Kristyn Brady

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July 2, 2015

Angling Community Knows Just What to Do with $18.7B Oil Spill Settlement

Leaders of the Gulf of Mexico’s recreational fishing community reaffirmed their commitment to improving the region’s fisheries and access opportunities following the announcement of an $18.7-billion settlement between BP, the five Gulf States, and the federal government for environmental damages and lost revenues resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. According to details released today, BP will pay $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, and at least $5 billion to Louisiana alone, for injuries determined through a Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Funds will be paid over 16 years. BP will also commit $232 million to any future damage.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and its sportfishing partners—the American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, and Center for Coastal Conservation—have been working closely with the Gulf’s angling community, state and federal agencies, researchers, and conservation groups since 2010 to identify and advance projects and initiatives to sustain and improve fisheries using oil spill recovery funds.

Image courtesy of Louisiana’s GOHSEP.

“Exactly five years ago, oil was still spilling into the Gulf, closing and limiting recreational fishing and making the future of Gulf fisheries uncertain,” says TRCP Center for Marine Fisheries Director Chris Macaluso. “This settlement gives us a clearer picture of what the future of Gulf fishing will look like, by allowing state and federal agencies and research institutions an immediate timeline and definitive budget for selecting the projects and initiatives that will protect and restore damaged ecosystems. It is critical that we get to work restoring, protecting, and improving habitat now, rather than after a decade or more of litigation.”

“Louisiana is losing critical fish habitat on a daily basis, and it’s very important that projects to restore our coast and curb land loss move forward to the design and construction phase as quickly as possible,” says CCA Louisiana Executive Director David Cresson. “Our organization remains committed to representing the saltwater fishermen of our state in ensuring that barrier islands, reefs, marshes, science centers, and fisheries management are at the top of the lists of projects built with these unprecedented conservation funds.”

In 2013, TRCP and its partners released the report “Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries: Recommendations for Restoration, Recovery and Sustainability,” which broadly identified steps to improve habitat, fisheries science, data collection, and boost angler confidence that damages would be repaired. We followed up that report with a list of 25 specific Gulf-area projects that would help accomplish these broad goals, including barrier island restoration efforts in Louisiana and Alabama, Gulf-wide fish tagging and catch-and-release mortality reduction programs, water quality improvement efforts in Florida and Texas, and the restoration of oyster reefs throughout the Gulf. These projects remain a priority today.

Image courtesy of Patrick Quigley.

“Saltwater recreational fishing is enjoyed by more than 3.5 million Gulf residents, and many more who visit the area each year,” says Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “Wise investment of this settlement will give anglers in the region a chance to have better management of our fisheries, better places to fish, and better access to wonderful fishing opportunities. Gulf anglers remain committed to working with state and federal officials to ensure fisheries conservation is given top priority.”

“Recreational fishing in the Gulf accounts for more than $10 billion in annual contributions to the region’s economy and supports nearly 100,000 jobs,” says Mike Leonard, American Sportfishing Association’s ocean resource policy director. “This economic activity came to a grinding halt in the spring and summer of 2010 due to the oil spill, and it can only be sustained or increased by building better fisheries science and management and better habitats that attract fishermen. This settlement allows us to make commitments to improve the Gulf’s fisheries for generations to come.”

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July 1, 2015

Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access: Part Two

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.

In Part Two of our series, we head to the Land of Enchantment to look at the Bootheel of New Mexico.

It is often said that living well is the best revenge. For a hunter, that could mean stalking a high-desert Coues deer buck in short sleeves, while your friends shiver in rain and snow far away to the north.

The Bootheel of far southwestern New Mexico is the answer to a lot of hunters’ winter prayers. Sprawling and mostly uninhabited, the Bootheel is almost one-third public lands, giving hunters room to roam on 488,320 acres managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. It’s a cholla and chaparral world, dry and bony until you get into some rainier and snowier altitudes in the mountains. The Peloncillos, Animas, and Guadalupes are the major ranges, towering from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. The high country encompasses an ecoregion called the Madrean forest, a mixture of piñon pine, junipers, and five different species of oak. There are wild places here, remote and requiring the utmost self-sufficiency, in the Big Hatchet Mountains and the Peloncillos.

Image courtesy of Garrett VaneKlesen.

The star of this country is the elusive little Coues deer, but there are plenty of other opportunities to spend long days afield. You can hunt three species of quail in one day, starting out in the lower country with Gambel’s and scaled quail and climbing the mountain flanks for the close-holding Mearn’s quail. There are javelinas, mule deer, rare desert bighorns, and a recovered population of Gould’s turkeys – the largest of all the wild turkey subspecies.

These experiences are made possible by public access to federal lands, but some New Mexicans, like so many Westerners, have a deep rooted distrust of the federal government. This distrust has been used by some politicians, who care little for the state’s hunting and outdoor heritage, to push for New Mexico’s federal public lands to be transferred to state control. But transferring the lands is not a viable solution to the conflicts over federal management, because the burdens of management far outweigh any benefits that would come to most residents. The financial burden, in particular, would include firefighting costs on federal lands, which exceeded $240 million in New Mexico in 2012 alone.

Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who opposes state takeover of federal public lands, told reporters, “The states would have no choice but to auction off the best public lands to cover costs. That would devastate our outdoor traditions like hunting and fishing as well as the 68,000 jobs associated without door recreation in New Mexico. These lands belong to all of us, and it is imperative that we keep it that way.”

Three bills were introduced during the 2015 New Mexico state legislative session that promoted the transfer of federal public lands to the state. More than 250 hunters and anglers rallied at the capitol to make a statement against this legislation, and local sportsmen’s groups worked with state legislators to put a stop to these misguided proposals. In the end, a bipartisan group of lawmakers helped to defeat these bills.

Sportsmen should be proud of this successful effort to stop public-land seizure bills in New Mexico, and we all must remain vigilant to prevent future proposals from gaining traction in the Land of Enchantment.

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

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

 

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

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. 

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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