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December 14, 2015

Glassing the Hill: December 14 – 18

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

The Senate and House will be in session until lawmakers can send an omnibus funding and tax extenders package to the president’s desk. If all goes well, the House will return on Tuesday, January 5, and the Senate will reconvene on Monday, January 11.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

It’s all about the omnibus, baby. Congressional leaders were unable to negotiate a spending bill before their December 11 deadline last week, so another short-term continuing resolution (CR) was passed to avoid a government shutdown. Their new omnibus deadline is Wednesday, December 16.

Appropriators and leaders continue to hash out possible policy riders that will be included in this end-of-the year budget deal. Sportsmen remain strongly opposed to defunding implementation for the Clean Water Rule or sage-grouse conservation plans, but support provisions to end fire borrowing, achieve modest forest reform, and reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The omnibus spending bill language should be available to the public early this week, perhaps even today. Without action on a yearlong deal, Congress will face the prospect of another short-term extension—and an even shorter holiday break.

Walk Softly. Tweet Loudly.

You can still make an impact on the omnibus negotiations, by tweeting your lawmakers about one of the most vulnerable would-be victims of a bad policy rider—the greater sage grouse. Check out our new Twitter Action Tool, which puts you in touch with Congress at the click of a button.

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Steve Kline

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December 10, 2015

Wheeling and Dealing: What You Need to Know About Spending Bill Negotiations

In my college days, when the world seemed to revolve around duck hunting and beer, my academic motto might have been: There is no minute like the last minute. In what I suspect was not a unique situation, I would regularly wait until just hours before a major assignment to get down to business. Having spent the last decade on Capitol Hill, I can confidently say that Congress is motivated in the same kind of way.

Deadlines have become the sine qua non of 21st century Washington. Without them, Congress can be counted on to achieve very little of real substance, but with a deadline bearing down on them, Congress can often be counted on to engage in a flurry of productivity. But, unlike most procrastinating college students, Congress can—and does—extend their deadlines.

Image courtesy of Craig Pennington/Flickr.

The latest batch of Congressional negotiations are going on right now over an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016, otherwise known as the legislation that will keep the government funded and functioning through October 2016. Like so much that moves through the federal legislature, there’s an opportunity for some very good things to happen, as well as some very bad things, and the TRCP is on the front lines making sure sportsmen’s conservation priorities are well heard. Here’s what we’re parrying for and against:

No-Brainer: Conservation Funding

Any appropriations bill needs to properly fund the conservation programs that sportsmen care about most, like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the State Wildlife Grants Program, and healthy land-management budgets at the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service. Funding is the whole purpose of an omnibus appropriations bill, so Congress has to get those right for sportsmen.

Keep These Riders Off the ‘Bus

Because Congress only has so many must-pass legislative vehicles—see what we did there?—like this one, it seems that everyone in Washington is trying to get some policy priority tacked on to catch a ride to the president’s desk. TRCP thinks that some of these potential additions, including a long-awaited fix for the financially-backwards practice of fire borrowing and a potential reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, are good things that we’d support. But adding language to delay sagebrush conservation on national public lands or to undo the Clean Water Act rulemaking that protects headwater streams and wetlands would be a non-starter, and as such, we’ve strongly opposed their inclusion. We won’t support any deal that sells out years’ worth of sportsmen’s efforts to achieve good conservation outcomes.

Pull Up a Chair

One of my favorite quotes, “If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu,” is particularly apt as this budget negotiation plods towards what we hope is a positive conclusion. TRCP and many of our partners are at the negotiating table around the clock at this time of year, advocating for what works for America’s hunters and anglers, and opposing what doesn’t. Rest assured you’ll hear more from us in the days ahead.

Kristyn Brady

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December 8, 2015

We Bag Another Four-Star Rating and Join a Pretty Exclusive Group

The conservation and sportsmen’s access organization receives a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator for third year in a row

Especially during this season of charitable giving, we are pleased to announce that we have been awarded an exceptional 4-star rating from Charity Navigator for the third year in a row. That’s the highest possible rating from the nation’s largest independent charity evaluator, and this three-time recognition for our financial health, accountability, and transparency puts the TRCP in the top 14 percent of organizations rated.

In a letter, Charity Navigator president and CEO Michael Thatcher says this designation indicates that the TRCP “outperforms most other charities in America” and demonstrates to the public that we are worthy of their trust. Learn more about our rating and financials here.

“We think trust is a major factor in our ability to build coalitions, champion investments in conservation, protect sportsmen’s access, and create solutions for improving public land management,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “So, we’re very proud that sportsmen can feel good about donating to the TRCP because of our ethics and our results.”

Learn how you can help the TRCP elevate the sportsman’s voice in Washington and guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish by clicking here.

Or take action for conservation right now.

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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. 

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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