Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

December 17, 2014

Private Lands Primer: A SAFE place for wildlife

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.

Image courtesy of Katie McKalip.

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.

Image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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.

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Whit Fosburgh

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posted in: General

December 10, 2014

Inside the CRomnibus: Conservation funding and policy riders

Image courtesy of the US Park Service.

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.

EPA

  • 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.

Agriculture

  • 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.

Fisheries

  • 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.
Steve Kline

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posted in: General

July 15, 2014

Playing politics with sportsmen

There is a great frustration in working hard on something for months and having it come up just short of success.

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.

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posted in: General

June 16, 2014

The Sportsmen’s Water Budget

The “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” helps sportsmen see how the government is investing in water conservation.

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.

Hooked trout. Photo by Dusan Smetana.
Photo by Dusan Smetana.

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.)

The “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” will be updated at least twice a year to illustrate how presidential and congressional budgets affect sportsmen.

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 jhague@trcp.org.

Chris Macaluso

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posted in: General

March 25, 2014

As marine fisheries legislation heats up, it’s time to revamp the federal management system

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

RSVP to Lauren Dunn, National Marine Manufacturers Association, at ldunn@nmma.org; or Mary Jane Williamson, American Sportfishing Association, at mjwilliamson@asafishing.org.

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.

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