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.

Public Lands Are Where We Can All Heal, Hope, and Harvest

At a critical time for America’s public lands, hunters and anglers—the country’s original conservationists—are asking everyone who enjoys outdoor recreation: Will you go outside with us?

It’s safe to say that, as Americans, we’ve been through a lot in this election cycle. From the 24-7 media circus to the contention between the two candidates, no one would blame you for feeling overstimulated or just plain exhausted.

Sounds like it’s time to go outside.

Oregon’s Deschutes River. Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard/Little Creek Outfitters.

The outdoors have a true healing effect on the mind and body, and the hunting and fishing sports, especially, have an ability to transport. Whether you’re brought back to your earliest memories of watching the woods wake up at dawn or so lost in listening for the footfall of approaching game that you’ve completely forgotten your worries, the natural world provides us with serenity. Out there, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s where we are challenged, and as we find ourselves capable, we feel validated.

That’s why the TRCP is proud to join a growing coalition of more than 400 groups who, inspired by outdoor retailer REI’s movement to #OptOutside the day after Thanksgiving, are finding unity and purpose in the outdoors.

As we come back together as a nation, the question of where we go to spend time outside is an important one. The abundance of public lands in our country, and the right to access them for recreation, makes the U.S. unique in all the world. All Americans are richer for being able to share in their ownership. And the landscapes that are appealing to hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, climbers, and American families drive spending and support jobs in adjacent communities. Still, a movement to offload or privatize national public lands continues to find traction in Western states and on Capitol Hill.

Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

This is not just unacceptable, it’s a threat to our national identity. Hunters and anglers who follow our blog know this—it has been a central fight for TRCP and our conservation partners since January 2015, and more than 35,000 sportsmen and women have signed a petition opposing threats to our public lands legacy.

But, to anyone else who heads outside to escape, heal, sweat, bond, or breathe a little deeper, I’d like to say to YOU that we can’t do this alone.

For every benefit that public lands provide, there’s an interest group ready to seize upon the opportunity. Even within our broader outdoor recreation community, there’s admittedly some mistrust between niches—those who ride versus those who run, those who watch wildlife versus those who harvest. With so much at stake, we cannot allow these unspoken hierarchies to divide us—it weakens the base of support that is absolutely critical to America’s public lands legacy.

Speaking for hunters and anglers, I hope that the rest of #OptOutside nation—at more than 1.3 million strong—will unite with us in the outdoors, celebrate the camo AND the climbers that you see in your social feeds, and check politics at the trailhead. If we can’t come together, we may just find ourselves united outside a locked gate.

From the CEO’s Desk: Keeping Conservation Relevant in a Changing World

As we learn and grow our outdoor skills each season, we must also teach and grow our community, recognizing one fundamental truth—the next generation of sportsmen and women may not look like us

This week, at the SHIFT Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is sponsoring a workshop on the topic of cultural relevancy and being more inclusive of diverse audiences. Workshop leaders will explore, in other words, how we maintain hunting, angling, and outdoor recreation in a rapidly changing America.

This is a topic that every conservation organization is dealing with in one way or another. The future of our membership base depends on reaching new communities, and the future of conservation in America depends on our success.

According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), more than 37 million U.S. residents age 16 and older participated in hunting and/or fishing. Almost 12 million children from ages 6 to 15 also hunted and/or fished, making the overall number of hunters and anglers about 49 million. Collectively, sportsmen and women spent almost $90 billion to pursue those passions.

Every time we purchase fishing rods, tackle, motor boat fuel, guns, and ammunition, we pay a 10- or 11-percent federal excise tax that is returned to the states to pay for conservation. In 2011, excise taxes going toward sportfish restoration topped $667 million, and more than $484 million went to wildlife restoration.

Collectively, sportsmen and women provide 80 percent of funding for all wildlife species—not just the game and fish we like to pursue.

While overall hunting and fishing numbers have remained fairly stable over the last 20 years, the average hunter/angler is white, male, and getting older. Numerous federal and state studies show similar trend lines. Recognizing the long-term implications of these trends for hunting and fishing businesses, not to mention state and federal conservation efforts, many states and NGOs have launched initiatives to improve the recruitment, retention, and reactivation (collectively known as R3) of hunters and anglers.

Image courtesy of Vamos a Pescar via Instagram

By far the most significant is an effort by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) known as Take Me Fishing. The RBFF has also launched a parallel effort to engage Hispanics in boating and fishing with their Vamos a Pescar campaign, which is based on some simple demographic facts:

  • There are 55 million Hispanics in the U.S., representing 17 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Hispanics accounted for 48 percent of all population growth from 2012 to 2013.
  • The Hispanic population is projected to reach 65 million (or 20 percent of the U.S. population) by 2020.
  • The median age of Hispanics in the U.S. is 29, versus 43 years old for non-Hispanic whites.
  • And 24 percent of kids under the age of 18 are Hispanic, while 26 percent of kids under 5 years old are Hispanic.

While the Hispanic population is one example, our community also needs to reach out to women, African Americans, Asian Americans, and others who are not a major part of the outdoor community today. We also need to get our kids away from screens and back outside.

One positive step is the effort to modernize the Pittman-Robertson program—the federal excise tax on guns, ammunition and archery equipment—to allow a portion of what’s collected to be used for R3 activities, like Vamos a Pescar and Take Me Fishing. This is already possible on the fishing side, thanks to Dingell-Johnson legislation, but it’s not currently permitted with the P-R funds, although a bill is currently before Congress that would change this.

Beyond policy efforts, it is incumbent on all of us to welcome new constituencies into our community. We should be the ones—conservation professionals, like me, and license-carrying hunters and anglers, like you—to explain the role that hunters and anglers have played in making the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation a global success story. We need to welcome new faces to the campfire and help them understand that hunting and fishing, as well as the 640 million acres of public lands available for every American to enjoy, is our heritage and birthright.

Fundamentally, we must also embrace the idea that the next generation of sportsmen and women may not look like us. We can’t afford to be left behind.

Learn more about SHIFT here and the Cultural Relevancy Workshop here. And tune into a live feed of Steven Rinella’s keynote address, with a special Q&A session led by Whit Fosburgh, on TRCP’s Facebook page on Saturday, October 15, starting at 8:30 pm ET. 

From the CEO’s Desk: Working Toward Conservation Solutions After Election Day

Fringe views on land management can’t distract from the real work that must be done as a new administration enters the White House

At the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, we do not engage in elections other than to make sure that voters understand where the candidates stand on major conservation and access issues. This is why we hosted a forum, moderated by Field & Stream, at our Western Media Summit, where surrogates for the Trump and Clinton campaigns had an hour to discuss their priorities and take questions from the sporting and mainstream media. (Watch the unedited footage of these Q&As with Donald Trump Jr. and Rep. Mike Thompson.)

America’s sportsmen and women tend to be fairly mainstream. We care about lands and waters and want America’s conservation legacy to endure for future generations. But we use these lands and choose to pursue some of the critters we work so hard to conserve. Sometimes we even kill and eat those critters. And we’re proud of the fact that our dollars and volunteer efforts have made America’s fish and wildlife some of the healthiest and best-managed populations of species in any industrialized nation in the world.

We have been critical of some right-wing politicians and their enablers in industry who would sell off the nation’s remarkable public lands, which provide the foundation for hunting and fishing in America. But there are times when the left fringe can be equally ideological and out of touch.

Image courtesy of Tami A. Heilemann/Dept. of Interior.

Take the reaction to Secretary Clinton’s announcement that former Secretary of the Interior and U.S. Senator Ken Salazar would oversee her transition team, if she is elected president. The announcement was greeted by most as a sensible and strong choice, but not from many on the left, who described the pick as a sell-out to corporate America. One blogger posted that Salazar’s selection meant “…the oil and gas industry just hit a political gusher.”

We worked closely with Ken Salazar when he was Secretary of the Interior from 2009 until 2013. During this time, he initiated major reforms in oil and gas drilling on federal lands, known as “master lease planning,” to ensure that new development would only occur in the right places at the right times, without impacting sensitive lands and species. He blocked oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home of the world’s largest salmon runs, and launched a major process to develop solar energy zones on public lands as a way to address a warming climate. These and other actions were largely criticized by the oil and gas industry.

Ken Salazar is a fifth-generation rancher from Colorado who loves the land and understands that it can and must support multiple uses. This is not just true for agricultural lands in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, but also for America’s 640 million acres of public lands. Some areas are national parks or wilderness areas. Others should be managed for wildlife and others for grazing, timber, or energy production. This is how it is supposed to work.

But for extremists on both sides, this is not the way they want it to work.

At the TRCP, we will work with whichever candidate is elected. If Secretary Clinton is elected, I know we can work with Ken Salazar, because we have done so in the past, and we understand his commitment to well-managed public lands and, more broadly, America’s conservation legacy. It is safe to say that we will not get everything we want, but that is not our definition of success.

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.