Whit Fosburgh

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posted in: General

March 12, 2015

Testimony on the Bipartisan Sportsman’s Act of 2015

This morning, our president Whit Fosburgh testified on behalf of S. 556, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. You can read his oral testimony to the committee below and the link to the archived webcast follows:

My name is Whit Fosburgh, and I am the President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of more than 40 national hunting, fishing and conservation groups dedicated to guaranteeing that all Americans have quality places to hunt and fish.

Image by the US Government.

First, I want to thank the committee for the invitation to testify today, and especially Chairwoman Murkowski and Senator Heinrich, for introducing S. 556, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, and bringing it before the committee.  When combined with the companion bill that will make its way through the Environment Committee, the Sportsmen’s Act will make a direct and lasting contribution to hunting, fishing and conservation in America.

Approximately 40 million Americans hunt and fish every year.  Together, hunters and anglers annually spend more than $90 billion to pursue their passions.   They are a key part of the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy, and through excise taxes, license fees, permits and stamps, and voluntary contributions of money and labor, sportsmen have, for more than 75 years, paid their way.  As a result, American fish and wildlife management is the envy of the world.

But federal policy and funding are key to maintaining the North American Model of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and helping people of all walks of life get afield.

Image by Joel Webster.

Hunters and anglers need two things to practice their sports: access and opportunity.  They need places to go to hunt and fish, and when they get there, they need healthy populations of fish and game.

S. 556 is important in both regards.

Section 101 reiterates that our public lands are opening for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting unless they are specifically closed, and it establishes a public process should it makes sense to close certain areas.  This is consistent with the way our public lands have been managed since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, but it provides our land managers with added clarity in this era of competing demands on our public lands.

Sections 201 and 202 directly address the issue of decreasing access to our public lands.  According to various studies, lack of access is one of the most often cited reasons why people stop hunting and fishing.  Part of this is due to non-stop urban and suburban sprawl, where farms and forests turn into malls and condos.

Another part of this is fewer private landowners who allow public access.  The 2014 Farm Bill, with its Open Fields provision, was an important step toward providing incentives to private landowners to allow hunting, fishing and/or access on their lands.

But in the West, more than 70 percent of hunters hunt on public lands.  Nationally, about half of all hunters hunt some or all of the time on public lands.  But even those lands are getting harder and harder to access.

Image by Ken and Cathy Beck.

In the old days, you could ask most landowners to cross their lands to access adjoining public lands.  But as ownership patterns change, such access becomes more difficult.  Today, it is estimated that more than 30 million acres of public lands are largely inaccessible to the public.

Senator Heinrich’s HUNT Act (Section 202) seeks to identify those landlocked public lands and to plan ways in which access to those lands might be improved.

Complementary to the HUNT Act is Section 201, Making Public Lands Public, which would direct that a small percentage of the Land and Water Conservation Fund target projects that expand access to our public lands.

For more than 50 years, LWCF has been an incredibly important program for conserving habitat and providing sportsmen’s access, and Section 201 would help ensure that this legacy of access will continue.  I want to specifically note that my colleague on the panel, Jeff Crane, has been pushing for Making Public Lands Public for many years, and to thank him for his persistence.

I would also request that a copy of the report, endorsed by more than 20 organizations, entitled The Land and Water Conservation Fund and America’s sportsmen and women: A 50-year legacy of increased access and improved habitat, be submitted for the hearing record.

I should also note that the authorization for the LWCF expires later this year, and that 1.5 percent of nothing is nothing.  We look forward to working with the chairwoman and the committee to make sure that LWCF is reauthorized and fully funded.

The final provision that I want to discuss is Section 203, the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. Before its expiration in 2011, FLTFA had leveraged strategic federal land sales to fund 39 priority land conservation projects across the American West, including many of which expanded sportsmen’s access to world class hunting and fishing opportunities. In total, more than 27,000 acres of excess properties were sold to purchase more than 18,000 acres of high priority fish and wildlife, recreation and/or scenic lands.

Like Making Public Lands Public, FLTFA achieves real, on-the-ground conservation goals, without costing the American taxpayer.

Image courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The companion bill to S.556 that the Environment Committee will consider includes several other key provisions for habitat and access, including reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and, I hope, the National Fish Habitat Conservation Partnership Act.

TRCP’s testimony starts at 45:40.

In closing, I want to thank the Committee for considering the Bipartisan Sportsmen Act of 2015.  I also want to make the plea that committee members and the whole Senate continue to set aside partisan politics on behalf of America’s sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts.  Conservation has, for more than a century, been non-partisan.  But as we have seen in the last two Congresses, similarly meritorious sportsmen’s acts died as the desire to score political points overrode the needs of America’s sportsmen.

I think I speak for all 40+ of our partner groups when I say that we stand ready to work with you and your colleagues to make sure that this doesn’t not happen again, and to pass this critical legislation that will help ensure that all Americans have quality places to hunt and fish now and for generations to come.

Read our full written testimony here.

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posted in: General

March 11, 2015

Making sunglasses and conserving our outdoor legacy

Ed Moody is the VP of Product Development at Costa Sunglasses and is responsible for driving product design and technology. Ed was awarded the 2014 Mississippi Wildlife Conservationist of the Year Award from the MS Association of Conservation Districts and sits on the TRCP Corporate Council.

Over the 23 years I have been at Costa, our message and our passions have remained the same: making the greatest sunglasses on the planet and protecting our resources.  I was raised in a small town in Western North Carolina, a fishing and hunting paradise.  After graduating from college and moving to Florida, it became clear to me that I would be much happier working in a company that shared my interests.  After walking in the door at Costa, I knew this was going to be my home!

Image by Costa.

For Costa, conservation is all about sustainable fishing.  Many fisheries that should be vibrant and healthy are all but devoid of native fish because they have fallen victim to poor fishing practices, unregulated development, lack of watershed protection or all of the above.

From spearheading and supporting important scientific research fish tagging programs like Project Permit with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and Don Hammond’s Project Dolphin, to hosting a concert for more than 9,000 University of Alabama students to raise money for the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and The Billfish Foundation, Costa works hard to make a difference in the name of sustainable sport fishing.

Costa has also worked to develop sport fishing business models that can protect and preserve not just indigenous fish species, but entire cultures. In 2012, Costa premiered the feature film, “Jungle Fish,” a story about how fly fishing can save the fate of an Amerindian village in Guyana. It’s a story Costa hopes to see replicated around the world, and actively works with government leaders in the U.S. and globally to make happen.

That is what makes the relationship we have with the TRCP so important.  We can’t do this as a single company and we can’t do this as scattered, passionate, interested groups.  The TRCP is the best hope hunters and fisherman have for giving a voice to our needs and organizing all stakeholders into a focused vision of our outdoor legacy.

Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

March 10, 2015

Hunting for conservation solutions: 6 themes from Pheasant Fest & the Commodity Classic

Last month I attended two very different events. First was the Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic, the world’s largest gathering of upland hunters and conservationists. Next was the Commodity Classic, a farmer-focused convention led by some of the country’s biggest commodity agriculture groups. Despite their differences, I was encouraged to see many common themes that we can build upon as we work on next generation agriculture and conservation policy. Here are six takeaways:

“Rooster” greets Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic attendees.
  1. American exceptionalism is alive and well. In his Commodity Classic speech, USDA Secretary Vilsack told a cheering crowd that agriculture is at the center of the American success story—because just 1% of the population farms, the rest of us are free to fulfill our individual passions, talents, and appetites more so than in any other nation. Likewise, sportsmen proudly serve as the lynchpin of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Sportsmen pay for conservation, management, and enhancement of species and habitat so that all Americans can enjoy wild resources, unlike in many countries where hunting is restricted to people with wealth, private land, or other special privileges.
  2. We must tell our stories.People are drawn to hunting and farming by stories, a shared heritage, and traditions passed down through generations. However, the average age of farmers is going up (it currently stands at 58), wild lands are disappearing, and conservation funding is perennially at risk. We must recruit new farmers, hunters, and anglers if we want to remain number one

    Dogs at Pheasant Fest and the Quail Classic and combines at the Commodities Classic.
  3. Quality gear is essential. Whether it’s guns, dogs, tractors, or satellite systems, the quality of a sportsman’s or farmer’s gear can make or break their season. It’s probably why I saw adults act like kids in a candy store, both when snuggling an eight pound Deutsch-Kurzhaar puppy and eyeballing a 120-foot wide John Deere planter.
  4. …but it all starts with soil. If your native top soil is gone or damaged, you’ve lost your ability to grow anything for food or habitat. Even water quality and flood control in our cities are affected by farmland soil. These days, everyone—farmer, hunter, rural or urban—is paying attention to soil health.

    Pollinators are critical at both events.
  5. The humble insect could drive the future of conservation. One-third of human food depends on pollinator species populations which are threatened by habitat loss. Farmers and conservationists are taking notice. The good news: what’s good for bees and butterflies is good for birds, and we can expect to see a number of innovative approaches to pollinator health in the next few years.

    Sportsmen and agricultural interests building partnerships in the name of better habitat.
  6. Sportsmen and farmers agree: a successful Farm Bill is based on partnerships. Together we helped pass and implement the 2014 Farm Bill, and whether there will even be another Farm Bill may hinge on our shared ability to conserve habitat while keeping farming profitable. We will need to work together now more than ever. It’s heartening to know that we all share some common ground.

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posted in: General

March 9, 2015

Western Governors Tackle Drought Impacts on Hunting, Fishing

On January 28-29, 2015, I attended a forum presented by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) titled Drought Impacts and Solutions for Recreation and Tourism. Over 40 participants attended from state natural resources and tourism agencies, private companies and nonprofit organizations to discuss drought impacts, innovative drought solutions and technologies, and policy approaches to mitigating the effects of drought in the outdoor recreation and tourism sectors.

Jimmy Hague, Director of the Center for Water Resources at TRCP, speaks to the WGA forum on “Drought Impacts and Solutions for Recreation and Tourism” about the importance of federal support for innovative, cooperative water solutions.

This was the fifth and final meeting in a series focused on drought as part of an initiative Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s started as chairman of the WGA. The drought forum is designed so states and industry can identify ways to avoid or mitigate the impacts of drought through sharing best practices and case studies of government policies and business improvements seen throughout the West. The results of these efforts will be released and discussed in a report with recommendations at the WGA annual meeting in Lake Tahoe, NV, on June 24-26.

WGA has a nice summary of the two-day event, including a video of the case study discussion of New Mexico’s River Stewards Initiative. What’s most notable about the recreation forum is that it occurred at all. Increasingly, leaders across the West are realizing that hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits are integral parts of our American heritage and economy, a realization that is reflected in state water plans, polling data and economic analyses time and again. WGA should be commended for saying we, including sportsmen, are all in this together, and preserving hunting and fishing must be prioritized in any drought planning process.

I was the only presenter or attendee with a primary interest in the federal role in drought response. Though the states must and should take the lead in managing water resources within their borders, the federal government has an inherent interest in making sure the western U.S. doesn’t run out of water. The feds can do so using two main tools, which is the message I gave at the forum: (1) encouraging cooperative stakeholder processes and (2) funding cooperative solutions. The TRCP is tracking federal programs that do these two things in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget and has profiled ten of the best examples of successes from these programs in a report released on February 26, both of which I’ve written about before (e.g., here and here).

While the drought forum met its main goal of creating a dialogue about problems, best practices and solutions, it’s unclear whether WGA has the ability to move the dialogue into action. There was little talk about replicating the best practices discussed or commitment to changing state policies that may be stifling innovative solutions. Sportsmen should look to the WGA report and recommendations in June to be the judge. In the meantime, sportsmen can help by joining the WGA mailing list at westgov.org and providing comments on the findings of individual drought forum meetings at the Drought Forum website.

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posted in: General

March 5, 2015

Open Fields: Where Access and Habitat Coexist

Jared Wiklund is Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s public relations specialist. Contact Wiklund at jwiklund@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter at @wiklund247.

Publicly accessible land is THE trending topic in the American outdoor recreation community and a major discussion point for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members. In fact, land access—or the current lack thereof—consistently ranks as one of the top reasons for members joining “The Habitat Organization.”

To help combat the access issue, the 2008 Farm Bill included a new provision called the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), commonly known as “Open Fields.”  The goal of this program is to encourage private landowners to voluntarily open their land to the public for wildlife-dependent recreation, including hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and a host of other conservation organizations have adamantly supported these provisions.

Image by Roger Hill.

Of course, VPA-HIP is important for more than just access. Private landowners control some very important pieces of the conservation puzzle and dictate wildlife habitat/populations in North America. The traditional conservation model for state and federal agencies  is based on land acquisition and easements. VPA-HIP partnerships are redefining the process to open private lands to public recreation and habitat conservation. VPA-HIP provides an excellent opportunity for landowners to have a positive impact on our natural resources with added incentives.

Funding for VPA-HIP helps state and tribal governments boost existing public access programs as well as implement new programs that increase access to private lands. USDA was originally authorized to spend $50 million on VPA-HIP from 2009‐2012, though delays and legislative action ultimately reduced spending to just $9.1 million in 2011. Thankfully, an additional $20 million was allocated in 2014, and USDA recently announced another $20 million in funding for this unique program at the 2015 National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic.

Contrary to what some may think, voluntary public access programs are not found solely in western states. An impressive list of states and tribes from across the country have participated in VPA-HIP to open private lands for public access:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Confederated Tribes
    and Bands of the
    Yakama Nation
    (Washington)
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Nearly 70 percent of land in the U.S. is in private ownership—a number that’s even higher in much of pheasant and bobwhite quail country.The more we can work with private land stewards for the betterment of natural resources, the brighter the future will be for wild things and wild places. If you are a proponent of public lands, we invite you to try hunting andrecreating on VPA-HIP land and to keep fighting for publicly-accessible lands with improved wildlife habitat.

 

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