Angling Community Knows Just What to Do with $18.7B Oil Spill Settlement

Leaders of the Gulf of Mexico’s recreational fishing community reaffirmed their commitment to improving the region’s fisheries and access opportunities following the announcement of an $18.7-billion settlement between BP, the five Gulf States, and the federal government for environmental damages and lost revenues resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. According to details released today, BP will pay $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, and at least $5 billion to Louisiana alone, for injuries determined through a Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Funds will be paid over 16 years. BP will also commit $232 million to any future damage.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and its sportfishing partners—the American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, and Center for Coastal Conservation—have been working closely with the Gulf’s angling community, state and federal agencies, researchers, and conservation groups since 2010 to identify and advance projects and initiatives to sustain and improve fisheries using oil spill recovery funds.

Image courtesy of Louisiana’s GOHSEP.

“Exactly five years ago, oil was still spilling into the Gulf, closing and limiting recreational fishing and making the future of Gulf fisheries uncertain,” says TRCP Center for Marine Fisheries Director Chris Macaluso. “This settlement gives us a clearer picture of what the future of Gulf fishing will look like, by allowing state and federal agencies and research institutions an immediate timeline and definitive budget for selecting the projects and initiatives that will protect and restore damaged ecosystems. It is critical that we get to work restoring, protecting, and improving habitat now, rather than after a decade or more of litigation.”

“Louisiana is losing critical fish habitat on a daily basis, and it’s very important that projects to restore our coast and curb land loss move forward to the design and construction phase as quickly as possible,” says CCA Louisiana Executive Director David Cresson. “Our organization remains committed to representing the saltwater fishermen of our state in ensuring that barrier islands, reefs, marshes, science centers, and fisheries management are at the top of the lists of projects built with these unprecedented conservation funds.”

In 2013, TRCP and its partners released the report “Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries: Recommendations for Restoration, Recovery and Sustainability,” which broadly identified steps to improve habitat, fisheries science, data collection, and boost angler confidence that damages would be repaired. We followed up that report with a list of 25 specific Gulf-area projects that would help accomplish these broad goals, including barrier island restoration efforts in Louisiana and Alabama, Gulf-wide fish tagging and catch-and-release mortality reduction programs, water quality improvement efforts in Florida and Texas, and the restoration of oyster reefs throughout the Gulf. These projects remain a priority today.

Image courtesy of Patrick Quigley.

“Saltwater recreational fishing is enjoyed by more than 3.5 million Gulf residents, and many more who visit the area each year,” says Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “Wise investment of this settlement will give anglers in the region a chance to have better management of our fisheries, better places to fish, and better access to wonderful fishing opportunities. Gulf anglers remain committed to working with state and federal officials to ensure fisheries conservation is given top priority.”

“Recreational fishing in the Gulf accounts for more than $10 billion in annual contributions to the region’s economy and supports nearly 100,000 jobs,” says Mike Leonard, American Sportfishing Association’s ocean resource policy director. “This economic activity came to a grinding halt in the spring and summer of 2010 due to the oil spill, and it can only be sustained or increased by building better fisheries science and management and better habitats that attract fishermen. This settlement allows us to make commitments to improve the Gulf’s fisheries for generations to come.”

Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access: Part Two

In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds.

This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.

In Part Two of our series, we head to the Land of Enchantment to look at the Bootheel of New Mexico.

It is often said that living well is the best revenge. For a hunter, that could mean stalking a high-desert Coues deer buck in short sleeves, while your friends shiver in rain and snow far away to the north.

The Bootheel of far southwestern New Mexico is the answer to a lot of hunters’ winter prayers. Sprawling and mostly uninhabited, the Bootheel is almost one-third public lands, giving hunters room to roam on 488,320 acres managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. It’s a cholla and chaparral world, dry and bony until you get into some rainier and snowier altitudes in the mountains. The Peloncillos, Animas, and Guadalupes are the major ranges, towering from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. The high country encompasses an ecoregion called the Madrean forest, a mixture of piñon pine, junipers, and five different species of oak. There are wild places here, remote and requiring the utmost self-sufficiency, in the Big Hatchet Mountains and the Peloncillos.

Image courtesy of Garrett VaneKlesen.

The star of this country is the elusive little Coues deer, but there are plenty of other opportunities to spend long days afield. You can hunt three species of quail in one day, starting out in the lower country with Gambel’s and scaled quail and climbing the mountain flanks for the close-holding Mearn’s quail. There are javelinas, mule deer, rare desert bighorns, and a recovered population of Gould’s turkeys – the largest of all the wild turkey subspecies.

These experiences are made possible by public access to federal lands, but some New Mexicans, like so many Westerners, have a deep rooted distrust of the federal government. This distrust has been used by some politicians, who care little for the state’s hunting and outdoor heritage, to push for New Mexico’s federal public lands to be transferred to state control. But transferring the lands is not a viable solution to the conflicts over federal management, because the burdens of management far outweigh any benefits that would come to most residents. The financial burden, in particular, would include firefighting costs on federal lands, which exceeded $240 million in New Mexico in 2012 alone.

Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who opposes state takeover of federal public lands, told reporters, “The states would have no choice but to auction off the best public lands to cover costs. That would devastate our outdoor traditions like hunting and fishing as well as the 68,000 jobs associated without door recreation in New Mexico. These lands belong to all of us, and it is imperative that we keep it that way.”

Three bills were introduced during the 2015 New Mexico state legislative session that promoted the transfer of federal public lands to the state. More than 250 hunters and anglers rallied at the capitol to make a statement against this legislation, and local sportsmen’s groups worked with state legislators to put a stop to these misguided proposals. In the end, a bipartisan group of lawmakers helped to defeat these bills.

Sportsmen should be proud of this successful effort to stop public-land seizure bills in New Mexico, and we all must remain vigilant to prevent future proposals from gaining traction in the Land of Enchantment.

Here are three ways you can support sportsmen’s access on public lands. 

Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.

 

The Teddy Bear Delisting and ‘That Hunt’

You may know the tale of Theodore Roosevelt’s Mississippi black bear hunt in the fall of 1902, his second year in office. After all, it’s one of the most famous hunts to have taken place on American soil, and it inspired the most famous toy in the world – the Teddy Bear.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

But shortly after Roosevelt came to Mississippi in the early 1900s, over-hunting and agricultural development in the Delta’s swamps practically eliminated the Louisiana black bear from its native range in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. It was eventually listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1992, bringing about much concern from landowners, the timber industry, and wildlife professionals. This forward-thinking group hoped that the downward trend could be reversed and suitable black bear habitat within the region could be restored.

That same year, the Wetlands Reserve Program was instituted, building upon the successes of the Conservation Reserve Program, launched in 1985. Together, these programs resulted in the restoration of more than one million acres of black bear habitat, and black bear populations slowly began to rise across the bear’s historic range.

Now, Teddy’s bear is having a moment. After more than two decades of conservation efforts, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has proposed removing the Louisiana black bear from the list of threatened and endangered species under the ESA. “The Louisiana black bear symbolizes how the Endangered Species Act can be a remarkably effective tool to protect and recover threatened and endangered species when we work in close partnership with states and other stakeholders,” Jewell said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, state agencies, non-profit organizations, and private landowners are all to thank for the Louisiana black bear’s success.

Image courtesy of USFWS.

According to Hunter Fordice, a landowner and son of Mississippi’s former governor, Kirk Fordice, “The first documented black bear cubs born in the Mississippi Delta in some 30 years were born in the middle of a 12-year-old Wetlands Reserve Program tract on my property in Issaquena County in 2007. The Wetlands Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program have restored hundreds of thousands of acres of bottomland hardwoods across the Lower Mississippi Valley, which in turn has provided habitat suitable for the Louisiana black bear to once again thrive in its historical home range. As a landowner, it is very gratifying to see these conservation programs working so well.”

We think Roosevelt would be proud to see the population’s rebound and to know that the next generation of outdoorsmen will share the woods with the bear that “bears” his nickname. To celebrate, let’s hear the story of this famous hunt.

A Famous Hunt and Hunter

Almost every aspect of Roosevelt’s 1902 hunt at Smede’s farm was the responsibility of the uneducated, but extremely intelligent, 56-year-old Holt Collier, who was born into slavery and served as a Confederate scout before becoming a legend for his hunting skills. Roosevelt (who announced that he was to be addressed only as “Colonel” throughout the hunt) expressed his desire to participate in the chase. However his demands for a shot on the very first day, and the timidity of his hosts, condemned him to a stationary blind. He was placed to have a clear shot when the bear, driven by Collier’s pack of nearly 40 dogs, would emerge from one of the dense cane thickets on the farm.

Roosevelt and his hunting partner, Huger Foote, waited on the stand all morning. Around mid-afternoon they broke for lunch, annoying Collier, who’d worked extremely hard to bring a bear to that exact spot only to find the stand abandoned.  As Collier recalled,

“That was eight o’clock in the mornin’ when I hit the woods an’ roused my bear where I knowed I’d fin him. Den me an’ dat bear had a time, fightin’ an’ chargin’ an’ tryin’ to make him take a tree. Big ole bear but he wouldn’t climb nary tree. I could have killed him a thousand times… I sweated myself to death in that canebrake. So did the bear. By keeping between the bear and the river, I knew he’d sholy make for the water hole where I left the Cunnel [sic]. After a while the bear started that way and popped out of the gap where I said he’d go. But I didn’t hear a shot, and that pestered me… It sholy pervoked me because I’d promised the President to bring him a bear to that log, and there he was.”

-Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear by Minor Ferris Buchanan 

It was at this time that the bear turned on the dogs. This put Collier in quite the quandary. He had been given specific orders to save the bear for Roosevelt, who was not to be found, and yet he had to protect the dogs from the deadly bear.

Image courtesy of Dale Divers.

Collier dismounted, shouting at the bear. He approached the bear and tried to distract it as someone rode to camp to get the President. In the meantime, the bear and the dogs fought viciously, and at one point his prize dog was caught in the bear’s grip. Collier swung the stock of his gun and landed a blow to the base of the bear’s skull. Stunned, the bear dropped the dog and Collier seized the opportunity to place a lariat around the bear’s neck so that, when Roosevelt and Foote arrived several minutes later, the animal was tied to a tree.

President Roosevelt refused to claim the bear, citing a “true sportsmen’s code” which holds that the taking of any animal that does not have a sporting chance is forbidden. This famous hunting event inspired the first widespread discussion of the modern code of “fair chase,” a tenet of the Boone and Crockett Club which Roosevelt founded. It is the oldest conservation organization in North America and the second oldest in the world.

Although Roosevelt did not count the hunt as “successful,” the press thought it a most delightful story and spread word of it across the country. Roosevelt’s refusal to kill a defenseless animal was far more newsworthy than the taking of a trophy bear, and as the news spread, Brooklyn toy store owners Rose and Morris Michtom wrote to ask his permission to name their stuffed toy bears after him. The President approved, and “Teddy’s Bears” were born.


James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a Regular Member of the Boone and Crockett Club, and a member of the TRCP Policy Council.

Glassing the Hill: June 22-26

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

The Senate will be in session from Monday through Friday. The House will be in session from Monday through Thursday.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Congress may look like it’s getting an early start on spending bills, but we’re pretty sure they’re going nowhere for a while. This week, the House will vote on its appropriations bill for the Department of Interior and EPA. The spending plan would shortchange key conservation programs and target the Obama administration’s environmental and climate change programs. The bill allocates a total of $30.17 billion for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Forest Service. These disappointing numbers are $246 million below fiscal year 2015 funding levels and represent historically low funding for conservation.

Add to that some damaging policy riders—which would delay the listing of the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act and undermine the recently released clean water rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands—and you’ve got some serious political posturing. As many expected, the GOP-crafted appropriations bill also targets the EPA in a number of these riders and seeks to reduce EPA staff.

There is language prohibiting the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management from ordering new closures of public lands to hunting and recreational shooting.

Here are the highlights of the House spending bill:

  • The Environmental Protection Agencyreceived $7.4 billion, a 9% funding decrease
    • $69 million cut to regulatory programs.
  • Payments in Lieu of Taxes program is fully funded at $452 million
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received $1.1 billion, a $30 million increase from FY15
  • The National Park Servicereceived $2.7 billion, a $53 million increase over FY15
    • $52 million was provided to address the frequently-discussed maintenance backlog
  • The U.S. Forest Servicereceived $1.4 billion, an $8 million decrease in funding from FY15 levels
    • $3.6 billion provided to DOI and USFS to combat wildfires
    • $92 million for the Flame Wildfire Suppression Reserve Fund
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) received $1.4 billion, an $8 million decrease from FY15 funding levels
  • North American Wetland Conservation Fund (NAWCA) received $35 million
  • State and Tribal Wildlife Grants received $59.195 million

The grass isn’t any greener for other agencies. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee will mark up its fiscal year 2016 spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration. The $20 billion spending package features significant cuts to key conservation programs:

  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
    • Enrollment cut by 23%
    • Reduction from 10 to 7.74 million acres.
    • Or a 5-year cut of $200 million
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
    • $300 million cut
  • Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
    • $35 million cut
  • Conservation Operations (i.e. on-the-ground technical assistance and program delivery)
    • $13.5 million cut

The spending plan also features a controversial policy rider that would delay implementation of conservation compliance, a program that requires farmers receiving federal crop insurance to implement conservation practices aimed at improving soil and water quality. The rider would not preclude the U.S. Department of Agriculture from employing compliance, as needed, but would allow the agency to continue to provide subsidies for a year without requiring conservation compliance across the board.

More information on the bill can be found here.

 

This Week in Full:

Tuesday, June 23

Wednesday, June 24           

Thursday, June 25

Why the Senate Should Start Over on Conservation Budget Talks

Conservation is underfunded in a fiscal year 2016 bill bogged down with riders

Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a funding bill for the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency that cuts funding for conservation to $2 billion below fiscal year 2010 levels. This results in less money for science, active management, habitat restoration, and sportsmen’s access.

Image by the US Government.

The bill also includes a slew of riders that would block important habitat protections. The Clean Water Rule rider would block the protection of headwater and ephemeral streams that supply drinking water to one in three Americans and throw 20 million acres of wetlands critical to waterfowl back into legal limbo. The bill also includes a rider that would undermine the historic collaboration between 11 Western states and the Department of the Interior to conserve the greater sage-grouse and prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from finalizing its listing decision under the Endangered Species Act for another year.

“Not only does this bill sell sportsmen short, but its funding levels and policy provisions have made it unnecessarily controversial—it’s going nowhere and everyone knows it,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s time for both parties to roll up their sleeves and hammer out a successor to the Murray-Ryan Bipartisan Budget Act. A bipartisan budget deal is the only way Congress is going to be able to make the investments in conservation that American sportsmen deserve.”

The bill contains a few pro-sportsmen priorities, including steady funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a wildfire funding cap adjustment to bring an end to the practice of “fire borrowing.”

Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access: Part One

In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds.

This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.

Image courtesy of Derrick Reeves.

The Public Lands Transfer Movement: An unprecedented threat to public access

Our public lands were created as a uniquely American solution to natural resource challenges that have plagued nations for centuries. How should we manage lands and waters located within our borders to best serve the interests of the public at large?

In the rough-and-tumble closing of the American frontier in the late 19th century, millions of acres of land – too remote, rugged or dry for settlement – went unclaimed. These unclaimed lands were subjected to a ruthless free for-all of mining, logging and overgrazing that threatened to make them a wasteland. The original “forest reserves” were set aside in 1891 to protect the mountain headwaters of the major Western rivers. Between 1901 and 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt, America’s most famous sportsman-conservationist, expanded the “forest reserves,” now known as national forests, to almost 148 million acres. The Bureau of Land Management was created to oversee 245 million acres of unclaimed rangeland and to restore marginal lands abandoned by homesteaders The solution has worked, probably beyond Roosevelt’s wildest dreams. Rangelands are mostly restored. Rivers – without which there is no agriculture, towns or cities in the arid West– provide excellent fishing and run clear from mountain snow packs protected on public land.

Big game and other wildlife populations have recovered. There is a constant and often frustrating struggle between conservation and development – but that conflict, too, is uniquely American, a nation that owes its very existence to the fertile soil of conflicting ideas. What is important is not the argument over the management of the lands, but the lands themselves, which, in addition to natural resources, provide access to millions of Americans for recreation and fuel an outdoors-dependent economy: the $646 billion dollars spent by people enjoying America’s outdoors every year and the 6.1 million jobs directly related to publicly accessible waters, prairies, forests and mountains. A third of that economy –$256 billion– comes from the West alone.

Some claim that the states can manage these lands much more efficiently than the federal government and so ownership of the lands, the birthright of all Americans, should be transferred to the states in which they are located. Efforts were proposed in 11 states, of which negative bills passed in 4 states. While no Westerner would say that federal management of our lands is perfect, the idea that individual states will do a better job is fundamentally flawed.

The business of selling public lands

Western states were granted millions of acres by the federal government when they attained statehood. Many of these lands have been sold to private interests. Nevada, for example, was given 2.7 million acres when it became the 36th state in the union in 1864. It now has only 3,000. Utah has sold more than 50 percent of its original land grant. Look across the West, and you’ll see that the story is the same: Western states have remained committed to selling off public lands, and you can count on them doing it again if given the chance. Once privatized, these lands will become off limits to most sportsmen in perpetuity.

The expense of public land management 

Current state budgets would struggle to cover the costs of managing millions of acres of public land. Firefighting costs alone – the federal government faced a $1.74 billion price tag for wildfire management on the nation’s public lands in 2013 – would break most state budgets, as would the massive expansion of state government that land management would require, unless state legislators could quickly push through some exorbitant tax hikes. For example, studies show that Idaho would run a deficit of about $111 million per year if it were to take on management of just 16.4 million of the 34 million acres of public land within the state’s boundaries. Montana’s land management costs, if awarded all of its federal lands, would range from $300 million to $500 million annually. Furthermore, these figures do not address the lost federal Payments In Lieu of Taxes money, which currently is given to counties with federal public lands. State ownership of lands presently owned and managed by the federal government would result in only one likely outcome: the sale of any lands not producing significant quantities of timber, minerals or energy to private interests. Stark financial reality will trump any other concerns.

The expense of public land management 

Current state budgets would struggle to cover the costs of managing millions of acres of public land. Firefighting costs alone – the federal government faced a $1.74 billion price tag for wildfire management on the nation’s public lands in 2013 – would break most state budgets, as would the massive expansion of state government that land management would require, unless state legislators could quickly push through some exorbitant tax hikes. For example, studies show that Idaho would run a deficit of about $111 million per year if it were to take on management of just 16.4 million of the 34 million acres of public land within the state’s boundaries. Montana’s land management costs, if awarded all of its federal lands, would range from $300 million to $500 million annually. Furthermore, these figures do not address the lost federal Payments In Lieu of Taxes money, which currently is given to counties with federal public lands. State ownership of lands presently owned and managed by the federal government would result in only one likely outcome: the sale of any lands not producing significant quantities of timber, minerals or energy to private interests. Stark financial reality will trump any other concerns.

Industrialization and fire sales

National forest lands are currently managed under the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960. The Act requires that Forest Service undertake “management of all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people.” The act also defines sustained yield as “the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high-level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the national forests without impairment of the productivity of the land” (italics added). Bureau of Land Management lands are managed under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which has similar goals, to prevent a repeat of the degradation of these lands that led to the Dust Bowl and other resource disasters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

Contrast these laudable goals with state trust lands, which are publicly owned and managed but are not “public” like national forests. Rather, many states managed their lands to support specific beneficiaries and do not attempt to manage for multiple uses or to achieve conservation objectives. This description fires a warning shot to anyone who uses our public lands now: A change to state ownership will result in a radical conversion of the Western landscape. Idaho’s projected land management deficit of $111 million per year depends on increasing current logging levels by a half-billion board feet annually. The kind of management demanded by state

control of our public lands will produce much the same kind of management that we saw in the 19th century: industrialization wherever there are resources to be extracted. The beneficiary funding requirements of state lands and the desperate need for property tax-funded services in counties will require that any lands not producing valuable, quantifiable resources – coal, timber, energy or maximum grazing leases – be sold off and the funds placed in investment accounts. Billionaires and global corporations who may neither understand nor value America’s outdoor heritage would be the ones to buy them.

The most valuable real estate, and the first to be sold, would likely be riverfront and lakefront acreage and the most scenic parts of the deserts and mountains. The West as we know it now, with abundant hunting and fishing, rivers to swim and float, and mountains to climb, would be gone. What would be the long-term impacts on our nation’s vibrant outdoor economy of, for example, industrializing these lands for minerals development or cutting more than a half-billion board feet of timber every year? The outcome – and its consequences for our cherished hunting and fishing traditions – is clear. The American hunting and fishing tradition would be eliminated, replaced by a model that resembles the old world system where only the elite few can pursue the ‘king’s’ fish and game.

Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.

Here are three ways you can support sportsmen’s access on public lands. 

Glassing The Hill: June 15 – 19

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

The Senate will be in session from Monday through Friday. The House will be in session from Monday through Thursday.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Guess who’s talking about money? Everyone. The biggest news for conservation this week will emerge from the appropriations markups for the EPA and Department of Interior in both the House and Senate on Tuesday. With a litany of amendments and riders directed at a number of administration policies, the House hearing is expected to be a long and dramatic affair. The Senate companion will likely be cleaner. Here’s what to expect:

The House markup will feature debates on policy riders to prevent the listing of the greater sage-grouse, reduce funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and wildfire suppression, and prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from making changes to the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. The House bill provides $30.17 billion for the Department of the Interior, EPA, and U.S. Forest Service. These disappointing numbers are $246 million below fiscal year 2015 funding levels and represent a historically-low overall investment in conservation. Learn more about the House bill here.

While the Senate companion legislation is expected to feature fewer and less-controversial policy riders, its funding levels for conservation also failed to match those presented by the House. The Senate’s allocation will result in a $2-billion cut relative to 2010 funding levels, forcing the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to cut back on services and investments at our national parks, refuges, and forests.

More information on the House markup can be found here. More information on the Senate markup can be found here.

This Week in Full:

Tuesday, June 16

Wednesday, June 17        

Thursday, June 18

These Important Changes Will Impact the BLM Lands You Hunt and Fish in Colorado

Over the past few months, there have been some major developments on the management of BLM lands important to Colorado hunters and anglers. We’ve seen two management plans get finalized in northwest Colorado, and another impacting the majority of BLM lands east of the Continental Divide is in the early stages of review. The BLM revises these management plans every 20 years and decides how use of the lands will be balanced among hunting, fishing, grazing, OHV use, oil and gas extraction, timber harvest, and road building. Sportsmen throughout Colorado, the West, and the country have been working diligently to get the best results possible from these planning processes for our nation’s wildlife and our hunting and fishing heritage. If you hunt, fish, or visit these public lands with your family, then you need to know this:

The “Mule Deer Factory” will benefit from some safeguards against development

Image courtesy of Nick Payne.

The BLM management area surrounding Meeker, Rangely, and Dinosaur is home to the Piceance Basin mule deer herd once called “the mule deer factory,” as well as the largest elk herd in North America. The White River Field Office Oil and Gas Resource Management Plan Amendment will guide oil and gas development on these 1.5 million acres of BLM-administered lands in northwest Colorado. While the plan will put a great amount of pressure on the already hurting Piceance Basin mule deer herd, the BLM has made significant improvements over the draft plan, largely due to the efforts of sportsmen. These improvements include a reduced footprint on acres affected by development, a commitment to Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s long-term population objectives for big game, a robust Master Leasing Plan for oil and gas development on 422,000 acres, and safeguards for 167,000 acres of important backcountry hunting areas.

Sound implementation will be crucial to success of the plan, and it’s important that sportsmen continue to monitor these issues. A local coalition of 32 sporting organizations and businesses were involved in this planning process, and sportsmen across the West are prepared to stay involved, as the new guidelines are instituted on the ground. I’m proud to be serving on a BLM subgroup that will be advising on travel management decisions during the revision of their travel plan. Read the final RMPA and EIS here.

Backcountry and wildlife will get a moderate boost in Grand Valley

The Grand Junction Field Office Resource Management Plan will guide management on 1.2 million acres of BLM administered lands in northwest Colorado on public lands that provide habitat for game species including bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, upland game birds, grouse, and native trout. The resource area also provides lands for a broad array of uses across a varying Western landscape, largely serving Grand Valley residents in the cities of Grand Junction, Montrose, Delta, Rifle, and surrounding areas, and supporting a great deal of tourism related to outdoor recreation. Sportsmen were involved in commenting on the draft plan, and while there are some improvements in the final plan, there was hope for stronger conservation measures for wildlife and sportsmen’s access.

After the draft plan was released, a group of 20 sportsmen groups, organizations and businesses submitted a proposal to safeguard 227,000 acres of backcountry lands important to fish and wildlife and hunting and fishing. Roughly 150,000 aces (66%) were meaningfully protected through various means in the plan. The BLM also created new Wildlife Emphasis Areas where “protection and enhancement of the wildlife resource” will be prioritized over other uses. The institution of a master leasing plan for oil and gas development on 700,000 acres of the field office has some specific management, but overall it doesn’t differ much from what is currently in place. A closer look at the area is necessary to get the full value out of a master leasing plan, which should help to avoid adverse effects through better planning. Read the final EIS here.

Learn more here.

Your comments are needed to ensure protection of 7 million acres of big-game habitat

Image courtesy of Nick Payne.

The BLM Royal Gorge Field Office is formally starting its management planning process, which will guide management decisions on 668,000 acres of public lands and 6.6 million acres of BLM-managed federal mineral estate in eastern Colorado over the next 20 years. Through a plan they’re calling the “Eastern Colorado Management Plan,” the BLM is seeking public input on a vision for the management priorities of these public lands and will be hosting seven scoping meetings throughout the state.

It’s crucial that they hear from local hunters and anglers, now and throughout the process, to ensure our outdoor traditions remain intact. Sportsmen should attend these scoping meetings, encourage the BLM to protect public access on these lands, and urge them to safeguard crucial habitat for mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, and wild trout from development. They can do this by instituting development setbacks from streams, lakes, reservoirs, and wetlands, supported by the most recent science and research, and by following through with energy leasing reforms, including a more thorough master leasing plan in South Park, to ensure responsible energy development. Sportsmen can also ask the BLM to conserve backcountry hunting and fishing areas that provide intact habitat and a quality outdoor experiences.

The South Park and Arkansas River drainage waters are used by thousands of Front Range anglers every year, contributing greatly to the $1.3 billion spent on hunting and fishing in Colorado in a single year. If you want to speak up for these traditions, and the quality habitats that make them possible, get involved or attend one of these meetings:

Monday June 15th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Denver Mariott West
1717 Denver West Blvd.,
Golden, CO
Tuesday June 16th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Greeley Recreation Center
651 10th Avenue,
Greeley, CO
Tuesday June 23rd
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Salida High School
26 Jones Avenue,
Salida, CO
Wednesday June 24th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Fairplay Community Center
880 Bogue Street,
Fairplay, CO
Thursday June 25th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
National Mining Museum
117 East 10th Street,
Leadville, CO
Monday June 29th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
The Abbey, Benedict Room
2951 E Hwy 50 (E. Frontage Rd.)
Canon City, CO
Tuesday June 30th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Huerfano County Community Center 1038
Russell, Walsenburg, CO

The Skinny on Shrinking Conservation Coffers

Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations released its fiscal year 2016 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, which provides funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service, and other various agencies. The TRCP and other sportsmen’s groups are dismayed at the inclusion of riders that would delay a decision from DOI on the greater sage-grouse and scrap the recently released Clean Water Rule, which clarifies which headwaters and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act.

In total, the bill includes $30.17 billion in base funding—that’s $246 million less than in fiscal year 2015 and $3 billion less than what the President has requested. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is funded at $1.4 billion in the bill, which is $8 million below fiscal year 2015.

Image courtesy of Department of Interior.

The bill does increase funding levels for implementation of sage-grouse conservation measures, but it comes at a cost: the extension of a delay on any further Endangered Species Act rulemaking for sage grouse until October 2016. “Once again, Congress is trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” says Whit Fosburgh, the TRCP’s president and CEO. “Rather than supporting the unprecedented cooperative efforts of private landowners, the states, and four federal agencies to avoid a sage-grouse listing, Congress is sticking with its tired old talking points about gross federal overreach. Rather than delay a listing decision, Congress should simply provide the resources necessary to implement conservation plans designed to benefit sage grouse, and more than 350 other species, and give industry the certainty it needs to thrive.”

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

The bill cuts EPA funding by 9 percent from 2015 levels, and prohibits the agency from making changes to the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. “Less than two weeks after the release of the final Clean Water Rule—which was celebrated by the hunting and fishing community and some of our leading outdoor industry voices—Congress is working to cloud the waters again,” says Jimmy Hague, director of the Center for Water Resources at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This rulemaking process was successful in that it more clearly defines, without expanding, which bodies of water should be protected, to ensure the health of fish and wildlife habitat and our nation’s drinking water, and we’d urge lawmakers to stop undermining that effort.”

The Senate’s appropriations proceedings could take place next week.

Here’s what sportsmen can do right now:

Glassing The Hill: June 8 – 12

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

The Senate and House will be in session from Monday through Friday.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The forecast calls for 100 degrees in Washington later this week, and things are heating up in Congress, as well. On Wednesday, the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee will mark up their annual spending bill for many of the agencies in charge of natural resources management. In April, the House Appropriations Committee advanced fiscal year 2016 spending legislation that provided only $30.17 billion for the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service, and the EPA—that’s a $246-million cut from current spending levels. This will undoubtedly have negative impacts over the agencies who have been forced to work with increasingly shrinking budgets.

The Obama administration, who requested a 6-percent increase for EPA and an additional 8 percent for the Department of the Interior, has issued a veto threat on any spending plan that does not provide fair funding levels. This gap could result in another government shutdown in the coming months. Other looming threats: harmful policy riders that would undermine conservation initiatives and target the President’s climate change efforts.

Getting Around to Farm Bill Programs

On Thursday, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry will hold a hearing on Farm Bill implementation. Members and panelists will discuss the implementation of vital programs designed to encourage farmers to employ more conservation-friendly practices in environmentally-sensitive areas. The Department of Agriculture is still taking formal comments under consideration as it releases its rules for the programs.

Among the programs being discussed are the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and Conservation Reserve Program. Quail Forever’s Director of Field Operations Jim Inglis is expected to testify and discuss the Conservation Reserve Program, Regional Conservation Partnerships, and viable implementation strategies. On May 29, the USDA announced that an additional 800,000 acres would be eligible for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program and earmarked for lands with duck nesting habitat, wetland restoration initiatives, and state acres for wildlife enhancement (SAFE). However, Farm Bill supporters have been otherwise unimpressed by the roll-out of these critical programs.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

New Wave of Threats

Despite the historic release of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineer’s final rule that would clarify protections outlined in the Clean Water Act and protect over 20 million acres of wetlands, opponents of the “Waters of the U.S.” rule have not given up. This week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will markup Senator John Barrasso’s S.1140 which would force the administration to start over and craft another plan that would achieve the same ends.

The bill has strong support from the agricultural community and private industries that feel the rule is a gross federal overstep. The conservation and environmental communities remain in support of the rule, as do 80 scientists, who recently submitted a letter opposing S.1140. The bill will likely pass through the GOP-led committee, but it may face an uphill battle to acquire the necessary votes.

The legislative text can be found here.

This Week in Full:

Tuesday, June 9

Senate Hearing on energy reform and accountability

Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Wednesday, June 10      

House Hearing on WRRDA implementation, one year into enactment

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee

House Hearing on impact of Executive Order 13658 on public lands outfitters and guides

Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior

House Markup of fiscal 2016 Interior-EPA appropriations bill

Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee

Senate Markup of S. 1140, Federal Water Quality Protection Act

Senate Environment and Public Works

Senate Legislative hearing on the National Park System

Energy and Natural Resources

Thursday, June 11

House Hearing on farm bill conservation programs

Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry