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.

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.

After Shutdown, the Stakes are High for Hunters and Anglers

October was hardly Washington’s finest month. A government shutdown that served no purpose and cost Americans more than $20 billion. Hunters and anglers denied access to national wildlife refuges and parks. The spectacle of lawmakers who caused the shutdown, once they were certain the cameras were rolling, berating park rangers who were simply doing their jobs.

It’s no wonder Americans hold our elected officials in such low regard.

But today the government is open; Congress has an opportunity to actually legislate. And the stakes for conservation are high.

The next two months will be dominated by two topics that directly impact conservation and hunting and fishing: The Farm Bill and the federal budget.

The Farm Bill: ‘Must-pass’ Legislation

The Farm Bill, which includes the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Open Fields public access program, among others, is the single most important piece of legislation for conservation on private lands. The current version of the bill expired on Sept. 30 after the House of Representatives and the Senate failed to (“never tried to” is more accurate) resolve the differences between their two bills.  The main point of disagreement is over funding for the bill’s nutrition title, which includes food stamps and school lunches.

Assuming lawmakers can agree on nutrition funding, which is not a given, the debate over the conservation title of the bill will center on two issues: re-linking conservation compliance with crop insurance and the Sodsaver program. Together these programs help ensure that the federal government is not creating incentives to drain wetlands and convert native prairie and highly erodible lands to row crops.

The Farm Bill and its conservation title have the potential to dramatically impact the fish and wildlife populations and outdoor opportunities relied upon by millions of Americans. The bill is “must-pass” legislation, and all sportsmen should make sure that Congress understands this.

The Federal Budget: The Stakes for Conservation Have Never Been Higher

The budget debate has implications for literally every conservation program in the country, from how our public lands are managed to funding that supports state management of our fish and wildlife and even the grant programs that drive the work of Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and so many other conservation groups.

While entitlements and defense-security spending have steadily increased, conservation funding has plummeted. From about 2.5 percent of the federal budget in the 1970s, conservation funding now represents only about 1 percent of the budget. The House budget would accelerate this trend by zeroing out funding for key conservation programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act while further gutting the already underfunded federal lands management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under the agreement that reopened the government, Congress has until Jan. 15 to come to a budget agreement, which not only will fund the government through Sept. 2014; it also will become the starting point for fiscal year 2015 budget negotiations.

If the government shutdown has a silver lining, it is that the crucial importance of our nation’s parks and refuges became impossible to ignore. These places are not expendable luxuries; they are a fundamental part of the American economy and the American identity. People care about them – and rely upon them. Theodore Roosevelt understood this more than a century ago. Perhaps today’s politicians now do, as well.

Look to the TRCP to keep you informed and involved as these key initiatives require attention in Congress. Sign up for our weekly emails to stay up to date on the latest news and policy important to sportsmen.

We Can Do Better

Normally I post deep thoughts about matters of conservation policy. Today I will rant.

Just over a week ago I met two friends, packed up the car in Washington, D.C., and headed for Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River, one of the best trout rivers in the East. The fabled Grannom caddis hatch was on, and it had been six months since I’d stood in a river chasing trout.

As has been my tradition for most of the last 15 years, we left town early to hit Spruce Creek Outfitters, an excellent fly shop where we could buy licenses, stock up on the latest bugs and hear fish tales before hitting the river for the afternoon. Unfortunately, the fly shop no longer sells licenses. Instead they told us to use our smart phones to buy the licenses online.

We set off for a high spot on the road where we could get cell service. After about 30 minutes, my friends succeeded in their efforts. I was unable to complete the transaction but decided to put my friends on the river and then complete my purchase at some other high point along the river.

After sending off my friends, I again found a spot with service and tried to purchase my license, each time reaching the final stage (after entering my credit card information) before receiving the message that the server was busy and to try again later. About 15 minutes into this process I called the toll-free help line and was put on hold to wait for the next available agent. Surely, I thought, between my continued efforts with the Pennsylvania website and help from a live person, I would succeed.

Nearly an hour later I had yet to speak to an agent and was still without a license.

Approaching a murderous rage, I gave up, drove back to the river, put on my waders and walked out to live vicariously through my friends, watching them catch fat brown trout on dry flies. After dinner that night I was finally able to complete my transaction and fish the next day.

Across America, conservation groups work to get kids outdoors and pass along the traditions of hunting and fishing. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation spends millions of dollars encouraging people to rejoin fishing or try it for the first time – and with remarkable success. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, participation was up 11 percent in the last five years, reversing a 20 year decline.

Photo by, Dusan Smetana

To ensure that we have quality places to hunt and fish, conservation groups also are restoring our lands and waters. Look no further than the Little Juniata, which 40 years ago was an open sewer devoid of most fish life.

Groups like the TRCP work to implement new programs, like the Open Fields program of the Farm Bill, to open private lands and waters to hunting and fishing. Since Open Fields launched in 2010, approximately 3 million acres have been opened to the public.

All this work on engagement, habitat and access falls by the wayside if sportsmen must struggle to obtain the proper licenses and tags. The responsibility for licensing falls to the states. According to a recent RBFF study, only five of the 50 states offer mobile friendly websites and only two of the 50 states offer mobile friendly license sales.  Really?

Folks, our sports depend upon participation. Fish and game agency budgets depend upon license sales. Conservation groups depend upon engaged members who will work like dogs for the resource but who deserve to be able to enjoy that resource with as little hassle as possible.

I’d like to think of my experience with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as an exception, but the RBFF numbers indicate otherwise. We can do better, and all sportsmen and -women should make sure that their states join the 21st century and make it as easy as possible for people to enjoy their resources.

The TRCP and Guns

Now that the gun debate in Congress has died down, I wanted to address those questions that we got along the lines of “why hasn’t the TRCP taken a position?”

The TRCP was created in 2002 with a very focused mission: to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. Our mission has been reaffirmed over the years and is being done so again this year.

Gun owners are very effectively represented in Washington, D.C.; what was lacking before the TRCP was a single organization to pull together the disparate voices of the hunting and fishing community to work together on issues related to conservation and access.

Roosevelt in Africa on horse with gun

Image courtesy of U.S. Library of Congress.

Very simply, others know far more than we do about the Second Amendment, not to mention school safety, the mental health system, weapons trafficking and other key components of the gun-violence debate today.

Mission drift is a concern for all organizations. That is why they create missions, visions and strategic plans to guide their actions.

The range of conservation issues in which the TRCP does engage is diverse and represents the interests of the millions of hunters and anglers in this country. From water quality, private lands conservation and marine fisheries management to responsible energy development and conservation on federal public lands, the TRCP works collaboratively with our partners to develop smarter natural resource policies – policies that promote the conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitat, increase funding for responsive resource management and enhance public access for sportsmen.

There are a few issues important to sportsmen (in addition to the Second Amendment) that fall outside our organization’s charter. We do not engage in youth education efforts, in large part because so many of our partners, from the National Wild Turkey Federation to the International Hunter Education Association, do such a great job at this work.

We don’t do on-the-ground habitat conservation projects. That’s already being done by Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and many others. And we don’t do electoral politics – we don’t have a political action committee and we remain fiercely nonpartisan. In short, we focus on what we do best: advocating for habitat, funding and access.

It is worth noting the important role that hunters and anglers play in funding conservation in America.  For more than 75 years, the Pittman-Robertson Act, which created an excise tax on guns and ammunition sales, has thrived, providing more than $6.5 billion to state fish and wildlife agencies.

As sportsmen, our priority should be to ensure the successful continuation of funding for key conservation programs. Not only are such programs critical for fish and wildlife habitat, they make good economic sense. This is a point we have stressed to Congress and the administration since the TRCP was created, including during the gun debate.

While the gun control debate has dominated the recent news cycle, conservation, funding and access continue to demand our attention and advocacy – and will do so well into the future. The TRCP will remain at the forefront of these issues and will persevere in our efforts to uphold opportunities to hunt and fish for this generation and those that follow.

Setting Priorities and Taking Names

Leadershiptenacity and foresight are three traits of Theodore Roosevelt’s that I most admire. T.R. embodied a certain largeness of character that is, of course, not unusual for many in the political arena. But while the man certainly could talk the talk, here is what set him apart: He got things done.

Bully pulpit or no, exceptional leaders know what it takes to make a tangible and positive impact on the nation and its people. A lot has changed since the days of Roosevelt, but I still believe great things can be accomplished in Washington, D.C., and sportsmen must play a leading role.

The TRCP has outlined the priority issues for sportsmen in 2013. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

This is why we’ve outlined our priority issues for 2013 in our annual Conservation Policy Agenda. Please read them.

I share these priorities with you in the hopes that you’ll be willing to step into the arena when the time comes. And the time will come soon.

What’s more, I hope that you will have the tenacity to carry the discussion about conservation policy into your community. I hope you will take leadership and talk about these issues at your local hunt club or shooting range. Consider hosting a roundtable with friends – those you agree with and those you disagree with – to discuss issues of importance for hunters and anglers. True change requires the foresight to work together and map out the areas in which sportsmen hope to progress in 2013.

It all starts with accurate information. Be sure to read the TRCP Conservation Policy Agenda to learn more, sign up to receive updates from the front lines of conservation via the TRCP’s weekly Roosevelt Report, check out our partner list and find out how you can get more involved.

Join the conversation and let us know areas in which you would like to make a difference in 2013.

 

What Happened in 2012?

From the standpoint of conservation, 2012 will be remembered more for what did not happen than what did happen.

Justifying its place in history as the least productive Congress of all time, the 112th Congress failed to consider the needs of hunters and anglers in a number of big ways. Let’s look at some of the lowlights:

The Farm Bill

Regardless of the strong bipartisan support enjoyed by the Farm Bill, the full bill died in the Senate at the end of 2012. Congress instead passed a nine-month extension that jeopardizes many of the bill’s key conservation programs. If a full Farm Bill fails to pass by October 2013, the Conservation Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and other key conservation provisions will lose billions in conservation dollars.

President and CEO of the TRCP, Whit Fosburgh, reflects on what 2012 meant for sportsmen. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a near party-line vote by Senate Republicans (the exception being Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine) on a procedural motion effectively killed the bill that had drawn broad bipartisan support throughout the legislative process.

Why did this happen? Because Senate Republicans used the bill to make a political point on a totally unrelated issue (filibuster reform) at the expense of sportsmen. Seeing that others were willing to use the bill to make political statements, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) objected to the bill’s provision on lead ammunition. As a result of these political detours, the clock ran out on the Sportsmen’s Act. Now sportsmen have to start all over again in 2013

Conservation Funding

Congressional inaction was actually a good thing for conservation funding. Instead of passing the House budget bill, which would have gutted most important conservation programs, Congress passed a continuing resolution keeping in place current funding levels through March of 2013.

Similarly, by punting sequestration down the road, sportsmen were spared across-the-board cuts that would have been extremely damaging to programs upon which our outdoor traditions rely. We now must make the case for these important programs as the 113th Congress considers a broader budget deal later in the year.

Public Lands

The 112th Congress succeeded in being the first congress in nearly 70 years to fail to pass a single public lands bill.

After the carnage, a few highlights emerge. Congress passed the RESTORE Act, ensuring that 80 percent of damages from the BP oil spill go back to the Gulf states for restoration. And Congress passed the Billfish Conservation Act, a small but important measure that bans the importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish.

Unfortunately, Congress was not the only disappointment in 2012. The Obama administration has yet to implement many of the oil and gas leasing reforms announced in 2010, and millions of acres of public lands continue to be leased without proper consideration of fish and wildlife and hunting and fishing.

The administration also failed to issue new regulations to affirm that the Clean Water Act applies to isolated wetlands and intermittent streams, an inaction that contributes to massive wetland conversions in the Prairie Pothole region and elsewhere. To its credit, the administration did launch a major new program to work with private landowners to conserve sage grouse and six other species.

Despite the bleak year that has ended, the sporting community is setting new priorities for working with Congress in 2013. Be ready to join in and make your voice heard – our outdoor traditions will depend on it.

Cast your Vote.

Get informed and be sure to cast your vote. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

Voting can be summarized in a simple statement: if you don’t participate in the process, don’t complain about the results.

When the 2012 election season draws to an end tomorrow night, most of the attention will focus on the results of the presidential election – but sportsmen and –women should care about the races all the way down the ticket. From local bond measures and city council races to higher profile races for the House and Senate, elections matter. So get informed and be sure to cast your vote tomorrow.

Come Wednesday, don’t just sit on the sidelines until the next election. Remain informed about the decisions our elected officials make that impact fish and wildlife habitat and our ability to enjoy our natural resources well into the future. Pay attention to their promises and hold their feet to the fire to ensure they follow through on those promises.

If you care about conservation, the importance of well-managed fish and wildlife and your rights to keep and use firearms, don’t assume that someone else will take care of things for you. Participatory democracy works best when people engage, do their homework and make their voices heard in clear and thoughtful ways.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will write often about the challenges and opportunities facing sportsmen as a result of the elections tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope you, your family members and all your friends will exercise our right to vote and make your voices heard.