Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

June 15, 2016

UPDATE: House Committee Passes Public Land Transfer Legislation

Two bills up for committee vote are overt attempts to undermine public land ownership

 UPDATE (June 15): The House Natural Resources Committee, for the first time in history, passed legislation that would sell off millions of acres of our public lands. Rep. Don Young’s H.R. 3650, which would sell land for the primary purpose of timber production and not recreational uses, passed the committee with a 23-15 vote. The only Republican member who defended sportsmen’s rights was Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.). Listed below are the recorded results:

NAY
Reps. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.)
Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)
Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.)
Jim Costa (D-Calif.)
Gregoria Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands)
Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.)
Jared Huffman (D-Calif.)
Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.)
Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.)
Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.)
Don Beyer (D-Va.)
Norma Torres (D-Calif.)
Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)
Jared Polis (D-Colo.)
Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-Mo.)

YAY
Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah)
Don Young (R-Alaska)
Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
Doug, Lamborn (R-Colo.)
Rob Wittman (R-Va.)
John Fleming (R-La.)
Tom McClintock (R- Calif.)
Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.)
Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.)
Dan Benishek (R-Mich.)
Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.)
Raul Labrador (R-Idaho)
Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.)
Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)
Paul Cook (R-Calif.)
Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)
Garret Graves (R-La.)
Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.)
Jody Hice (R-Ga.)
Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.)
Alex Mooney (R-N.J.)
Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.)
Darin LaHood (R-Ill.)

H.R. 3650 is an overreaching bill that would allow each state to buy and manage up to two million acres of National Forest System (NFS) land. Most Eastern states – like Illinois for example, which only has 273,482 acres of NFS land – do not have two million acres of national forests land, leaving a high possibility that sportsmen could be unable to access their public land. Sportsmen contribute over $640 billion to the outdoor economy. We deserve to be represented correctly by our lawmakers.

ORIGINAL (June 14): On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will vote on two bills that risk essential sportsmen’s access, quality fish and wildlife habitat, and economic balance for American communities. Since the bills were first debated back in February, sportsmen’s groups have been alarmed with Rep. Don Young’s H.R. 3650 and Rep. Raul Labrador’s H.R. 2316, which constitute overt attempts to undermine public land ownership.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

“Make no mistake, these are the first votes on legislation that would legitimize the wholesale transfer or sale of America’s public lands, and sportsmen should be concerned with any ‘yea’ votes,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Young’s bill is sweeping in its impact, allowing states to select and acquire up to two million acres of national forest lands to be completely owned and operated by states and managed primarily for timber production. The Labrador bill would transfer management authority for up to four million acres of our national forests to state-appointed “advisory committees,” but incredibly, these officials would not be required to have any professional experience in forest management.

Hunting and fishing groups have been vocal in urging lawmakers to oppose these bad bills. “With so many opportunities to do right by American sportsmen and women—by encouraging better active management of forests or bigger investments in public land management agencies, for example—these bills are dangerously distracting and certainly represent an attempt to get a foot in the door for public land transfer,” says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “This is bad for fly shops, their customers, and the communities surrounding our national forests.”

“Our public lands system, which includes our national forests, is unique in all the world—it supports our $646-billion outdoor recreation economy, but not without the mandate to keep public lands accessible and to balance the needs of hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts with the many demands on our natural resources,” says Fosburgh.

The TRCP is urging sportsmen across the country to contact members of the committee. Here’s the easiest way.

To learn more about efforts to transfer, sell off, or privatize public lands, click here.

9 Responses to “UPDATE: House Committee Passes Public Land Transfer Legislation”

  1. Glen Holt

    The Labrador bill would transfer management authority for up to four million acres of our national forests to state-appointed “advisory committees,” but incredibly, these officials would not be required to have any professional experience in forest management.”
    I’ve seen these “advisory committees”. Most of the people on them are “environmentalists” of some kind and have no experience managing a forest for timber, fire, natural systems, habitat or any other thing except for another special interest with no practical experience or application in anything other than that narrow interest. Often it is a viewpoint through a straw. Foresters are trained to look at all resources in a public resource management setting. They need to hear from all user groups.
    As it is now, the US Forest Service is tied up in the “process”. IF a timber sale manages to get through the “process”, frivolous law suits call the decision in to question and by the time the proposal clears the courts the “process” needs to be gone through again.
    As usual with the environmental industry, the end justifies the means. Tell lies and tie it all up in court.
    So, I’m in favor of designated timber management lands being managed by the states, not given to the private sector or as private lands but managed to actually allow management, the kind that provides for all resources including timber and not just some perception of damage inferred by an ill informed special interest group that is ultimately really only against timber harvest of any kind.

  2. Evan Rortvedt

    So 30 years from now when these states need to balance their budgets, they’ll sell these lands to the highest bidder. Most likely companies from China or Saudi Arabia. I hope these representatives are still around when my children are looking to kick someone in the nuts.

  3. Gary from Cody

    This debate always seems to focus on dollars, tax dollars, dollars floating the economy, who can extract the most dollars from the lands we hold in common. Public Lands are much more than the almighty dollar. OUR lands represent a legacy passed from generation to generation as a place to enhance our lives. Public lands are part and parcel of the lifestyles of people who live near them. We have invested together for decades to keep those lands “in the family”. We have collectively labored to keep those lands intact physically and ecologically to benefit our children and theirs. Those who debate this issue based on money simply do not get it. Those who support these land transfer efforts simply are out of touch with what these lands mean to the people of this country. Some are fortunate to transfer the farm or ranch and the lifestyle they support to their descendents. All of us are fortunate to pass our minute share of public land to our descendents. It is a legacy we have cared for, protected and deserve to pass to our children and theirs, in perpetuity. We are passing on a lifestyle, much more important to our descendents that cannot be purchased with the dollar.

  4. Berle Schiller

    This reflects the pseudo sportsmen Rep. congressman selling out to timber interests. Only the Dems opposed it. When will sportsmen learn who has their back!

  5. Kirk Klag

    For the first time I am ashamed that I am a Republican. I cannot believe that so many Republicans sold us out. This is a first step in a massive land grab to enable states to sell our public lands to private owners.

  6. bruce doxey

    Public lands are OURS! The congress does not own them and they are not authorized to sell them. They should be a sanctuary for wild horses, burros and other wildlife. Not for commercial use.

    • Kristyn Brady
      Kristyn Brady

      Good question, Jennifer. NY does not have a representative on the House Natural Resources Committee, but be sure to check out how your New Jersey neighbors’ congressman voted and stay tuned for a full House floor vote. That’s the next step in making this policy law.

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Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

A Whirlwind Tour of a Complex Landscape in the Prairie Pothole Region

Journalists get up close and personal with working lands and at-risk wetlands in North Dakota

After a week in legendary North Dakota—where every day I was up before dawn and in bed long after the northern summer sun set—I am sunburned, windswept, and my body feels like it was hit by a truck.

No this wasn’t a marathon hunt week—wrong season—but an exercise in living like a reporter on the road. I was there with 18 journalists and a handful of partners* to learn about what’s happening to wildlife habitat in the state. We were all hoping to see firsthand the impacts that rapid advances in ethanol, oil, gas, and agricultural production are having on the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR).

Journalists hiking across Ducks Unlimited’s Coteau Ranch. Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

The PPR is home to a unique ecosystem, created over tens of thousands of years as glaciers retreated across the northern part of the continent. The glaciers left behind rocky soils and millions of shallow, seasonal wetlands known as potholes. These potholes, and the grasslands surrounding them, are prime waterfowl breeding habitat, lending the PPR its nickname: North America’s Duck Factory. Over half of the continent’s waterfowl are born in those grassland-wetland complexes.

The grassland-wetland complex on the left of the road is protected for conservation, while the land on the right has been converted for crops. Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

Among the highlights of the trip was an outing to locate duck nests and candle the eggs, to see how well developed the ducklings inside are, estimate hatch dates, and determine nest success. The site we visited boasted about 460 nests, and it was a unique thrill to flush one hen after another from her nest among old Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) plantings. The hens will return to the nests despite our handling of the eggs, and eventually these mother ducks will march their ducklings up to three miles to a wetland to swim, feed, and possibly grow into one of the ducks you’ll hunt this fall.

Fresh down feathers line a nest of duck eggs. Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

There’s a lot of other wildlife in the region, especially some of our favorite fish and game—walleyes, wild turkeys, pheasants, sharptail grouse, whitetail deer. We even heard rumors of moose in Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, close to the Canadian border. Unfortunately, all of these critters are at risk because grasslands and wetlands are being converted for agriculture and other uses at a rapid pace.

A bird’s-eye view of the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge. Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

The potholes and grasslands of the PPR were once naturally maintained by grazing herds of millions of bison. The bison are mostly gone from this landscape, but cattle have long been their surrogates, keeping the PPR relatively healthy and supporting prairie habitat.

Cattle grazing at sunset on the Black Leg Ranch. Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

However, myriad factors are causing cattle to disappear from the land, nearly as abruptly as their native predecessors did. Newly developed seed types and farm equipment have allowed corn and soy crops to move north from the central plains, as those plants can now grow in the shorter northern seasons. Ethanol production and international markets have fostered that migration, as has wetland drainage, which also has the unfortunate side effect of causing flooding and overflowing lakes, literally submerging communities around Devil’s Lake. And the discovery of natural gas in the Bakken Formation has led to hundreds of wetlands being made into well pads. On a dollar-for-dollar basis, it’s hard for cattlemen to compete with these technological advances, and yet they are one of the last remaining forces helping the Duck Factory to persist.

A well pad in the Bakken. Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

While the TRCP laments the loss of cattle from the landscape, we do not oppose energy development or technological innovation. We just want it to be done responsibly, in balance with other demands on our public and private lands, and to ensure that sportsmen and wildlife don’t get the short end of the stick.

Most folks in North Dakota, I think, feel the same way. Dozens of times during the trip we heard that sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts are the heroes of conservation, for instance through our Duck Stamp purchases and backing of the Conservation Reserve Program. Many of the industry representatives we spoke with also hunt and fish and they want their children and grandchildren to be able to do the same, so they strive for a conservation-minded approach to development. And just this week, North Dakotans overwhelmingly voted to preserve Depression-era rules, which would limit corporate farm ownership in the state, thereby perpetuating a family farm structure that many believe to be far better for conservation than the alternative.

Summer storm clouds roll in near Jamestown, N.D. Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

But the PPR is still suffering a slow death by a thousand cuts. Congress has passed laws through the Farm Bill which should limit grassland and wetland conversion for agriculture, but those laws are unevenly enforced—and even when they are, violators may not be penalized. When it comes to other types of development, there are currently no state or federal laws designed to protect this landscape.

The TRCP wants America’s farmers and ranchers to be successful and profitable, but not at the expense of sportsmen’s access and opportunity. This visit has reinforced our resolve to help develop policies that balance the needs of production agriculture and private landowners with the needs of sportsmen, fish, and wildlife, and that make conservation a financially-viable part of the farm economy.

The sun sets on a wetland near Devil’s Lake. Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

*Many thanks to Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources for helping to organizing the Prairie Pothole Institute.

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June 14, 2016

Glassing The Hill: June 13 – 17

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

The Senate and House are both in session this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The first vote on two bills that would threaten public lands is set for this week. The House Natural Resources Committee will mark up Rep. Young’s (R-Alaska) “The State National Forest Management Act” and Rep. Labrador’s (R-Idaho) “The Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act,” both of which we strongly oppose.

Rep. Young’s (R-Alaska) legislation would allow each state to buy up to two million acres of national forest land and manage it primarily for timber production. Rep. Labrador’s (R-Idaho) bill would allow up to four million acres to be transferred to state-appointed “advisory committees” that would be solely responsible for managing demonstration forests with little public oversight. Both bills are a major threat to sportsmen’s access to quality hunting and fishing habitat.

Let your Congressional representative know that you oppose legislation that jeopardizes public land—use our Twitter Action Tool!

A red snapper bill is also in the lineup for this week’s markup. Rep. Graves’ (R-La.) “The Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act,” which we support, would allow flexible management of red snapper by the states, in an attempt to address widespread concerns from recreational anglers over ongoing federal management of the fishery. This year, the federal red snapper season for rec anglers in the Gulf was a scant nine days.

With only four legislative weeks left before lawmakers take an extended recess, Congress is running out of time to pass all 12 individual appropriations bills. The likeliness of a continuing resolution in the waning days of September continues to increase, as both chambers struggle to get through appropriations bills.

Before the Memorial Day recess, the House failed to pass the energy and water spending bill due to a controversial provision involving discrimination. Because of this surprise defeat, Republican House leaders have made a departure from their usual “open rule” policy on spending bills and intend to move future funding bills by restricting amendments. Because of this weekend’s tragedy in Orlando, many expect the gun control debate to once again roil consideration of funding bills.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up “The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” this week. The bill would cut funding for key conservation agencies—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) by $17 million, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) by $10 million, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by $162 million. Poison pill riders are also included in the base bill. One would block the Obama administration from implementing the Clean Power Plan to decrease carbon dioxide emissions from coal power plants.

Once the Senate takes a final vote on the NDAA, they will move on to consider “The Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” this week on the floor. The commerce bill would include a $33.5 million increase in funds for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). There are rumors that “The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” will be considered on the Senate floor, too. The agriculture funding levels would provide $147.7 billion in discretionary and mandatory funds, which is $7.1 billion above fiscal year 2016 enacted levels.

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies will mark up their version of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and environmental agencies spending bill. On Thursday, the full Appropriations Committee will begin marking up the legislation. The language has not been released, but committee leaders are confident that no poison riders will be included in the base bill. It could mean this legislation will see the Senate floor for the first time in years.

Both chambers are gearing up to tackle WRDA. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Boxer (D-Calif.) are aggressively trying to persuade lawmakers behind closed doors to push leadership to bring “The Water Resource Development Act” (WRDA) to the Senate floor. Inhofe and Boxer want to pass WRDA before July 15, the last day before Congress leaves for an extended August recess. For now, Senate leadership believes that appropriation bills take precedence over WRDA.

The House version of WRDA has passed full Committee, and is similarly waiting for floor time. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Shuster (R-Pa.) and Congressman Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) are reportedly going to meet in the near future to discuss incorporating additional natural infrastructure language into the underlying bill. Ribble would like the bill to include additional language that would encourage the use of natural infrastructure, such as wetlands and natural floodplains, in water resources projects.

Senate Democrats are reluctant to move forward to a conference on the Energy Bill. The four main players in the energy conference, Sen. Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Cantwell (D-Wash.), Rep. Upton (R-Mich.), and Rep. Pallone (D-N.J.), are expected to meet this week to discuss the path forward for conferencing Senate and House energy bills. Cantwell and several other Democrats publically expressed their concerns with some House provisions.

While firefighters battle wildfires in the field, lawmakers are hashing out suppression and management on Capitol Hill. Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee introduced a discussion draft of legislation that addresses concerns with forest management and funding for wildfires. Today is the deadline to submit comments on the draft to the committee. We anticipate a hearing will be scheduled on the discussion draft in the near future.

What Else We’re Tracking

Wednesday, June 15

Department of Interior spending bill, on the table with the House Appropriations Committee at a mark-up of the Department of Interior and environmental agencies appropriations bill

Coastal zone conservation, to be deliberated in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee mark-up on the reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act

National parks legislation will be the subject of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks hearing

Thursday, June 16

DOI spending levels for fiscal year 2017 to be discussed at the Senate Appropriations Committee mark-up

Ed Arnett

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posted in: General

June 9, 2016

Why the Western Governors Are Leading an Effort to Improve the Endangered Species Act

Governors will soon reveal results of a year-long initiative to improve proactive conservation of our country’s most at-risk species

In the hunting community, the greater sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken have recently become the face of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). When these game birds were petitioned for listing several years ago, because their populations had declined dramatically due to habitat loss, it was arguably the first time in recent memory that popular game species required this kind of action.

Greater sage grouse were determined to be not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act in September 2015, based on the strength of proactive collaborative conservation efforts. Image courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Sportsmen understood what was at stake—losing the opportunity to pursue sage grouse and lesser prairie chickens would come with a full-blown listing. Industries and ranchers feared for their bottom lines, and livelihoods, too. Some pointed to the listing of the northern spotted owl, which brought a region and an industry to its knees in the 1990s. All sorts of political posturing and litigation ensued—in fact, it continues today, even after final decisions were made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened in March 2014 and to forgo a listing of the greater sage grouse last September, based on the strength of collaborative conservation efforts from sportsmen groups, state and federal agencies, and private landowners promising to take widespread protective action.

There are wide-ranging opinions on the ESA, and it’s easy to get swept up in all the controversy and ignore the original intent of this critical legislation, which is to protect ecosystems and imperiled species from human development and other threats. The finger-pointing and contentiousness could make us forget that careful management by fish and wildlife agencies and the $1.6 billion dollars that hunters contribute annually to conservation is meant to keep us from the precipice of listing species in the first place.

Many decision-makers have called for reforms to the ESA. Congress has long suggested opening the Act, and some lawmakers would certainly use Paul Bunyan’s axe rather than a scalpel on certain provisions. So, it may surprise you that the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), a group of lawmakers who definitely have a vested interest in the ESA and its influence on the states, are not answering the call of some in Congress who want to tear down the legislation entirely.

The WGA, under leadership from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and his staff, has spent the last year exploring ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the Endangered Species Act, while elevating the role of the states in species conservation. The group held several workshops across the West to bring diverse stakeholders to the table, where they shared their opinions and ideas on the ESA’s use, misuse, effects on the economy, and actual impact on the ground. The results of these workshops will be unveiled next week at the annual WGA summer meeting in Jackson, Wyo.

The author presents his views on species conservation and the Endangered Species Act at the first of four Western Governors’ Association workshops on the subject. Image courtesy of Western Governors Association.

This should be encouraging to sportsmen, because whether or not the ESA should exist is not the right question. We need legislative checks and balances to conserve wildlife and habitat while allowing for other uses of the land to continue—history has proven that. Using the expertise of the people who rely on these lands, the Western governors are exploring not only how to improve the ESA, but also this: How do we shift from reacting to conservation crises requiring need for the ESA to launching proactive conservation measures that ensure we never get to crisis mode?

I generally agree that some reasonable reforms could likely improve the effectiveness of the ESA, but I also strongly believe that the very best solution for improving the Act is to avoid having to use it in the first place. This is where sportsmen are a very real part of the process and need to engage. And conservation efforts to benefit the greater sage grouse should be the model we celebrate. The future of species conservation has to focus on proactive, collaborative conservation efforts similar to what was recently accomplished for the sage grouse.

But until sportsmen, industry, private landowners, wildlife advocates and other non-consumptive users can take the proactive initiative to prevent these threats from happening in the first place, the regulatory hammer of the ESA remains necessary to force conservation into action. Until we make conservation a long-term investment, and no longer a nice thing to do only when discretionary funds are available, we can’t give into reforms that would weaken the ESA.

Shifting from reactive to proactive action will require change. The WGA has kickstarted the conversation, and now we need to incentivize a new way of doing business for all stakeholders. A key challenge will be securing investments in conservation and engaging stakeholders early in the process, so we’re pointed toward a common goal. Sportsmen can and should help move this revolution forward. Let’s start using an ounce of prevention, rather than paying for a pound of cure.

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June 8, 2016

Get Your Kids Out On the Water for National Fishing and Boating Week

Our conservation policy intern has a message for parents of young anglers—the tangled reels are worth it

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

I learned to fish about the same time that I learned to walk. I’d grab my tiny fishing rod and waddle down to the dock, while my dad dutifully trailed behind me with the tackle box, net, bait, and snacks—which were arguably as important as the bait. All fishing requires patience, but teaching a particularly young child to fish is on a completely different level, so I’m thankful that my father stuck it out through all the tangled reels, the constant need for re-baiting, and the rescue missions when I managed to knock our gear into the water.

I guess it’s easier to find the patience when fishing is a family tradition. It was something my dad used to do with his father. I never got to meet him, but the lures my grandfather made by hand are still in the family tackle box. They serve as a powerful reminder that fishing is more than just a sport—it’s a means of connecting with the ones we love.

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

That’s what I hope kids across the U.S. will experience during National Fishing and Boating Week (June 4-12), which wraps up this weekend. Learn more about this national celebration of the importance of fishing and boating, not only to our families and culture but also to the American economy and our bedrock conservation funding initiatives, by visiting our friends over at takemefishing.org.

Now that I go to college out of state, I miss the time spent outdoors and appreciate all the memories I have with my family. I can’t think of a more beautiful place to be. These experiences have also fueled my appreciation for and my interest in conservation policy, which led me to an internship at the TRCP.

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

I’ve always been appreciative of our country’s fish and wildlife resources—never tired of noticing all the shades of green you can find in the woods, always dazzled when the sun reflects just right off a fish. In this country, we have incredible access to these riches. But my time in Washington is starting to make me recognize more than ever that this is a privilege, and these places require our active care. And everyone who loves to hunt and fish needs to stay informed on the issues that impact our fish and wildlife, so we can actively advocate for conservation.

I hope that, when the day comes, our generation will have put in the tough work on conservation so that my father can go fishing with my children. I hope they’ll be able to lift the lid on our family tackle box and wonder at my grandfather’s lures, before counting all the greens in the trees and tossing a worm off the dock, bound for undetermined depths—or a snag on a tree branch. Either way, it’s worth it.

Shannon Fagan is the TRCP summer intern through the Demmer Scholar Program. She is going into her senior year at Michigan State University where she is majoring in Social Relations and Policy and minoring in Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy. 

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