Playing politics with sportsmen

There is a great frustration in working hard on something for months and having it come up just short of success.

On days like this one, hours after the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act failed on the Senate floor, I think of other, more obviously rewarding lines of work. Chesapeake Bay waterfowl hunting guide, perhaps?

Ten years ago, when I came to Washington, D.C., seeking to create a career that combined my loves of politics and hunting, this was still a town where things could get done, a town where you could still have fun at work. Things have changed. This is now a town sick with partisanship, where even good ideas often can count on inglorious defeat.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014, or S. 2363, was the result of a lot of work by Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) over the course of more than a year. After learning lessons from an unsuccessful attempt to pass a sportsmen’s legislative package late in 2012, Hagan and Murkowski assembled a package that addressed many sportsmen’s priorities but avoided some of the more controversial measures from 2012. As a result, they achieved something almost unheard of in Washington: They crafted a bill that had virtually no credible opposition.

S. 2363 has 46 cosponsors, split almost evenly among Republicans and Democrats. Conservatives and progressives cosponsored the legislation, realizing the economic and political importance of America’s hunters and anglers. But in Washington, even the best made plans are subject to crashing on the rocks of short-sighted partisanship.

The probable end of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 resulted not from the content of the legislation, and it certainly should not be taken as a measure of the value of sportsmen. No, the end of S.2363 came about because many in the Senate would rather haggle for political victories than pass meaningful legislation with strong public support. Amendments that had nothing to do with the bill’s original intent were offered by both sides of the aisle, and in a gridlocked Senate, the process predictably broke down amidst calls of foul play and obstruction from the leaders of both parties.

Floor time in the United States Senate is not a trifling thing. Literally thousands of pieces of legislation and the champions who support those bills vie for a shot at the Senate floor. But in today’s Washington, getting floor time is no guarantee of safe passage; indeed, advancing a bill to the Senate floor doesn’t even guarantee an up or down vote on the legislation. But those of us who advocate on behalf of America’s hunters and anglers will dust ourselves off this morning, survey the playing field in the days, weeks, and months ahead, and chart a course forward. Working with our congressional champions and our partners – and with the support of sportsmen like you – we pledge to get this legislation over the finish line. A slim possibility for the bill’s advancement exists before the 113th Congress ends. And the prospect of a new version of the bill being introduced in the future is not outside the realm of possibility. Better late than never.

The Sportsmen’s Water Budget

The “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” helps sportsmen see how the government is investing in water conservation.

American sportsmen have been leading the conservation movement since its beginning, and for more than three quarters of a century, we have been putting our money where our mouths are. We voluntarily instituted fees on guns, ammo, fishing tackle, boats and other sporting equipment on the condition that the money collected would be put back into species restoration, resource protection and access. Sportsmen contribute over $750 million each year to conservation through these self-imposed fees. (This doesn’t include the nearly $1.5 billion sportsmen spend on license and permit sales each year – money that goes to support state fish and wildlife agencies.) The benefits of these conservation efforts are enjoyed far beyond the sportsmen’s community, but hunters and anglers have embraced the “user pays-public benefits” model because it has been so successful at enhancing our sporting traditions.

Likewise, the federal government – because of its responsibility to manage public lands, comply with various statutory requirements and operate federal facilities – invests in a wide variety of conservation efforts that benefit sportsmen. Fiscal austerity in recent years has put these investments in jeopardy, leading many sportsmen to redouble their efforts to advocate for programs that support our enjoyment of the outdoors.

Hooked trout. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Photo by Dusan Smetana.

For example, on April 22, 2014, more than 100 prominent sportsmen’s groups urged Congress to strongly fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which directs a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and increase access and recreational opportunities for sportsmen on public lands.

However, in lieu of comprehensive data about federal spending on conservation, our advocacy is limited to a piecemeal approach, often focused on a few high profile programs, like LWCF.

Following in the tradition of the North American model of wildlife conservation that prioritizes scientific, data-driven management of wildlife and habitats, the TRCP Center for Water Resources has produced a database of federal programs – referred to as the “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” – impacting a specific type of conservation – that of our water resources. By knowing where and how much the federal government is investing in water conservation, we can better determine which programs are lacking – or perhaps in excess – and target our advocacy.

(In this context, water conservation refers to federal programs that have improvement of freshwater aquatic habitat, including aquatic species restoration, as a primary goal, or the ability to increase flows or wetland acres. There are other important federal actions that influence water conservation, such as research or data collection, but the “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” focuses on programs that have the ability to directly and immediately enhance freshwater resources.)

The “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” will be updated at least twice a year to illustrate how presidential and congressional budgets affect sportsmen.

This database captures a snapshot of what the federal government is doing to improve aquatic habitat for hunting and fishing. The TRCP Center for Water Resources will update the data at least twice each year: once when the president proposes a budget to Congress, usually in late February or March, and again when Congress completes its annual appropriations process, usually in late fall. The TRCP Center for Water Resources also will add periodic analyses to explain what the data mean for sportsmen.

The “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” comes at an important time. Several years of slow but steady economic recovery are finally easing some of the fiscal constraints of the Great Recession. And after seemingly endless omnibus spending bills, continuing resolutions and other budgetary standoffs driven by hyper-partisanship that ultimately culminated in a shutdown of the federal government, Congress is showing signs of a return to a normal appropriations process. Sportsmen now have a window of opportunity to influence federal spending decisions and make our voices heard above the din. The “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” will help inform and target our efforts.

Also, it is a tool that will help our community hold elected officials accountable. We can see in hard data the priority they place on those programs that support our hunting and fishing traditions and the $200 billion a year economy that goes with them. We embrace the “user pays-public benefits” model because we see a positive return on our investment; the “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” will help us get the same from those we send to Washington, DC, to represent us.

If you have feedback, please share it with us by contacting Jimmy Hague, Director of the Center for Water Resources, at jhague@trcp.org.

As marine fisheries legislation heats up, it’s time to revamp the federal management system

Congress is moving forward quickly to revise the federal act that governs our nation’s marine resources. The sportfishing and boating industries, along with recreational saltwater anglers, are stepping up efforts to ensure that their economic, social and conservation priorities are well represented.

As the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act reauthorization advances on Capitol Hill, Bass Pro Shops Founder Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats President Scott Deal, leaders in the recreational angling industry and co-chairmen of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, will present A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries at the National Press Club on March 26, 2014, from 9:30–10:30 a.m.

The report, introduced to fishing and boating industry stakeholders on Feb. 13, 2014, at the Progressive Miami International Boat Show, is receiving critical acclaim as an important step toward commonsense saltwater fisheries management. Now, with strong support from the boating and fishing community, the commission is taking the report to the Hill to work with Congress as the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization proceeds.

The Morris-Deal Commission assembled an expert panel of state and federal agency administrators, researchers, industry representatives and economists to promote a proactive vision for saltwater fisheries management. The current Magnuson-Stevens Act does not sufficiently address this important use of our nation’s public fishery resources. The commission’s report addresses recreational fishing specifically and differentiates the economic, social and conservation needs from those of commercial fishing.

According to NOAA Fisheries, 11 million Americans recreationally fish in saltwater each year. These sportsmen and -women contribute more than $70 billion to the nation’s economy and $1.5 billion for on-the-ground conservation of aquatic resources and habitats.

Who:     Johnny Morris, founder and CEO, Bass Pro Shops
Scott Deal, president, Maverick Boats

When:   Wednesday, March 26, 9:30–10:30 a.m. EDT

Where:  Fourth Estate Room, The National Press Club
529 14th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20045

RSVP to Lauren Dunn, National Marine Manufacturers Association, at ldunn@nmma.org; or Mary Jane Williamson, American Sportfishing Association, at mjwilliamson@asafishing.org.

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.

Sportsmen Tell Scientists: We Need More Clarity to Restore Water Protections

Earlier today I spoke to an independent panel of scientists reviewing an EPA report that summarizes our best understanding of how wetlands and streams affect water quality. This report is important because it will inform the rules the federal government comes up with that say which bodies of water in America deserve protection by the landmark Clean Water Act. These rules have been up in the air for over a decade because a couple of Supreme Court decisions in the 2000s put longstanding protections for wetlands and headwater streams – some of the waters most important to sportsmen – in jeopardy.

I told the panel that hunting and fishing are a major part of the American heritage and economy, and they both depend on clean water. Also, I presented the consensus views of the sportsmen’s community: While we’re generally pleased with the report, EPA can improve it by taking a closer look at areas like the Prairie Pothole Region, which is home to as many as 70 percent of all the ducks in North America.

Read on for my full remarks. Also, follow a webcast of the panel’s deliberations over the next two days here.

Then tell the EPA you support actions that protect wetlands and headwater streams based on the best available science.

 Statement of Jimmy Hague

Director, Center for Water Resources

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

To the Panel for the Review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Report:

Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence

December 16, 2013

Chairwoman Rodewald and members of the panel, thank you for the opportunity to address you on this issue of utmost importance to the sportsmen’s community and comment on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.

I am Jimmy Hague, Director of the Center for Water Resources at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). The TRCP is a coalition of more than 30 organizations, some of which are represented here today, dedicated to strengthening the laws, policies, and practices affecting fish and wildlife conservation. Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, we work every day to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.

Each year, 47 million Americans head into the field to hunt or fish. The money sportsmen spend in pursuit of their passion supports everything from major manufacturing industries to small businesses in communities across the country. The economic benefits of hunting and angling – which total $200 billion a year – are especially pronounced in rural areas, where money brought in during the hunting season can be enough to keep small businesses operational for the whole year. Through fees and excise taxes on sporting equipment, sportsmen also pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year for wildlife management, habitat conservation, and public access.

The TRCP has been involved in debates over the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act for years because these economic and conservation benefits – plus over a million American jobs – all depend on clean water and productive wetlands.

However, hunting and fishing are not merely an irreplaceable component of our economy. They are a heritage we cherish and want to pass on to our children. As streams are lost to pollution and wetlands drained, fish, wildlife and sporting access are lost along with them. The Clean Water Act is the best tool we have to protect the quality of our water resources, and its jurisdiction needs to be clear to work effectively.

The TRCP was pleased to see the EPA produce the Connectivity report synthesizing more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications of the best available science on wetlands and headwater streams in preparation for a rulemaking on Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Several of TRCP’s partner organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America and The Wildlife Society, submitted detailed comments to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), and I commend those comments to you because these organizations contain some of the foremost wetlands and streams scientists in the world. However, today I will restrict my comments and recommendations to the consensus views contained in a letter to the SAB from 16 of the nation’s leading sportsmen organizations:

  • American Fisheries Society
  • American Sportfishing Association
  • B.A.S.S. LLC
  • Berkley Conservation Institute
  • Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance
  • Delta Waterfowl
  • Ducks Unlimited
  • Izaak Walton League of America
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • Pheasants Forever
  • Quail Forever
  • Snook & Gamefish Foundation
  • Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Wildlife Management Institute
  • The Wildlife Society

Our letter contained two comments and suggested one area for further analysis in the final report.

First, we agree with the draft Connectivity report that the watershed scale is the appropriate context for assessing connectivity. Using this fundamental ecological unit will lead to better management of the resource because it can account for the myriad factors affecting our water quality.

Second, we commend the draft Connectivity report for recognizing the importance of aggregating the effects of small water bodies in a watershed. This approach is critical to determining connectivity of some of the waters most important to sportsmen.

Take, for example, the Prairie Pothole Region of the Dakotas. This area, stretching into Canada, is home to as many as 70 percent of all the ducks in North America. Taken individually, a single pothole may have little impact on downstream waters. But taken as a class, they act as important water sinks and pollutant traps. Therefore, the wholesale draining or filling of the Prairie Pothole Region will impair water quality downstream. It will also irreparably harm waterfowl habitat, America’s duck hunters and part of the $200 billion sportsmen economy I described earlier.

This leads me to our recommendation for the panel. The draft report does not draw general conclusions about the connectivity of unidirectional wetlands but does say that such evaluations could be done on a case-by-case basis. We ask that the final report include additional clarity on the connectivity of unidirectional wetlands. Even if their connectivity cannot be assessed on a categorical basis, there is sufficient evidence to assess it at a regional or watershed level in some cases, such as the Prairie Pothole Region. Such analysis will strengthen the report and make the subsequent rulemaking this report will inform more useful.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment and for your service on this panel. I look forward to reviewing your results.

Call on Congress to Support Strong Conservation Policy in the New Farm Bill

Right now, members of a Congressional conference committee are debating the fate of the 2013 Farm Bill.  The Farm Bill has a huge influence on our nation’s conservation funding and policy.

Please join thousands of other conservationists, farmers and ranchers, scientists, hunters and anglers, and concerned citizens and call your Representative and Senators TODAY!

All Senators and Representatives need to hear from you, but members of the conference committee are especially important.  Please call conferees at the numbers below, and reach all other members of Congress through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

When you call, ask to speak to or leave a message for the staff member who works on agriculture issues, and then use the following as a guide:

Hello, my name is __________, and I’m calling today from (city) to ask Representative / Senator __________ to support a five-year Farm Bill in 2013 with strong conservation measures.

Specifically, I urge Representative / Senator __________ to support:

  • re-linking basic conservation compliance safeguards to crop insurance premium assistance and to oppose weakening of our current soil and wetland protections; and
  • a national Sodsaver program to protect our nation’s remaining prairies; and
  • no additional funding cuts to Farm Bill conservation programs.

I also strongly urge the Senator / Congress(wo)man to convey his/her support for these conservation priorities to the Farm Bill Conference Committee leadership as soon as possible.

Thank you for considering my views.

Use the numbers below to contact members of the conference committee.

Title

Name

State

Washington, DC Office

District Office

Representative Roby, Martha

AL

202-225-2901

334-277-9113

Representative Rogers, Michael D.

AL

202-225-3261

 256-236-5655
Representative Crawford, Rick

AR

202-225-4076

 870-203-0540
Senator Boozman, John N.

AR

202-224-4843

 501-372-7153
Representative Denham, Jeffrey John

CA

202-225-4540

 209-579-5458
Representative Costa, Jim

CA

202-225-3341

 559-495-1620
Representative Negrete McLeod, Gloria

CA

202-225-6161

 909-626-2054
Representative Royce, Edward R.

CA

202-225-4111

 714-255-0101
Senator Bennet, Michael

CO

202-224-5852

 303-455-7600
Representative Southerland, Steve

FL

202-225-5235

850-561-3979
Representative Scott, Austin

GA

202-225-6531

 229-396-5175
Senator Chambliss, Saxby

GA

202-224-3521

 770-763-9090
Representative King, Steven A.

IA

202-225-4426

 515-232-2885
Senator Harkin, Tom

IA

202-224-3254

 515-284-4574
Representative Davis, Rodney

IL

202-225-2371

 217-403-4690
Senator Roberts, Pat

KS

202-224-4774

316-263-0416
Representative McGovern, James P.

MA

202-225-6101

 508-831-7356
Representative Camp, Dave

MI

202-225-3561

 231-876-9205
Representative Levin, Sander M.

MI

202-225-4961

 586-498-7122
Senator Stabenow, Debbie

MI

202-224-4822

 616-975-0052
Representative Walz, Timothy J.

MN

202-225-2472

 507-388-2149
Representative Peterson, Collin C.

MN

202-225-2165

 218-253-4356
Senator Klobuchar, Amy

MN

202-224-3244

 612-727-5220
Senator Cochran, Thad

MS

202-224-5054

 601-965-4459
Senator Baucus, Max

MT

202-224-2651

 406-586-6104
Representative McIntyre, Mike

NC

202-225-2731

 910-862-1437
Senator Hoeven, John

ND

202-224-2551

 701-250-4618
Representative Engel, Eliot L.

NY

202-225-2464

914-699-4100
Representative Fudge, Marcia L.

OH

202-225-7032

 216-522-4900
Senator Brown, Sherrod

OH

202-224-2315

 216-522-7272
Representative Lucas, Frank D.

OK

202-225-5565

 405-373-1958
Representative Schrader, Kurt

OR

202-225-5711

 503-588-9100
Representative Thompson, Glenn

PA

202-225-5121

 814-353-0215
Representative Marino, Thomas

PA

202-225-3731

 570-322-3961
Representative Noem, Kristi

SD

202-225-2801

 605-275-2868
Representative Johnson, Sam

TX

202-225-4201

 469-304-0382
Representative Conaway, K. Michael

TX

202-225-3605

 432-687-2390
Representative Neugebauer, Robert

TX

202-225-4005

 325-675-9779
Representative Vela, Filemon

TX

202-225-9901

 956-544-8352
Senator Leahy, Patrick J.

VT

202-224-4242

 802-863-2525
Representative DelBene, Suzan

WA

202-225-6311

 425-485-0085

Additional background:

  • Conservation compliance is one of our nation’s most successful conservation policies.  For nearly 30 years, farmers have agreed to conserve fragile soils and maintain wetlands in exchange for taxpayer support of the farm safety net.  Conservation compliance has reduced erosion by about 295 million tons of soil per year and has protected millions of acres of wetlands.  Re-connecting conservation compliance measures now to federal crop insurance will ensure decades of conservation gains are not lost.
  • America’s remaining grasslands provide important habitat for wildlife and are a critical resource for ranching communities.  Several studies have shown, however, that various federal programs are incentivizing conversion of grassland to cropland, despite the fact that much of this land is marginal for crop production.  A national Sodsaver program would reduce these incentives and save taxpayers’ dollars, while still leaving management decisions to the landowner.

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.

TAKE ACTION! Tell the EPA to Protect Aquatic Habitat Based on the Best Science

The Clean Water Act is undoubtedly one of our nation’s most successful and important environmental laws. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Many sportsmen may not realize it, but we are on the cusp of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore protections to our most cherished hunting and fishing areas.

That is because the federal government is taking steps now that will decide which bodies of water will be protected by standards set by the Clean Water Act.

But the waters most important to sportsmen won’t benefit from this effort unless you take action and speak up now.

The Clean Water Act is undoubtedly one of our nation’s most successful and important environmental laws. In the 41 years the modern Clean Water Act has been in existence, it has transformed many of our lakes and rivers from toxic dumping grounds into vibrant fish and wildlife habitat, sources of drinking water and commercial and recreational hotspots.

However, there has long been a debate about which bodies of water Congress intended to cover with the Clean Water Act. Was it everything that is wet in America or only the largest interstate rivers? (Most reasonable people agree it’s somewhere in the middle, but where exactly do you draw the line?) A couple of Supreme Court decisions in the 2000s confused rather than clarified this debate, but the most recent decision pointed to a solution.

In a 2006 Supreme Court decision, Justice Kennedy established the significant nexus test for determining which waters should receive Clean Water Act protections. He said that waters deserve federal protection if they “either alone or in combination with similarly situated lands in the region, significantly affect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of the larger bodies of water that everyone agrees should be covered by the Clean Water Act. To figure out the answer to this test, however, you first have to know how wetlands, headwater streams and other small water bodies are connected chemically, physically and biologically to larger, downstream water bodies.

So the Environmental Protection Agency brought together their best scientists, and they compiled and reviewed more than 1,000 of the best peer-reviewed scientific papers on hydrologic connectivity. The draft report summarizing their results, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, will inform future decisions the federal government makes about Clean Water Act jurisdiction. An independent panel of scientists is currently reviewing the draft report, and that’s where you come in.

The EPA is taking comments related to the report from the public now. Comments received by Nov. 6 will be considered by the independent review panel when it meets in December. Once the independent review is complete and public comments are incorporated, the EPA will finalize the report and use it to decide how to apply the Clean Water Act. Those decisions will be open for public input and scrutiny starting in early 2014 and will shape Clean Water Act protections for a long time to come.

It’s critical that sportsmen make their voices heard, because hunters and anglers understand the value of these resources like no one else.

Tell the EPA you support actions that protect wetlands and headwater streams based on the best available science.

Keys Fishing Has Character

I couldn’t have asked for a better guide. From his well-worn, cut-off sun shirt to the way he used his teeth to nip off the heads of the squirming shrimp we were using as bait to his immaculate 18-foot flats boat – Bob Baker was the quintessential Keys boat captain.

When he opened up the throttle on his Maverick we hauled across the water, quickly making headway on the trip from Islamorada’s World Wide Sportsman toward Everglades National Park. Our conversation settled on fish stories as our ears adjusted to the steady buzz of wind across our faces.

Fishing with us that day as part of the TRCP Saltwater Media Summit was Tom Van Horn, a writer and fishing guide from the Orlando, Fla., area. Between two locals we had enough fodder to keep us in fish tales for the entirety of the journey without any trouble.

We have a great responsibility to ensure that recreational fishing opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico remain. Photo by Christen Duxbury.

It was impossible to persuade my smile to recede as we navigated shallow runnels, cruised past islands dense with mangroves and flocks of seabirds, and wove around wooden channel markers at what felt like a breakneck speed.

Bob and Tom were at home on the water. As my land-locked legs struggled to keep me upright in the slight chop, I asked these captains endless questions about life on the water. Can you really make a living doing this? How many times have you been hooked? How often do you take your boat out of the water? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What are some of your more memorable clients?

They answered my barrage of questions graciously and with a smile.

Bob’s response to one of my questions struck me. As we were cruising back toward the World Wide Sportsman, I asked him if he had a backup plan. Had he thought about what he would do if bad weather or a catastrophic event were ever to take away his ability to fish? He looked at me and said, “No. I’m just a fisherman. I just want to fish.”

As his answer drifted away in the salty spray coming off the bow, it struck me that we have a great responsibility to ensure that recreational fishing opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico remain. Not only is sportfishing essential to the region’s unique culture and quality of life; without it people like Bob and places like the Keys would cease to remain as we know and love them.

To help create a blueprint for healthy Gulf fisheries, the TRCP has released a report outlining recreational anglers’ recommendations for projects and initiatives designed to help the Gulf of Mexico recover from the 2010 oil spill.

“Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries: Recommendations for Restoration, Recovery and Sustainability” is the result of a series of workshops the TRCP organized in May with Gulf State anglers, scientists, charter fishermen and guides, state and federal fisheries managers, fishing tackle and boat retailers and representatives of conservation organizations.

Proper management and planning of our Gulf resources is integral if we want to pursue the outdoor pastimes and way of life that make our coastal places, and people like Bob, so unique.

Learn more about the report.