Steve Kline

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posted in: General

December 17, 2014

South Dakota rancher lets the land point the way

TRCP Director of Government Relations Steve Kline reflects on his relationship with 2014 Leopold Conservation Award winner Lyle Perman of South Dakota. Read more about Lyle and the award here.

I remember the first time I met Lyle Perman.

I had been worried about recognizing him, but the worry was misplaced. His bolo tie and cowboy hat set him a world apart from the buttoned-up navy suits of downtown Washington, D.C. This was his first trip to the nation’s capital since he had visited the city with the College Republicans decades earlier. Now, the TRCP hosted his return as part of an effort to educate his South Dakota congressional delegation on the importance of conserving native prairie.

As a lobbyist, I can attest that most Hill meetings run about the same way, with little variation. But when you fly somebody like Lyle to Washington to meet with senators and representatives that he knows personally, the meetings take on an entirely different tone. First, the senator has to catch up on all the latest gossip from home, including a serious dissertation on the weather. In South Dakota, rain is still considered a blessing. Talk then turns to neighbors and church; only after a full debrief can the conversation focus on the comparatively mundane: Farm Bill conservation programs working to keep South Dakota’s essential grasslands intact.

Lyle’s farm in Lowry, SD. Image courtesy of Rock Hills Ranch.

Lyle understands that he must learn from his forebears, question the assumptions of conventional wisdom and heed the ample advice the land offers. His Rock Hills Ranch is among the last vestiges of a great American ocean of grass. Much of that epic landscape has been replaced by row crops, bit by the plow, the grass long ago turned upside down. Lyle has seen firsthand what that means for the long-term health of the place he loves, the place where he raised his family. A lifetime spent in the prairies has convinced him grass is what God intended to be here.

After showing Lyle Washington, D.C., I was thrilled just a few months later that he could show me Lowry, South Dakota, and the place he calls home. Two worlds connected by a Farm Bill and a friendship. I am thrilled that my friend Lyle and his family ranch have received this award, where two new generations (and two sets of twins!) roam the countryside and plan for the future of their grass.

The 2014 Leopold Conservation Award could not go to a  more deserving recipient. A tip of the cowboy hat from all of us here at the TRCP.

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Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

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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December 5, 2014

Sharing the sportsmen’s experience

Like many Americans, when my wife and I sit down over Thanksgiving dinner and reflect on what we are most grateful for, family and good health are always at the top of the list. Nothing makes this point more clearly than spending time with folks who don’t have those luxuries.

Photo courtesy of Neil Thagard.

Over the recent Thanksgiving weekend, my wife Catherine and I were privileged to participate in a hunt for javelina and Coues deer in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona. We were volunteering as spotters and guides with Outdoor Experience for All, or OE4A, an organization that offers outdoor experiences to young people diagnosed with life threatening illnesses, children of fallen heroes, and children with disabilities. While the youths in the program are the hunters, their entire families are encouraged to attend and participate in the hunts.

According to Catherine, “This weekend was one of the highlights of our hunting careers. It didn’t seem to matter that although many deer were seen, few were taken, as a great time was had by all.”

Photo courtesy of Neil Thagard.

We can’t speak highly enough of OE4A’s founder, Eddy Corona. He is a true humanitarian who selflessly provides these great experiences to some very deserving people. We commend him and all of the dedicated OE4A volunteers for their efforts.

OE4A’s mission is “to change lives one adventure at a time.” They believe that everyone who participates in an OE4A adventure, including volunteers, sponsors, parents and siblings, leaves camp with a new outlook on life. We echo that sentiment – and will definitely be volunteering for future OE4A hunts, as I’m pretty sure we gained as much from this experience as the participating families.

To find out more about OE4A go to www.outdoorexperienceforall.org

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December 4, 2014

What does the future hold for water conservation?

Here’s just the thing to cure your case of the holiday blues: a cold, hard analysis of budget numbers for federal water conservation programs. But don’t click away just yet! This may be one of the most consequential things happening in Washington, D.C.,  in December before the 113th Congress adjourns.

To bring you up to speed, Congress, as it has done so often in recent years, failed to finalize spending decisions by the beginning of the new fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2014). Since then the federal government has operated on a continuing resolution, or CR, a stop-gap measure that maintains the prior year’s funding levels. The current CR expires on Dec. 11, 2014. Congress must pass a spending bill by then or risk shutting down the federal government. The incoming Republican majority has a strong desire to get spending decisions off the table now so they can focus on higher priority issues starting in January, but major disagreements still exist – both between the two parties and the House and Senate – so another CR may be necessary.

Assuming that Congress can reach an agreement on a spending bill for the rest of fiscal year 2015, it will be based upon the respective House and Senate proposals summarized below. Therefore, if you want to know about the future of water conservation funding in 2015, keep reading.

Bureau of Reclamation: First-time chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Mike Simpson deserves credit for producing a bill that is more favorable towards water conservation than previous House bills. His bill largely matches what the administration requested, which is about a 5 percent increase over current levels. Where Rep. Simpson disagrees with the administration, it is with a modest 2 percent decrease compared to the request. The one exception is the San Joaquin River Restoration Fund, which the House, as it has done in the past, refuses to fund.

On the Senate side, Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein continues her pattern of strong water conservation funding. Her bill matches the administration’s request except where she significantly exceeds it and includes a heavy investment in drought response: Overall WaterSMART funding is up 120 percent, funding for WaterSMART Grants is more than tripled and the Drought Response and Comprehensive Drought Plans program is increased by an order of magnitude. The bill also includes an extra $67 million not reflected in the chart above: $12 million for Fish Passage and Fish Screens, $35 million for Water Conservation and Delivery and $20 million for Environmental Restoration and Compliance.

The TRCP recently wrote to Congress with some sportsmen-conservation partners to commend both the House and Senate for their proposals and to ask that final spending decisions look more like the more sportsmen friendly Senate proposal.

Prediction: Sen. Feinstein has gotten her way in the past. Count on her to get it again, especially since California’s historic drought has been front page news since summer and she’s about to hand off the chairwoman’s gavel to her Republican counterpart. 

Fish and Wildlife Service: Within the Fish and Wildlife Service, the House and Senate are largely of one mind on funding. Each FWS program in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget is flat-funded or receives a small increase over current funding levels. The one exception is the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, which both houses cut. The cuts come mostly from the part of CESCF used for land acquisitions, with the Senate taking a particularly dim view towards land acquisition grants to states.

In addition, though both houses fund the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program at the same amount (and increase it over the requested level), the House places a stronger emphasis within that amount on competitive grants over formula grants to states. The House believes this will encourage multiple states to work together and with the FWS to conserve species named in settlement agreements so that an Endangered Species Act listing becomes unnecessary.

Prediction: This looks like a likely candidate for splitting the difference.

Environmental Protection Agency: The big ticket item at EPA is the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (not shown in the chart above due to scale). The House matches the requested level while the Senate adds an additional 42 percent to stay even with current funding levels (about $1.5 billion).

When it comes to geographic programs at the EPA, both houses fund them above the requested level, but only the Senate includes more funding than they currently receive. Specifically, both houses want to see an increase over the requested amount for the Great Lakes, while the Senate is friendlier to programs for the Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound and Lake Champlain, and the new program for Southern New England Estuaries (represented as “Other” in the chart above).

Both houses reject the requested increase in the Nonpoint Source (Sec. 319) Grants but stay even with current funding levels. Also, both houses reject the requested increase in the Wetlands Program: the Senate stays even with current funding but the House cuts it even further. The Wetlands Program includes the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program, which is particularly controversial in Congress right now due to the ongoing rulemaking effort to clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction.

Prediction: The administration consistently submits a low request for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund knowing Congress will restore its funding; this year shouldn’t be any different. Also, outgoing chair of the full appropriations committee Sen. Mikulski of Maryland will get her funding for the Chesapeake Bay. The real fight at EPA will be over policy riders, of which the House will ask for many.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: There aren’t any obvious trends in the competing proposals for water conservation at NOAA. Both the House and Senate come in under the administration’s request for Protected Species Research and Management, but they are also both above the current funding level. While the House severely cuts spending for Habitat Conservation and Restoration, the Senate boosts it past current funding levels and the administration’s request. Both houses exceed the administration’s request for Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund to keep it even with current spending.

Prediction: Another candidate for splitting the difference.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: In the post-earmark era where Congress has less ability to affect spending on any specific Corps project, both the House and Senate proposals match the administration’s request for projects included in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget. As a result, those line items are excluded from the chart above.

As for the rest of the Corps, both houses put considerably more money into so-called Continuing Authority Programs than requested because, according to the House, a CAP “provides a useful tool for the Corps to undertake small localized projects without the lengthy study and authorization process typical of most larger Corps projects.” (The Senate feels the same.) Both houses more than triple the requested amount for Project Modifications for Improvement of the Environment (Section 1135) and more than double the amount requested for Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration (Section 206).

Prediction: It’s good to be a CAP.

Mia Sheppard

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posted in: General

December 2, 2014

Experiencing the John Day River in Oregon – and addressing threats to public lands

Southeast and central Oregon are known for vast landscapes of sagebrush steppe and basalt rim rock. This wide open country provides important habitat for numerous species of big game, upland birds and trout. It also offers access to outstanding public lands hunting.

As a sportsman, outfitter and mother, I believe that one of the most important challenges of our time is to ensure that these places are conserved so that when my daughter grows up, she can enjoy the same experiences and opportunities that I have had.

Some of the state’s best hunting for mule deer and chukar, as well as fishing for steelhead, trout and smallmouth bass, occur on rivers and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

Photo by Mia Sheppard.

For example, the John Day River is the third longest undammed river in the Lower 48. It also is a stronghold for wild steelhead. The John Day is in my “backyard,” and, as a local fishing outfitter, I take pride in sharing this river with visitors and other anglers.

My husband and I have outfitted on the John Day River since 2001 and annually bring close to 180 people to the local area where they fish, shop, stay in hotels and eat at restaurants. Visitors are mesmerized by the rim rock canyons, the smell of juniper and the solitude experienced on a John Day River float. These experiences connect visitors with something greater than themselves while supporting a major component of Oregon’s rural economy. Public lands are a boon for those who travel from across the country and world to enjoy them, as well as those who call these places home.

As ardent public land users, we know firsthand that public lands in Oregon are faced with increasing pressures. Growing demands for renewable energy resources, uncharacteristic wild fires, fire suppression, invasive species, loss of public access, excessive road and trail densities, and contentious political debates have the potential to diminish the value of public lands for fish, wildlife and sportsmen.

Photo by Mia Sheppard.

These issues aren’t easy to deal with, but it’s our duty as sportsmen and recreational users to be a smarter, more powerful voice in the natural resource policy debate in order to ensure that the special places where we recreate are conserved, restored and enhanced. We must communicate to state and federal decision makers that the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat – and high quality hunting and fishing –  needs to be a management priority.

Intact and unfragmented public land habitats offer some of the best remaining hunting and fishing available on federal lands in the state of Oregon. These unique areas are valuable national resources that should be managed and conserved for future generations. Our hunting and angling heritage, as well as Oregon’s $12.8 billion outdoor recreation economy, depend on it.

Contact the BLM and let them know your public land is important for your hunting and fishing opportunities. 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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