Presidential Candidates Should Make Energy and Public Lands in the West a Priority
“Sportsmen and women understand that not every president can be as passionate an outdoorsman as Theodore Roosevelt. We do expect, however, that candidates for president understand the importance of keeping public lands in public hands while also acting on the need to balance energy development with abundant fish and wildlife populations, clean air and water, and recreational opportunities that include hunting and fishing. Both candidates would do well to listen to sportsmen and women.”
By Jason Schratwieser, Conservation Director, International Game Fish Association
It’s been a long, slow road, but the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 has been signed into law by the president. The new law prohibits the importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish in the continental United States. It represents the culmination of nearly four years of sweat equity overcoming hurdles, roadblocks and naysayers.
The process began from concerns raised from members of the International Game Fish Association, a TRCP partner group, about the large quantities of marlin and sailfish that were being commercially harvested in Central America. For some time, IGFA also had periodically sent letters of opposition to restaurants and grocery stores known to serve or carry marlin and sailfish. However we didn’t really know how big the problem was until went looking.
In 2007 IGFA commissioned a report to investigate the global billfish market. We wanted to find out which countries were harvesting, exporting and importing the most billfish. What we found shocked us. With an average of 2.7 million pounds each year, the U.S. was squarely identified as the world’s biggest importer of billfish.
At that point it became clear that a reactive approach of writing letters to businesses selling billfish was not the answer. To tackle the problem IGFA partnered with the National Coalition for Marine Conservation to develop a proactive campaign to educate the American populace as to what billfish are, their imperiled status and their importance to ocean ecosystems.
The Take Marlin off the Menu campaign was successful in that several very prominent restaurants, grocery stores and even celebrity chefs decided to go “marlin free.” Interactive media polling also showed that the campaign was making an impact in consumers’ perceptions about importing, selling and consuming billfish. Still, we knew the only way we could get rid of America’s dubious distinction was to seek legislation that would end these practices outright.
In 2010 we were successful in introducing legislation in Congress that would ban the commercial harvest, sale and importation of billfish in the U.S. Our billfish report found that annual U.S. billfish market revenues (including harvest and sale from Hawaii) totaled a measly .07 percent of the entire U.S. commercial fishing industry. Nevertheless, Hawaii proved to be an unsurpassable obstacle in the bill’s progress.
By the time the next congressional session convened, we had a new strategy. In order to avoid the ire of commercial fishing interests in Hawaii, we created a carve-out that would exclude Hawaii and the Pacific Insular Territories. Billfish no longer would be able to be imported into the continental U.S., but Hawaii still would be able to harvest and sell billfish commercially. While not our ideal strategy, the strategy allowed us to reach our primary objective: ending the reign of the U.S. as the world’s largest importer of billfish. With the leadership of Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 was introduced in the 112th Congress.
We felt that closing the U.S. to billfish imports would do two things: (1) close a sizeable piece of the international billfish market and (2) position the U.S. to take a more aggressive approach to international billfish management and conservation. The Billfish Conservation Act already is making waves around the world, with groups in other countries considering similar measures.
I suppose the old adage “change is slow” is true. But, it sure is sweet when it finally happens.
This determination effectively ends all legal uncertainty for the 2001 roadless rule and assures its permanence into the foreseeable future.
Areas managed under the roadless rule include renowned big-game hunting destinations such as the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, the Elkhorn Mountains in Montana and the Warner Range of Oregon and California.
These large blocks of undeveloped public lands provide the habitat security necessary for wildlife managers to provide substantial public hunting opportunities for game such as mule deer and elk.
The great thing about the roadless rule is that it represents a balanced and reasonable approach for the management of high value, undeveloped public lands. The rule conserves roadless areas while providing management allowances to protect communities from wildfire, restore habitat and ecosystems and even develop oil and gas, as long as this development is done in ways that maintain the areas’ backcountry values.
With big-game hunting seasons commencing across the country, sportsmen can celebrate by grabbing our gear and setting out in pursuit of deer, elk and other critters on America’s national forest lands. This Supreme Court decision represents an unqualified victory for our community.
With Economics, Access and Conservation, Sportsmen’s Act is Easy to Love
Early Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate voted to advance the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 – a package of more than 20 measures that promote public hunting and fishing access, habitat conservation and strongly funded resource management—toward final action when Congress returns to session after the November elections. To describe the bill, authored by Montana Sen. Jon Tester and supported by a bipartisan coalition of senators, as friendly to public hunting, fishing and conservation is an understatement. The act promotes values central to the TRCP and other hunting and fishing organizations vision of guaranteeing every American a place to hunt and fish.
You may have heard grumblings about how this bill is bad—mostly from those who oppose the current law, which would be reaffirmed by the bill – that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate lead ammunition and fishing tackle. Instead, the bill leaves those decisions to state fish and game agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which currently regulate ammo and tackle.
But the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 offers a lot more to like than criticize. And in a Congress marked by partisan conflict and divisiveness, the fact that a bill aimed at expanding public access for recreational opportunities – including hunting and fishing – passed by such a wide margin confirms the importance of these activities to our nation’s heritage and our economy.
Why is the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 important?
It has broad economic and social impacts. Sportsmen and -women have a long history of promoting species and public lands conservation. This bill embraces that legacy. A national survey undertaken in 2011 found that more than 90 million Americans participate in hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. Hunters and anglers alone account for close to $100 billion in annual economic activity and support more than 900,000 sustainable U.S. jobs.
It improves access. Sportsmen cite the loss of access as the No. 1 reason they quit hunting or fishing. This bill reauthorizes the Federal Lands Transaction Facilitation Act, which uses a “land for land” approach to improve access. It also sets aside 1.5 percent from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to specifically address access issues by purchasing in-holdings on existing public lands and securing easements to access-restricted acreage.
After the elections, we’ll reach out to you with an opportunity to contact your elected officials in the U.S. House and Senate to complete work on the Sportsmen’s Act. In the meantime, the Senate’s leadership deserve a “thank you” from all sportsmen.
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.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.