Sportsmen speak up and get huge win for Puerto Rico
We got good news out of the House of Representatives this morning when we learned that the latest version of legislation to help Puerto Rico deal with a looming debt crisis no longer contains language that would transfer the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Initial versions of the legislation included a provision to give the popular wildlife refuge to Puerto Rico, potentially setting the stage for a fire sale to private interests in order to raise money to pay down debts. But as powerful economic engines that generate jobs and tax revenue, national public lands are part of the economically sustainable future, not part of the problem. So we’re glad the transfer provision was removed from the legislation, although we’ll remain vigilant as the bill moves through the process. Public lands are essential to American hunters and anglers, and TRCP will defend those lands from the tundra of Alaska to the gem-blue waters of Puerto Rico.
House Passes Dangerous Sage-Grouse Rider in Defense Bill
State and federal progress to keep iconic Western gamebird off endangered species list could be undone by Congress
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act. Contained in this ‘must-pass’ legislation that funds America’s military readiness was language that would force the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to abandon successful sage-grouse conservation plans. These federal plans resulted from years of collaboration and millions of taxpayer dollars that successfully kept the sage-grouse off the Endangered Species Act list.
“Sportsmen across the country are very disappointed with the House’s action to play politics with our national defense by inserting unrelated and detrimental language about sage-grouse conservation into the bill,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “If language contained in the House bill were to become law, it would throw into question decades of statutory precedent, scores of environmental laws, and the subsequent legal decisions around those laws. This legislation is a Trojan horse for transferring public lands to the states and stands to have lasting repercussions beyond curtailing conservation efforts in sagebrush country.”
Opponents of the 2015 conservation victory would rather see state-developed plans implemented instead. The shift in management, elimination of judicial review, and long-term delay of any future listing decision erodes the implementation of bedrock conservation statutes—such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. While many of the 11 western state plans are good, some do not fully address threats to sage-grouse and need to be complimented by federal plans.
“Success for the greater sage-grouse was achieved in 2015 through the combination of strong conservation plans on federal public lands, coupled with state conservation plans and voluntary efforts from private landowners,” said Steve Williams, President of the Wildlife Management Institute. “Future success depends heavily on immediate and consistent implementation of all these combined efforts. Congressional efforts to eliminate federal plans would negate effectiveness of all efforts and result in a waste of both state and federal funds expended to date.”
“We are disappointed to see this effort by the House to snatch defeat from the jaws of a victory that has already been achieved,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever. “The eleven western states, federal agencies, and private landowners must continue with their unprecedented efforts to conserve and manage sage-grouse. Congress simply needs to fund implementation of these combined efforts, especially private landowner efforts to conserve sage-grouse and 350 other sagebrush-dependent species.”
Sportsmen organizations continue to communicate to lawmakers that the best thing they can do for sage-grouse is ensure that adequate funding goes toward implementation of federal plans, that necessary resources go to the states, and that private lands conservation continues. If implemented, these plans would be a windfall for habitat of species like mule deer and pronghorns, not to mention a boon to sportsmen. Undoing those conservation plans might be the best way to ensure a listing—bad news for just about everyone.
The Senate is expected to consider their version of the NDAA—which currently does not include the detrimental sage-grouse provisions – sometime next week. “This issue has no link to military readiness and it’s simply playing politics to suggest otherwise,” continued Fosburgh. “Our community looks forward to working with the Senate to ensure that these provisions to undermine sage-grouse conservation are kept out of their version of the legislation.”
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.
“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.
The Sale of Your Public Lands is More Possible Now Than Ever
Yesterday the US Senate passed a budget resolution that, while it does not carry the weight of law – does serve as an internal instructional document, a broad outline of the policies and priorities that Congress will seek over the next few months to implement in legislation that most certainly will carry the weight of law. As such, it included a series of up or down votes that put members of the Senate on record on several issues important to sportsmen.
And, in general, it was not good news. First, the numbers:
The Senate budget resolution would maintain sequestration for non-defense discretionary spending (including all conservation spending) and then cut an additional $236 billion over the 2017 to 2025 period. The Senate budget would cut conservation funding in FY2016 by about $5 billion dollars relative to 2013 levels. Conservation Funding wouldn’t return to its 2013 funding level of $41 billion until 2022. If you adjust for inflation the cuts inflicted by the budget will be far worse.
Besides the basic funding levels, the giant alarm bell coming from the budget resolution was the amendment offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that essentially encourages Congress to “sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument…” The amendment passed 51-49. Here is a roll call of the vote.
As most sportsmen know, transferring lands to the state or selling them off is a bad deal for sportsmen. See www.sportsmensaccess.org for more information on the issue. If Congress were to follow these instructions, all BLM lands, National Forests and even National Wildlife Refuges could go on the chopping block. Heck, even national battlefields and historic sites could be transferred or sold.
The budget resolution does not carry the weight of law and is an easy place for members to make “symbolic” votes without actually changing the law. But symbolic votes show what members think and what they think is important.
Make no mistake about it, the public lands vote on the budget resolution was a finger in the eye to sportsmen everywhere. But the real action is still to come, the question is whether sportsmen and women will pay attention and make their elected representatives know what they think about selling off or giving away our public lands.
As a sportsman who cares about access to our federal public lands, you can do two things right away.
Sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition at www.sportsmensaccess.org – and then forward it to two other friends and urge them to sign as well.
Call your Senator’s office at (202) 224-3121 and thank them if they voted ‘No’ or voice your concern if they voted ‘Yes’ (see how they voted here).
Just before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly announced an additional 86,000 SAFE acres across seven states: Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. These acres are a boon to private landowners and sportsmen. But I’d wager that most hunters and anglers, and probably many farmers and ranchers, don’t know what SAFE is or just how beneficial the program can be.
For the unfamiliar, SAFE— State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement —is part of the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. The general CRP asks landowners to voluntarily conserve large tracts of previously cropped land to achieve a wide range of environmental benefits. As a part of CRP, SAFE is also a voluntary land conservation program, but here USDA works with landowners, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations and the public to identify strategic projects that conserve land in specific parts of the country. SAFE distinctively focuses on habitat for species that are threatened or endangered, have suffered significant population declines or are considered to be socially or economically valuable.
That last phrase, “socially or economically valuable,” is key for sportsmen. SAFE authorizes your local decision makers to identify which acres will best target the needs of “high-value” wildlife, and that includes for hunting and fishing. SAFE projects have provided habitat for the plains sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, American woodcock, northern bobwhite quail, ring-necked pheasant, a wide variety of waterfowl, cottontail rabbits, black bears, mule deer, elk, salmon, steelhead trout and many other species, across 36 states and in Puerto Rico. That’s nothing to shake a tail at.
Landowners can benefit from SAFE too especially at a time when crop prices are low and land prices are high. USDA offers a signing incentive of $100 per acre to landowners who convert idle cropland into SAFE; pays landowners up to 90 percent of the cost of planting trees, forbs and grasses that benefit wildlife; and provides guaranteed rental payments on that land for the length of a contract, usually for 10 to 15 years. SAFE can improve farm income while incentivizing on-the-ground practices that benefit our favorite critters on an ecosystem-wide scale.
Although the extra 86,000 acres comprise only a fraction of the 24 million acres enrolled in CRP, at the TRCP we were thrilled by USDA’s announcement. Since SAFE’s introduction in 2007, many states have maxed out their allotted acres and maintain waiting lists for landowners hoping to enroll stream buffers, restored wetlands, newly seeded grasslands and longleaf pine stands in the program. The TRCP welcomes any additional chances to provide habitat for fish and wildlife and access for sportsmen.
Landowners can enroll qualified acres in a designated wildlife project in their state at any time. We especially encourage those in the seven states listed above to take advantage of this new opportunity. For more information, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation or visit a local USDA office.
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.