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October 8, 2013

Seven Major Sportsmen’s Groups Call on Congress to End Shutdown

Seven major sportsmen’s groups from across the country hosted a teleconference calling on Congress to end the shutdown that has closed hundreds of wildlife refuges, Forest Service and BLM areas at the start of hunting seasons across the nation. Leaders from the sportsman-conservation community urged Congress and the administration to make habitat conservation efforts a priority.

The shutdown is limiting hunting opportunities and is hurting the country’s wildlife-related recreation economy, which in 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated at more than $144 billion. For instance, the shutdown closed more than 329 federal wildlife refuges for hunting, and more than 271 are shut to fishing, affecting local economies.

These closures compound the cuts proposed by Congress to programs that conserve wildlife habitat, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and others. The shutdown also undermines efforts to reauthorize the Farm Bill, which includes critical elements of national conservation policy.

Find out how the federal shutdown is affecting sportsmen and -women. Featuring top leaders and experts in the sportsman-conservation community including:

  • Dr. Steve Williams, President, Wildlife Management Institute and former Director of the U. S. + Fish and Wildlife Service (Pennsylvania)
  • Land Tawney, Executive Director, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (Montana)
  • Whit Fosburgh, President/CEO, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (Washington, D.C.)
  • Gaspar Perricone, Co-Director, Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance (Colorado)
  • Miles Moretti, President/CEO, Mule Deer Foundation (Utah)
  • Howard Vincent, President & CEO, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever (Minnesota)
  • Desirée Sorenson-Groves, Vice President, Government Affairs, National Wildlife Refuge Association (Washington, D.C.)

Listen to the telepresser and let us know how you are seeing the effects of the government shutdown.

3 Responses to “Seven Major Sportsmen’s Groups Call on Congress to End Shutdown”

  1. Kathy Mullins

    Please end the shutdown that has closed hundreds of wildlife refuges, Forest Service and BLM areas at the start of hunting seasons across the nation. Leaders from the sportsman-conservation community urged Congress and the administration to make habitat conservation efforts a priority.
    The shutdown is limiting hunting opportunities and is hurting the country’s wildlife-related recreation economy, which in 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated at more than $144 billion. For instance, the shutdown closed more than 329 federal wildlife refuges for hunting, and more than 271 are shut to fishing, affecting local economies. This shutdown is harmful to our environment and is taking away freedom for people who want to hunt and fish.

  2. Great to hear sportsman are taking a stand. Congress needs to stop this foolishness and just reopen the government. Whatever this was ever about has just regenerated into a childish Congressional temper tantrum!

  3. JerryPB

    Given that it was the Dem-controlled Senate that rejected the budget already submitted by the House, why are you not demanding that Harry Reid end this nonsense? Pointing fingers at just one branch and one party makes these groups appear to be shills for Obama.

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August 28, 2013

The Colorado River Just Entered a New Paradigm, and It Could Mean Less Water for Sportsmen

Lake Powell as seen in 2013. National Geographic has an interactive graphic where you can compare this with Lake Powell in 1999 and see what it looks like when the second largest reservoir on the Colorado River drops to less than half full. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

Did the Bureau of Reclamation just announce that the first domino had toppled toward water shortages in the southwestern United States? Here’s the seemingly innocuous language only a water engineer could love:

“[I]f the August 24-Month study projects the January 1, 2014, Lake Powell elevation to be less than 3,575.0 feet and at or above 3,525.0 feet and the Lake Mead elevation to be at or above 1,025.0 feet…the water year release volume from Lake Powell will be 7.48 [million acre-feet (maf)]. This August 2013 24-Month study projects that…the January 1, 2014, Lake Powell elevation [will] be 3,573.69 feet and the Lake Mead elevation [will] be 1,107.39 feet. Therefore…the Lake Powell operational tier for water year 2014 is the Mid-Elevation Release Tier with an annual release volume of 7.48 maf.” – August 24-Month Study (emphasis added)

Let’s back up a moment before answering that.

Sitting at either end of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and Lake Mead are the two primary storage reservoirs on the Colorado River. Lake Powell, the upstream reservoir, sits on the border between Arizona and Utah. Lake Mead is in the southeastern corner of Nevada about 35 miles east of Las Vegas and supplies water to Arizona, Nevada and California. The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates both reservoirs, tries to equalize the amount of water in each reservoir to maximize their combined storage capacity. However, this goal becomes difficult to achieve when there simply isn’t much water in the river, which is the case right now.

The southwestern United States is suffering through an extreme drought. The last 14 years have been the driest period in the last 100 years. Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead are less than half full. The elevation of water in Lake Mead is 120 feet below its maximum, leading to the infamous “bathtub ring”.

Receding water levels in Lake Mead reveal a white ring around the reservoir – known as the “bathtub ring” – indicating how high the water used to be. Currently, Lake Mead is about 120 feet below its maximum fill height. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Waycool27.

Fortunately, the seven states in the Colorado River Basin – Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California – and the Bureau of Reclamation saw this coming. They came together in the early 2000s to reach an agreement for how to share the pain during times when water is scarce. Their agreement is known as the 2007 Interim Guidelines. Among other things, it specifies how much water Reclamation will send from Lake Powell to Lake Mead based on the water levels in each reservoir. Historically, this amount is 8.23 million acre-feet.

However, when the water level in Lake Powell gets low enough, Reclamation will send less water downstream. This month – for the first time ever – Lake Powell crossed that threshold.

So in 2014 Reclamation will release 7.48 million acre-feet of water to Lake Mead, a decrease of 750,000 acre-feet from the historical amount and the lowest amount ever released since Lake Powell filled in the 1960s. This doesn’t mean that 6 million fewer people in Arizona, Nevada and California will get water next year. (An acre-foot of water is approximately as much water as two families of four will use in a year.) It does mean there is about a 50 percent chance these states will get less water from the Colorado River by 2016. (Circle of Blue has a good description of how this supply reduction will likely play out in practice.)

What Reclamation’s announcement makes clear is that we have entered a new paradigm in the Colorado River: Water shortages, which never have occurred before on the river, are not something that may happen sometime in the distant future – they are on the doorstep. Population growth and climate change will put more demands on the river and make droughts more frequent and more severe, ensuring that managing water in the face of shortage will only get harder from here.

The Colorado River Basin states and Reclamation are making decisions now about how to live in this new paradigm. There are ways they can keep the southwestern United States vibrant for the next 50 years, but if sportsmen don’t engage in those decisions, making their preference for strong habitat and species protections known, water for fish and wildlife could be the first to go. That’s why the TRCP is working to conserve and improve water resources management for hunting and fishing areas. Sign up to become part of this effort. (Bob Marshall at Field & Stream makes an impassioned case for why sportsmen need to get engaged.)

The goal for sportsmen should be to keep Reclamation’s announcement from becoming the first domino toppling toward a tragic, inevitable conclusion. Rather, we should take it as a call to action to ensure the Colorado River – and other critical waterways – is managed for the 21st century and beyond.

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August 27, 2013

BLM Gets Earful on Fracking Proposal


The government is hearing comments ranging all the way from don’t allow hydraulic fracturing at all on federal lands, to don’t pass new rules regulating it on such lands, as it considers a proposal to do the latter.

A public comment period ended Friday on a Bureau of Land Management proposal to update drilling rules on federal lands to reflect the widespread use of modern fracking techniques in oil and gas development.

Food & Water Watch estimates that more than 1 million comments have been submitted to the White House and BLM “urging them to protect public lands from fracking.” It said a coalition of 276 environmental and consumer organizations including itself, Americans Against Fracking and 350.org have delivered President Barack Obama and the BLM nearly 650,000 public comments asking the government to outright ban fracking on such lands.

Read the full story on GJ Sentinel.com.

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August 9, 2013

Senate Asks: What Should We Do on Water? Here’s One Answer

Earlier I wrote about a Senate hearing on the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. In case you missed it, the complete hearing is archived and worth watching.

Members of the committee had a recurring question about the projected 3.2 million acre-foot* shortfall between supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin: What – if anything – should the federal government do about it?

In his opening remarks, Sen. Lee (R-UT) approvingly read from the study’s disclaimer that said the study is not to be used as a foundation for any legislative or regulatory action by the federal government. Sen. Udall (D-CO) directly asked the first panel of witnesses what the federal government’s role should be. Sen. Flake (R-AZ) reiterated this question to the second panel of witnesses, saying it was his preference that the federal government be the “last resort” when it comes to solving water problems in the basin.

These statements reflect an appropriate hesitance in Congress to tell Western states what to do with their water.

Management of water resources has always been the province of the states, a responsibility they vigorously defend. But it is wrong to think the federal government doesn’t have a role to play or Congress a responsibility to act.

Mike Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, called Reclamation a valued partner to the states in water management. Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, was more explicit. He said Reclamation provides essential technical support, guidance and research to the states. He also testified that funding for programs such as WaterSMART makes the Colorado River Basin Study possible. Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director for The Nature Conservancy, asked for support for WaterSMART in her testimony.

The federal role in responding to our water resources management challenges is broader than what these witnesses testified, however. Leaving aside the fact that issues between states that also impact other countries (e.g., Mexico in the case of the Colorado River) have a necessary federal nexus, the problems in the Colorado River Basin are a bellwether for issues coming to all parts of the country.

The northwestern and southeastern United States are already facing water conflicts analogous to those in the Colorado River Basin, the U.S. energy sector is vulnerable nationwide to projected water shortages and floods, and water for fish and wildlife is too often an afterthought among other competing uses.

If you care about having water to drink in Atlanta or lights that come on in Seattle or wetlands that support wildlife in the northern Great Plains, you should be interested in lessons being learned right now in the Colorado River Basin.

There is one action sportsmen and Congress can take in the short term to address these disparate challenges: support WaterSMART. This program and similar federal efforts are competitive cost share programs that develop local solutions to national problems. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, WaterSMART grants have already led to 616,000 acre-feet of water saved through conservation.

In 2013 alone, WaterSMART gave the following:

  • $1 million to the Hoopa Valley Tribe in northern California to install over 20,000 linear feet of new pipeline to address inefficiencies in the existing delivery system of open ditches and pipes. The project will save 379 acre-feet of water annually, which will be left in Soctish and Captain John Creeks, eventually feeding into the Trinity and lower Klamath Rivers where it will benefit threatened coho salmon and green sturgeon.
  • $200,000 to the Fort Shaw Irrigation District in Montana to upgrade 10,800 feet of open ditch canal to pipe and install six new center pivots, allowing growers to switch from flood irrigation and increase efficiency.  The project will save 2,628 acre-feet annually, which will be left in the Sun River to help maintain and improve minimum stream flows.
  • $1.5 million to the Central Oregon Irrigation District to upgrade 4,500 linear feet of canal to pipe, an improvement that will save 2,552 acre-feet each year.  The conserved water will become permanent instream flows in the middle Deschutes River and in a reach of the Crooked River that is critical for the endangered Middle Columbia River steelhead.
  • $1.5 million to the Cub River Irrigation Company in northern Utah to upgrade 6.5 miles of open ditch canal to pipe. The project will save 2,800 acre-feet of water each year, which will be left in the Bear River and benefit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge downstream.

In fiscal year 2013, the federal government spent a little over $52 million on the WaterSMART program. For 2014, President Obama has asked Congress for $35 million for the program, a 32 percent cut from last year. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would fund WaterSMART at $16.6 million, a 68 percent cut from last year. As part of that cut, the House bill would completely eliminate funding for the competitive grants, like those listed above, that have led to significant on-the-ground water conservation in partnership with local communities.

The bright spot is the Senate, which has legislation funding WaterSMART at $51 million. This is essentially the same level as last year, 45 percent above President Obama’s request and three times the House level. When the House and Senate meet to resolve their differences and fund the government for 2014, they can demonstrate to sportsmen how important water conservation is by the level of investment they make in WaterSMART.

Congress can also show its support for sportsmen by extending the successful WaterSMART partnerships with state and local entities. The authorization for water conservation grants is about to run out, which is part of the reason funding is in jeopardy. At a minimum, Congress needs to reauthorize these grants and renew its commitment to water conservation.

The TRCP Center for Water Resources will be taking this message to Congress. Stay tuned for ways you can get involved to let your representatives in Congress know that investments that conserve water for fish and wildlife are important to hunters and anglers.

* An acrefoot of water is approximately as much water as a family of four will use in a year.

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July 15, 2013

Did the Supreme Court Just Make it Harder for Sportsmen to Protect Wetlands…Again?

On June 25th the Supreme Court handed down a little-noticed but important opinion that may hurt sportsmen and prized wildlife habitat. Lost in the focus on decisions related to same-sex marriage and the Voting Rights Act, the Court’s 5-4 ruling in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District  will make it harder for land-use permitting agencies to develop strategies that mitigate the impacts of development on fish and wildlife habitat. This comes on the heels of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that obscured the criteria for determining which water bodies receive protection under the Clean Water Act. (Check out EPA’s waters of the United States website for a description of the definitional challenges in the Clean Water Act caused by these two Supreme Court decisions)

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service.

I will leave it to others to argue whether the Court’s decision in Koontz is wise or unwise. Here’s the take home for sportsmen: the ruling increases the threat of litigation looming over land-use permitting agencies. Instead of negotiating appropriate mitigation in good faith, they now have an incentive to deny permits up front or approve permits without pursuing creative ways to protect hunting and fishing opportunities.

As this decision ripples through future permitting cases, sportsmen must engage with land use planners to protect the hunting and fishing lands they cherish, and to ensure the ruling doesn’t stand in the way of conservation efforts.

It’s important to note that the Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of Mr. Koontz’s suit; it only ruled on process. Therefore, we don’t know whether Mr. Koontz or similar plaintiffs will be successful in their lawsuits, but the expanded opportunities for litigation may have a chilling effect on permitting agencies nonetheless.

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read on for a full summary of the Koontz decision.

The case involved Coy Koontz, a man who owned property in Florida wetlands that he wanted to develop for commercial purposes. Florida law requires applicants to mitigate the environmental impact of any development, and Mr. Koontz offered to do so by giving the local district a “conservation easement” (essentially an agreement to limit future development) on nearly three quarters of his property.

The local district determined his offer did not comply with Florida law since it would result in a net loss of wetlands. The district countered and suggested Mr. Koontz do one of two things: (1) reduce the size of this development and increase the size of the conservation easement or (2) pay for improvements to wetlands owned by the district several miles away. When Mr. Koontz refused to take either action or offer an alternative, the district denied his permit and Mr. Koontz sued the district. Mr. Koontz argued that forcing him to take either of these actions in order to secure a development permit violated his Constitutional right to “just compensation” for property taken by the government.

Lower courts found in favor of Mr. Koontz, ruling that the District did not comply with two tests laid out in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987) and Dolan v. City of Tigard (1994) that set limits on what conditions the government can place on the approval of land use permits. The Nollan and Dolan tests ensure that government demands for property must have a link to the development’s substantive impact on the public and be proportional to that impact. In other words, the government’s demands cannot be arbitrary or excessive.

The Florida Supreme Court overturned the lower courts’ rulings because (1) the District denied Mr. Koontz’s permit (rather than demanding property as part of permit approval) and (2) the request for money to improve district-owned wetlands does not count as a taking. In other words, Nollan and Dolan do not apply because Mr. Koontz never gave up any property and money wouldn’t count as property even if he had paid for additional wetlands improvements.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed on both counts. It ruled:

  1. The Nollan and Dolan tests must apply even when a permit is denied, as it was in this case, to ensure that the government cannot coerce a permit applicant to give up their Fifth Amendment right to just compensation for property taken. This part of the decision was unanimous, with all nine justices in agreement.
  2. The Nollan and Dolan tests apply even when the government demand is for money. This is where the liberal wing of the Court differed in the 5-4 ruling. 

With the extension of the Nollan and Dolan tests, land-use planning will likely become more litigious and local permitting agencies may have less flexibility to require mitigation. Local permitting agencies now have an incentive to avoid the threat of litigation by either denying a permit without negotiating with the applicant or approve a permit without effective mitigation plans. One result stifles responsible development; the other impedes protection of wildlife and habitat. Neither is desirable.

As Justice Kagan said in her dissent, “If a local government risked a lawsuit every time it made a suggestion to an applicant about how to meet permitting criteria, it would cease to do so; indeed, the government might desist altogether from communicating with applicants.” (Emphasis added.)

If there is a silver lining in the decision, it’s that the Court recognized the value of mitigation. The Court held that “Insisting that landowners internalize the negative externalities of their conduct is a hallmark of responsible land-use policy, and we have long sustained such regulations against constitutional attack.” Such an affirmative statement bodes well for conservation cases that may come before the Court in the future, and the TRCP’s efforts to promote water conservation.

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