Julia Peebles

May 18, 2017

TRCP Staff Spotlight: A Day on Capitol Hill with Julia Peebles

Follow our government relations representative as she keeps tabs on important bills, helps to juggle relationships with policy makers and shakers, and fights the good fight for habitat and access

As half of the two-person government relations team at TRCP, it’s my job to stay informed on all the legislative and administrative policies that affect American sportsmen and women, as well as build relationships with congressional and agency staff—all to help ensure hunter and angler needs are heard in decision-maker offices.

The grind of drafting joint letters to ranking members and top agency brass, attending meetings with partners, and tracking legislation from introduction through hearings, mark-ups, and votes might not sound like the glamorous Hollywood version of Washington. But every day I get to work towards a future I believe in—accessible and quality habitat for American sportsmen and women—and that’s an incredible privilege.

Here’s what my day looks like:

7:05 AM

I start most days early by reading headlines, prepping for meetings, and gathering intel on the bills that we’re watching. If it’s Monday I put together our Policy Rider, a weekly email to more than 160 people—including partners, board members, and top donors—with the latest on what to expect from Congress and the administration in the coming week.

This is no small task. I’m reading, listening, talking to key players, and generally hunting down the latest information on political moves that affect hunters and anglers. And today I’m diving in especially early, coffee in hand, to get up to speed before some special TRCP events.

 

7:45 AM

I clutch my backpack, throw on the heels that I keep under my desk, and make my way to TRCP’s biannual Policy Council meeting. This is where our partners are updated about what TRCP is working on internally and what specific recommendations our smaller working groups have drafted on a whole range of issues. I begin organizing and help caterers set up a breakfast buffet for representatives from our 54 partner organizations to enjoy once they arrive and settle in. I lay out nametags, set up the projector, and put the conference phone on an intercom system. More than 70 people trickle into the room, and we get to work hammering out priorities for the coming months.

 

11:10 AM

After a detailed discussion of the Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group’s proposed recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill, plus recent developments for marine fisheries, national monuments, and funding for flood prevention, I step to the front of the room. I’m presenting on the outlook for conservation funding in the fiscal year 2017 appropriations process and fiscal year 2018 budget and appropriations. The Policy Council meeting concludes at 12:15 PM, and I do one final sweep of the room for forgotten belongings and unused nametags.

 

1:00 PM

Next, I grab a taxi over to the House Office Buildings. Here, I meet up with TRCP field representatives who are in town and accompany them to congressional offices. Idaho field rep Rob Thornberry, senior scientist Ed Arnett, and I meet with Congressman Simpson to discuss fire borrowing, and marine fisheries director Chris Macaluso and I pitch staff for Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) on possibly co-sponsoring the Modern Fish Act. I probably sit down face to face with decision makers or their staff about three to four times a week when Congress is in session, and I keep up with them over email as the need arises. These are our opportunities to highlight the real consequences of legislation for habitat, clean water, access, and the outdoor recreation economy, long before that lawmaker needs to make a vote on behalf of sportsmen and women back at home.

 

3:02 PM

My colleagues and I go our separate ways. Some head to other meetings while I make my way back to the office. Once I’m at my desk, I sit down and begin working on a letter that we plan to send to the Department of Defense and Department of Commerce on critically important infrastructure projects for public safety and conservation in the Gulf of Mexico.

I am also working on congressional appropriation letters that we plan to send to Senate and House committee staff. These letters address TRCP’s top funding priorities, line by line, that we want to see stabilized in fiscal year 2018. This is where our work gets wonky, and it’s my job to make sure lawmakers understand the very real impacts these decisions have on fish, wildlife, and the pursuits of hunters and anglers.

While jumping from letter to letter, I’m also answering emails from Hill staffers and coordinating efforts with partners on federal strategies for national monuments, public land management, and forestry. The truth is that my typical day looks a lot like this, with phone calls, emails, Word documents, and taxi rides to the Hill, but many of my conversations are about the lands and waters where you’d never think to crack open a laptop or join a conference call.

 

5:15 PM

I pack up my things and turn my computer to sleep mode. I’m excited to be headed back to my English Setter and my husband. It’s not every day that I head straight home after work—often I’m out the door to my next event, like a gala or happy hour, perhaps something hosted by one of our partners. Attending these, especially in D.C., is as much a part of the work as reading formal legislation and getting on conference calls. Informal interactions with Hill staff and people in the conservation community allow us to get to know each other, strategize, and be more efficient overall.

This is just one day in the life of one TRCP staffer, but it takes the hard work of many people here and at other organizations to create positive change for hunting and fishing through federal policy. Sometimes it’s hard to point to a definitive accomplishment at the end of the day. But when we win, we get to win at something deeply meaningful. And that makes all the difference.

3 Responses to “TRCP Staff Spotlight: A Day on Capitol Hill with Julia Peebles”

  1. Lori Mckenney

    I am on the Red-tail Land Conservancy board with your father and I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your article. I understand why your Dad is so very proud of you. You are an amazing young woman! Thank you for your commitment to the mission.

  2. Stefan Anderson

    Julia,
    As a lifetime Trustee of the Nature Conservancy and a friend and admirer of your father and your grandfather, I applaud the work in which you are so deeply and effectively engaged. I read your article in growing awe at the rigor of your schedule….but I was relived to see you got a night at home with dog and husband 🙂

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Kristyn Brady

May 4, 2017

Conservation Gets a Modest Bump in the 2017 Spending Bill

The omnibus spending package provides for sage grouse conservation, drought resiliency, conservation practices on farms and ranches, and one step forward for the Everglades

Congress has passed an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 with some increased funding for conservation and no harmful policy riders. The House and Senate’s investment in conservation is seemingly at odds with the Trump administration’s budget outline for fiscal year 2018, which would deeply cut most conservation programs and entirely eliminate others, including Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.

“While last-minute funding solutions are not the ideal way to govern, sportsmen and women should be heartened to see Congress endorse funding levels mostly on par with what we got in 2016 and even give a modest bump to the things we care about, including healthier waterways, stronger sage grouse populations, restoration assistance in the Everglades, and better conservation practices on private lands,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Tucked within more than 1,600 pages detailing government spending through September 30, the FY2017 omnibus package includes the following:

  • An $8.9-million increase for sage grouse conservation programs and no riders undermining the federal conservation plans that helped keep this iconic Western game bird off the endangered species list in 2015.
  • $864 million for Conservation Operations at the Natural Resources Conservation Service within U.S. Department of Agriculture—that’s about $13.5 million more than last year and exceeds President Obama’s last budget request by more than $1 million.
  • A $10-million increase for the Conservation Technical Assistance Program, which provides farmers and ranchers with the technical expertise to put conservation on the ground using Farm Bill dollars. This will help NRCS to deliver more than $5 billion in conservation programs to farmers, ranchers, and private foresters next year, improving fish and wildlife habitat and water quality nationwide.
  • $150 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program, which hasn’t been funded since 2010. This will help states, local governments, and tribes to enhance fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality, reduce erosion, control sediment, and construct wetlands.
  • A 30-percent increase for the WaterSMART grant program, in which the Bureau of Reclamation works with water users to help ensure rivers and streams have enough water flows to support fish, agriculture, and cities during droughts.
  • More than $10 million in funding for the National Park Service to support interagency coordination in the Everglades. Additional funding will be needed in the next fiscal year to carry construct a reservoir recently approved by the Florida legislature. This is critical to improving water quality and habitat in one of the country’s most popular fisheries.

Two Farm Bill conservation programs were trimmed through the Congressional budget process known as Changes in Mandatory Program Spending, or CHIMPS. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) was cut by $179 million and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program was cut by $28 million.

The spending agreement for 2017 arrives late in the congressional calendar, and thorough plans from the White House for fiscal year 2018—which begins October 1—are not expected until May 22, at least two months later than normal. Sportsmen and women will remain active in the debate over investments in habitat, access, and the outdoor recreation economy.

“We’re encouraged by the final FY17 funding for our parks, refuges, forests, and other public lands and waters,” says Alex Boian, vice president of government affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association, which just released its newest Outdoor Recreation Economy Report. “These investments in our nation’s outdoor recreation assets ensure the continued growth of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy and the support of 7.6 million American jobs. Time and time again, we have seen that when our elected leaders invest in America’s great outdoors, it results in healthy communities and healthy economies nationwide.”

Photo above is courtesy of Ace Hess/BLM.

Kristyn Brady

April 24, 2017

Sportsmen Look to Secretary Perdue to Champion Conservation That Works for Rural America

The Georgia quail hunter will oversee $5 billion in conservation funding on private lands, which benefits farmers, ranchers, wildlife, clean water, and sportsmen

In an 87-11 vote, the U.S. Senate has officially confirmed Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia and an avid sportsman, to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he’ll oversee land and water conservation on private lands and operation of the U.S. Forest Service. Hunters and anglers are optimistic that Perdue is up to the task of serving our rural communities and our natural resources well.

“As a hunter and angler, Secretary Perdue understands the importance of wildlife conservation,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “He has a record of working in a bipartisan fashion to advance innovative land conservation programs, increase water conservation, and restore longleaf pine forests. We look forward to working with Perdue on critical issues facing USDA, including protecting America’s grasslands, expanding successful farm bill conservation programs and wildlife initiatives, and reducing nutrient runoff to improve water quality.”

Perhaps most importantly, Perdue will contribute to the debate around the 2018 Farm Bill, the legislative vehicle that drives approximately $5 billion in annual conservation spending on private lands. Voluntary, incentive-based programs authorized by past farm bills have been widely successful, helping to prevent the Endangered Species Act listing of the greater sage grouse and contributing to cleaner waters in the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are eager to begin working with Secretary Perdue to implement good conservation programs on working farms and ranches,” says Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist at Delta Waterfowl. “The next farm bill will provide great opportunities to come up with solutions that work well for our nation’s producers, sportsmen, waterfowl, and other wildlife.”

Besides the Forest Service, Perdue will direct many of the other federal agencies with a major role in conservation, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency. Almost immediately, Perdue will need to defend his department’s budget and staff against cuts from congressional appropriators.

“With record demand from agricultural producers for the technical assistance and financial certainty that USDA programs offer, Secretary Perdue already has his work cut out for him, but sportsmen and women are also depending on his leadership in rural counties that are economically reliant on outdoor recreation, like hunting and fishing, that gets a boost from habitat improvements on private lands,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which came out in support of Perdue early on.

“These programs cannot survive proposed budget cuts, especially when critical functions at the USDA, including wildfire suppression in national forests and conservation planning assistance for landowners, are already chronically short on funding,” says Fosburgh. “Sportsmen and women call on Secretary Perdue to strongly defend the USDA against budget cuts and support long-term, practical investments in natural resources management on public and private lands.”

Ariel Wiegard

April 13, 2017

The Long, Complicated Road to the Biggest Driver of Conservation on Private Land

The current federal law that governs conservation on private lands won’t expire for another year and a half, so why are we talking about rewriting the farm bill now?

Much of what we work on here at TRCP is based on the idea that there are shared spaces that all of us, as Americans and as sportsmen and women, have a right to enjoy.

But around 70 percent of the lower 48 states isn’t our land—it’s yours, or hers, or that other guy’s—as any hunter or angler east of the Mississippi can easily tell you. Even though you might not be able to hunt them, what happens on private lands has profound implications for the habitat and critters that make access to public lands worthwhile. Fish, wildlife, and clean water don’t know, or care, where private property ends and public lands begin.

All Americans can benefit if even a single landowner or agricultural producer maintains wildlife habitat or ensures that the water running off his or her land is as clean as possible. And farmers, ranchers, and foresters want to do the right thing—they are some of our nation’s most avid sportsmen, after all—but conservation can be prohibitively expensive.

This is where the farm bill comes in.

Top and above images courtesy of USDA/Flickr.
Farm Bill 101

Roughly every five years, Congress is responsible for rewriting the massive legislative package known as the farm bill. The current farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed into law by President Obama on February 7, 2014, and will expire on September 30, 2018. It covers what you’d expect for on-farm impacts, like conservation and crop insurance, but it also deals with rural economic growth, nutrition programs (formerly known as “food stamps”), international trade, and more.

It’s a huge undertaking that requires legislators from all corners of the country to negotiate and compromise, and they have a powerful incentive to work together: If the farm bill expires, our country would revert to a permanent version of the law passed back in 1949, when, suffice it to say, U.S. economics and demographics looked very different. Not all farm bill programs would be impacted, but we don’t really want to find out what would happen to the programs that would.

Getting the Pieces in Place

Many sectors of the farm economy are struggling right now, and there’s an appetite in Congress to show that lawmakers are doing something to fix what’s ailing rural America. A farm bill could help, but legislators already have plenty to work on, including health care, tax reform, infrastructure spending, and confirming at least 549 political nominees for agency positions. We don’t have a crystal ball, but Congress will likely turn its full attention to the farm bill early next spring.

That doesn’t mean senators and representatives aren’t thinking now about what the farm bill will look like. In the early stages, they do this in the form of “marker bills.” Members of Congress introduce these, not to pass into law any time soon, but to potentially incorporate into the full farm bill when the time comes. For instance, just this week, Senator Thune (R-SD) introduced legislation to raise the acreage cap for the Conservation Reserve Program.

These marker bills will be based on thousands of conversations that will take place among and between lawmakers and stakeholders (including TRCP and our partners), in order to ensure that Congress passes a farm bill on time, and that the final legislation benefits the most people in the most places.

You can also expect President Trump and his Agriculture Secretary-in-waiting Sonny Perdue to play an outsized role in guiding the discussion. Even though it’s Congress’s job to write each farm bill, rural constituents who overwhelmingly voted for Trump have a lot to gain if the 2018 farm bill is successful, so it will likely be good politics for the Administration to get involved.

pheasant hunting Farm Bill 2018
Image courtesy of YoTut/Flickr.
The Cost of Doing Business Late

When it comes to the farm bill, the price of procrastination is steep.

For instance, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, just one agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that invests in conservation and clean water, spends somewhere around $4 billion each year in farm bill funds to conserve and restore wetlands, grasslands, and forests on private lands and to make farming friendlier to fish and wildlife. (To put that in perspective, for fiscal year 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested only $3 billion for its entire budget—which includes things like implementing the Endangered Species Act and managing the National Wildlife Refuge System, the world’s largest network of lands dedicated to wildlife habitat.)

The sheer amount of money authorized by the farm bill, and the 70 percent of America’s acreage that could benefit from those dollars, means that it is among the most important drivers of conservation in this country. It also governs the only federal program that opens up hunting and fishing access on private lands, the Voluntary Public Access program.

By helping to cover conservation costs, the farm bill supports public goods on private lands, like healthy habitat and water. This means better days afield for sportsmen, on private and public lands and waterways, propping up an entire sector of the economy devoted to outdoor recreation. Hunting guides, tackle shops, mom-and-pop diners, and gear manufacturers all benefit when we take care of our private lands.

What Comes Next?

Because of the complexity and costs of getting this legislation done on time, the farm bill process is well underway. That’s why you see TRCP writing and posting about #farmbill all the time. We need to be ready to work with Congress to write a new farm bill, and we need you to be ready to advocate for what sportsmen, farmers, and fish and wildlife need from this critical legislation, too.

To stay involved, follow us here on the blog and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We’ll continue to provide updates as the discussion evolves and guide you past the alphabet soup of conservation program acronyms (such as CRP, CSP, RCPP) to the real benefits for habitat and access. We’ll also share ways our partners are leading on the farm bill and help you to take action that is meaningful for conservation.

One small step you can take right now is to sign our petition at CRPworks.org—help us tell Congress that the farm bill’s Conservation Reserve Program, America’s greatest private lands conservation program, works for you. Sportsmen and critters everywhere will thank you for it.




Rob Thornberry

April 5, 2017

A Quiet Country Road Where Public Lands Make All the Difference

A Saturday afternoon finds game species and all manner of public lands enthusiasts in a single spot in Idaho—it’s the outdoor recreation economy in action and it deserves lawmaker support

Vehicles filled the Bureau of Land Management parking lot at the North Menan Butte trailhead, forcing late-starting hikers to park on a quiet, eastern Idaho highway.

Dozens and dozens of people left their cars, strapped on daypacks, and made the short hike up the volcanic tuff cone, one of the largest in the world, to enjoy the view of the Snake River Plain and nearby towns of Idaho Falls, Rigby, and Rexburg. It’s a public lands treasure that is largely overshadowed by other popular public access points nearby, such as the South Fork of the Snake River and St. Anthony Sand Dunes, well-known destinations for anglers and off-road vehicle riders, respectively. But families, fitness fanatics, and photographers in need of a bit of nature this Saturday flocked to North Menan Butte because of its proximity to civilization and its well-marked trails.

Across the highway, dozens of trail riders unloaded their vehicles and set off on a network of public roads that stretch for miles into Idaho’s sagebrush desert. Families and friends slouched on bumpers, their entire bodies telling the story of the day’s ride.

Just to the south of the twin trailheads is Deer Parks Wildlife Management Area, a 2,550-acre wetland complex managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and a key migration stopover for dozens of bird species. It’s also home to moose, turkeys, and the whitetail deer that local hunters hope to find on public lands this fall.

Prickly pear cactus blossoms on North Menan Butte. Image courtesy of the Post Register. Header image of Deer Park WMU, courtesy of Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

It is here, at this non-descript intersection in Idaho, that the importance of America’s public lands is perfectly exemplified. It is where we have the freedom to get outside and explore, no matter our outdoor pursuits. It showcases the balance of different user groups seeking different experiences, yet fueling a thriving, renewable economy. And it is where public ground is also set aside for wildlife, with benefits for migrating birds and resident critters alike.

The intersection’s anonymity, its quiet and even overlooked charm, is the heart of the story that must be told if we want to keep public lands in public hands.

A snapshot from this Saturday in Idaho shows the power of the $646 billion outdoor economy. Click To TweetA snapshot from this Saturday shows the power of the outdoor economy. The bikes, binoculars, and hiking gear are part of a self-sustaining economic engine that generates $646 billion annually. Its foundation is 640 million acres of public land nationwide.

The tracks of many users and wildlife collide on public lands.

With the understanding that public lands help generate commerce in local communities, it is incumbent on all outdoor users to join together and trumpet the outdoors as a viable economic engine. Our voices—and our dollars—give us a political power that outdoor enthusiasts have rarely enjoyed.

Imagine the return on investment on public lands if we urged elected officials to actively fund more projects to benefit access and outdoor recreation. Imagine the benefits to habitat and all species if more money was spent to bolster their infrastructure.

For now, the intersection is quietly working. It welcomes hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, OHV riders, ducks, turkeys, a couple on horses, and family after family looking for a respite in nature.

To protect America’s public lands legacy for them, and for all the outdoorsmen and women parked on quiet country roads across the nation, go to sportsmensaccess.org.

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