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.