Nick Payne

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posted in: General

June 11, 2015

These Important Changes Will Impact the BLM Lands You Hunt and Fish in Colorado

Over the past few months, there have been some major developments on the management of BLM lands important to Colorado hunters and anglers. We’ve seen two management plans get finalized in northwest Colorado, and another impacting the majority of BLM lands east of the Continental Divide is in the early stages of review. The BLM revises these management plans every 20 years and decides how use of the lands will be balanced among hunting, fishing, grazing, OHV use, oil and gas extraction, timber harvest, and road building. Sportsmen throughout Colorado, the West, and the country have been working diligently to get the best results possible from these planning processes for our nation’s wildlife and our hunting and fishing heritage. If you hunt, fish, or visit these public lands with your family, then you need to know this:

The “Mule Deer Factory” will benefit from some safeguards against development

Image courtesy of Nick Payne.

The BLM management area surrounding Meeker, Rangely, and Dinosaur is home to the Piceance Basin mule deer herd once called “the mule deer factory,” as well as the largest elk herd in North America. The White River Field Office Oil and Gas Resource Management Plan Amendment will guide oil and gas development on these 1.5 million acres of BLM-administered lands in northwest Colorado. While the plan will put a great amount of pressure on the already hurting Piceance Basin mule deer herd, the BLM has made significant improvements over the draft plan, largely due to the efforts of sportsmen. These improvements include a reduced footprint on acres affected by development, a commitment to Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s long-term population objectives for big game, a robust Master Leasing Plan for oil and gas development on 422,000 acres, and safeguards for 167,000 acres of important backcountry hunting areas.

Sound implementation will be crucial to success of the plan, and it’s important that sportsmen continue to monitor these issues. A local coalition of 32 sporting organizations and businesses were involved in this planning process, and sportsmen across the West are prepared to stay involved, as the new guidelines are instituted on the ground. I’m proud to be serving on a BLM subgroup that will be advising on travel management decisions during the revision of their travel plan. Read the final RMPA and EIS here.

Backcountry and wildlife will get a moderate boost in Grand Valley

The Grand Junction Field Office Resource Management Plan will guide management on 1.2 million acres of BLM administered lands in northwest Colorado on public lands that provide habitat for game species including bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, upland game birds, grouse, and native trout. The resource area also provides lands for a broad array of uses across a varying Western landscape, largely serving Grand Valley residents in the cities of Grand Junction, Montrose, Delta, Rifle, and surrounding areas, and supporting a great deal of tourism related to outdoor recreation. Sportsmen were involved in commenting on the draft plan, and while there are some improvements in the final plan, there was hope for stronger conservation measures for wildlife and sportsmen’s access.

After the draft plan was released, a group of 20 sportsmen groups, organizations and businesses submitted a proposal to safeguard 227,000 acres of backcountry lands important to fish and wildlife and hunting and fishing. Roughly 150,000 aces (66%) were meaningfully protected through various means in the plan. The BLM also created new Wildlife Emphasis Areas where “protection and enhancement of the wildlife resource” will be prioritized over other uses. The institution of a master leasing plan for oil and gas development on 700,000 acres of the field office has some specific management, but overall it doesn’t differ much from what is currently in place. A closer look at the area is necessary to get the full value out of a master leasing plan, which should help to avoid adverse effects through better planning. Read the final EIS here.

Learn more here.

Your comments are needed to ensure protection of 7 million acres of big-game habitat

Image courtesy of Nick Payne.

The BLM Royal Gorge Field Office is formally starting its management planning process, which will guide management decisions on 668,000 acres of public lands and 6.6 million acres of BLM-managed federal mineral estate in eastern Colorado over the next 20 years. Through a plan they’re calling the “Eastern Colorado Management Plan,” the BLM is seeking public input on a vision for the management priorities of these public lands and will be hosting seven scoping meetings throughout the state.

It’s crucial that they hear from local hunters and anglers, now and throughout the process, to ensure our outdoor traditions remain intact. Sportsmen should attend these scoping meetings, encourage the BLM to protect public access on these lands, and urge them to safeguard crucial habitat for mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, and wild trout from development. They can do this by instituting development setbacks from streams, lakes, reservoirs, and wetlands, supported by the most recent science and research, and by following through with energy leasing reforms, including a more thorough master leasing plan in South Park, to ensure responsible energy development. Sportsmen can also ask the BLM to conserve backcountry hunting and fishing areas that provide intact habitat and a quality outdoor experiences.

The South Park and Arkansas River drainage waters are used by thousands of Front Range anglers every year, contributing greatly to the $1.3 billion spent on hunting and fishing in Colorado in a single year. If you want to speak up for these traditions, and the quality habitats that make them possible, get involved or attend one of these meetings:

Monday June 15th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Denver Mariott West
1717 Denver West Blvd.,
Golden, CO
Tuesday June 16th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Greeley Recreation Center
651 10th Avenue,
Greeley, CO
Tuesday June 23rd
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Salida High School
26 Jones Avenue,
Salida, CO
Wednesday June 24th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Fairplay Community Center
880 Bogue Street,
Fairplay, CO
Thursday June 25th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
National Mining Museum
117 East 10th Street,
Leadville, CO
Monday June 29th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
The Abbey, Benedict Room
2951 E Hwy 50 (E. Frontage Rd.)
Canon City, CO
Tuesday June 30th
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Huerfano County Community Center 1038
Russell, Walsenburg, CO

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Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

The Skinny on Shrinking Conservation Coffers

Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations released its fiscal year 2016 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, which provides funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service, and other various agencies. The TRCP and other sportsmen’s groups are dismayed at the inclusion of riders that would delay a decision from DOI on the greater sage-grouse and scrap the recently released Clean Water Rule, which clarifies which headwaters and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act.

In total, the bill includes $30.17 billion in base funding—that’s $246 million less than in fiscal year 2015 and $3 billion less than what the President has requested. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is funded at $1.4 billion in the bill, which is $8 million below fiscal year 2015.

Image courtesy of Department of Interior.

The bill does increase funding levels for implementation of sage-grouse conservation measures, but it comes at a cost: the extension of a delay on any further Endangered Species Act rulemaking for sage grouse until October 2016. “Once again, Congress is trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” says Whit Fosburgh, the TRCP’s president and CEO. “Rather than supporting the unprecedented cooperative efforts of private landowners, the states, and four federal agencies to avoid a sage-grouse listing, Congress is sticking with its tired old talking points about gross federal overreach. Rather than delay a listing decision, Congress should simply provide the resources necessary to implement conservation plans designed to benefit sage grouse, and more than 350 other species, and give industry the certainty it needs to thrive.”

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

The bill cuts EPA funding by 9 percent from 2015 levels, and prohibits the agency from making changes to the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. “Less than two weeks after the release of the final Clean Water Rule—which was celebrated by the hunting and fishing community and some of our leading outdoor industry voices—Congress is working to cloud the waters again,” says Jimmy Hague, director of the Center for Water Resources at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This rulemaking process was successful in that it more clearly defines, without expanding, which bodies of water should be protected, to ensure the health of fish and wildlife habitat and our nation’s drinking water, and we’d urge lawmakers to stop undermining that effort.”

The Senate’s appropriations proceedings could take place next week.

Here’s what sportsmen can do right now:

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June 8, 2015

Glassing The Hill: June 8 – 12

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate and House will be in session from Monday through Friday.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The forecast calls for 100 degrees in Washington later this week, and things are heating up in Congress, as well. On Wednesday, the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee will mark up their annual spending bill for many of the agencies in charge of natural resources management. In April, the House Appropriations Committee advanced fiscal year 2016 spending legislation that provided only $30.17 billion for the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service, and the EPA—that’s a $246-million cut from current spending levels. This will undoubtedly have negative impacts over the agencies who have been forced to work with increasingly shrinking budgets.

The Obama administration, who requested a 6-percent increase for EPA and an additional 8 percent for the Department of the Interior, has issued a veto threat on any spending plan that does not provide fair funding levels. This gap could result in another government shutdown in the coming months. Other looming threats: harmful policy riders that would undermine conservation initiatives and target the President’s climate change efforts.

Getting Around to Farm Bill Programs

On Thursday, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry will hold a hearing on Farm Bill implementation. Members and panelists will discuss the implementation of vital programs designed to encourage farmers to employ more conservation-friendly practices in environmentally-sensitive areas. The Department of Agriculture is still taking formal comments under consideration as it releases its rules for the programs.

Among the programs being discussed are the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and Conservation Reserve Program. Quail Forever’s Director of Field Operations Jim Inglis is expected to testify and discuss the Conservation Reserve Program, Regional Conservation Partnerships, and viable implementation strategies. On May 29, the USDA announced that an additional 800,000 acres would be eligible for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program and earmarked for lands with duck nesting habitat, wetland restoration initiatives, and state acres for wildlife enhancement (SAFE). However, Farm Bill supporters have been otherwise unimpressed by the roll-out of these critical programs.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

New Wave of Threats

Despite the historic release of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineer’s final rule that would clarify protections outlined in the Clean Water Act and protect over 20 million acres of wetlands, opponents of the “Waters of the U.S.” rule have not given up. This week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will markup Senator John Barrasso’s S.1140 which would force the administration to start over and craft another plan that would achieve the same ends.

The bill has strong support from the agricultural community and private industries that feel the rule is a gross federal overstep. The conservation and environmental communities remain in support of the rule, as do 80 scientists, who recently submitted a letter opposing S.1140. The bill will likely pass through the GOP-led committee, but it may face an uphill battle to acquire the necessary votes.

The legislative text can be found here.

This Week in Full:

Tuesday, June 9

Senate Hearing on energy reform and accountability

Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Wednesday, June 10      

House Hearing on WRRDA implementation, one year into enactment

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee

House Hearing on impact of Executive Order 13658 on public lands outfitters and guides

Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior

House Markup of fiscal 2016 Interior-EPA appropriations bill

Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee

Senate Markup of S. 1140, Federal Water Quality Protection Act

Senate Environment and Public Works

Senate Legislative hearing on the National Park System

Energy and Natural Resources

Thursday, June 11

House Hearing on farm bill conservation programs

Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry

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June 1, 2015

Glassing the Hill: June 1-5

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate will be in session from Monday through Thursday. The House will be in session from Monday through Friday. 

ICYMI, last week, the conservation community celebrated a major win for the protection of wetlands, headwaters, tributaries, prairie potholes, and other water resources. The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the passage of a long-awaited rule which clarifies and expands protections for wetlands and waterways under the Clean Water Act. The clean water rule was signed despite heated resistance in both the House and Senate. To learn more about this historic development, click here.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

This week, the Senate committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship will mark up its resolution on elements of the rule, and its effect on business, while a House committee discusses the impact of EPA regulations on businesses. BTW, hunters and anglers have some weight to throw around in the economy vs water protection conversation: The clean water rule will bolster the $646-billion outdoor recreation economy by protecting habitat heavily relied upon by wildlife, outdoor businesses, and local communities.

In other water news, this Tuesday a Senate committee will hear testimony on Western drought conditions and what states are doing to address them. Details can be found here.

Fisheries Management Act Won’t Be Easy to Land

This week, the House will consider a measure that would make significant changes to fisheries management language in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), H.R. 1335 would not only end a 10-year limit in place for rebuilding fish stocks, but would alleviate catch requirements that apply to various species. It would also reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act which expired in 2013.

This legislation will not have an easy path forward. With support already divided along party lines, it will face an uphill climb in both the House and Senate. The White House has also issued a veto threat, further clouding its future. The conservation and fisheries community are also divided in their opinions toward the bill. Last week, former heads of the National Marine Fisheries Service wrote a letter to House leadership urging them to resist the measure.

The legislative text can be found here.

Healthier Forests, Less Time in Court

In a hearing to be held on Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands will examine a discussion draft that would expedite the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process, which currently calls for thorough assessments of forestry projects to measure for potential harmful natural impacts, but also makes the agency vulnerable to costly, time-consuming lawsuits. The goal of the bill, titled “Returning Resilience to our Overgrown, Fire-prone National Forests Act of 2015,” introduced by Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA), Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), is to enable the U.S. Forest Service to complete additional timber projects faster and with less interference due to litigation.

Advocates of this legislation argue that an expedited NEPA review process would not only improve forest health nationwide, but also severely reduce the long-term risk of wildfires and the rising suppression costs that have crippled the Forest Service for the past few years. But many oppose the bill, saying that it could create a snowball effect that would allow for dramatic increases in forestry and timber projects with little concern for environmental impacts.

You can find more information on the hearing here.

This Week in Full:

Monday, June 1

House Meeting to set rules for floor debate on Transportation and Commerce appropriations bills Rules

Tuesday, June 2

House Hearing on the QER and energy bill discussion drafts

Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power

House Hearing on OSMRE’s stream protection rule

Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Senate Markup of resolution on the Waters of the U.S. rule

Small Business and Entrepreneurship

Senate Hearing on Western drought

Energy and Natural Resources

Wednesday, June 3           

Senate Hearing on energy bill efficiency and accountability title

House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power

Senate Hearing on draft forestry legislation

Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands

Thursday, June 4

House Hearing on the effects of U.S. EPA regulations on business

House Science, Space, and Technology

Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

May 29, 2015

Good Call: New Conservation Reserve Program Acres Will Enhance Duck Habitat in a Big Way

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that an additional 800,000 acres will be eligible for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a Farm Bill initiative that has allowed agriculture producers to voluntarily conserve environmentally sensitive land—including prime wildlife habitat—for 30 years. Vilsack revealed this big boost to CRP, which he called “one of most successful conservation programs in the history of the country,” during his remarks to hunters and conservationists at the Ducks Unlimited National Convention in Milwaukee, Wis.

Image courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The backdrop is fitting, since 300,000 of these additional acres will be devoted to lands with duck nesting habitat, potentially doubling CRP acres that can benefit ducks in the future. The remaining acres will be split: 100,000 to wetland restoration initiatives and 400,000 to state acres for wildlife enhancement (SAFE)—all good news for sportsmen. For its part, Ducks Unlimited was recognized by Vilsack for leading three separate USDA projects resulting in an overall investment of $25.8 million in conservation efforts across the country.

Vilsack also announced that a general sign-up period would begin in December 2015 to get the ball rolling on CRP enrollment, to which supporters of the program are saying, It’s about time. There hasn’t been a general sign-up since 2013, and more than 15 months after passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, regulation of CRP has been lacking. Enrollment was 1.7 million acres below the prescribed enrollment cap as of April 2015, with contracts for an additional 1.9 million acres set to expire on September 30.

The TRCP has been working closely with our partners in the sportsmen’s and wildlife community, USDA, and Congress to advance many aspects of the program that were addressed by Vilsack’s remarks today. Our Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group galvanized the 12 Senators who sent this letter to the Secretary, calling for a general sign-up to support full enrollment of CRP. And we’re very eager to see USDA complete implementation of the program, including the delayed rollout of a new CRP working grasslands enrollment option, which the department has said to expect later this summer.

For a program that, in just three decades, has grown to 32 times its original acreage and continues to facilitate on-the-ground conservation that strengthens rural economies, we’re expecting great things from CRP. With proper support, this important program can flourish like the wildlife and habitat it benefits.

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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