevented the sharing of most of that information with the public, which frustrated journalists, conservationists, sportsmen, and anyone else wondering about the true toll of the nation’s worst environmental disaster. Once that information is made public, we can better engage in and advocate for the projects that best address the damages.

Image courtesy of State of Louisiana.

If you’re interested in the nitty gritty details, BP will pay $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, 80 percent of which will go to economic and ecosystem restoration projects across the Gulf, thanks to the Restore Act signed into law in 2012. More than $8 billion will be paid in Natural Resource Damage Assessment fines to be used on projects that directly address the damage to creatures, habitats, and the users whose access to the resources was, and in some cases continues to be, disrupted by the spill. And, BP also owes states and local governments nearly $6 billion to make up for lost revenues.

The TRCP and its sportfishing and habitat conservation partners have been working diligently with hunters, anglers, policy-makers, the media, and elected officials across the region for the last five years to help ensure that Gulf fish and fishermen are made a priority throughout the restoration effort. This group has formally recommended projects and initiatives that improve habitat, increase and improve fisheries research and data collection, and improve access for anglers. Many of those recommendations have been incorporated into projects already selected to receive funding.

Image courtesy of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Considering that recreational fishing contributes more than $10 billion annually to the region’s economy and supports nearly 100,000 jobs in Gulf states, investing in projects that improve angling opportunities ensures the viability of coastal communities from Brownsville, Texas, to Key West, Fla. But, the only way those investments are made wisely is if anglers across the Gulf and throughout the nation continue to insist that restoration dollars make it to the habitat and fish. We can’t let this game-changing settlement get eaten up by legislative pet-projects, state budget band-aids, and bureaucratic boondoggles.

Anglers also need to keep a close eye on projects and initiatives that aim to limit or prevent fishing opportunities. The net result of this lengthy restoration and recovery effort should be more quality chances to hunt and fish, not fewer.

As the sixth anniversary of the spill approaches, the settlement’s approval is reason to be thankful that the funds needed to address damages and make the Gulf a better place won’t be tied up in a decade-long legal battle. However, the difficult task of ensuring that penalties have lasting, positive effects on the region’s natural resources and communities is just beginning.

If you want to make sure we continue this important work in the Gulf, consider donating to the TRCP.