Christy Plumer

February 14, 2017

Will D.C. Finally Show Conservation Some Love in the Federal Budget?

Investments in conservation and support for fish and wildlife are a match made in hunting and fishing heaven, but cuts may be coming

Today, when most grade schoolers are exchanging candy hearts and Marvel superhero valentines, 213 groups are sending a message to President Trump and leaders in Congress about the heartbeat of conservation—smart investments in the future of our country’s lands, waters, and wildlife.

A coalition known as America’s Voice for Conservation, Recreation, and Preservation (AVCRP)—which comprises hunting, conservation, outdoor recreation, historic preservation, and cultural resource organizations—is calling for strong funding levels for a portion of the federal discretionary budget known as Function 300. This is the part of the budget that pays for a wide range of federal departments and agencies that manage our public lands and waters and work with private landowners in rural communities to ensure intact, working landscapes now and into the future.

Conservation Funding BLM Montana
Image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.

These federal departments, from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce to the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, touch upon nearly every aspect of our daily lives. From the water we drink and air we breathe to the health of the nation’s fish and wildlife populations, conservation programs in the federal budget play a critical role.

But, despite its name, Function 300 has become, well, less functional than we’d like. It has been shrunk to half its size over the last 40 years, from approximately two percent of the federal budget to slightly more than one percent. In comparison, the nation’s outdoor recreation economy, which is sustained by this important conservation funding, generates more than $646 billion in revenue annually—that’s more than 98 percent of the Interior Department’s annual budget.

Conservation Needs a Raise

For sportsmen and women, conservation funding is an investment in our outdoor heritage. It helps restore water quality and support working lands, such as private farms and ranches adjacent to public lands that provide critical habitat for elk, whitetails, wild turkeys, waterfowl, and other game species.

Yet, throughout the country, federal funding for conservation has not kept pace with the needs on the ground. While about 72 percent of Westerners depend on public land to hunt and fish, the funding needed to manage and enforce order on public lands has dwindled. Our federal agencies lack staff for large swaths of our public lands, meaning that visitor centers have been shuttered, while biologists, ecologists, and range managers have been laid off and never re-hired. In some instances, public access points are closed altogether.

Meanwhile, the ability of agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management to ensure their multiple-use mandate is extremely challenged. The workforce that remains is in dire need of an infusion of new resources in order to carry out their mission of managing for grazing, logging, development, recreation, and a healthy balance of fish and wildlife populations and intact natural systems that can withstand invasive species, fire, drought, and other natural disasters.

We have been asking these Americans to safeguard our public lands for the next generation on a shoestring, and that’s a tall order.

More Cuts Mean Less of a Conservation Legacy

It’s time to re-prioritize our nation’s public lands and the health and vitality of our fish and wildlife populations. That’s why the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership would like to see the Trump administration propose a fiscal year 2018 budget that sustains and increases funding for conservation programs within important federal departments and agencies, including the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture. That’s also why nearly 1,200 national, regional, state, and local organizations across multiple sectors have supported the 8-year AVCRP effort.

The TRCP, both as an independent organization and via the AVCRP campaign, will also be speaking out against efforts to reinstate sequestration in the FY2018 budget. Originally proposed in 2011, sequestration would cut $1.2 trillion in federal funding, with the majority of these cuts disproportionately impacting non-defense, discretionary spending like Function 300.

The natural resources that are a part of our American identity can’t survive this level of cutbacks to conservation, particularly given the smaller sliver of the federal pie they’ve already been given over the past 40 years. We can’t afford to balance the budget on the backs of fish and wildlife and still pass healthy lands and waters on to the next generation.

Trump’s budget should sustain and invest in conservation. Congress should see to it that those funds are distributed. It’s simple enough to fit inside a greeting card.

10 Responses to “Will D.C. Finally Show Conservation Some Love in the Federal Budget?”

  1. Scott Schaeffer

    Conservation funding is not buying anything,,,, it’s investing in our future that will yield tremendous returns for our children’s children. Lands need qualified managers, just like a car needs a qualified mechanic. Hire, and full these government positions, right now!!!!!

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Kristyn Brady

January 19, 2017

SHOT Show 2017: A Glimpse at the Innovation and Our Challenges

Industry leaders at SHOT Show acknowledge that, as #OriginalConservationists, we have our work cut out for us

Thousands of marketers, buyers, and product innovators made their annual migration back to Vegas this week for the 2017 Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, where deals are being struck and minds are being blown over the hottest new and yet-to-be-released gear. The outdoor media is here to film, tweet, and post it all, so you can start to salivate over what could be in your gun safe come fall.

It’s a place where you can start to grasp the scope of the $646-billion outdoor recreation economy. And, luckily for habitat and access that needs conserving in our country, big business for outdoor brands can mean major opportunities for fish and wildlife. Of course, millions of dollars in excise taxes on firearms and ammunition go toward conservation each year, but the brands behind your favorite gear also have some serious clout as conservation advocates and storytellers.

That’s why TRCP chooses SHOT as the venue for an annual discussion of our priorities for fish and wildlife, bringing together outdoor retailers, non-profits, and publishers to identify ways we can all work together in the coming year. Yesterday, the conversation naturally veered toward the uncertainty of a new chapter in Washington, but it was also clear that many in this industry are willing to step up and directly face the challenges ahead.

Mark Seacat, Randy Newberg, and Joel Webster.

In the wake of a House vote on rules that would undervalue public lands and clear the way to transfer or sell them off, the threats to our sportsmen’s access were top-of-mind for the group—which included writers, radio personalities, and Field  Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, and Bugle editors, as well as conservation leaders from state fish and wildlife agencies, TRCP, Pheasants Forever, Mule Deer Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, The Council to Advance the Hunting and Shooting Sports, and many, many others.

There were also many questions about conservation priorities that failed at the end of the last Congress: Why did wildfire funding reform fall apart? How do we approach yet another attempt at a Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act? Together, how can we work smarter together this time?

Howard Vincent, president of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, reminded the group that it’s not too soon to start talking about the 2018 Farm Bill. In fact, our work is cut out for us if we have any hope of urging lawmakers to enhance conservation programs in the legislation that would keep up with growing demand. The good news is that we have more opportunities to collaborate with agriculture. “Because of market prices, farmers are growing negative dollars, so there’s a lot of demand for the Conservation Reserve Program and not enough enrollment,” Vincent said. “Many people are starting to recognize the importance of these programs to water quality downstream. For the first time in 30 years, commodity groups are asking us to come to the table and partner.”

Despite the sheer size of the crowd on the showroom floor, there were many concerns about the dwindling number of hunters. R3 (Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation) efforts are more widespread than ever, but Ryan Callaghan, conservation and public relations director at First Lite, thought that part of the solution is incumbent on all of us. “In our industry, we tend to talk about hunting as the pinnacle of badassery, but it can turn people off or be intimidating,” he said. “If we only show people the Mount Everest of hunting”—the backcountry solo hunts and adventures in far-flung places—“we can’t be relevant to a larger community.”

TRCP’s president and CEO Whit Fosburgh agreed that we cannot get complacent as a community—we can’t just leave these solutions up to someone else. He left the group with this final plea, bringing the conversation back to the current political climate. “I think many would agree that threats to our second amendment rights are mostly off the table for the next four years, but it’s not time to sit back. Turn your attention and energy to the places we hunt, the habitat, and our access. It will be critical to have as much support as possible.”

Ed Arnett

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.

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.

Steve Kline

November 30, 2016

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.

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