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March 3, 2016

Plugging Our Phones—and Our Kids—into the Power of the Outdoors

What if our smart devices were part of a smart solution for fish and wildlife?

Like most parents, I have kids’ games on my smartphone. They come in handy when our three- and four-year-old daughters get restless in the backseat on road trips. (Believe me, after an hour on I-95, I would give them fillet knives and Irish whiskey if I thought it would quiet them down.)

Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

This past summer, we did our longest road trip yet—a 7-hour nerve-shredder, punctuated by many bathroom stops, from our home in Washington, D.C., to my in-laws’ cottage on Squantz Pond in Connecticut. As we sat in traffic at 10 p.m. on the Tappan Zee Bridge, I found myself praying to Steve Jobs that my iPhone’s battery would hold out for another hour. It did, and my father-in-law and I did break out the whiskey after we got the kids to bed. Then my wife and I hid our phones in our duffle bags and swore that our daughters would spend the rest of the weekend outside, even if it meant we had to drag them.

We didn’t have to. That summer weekend, my daughters discovered the thrill of jumping in the lake, throwing sticks into the water, making sand-soup in a bucket, listening to the rain from under the boat house awning, and—to my great delight—fishing. We caught perch, walleye, and sunfish, which my daughters insisted on petting before we let them go.

Not once did they request screen-time with our gadgets.

This is the magic of the outdoors. It clears away the stressors that clutter our lives and facilitates connection rather than diversion. Anyone who has spent even one day afield knows this intuitively, but now there is a growing mountain of scientific evidence that, well, the mountains—and streams, prairies, forests, and oceans—are just what our text-stressed brains need. Florence William’s story in the January 2016 issue of Natural Geographic summarized this emerging science on the importance of nature beautifully.

So how do we make sure our kids have quality places to get outside? That’s our mission here at the TRCP—guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. And we spend a lot of time identifying the challenges to our mission, like lack of funding for game and non-game species, lack of access, fragmentation of habitat from development, and, yes, the increasing suck of screen-time.

The average child in America spends about 50 hours a week in front of a screen of some kind. And this explosion of smart devices has occurred at the same time that funding for conservation of fish and wildlife resources has imploded. In the last several decades, the percentage of the federal budget devoted to conservation has been cut in half.

What if our beloved smartphones were part of the solution? In 2015, about 2.5 billion smart devices—phones, tablets, and PCs—were sold worldwide. Even if the U.S. market is only 10 percent of that, a one-dollar tax on all smart device sales in the U.S. could generate $250 million annually for conservation and access—the very things we need to feel the joy my girls discovered on the lake. What mom or dad wouldn’t pay an extra dollar on a $199 iPhone if it meant better parks and abundant wildlife?

To my knowledge, no one is pushing for this idea yet, but it’s the kind of creative solution that we should be working on. This week, a panel of leaders from the energy, business, and conservation sectors revealed one possible strategy. And we suspect there are other good ideas out there. If you have one, let us know. Sportsmen need these places to play, and so do our kids.

It’s a lot safer than sharp knives and whiskey.

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Kristyn Brady

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43 Hunting and Fishing Groups Tell Congress to Show Us the Money

More than 40 hunting and fishing groups and businesses urge Congress to continue budgeted boost for agencies that put habitat improvements on the ground

In a letter to Congressional leadership today, 43 organizations representing hunters, anglers, retailers, natural resource professionals, landowners, and other conservationists urged lawmakers not to backtrack on conservation funding increases that were widely celebrated in the end-of-year budget deal.

Image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.

“Since 1977, the percentage of the federal budget devoted to conservation has been cut in half. This trend has negatively impacted the ability of wildlife managers and scientists to conserve the habitat on which many hunters and anglers rely,” the groups wrote. “Thankfully, your work on the Fiscal Year 2016 Consolidate Appropriations Act began to reverse this trend.”

“With this budget deal, Senator Cochran and other lawmakers delivered a huge win for wildlife and sportsmen,” says Wildlife Mississippi Executive Director James Cummins. “We’re calling on Congress to stick to this deal, so we can ensure our kids and grandkids get to enjoy the same opportunities we have to spend a day afield.”

With important increases for fiscal year 2016 set across the board—12 percent for the Forest Service, 5 percent for the Fish and Wildlife Service, 10 percent for the Bureau of Land Management, and 6 percent for NOAA—and non-defense discretionary spending held relatively constant from 2016 to 2017, the letter asks that appropriators maintain current funding levels for the agencies and programs that provide the foundation for a $646-billion outdoor recreation economy.

“Orvis employs over 1,700 people, including hundreds right here in the Green Mountain State,” said Dave Perkins, executive vice chairman of Orvis. “But the future of our company depends on the future of America’s land and water. That’s why Congress needs to be investing in our outdoor heritage now.”

As lawmakers begin the budget and appropriations process, sportsmen’s groups are requesting that no less than $32.158 billion is set aside for the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. At least $5.76 billion for NOAA and $851 million for the NRCS would also signal a commitment to currently enacted levels.

To see where conservation funding stacks up against all other government spending, click here.

Kristyn Brady

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March 2, 2016

This Task Force Just Revealed How $1.3B from Development Could Help Fish and Wildlife

Blue Ribbon Panel releases recommendations for funding conservation through a portion of development revenues from public lands

Today a task force of conservation, business, and energy industry leaders revealed its strategy for proactively investing in fish and wildlife resources to combat habitat loss and species decline while boosting American participation in the outdoors.

Image courtesy of Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources has recommended reallocating $1.3 billion in revenue from energy and mineral development on federal lands and waters to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program. These funds would go toward state-based conservation projects that could benefit thousands of species and ensure that Americans continue to have access to our unmatched wild places.

“This is a very diverse group that realized very quickly we should be redefining how we support efforts to maintain diverse wildlife populations,” said panel co-chair David Freudenthal, the former Wyoming governor, during a media event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “The principle is that America has something to treasure and pass on to the next generation, but we have to realize it’s not free, and we don’t have sufficient funding from sportsmen and sportswomen spending alone in order to do that. We believe we have a sound proposal to address this.”

Annual investments from these development revenues would allow state fish and wildlife agencies to proactively manage species, rather than spend taxpayer dollars to bring endangered species back from the brink—a process that typically also creates red tape for local businesses and outdoor recreationists.

“Something we’ve known, but certainly proved true earlier this year when the greater sage grouse was not listed for Endangered Species Act protection, is that proactive conservation is effective, less costly, and more flexible for local communities than reactive conservation measures launched when a species is already in crisis,” says Steve Williams, president and CEO of the Wildlife Management Institute. “But we need a better way to fund these efforts proactively, too.”

Panel co-chair John Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops reiterated that state fish and wildlife agencies are being asked to do more with less, and there is a tremendous need for new funding solutions that don’t rob from conservation work already being done for game species.

“As the original conservationists, America’s hunters and anglers should celebrate this kind of collaboration on real solutions for fish and wildlife,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This funding program is inspired, in part, by the way sportsmen have invested in conservation through our license, ammunition, and firearms purchases for decades, and we’re grateful for the panel’s efforts to highlight the benefits that proactive conservation would provide our entire country.”

Sportsmen had a strong voice on the Blue Ribbon Panel, with representatives from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Outdoor Industry Association, Ducks Unlimited, American Sportfishing Association, National Wildlife Federation, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Wildlife Management Institute, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, and Pure Fishing, Inc. Created in 2014, the panel was charged with recommending a new funding mechanism to support state fish and wildlife conservation and ensure the sustainability of these resources for future generations.

“This recommendation is an incredible opportunity for individual states to strengthen their already existing public and private lands partnerships that have proven critical for overall wildlife management efforts in the United States,” says Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “Hunting access, wildlife populations, and future generations of sportsmen and women stand to benefit greatly from full funding of the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program.”

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March 1, 2016

Glassing the Hill: February 29 – March 4

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

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

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

A House divided over finances is nothing new. House GOP leadership had planned to hold floor votes on a fiscal year 2017 budget in early March, but an intra-party squabble—between those who want to stick with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 agreement and those who want a new budget with deeper cuts—seems to be preventing lawmakers from moving forward. Any attempt at additional cuts could threaten spending levels for sportsmen’s access and programs that conserve and restore fish and wildlife habitat. Many members of the TRCP Policy Council are going on the record this week to encourage Congress to adhere to the budget agreement struck in October 2015.

Weeks ago, the fate of the bipartisan Senate Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 was inextricably linked to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., as several Senators insisted that energy legislation could not move forward without an aid package included. Now, many in the upper chamber have publicly indicated that an agreement on Flint has emerged, though the path forward for the energy bill is still unclear. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR), and lead author of the Energy Policy Modernization Act, has pledged to keep working to move the legislation to the Senate floor, where she remains confident it could be passed rapidly, along with a short list of amendments.

One of those amendments just might be a portion of the Senate Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act that recently passed out of the ENR Committee. That portion of the bill includes some key provisions, such as Making Public Lands Public and reauthorization of the Federal Land Transfer Facilitation Act, but doesn’t include important conservation reauthorizations like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Fish Habitat Conservation Act, which are included in the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee portfolio. If the ENR-only portion moves forward, sportsmen’s groups will have to devise a strategy for getting the EPW provisions over the finish line.

And ICYMI, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act passed the House in a 242 to 161 bipartisan vote. This legislation would promote and enhance sportsmen’s access to hunting, fishing and recreational shooting areas. If the Senate energy bill is amended to include Sportsmen’s Act provisions, it is possible that the House-Senate energy bill conference could also serve as the conference on the Sportsmen’s Act. Read more about the SHARE Act here.

What We’re Tracking

Conservation funding, as budget requests are examined for the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Energy, and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

International fisheries management, in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing regarding the Ensuring Access to Pacific Fisheries Act

Voluntary conservation efforts, to be discussed in a House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry hearing regarding technology and innovation

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Invasive species and coastal restoration, to be taken up by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. They will mark up legislation for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, plus a bill that would deal with oil spills from foreign offshore facilities.

Renewable energy, in a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development hearing on technology, renewable energy, and climate change funds for Fiscal Year 2017

Coal mine cleanups, in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Federal fisheries management and small businesses will be discussed by the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee in a hearing

Kristyn Brady

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February 26, 2016

House Passes SHARE Act to Enhance Access for Hunting, Fishing, and Shooting

Vote marks next step in effort to pass broader package that benefits fish, wildlife, and America’s sportsmen

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (H.R. 2406), also known as the SHARE Act, to require federal land managers to promote and enhance sportsmen’s access to public hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting areas. Final passage of this bill is a critical next step towards sending a comprehensive sportsmen’s package to the president’s desk.

Photo by Dusan Smetana

“We’re happy to see this legislation clear the House and move forward with bipartisan support—it’s a step in the right direction for what we hope is a truly comprehensive final package that the president can sign into law,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“What’s important now is Senate action on a suite of sportsmen’s priorities, including provisions aimed not only at expanding access but also at investing in key habitat conservation programs. Open gates aren’t much good if there isn’t quality habitat behind them. We’ll continue to emphasize this point with Congress and America’s hunters and anglers,” says Fosburgh.

The SHARE Act was introduced in May 2015 by the bipartisan leadership of the House Sportsmen’s Caucus: Representatives Robert Wittman (R-Va.), Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), and Gene Green (D-Texas). It also passed in the last Congress but failed to reach the president’s desk.

Two Senate committees recently passed portions of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act which would provide the investments in habitat conservation that the House package currently lacks. Read more about those bills here and here.

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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