Kristyn Brady

June 28, 2017

Sportsmen Unite Around Recommendations for Access and Habitat in the 2018 Farm Bill

Hunting, fishing, and wildlife partners reveal top priorities for conservation of private lands ahead of what may be the only Senate hearing to address the topic ahead of the next Farm Bill

In advance of the Senate Committee for Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s June 29 hearing on the future direction for the 2018 Farm Bill, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has announced its “Sportsmen’s Priorities for Conservation and Access in the 2018 Farm Bill,” developed over months of consensus-building discussions with 24 organizational members of the TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group.

These priorities will serve as the rallying point for the community of hunters, anglers, and conservationists whose outdoor traditions depend on the policies and funding provided through the Farm Bill.

“When it comes to conservation of fish and wildlife habitat in this country, you can’t ignore that 70 percent of American lands are privately owned, and a majority of that acreage is in some form of agriculture,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our community’s priorities for the next Farm Bill underscore the point that in order to guarantee quality places to hunt and fish, sportsmen need to work with our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and foresters to ensure productive habitat and clean water. Early on in these debates, we must be united around providing adequate funding and policy tools to support voluntary conservation activities on private lands, and we’re optimistic that tomorrow’s hearing—possibly the only Senate hearing that will address sportsmen’s 2018 Farm Bill priorities—will put a spotlight on these issues.”

The hearing takes place at a time when Congress and the administration are discussing ways to tighten an already trim conservation budget for the Farm Bill. Changes in the 2014 bill resulted in $4 billion in cuts from the conservation title alone. But the sportsmen’s community is urging Congress to restore some of the funding for private lands conservation—for programs including the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Conservation Reserve Program, and Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program—in 2018.

“Private and working lands are crucial to the conservation of soil, water, and fish and wildlife resources, and as the largest source of federal funding for private lands conservation, the Farm Bill has far-reaching effects on fish and wildlife populations across the country,” says Ron Regan, executive director of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. “AFWA is looking forward to tomorrow’s hearing on conservation and forestry in the 2018 Farm Bill, and we are committed to working with the Senate Agriculture Committee and others in Congress to pass a new Farm Bill that reflects the priorities of the Association, as well as those of the wider sportsmen’s and conservation community, in order to promote recreational access and healthy fish and wildlife habitat for the benefit of all Americans.”

Several of the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing will be speaking about forestry in the Farm Bill, which is also a top priority for hunters and anglers. The forestry provisions of the Farm Bill are unique among the legislation’s conservation programs in that they address both private and public lands, which is critical to taking on landscape-scale concerns, including habitat connectivity and recreational access.

“We appreciate the committee’s bipartisan efforts to continue to improve farm bill programs for forest landowners,” says Becky Humphries, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Forestry in the Farm Bill is about partnerships—between USDA and individual landowners, the states, and organizations like NWTF. We’re eager to hear from tomorrow’s witnesses on the successes and strengths of those partnerships, and on ways to advance them in 2018. The sportsmen’s and wildlife communities have long argued that long-term conservation and active management of our nations forests are critical to the future of wildlife habitat, water quality, and rural economies across much of our country, and the Farm Bill offers us a great opportunity to incentivize better practices on both private and public lands.”

View “Sportsmen’s Priorities for Conservation and Access in the 2018 Farm Bill” and the full roster of contributors here.

Learn more about the TRCP’s agriculture and private lands work here.

Header image courtesy of USDA/Flickr.

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New National Poll Shows That Hunter and Angler Support for Conservation Crosses Party Lines

There is consensus among Republican and Democratic sportsmen and women on sage grouse conservation, clean water protections, national monuments, and public land management policies being debated right now

In a teleconference today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Public Opinion Strategies revealed the results of a national bipartisan poll of hunters and anglers, which shows that sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle agree when it comes to many of the major conservation issues being considered right now by Congress and the Trump Administration.

A national survey of 1,000 voters who identify as hunters or anglers was conducted online and over the phone in May 2017, and the data show:

  • 97% agree that protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is important
  • 95% agree it is important to maintain public lands infrastructure, like roads, trails, campgrounds, and historic sites
  • 87% want no cuts to conservation in the federal budget
  • 82% support the BLM’s plans to conserve the greater sage grouse
  • 4 in 5 support Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands
  • 77% of Republicans and 80% of Democrats support keeping the number and size of existing national monuments that offer hunting and fishing

“In today’s polarized political climate, conservation has become a partisan issue with decision makers, but hunters and anglers strongly support conservation policies across the board, whether they’re Republican, Democrat, or Independent,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This includes strong support for funding public land management agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, and strong support for the BLM’s sage grouse conservation plans that are currently under review. Sportsmen are not split on supporting national monuments or balancing energy development with the needs of wildlife habitat. There’s also clear support for the Clean Water Rule, created to protect headwater streams and wetlands under the authority of the Clean Water Act.”

Sportsmen agree that investments in conservation are worth it, in part because they see returns for the American economy. Of the hunters and anglers surveyed, 9 out of 10 believe public lands provide net benefits for the economy, and 92 percent believe public lands are positive economic drivers.

Additionally, 95 percent agree that it’s important to have adequate funding and personnel to take care of public lands, 75 percent support providing financial incentives to farmers and ranchers to implement habitat conservation on private land, and 70 percent support an increase in funding for wildlife-friendly highway crossings and fences. Meanwhile, 67 percent oppose the idea of selling significant areas of public lands to reduce the budget deficit.

“These poll results just confirm what I’ve seen as a business leader in the fishing industry—there’s little to no argument about the value of conserving the places where we fish and hunt,” says K.C. Walsh, owner and president of Simms Fishing Products. “In fact, conservation and responsible management of public lands makes it possible for Simms to employ 180 hardworking people in Bozeman, Montana. Decision makers should be listening to what the public wants and to what makes sense for the American economy, like protecting isolated streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.”

And lawmakers should take note: Nine in ten sportsmen surveyed agreed that conservation issues factor into their support for elected officials. The results of the poll were presented yesterday to attendees of the Western Governors’ Association meeting in Whitefish, Mont.

“The public has made it clear that conservation and public lands are not controversial issues, so why do some make it partisan?” says Randy Newberg, who exclusively hunts public lands as the host of the Sportsman Channel show Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg. “Most sportsmen agree that public lands need proper care and sound management and that these lands are worthy of our investment. This data overrules the partisan division we’ve come to expect, and that should embolden lawmakers. Improving and protecting the value of public lands for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation means taking a stand with hunters and anglers. To do otherwise is setting camp with special interests who have little in common with the majority of America’s hunters and anglers.”

Download the fact sheets and learn more about the poll here.

Kristyn Brady

June 27, 2017

Repealing Clean Water Rule Creates Uncertainty for $887B Outdoor Recreation Economy

The EPA’s decision to withdraw Clean Water Act protections for headwaters and wetlands will impact trout, waterfowl, and businesses that rely on quality places to hunt and fish

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency have begun the process of rescinding the 2015 Clean Water Rule that clarified protections for headwater streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, despite broad public support for the rule and its benefits for fish and wildlife habitat. This is the first step in a two-step process to replace the rule, set into motion by an executive order in February 2017.

“If the president intends to fulfill his stated goal of having the cleanest water, he should direct his administration to identify paths forward for defending and implementing the Clean Water Rule based on sound science, regulatory certainty, and the national economic benefits of clean water,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Instead, today’s action to rescind the rule puts at risk the fish and wildlife that rely on more than 20 million acres of wetlands and 60 percent of the country’s streams, while the process for ensuring the protection of these clean water resources remains unclear.”

President Trump’s order directed the agencies to consider revising the rule with an eye toward minimizing regulatory uncertainty and cited former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion that seasonal streams and many wetlands do not merit protection. But hunters and anglers consider this vital habitat.

“The repeal and replacement plan is likely to roll back Clean Water Act protections for a majority of the nation’s streams and wetlands, including the headwater streams that are so important for trout and other species of fish, plus millions of acres of seasonal wetlands that store flood waters and provide essential habitat for more than half of North American migratory waterfowl and a diverse array of other birds, amphibians, and reptiles,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers spent four years reviewing available science and engaging stakeholders to finalize the rule. Sportsmen, conservation groups, and many others submitted one million public comments to help shape the end product, which was celebrated for its potential to reverse a troubling trend of wetlands loss.

The repeal could impact outdoor recreation businesses that depend on certainty around clean water and healthy fish and wildlife habitat. The outdoor recreation industry fuels $887 billion in annual spending and supports 7.6 million jobs, including 483,000 jobs directly related to hunting and fishing. Many game species rely on headwater streams and wetland systems that would be under threat of pollution or destruction without the clarity of the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

“Clean water is a basic right of every American,” says Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “To be effective, the Clean Water Act must be able to control pollution at its source. Unfortunately today’s action by the EPA places the health of 60 percent of the stream miles and the drinking water of one in three Americans at risk. Trout Unlimited intends to work with our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters to convince the EPA to reverse course on this misguided direction.”

Going forward, sportsmen want this administration to maintain strong Clean Water Act protections for waters and wetlands. With the rule’s rescission today, the federal government’s decisions on Clean Water Act protections for sensitive streams and wetlands will once again be made on a case-by-case basis, throwing tremendous uncertainty back into the decision-making process.

“The Clean Water Rule is critically important to improving and protecting water quality nationwide,” says Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America. “It is based on extensive science but also common sense, which tells us that it is impossible to improve water quality in our rivers and lakes unless the small streams flowing to them are also protected from pollution.”

The TRCP will ask sportsmen and women to support the conservation benefits of the 2015 Clean Water Rule during any public comment period on the rule rescission. Learn more here.

Ariel Wiegard

June 22, 2017

Conservation on Private Ranches Helps Give Sage Grouse a Home on the Range

With sage grouse conservation on public lands possibly under threat, strong conservation programs for private lands in the upcoming Farm Bill will help keep the birds dancing for decades

Earlier this month, the Department of the Interior initiated a review of existing sage grouse conservation plans, which were designed to keep sage grouse off the endangered species list. The combination of those federal plans, state plans, and voluntary conservation efforts for grouse on private lands led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the historic decision to not list the species in September 2015. The review has sportsmen and women concerned that DOI is shifting its focus away from securing quality habitat, the most critical factor to conserving sage grouse, and toward less scientifically-sound population management techniques.

Footage courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.

The review will deal primarily with public lands that are essential to survival of the species—in this case, 67 million acres of federally managed land in the sage grouse’s core range—and it’s possible that it will lead to less conservation and more energy development on those lands. Thankfully, sprawling cattle ranches that also provide crucial habitat are scattered among these public lands. If public land development ramps up, these private acres may become even more important than they already are to sage grouse.

It’s imperative that we work to conserve habitat and sage grouse on both public and private lands. Fortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill, a massive legislative package that specifically funds private lands conservation, is in the works.

A Win-Win for Sagebrush Country Businesses

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the Sage Grouse Initiative, an innovative partnership between federal agencies, states, conservation districts, agricultural groups, and wildlife and sportsmen’s organizations. SGI’s goal is to implement farm bill conservation programs all across the Western landscape to reduce threats facing sage grouse, while also improving ranchers’ bottom lines.

You’ve heard us say before that farm bill conservation can benefit landowners, wildlife, and sportsmen, and SGI is no different. The initiative helps ranchers to voluntarily take steps to conserve the bird’s habitat. In exchange, ranchers get improved grazing lands. After all, many of the threats to sage grouse also negatively impact livestock forage and the agricultural economy across the West.

Ranchers also get regulatory predictability: SGI participants receive 30 years’ worth of exemptions from Endangered Species Act regulation, as long as they follow the conservation plans they agreed to use when they signed up. This predictability will apply even if the bird eventually lands on the endangered species list, so SGI ranchers have the government’s word that they’ll be able to keep their working lands working. It’s a win-win scenario.

If development on #publiclands ramps up, private acres may become even more important for sage grouse. Click To Tweet
More Visible Fences, Better Habitat

One particular farm bill program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, has been helping ranchers in sage grouse territory since the beginning of SGI. It provides financial and technical assistance to landowners so they can complete conservation projects, and EQIP is the only farm bill program specifically intended to help agricultural producers meet environmental regulations.

In the case of sage grouse, landowners are using EQIP to help the birds survive.

For instance, because sage grouse are low flyers, they often fatally collide with livestock fences. Using EQIP funds and USDA technology, ranchers can reduce grouse strikes by up to 83 percent with one very simple step: marking wire fencing with flags in areas close to lek sites to make them easier to see. Those farm bill dollars have helped ranchers mark nearly 700 miles of fence across the birds’ range.

Landowners are also using EQIP to improve the quality of habitat for sage grouse. The farm bill program helps pay to remove invasive western juniper, which outcompetes sagebrush—reducing cover for nesting and eliminating other plants and insects important to the bird’s diet. Expanding juniper also provides hiding cover for grouse predators like coyotes and perches for hawks and ravens. One recent study showed that juniper removal helped address these issues and significantly boosted annual survival of the birds—they saw 25 percent population growth in one study area. While some people advocate for predator-control tactics to save the sage grouse, we can achieve just as much success, if not more, by enhancing the birds’ habitat.

Today, nearly 1,500 landowners are conserving millions of acres of land with these and other conservation practices. By the end of 2018, around $760 million will have been invested through SGI to conserve habitat and keep “working lands in working hands” across the West.

Fence improvements help more than just sage grouse. This evidence of a fatal fence collision is possibly from a young great horned owl. Above and header images courtesy of USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Flickr.
Good for the Birds, Butterflies, and Big Game

The benefits of sage grouse conservation also extend to habitat for 350 other plants and animals, including herds of elk, pronghorn antelope, and mule deer.

Studies have shown that sage grouse conservation efforts doubled the protection of mule deer migration habitat and winter range. Meanwhile, many other bird species, like songbirds and hawks, rely on restored and conserved sagebrush for their survival. Plus, restoration of wildflowers in sage-grouse territory helps to boost insect populations (in other words: grouse food), while providing stopover habitat for monarch butterflies, important pollinators, on their continental migrations.

Those EQIP funds made available through the Sage Grouse Initiative can help landowners support all of these other critters, big and small. Although we don’t hunt many of these species, they still play supporting roles in the vast sagebrush ecosystem and enhance the stories of our days afield in the West. It’s not an exaggeration to say that ensuring full implementation of the current conservation plans for sage grouse—including key provisions for private landowners—is the single most important thing we can do right now to conserve Western wildlife.

Working on Both Fronts

Sportsmen and women often think about sage grouse in the context of their habitat on public lands, which isn’t wrong. These lands are vitally important to the species. As the secretarial review moves forward in the next several weeks, we’re working to make sure public lands efforts remain scientifically sound and that the focus remains on habitat.

But nearly half of the land in the West is privately owned, so private lands and landowners, using farm bill programs like EQIP, are also absolutely critical to the sage grouse’s success and the health of the rangelands across the West. That’s why we’re focused on making the 2018 Farm Bill one that supports on-farm and off-farm businesses by offering voluntary conservation incentives to boost fish and wildlife habitat. This leads to better days afield, on private and public lands, and more resilient rangelands and rural economies that benefit from an influx of outdoor recreation dollars.

Learn more about what we’re doing to help.

Kristyn Brady

June 21, 2017

Anglers Look to New Federal Fisheries Head to Improve Recreational Fishing Management

With frustration running high, sportsmen and women want to continue working with the agency to recognize recreational fishing’s role in coastal economies through meaningful changes to federal management of saltwater fisheries

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and its sportfishing partners look forward to working with Chris Oliver, the newly appointed head of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Over the last five years, sportsmen’s groups have worked extensively with NMFS staff to try to bring about meaningful changes to federal approaches for managing recreational saltwater fishing in our nation’s public waters, and that work will continue as Oliver steps into this role.

“Chris Oliver has some monumental tasks ahead of him, including continuing to work with angling, advocacy, and conservation organizations to develop management approaches that emphasize conservation, while recognizing the explicit, fundamental differences between commercial and recreational fishing,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “He must also continue to build our nation’s fishery stocks while ensuring those fish stocks are a publicly held resource.”

Recreational fishing is an enormous part of America’s culture and economy, with more than 11 million saltwater anglers annually driving more than $63 billion in spending. Without saltwater angling, coastal communities across the country would suffer financially. Anglers also contribute more than $1.5 billion to conservation and fisheries management each year through direct license sales, donations, and excise taxes on equipment and fuel.

Oliver will certainly face several challenges as he continues to advance badly needed reforms to federal recreational fishing management and work to build better relationships between anglers and managers of state and federal agencies. “We look forward to helping him meet these challenges and achieve meaningful progress on sound, reasonable management practices that will ensure recreational fishermen have sufficient access to public waters and fisheries,” says Fosburgh.

Top photo by Greg Stuntz.

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