In 24 Hours, the Pending Legislation We Care About is Going to Get Scrapped—Again
When lawmakers leave town, this session of Congress is over, and all pending legislation goes back to square one in January
The last few grains of sand of the 114th Congress will soon fall through the hour glass, and the most important priorities of sportsmen appear poised to fall, as well. Here’s what we know about the status of legislation important to TRCP, as of publication.
Some Good, Some Bad
For months, TRCP and other sportsmen’s organizations have been enthusiastically supportive of passing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to authorize billions of dollars’ worth of water infrastructure projects across the country—including the Central Everglades Planning Project, a major TRCP priority. However, as negotiations stretched down to the wire, some problematic California drought provisions, which would weaken protection for salmon and target the eradication of economically important sport fish, were hastily added. While we’ll still likely support the bill, these provisions were not originally included in either the House or Senate version of the WRDA bill, and airdropping them in now is no good for fish or anglers.
One Quiet Victory
Sage grouse comprise one of the few bright spots of the last few weeks of the session. TRCP has long viewed the efforts to conserve sage grouse core habitat as a major conservation victory, and likewise has opposed all efforts to undermine the implementation of those plans. The most realistic threat to ongoing sage grouse conservation once again occurred in the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, but thanks to the concerted efforts of sportsmen and other conservationists and our champions on the Hill, for the second year in a row, short-sighted grouse language was left out of the final bill.
We’ll keep tracking these bills (and a short-term funding solution that’s imminent) until lawmakers leave town for the holidays—some of them for good—so follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest developments. Of course, we’ve been here before, and we’re committed to seeing these critical conservation priorities through in the next Congress.
Congress Fails Sportsmen on Many Conservation Priorities in Final Hours
Everglades restoration can begin, but provisions to improve fish habitat, wetlands health, and access to hunting and fishing get left behind again
Today, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act awaits the president’s signature, the final step needed to authorize $1.9 billion in restoration projects to help reverse longstanding habitat and water quality issues in South Florida, while moving water south. This should be celebrated as a major win for anglers, guides, and other local businesses that rely on healthy fish habitat.
But in almost every other way, lawmakers overpromised and under delivered on the pending legislation important to hunters and anglers in the 114th Congress. Bipartisan support for provisions that would improve fish habitat, wetlands health, and public access across the country as part of a larger energy modernization bill brought the Sportsmen’s Act closer to the finish line than ever before. But it was not enough to finally do right by America’s sportsmen after attempts in three consecutive Congresses.
“For six years, or longer, we’ve needed this policy support for the very infrastructure of conservation and access, which keeps rural America in business during hunting and fishing season,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We owe a debt of thanks to senators who voted 97-0 to move conservation forward with the energy bill, but sportsmen and women should be angry and frustrated that good things like this can’t get done in the end.”
While major opportunities were lost by failing to authorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, and Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act—a critical conservation tool for Western lands—there was also a disappointing last-minute addition to the water projects bill that would weaken protections for salmon and other fish.
“We are deeply disappointed that language was added to the bill that diverts water away from fisheries that are already struggling, puts wild salmon in jeopardy of extinction, and targets other sportfish for eradication,” says Scott Gudes, vice president of government affairs with the American Sportfishing Association. “Senators Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, and all the Northwest U.S. senators, are to be commended for their efforts to defeat this last-minute water grab, which redirects water to agriculture and undercuts environmental protection for fisheries. Unfortunately its passage creates a significant threat to fishing communities, anglers, and the sportfishing industry in the state.”
The TRCP opposed the drought provision airdropped into final negotiations and was supportive of a provision to promote use of natural infrastructure, like wetlands, reefs, and dunes.
In a major defensive victory, language that would have undercut sage grouse conservation was removed from the final conference report of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed last week. And a continuing resolution passed in the wee hours of Saturday morning will keep the government funded through April 28, 2016 at decent levels for conservation. But additional threats to protections for sage grouse, headwater streams, and BLM backcountry lands could be yet to come in the new Congress, with the possibility of cuts, riders, and budget reconciliations.
Follow along with the TRCP in 2017, as we work to highlight the relevance of hunters and anglers to their elected officials in Washington and advance conservation in America.
Welcome to the Next Four Years of Conservation in America
After an election night upset, the Trump camp takes up the immediate task of assembling a new administration. Our work for fish and wildlife, as always, continues
Sportsmen and women from across the country offer their congratulations to President-elect Donald Trump and wish him the best of luck as he begins his first term as the president of the United States. Indeed, we tip our camo hats to all of those who threw their names in the ring for elected offices, up and down the ballot and at the local, state, and national level. It is an honorable sacrifice of time and energy, and we thank you all.
But, of course, there is no job quite as tall as the one before President-elect Trump. The business of running the executive branch of the government is an immense task, and after an unprecedented election season, Trump only has about two and a half months before the inaugural kicks off his official presidency. In order to hit the ground running, things have to be well under way: Cabinet secretaries must be nominated, and the process of filling thousands of jobs must be started. To do this, not long after the nominating conventions, both presidential candidates started to assemble their transition teams—the folks, usually organized by cabinet department, who will help a new president enter the White House ready to get to work on day one.
Now, in this time of incredibly high activity, priorities are being determined and the rhetoric of campaign season is being turned into workable policy proposals, so it is imperative that sportsmen-conservationists are communicating clearly and repeatedly to new administration leaders. Over the past several weeks, the TRCP staff has been crafting transition documents that outline all of our policy priorities for the next four years of conservation success, including a 100-day agenda and goals for one year and two years into the new administration. Here are our top three asks.
Quality Places to Hunt and Fish
We’ll be making sure that our next president continues to hear from sportsmen and women that the defense of our national public lands is a line in the sand that cannot be crossed. This is a fundamental priority that both candidates heard from hunters and anglers throughout the course of the long campaign. Along with key partners, we will also work to make sure new public officials understand the importance of full implementation for the conservation plans in core sage grouse habitat across the West, as well as the need to defend those plans on Capitol Hill.
We anticipate that President-elect Trump will seek an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan, an idea we think makes good sense, as long as commonsense rules apply for oil and gas development and the production of renewable energy on public lands. Namely, we’ll push for a robust planning process that accounts for impacts to fish and wildlife habitat, as well as recreational access, and identifies places where energy production of all kinds can proceed with little impact to resources or places that might be too special to hunters and anglers to become energy production zones. And, just like oil and gas, renewables should be contributing a reasonable percentage of their profits from production on public lands into a trust fund that pays for mitigation of impacts on habitat and access.
Better Investments in Conservation
One of the very first things that the new administration will have to do is send Congress a budget outlining funding priorities for fiscal year 2018. Insufficient funding continues to be a major barrier to all kinds of conservation goals, like collecting reliable offshore recreational fishing data in order to improve fisheries management or providing technical assistance to our nation’s farmers and landowners who are interested in implementing wildlife habitat and water quality projects on private lands. And, of course, a litany of active management and restoration projects on national public lands has stalled out for want of funding, so it is well time to put the conservation house back in order.
We will make sure the next administration prioritizes conservation in their first budget, and every subsequent budget.
More Champions for Fish, Wildlife, and Sportsmen
Finally, as new folks are considered for leadership roles at the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, and key agencies—like the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Marine Fisheries Service, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many more—we’ll be helping to make sure that those chairs are filled with bona fide collaborators. This would include practitioners who are committed to the North American model of wildlife conservation and expanding access to quality fish and wildlife habitat, yes, but perhaps also those who are sportsmen and women themselves.
Election Day is the great reset button for American politics and policy making, but TRCP’s priorities, and our defense of the fish and wildlife habitat that America’s hunters and anglers depend on, won’t be subject to any transition.
House members vote to send the Water Resources Development Act to conference, meaning anglers are one step closer to better fish habitat in at-risk waters
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA), which matches Senate-passed provisions to jumpstart much-needed restoration of Everglades fisheries and water quality improvements across the country through strategic use of wetlands, reefs, and other natural infrastructure.
The bipartisan bill would authorize $5 billion in water projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including $1.9 billion for the Central Everglades Planning Project, which would fast-track efforts to restore natural water flows, remove pollutants, and reverse algae blooms and other conditions devastating South Florida’s fisheries.
“The sportfishing industry recognizes that it is vital for the Florida Everglades to receive funding as soon as possible to expedite the implementation of multi-year projects that will help fix the water quality and water management challenges that plague south Florida,” says Scott Gudes, vice president of government affairs with the American Sportfishing Association. “These projects have been through an extensive review process and will provide significant environmental benefits by moving more water south from Lake Okeechobee. However, Congressional authorization is required before construction can begin.”
The House bill would also emphasize the use of nature-based infrastructure—like wetlands, dunes, and reefs—over new man-made structures to reduce flood and storm damage, improve water quality, and protect vital fish and wildlife habitat in the process. This provision, which sportsmen have been calling for since June 2016, was added as an amendment after a strongly bipartisan voice vote.
Similar provisions in the Senate version of WRDA, which passed 95-3 on September 15, would clear a path toward making these conservation measures happen. The two bills will need to be conferenced, with any differences hammered out, before legislation can go to the president’s desk.
“It should be encouraging to sportsmen that Congress is making definitive moves to advance important conservation measures with major impacts for fish, wildlife, and water quality at a time when they are tasked with so much,” says Steve Kline, director of government relations with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “There will be as much, or more, competing for lawmakers’ attention going into a conference on these bills, but there is no time to lose when it comes to reversing destruction in Florida’s fisheries or prioritizing projects that have mutual benefits for habitat and infrastructure.”
105 Sportsmen Businesses Agree: Don’t Mess With Sage Grouse Conservation
One year after the historic decision not to list the greater sage grouse for endangered species protection, retailers, outfitters, and gear manufacturers from across the country call on Congress to let sage grouse conservation work
As representatives of a $646-billion outdoor recreation industry that depends on sportsmen having access to healthy fish and wildlife habitat, business owners from 14 states have sent a letter that calls on Congressional leadership to oppose language or riders to any legislation that would force the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to abandon their own sage grouse conservation plans in favor of plans developed by the states.
Almost exactly one year ago, on September 22, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the range-wide population of greater sage grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, following historic collaboration by federal and state agencies, industry, private landowners, sportsmen, and other stakeholders. This achievement, business leaders write, “should also be seen as a boon for business.”
However, some in Congress are attempting to derail the process by crafting language meant to block the federal conservation plans and attaching it to the only legislation moving in Washington, D.C.—the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and appropriations bills that keep the federal government operating.
“Sportsmen and outdoor business owners across the country are disappointed that Congress continues to play politics with our national defense and other must-pass legislation by attempting to insert unrelated and detrimental language about sage-grouse conservation into bills,” says Ryan Callaghan, marketing manager for First Lite, a hunting clothing company based in Ketchum, Idaho. “Healthy sagebrush is important not only for sage grouse, but also for mule deer, pronghorns, and elk, and to our customers that pursue these species each fall.”
Ed Arnett, senior scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, adds that if language contained in the riders were to become law, it would throw into question decades of statutory precedent, several environmental laws, and the subsequent legal decisions around those laws. “Federal, state, and private landowner efforts are all needed to create on-the-ground results for sage grouse, and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision last fall was predicated on all of these plans working in concert,” says Arnett. “Implementation must be allowed to continue.”
Business owners across the Western U.S. are counting on it. “There’s a lot that goes on in Congress that is confusing, frustrating or seemingly unrelated to what we care about as sportsmen, but when your bottom line—not to mention the activities you love and hope to pass on to your grandkids—depends on the health of an entire ecosystem, you pay attention,” says Melissa Herz of Herz Gun Dogs in Bend, Oregon. “We can’t allow the sagebrush landscape, vibrant with 350 species of plants and animals that rely on the same habitat as sage grouse, to become just a pawn in a political game, and we cannot waver on conservation plans that were put in place for good reason.”