The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate and House are in session this week, and lawmakers are eager to leave D.C. as soon as this Friday, December 9. As the clock ticks, Congressional leadership remains optimistic about passing essential legislation that affects sage grouse conservation, the Everglades, and critical funding. The 115th Congress will convene on Tuesday, January 3.
Sage grouse conservation is safe—for now. On Friday, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report, which the Senate is expected to pass this week. A provision that would have allowed governors to veto sage-grouse conservation plans for federal public lands—effectively freezing the conservation status of the bird for a decade—was omitted from the report after significant push back from conservation and sportsmen’s groups. In fact, more than 3,000 sportsman-advocates responded to a TRCP action alert and sent letters urging lawmakers to allow sage grouse conservation success to continue. The exclusion of this language from the NDAA is a short-term victory though, and we’re prepared for this issue to resurface in the next Congress.
Government funding is on the docket, no strings attached. A new short-term continuing resolution (CR), which must pass before federal funds run out on Friday, will fund the government at 2016 levels through early spring, although the specific end date is not yet public. While these measures sometimes carry riders with implications outside of funding, the new CR is expected to be fairly clean.
Water legislation could bring good tidings for the Everglades. Leading members in the Senate Environment and Public Works and House Transportation and Infrastructure committees have indicated that they have come to an agreement on the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA), and they’re expected to pass it this week. The issue that kept the bill in limbo was a provision that provides emergency funds to combat the lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. Since both the Senate and House versions of WRDA include authorization of funds for the Central Everglades Planning Project and promote the use of nature-based infrastructure, such as wetlands and marshes, the final negotiated bill should include these provisions, too.
BLM Gets Locals More Involved in Public Land Management
By updating a decades-old rule, the agency is injecting more opportunities for the public to weigh in on land-use planning—and for sportsmen to make the case for habitat and recreation
The Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for overseeing 245 million acres of the nation’s public lands, has issued its final ‘Planning 2.0’ rule that will update how the agency plans for land management in the West.
The most significant change is the establishment of three additional public input periods early in the planning process to increase transparency and allow for more robust public involvement. Sportsmen and women are hopeful that these changes will increase public satisfaction in the land-use planning process and eventual management of public lands.
“Public lands are an asset to every American, and even though land-use planning has always been a public process, Planning 2.0 will allow people to weigh in early and often about the land-management decisions that impact the places they hunt and fish,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It doesn’t matter if you live in central Montana or southern New Mexico, you will now benefit from having a better seat at the table when the BLM is considering how to manage your public lands, and that means more opportunities to sustain quality hunting and fishing.”
“As an elected official representing a rural Western county, I believe the BLM’s revised planning efforts are helping us get ahead of the game, by increasing opportunities for public input and allowing all parties to roll up their sleeves and get involved before land management decisions are set in stone,” says Mike Brazell, a county commissioner in Park County, Colo. “This thorough pre-planning will help to better manage landscapes for all the ways they are used—whether it be for hunting, fishing, trailrunning, timber production, or energy development—and support our community’s ability to maintain a high quality of life and healthy local economy.”
Migratory wildlife will also benefit from better management and conservation in the new planning rule. Where there once was no specific mention of wildlife migration corridors in BLM planning documentation, now field offices must consider identifying and locating migration corridors early in the process of planning for land use. That’s good news for big game animals and hunters.
“Migration corridors are a vital habitat component for big game like mule deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope in the West,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We’ve long seen the need for more formal recognition of these areas, where animals move, feed, and rest between seasonal ranges, and we’re confident that identifying these corridors early in the planning process will reduce conflicts, while yielding better experiences afield for sportsmen and women.”
More than 8,400 hunters and anglers have signed a petition and sent letters of support for better BLM land-management tools that prioritize public access, conserve and enhance habitat, and balance development with the needs of fish and wildlife. More than 500 hunting and fishing businesses, sportsmen’s groups, and wildlife professionals have also backed the idea that BLM lands are “Sportsmen’s Country” and should be managed in ways that support sportsmen’s values, including habitat conservation and access.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate and House are both in session this week, but lawmakers are eager to get out of town as soon as possible.
First thing’s first—funding. With only 16 legislative days left on the 2016 calendar, Senate and House leadership are running out of time to pass a new continuing resolution (CR)—which would keep spending at fiscal year 2016 levels—before the current CR expires on December 9. In the end-of-year funding crunch of previous years, we’ve kept a watchful eye out for dangerous riders, cuts, and provisions that would be bad for conservation, but the latest intel from Capitol Hill indicates that a clean CR should pass without any of these concerns, giving a new Congress until March 2017 to sort out long-term funding measures.
Temporary pass for sage grouse. Second on leadership’s must-pass shortlist is “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) conference report. Thankfully, a House-written provision that would undo federal and state collaboration on sage-grouse conservation plans was taken out during conference negotiations, and is not included in the final report.
Looks like a Congressional tug-of-war, and sportsmen’s provisions are the rope. The ticking clock doesn’t seem to be rushing energy bill conference negotiations. Here’s the play-by-play: The initial offer came from the Senate side. Then, on November 18, the House presented a counteroffer with no sportsmen’s provisions (reminder: good things for habitat and conservation funding) included. Just after Thanksgiving break, Senate conferees issued another counteroffer, which reinstated the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other sportsmen’s provisions—what the House had taken out. Some Republican leaders in the House seem likely to view the next Congress as more favorable for energy legislation, but both Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) are still enthusiastic about reaching the finish line this month.
Everglades boost might make it through this brief window. “The Water Resource Development Act” (WRDA) is another end-of-the-year conference that could come to the House and Senate floors. Last week, committees spent several hours in a closed-door meeting discussing reconciliation of the Senate and House version of WRDA. The Senate version authorizes twice the funding for water resources projects than the House version, but both bills include provisions for the Central Everglades Planning Project and nature-based infrastructure, such as marshes and dams. Since a spending package is expected to be clean, lawmakers could use WRDA as a vehicle to pass emergency funding for the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan—in which case, WRDA could pass this year.
The Democratic Party could see some surprising changes. This week, the Democratic Caucus will meet to vote on leadership positions. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the 13-year Democratic minority leader and former speaker of the House, will be challenged by three-term freshman Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). Rep. Ryan’s district is located in the Rust Belt, an area the Democrats failed to secure in the November 8 election.
What else we’re tracking:
Wednesday, November 30
Legislation on recreational permitting on public lands, as well as two other bills, will be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing.
Winner Alert! Celebrating the Foliage, Fish, and Fall Hunts That Make Us #PublicLandsProud
Thanks to those of you in #PublicLandsProud nation who shared their best photos from your fall season spent on public lands! There were some really impressive submissions, and it was the tough job of our guest judge, Allie D’Andrea of First Lite, to ultimately select a winner. But after much deliberation, here are the winning shots:
Allie D’Andrea: “This photo steals the show for me, well the caption too. ‘Show them beautiful places, teach them conservation, and give them independence.’ Although I enjoy the solitude of public lands, I think sharing the beauty and experience with loved ones is particularly gratifying and makes the connection come full circle.” First runner-up: Instagrammer @ab_rio
Allie D’Andrea: “Let’s be honest, all of the landscape shots that were submitted into the #publiclandsproud photo contest were beautiful. It was the caption of this one (yes, you’ve swooned me with your words yet again!) in particular that strung a chord, ‘…feeling free and without a care in the world.'”
Allie D’Andrea:“Part of the romance of hunting public lands, to me, is the amount of hard work it requires. This photo bottles up that hard work in one shot, how the weight of your pack can feel so heavy yet so rewarding all at the same time.”
Thanks to everyone that tagged photos this year and showed the nation why we are #PublicLandsProud! You keep showing us what makes you #PublicLandsProud, and we’ll continue to protect your access to quality fish and wildlife habitat.
More Funding for Wildlife Refuges is Needed, But Midwesterners Won’t Wait
The communities around these five National Wildlife Refuges won’t let their public lands fall into disrepair—they’re stepping up to make conservation happen
The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) spans more than 150 million acres in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and with 337 refuges open to hunting and 276 boasting great fishing opportunities, these federal lands are a piece of our nation’s unique and complex public lands system. Despite the value of our public lands, gifted to future generations by people like Theodore Roosevelt and celebrated by sportsmen and Americans of every stripe, the agencies that work to maintain and restore habitat in parks, forests, and refuges have been systematically underfunded by Congress, fueling discontent with federal land managers.
However, when I recently visited five refuges in the Midwest with the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) Coalition, I saw collaborative attempts to close the gap created by lack of funds. Local communities weren’t resentful of the backlogs or shortfalls—they were stepping up to help.
These partnerships illustrate the power of public lands to bring people together, and the resulting enhancements are providing habitat connectivity between private and public lands and improved outdoor recreation opportunities that help drive local spending.
Here’s what cool, collaborative conservation looks like:
Prairie meets pavement. One of our nation’s newest refuges, the Hackmatack NWR in Ringwood, Illinois is in the process of conserving and connecting critical wetland, prairie, and oak savanna habitat in the greater Chicago, Rockford, and Milwaukee metropolitan areas. This refuge is mainly funded by the Friends of Hackmatack and partners, like the local Audubon and Ducks Unlimited chapters, and without this financial aid the refuge staff would not be able to conserve habitat for 109 species in the area. Friends of Hackmatack and on-the-ground nonprofits coordinate on restoration projects that enhance monarch butterflies and other pollinators’ habitat, too.
Private landowners, partners, and public dollars unite. Once the site of Aldo Leopold’s vacation home, the Leopold Wetlands Management District in Portage, Wisconsin honors the father of wildlife management by safeguarding 12,000 acres of Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs). The WPAs are areas where habitat is restored using funds from the sale of the Federal Duck Stamp to restore critical wetland and grassland habitat for migratory birds. The community plays a supportive role in maintaining and conserving these lands, as well. With help from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, private landowners can receive financial and technical assistance to improve waterfowl habitat on their own land adjacent to the refuge. Traveling with the CARE Coalition, I was fortunate enough to be welcomed by landowners Dave and Shelly, who showed us habitat improvements on their hundreds of acres of property. They explained how the Leopold Wetlands Management District’s fire management team schedules controlled burns to restore lupine vegetation for Karner blue butterflies, an endangered pollinator species, and to provide cover for upland game birds, such as pheasant.
Understaffed, but rallying on. The Necedah NWR in Tomah, Wisconsin hosts stopover habitat for migratory birds, including mallards, northern pintails, and other waterfowl species. While great jobs are available, many positions remain vacant at the refuge due to lack of funds. The current staff conducts critical wetland projects that enhance habitat for these birds. They’re hurting for additional staff, but they’ve done a fantastic job providing hunting and fishing services for the local community, including whitetail, waterfowl, and wild turkey hunts. The refuge also hosts the national Junior Duck Stamp contest where youth can submit their artwork and possibly have it displayed on the five-dollar stamp. While designing the stamps, children learn about wetlands and waterfowl conservation.
You break it, they fix it. During our time at the Upper Mississippi River NWR in the La Crosse, Minnesota, we saw the damage created by the Army Corps of Engineers through the lock and dams and dredging projects. The refuge staff is working on restoring the wetlands back to their original state by flooding the river and removing invasive species. The dredging of the Mississippi River in Winona, Minn., decreases sediment, but the Gulf Coast feels the burden because lands in Louisiana and other Gulf states are eroding. The importance of funding restoration projects in the river is critical for about 45 percent of the world’s canvasback duck population and for fisheries located in the Gulf of Mexico.
Vandalism creeping in. The Upper Mississippi River NWR is a great example of where people can exercise their right to access public forests, grasslands, and wetlands, even if they live in a populous city, Minneapolis. Another example, the Minnesota Valley NWR, provides education and access opportunities for Bloomington, a suburban area around the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, the refuge is understaffed and has difficulty keeping up enough of a presence to prevent vandalism, which also contributes to maintenance backlogs. Pollution, such as litter, is also a conservation challenge here, so volunteers and partners help fill the void by providing additional hands in restoring habitat.
While these collaborative efforts between local and federal agencies and organizations are something to celebrate, they can only do so much for the National Wildlife Refuge System without adequate funding. The NWRS needs more funding to help broaden collaborative efforts and not fatigue partners. When our public land managers see budget cuts, our hunting and fishing opportunities are on the chopping block. Congress has until December 9 to figure out the full funding picture for 2017 or punt these decisions to the next Congress. Whatever they decide, we’ll continue pushing for better investments in conservation as the cornerstone of our proud public lands traditions and the outdoor recreation economy that supports local spending.
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.