Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

June 22, 2015

Glassing the Hill: June 22-26

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

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

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Congress may look like it’s getting an early start on spending bills, but we’re pretty sure they’re going nowhere for a while. This week, the House will vote on its appropriations bill for the Department of Interior and EPA. The spending plan would shortchange key conservation programs and target the Obama administration’s environmental and climate change programs. The bill allocates a total of $30.17 billion for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Forest Service. These disappointing numbers are $246 million below fiscal year 2015 funding levels and represent historically low funding for conservation.

Add to that some damaging policy riders—which would delay the listing of the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act and undermine the recently released clean water rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands—and you’ve got some serious political posturing. As many expected, the GOP-crafted appropriations bill also targets the EPA in a number of these riders and seeks to reduce EPA staff.

There is language prohibiting the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management from ordering new closures of public lands to hunting and recreational shooting.

Here are the highlights of the House spending bill:

  • The Environmental Protection Agencyreceived $7.4 billion, a 9% funding decrease
    • $69 million cut to regulatory programs.
  • Payments in Lieu of Taxes program is fully funded at $452 million
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received $1.1 billion, a $30 million increase from FY15
  • The National Park Servicereceived $2.7 billion, a $53 million increase over FY15
    • $52 million was provided to address the frequently-discussed maintenance backlog
  • The U.S. Forest Servicereceived $1.4 billion, an $8 million decrease in funding from FY15 levels
    • $3.6 billion provided to DOI and USFS to combat wildfires
    • $92 million for the Flame Wildfire Suppression Reserve Fund
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) received $1.4 billion, an $8 million decrease from FY15 funding levels
  • North American Wetland Conservation Fund (NAWCA) received $35 million
  • State and Tribal Wildlife Grants received $59.195 million

The grass isn’t any greener for other agencies. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee will mark up its fiscal year 2016 spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration. The $20 billion spending package features significant cuts to key conservation programs:

  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
    • Enrollment cut by 23%
    • Reduction from 10 to 7.74 million acres.
    • Or a 5-year cut of $200 million
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
    • $300 million cut
  • Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
    • $35 million cut
  • Conservation Operations (i.e. on-the-ground technical assistance and program delivery)
    • $13.5 million cut

The spending plan also features a controversial policy rider that would delay implementation of conservation compliance, a program that requires farmers receiving federal crop insurance to implement conservation practices aimed at improving soil and water quality. The rider would not preclude the U.S. Department of Agriculture from employing compliance, as needed, but would allow the agency to continue to provide subsidies for a year without requiring conservation compliance across the board.

More information on the bill can be found here.

 

This Week in Full:

Tuesday, June 23

Wednesday, June 24           

Thursday, June 25

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Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

June 18, 2015

Why the Senate Should Start Over on Conservation Budget Talks

Conservation is underfunded in a fiscal year 2016 bill bogged down with riders

Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a funding bill for the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency that cuts funding for conservation to $2 billion below fiscal year 2010 levels. This results in less money for science, active management, habitat restoration, and sportsmen’s access.

Image by the US Government.

The bill also includes a slew of riders that would block important habitat protections. The Clean Water Rule rider would block the protection of headwater and ephemeral streams that supply drinking water to one in three Americans and throw 20 million acres of wetlands critical to waterfowl back into legal limbo. The bill also includes a rider that would undermine the historic collaboration between 11 Western states and the Department of the Interior to conserve the greater sage-grouse and prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from finalizing its listing decision under the Endangered Species Act for another year.

“Not only does this bill sell sportsmen short, but its funding levels and policy provisions have made it unnecessarily controversial—it’s going nowhere and everyone knows it,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s time for both parties to roll up their sleeves and hammer out a successor to the Murray-Ryan Bipartisan Budget Act. A bipartisan budget deal is the only way Congress is going to be able to make the investments in conservation that American sportsmen deserve.”

The bill contains a few pro-sportsmen priorities, including steady funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a wildfire funding cap adjustment to bring an end to the practice of “fire borrowing.”

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Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access: Part One

In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds.

This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.

Image courtesy of Derrick Reeves.

The Public Lands Transfer Movement: An unprecedented threat to public access

Our public lands were created as a uniquely American solution to natural resource challenges that have plagued nations for centuries. How should we manage lands and waters located within our borders to best serve the interests of the public at large?

In the rough-and-tumble closing of the American frontier in the late 19th century, millions of acres of land – too remote, rugged or dry for settlement – went unclaimed. These unclaimed lands were subjected to a ruthless free for-all of mining, logging and overgrazing that threatened to make them a wasteland. The original “forest reserves” were set aside in 1891 to protect the mountain headwaters of the major Western rivers. Between 1901 and 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt, America’s most famous sportsman-conservationist, expanded the “forest reserves,” now known as national forests, to almost 148 million acres. The Bureau of Land Management was created to oversee 245 million acres of unclaimed rangeland and to restore marginal lands abandoned by homesteaders The solution has worked, probably beyond Roosevelt’s wildest dreams. Rangelands are mostly restored. Rivers – without which there is no agriculture, towns or cities in the arid West– provide excellent fishing and run clear from mountain snow packs protected on public land.

Big game and other wildlife populations have recovered. There is a constant and often frustrating struggle between conservation and development – but that conflict, too, is uniquely American, a nation that owes its very existence to the fertile soil of conflicting ideas. What is important is not the argument over the management of the lands, but the lands themselves, which, in addition to natural resources, provide access to millions of Americans for recreation and fuel an outdoors-dependent economy: the $646 billion dollars spent by people enjoying America’s outdoors every year and the 6.1 million jobs directly related to publicly accessible waters, prairies, forests and mountains. A third of that economy –$256 billion– comes from the West alone.

Some claim that the states can manage these lands much more efficiently than the federal government and so ownership of the lands, the birthright of all Americans, should be transferred to the states in which they are located. Efforts were proposed in 11 states, of which negative bills passed in 4 states. While no Westerner would say that federal management of our lands is perfect, the idea that individual states will do a better job is fundamentally flawed.

The business of selling public lands

Western states were granted millions of acres by the federal government when they attained statehood. Many of these lands have been sold to private interests. Nevada, for example, was given 2.7 million acres when it became the 36th state in the union in 1864. It now has only 3,000. Utah has sold more than 50 percent of its original land grant. Look across the West, and you’ll see that the story is the same: Western states have remained committed to selling off public lands, and you can count on them doing it again if given the chance. Once privatized, these lands will become off limits to most sportsmen in perpetuity.

The expense of public land management 

Current state budgets would struggle to cover the costs of managing millions of acres of public land. Firefighting costs alone – the federal government faced a $1.74 billion price tag for wildfire management on the nation’s public lands in 2013 – would break most state budgets, as would the massive expansion of state government that land management would require, unless state legislators could quickly push through some exorbitant tax hikes. For example, studies show that Idaho would run a deficit of about $111 million per year if it were to take on management of just 16.4 million of the 34 million acres of public land within the state’s boundaries. Montana’s land management costs, if awarded all of its federal lands, would range from $300 million to $500 million annually. Furthermore, these figures do not address the lost federal Payments In Lieu of Taxes money, which currently is given to counties with federal public lands. State ownership of lands presently owned and managed by the federal government would result in only one likely outcome: the sale of any lands not producing significant quantities of timber, minerals or energy to private interests. Stark financial reality will trump any other concerns.

The expense of public land management 

Current state budgets would struggle to cover the costs of managing millions of acres of public land. Firefighting costs alone – the federal government faced a $1.74 billion price tag for wildfire management on the nation’s public lands in 2013 – would break most state budgets, as would the massive expansion of state government that land management would require, unless state legislators could quickly push through some exorbitant tax hikes. For example, studies show that Idaho would run a deficit of about $111 million per year if it were to take on management of just 16.4 million of the 34 million acres of public land within the state’s boundaries. Montana’s land management costs, if awarded all of its federal lands, would range from $300 million to $500 million annually. Furthermore, these figures do not address the lost federal Payments In Lieu of Taxes money, which currently is given to counties with federal public lands. State ownership of lands presently owned and managed by the federal government would result in only one likely outcome: the sale of any lands not producing significant quantities of timber, minerals or energy to private interests. Stark financial reality will trump any other concerns.

Industrialization and fire sales

National forest lands are currently managed under the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960. The Act requires that Forest Service undertake “management of all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people.” The act also defines sustained yield as “the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high-level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the national forests without impairment of the productivity of the land” (italics added). Bureau of Land Management lands are managed under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which has similar goals, to prevent a repeat of the degradation of these lands that led to the Dust Bowl and other resource disasters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

Contrast these laudable goals with state trust lands, which are publicly owned and managed but are not “public” like national forests. Rather, many states managed their lands to support specific beneficiaries and do not attempt to manage for multiple uses or to achieve conservation objectives. This description fires a warning shot to anyone who uses our public lands now: A change to state ownership will result in a radical conversion of the Western landscape. Idaho’s projected land management deficit of $111 million per year depends on increasing current logging levels by a half-billion board feet annually. The kind of management demanded by state

control of our public lands will produce much the same kind of management that we saw in the 19th century: industrialization wherever there are resources to be extracted. The beneficiary funding requirements of state lands and the desperate need for property tax-funded services in counties will require that any lands not producing valuable, quantifiable resources – coal, timber, energy or maximum grazing leases – be sold off and the funds placed in investment accounts. Billionaires and global corporations who may neither understand nor value America’s outdoor heritage would be the ones to buy them.

The most valuable real estate, and the first to be sold, would likely be riverfront and lakefront acreage and the most scenic parts of the deserts and mountains. The West as we know it now, with abundant hunting and fishing, rivers to swim and float, and mountains to climb, would be gone. What would be the long-term impacts on our nation’s vibrant outdoor economy of, for example, industrializing these lands for minerals development or cutting more than a half-billion board feet of timber every year? The outcome – and its consequences for our cherished hunting and fishing traditions – is clear. The American hunting and fishing tradition would be eliminated, replaced by a model that resembles the old world system where only the elite few can pursue the ‘king’s’ fish and game.

Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.

Here are three ways you can support sportsmen’s access on public lands. 

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June 15, 2015

Glassing The Hill: June 15 – 19

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

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

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Guess who’s talking about money? Everyone. The biggest news for conservation this week will emerge from the appropriations markups for the EPA and Department of Interior in both the House and Senate on Tuesday. With a litany of amendments and riders directed at a number of administration policies, the House hearing is expected to be a long and dramatic affair. The Senate companion will likely be cleaner. Here’s what to expect:

The House markup will feature debates on policy riders to prevent the listing of the greater sage-grouse, reduce funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and wildfire suppression, and prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from making changes to the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. The House bill provides $30.17 billion for the Department of the Interior, EPA, and U.S. Forest Service. These disappointing numbers are $246 million below fiscal year 2015 funding levels and represent a historically-low overall investment in conservation. Learn more about the House bill here.

While the Senate companion legislation is expected to feature fewer and less-controversial policy riders, its funding levels for conservation also failed to match those presented by the House. The Senate’s allocation will result in a $2-billion cut relative to 2010 funding levels, forcing the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to cut back on services and investments at our national parks, refuges, and forests.

More information on the House markup can be found here. More information on the Senate markup can be found here.

This Week in Full:

Tuesday, June 16

Wednesday, June 17        

Thursday, June 18

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

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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