About Whit Fosburgh

Whit Fosburgh joined TRCP as President and CEO in June 2010. Prior to working at the TRCP, Fosburgh spent 15 years at Trout Unlimited, playing a critical role in that organization’s evolution into a conservation powerhouse. Fosburgh grew up hunting and fishing in upstate New York and was a member of team USA in the 1997 World Fly Fishing Championships. He brings a wealth of experience centered on conservation policy, fundraising and program development as well as a passion for the outdoors.

Federal Judge Blocks Clean Water Rule

Late Thursday, a federal judge in North Dakota blocked the EPA’s new clean water rule just hours before it was due to take effect. Here’s our take:

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

“The EPA’s rule simply restores clean water protections to what they once were, a move that is essential for the future of outdoor recreation, public health, and the economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s disappointing that opponents of clean water would prefer legal maneuvers and confusion over clarity in the law, which benefits industry and conservation alike. To ensure the health of one in three Americans, who get their drinking water from streams currently without protection, and the $646-billion outdoor economy driven by hunters, anglers, and others who rely on clean water, this rule must be allowed to move forward.”

The sale of your public lands is more possible now than ever

Yesterday the US Senate passed a budget resolution that, while it does not carry the weight of law – does serve as an internal instructional document, a broad outline of the policies and priorities that Congress will seek over the next few months to implement in legislation that most certainly will carry the weight of law. As such, it included a series of up or down votes that put members of the Senate on record on several issues important to sportsmen.

Photo courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

And, in general, it was not good news.  First, the numbers:

The Senate budget resolution would maintain sequestration for non-defense discretionary spending (including all conservation spending) and then cut an additional $236 billion over the 2017 to 2025 period.  The Senate budget would cut conservation funding in FY2016 by about $5 billion dollars relative to 2013 levels.  Conservation Funding wouldn’t return to its 2013 funding level of $41 billion until 2022.  If you adjust for inflation the cuts inflicted by the budget will be far worse.

And now the policy:

I’ll start with the two bright spots.  Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) amendment clarifies that all existing agricultural exemptions in the Clean Water Act, which date back to the early 1970s, should be maintained in the proposed Waters of the US rule.  That the amendment passed unanimously may signal that Congress may be willing to look at the facts on the proposed rule and not just the rhetoric from status quo stakeholders.  The next bright spot was an amendment offered by Senators Crapo (R-ID) and Wyden (D-OR) that changes the way we pay for catastrophic fires, which now eat up almost half of the Forest Service’s annual budget. The amendment had sufficient support that it was included in the manager’s report by acclimation.

Besides the basic funding levels, the giant alarm bell coming from the budget resolution was the amendment offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that essentially encourages Congress to “sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument…” The amendment passed 51-49. Here is a roll call of the vote.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

As most sportsmen know, transferring lands to the state or selling them off is a bad deal for sportsmen.  See www.sportsmensaccess.org for more information on the issue.  If Congress were to follow these instructions, all BLM lands, National Forests and even National Wildlife Refuges could go on the chopping block.  Heck, even national battlefields and historic sites could be transferred or sold.

All Democrats voted against the Murkowski amendment, and three Republicans — Senators Alexander (TN), Senator Ayotte (NH) and Senator Gardner (CO) — bucked leadership and sided with sportsmen.

The budget resolution does not carry the weight of law and is an easy place for members to make “symbolic” votes without actually changing the law.  But symbolic votes show what members think and what they think is important.

Make no mistake about it, the public lands vote on the budget resolution was a finger in the eye to sportsmen everywhere.  But the real action is still to come, the question is whether sportsmen and women will pay attention and make their elected representatives know what they think about selling off or giving away our public lands.

As a sportsman who cares about access to our federal public lands, you can do two things right away.

  1. Sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition at www.sportsmensaccess.org – and then forward it to two other friends and urge them to sign as well.
  2. Call your Senator’s office at (202) 224-3121 and thank them if they voted ‘No’ or voice your concern if they voted ‘Yes’ (see how they voted here).

Testimony on the Bipartisan Sportsman’s Act of 2015

This morning, our president Whit Fosburgh testified on behalf of S. 556, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. You can read his oral testimony to the committee below and the link to the archived webcast follows:

My name is Whit Fosburgh, and I am the President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of more than 40 national hunting, fishing and conservation groups dedicated to guaranteeing that all Americans have quality places to hunt and fish.

Image by the US Government.

First, I want to thank the committee for the invitation to testify today, and especially Chairwoman Murkowski and Senator Heinrich, for introducing S. 556, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, and bringing it before the committee.  When combined with the companion bill that will make its way through the Environment Committee, the Sportsmen’s Act will make a direct and lasting contribution to hunting, fishing and conservation in America.

Approximately 40 million Americans hunt and fish every year.  Together, hunters and anglers annually spend more than $90 billion to pursue their passions.   They are a key part of the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy, and through excise taxes, license fees, permits and stamps, and voluntary contributions of money and labor, sportsmen have, for more than 75 years, paid their way.  As a result, American fish and wildlife management is the envy of the world.

But federal policy and funding are key to maintaining the North American Model of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and helping people of all walks of life get afield.

Image by Joel Webster.

Hunters and anglers need two things to practice their sports: access and opportunity.  They need places to go to hunt and fish, and when they get there, they need healthy populations of fish and game.

S. 556 is important in both regards.

Section 101 reiterates that our public lands are opening for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting unless they are specifically closed, and it establishes a public process should it makes sense to close certain areas.  This is consistent with the way our public lands have been managed since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, but it provides our land managers with added clarity in this era of competing demands on our public lands.

Sections 201 and 202 directly address the issue of decreasing access to our public lands.  According to various studies, lack of access is one of the most often cited reasons why people stop hunting and fishing.  Part of this is due to non-stop urban and suburban sprawl, where farms and forests turn into malls and condos.

Another part of this is fewer private landowners who allow public access.  The 2014 Farm Bill, with its Open Fields provision, was an important step toward providing incentives to private landowners to allow hunting, fishing and/or access on their lands.

But in the West, more than 70 percent of hunters hunt on public lands.  Nationally, about half of all hunters hunt some or all of the time on public lands.  But even those lands are getting harder and harder to access.

Image by Ken and Cathy Beck.

In the old days, you could ask most landowners to cross their lands to access adjoining public lands.  But as ownership patterns change, such access becomes more difficult.  Today, it is estimated that more than 30 million acres of public lands are largely inaccessible to the public.

Senator Heinrich’s HUNT Act (Section 202) seeks to identify those landlocked public lands and to plan ways in which access to those lands might be improved.

Complementary to the HUNT Act is Section 201, Making Public Lands Public, which would direct that a small percentage of the Land and Water Conservation Fund target projects that expand access to our public lands.

For more than 50 years, LWCF has been an incredibly important program for conserving habitat and providing sportsmen’s access, and Section 201 would help ensure that this legacy of access will continue.  I want to specifically note that my colleague on the panel, Jeff Crane, has been pushing for Making Public Lands Public for many years, and to thank him for his persistence.

I would also request that a copy of the report, endorsed by more than 20 organizations, entitled The Land and Water Conservation Fund and America’s sportsmen and women: A 50-year legacy of increased access and improved habitat, be submitted for the hearing record.

I should also note that the authorization for the LWCF expires later this year, and that 1.5 percent of nothing is nothing.  We look forward to working with the chairwoman and the committee to make sure that LWCF is reauthorized and fully funded.

The final provision that I want to discuss is Section 203, the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. Before its expiration in 2011, FLTFA had leveraged strategic federal land sales to fund 39 priority land conservation projects across the American West, including many of which expanded sportsmen’s access to world class hunting and fishing opportunities. In total, more than 27,000 acres of excess properties were sold to purchase more than 18,000 acres of high priority fish and wildlife, recreation and/or scenic lands.

Like Making Public Lands Public, FLTFA achieves real, on-the-ground conservation goals, without costing the American taxpayer.

Image courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The companion bill to S.556 that the Environment Committee will consider includes several other key provisions for habitat and access, including reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and, I hope, the National Fish Habitat Conservation Partnership Act.

TRCP’s testimony starts at 45:40.

In closing, I want to thank the Committee for considering the Bipartisan Sportsmen Act of 2015.  I also want to make the plea that committee members and the whole Senate continue to set aside partisan politics on behalf of America’s sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts.  Conservation has, for more than a century, been non-partisan.  But as we have seen in the last two Congresses, similarly meritorious sportsmen’s acts died as the desire to score political points overrode the needs of America’s sportsmen.

I think I speak for all 40+ of our partner groups when I say that we stand ready to work with you and your colleagues to make sure that this doesn’t not happen again, and to pass this critical legislation that will help ensure that all Americans have quality places to hunt and fish now and for generations to come.

Read our full written testimony here.

America’s public lands are for all of us to use

Sportsmen have been called on to defend our public lands a lot lately. Short-sighted proposals have popped up in state legislatures all across the West this winter to transfer the ownership of our public lands away from the American people. Hunters and anglers have been on the front lines, often right on the steps of state capitols, defending more than a hundred years of our national outdoor legacy.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

One of those bad ideas has migrated to Washington, with the February 13 introduction of S.490, the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2015. This legislation would turn the management of energy production on millions of acres of American public lands over to the states. The logic behind this bill is that energy production should be the dominant use of public lands, and that literally every barrier should be removed to make sure that production occurs quickly and with little regard for fish and wildlife habitat or access, indeed with little regard for anything.

S.490 is crafted on the principle that states can regulate energy production on federal public lands more efficiently and more effectively than can the federal land management agencies. This may well be true if one believes federal public lands should be singularly focused on the production of energy. State regulations for energy development are generally targeted at maximizing profits on state, and frequently, on private, lands.  Our federal public lands were created for a higher purpose than rapid development at all costs. This legislation represents a reversal of the multiple use mandate that has been a foundational principle on federal public lands for more than a century. The American people own these lands and the American people must insist on having a say in their long-range management.

Energy development clearly has a place on federal lands, but it must be balanced with other uses and the public has a right to make its voice heard in that management.  The Federal Land Freedom Act, however, makes clear that the public will have no input on public lands decision making when it comes to energy development. The legislation ensures, in no uncertain terms, that the Administrative Procedures Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act will be specifically cut out of the process for determining where energy production ought to go, and where it ought not to go.

The notion that underlies this bill, and many of the other land transfer ideas we’ve seen in recent months, is that these federal lands that have not been industrialized are “unused” or “underutilized.” In introducing S.490, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) said “The states, not the federal government, are the ones best equipped to tend to the extensive unused and unprotected lands across the nation that the federal government has staked a claim to.”

Photo courtesy of Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinksi – International League of Conservation Photographers.

As any sportsmen can attest, the notion that if an area is not industrialized means it is unused is nonsense, and likely spoken by someone who has never left the comfort of his or her vehicle to experience our public lands.  It ignores the fact that our public lands are the backbone of the nation’s $646 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy.  It ignores the fact that 72 percent of hunters in the west rely on public lands to pursue their passion.  And it ignores the fact that wide open places, like Wyoming’s sage country (often referred to as “The Big Empty”) provides critical habitat for 350 different species, from sage-grouse and golden eagles to mule deer and pronghorn.

The reality is that this lack of development on some of our public lands provides access and opportunity for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts from around the country.  Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation power a rural economic boom that won’t ever go bust, so long as we take care of the habitat and the access.

Hunters and anglers are amongst the strongest champions of federal public lands, as witnessed by the rallies we are seeing across the West opposing selling off or transferring to the states our public lands. We must remain vigilant as well against proposals that don’t go quite so far as wholesale transfer, but that will just as surely forever change the public land landscape.

And we must help decision makers understand that these lands are far from unused.

What do you want our legacy to be? Sign the petition at http://sportsmensaccess.org.

Inside the President’s 2016 budget request

The President’s 2016 Budget Proposal. Image by the White House.

Today, President Barack Obama released his fiscal year 2016 budget request to Congress. The president’s call for doing away with sequestration and increasing spending by $74 billion would provide a welcome investment in sportsmen’s conservation priorities.  But the president’s budget request is just that – a request to a GOP-led Congress that will assuredly trim his proposals substantially.

Yet the president’s emphasis on increased investment in conservation programs represents a positive start to the federal budget process and certainly suggests an increased urgency by the administration to contribute more toward natural resource conservation. While a complete rollback of sequestration cuts is unlikely, these proposals enable us to see the reference points in the debate between the administration and Congress.

Many of the TRCP’s priorities received level funding or sizeable increases in the president’s budget request:

  • The North American Wetlands Conservation Act received $34 million, level funding for FY16.
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that has historically been raided by Congress, received full funding – $900 million – for the coming fiscal year.
  • The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program received $70 million, an approximate $12 million increase from FY15.
  • WaterSMART, a program that invests in collaborative efforts to better manage watersheds and preserve water for instream flow and wildlife habitat, received $58 million, a $7.5 million increase.

An additional $78 million was provided for the conservation of sage steppe landscapes. This funding will be critical in joint state/federal efforts to prevent the listing of the sage grouse and reverse declines in other game species like mule deer.

An additional $78 million was provided for the conservation of sage steppe landscapes. Image by Mia Sheppard.

The U.S. Forest Service would receive an increase of $30 million for the road and trail maintenance backlog, thereby helping provide public access to public lands. The budget would create a new pilot program, called the Integrated Resource Restoration Program, to address urgently needed road decommissioning, trail repair and removal of fish passage barriers, especially in areas where Forest Service roads may contribute to water quality problems in streams and water bodies. Decommissioned roads often cause blowouts and prevent access to the most popular recreation sites. This program is important for both sportsmen’s access and habitat restoration and enhancement. The budget also prioritizes “the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) to foster collaborative, science-based restoration on priority forest landscapes across the Nation.” The CFLRP would support jobs, provide a reliable wood supply, restore forest health and reduce the costs of fire suppression.

The proposed budget moves to end fire borrowing.

In addition, the president’s budget includes a vital provision to end wildfire borrowing. This reflects stipulations in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, legislation re-introduced in Congress this year that would classify the most extreme wildfires as natural disasters, enabling the use of federal emergency dollars to fund their suppression. This provision calls for wildfires whose suppression costs exceed 70 percent of the 10-year suppression cost average to be funded similarly to other natural disasters, restoring upwards of $400 million to the U.S. Forest Service budget. The TRCP strongly supports this bill.

Unfortunately, the president’s budget request would compound the injury Congress inflicted when it cut $402 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Program in last year’s “CRomnibus” funding bill.  The president’s budget would cut the CSP by $54 million annually beginning in 2017, or $486 million over the next 10 years.  Thankfully however, two priority programs at USDA would be well funded by the president: the celebrated new Regional Conservation Partnership Program would receive $330 million; the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, which encourages private land owners to voluntarily open their land to hunters and anglers, has retained $40 million through 2018 as authorized by the Farm Bill.

Sportsmen should consider this budget a victory and sign of renewed interest by the president in conservation investments. This is only the beginning of the debate. Congress will rightly scrutinize the president’s budget request and advance its own plan. As Congress begins this process, the TRCP is ready to make the case that conservation is always a good investment.

The Sportsmen’s State of the Union 2015

November’s elections proved that change is a constant in Washington; today’s majority can swiftly become tomorrow’s minority. But regardless of which party controls the agenda and the gavels of Congress, it remains imperative for America’s hunters and anglers to make clear our priorities: excellent access to quality fish and wildlife habitat. Communicating that message to decision makers is the mission, indeed, the very reason the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was created.

2015 promises to bring many changes and challenges, both positive and negative, to the sportsmen’s community. The TRCP and our partners will be closely tracking the following issues, all of which have the potential to significantly impact our ability to hunt, fish and otherwise enjoy what Theodore Roosevelt called “the strenuous life.”

2015 promises to bring many changes and challenges, both positive and negative, to the sportsmen’s community.

Our community of 40 million American hunters and anglers continues to be one of the very few stakeholder groups that pays our own way. Through license fees, excise taxes and membership to groups like Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, who leverage every federal dollar they receive three or four times, we support our outdoor way of life. While so many citizens expect more from the government, sportsmen are a group of citizens who continue to pay more. We remain one of the very best investments the federal government makes. As an example, this year waterfowl hunters have elected to pay just a little bit more for Duck Stamps, as we asked Congress to raise the price from $15 to $25. Few walk the halls of the Capitol lobbying for increased fees, but sportsmen understand that tomorrow’s outdoor opportunities require conservation today.

2015 may well be the “year of the sage grouse,” but whether this will be a story of failure or a conservation success story for the ages remains to be seen. The continued commitment of state and federal land managers to take the steps necessary for durable conservation of both the bird, and more importantly the sage ecosystem on which hundreds of other species depend, will be vital to sustain both the grouse and species like mule deer and pronghorn antelope. Getting it right on sage grouse now will go a long way towards avoiding a veritable cascade of listing decisions that may well cripple the American West in a way that works for no one.

Public lands hunt

Photo courtesy of Jarred Kay.

On our national forests, the pendulum has swung away from active forest management, resulting in fuels accumulating, an increased risk of wildfire and fish and wildlife habitat in dire need of restoration. Even the most straightforward forest management projects frequently wind up in court, delayed unnecessarily for years while forest conditions deteriorate. A bipartisan, multi-stakeholder opportunity exists to improve the health of our national forests – and subsequently improve the forest-dependent economy. Short-sighted, single solution approaches that seek to return to the other extreme are no more workable than the status quo, but in this Congress TRCP believes the leadership and the will exists for pragmatic forest legislation, sportsmen look forward to being part of that conversation.

Sportsmen readily admit that management challenges exist on America’s public lands, but the sale of those public lands, an idea that seems to arise once a generation or so, remains a worrisome proposition. America’s public lands are interwoven into a sportsmen’s heritage that is more than a century old, and their accessibility to Americans of all stripes stands in stark contrast to the private ownership and moneyed access of privileged European monarchies. Few more un-American ideas exist than the notion that private economic interests should gain title to a large swath of the American legacy, and the TRCP and our partners remain committed to thwarting misguided attempts to sell, transfer or otherwise divest the federal government of its irreplaceable public lands.

Image courtesy of Howard Polskin.

Management challenges are not limited to the land, of course, but also extend to our oceans and coastal resources. Congress in 2015 may well continue to examine the law managing our nation’s fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, with an eye toward making changes in the next round of reauthorization. 2016 will be the 40th anniversary of the act. Over the past four decades, recreational saltwater fishing has grown up, but the Magnuson-Stevens Act hasn’t kept the pace. Communities that once depended on commercial fishing now just as surely depend on recreational anglers for their economic livelihoods. As congressional leaders from a variety of coastal states review American fisheries management, they would do well to consider the health of recreational fisheries on equal footing with commercial fisheries. The TRCP will continue to stress that ignoring recreational angling equates to bad economic policy.

Opportunities and threats exist, much as they always do. The theme of 2015 will be balance. With a thoughtful and open-minded approach, threats can become opportunities, and the collective interests of all Americans can be addressed. An “us versus them” mentality draws lines in the sand unnecessarily and assures that division remains the status quo.

The TRCP will seek collaboration where we can and defend strongly our rock solid principles where they are threatened. In so doing, we will make sure that the future of hunting and angling dawns bright for future generations of Americans.

Inside the CRomnibus: Conservation funding and policy riders

Image courtesy of the US Park Service.

Last night, congressional appropriators filed a $1 trillion fiscal year 2015 spending bill that would fund most government agencies through the fiscal year.

Despite a few funding shortfalls and policy riders, in total the TRCP considers the so-called “CRomnibus” a sound compromise for conservation funding. Given the overall need to address ongoing federal deficits, level funding for some of our priority programs represents a short-term win.

The bill will be considered by the House Rules Committee this afternoon and face a House vote Thursday; the Senate anticipates taking votes on the spending bill over the weekend. In order to prevent a government shutdown, Congress must pass the CRomnibus by Thursday or, more likely, enact a one- to two-day continuing resolution to buy themselves more time. In order to garner bipartisan support, the bill avoids new limits on significant EPA rules relating to climate change and water regulation and is largely free of controversial riders.

Several key conservation programs would receive level, if not increased, funding for FY2015. The North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program and Land and Water Conservation Fund would maintain current funding levels. The Forest Legacy Program would see a $2 million increase from FY14 enacted levels. The bill also prevents any regulation on the lead content of ammunition or fishing tackle covered under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

To the dismay of conservationists and sportsmen, the bill prohibits the Interior Department from writing or issuing a rule under the Endangered Species Act for the listings of any/all four subspecies of sage grouse in the coming year, although the full implications of this funding moratorium are still in the process of being interpreted at Interior. Sportsmen also are disappointed that the spending package would preclude a revision of federal wildfire funding, as the current funding mechanism has hamstrung the capacity and budget of the U.S. Forest Service in recent years.

Here are the funding levels for priority conservation programs:

National Wildlife Refuge System

  • $474.2 million for the Refuge System, a $2 million increase over last fiscal year.

EPA

  • U.S. EPA would be funded at $8.1 billion in FY15, a $60 million decrease from FY14 and $250 million more than the Obama administration asked for in its FY15 budget request.
  • EPA’s Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water state revolving funds will be given $2.35 billion, level with FY14 funding and roughly $600 million above the president’s request.

Department of the Interior and Related Agencies

  • The Department of Interior would receive $10.7 billion, slightly above the current $10.5 billion but down from Obama’s $10.9 billion request.
  • Secure Rural Schools would be zeroed out, a serious blow for Western forested counties that depend on the program to alleviate major declines in federal timber harvests. House leaders state they intend to find funding for the program early next year. Until then, they will push legislation to streamline timber sales.
  • Payment in Lieu of Taxes would receive $372 million with additional funding included in the National Defense Authorization Act.
  • State and Tribal Wildlife Grants would receive $58.695 million, level funding from FY14 enacted levels.
  • The North American Wetland Conservation Fund would receive $34.145, level funding from FY14.
  • Forest Legacy Programs would receive $53 million, a $2 million increase from FY14.
  • The Land & Water Conservation Fund will receive $306 million, level funding from FY14.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  • NOAA would receive $5.4 billion, an increase of about $126 million from FY14.

Agriculture

  • The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Programs, mandatory programs under the 2014 Farm Bill, would see roughly $200 million in reduced, mandatory spending for 2015.

Fisheries

  • National Fish Hatchery System Operations would receive $52,860,000 and maintains that Within 90 days of enactment of this Act, the Service shall publish an operations and maintenance plan for fiscal year 2015 for the National Fish Hatchery System that includes funding allocations by region, together with an explanation of the allocation methodology.

The State of the Union that sportsmen and -women would like to hear

Below is the State of the Union address that sportsmen and -women would like to hear.

My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk about what it is that makes America great and what we need to do to keep it great. And I want to talk about jobs.

America was built on the notion of rugged individualism, and no one personified this more than Theodore Roosevelt. But President Roosevelt, perhaps the nation’s greatest sportsman, understood that the nation’s resources – its lands, waters, minerals, timber, fish and wildlife – were not inexhaustible. Without proper stewardship, without conservation, we would abuse nature’s bounty and leave a legacy of extinction and pollution for future generations.

So Roosevelt did something about it. He created the core of our public lands network, conserving hundreds of millions of acres where anyone could hunt, fish, hike or just enjoy God’s bounty.

Hunters and anglers across the nation picked up on Roosevelt’s challenge and chose to pay – through excise taxes, licenses, stamps and other means – to ensure that this conservation legacy would be implemented, expanded and professionally managed. Today the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is the envy of the world and is responsible for more than 40 million Americans getting outside to fish and/or hunt every year.

Our conservation system is the foundation of an outdoor economy that generates $646 billion in direct expenditures every year and supports more than 6 million jobs. These jobs are growing in number every year – more than 5 percent annually, even through the Great Recession – and they’re jobs that will never be exported abroad.

But as Theodore Roosevelt understood, we need to protect our conservation legacy from those who favor today’s bottom line over tomorrow’s collective wealth. We do not need to look very hard to see that the same forces that Roosevelt battled more than a century ago are still active today. Consider:

  • Those who would put the world’s largest open pit mine, which would require toxic remediation forever, in Alaska at the headwaters of the world’s most productive salmon fishery.
  • Those who would ignore the threat of a leaking chemical storage tank in West Virginia and what it might do to a river and the people who get water from that river, and yet who argue that the Clean Water Act is an inappropriate government intrusion on free enterprise.
  • And those in Congress who propose selling off our public lands, or who would mandate unsustainable resource extraction from the public’s lands, or who would limit the public’s legitimate voice in how our public lands are managed.

Today I am proposing a seven step plan to re-affirm America’s commitment to conservation.

  1. I propose to reinvest in conservation. Today conservation represents just about 1 percent of the federal budget, down from about 2.5 percent in the 1970s. By 2020, America should return to a conservation commitment of at least 1.6 percent of the federal budget, the same level it was in Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
  2. We must fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, State and Tribal Grants program, WaterSmart and the other programs that invest in on-the-ground conservation. Not only do these programs meet real needs and create jobs, they leverage more than three times the federal investment from state and private funds.
  3. We must commit to expanding public access for all Americans, including our hunters and anglers. We will fully fund the USDA Open Fields Program and LWCF and target the acquisition and easement funds to projects that help reconnect the public’s access to its public lands.
  4. We must pass a Farm Bill that rewards stewardship. America’s farmers are the most productive in the world and farmers are by definition land stewards. But if we incentivize poor stewardship, we have no one but ourselves to blame when we lose topsoil, foul our rivers, and watch pheasants and other species disappear. The new Farm Bill must help farmers and ranchers act as stewards through a robust commitment to conservation programs and by eliminating any programs that encourage unsustainable practices.
  5. We must balance energy production with conservation. In 2010, I proposed sweeping changes to how the nation does energy development on our public lands, and in 2014, I will finally implement those changes. All of them. In addition, we must recognize that renewable energy also has impacts. Wind farms and solar arrays must be sited in the right places, as must transmission corridors. We will invest in cellulosic ethanol and eliminate unwise mandates for additional corn ethanol production. We will do all this while recognizing that we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and challenge the rest of the world to do the same.
  6. We must invest in sustainable fisheries. America has done a remarkable job over the last decade of reducing overfishing and rebuilding depleted fish stocks but the time has come to invest in recreational anglers. Recreational anglers represent about half the economic benefit generated by our marine fisheries, but they are managed under a system almost exclusively designed for commercial fisheries. I call on my administration and Congress to work together to amend the current system so that broad social and economic benefits can be maximized while we maintain our commitment to conservation, thereby ensuring that future generations can enjoy catching and eating the ocean’s bounty.
  7. Finally, we must work together to address the oncoming water crisis. For California, that crisis is already here. For other states, it’s on the way. We need better water planning and a stronger investment in water conservation. I am not suggesting that we change the basic tenets under which water is managed, but unless we work together and with a sense of urgency, drought emergencies, dry rivers, lost fisheries and withered crops will be our legacy. We must also strengthen the Clean Water Act so that wetlands and streams can play their natural role in water conservation and ensuring water quality.

In closing, Theodore Roosevelt once said that “There can be no greater issue to this country than that of conservation.” He was right. The legacy we leave to future generations will define this generation. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, nor liberal or conservative. It is an issue that is core to what America is today and what it should be in the future.

Thank you, and God bless America.

Sportsmen Should Be Optimistic in 2014

No one will remember 2013 as a great year in federal conservation policy. Every day we lost more grasslands and wetlands in the prairies to agricultural development. Congress could not pass a Farm Bill and the administration would not use its powers to reverse or even slow the losses.

Sequestration indiscriminately cut more funds from already strapped federal agencies as Congress failed to pass normal spending bills. In fact, Congress’s political posturing led to a 16-day government shutdown, which happened to coincide with the beginning of hunting season in many states. While federal workers got back pay once the government reopened, the same cannot be said of the guides and local businesses impacted by the shutdown. Billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money was wasted as most government activity came to a halt.

And comprehensive sportsmen’s legislation, once poised to pass Congress, was delayed in early 2013 when partisan politics again trumped good policy.

With this backdrop, it is remarkable that I look to 2014 with optimism. Why? Because the adults appear to be back in charge of Congress, and the administration seems to realize that it has less than three years to leave a conservation legacy. Some examples:

House and Senate conferees appear to be close to finalizing a Farm Bill that may prove to be one of the best pieces of private lands conservation legislation ever passed. If all goes well, it will come before Congress for a final vote by February.

Maybe we had to hit rock bottom before we could move forward. Few of us expect the next year to be free of acrimony and election year politics but, if events fall the right way, 2014 could prove to be a great year for sportsmen. It will take a strong commitment from all in our community to work together and make it happen.

As always, the TRCP and our partners will continue to advocate for legislation that strongly funds responsive fish and wildlife management, conserves important lands and waters and increases access for American hunters and anglers. Join us.

Wishing You the Best

It doesn’t matter whether you are a bass fisherman in Alabama or a pheasant hunter in South Dakota. America’s century-old commitment to conservation has been driven by sportsmen like you. Now is your chance to uphold America’s conservation legacy. Support our work.