Despite a Policy Victory, Another Year Without Clean Water
Why aren’t we celebrating the one-year anniversary of better protections for headwater streams and wetlands?
Today marks one year since the EPA and Army Corps finalized and signed the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies, after nearly 15 years of confusion, exactly what waters are—and are not—protected by the Clean Water Act. The rule has huge importance for cold-water fisheries and the majority of waterfowl habitat in the country, yet we’re still not able to move forward with implementing it.
Sadly, almost before the ink was even dry on the final rule last May, the courts upended the decision and blocked the agencies from rolling out protections for these waters and wetlands. We have been forced to wait for a court decision while fish and wildlife habitat remains at risk of pollution and destruction.
Meanwhile, headwater streams, which make up 60 percent of stream miles in America and support our trout fisheries and salmon spawning grounds, are in limbo. These waters feed into warm-water fisheries and drinking water sources downstream.
While this widely-celebrated rule remains blocked, wetlands that provide high quality waterfowl habitat go without clear protections. And the rate of wetlands loss in the United States increased by 140 percent between 2004 and 2009, the years immediately following the Supreme Court rulings the created Clean Water Act confusion.
Today, nearly half of the nation’s river and stream miles are in poor biological condition while one-third of U.S. wetlands are in poor condition. We will need a clear and effective Clean Water Act to realize sportsmen’s desire for clean cold streams, healthy wetlands, and the ability to share these resources with our kids. Of course, court-issued roadblocks to implementing the Clean Water Rule are mostly out of our hands. But it’s important for sportsmen to note that many in Congress seem intent on preventing the EPA and Army Corps from ever fixing the confusion in the Clean Water Act.
Don’t allow Congress to dictate your sporting heritage. Sportsmen must speak up for strong, science-based protections for the waters and wetlands we care about.
On May 27, 2016—the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Clean Water Rule—contact your lawmakers to say that you want clean water for fish and wildlife. Tell them you support the Clean Water Rule and urge them to oppose any legislation that would stand in the way of this victory for sportsmen. Let’s flood their offices with support for healthy headwaters and wetlands.
The Senate and House are both in session this week. Next week, the chambers will be in recess.
The odds seem stacked against an energy reform package with sportsmen’s priorities. On Friday, the House dropped a revised energy bill that they are seeking to conference with Senate-passed energy legislation. However, with the clock ticking and the window of opportunity most definitely getting smaller, the House has added several provisions that seem to complicate the way forward for the energy package, including a controversial drought bill, a critical minerals package, and “The Resilient Federal Forests Act.” The House has also added their version of the sportsmen’s package, “The SHARE Act,” which will need to be conferenced with the key sportsmen’s act provisions in the Senate energy package. The House must still pass its amended legislation, but House-side conferees are expected to be named this week. There will be a House Rules Committee hearing on merging the House and Senate bills, as well.
The Senate has not yet named conferees, but would-be conference leader Chairwoman Murkowski has expressed interest in coming together quickly on next steps. Still, with so much discord between the two chambers, it could be a tall order for any conference committee to reconcile on a package that will pass.
This week, the House will move to “The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act,” which would provide adequate funding—a marginal increase from the President’s budget request—for the WaterSMART program to help keep water in our rivers for fish and wildlife. The increase goes to grants, a water recycling and reuse program, and the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, which would provide financial assistance for promotion of local water management solutions. However, the House bill includes language that would block the administration’s Clean Water Rule and does nothing to address Western drought. The Senate energy and water spending bill includes $100 million earmarked for a response to the lack of water in the West.
Then, on Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies will mark up appropriations bills for the U.S. Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Forest Service. Language has not yet been released, but the bill will likely address the costs of fire suppression, endangered species listings, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
A wary eye goes to the Senate NDAA. Last Wednesday night, the House passed its version of “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA), including provisions that would effectively halt federal conservation plans to restore and protect greater sage-grouse habitat, with a 277-147 vote. This week, the Senate will consider its version of the NDAA, which does not currently include any controversial language about the imperiled grouse. We could still see a similarly worded amendment offered before the Senate votes and leaves for the Memorial Day recess.
We’re also pulling for naturally-occurring water infrastructure to be emphasized in important water legislation. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released its version of the “Water Resource Development Act,” (WRDA), which would address national water resource projects managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. During the committee mark-up, Congressman Sanford (R-S.C.) is expected to champion language that would promote naturally-occurring infrastructure to enhance fish and wildlife habitat over traditional metal structures.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee already passed its version of WRDA, providing $9 billion in funds for water resource projects. The same appeal for natural infrastructure over new construction is expected when WRDA reaches the Senate floor sometime this summer.
What Else We’re Tracking
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Research, monuments, and facilities on public lands, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing
Water rights and agreements up for authorization in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing
Idaho County Opposes Transfer of America’s Public Lands to the States
Board of Commissioners supports sportsmen’s access and outdoor recreation spending over short-term economic gain
In a meeting yesterday, the Blaine County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution to formally oppose efforts to transfer or sell America’s public lands to the state of Idaho or local governments.
Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen explains that the resolution highlights the value of public lands to county residents. It also supports every American’s ability to hunt, fish, and benefit from a public lands system that is the envy of the world.
“We want that message to be crystal clear,” says Schoen. “Stakeholder groups in Blaine County have worked collaboratively, openly, and productively with the federal agencies for years on a range of issues to protect these resources and improve public access, management, and outcomes.”
The county’s resolution recognizes the importance of public lands for:
Providing fish and wildlife with habitat, while offering opportunities for outdoor recreation—including hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife-watching, horseback riding, and bicycling—that is essential to residents’ quality of life.
Attracting outdoor recreation tourism that drives local spending and employs hundreds of county residents.
Preserving historically significant and irreplaceable cultural sites and landscapes.
Public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service comprise 62 percent of Idaho and 78 percent of Blaine County. These areas are cherished for their top-notch fisheries, beautiful open landscapes, and exceptional wildlife habitat, says Joel Webster, Western lands director at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “There’s no doubt that the county is doing the right thing for its residents, and all Americans, by supporting one of our nation’s greatest treasures—our public lands.”
“First Lite is a growing leader in the hunting world, and a growing outdoor business in the Wood River Valley,” says Ryan Callaghan, the hunting apparel manufacturer’s director of conservation public relations. “We have grown from an office of two to 14 employees since 2012, and I think we owe a great deal of our business to the simple fact that American outdoorsmen have so much access to public lands. We are certainly grateful that the commissioners are willing to formally oppose efforts that would take away that privilege here in Idaho.”
A growing number of Western counties in Colorado, Wyoming, and Arizona have recently taken formal positions to oppose the sale or seizure of America’s public lands. To learn more or take action, visit sportsmensaccess.org.
Sportsmen, Here’s Your Chance to Help Shape Future Use of BLM Lands
From river breaks to high mesas, and from sage coulees to semi-arid mountain ranges, America’s 245 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands are some of the best places to hunt and fish left on the planet. These lands are “Sportsmen’s Country” and their future management is currently being reevaluated by public land managers.
If you depend on these BLM public lands for access to hunting and fishing, now is your chance to shape how these lands are managed for the next 20+ years. With many sportsmen in the West dependent on publicly-accessible, highly-functioning BLM public lands—the ones essential for producing quality big game, robust fisheries, and sustainable hunting and fishing opportunities—it’s critical we speak up to ensure our sporting heritage.
The BLM is currently requesting public input on their proposed rules to revise the agency’s national land use planning strategy for these public lands located primarily in the West. Dubbed “Planning 2.0,” the process represents the first substantial revision to the BLM’s land use planning process since 1983. This action will address the land use planning process that shapes landscape-level management through the creation of Resource Management Plans (RMPs). All local areas of BLM land are managed through RMPs, and these plans are the basis for every action and approved use on BLM managed lands. RMPs help to determine how and if fish and wildlife habitat conservation and management will be carried out, and they direct the agency to manage for outdoor recreation.
So how will this benefit sportsmen?
More (and hopefully better) public involvement: Successful land use planning includes early and frequent communication with the public, including sportsmen and women. Under the current BLM planning process, the public submits comments at the scoping period, those comments seem to disappear into the hands of the agency, and years later the BLM comes back with a proposed draft land use plan. The public then submits comments on the draft land use plan and the BLM disappears for another year or more before issuing a proposed final plan. This long timeline with little communication from the agency makes it difficult for the public to remain interested in the process, and the lack of transparency makes people question how and if their comments are being used.
Planning 2.0 is focused on fixing these problems by increasing the transparency of the land use planning process by creating a “plan assessment” process and “preliminary alternatives.” The plan assessment stage would enable the public (as well as agencies and elected officials) to provide information about the planning area before the agency begins considering how the lands should be managed. The preliminary alternative stage would offer draft management alternatives to the public for feedback before the draft land use plan is formally proposed. These additional steps would help to maintain increased public interest in the planning process and help to ensure that the draft RMP more closely meets the expectations of stakeholders.
Landscape level planning: As hunters and anglers, we know that mule deer and steelhead don’t stop and turnaround at the county line. Neither should land use plans. The BLM planning rules are also proposing to revise RMPs at the landscape level, such as across multiple BLM Field Offices at one time. Right now, land use plans are created along artificial jurisdictional boundaries, often at the Field Office level of the BLM within a particular state. This current system doesn’t account for resources that move beyond the lines on a map. By integrating landscape level planning into BLM management, the agency should be able to better care for fish and wildlife species that migrate and depend on different habitats throughout the year. Numerous fish and wildlife species should benefit from this change.
Managing for modern resource needs: Times have changed since the last time the BLM made significant revisions to its planning regulations. Over the past 33 years, the US population has increased by 85 million people, driving with it an increased thirst for natural resources and an increasing demand for outdoor recreation. Advancements in science and technology have given land managers an improved understanding of how fish and wildlife species use the landscape. As proposed, Planning 2.0 would better enable the BLM to manage for modern challenges and opportunities, by balancing resource development with habitat and recreation, allowing for the conservation of intact habitats and migration corridors, and providing for high-quality dispersed recreation, like hunting and fishing.
Now is your chance to help see these important changes integrated into BLM lands use planning. Take action today to ensure a positive future for fish and wildlife and your sporting heritage on America’s public lands.
Gulf Snapper Anglers See Red, Experts Look To Improve Angling Opportunity
Constructive solutions the key to improved fisheries management and more certainty for recreational fishermen
Duck hunters in Louisiana have known for a month their season will begin in early November and last for 60 days. For the last 20 years, duck seasons in the Bayou State have consistently started either the first or second weekend in November, ended in late January, with a bag limit of six ducks.
Coastal anglers across Gulf States and beyond who pursue popular sportfish like speckled trout and redfish have year-round seasons and can take advantage of good weather and time off from work to catch a few fish and even take a couple home for dinner – all while maintaining healthy, sustainable stocks.
Consistency and certainty is vital to duck hunters, anglers, and the businesses that support those activities. However, achieving that level of certainty enjoyed in waterfowling, other hunting, and in state-based fisheries management has proven to be very difficult to maintain at the federal level where conservation measures required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act have forced managers to shorten fishing seasons for many popular reef fish such as red snapper and grouper. This problem has been compounded by imprecise data collection methods even despite recovering populations and stock sizes at record levels for many of these species.
In many cases, management approaches for these popular fish were established to allow a maximum amount of commercial harvest while maintaining barely sustainable stocks. Recreational fishing has been forced into the same management structure despite obvious differences in culture and approach to the resource by commercial and recreational fishermen.
These groups will take that recommendation a step further over the next two months by convening workshops comprised of experts in fisheries management, biology, and policy at the state and federal level as well as recreational fishing advocacy groups and conservation organizations. They will all discuss what works well in fish and game management, where the deficiencies are in achieving certainty in federal management, and how better data collection efforts and alternative approaches to current federal management can be incorporated into laws and policies that govern recreational fishing.
This is not an effort to simply launch attacks on current federal approaches and those responsible for their implementation. It is a cooperative effort by the TRCP, the American Sportfishing Association and other concerned sportfishing and conservation groups to try to constructively address management shortcomings that even NOAA Fisheries officials recognize as well.
The first workshop was held May 17-18 in Tampa, Fla. and facilitated by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Fisheries Management Director Jessica McCawley and Deputy Director Jim Estes. Representatives from NOAA Fisheries gave overviews of current federal management policies and data collection efforts. This was closely examined and compared with state inland and coastal fisheries management approaches and to the cooperative effort by state and federal waterfowl biologists to balance conservation and access to duck and goose hunting. The workshop will also feature efforts by states like Louisiana and Florida to collect more accurate data on angler harvest in federal and state waters.
The second workshop will be in Washington, DC in June and will tackle how the management approaches discussed in the first meeting can be used to improve federal management through policy recommendations and legislative changes. Policy experts from the recreational fishing and conservation community will participate in the discussion alongside congressional staff who are working to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act and advance other fisheries management legislation.
The goal at the end of this process is to have a concise set of recommendations that can help Congress, state and federal fisheries managers, and anglers work together toward common goals of achieving long-term fisheries conservation and sustainability. By doing so in a constructive and collaborative way, we can allow the economy and the culture of recreational fishing to thrive as fish stocks across our coasts continue to grow larger and healthier.
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.