Whit Fosburgh

September 18, 2012

Making Lands Work for Wildlife

Photo by Dusan Smetana.

This Sunday, Sept. 16, Dave White and Dan Ashe, the heads of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, respectively, attended the TRCP’s annual Western Media Summit and briefed participants about a groundbreaking species conservation plan that was formally unveiled this week.

In summary, the plan provides long-term (up to 30 years) regulatory predictability to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participating in USDA’s Working Lands for Wildlife initiative. Under the agreement, participants voluntarily implement proven conservation practices designed to protect fish and wildlife habitat, including habitat for several at-risk species and vulnerable game species on private lands. The plan initially identifies seven species, including sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken, as targets.

What makes the agreement unique? First of all, it recognizes that species conservation works best when private landowners are active partners in the process. To make this happen, the agreement recognizes that (a) funds must be made available to help implement important projects and (b) landowners must have assurance that the government won’t keep moving the goal line.

Certainty is key. If a landowner undertakes conservation projects that work and a listed species moves onto his or her lands, or if a resident non-listed species like sage grouse becomes listed under the Endangered Species Act, he or she must be confident that these lands won’t suddenly be subject to new land use restrictions or penalties.

Such “safe harbor” agreements are not unique – they have become a tried and true part of implementing the Endangered Species Act on private lands. What is unique about the new plan is its duration and scope.

For example, sage grouse habitat runs from Northern California east to South Dakota and from Canada south to southern Colorado. Second, 30 years is a long time, allowing landowners to make long-term decisions about managing their lands. Finally, the NRCS allocated $33 million in its 2012 budget for the WLFW initiative (the funds will go to private landowners to implement agreed-upon projects), so this is not just another empty federal program with no funding to back it up.

Yes, some questions remain. Does the agency or agencies have the resources to monitor implementation over time, especially as their budgets are likely to be shaved when and if Congress ever gets serious about deficit reduction? Will future administrations share this commitment to cooperative private land conservation? And while $33 million is a good start, it’s only a fraction of what will be needed long term to conserve wildlife species that are sensitive to management practices on private on private lands. But it takes a step toward addressing a huge problem.

Why should sportsmen care? First, the seven species listed in the agreement are surrogates for many other species. Protecting and restoring sage grouse directly benefits mule deer and pronghorn, which share the same habitats.

Second, about half of all Americans hunt only on private lands. It’s in everyone’s interest to make sure these lands are as healthy and productive for fish and wildlife as possible – and that landowners have the resources and long-term regulatory certainty to keep farms and ranches together and working

Finally, in-your-face fights about endangered species, from wolves to spotted owls, help no one. They divide and breed resentment from private landowners about the federal government and conservation.

Expect to hear carping from extremists on both sides about this either being a new intrusion of the federal government into the lives of private landowners or an abdication of federal regulatory authority. Ignore such rhetoric. These parties have made a living feeding the flames of paranoia and sowing dissent and seem to care far more about keeping fights alive than recovering species.

The bottom line: the new agreement is a common-sense and innovative step forward that explicitly recognizes the important role of private landowners in species conservation. Secretaries Vilsack and Salazar should be commended.

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September 12, 2012

Take Action: Sportsmen Need a Farm Bill Now

Time is running out for the single most important piece of legislation for private lands fish and wildlife conservation in the nation. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Despite its name, the Farm Bill isn’t just for farmers; the legislation benefits Americans of all stripes, including sportsmen like you. The conservation title of the Farm Bill directs more than $5 billion each year to key private lands conservation initiatives in all 50 states.

These programs help restore and conserve fish and wildlife habitat, improve the quality of our air and water and reduce soil erosion. The Farm Bill helps our nation’s farmers and ranchers responsibly steward the American landscape, an investment that boasts fantastic returns.

Passed every five years, the current Farm Bill is set to expire on Sept. 30. Congressional inaction on the Farm Bill puts billions of dollars of cost-effective conservation funding and millions of acres of incredibly productive fish and wildlife habitat on the chopping block. These are the very places on which hunters and anglers across the country depend for quality experiences afield.

On Sept. 30, the federal Farm Bill will expire, along with billions of dollars for conservation funding. Contact your representatives and urge them to pass a Farm Bill now!

Contact your representatives and urge them to pass a Farm Bill now!

September 11, 2012

Corn, Sunflowers and Power Lines: Making a Case for Federal Appropriations During Dove Season

This time of year always reminds me of corn, sunflowers, soybeans and power lines. Dove season is upon us.

For wingshooters across the country, early September dove hunts represent the beginning of a season full of great days afield. In my mind, nothing quite beats the excitement of a morning spent drinking coffee, gathering gear and heading out to a familiar dove field. And of course, the chance to hassle your buddies for missing speedy doves!

In D.C., another kind of excitement is in the air right now: Congress is back in session. This is the time of year when legislators return from summer recess and work to make final headway on policy issues before election mania takes over.

Just as the beginning of dove season brings excitement to hunters, the return of Congress from summer session generates similar anticipation in D.C. Photo by Ed Arnett.

This Fall will be particularly challenging as Congress has not yet agreed on funding for federal agencies and programs with only a matter of weeks before the end of the fiscal year. Our elected officials are facing pressure to cut budgets from all sides; however, common ground on where and how much to cut remains elusive. Interest groups confound this process further, complicating choices over the soundest federal investments.

For sportsmen, the outcome of the federal funding process —  also known as the appropriations process —  is critically important, as funding levels for nearly all federal programs that support conservation on public and private lands are decided through federal appropriations bills. From the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which provides match grants to groups like Ducks Unlimited to restore and protect wetlands, to conservation programs in the Farm Bill, which provide financial incentives for landowners to forgo cultivating ecologically valuable lands, the good conservation work on which we depend to keep game on the range and ducks in the air would not happen without healthy federal funding.

Unfortunately, Congress recently has been more than willing to pass bills that massively cut conservation programs. The House Interior appropriations bill reported out of committee not long ago included a 22-percent cut in funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a 37-percent cut to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund and a whopping 80-percent cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which directs a portion of oil and gas leasing revenues to fish and wildlife conservation and increased public access for recreation. As sportsmen, conservation funding is our lifeblood. We have a responsibility to be part of the conversation to keep funding levels as strong as possible.

What is the TRCP doing? The TRCP has continued its work with America’s Voice for Conservation, Recreation and Preservation, a coalition that earlier this year delivered a letter to congressional leaders signed by more than 1,200 groups advocating for programs that support habitat conservation, outdoor recreation activities, and the preservation of historic places.

The AVCRP coalition will work not only to hold the line during the yearly appropriations cycle but to elevate conservation as a congressional priority in the long term. Learn more about the role that conservation funding plays in the economy and in your next trip into the field.

You also can check out the Outdoor Industry Association’s study on outdoor recreation (which includes hunting and fishing) and the economy.

Whit Fosburgh

September 4, 2012

Pittman-Robertson: Celebrating the History of Conservation Policy

September marks the 75-year-anniversary of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, or the Pittman-Robertson Act. For sportsmen, this anniversary stands as a testament to the sportsman-conservation community and should evoke within us a tremendous sense of pride. Given the current divided state of our government, it is easy to forget the many successes that we as sportsmen have had – not only in the conservation of our fish and wildlife resources but in contributing to the well-being of our country.

To date, over $6.5 billion has been provided to state fish and wildlife agencies through the Pittman-Robertson Act. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

At the unified urging of organized sportsmen and wildlife groups, the Pittman-Robertson Act diverts an 11 percent excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition to the Department of the Interior. The department then allocates the funds to pay for state-initiated wildlife restoration projects from acquisition and improvement of wildlife habitat, to wildlife research, to hunter education programs.

A significant component of the Act requires that license and permit fees collected by a state fish and wildlife agency must stay with the agency. Neither the license revenues nor the excise tax can be diverted to any other government entity.

Prior to the act, numerous species such as wild turkey, white-tailed deer, wood duck and black bear were pushed to the brink of extinction. Through wildlife restoration projects, mostly paid for through Pitman-Robertson and state hunting license funds, these important species were able to repopulate.

Since the enactment of Pittman-Robertson, the number of hunters in the United States has more than doubled, and the number of hunting days have spiked in every state. This means that sportsmen can hunt more frequently today than sportsmen hunted in 1937.

Since 1937, several amendments have been made to the act to expand the list of items that are taxed for the benefit of wildlife restoration projects, but one thing has remained consistent: sportsmen have willingly taxed themselves to perpetuate a resource that benefits the national community. To date, more than $6.5 billion has been provided to state fish and wildlife agencies through this Act.

More impressively however, is the estimated return on sportsmen’s investment in wildlife restoration. According to a recent study, the lowest estimated return-on-investment from the excise-tax was 823 percent and the highest estimate return on investment was a whopping 1588 percent. In other words, the benefits of the tax are anywhere from 8 to 15 times greater than the cost of the tax, making it a highly successful and effective investment.

Sportsmen everywhere should be proud of the Pittman-Robertson Act, and as we reflect on this great achievement, let this anniversary serve as a reminder of the power of organized sportsmen rallying together for a good cause.

Watch a short video below about the importance of funding for wildlife conservation.

August 21, 2012

TRCP Takes Conservation Message to South Africa

Fish and wildlife are a worldwide resource, and challenges to their responsible management – and, in some cases, their very existence – occur across the globe. This summer the TRCP sent representatives to the fourth International Wildlife Management Congress in Durban, South Africa, cosponsored by The Wildlife Society, a TRCP partner and leader in educating and informing wildlife management professionals.

The 2012 congress, “Cooperative Wildlife Management across Borders: Learning in the Face of Change,” focused on how wildlife managers can better conserve and manage wildlife resources on an international scale. The TRCP’s Tom Franklin and Steve Belinda were on hand to speak about the increase of shale gas development throughout North America and the associated negative impacts to wildlife. Their presentation described the boom in natural gas production in the United States over the last decade and the many challenges created for wildlife managers.

Kudu in Durban S. Africa
At a recent conference in South Africa, TRCP representatives demonstrated the importance of balancing the needs of wildlife and energy. Photo courtesy of Steve Belinda.

Franklin and Belinda, both wildlife biologists, explained how new technology has resulted in an unprecedented effort to find and produce natural gas in some of the most important wildlife habitats in the nation. Habitats – including those occupied by mule deer and sage grouse – have been seriously impacted by energy exploration and development.

During their presentation, the TRCP representatives demonstrated the importance of balancing the needs of wildlife and energy – an approach that includes comprehensive conservation planning, adaptive management, mitigation planning, monitoring and stakeholder involvement.

Their presentation highlighted the fact that responsible energy development can proceed while minimizing impacts to wildlife and water resources and thereby minimizing conflicts among a wide variety of user groups, including hunters and anglers.

Overall, more than 400 delegates from 35 countries attended the event in South Africa, exploring a wide range of issues including the following:

  • human dimensions of wildlife management and conservation: conflict, urban interface and land use
  • climate change
  • wildlife health and disease
  • endangered species recovery
  • invasive species threats
  • trans-border cooperation and conservation
  • natural resource use and sustainability
  • habitat restoration and modification
  • stewardship
Gemsbok -- Oryx Durban S. Africa
More than 400 delegates from 35 countries attended the event in South Africa, exploring a wide range of wildlife management issues. Photo courtesy of Steve Belinda.

The TRCP supports the responsible development of energy resources in appropriate areas. The TRCP’s set of principles on this issue, “FACTS for Fish and Wildlife,” provides guidance for responsible energy development that upholds our nation’s shared natural resources and unique outdoor legacy.

Learn more about the TRCP’s “FACTS for Fish and Wildlife” and approach to responsible energy development.

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