Ed Arnett

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posted in: Outdoor Economy

January 12, 2017

Public Lands Have More to Offer Rural Communities than Just Energy Sector Jobs

Why we can’t afford to undercut habitat and access on public lands that also support outdoor recreation jobs

Whether anyone predicted it or not, the 2016 presidential election was partially won on the promise of jobs in parts of the country where it’s tough to scratch out a living. This has quickly become a conversation about putting Americans back to work modernizing our country’s infrastructure and unleashing energy development.

President-elect Trump has promised to dig deeper into untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves and open up onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands—the same lands where we currently enjoy public access to hunting and fishing that is the envy of the world. Many lawmakers continue to point fingers at Obama administration policies and executive actions as holding us back from energy jobs and wealth. Yet, a huge glut of oil in the world market has driven prices to levels that we as sportsmen and consumers really like when we fill up the tank for a fishing or hunting trip—that’s basic supply and demand.

Would deregulating the fossil fuel industry and “opening up” federal public lands truly solve the problem for our rural communities? Pouring more commodities into a saturated market seems an awful lot like putting all our eggs in one basket.

The truth is that commodity-based industries can fluctuate for reasons that have nothing to do with access or availability of these resources on public lands. Just ask residents of Alaska or North Dakota about their current recessions resulting from low oil and natural gas prices. At the same time that Alaska’s energy sector was tanking, the tourism industry was reporting a robust year. Job growth was flat, but the resources needed to power outdoor recreation businesses (pristine habitat and access) were at least sustainable.

We know the numbers: The outdoor industry, which includes hunting and fishing, generates at least $646 billion in direct spending and billions more in local, state, and federal tax revenues annually. Outdoor recreation—which relies heavily on public lands in the vast American West—also supports more than 6 million jobs, many that by nature cannot be exported overseas. This segment of our economy is now an officially recognized piece of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP.)

The scenario in Alaska highlights that while outdoor recreation jobs cannot be expected to replace industry jobs, the outdoor recreation economy is a stable part of the business portfolio for rural communities—it simply cannot be ignored, diminished or allowed to be impacted by commodity extraction. There has to be a balance.

Without a doubt, energy development is a legitimate use of our public lands and a vital part of our economy, but development must be done in a way that balances commodity production with conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities for sportsmen. Our lawmakers should embrace the multiple-use mandate on public lands and support this balancing act.

This is why we need effective policies like the new BLM planning 2.0 rule, which requires a deeper look at planning for conservation and development well ahead of time. The trick is ensuring that better planning does not become greater bureaucracy—energy projects that make sense should not be unduly delayed. The goal must be to plan better first, avoid the most sensitive areas that have high environmental conflicts, manage and conserve important areas, and expedite development in appropriate places.

If Trump is to follow in Theodore Roosevelt’s footsteps, as he has expressed is his goal, he must start by viewing conservation as an investment with relatively safe returns for rural communities and the next generation of hunters and anglers. We hope it’s one that will appeal to his good business sense.

One Response to “Public Lands Have More to Offer Rural Communities than Just Energy Sector Jobs”

  1. Les Monostory

    Energy and extractive industries must bear the cost of cleaning up their environmental disturbances. The public should not be stuck with costs of pollution and habitat restoration.

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Ariel Wiegard

January 5, 2017

From the Good News Desk: USDA Rolls Out Huge Investments in Conservation

In the final month of 2016, private land conservation sees an $830-million increase to projects and habitat beneficial to sportsmen

When it comes to national policy news, no one could call the end of 2016—or the start of 2017, for that matter—boring. With all the talk about President-elect Trump’s cabinet appointments, Congress’s failure to follow through on a bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act (for the third consecutive Congress), and, just this week, a move made by House Republicans to make it easier to sell off public lands, it was easy to miss some of the good news coming out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including some huge investments in conservation. Here’s a round-up of some of the more positive USDA stories you may have missed:

$725 Million Invested in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program

In December, the USDA announced $225 million, for 88 new Regional Conservation Partnership Program projects designed and submitted by state, local, and NGO partners. These government and organizational partners also contributed an additional $500 million to the projects. More than half of these projects will improve the nation’s water quality or combat drought, a quarter will enhance fish and wildlife habitat conditions, and the remainder will boost soil health and tackle other resource concerns. Since RCPP was created in the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA has invested $825 million in 286 projects, involving more than 2,000 partners and private investments totaling an additional $1.4 billion for private lands conservation. Wow! You can learn more about the new projects here.

Image courtesy of USFWS.

$32 Million Committed to Forest and Grassland Ecosystems

Through an initiative called the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service announced funding for ten new projects and support for 26 ongoing projects that will improve ecosystems where public forests and grasslands connect to private lands. As with RCPP, local partners will match federal funding, bringing an additional $30 million to the table and helping to extend the Joint Chiefs’ project to 29 states. Brook trout, sharptail grouse, and other critters beloved by sportsmen are slated to benefit from this investment.

$33 Million Announced to Help Landowners Improve Water Quality

Now in its sixth year, USDA’s National Water Quality Initiative delivers high-impact conservation to watersheds around the county by helping farmers, ranchers, and landowners to implement practices that protect and improve water quality where it is needed most. This includes areas besieged by algal blooms and dead zones in places like the Mississippi River Basin, Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and Great Lakes. This year’s announcement covers 197 high-priority watersheds across the country, where communities can expect cleaner drinking water, better fish and wildlife habitat, and improved access to recreation.

11 New “Working Lands for Wildlife” Projects Added to Restore and Protect Habitat

The Working Lands for Wildlife initiative has helped farmers, ranchers, and foresters to restore 6.7 million acres of habitat for seven at-risk species—notably, WLFW helped restore private lands over much of the greater sage grouse’s range, which helped to prevent the listing of the species in 2015. The new projects will directly support game and fish such as northern bobwhite quail, American black ducks, greater prairie chickens, cutthroat trout, and sockeye, chinook, chum, pink, and coho salmon. Even though other projects aren’t designed around sport species, all the critters in these areas will reap the benefits of ecosystem improvements.

Image courtesy of USFWS/Pat Hagan.

Cranking Up the Conservation Reserve Program

USDA’s Farm Service Agency administers the Conservation Reserve Program, in which landowners make a ten- to 15-year commitment to conservation. The biggest parameters defining CRP are locked in by the federal Farm Bill—such as the 24-million-acre cap that the USDA is currently operating under—but the agency does have the ability to tweak the program to make sure CRP works as best as it can for the largest number of people. Recently, FSA has announced a number of small and moderate changes that could add up to big benefits for sportsmen and women:

  • Providing $10 million to manage forests enrolled in CRP. Pursuant to the 2014 Farm Bill, FSA will cover some of the costs for landowners to thin, burn, or otherwise manage forests in CRP. This is a long-awaited incentive, which will enhance wildlife habitat, increase biodiversity, improve water quality in these landscapes, and help extend CRP’s benefits to underserved corners of the country.
  • Shoring up water quality and wildlife habitat with four different restoration initiatives in one. FSA launched a new Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative to assist landowners enrolled in CRP who want to improve the quality of the water flowing from their lands. At the same time, the agency also boosted the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative by 700K acres, added 300,000 acres of eligible wetlands, and tapped 11,000 additional acres of pollinator habitat—with benefits for upland and grassland game birds.
  • Partnering with farmers and ranchers to protect more than 500,000 acres of working grasslands. FSA accepted over half a million acres into the CRP Grasslands program, which helps landowners to maximize the productivity of their land by combining livestock activities that are good for business, like haying and grazing, with prairie conservation activities  that are good for water quality, wildlife, and sportsmen. Nearly 60 percent of the accepted acres are in wildlife priority areas and nearly 75 percent are working under a wildlife-focused conservation plan. This is good news for America’s prairies, which are under severe threat of being completely and irreversibly destroyed to make room for row crops and urban/suburban development.

Back-of-the-napkin math shows that these USDA programs add up to a total investment of more than $830 million on 1.9 million acres, supporting dozens of projects and initiatives all across the country in the name of conservation. This is just a fraction of the roughly $5 billion that the USDA spends on conservation every year.

As you can see, the USDA can have an immense impact on the landscape. That’s why the TRCP and our partners are committed to working with these decision-makers on conservation funding initiatives that make sense for landowners, fish, and wildlife. As we kick off 2017, welcome a new presidential administration, and take a hard look at the next Farm Bill, we’re happy to celebrate this good conservation news.

Here’s hoping there’s much more to come!

Be the first to know about conservation news in ag country—sign up for the Roosevelt Report.

Dani Dagan

by:

posted in: Outdoor Economy

November 30, 2016

When One Program Opens Access and Improves Habitat, Everyone Wins

We dig into the across-the-board benefits of a key Farm Bill conservation program on private lands

For every walk-in access sign there are numerous forces at play, granting you permission to use the land and ensuring quality habitat for critters. On private acres, your experience might be thanks in part to Farm Bill conservation programs. One in particular, the Volunteer Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program, provides $40 million specifically to support quality hunting and fishing access on private land—but its benefits don’t stop there.

Rabbit hunters meet with the landowner and run their beagles on MRAP land near Marceline. Image courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Private land access helps keeps the sport alive.

Westerners are flush with public lands, while the rest of the nation’s sportsmen and women make do with smaller, isolated public patches that may not be close to home. Some of the non-Westerners among us may travel to Big Sky Country once a year, but access can be a significant barrier for beginning hunters and anglers or anyone who doesn’t have a big-ticket trip with out-of-state license fees in his or her budget.

Of course, this means non-Westerners rely heavily on access to private lands.

In 2012, there were more than 914 million acres devoted to agriculture across the United States.  These acres can make for excellent habitat teeming with some of our favorite species—sage grouse, quail, whitetails, doves, and geese—and present some of the best hunting opportunities in the nation, assuming hunters are allowed in.

public lands map
Image courtesy of State of the Birds 2011.

As its name suggests, VPA-HIP has two primary goals: securing public access and improving habitat. Authorized and funded in the 2008 Farm Bill and renewed in the 2014 Farm Bill, VPA-HIP helps states incentivize landowners to implement conservation-minded practices, such as clearing a forest understory of invasive plant species or creating stream buffers. In exchange, landowners allows the public to hunt, fish, trap, and observe wildlife on their property.

In short, VPA-HIP invests money in states like Illinois, Nebraska, Connecticut, and South Dakota—often in parts of the country where public lands are relatively scarce—to help give more Americans opportunities to hunt and fish.

Local economies get a boost.

Last month, TRCP’s government affairs director Steve Kline spent some time chasing upland birds on private land in eastern Montana, and he’ll be the first to tell you that hunting season supports rural economies. At this time of year, even in otherwise sleepy towns, you’ll see bustling restaurants, packed sporting goods stores, and busy streets—and the economy is better for it.

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) calculated the actual economic impact in a 2012 study and found that for the $9.1 million invested into VPA-HIP in 2011, 322 jobs were created and $18.1 million in gear- and travel-related spending was associated with hunters accessing newly enrolled private lands. That’s double the investment!

And that figure only covers direct spending. The economic boost echoes down the entire supply chain with more production, jobs, and higher profits, which stimulates even more spending. The report calculates that once those amplifying effects are taken into account, the return on investment for VPA-HIP funds was actually more than $73 million in a single year.

Report Assessing the Economic Benefit of VPA-HIP: 2011, produced for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies by Southwick Associates. See the full document for more information.

This isn’t just free money.

A common point of criticism for incentive programs like VPA-HIP is that the government shouldn’t give handouts to the agriculture industry. However, this money isn’t free. VPA-HIP isn’t a charity, it’s a payment for services rendered to wildlife and the public. Landowners invest funds into habitat improvements, which critters need to survive. Instead of laying crops all the way up to a stream’s edge, for example, VPA-HIP dollars help a landowner create buffers to keep water clean so fish and waterfowl can thrive. After all, access is basically worthless without quality habitat.

Furthermore, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)—the branch of the USDA that governs VPA-HIP—is highly selective when it comes to choosing grant recipients. NRCS prioritizes funding for state and tribal applications that maximize acreage, ensure appropriate wildlife habitat, and are likely to receive matches from other funding sources. States that receive grants are then responsible for deciding which landowners may enroll, and they are similarly selective. Wisconsin, for example, prioritizes larger properties with more usable cover, as well as lands that are in close proximity to existing public hunting or fishing grounds. This kind of scrutiny ensures that every dollar invested creates the largest possible benefit to the public and to wildlife.

Everybody’s a winner!

Sometimes public lands and agricultural lands are viewed as polar opposites fighting for a share of resources in a no-sum game. But when it comes to VPA-HIP, that paradigm is shattered. When landowners and agricultural producers transform acres into valuable wildlife habitat, they’re improving conditions for the critters we love to pursue, while receiving compensation and technical assistance. It’s important to their business plans because, often, the land that is least productive for crop production is the most valuable for wildlife anyway. On top of all that, the public gains access to otherwise closed-off lands. That means more places for moms and dads to take their kids hunting or fishing, more kids growing up loving the outdoors, and more hearts beating for conservation far into the future.

It’s a total win-win-win.

BONUS: We are extra proud of VPA-HIP, because TRCP’s co-founder helped put the program in motion almost a decade ago. For the other two posts in our three-part series on this important part of the Farm Bill, click here and here. And learn more about other Farm Bill conservation programs that work for farmers, sportsmen, and wildlife.

Steve Kline

A Farm Bill Program Filling Bag Limits and Bar Stools in Montana

Sleepy towns awaken across Big Sky Country as hunters flood in to take advantage of private land access opportunities

I willingly endure a 60-mile daily commute from my home on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore to downtown Washington, D.C., in order to raise my family amidst the farm fields and tidewaters of Chesapeake Bay country and to wake up on bitter winter weekends just eight miles from my duck blind and deer stand. My love of the slower pace of rural places, and my affinity for the cackle of pheasants, also brings me to the northeast corner of Montana each fall, when good friends converge on the Eastern Hi-Line with a few great bird dogs.

Perched on the prairies, this isn’t the blanket of national public lands some think of when Montana comes to mind. This is country dominated by small grains and big expanses of private lands grazing, where a breeze blowing less than 20 miles per hour barely registers with the locals.

It is a hard place to scratch out a living. Abandoned homesteads are eerie reminders that this is a place where rail cars and cattle far outnumber people. But, when we pull over to prepare a push through a particularly promising cattail slough or a birdy-looking Russian olive windbreak, we never fail to see pickup trucks with blaze-orange hats on the dash cruise by us on the gravel section roads. The Main Street diners sling bacon and black coffee as fast as they can in the morning, and there’s not an open barstool to be found in the evenings.

Hunting season brings a lot of activity to these otherwise quiet locales, the kind of places one hesitates to call ‘towns’—they are more like places where the speed limit changes. But they come to life as bird hunters with open wallets come from across the country to walk the coulees and draws. You get the sense that, in an economic setting otherwise completely dominated by agriculture of one form or another, hunting season represents a financial bright spot for businesses of all kinds, from the aforementioned bars and restaurants to hardware stores, sporting goods stores, motels, grocers, and gas stations. What may be a week-long vacation for some out-of-town hunter helps to smooth the fiscal bumps inherent in any small town business plan.

This economic windfall depends, almost entirely, on private acres. I hunted for four full days, harvesting pheasants, sharptail grouse, and Hungarian partridge, and never stepped foot on a publicly-owned acre. But thanks to Montana’s fantastic Block Management Program and their Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program, both made possible in part by the federal Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), high quality and productive private acres beckon the upland hunter. These programs—and programs like them all over the country—provide incentives to willing landowners to make their farms and ranches accessible to hunters, and they represent a kind of critical infrastructure for local economies. These programs are the fuel that keeps the economic engine of rural America humming.

Just as importantly, VPA-HIP (and the state programs it supports) help landowners to maintain or restore habitat on their property. It wouldn’t be much of a hunting season without something to hunt, and thanks to the Farm Bill’s investment in private lands conservation our dogs were able to scare up plenty of birds.

We’re celebrating VPA-HIP at a critical time. This year’s presidential election illustrated clearly how disconnected rural Americans feel from the rest of the nation, and revealed the worry that a huge segment of our country possesses about their future economic stability. We should let the full motels and packed diners of the Montana prairies during hunting season illustrate that the next chapter of America’s rural revalorization should start with outdoor recreation.

Check back in two weeks for more about the benefits of VPA-HIP, the “open fields” of our co-founder’s imagination. And learn more about our agriculture and private lands programs and partners right now.

Kristyn Brady

October 19, 2016

State Report Confirms What Sportsmen Already Know About the State Takeover of Public Lands

A study mandated by Wyoming state legislators finds that the realities of public land management make transfer an unworkable idea

A new state-mandated report on the feasibility of transferring management authority for 25 million publically owned acres to the state of Wyoming concludes that the process would be a financial, administrative, and legislative burden.

Ultimately, the report prepared for the Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) says that the state would inherit costly land management issues, like wildfire and litigation, if it were to manage the lands that currently belong to all Americans. The report also cautions that any transfer of land ownership would mean local governments would lose important federal funding sources, such as Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

“We’re not surprised by the findings, although sportsmen in the West should be heartened by the independent confirmation of what experts have been saying for years—the transfer or sale of America’s public lands to individual states would be a financial disaster for local governments and would threaten our access to hunting and fishing,” says Nick Dobric, Wyoming field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. The organization has been calling for lawmakers to oppose state takeover of public lands since January 2015 and has collected more than 34,000 signatures—2,200 of which are from Wyoming hunters and anglers—on a petition.

The report echoes the concerns that sportsmen have raised about the fundamental differences in the way state and national lands are managed. It reads:

State trust lands are in no way required to be managed for multiple use. In fact, the fiduciary obligation to generate sustainable revenue may be mutually exclusive of the ability to manage for multiple use, and this dichotomy significantly affects program revenues and associated costs. As an example, the OSLI issues grazing leases based on market value and has the ability to exclude other uses on the property (i.e., hunting or camping) because they do not generate revenue and could have a negative impact to the livestock producer.

Cheyenne sportsman Earl DeGroot, one of the local hunters responsible for the popular Wyoming Sportsmen for Federal Lands page on Facebook, hopes this will be the last talk of public land transfer from state lawmakers. “I hope the legislature will consider the findings of this report, and the overwhelming opposition that Wyoming sportsmen have expressed, and finally put an end to this effort,” says DeGroot. “I feel very fortunate to have hunted elk, deer, antelope, and even bighorn sheep and black bears on federal public lands in Wyoming, and sportsmen are tired of seeing our access jeopardized. The focus of our legislators should be on the real land management solutions and partnerships that will benefit our state.”

A rally in support of public lands, organized by the TRCP and many other hunting, fishing, and outdoor organizations, will take place in Casper on November 5, 2016. Featured speakers will include Chris Madson, conservation writer and former editor of Wyoming Wildlife Magazine, and Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

For more information on the would-be impacts of land transfer in Wyoming, and a record of meaningful opposition from elected leaders and counties in the Cowboy State, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

For the full OSLI report, click here.

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