We got good news out of the House of Representatives this morning when we learned that the latest version of legislation to help Puerto Rico deal with a looming debt crisis no longer contains language that would transfer the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Initial versions of the legislation included a provision to give the popular wildlife refuge to Puerto Rico, potentially setting the stage for a fire sale to private interests in order to raise money to pay down debts. But as powerful economic engines that generate jobs and tax revenue, national public lands are part of the economically sustainable future, not part of the problem. So we’re glad the transfer provision was removed from the legislation, although we’ll remain vigilant as the bill moves through the process. Public lands are essential to American hunters and anglers, and TRCP will defend those lands from the tundra of Alaska to the gem-blue waters of Puerto Rico.
Vote marks next step in effort to pass broader package that benefits fish, wildlife, and America’s sportsmen
Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (H.R. 2406), also known as the SHARE Act, to require federal land managers to promote and enhance sportsmen’s access to public hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting areas. Final passage of this bill is a critical next step towards sending a comprehensive sportsmen’s package to the president’s desk.
“We’re happy to see this legislation clear the House and move forward with bipartisan support—it’s a step in the right direction for what we hope is a truly comprehensive final package that the president can sign into law,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“What’s important now is Senate action on a suite of sportsmen’s priorities, including provisions aimed not only at expanding access but also at investing in key habitat conservation programs. Open gates aren’t much good if there isn’t quality habitat behind them. We’ll continue to emphasize this point with Congress and America’s hunters and anglers,” says Fosburgh.
The SHARE Act was introduced in May 2015 by the bipartisan leadership of the House Sportsmen’s Caucus: Representatives Robert Wittman (R-Va.), Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), and Gene Green (D-Texas). It also passed in the last Congress but failed to reach the president’s desk.
Two Senate committees recently passed portions of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act which would provide the investments in habitat conservation that the House package currently lacks. Read more about those bills here and here.
Given all of the media coverage of drought in the West, pollution shutting off public drinking water in Ohio and West Virginia, and interstate lawsuits over water supplies, you may be tempted to think we have a very bleak water future ahead. Without a doubt, we have serious water challenges now and in the future. However, across the nation, sportsmen are demonstrating that federally supported collaborative water conservation partnerships work.
From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance. They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.
In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them. The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.
But crises, like those we see in the drought-stricken West, demonstrate that we have failed to get ahead of the problem of managing water resources for mutual benefit and multiple uses. If we are to get ahead of the curve, we must replicate and scale up the successes of collaborative partnerships like those described in Snapshots of Success: Protecting America’s watersheds, fish and wildlife, and the livelihoods of sportsmen.
Just before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly announced an additional 86,000 SAFE acres across seven states: Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. These acres are a boon to private landowners and sportsmen. But I’d wager that most hunters and anglers, and probably many farmers and ranchers, don’t know what SAFE is or just how beneficial the program can be.
For the unfamiliar, SAFE— State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement —is part of the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. The general CRP asks landowners to voluntarily conserve large tracts of previously cropped land to achieve a wide range of environmental benefits. As a part of CRP, SAFE is also a voluntary land conservation program, but here USDA works with landowners, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations and the public to identify strategic projects that conserve land in specific parts of the country. SAFE distinctively focuses on habitat for species that are threatened or endangered, have suffered significant population declines or are considered to be socially or economically valuable.
That last phrase, “socially or economically valuable,” is key for sportsmen. SAFE authorizes your local decision makers to identify which acres will best target the needs of “high-value” wildlife, and that includes for hunting and fishing. SAFE projects have provided habitat for the plains sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, American woodcock, northern bobwhite quail, ring-necked pheasant, a wide variety of waterfowl, cottontail rabbits, black bears, mule deer, elk, salmon, steelhead trout and many other species, across 36 states and in Puerto Rico. That’s nothing to shake a tail at.
Landowners can benefit from SAFE too especially at a time when crop prices are low and land prices are high. USDA offers a signing incentive of $100 per acre to landowners who convert idle cropland into SAFE; pays landowners up to 90 percent of the cost of planting trees, forbs and grasses that benefit wildlife; and provides guaranteed rental payments on that land for the length of a contract, usually for 10 to 15 years. SAFE can improve farm income while incentivizing on-the-ground practices that benefit our favorite critters on an ecosystem-wide scale.
Although the extra 86,000 acres comprise only a fraction of the 24 million acres enrolled in CRP, at the TRCP we were thrilled by USDA’s announcement. Since SAFE’s introduction in 2007, many states have maxed out their allotted acres and maintain waiting lists for landowners hoping to enroll stream buffers, restored wetlands, newly seeded grasslands and longleaf pine stands in the program. The TRCP welcomes any additional chances to provide habitat for fish and wildlife and access for sportsmen.
Landowners can enroll qualified acres in a designated wildlife project in their state at any time. We especially encourage those in the seven states listed above to take advantage of this new opportunity. For more information, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation or visit a local USDA office.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 email@example.com.
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- After three years of failing to finalize a budget, Congress finally passed a budget bill just weeks before the holiday that sets the stage for a return to a normal appropriations process, one which finally may reverse the long-term decline in conservation funding.
- The administration is set to issue new rules on how the Clean Water Act applies to geographically isolated wetlands valuable to sportsmen, such as prairie potholes and small streams. These rules should get us most of the way back to how the CWA was implemented prior to the 2000s and, with a new Farm Bill, should slow the destruction of these important areas of fish and wildlife habitat.
- The administration soon will release its final watershed assessment for Bristol Bay in Alaska. The assessment should make it very clear that any large new mine in the region could have devastating impacts on the world’s most prolific salmon runs. The assessment should be another blow to the proposed Pebble Mine, which earlier this fall saw its largest financial backer, Anglo American, withdraw from the project .
- Members of Congress from both parties appear to be willing to set aside partisan politics in 2014 and pass comprehensive sportsmen’s legislation, a collection of bills that promote fish and wildlife conservation and access for hunters and anglers.
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.