If Congress is successful in rolling back our say in public land management, these are some of the places that could suffer
Threats to public lands take many forms. The latest attack involves a resolution that would strip away your ability to speak up for how you want your local BLM public lands managed. Furthermore, it would revert the BLM’s planning procedures to those put in place in 1983 and could prevent them from ever being updated with the same solutions for improving agency transparency and public input.
If this all seems a little abstract, scroll through these images to see what we’re fighting for. These are the BLM lands we love.
Charlie Bulla (the photographer behind these stunning images) snapped this spike bull elk on public land overseen by the BLM’s Lewistown Field Office. Someday, a public-lands hunter might shoot him with something other than a camera—thanks to the multiple-use mission of the BLM. Giving the public more opportunities to weigh in on land-use planning could ensure that habitat, critters, and sportsmen get a piece of that multi-use pie.
River Rendezvous Marty Sheppard, an excellent fishing guide who just happens to be married to our Oregon field representative Mia, captured this mind-bending panorama of the Deschutes River in the BLM Prineville District. This is just one of the publicly accessible rivers where Mia, Marty, and daughter Tegan wet their lines.
Freedom Flies Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO, found his calling as a sportsman growing up in the Adirondacks, but he doesn’t forgo many opportunities to head out West. Here, he trades his fly rod for a camera to capture this scene on the Yellowstone River, accessible via BLM land in Montana.
Our Idaho field rep Rob Thornberry will be on the lookout for these Rocky Mountain bull elk again this fall, when he’s hunting on public lands managed by the BLM Idaho Falls District and Upper Snake Field Office. If there had been a mule deer among them that day, Rob’s hunting partner and photographer, Mike Clement, wouldn’t have wasted any time taking pictures.
Firsts with Family Ed Arnett (left), TRCP’s senior scientist, helped his cousin Larry bag his first pronghorn on BLM public land in southern Wyoming. Without public lands, we’d venture to guess that there would be far fewer first hunts like this.
Habitat Improvement The BLM’s Safford Field Office oversees one of nine regions in Arizona and manages 1.4 million acres of land across six counties. By locking the BLM into decades-old planning procedures, Congress would prevent these land managers from adapting more advanced, scientific management across that landscape. Image courtesy of John Hamill, TRCP’s Arizona field representative.
Sunrise Scoping TRCP’s Western field associate, Kevin Farron, snapped this photo of our Western lands director, Joel Webster, as he was glassing for mule deer at first light on BLM lands within the Dillon Field Office district in Montana.
Happy Harvest Newberg with yet another public-lands success story, this time in the BLM Rawlins District in Wyoming.
Cows Can Come, Too During a mule deer hunt, Farron snapped this classic Western scene—a cattle gate on public land in the Dillon Field Office BLM district. Hunting, fishing, cattle grazing, and other extractive activities are permitted on BLM lands. Public comment periods are necessary to keep the agency accountable to an appropriate balance—and one Senate vote could leave hunting and fishing priorities in the dust.
Rising to the Ridgeline Vistas like these can make even an unpunched tag worth the trip. Horse Camp Trail in the BLM Lewistown Field Office area puts on a pretty nice show. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.
Making Memories Joel Webster and his father at the end of a successful hunt on BLM lands in Utah’s Henry Mountains.
Here’s what you can do.
We’re not going down without a fight, and we’ve created a couple of tools so you can let your lawmakers know that you aren’t either.
House Votes to Eviscerate Rule Giving Sportsmen More Say on Public Land Use
Representatives would revert BLM land-use planning back to an ineffective and outdated rule and prevent positive changes from being included in future revisions
Using an obscure legislative process, a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to block the BLM’s new land-use planning rule, known as Planning 2.0, and roll back the additional opportunities the rule affords the public to voice concerns about land management decisions on 245 million acres. The Senate is expected to vote on a similar resolution next week.
Nineteen sportsmen’s groups, conservation organizations, outdoor recreation trade associations, and businesses that rely on public lands sent a letter to congressional leadership this week opposing the move to roll back Planning 2.0 through the Congressional Review Act, a little-known law that enables Congress to roll back regulations within 60 legislative days of their enactment. Once repealed through this process, a substantially similar rule cannot be rewritten.
The letter urges lawmakers to allow the incoming Secretary of the Interior a chance to address concerns with the new rule, rather than scrap it altogether.
“A Congressional Review Act repeal of the BLM planning rule would eliminate Planning 2.0, revert BLM planning to a problematic decades-old planning process, and likely eliminate the BLM’s authority to revise its planning regulations ever again in the future,” says Joel Webster, director of Western lands with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We urge Congress to take a different course and address remaining concerns by working collaboratively with the new Secretary of the Interior.”
“Under the spirit of Planning 2.0, improvements are already being made to the way we conserve once-overlooked habitat that elk, mule deer, and other big game animals rely on, even if it’s just for a portion of their journey,” says Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Increased coordination under the rule will only mean that the best possible science is used to our advantage, not ignored.”
Outdoor recreation businesses deserve better, but sportsmen and women will not stay quiet on this issue, says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “If recent public outcry against bad public land policy proves anything, it’s that we’ll be heard either way—we’d just rather be part of the democratic process.”
Congress Overreaches to Roll Back Americans’ Say in Public Land Management
Lawmakers pursue obscure legislative process for blocking a rule created to give the public more say in management plans for 245 million acres of BLM public lands
Sportsmen, landowners, and former Bureau of Land Management employees strongly criticized a move by senators and representatives to overturn the BLM’s revised land-use planning rule, known as Planning 2.0. Using the obscure and rarely used Congressional Review Act, federal decision makers took a first step toward repealing the new rule and rolling back opportunities for the public to have more say in land management decisions.
In a statement, Senate co-sponsors of a Congressional Review Act resolution cite bad information as motivation to revoke the rule, namely that the final rule fails to prioritize feedback from all stakeholders, including local governments. However, if lawmakers are successful, the BLM would continue using outdated guidelines for land-use planning established in 1983, which keep the public in the dark until very late in the planning process.
“It has been publicly recognized by county commissioners and conservation districts that the BLM took meaningful steps between the draft and final planning rules to accommodate requests from local governments and the public in reworking land-use planning,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Now, Congress is taking steps to reduce agency transparency and limit the public’s ability to have a say in how their public lands are managed. While a few concerns might remain, Congress is going about this the wrong way.”
The Congressional Review Act is a little-known law that enables Congress to roll back regulations within 60 legislative days of their enactment. The BLM planning rule, while under development since 2014, was finalized in December 2016, so it falls within the window of eligibility for repeal by the CRA. The process has only been successful once.
“The Western Landowners Alliance supports the BLM’s efforts in updating planning to meet today’s needs in the West,” says Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance. “There are opportunities for improvement, but not to the detriment of eliminating all the good progress that has been made to date. We believe working through the Secretary of Interior is the best way to achieve our goals and constructively address any remaining concerns with the rule.”
Most disturbingly, once a rule is overturned through the CRA, no new rule that is “substantially the same” can be developed.
“A Congressional Review Act repeal would eliminate Planning 2.0 and likely eliminate the BLM’s authority to revise their planning regulations ever again in the future,” says Jesse Juen, president of the Public Lands Foundation and a longtime BLM employee. “Instead of stripping the incoming Secretary of the Interior of his authority before he takes office, lawmakers should work with the new administration to make refinements to a planning process that many stakeholders championed.”
Hunters and anglers in Western states can click here to write their lawmakers and urge them to let Planning 2.0 stand.
Local Public Input is Critical to Rebuilding Louisiana’s Coastline
The public process for vetting these important projects will affect conservation, hurricane protection, and land loss over the next five years
Louisiana’s coast is a dynamic landscape of swamps, marsh lands, barrier islands, bayous, rivers, lakes and bays surrounding coastal towns and cities—and all of this is linked by a unique culture of food, music, fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities that rely on our abundant natural resources.
Unfortunately, for the last 80 years, this ever-changing system has been shrinking faster than any other landscape on earth, threatening world-class fishing and hunting opportunities, domestic energy development, commercial seafood harvest, the country’s largest port system, and the homes of hundreds of thousands of residents.
The impacts to the nearly 2 million people living south of Interstate 10 (and arguably the entire state and nation) can be devastating, but there are solutions in the works and a public process for Louisianans to be heard. This week and last, concerned sportsmen and women had the chance to ask questions and challenge the folks in charge of planning for the next five years of coastal protection and restoration projects designed to reverse devastating land loss, while boosting fish and wildlife habitat.
Here’s what they learned.
A Plan for Louisiana’s Future
For the last decade, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has been tasked with trying to slow coastal land loss, protect coastal communities, and safeguard our infrastructure, including the kind that supports fisheries and wildlife. The blueprint for this effort has been a detailed list of projects and initiatives aimed at ensuring Louisianans don’t face the catastrophic losses we experienced during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
The Coastal Master Plan, by law, must be reviewed by the public every five years and then approved by the state’s legislature. As wonky as it sounds, this is a critical opportunity for everyday sportsmen and women to get involved with shaping the future of conservation in our state.
Where Funding Will Flow
The 2017 plan, like the 2012 plan before it, calls for funding to be split roughly in half between building community resiliency—using levees and floodwalls and elevating homes and businesses—and habitat restoration—through marsh and barrier island creation, diversions, and limiting saltwater intrusion.
Thanks mostly to the nearly $8 billion the state has received, or will receive, in fines from BP and others responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, some coastal wetlands, barrier islands and vital ridges and other geographic features can be created, restored, and protected in the long term. The agency proposes to accomplish this by diverting sediment from the Mississippi River below New Orleans, diverting freshwater from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to wetlands threatened by saltwater intrusion, and various dredging projects.
Diversions are the cornerstone of efforts to restore and sustain the marshes adjacent to the Mississippi River. A single diversion on the west side of the river south of New Orleans called the Mid-Barataria Diversion, will move as much as 75,000 cubic feet per second of sediment-laden river water into shallow bays and lakes to help re-establish marshes that have been lost over the last century to erosion and subsidence. East of the river, the Mid-Breton Diversion will move water at about 35,000 cubic feet per second.
Impact to Fish and Wildlife
The 2017 plan is the first Master Plan for our area with detailed models that predict the future of coastal habitat for species like speckled trout, brown and white shrimp, largemouth bass, and crawfish—fisheries that are vital to commercial and recreational fishermen. It also projects what changes we can expect for habitat important to gadwall and teal, the ducks most targeted by coastal waterfowl hunters.
And If We Do Nothing?
Unfortunately, the latest models also paint a grimmer picture of what can realistically be saved and protected and what will, ultimately, be claimed by the Gulf of Mexico. The worst-case scenario from 2012 was a one- to two-foot rise in sea level—these are now the best-case scenarios in the 2017 plan.
If we do nothing, projections show that as much as 4,000 square miles of land will sink or be inundated by rising seas (yes, both of these things are happening at once) over the coming century—that’s more than twice the land loss predicted in 2012.
More than 25,000 homes and businesses across Louisiana’s coast will have to be elevated and made more storm-resilient over the next half century so as not to succumb to coastal flooding from tropical storms, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events. Some communities may have to be relocated altogether. Presenting this worst-case scenario isn’t the easiest task for state coastal planners, but it’s absolutely essential that coastal residents understand the difficult future that lies ahead in an ever-changing landscape.
How You Can Help
We’ve outlined the basics here, but if you want to learn more, read the full draft plan at the Louisiana CPRA website. Public comments are still being accepted through March 26—it is your civic right and, ultimately, your duty as a sportsman to weigh in. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make your voice heard!
What Rural America Needs Right Now is Support for Fish and Wildlife
If POTUS tackles these four major conservation priorities in the next two years, farmers, sportsmen, and critters in ag country will benefit
Federal policies that impact private and agricultural lands are a critical part of our country’s conservation equation: More than 70 percent of America’s total land is in private hands, and more than 50 percent is in agricultural use. So it’s no surprise that private land provides much of the habitat for both resident and migratory critters.
Here are some of the conservation goals at USDA that we’ll be working toward in the first half of Trump’s tenure.
More Opportunities, Fewer Funding Cuts
The next administration needs to focus on growing, not cutting, conservation funding and support for landowners who want to do right by fish, wildlife, soil health, and water quality downstream.
The last Farm Bill consolidated or eliminated nearly a dozen conservation programs and reduced conservation spending by $4 billion compared to previous versions. Every year since then, more farmers, ranchers, and foresters have been prevented from enrolling in important voluntary conservation programs due to additional repeated cuts by Congress. Even states, tribes, and local governments looking to improve waterways or habitat conditions have not received the funding or guidance promised by the Farm Bill to help carry out their projects.
We cannot weaken our nation’s investment in habitat, water quality, or water quantity by underfunding any of USDA’s conservation programs. That’s why we have formally recommended that the Trump administration reject additional cuts to USDA conservation programs and ask to increase the budget for the technical assistance landowners need to put conservation on the ground. At the same time, the administration should push for better funding for programs that support locally-led projects to protect watersheds, mitigate flood damage, and reduce erosion—which is all critical to habitats and communities downstream.
More Accountability, Less Dysfunction
Landowners looking for conservation support aren’t just stymied by lack of program funding. As well as being locked out of conservation programs due to insufficient budgets, stakeholders who do get through the door have sometimes struggled to actually access the programs, claiming slower-than-usual payment delivery or reimbursements, and cumbersome or contradictory application requirements. Meanwhile, USDA has ended up in some worrying situations, such as when the government’s watchdog agency reported that the Department, because of insufficient enforcement, may have issued payments to landowners who violated wetlands or highly erodible land compliance requirements.
These and other issues undermine incentives for voluntary conservation and the legitimacy of USDA programs in the eyes of the American taxpayer. In the first 100 days of the presidency, we’d like to see steps to improve transparency, contracting, monitoring, and enforcement of conservation programs.
Healthier, More Drought-Resilient Waterways
Ongoing droughts across the United States reveal serious threats for meeting the needs of agricultural and other water users—like urban residents, outdoor enthusiasts, and fish and wildlife. Reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin, for instance, are at historic lows; the Colorado River no longer flows to the sea, and demand for water that vastly exceeds the supply threatens many fish and wildlife species that hunters, anglers, and others value.
In its first year, President Trump’s USDA should focus on drought resiliency and support new investments in water conservation that benefit both growers and fish and wildlife. One way we can get there is by working with private-sector lenders to help finance infrastructure improvements that prepare cities and farms for the next drought, while also benefiting rivers and fish—the resources that power tourism spending and local outdoor businesses.
A Farm Bill That Can Cross The Finish Line
Before September 2018, Congress will need to craft and pass the next Farm Bill—and delays can be just as damaging as no Farm Bill at all to those who are counting on it. It is essential that the Trump administration openly supports conservation in this major legislative vehicle and makes sure it moves efficiently toward passage.
Several years of painfully low farm incomes, along with extreme weather events, have created more competition among Farm Bill stakeholder groups for available funding, so our work is cut out for us. Sportsmen and women want to see a Farm Bill that recognizes the importance of the $646-billion outdoor recreation economy, especially in parts of the country where it’s tough to scratch out a living.
Healthy habitat, clean water, and sportsmen’s access on private lands is a critical piece of the business portfolio in rural America and deserves support from Trump’s USDA. That’s why we’ll be working with all stakeholders to boost conservation in the next Farm Bill.
You’ll be hearing a lot about that right here on the TRCP blog. Keep an eye out for Farm Bill updates every month, and let us know what conservation on private lands has done for critters in your neck of the woods by leaving a comment below.
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