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December 8, 2015

Glassing The Hill: December 7 — 11

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

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

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

There’s no such thing as saved by the bell in Congress. With only five legislative days left to hammer out a spending bill and avoid a government shutdown, lawmakers need to act by Friday if they want to fly home for the holiday recess, rather than go into extra innings. Congressional leaders are publicly optimistic about an omnibus spending bill, but not before the December 11 deadline. They’ll likely pass a week-long continuing resolution (reminder: a temporary fix, like the one passed in September) to provide more time for a full-year omnibus bill.

The holdup: about 100 possible policy riders, which include language defunding the Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan, implementing drought procedures and a potential fix to fire borrowing with some minor forest reform, and reintroducing of a harmful sage grouse amendment that was stripped from the National Defense Authorization Act this summer.

In another part of the Capitol last week, President Obama signed a six-year highway bill, which was the first long-term transportation legislation since 2005. The Highway Bill includes funding for Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service roads, which impact your access to public lands, and funding for transportation projects that improve fish and wildlife habitat.

Meanwhile, mark-up of the “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act,” rumored to be this Wednesday in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has been delayed and rescheduled for January 13. We’ll keep you posted.

Besides floor action on a yearlong omnibus bill, a short-term CR, or both, the Senate will be considering reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, and the House will vote on Representative Thornberry’s (R-TX) Red River Private Property Protection Act, a measure to settle a Bureau of Land Management boundary dispute, and visa waiver program improvements.

What We’re Tracking

Monday, December 7, 2015

Restoration of Atlantic fisheries, to be discussed by the House Natural Resources Committee at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts Center in New York. Learn more about the field hearing here

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The National Park Service Centennial, with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing testimony to prepare for the celebration

The stream protection rule proposed by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement will be discussed in a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior hearing

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

More on the Animas River spill, in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on EPA’s and DOI’s role

California wilderness areas, off-road vehicle recreation, and wild and scenic rivers impacted by Congressman Paul Cook’s (R-CA) California Minerals, Off-Road Recreation, and Conservation Act will be discussed by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands

 

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posted in: General

Glassing The Hill: December 7 — 11

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

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

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

There’s no such thing as saved by the bell in Congress. With only five legislative days left to hammer out a spending bill and avoid a government shutdown, lawmakers need to act by Friday if they want to fly home for the holiday recess, rather than go into extra innings. Congressional leaders are publicly optimistic about an omnibus spending bill, but not before the December 11 deadline. They’ll likely pass a week-long continuing resolution (reminder: a temporary fix, like the one passed in September) to provide more time for a full-year omnibus bill.

The holdup: about 100 possible policy riders, which include language defunding the Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan, implementing drought procedures and a potential fix to fire borrowing with some minor forest reform, and reintroducing of a harmful sage grouse amendment that was stripped from the National Defense Authorization Act this summer.

In another part of the Capitol last week, President Obama signed a six-year highway bill, which was the first long-term transportation legislation since 2005. The Highway Bill includes funding for Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service roads, which impact your access to public lands, and funding for transportation projects that improve fish and wildlife habitat.

Meanwhile, mark-up of the “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act,” rumored to be this Wednesday in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has been delayed and rescheduled for January 13. We’ll keep you posted.

Besides floor action on a yearlong omnibus bill, a short-term CR, or both, the Senate will be considering reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, and the House will vote on Representative Thornberry’s (R-TX) Red River Private Property Protection Act, a measure to settle a Bureau of Land Management boundary dispute, and visa waiver program improvements.

What We’re Tracking

Monday, December 7, 2015

Restoration of Atlantic fisheries, to be discussed by the House Natural Resources Committee at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts Center in New York. Learn more about the field hearing here

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The National Park Service Centennial, with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing testimony to prepare for the celebration

The stream protection rule proposed by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement will be discussed in a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior hearing

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

More on the Animas River spill, in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on EPA’s and DOI’s role

California wilderness areas, off-road vehicle recreation, and wild and scenic rivers impacted by Congressman Paul Cook’s (R-CA) California Minerals, Off-Road Recreation, and Conservation Act will be discussed by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands

 

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December 4, 2015

The Benefits and Limitations of WaterSMART Solutions from the Bureau of Reclamation

As the drought in the West continues, we are all being forced to reckon with unsustainable water use of the past. If nothing changes in the Colorado River basin, for example, demand for water is projected to exceed supply by 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060. That deficit is more than the annual share of Colorado River water earmarked for Arizona and Nevada combined. Decision makers are looking for proactive solutions to future water crises, and sportsmen can help, especially by calling on decision makers to prioritize and refine effective water conservation programs that benefit fish and wildlife. Here’s what you need to know.

Better Use Costs Less

Simply conserving water—in other words, using what we have more efficiently—is the quickest, cheapest, and easiest solution to our water supply problems. A 2012 study of the Colorado River basin found that proposed conservation measures would cost one-quarter of what would need to be spent on other possible solutions, like desalination, reuse, or new, large water diversions, and the region would see comparable water savings in half the time.

A Smart Program Exists

Since 2010, the Bureau of Reclamation has been seeding local water-efficiency solutions and encouraging collaborative watershed partnerships through grants from the WaterSMART Program. In the past five years, the bureau has awarded 240 of these grants totaling $113 million for local water-efficiency projects, like irrigation districts lining canals to cut down on water loss or municipalities installing more efficient water control technology. And because recipients of these grants have to bring their own matching funds to the table, WaterSMART grants have cumulatively leveraged an additional $331 million in non-federal funds for water efficiency.

Bonus: Fish and Wildlife Benefit

It’s not all bad news.

In our recent Snapshots of Success report, the TRCP profiled a prime example of a successful WaterSMART-funded project: Montana’s Fort Shaw Irrigation District used two WaterSMART grants to rebuild irrigation systems and send 10,000 acre-feet of conserved irrigation water to improve stream flows for wild trout in the Sun River.

The Catch

The Sun River example is a positive one for sportsmen, but it is important to recognize that most applicants for WaterSMART grants never receive funding: Historically, less than 20 percent of applicants received a grant (Table 1), and unfunded projects represent a significant amount of unmet water savings potential.

The high success rate in 2011 is due to leftover funds from 2009’s stimulus program, which gave Reclamation money to fund an unusually large number of projects. The success rate jumped again in 2015, but only time will tell whether this is another anomaly or the new normal.

The Montana example is also extraordinary because of the project sponsors’ commitment to using conserved water to improve instream flows, helping trout on the chronically dewatered Sun River. Even though nearly all WaterSMART projects conserve water, very few of them produce habitat benefits. So, where does the saved water go? Frequently to firming up existing water supplies, so users can more regularly get their full allocation of existing water rights. It rarely stays in the river to benefit fish, wildlife, or habitat.

The reason for the lack of habitat benefits from WaterSMART projects is not obvious. One of the explicit purposes of the program is to protect endangered species, and the 2016 evaluation criteria allow for applicants to earn up to 12 percent of their overall score by demonstrating that a project will benefit endangered species (Figure 1). And the law that created the grants allows them to be used for any water supply project that “increases ecological resiliency to the impacts of climate change” or is used “to prevent any water-related crisis or conflict.” Surely combatting threats to fish and wildlife from lack of water fits the bill.

Room for Improvement

It may be that irrigation districts working with sportsmen or watershed groups to create conservation benefits are not rewarded appropriately for their efforts in the grant application.  We’re calling for the Bureau of Reclamation to give higher rankings to projects that demonstrate dual benefits: a more secure water supply and instream flows with habitat benefits for fish and wildlife. This would help guarantee that limited WaterSMART dollars create the most benefit possible.

WaterSMART grants could also produce more conservation benefits if sportsmen’s organizations and watershed groups were eligible to apply, but currently the grants are restricted to entities “with water or power delivery authority” and, therefore, go primarily to irrigation districts or municipal governments. Sportsmen can partner with eligible applicants on a project, as Trout Unlimited did on the Sun River, but the eligibility restriction may be weeding out strong projects that can help fish, wildlife, and watersheds.

What You Can Do

Sportsmen’s groups have made supporting and refining WaterSMART Grants a priority, but it will require action from Congress and the Bureau of Reclamation for the program to reach its full potential for fish and wildlife. Here’s where you can help: Tell the Bureau of Reclamation that you support its WaterSMART efforts—but you want to see water conservation benefit fish and wildlife, too. 

Jonathan Stumpf

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December 3, 2015

The Big-Game Moments That Make Us #PublicLandsProud

You guys are amazing. We just wrapped up the final segment of our #PublicLandsProud photo contest and have been floored by the amazing photos you’ve captured of big game on public lands.

Our guest judge Bryan Huskey on the submissions:

First off, thanks to all the folks who have shown their support for the efforts of TRCP by sharing the #PublicLandsProud message in their photos. As I scrolled through pages and pages of public-land images I had the chance to see adventures of all kinds that we as sportsmen and -women experience and share with others. It’s inspiring to see all the different ways that we value public lands, and important to let others see why. Thanks to all of you, and to TRCP for this opportunity to guest judge!

Here are the three shots that Huskey chose from weeks’ worth of fantastic big-game moments:

First Place: Twitter @RMOTV

“With all the great photos found under the tag #PublicLandsProud, no matter how objective I try to be the kiddo’s in this image just make me laugh and smile each time I see it,” says Huskey. “That is a quality in any image that is impossible to fake and simply priceless. It’s tough to compete with a scene like this and the great vibe it shares!” 

First Runner-Up: Instagrammer @chasing_epic

A photo posted by Jacob Goff (@chasing_epics) on

“‘The closer you look the more you see’ is a phrase I keep in mind when out in the field,” says Huskey. “It requires slowing down and taking a moment to pause, inspect and admire finer details of an object and the same for the entire experience as a whole.” Second Runner-Up: Twitter user @wyosage10

“An elk hind quarter in each hand? My hands and forearms feel pumped and numb just looking at this! With a stunning backdrop to boot,” says Huskey, “this is the kind of experience that I’m sure he’ll never forget and the photo captures for all of us to share with him.”

Thanks everyone for participating in the photo contest. We’ll have a grand prize winner next week. But in the meantime, keep showing us what makes you #PublicLandsProud, and we’ll continue to protect your access to quality fish and wildlife habitat.

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December 1, 2015

Glassing the Hill: November 30 – December 4

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

Both the House and Senate have action scheduled for Monday through Thursday of this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Coming back to work after a long weekend is never easy. Upon their return from Thanksgiving break, members of Congress are facing a December 11 deadline for addressing a lot of legislative business. That list includes avoiding a government shutdown—again. Passage of an omnibus spending deal is becoming more and more tenuous, due to disagreements over policy riders dealing with Syrian refugee resettlement, healthcare funding extensions for 9/11 first-responders and victims, and the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan.

These policy rider debates are threatening to undo very good bipartisan work from late October, when Congress passed a bipartisan budget that would allow for reinvestment in discretionary programs (ahem, like conservation.) If Republicans and Democrats fail to reach an agreement, fiscal year 2016 spending may be forced onto a full-year continuing resolution (CR). This extended use of what was created to be a stopgap funding measure is viewed by many as just plain bad government. Either way, an omnibus or CR would likely fund the government through September 30, 2016.

A two-week stopgap highway bill extension also expires this Friday. Since the temporary measure was passed, House and Senate transportation leaders have been negotiating a long-term reauthorization, and the relevant Committee chairs have stated that no additional short-term extensions will be needed, implying that a final long-term Highway Bill will be on the House and Senate floor this week. Need a refresher on how this impacts hunting and fishing? The Highway Bill includes funding for Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service roads, which impact your access to public lands, as well as funding for transportation projects that improve fish and wildlife habitat.

Congress will also concentrate this month on renewing tax extenders before a January 1deadline. The proposed tax-break legislation would continue to benefit multinational banks, corporation research, and development programs and to subsidize wind energy production for two years. While the Senate continues consideration of healthcare legislation, the House will debate and vote on Representative Upton’s (R-MI) North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, and two joint resolutions (S.J.Res. 23 and S.J.Res. 24) of congressional disapproval of the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission rules. These votes on energy and climate will occur while President Obama attends the international climate summit in Paris.

What We’re Tracking

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Offshore oil and gas production, as discussed in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Well Control Rule and other energy policies

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Impacts of 35-year-old legislation to create and expand public lands in Alaska, to be reviewed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a hearing on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980

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.

Learn More
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