Ariel Wiegard

August 28, 2017

The Farm Bill Debate is Heating Up at a Unique Moment for Rural America

The stars seem to be aligning around a major opportunity for sportsmen and women to unite with landowners, who want conservation assistance more than ever, and the decision makers who are focused on revitalizing rural America

Since the first modern Farm Bill in 1933, when Congress took action to address the Dust Bowl, this key piece of legislation has made conservation happen across our rural landscapes. But with the current five-year Farm Bill expiring next year, the upcoming debate over private land conservation and revitalizing farm businesses may coincide with one of the most auspicious times for rural America.

We’ve posted often about the ways that the federal Farm Bill helps improve private lands for the benefit of all Americans, especially sportsmen—after all, it’s the single largest pot of funding for conservation on private lands, and programs authorized by the Farm Bill make it one of the largest national drivers of conservation overall.

We want these trends to continue long into the future. Sportsmen and women have an extensive history of joining our allies in the farming community to work collaboratively on advancing conservation in the Farm Bill, and we’re committed to making it happen again in 2018. At this unique moment for America’s rural economies, we may have even more non-traditional partners rooting for our success.

A Shared Connection with the Land

No one knows the Back 40 better than the farmer who harvests his crops there, or the hunter who harvests a buck there each fall. So it’s no surprise that we also share opinions about making sure that private land can do good things for wildlife and fish without undercutting a farmer’s bottom line.

TRCP’s sportsmen’s poll, released earlier this summer, shows that 75 percent of sportsmen and women support providing financial incentives—such as those authorize by the Farm Bill—for farmers and ranchers to conserve land for habitat and clean water, open public access for hunting and fishing, and to practice sustainable farming and ranching methods.

A 2015 survey of farmers showed that 87 percent of farmers agree that it is important to develop wildlife habitat to improve hunting opportunities. There’s no doubt that many of them use Farm Bill programs to help do that work.

So, we agree that conservation is necessary and we need programs to help landowners make it happen.

A Jobs Bill for Rural America

When it comes to the vitality of rural America, the astounding $887-billion impact of the outdoor recreation economy can’t be ignored. According to the USDA, 228 rural counties are economically dependent on outdoor recreation.

Meanwhile, the farm economy is struggling, as crop prices have remained at devastating lows for the last few years. While you and I rely on our farmers to provide our food, fuel, and the fiber that makes our clothes, the simple act of hunting and fishing on and around private lands can provide a key source of revenue in agricultural communities.

With the potential for a ripple effect from conservation and voluntary public access to private land, the Farm Bill could be thought of as a jobs bill—not just for agricultural producers who need and want the support more than ever, but also for the outfitters, gear manufacturers, and service industry workers in areas where hunting and fishing becomes more vibrant.

pheasant hunting Farm Bill 2018
Image courtesy of YoTut/Flickr.
Make the Farm Bill Great Again

This is why we’re all taking a seat at the table to hammer out a better Farm Bill. The presidential campaign and resulting dialogue has put rural America in the white-hot spotlight, and politicians on both sides are leveraging that fact to score wins back home. The upcoming bipartisan, must-pass Farm Bill is the best tool we have to improve rural economies and maintain a truly American way of life for sportsmen and farmers. Hunters and anglers are ready to make deals to get good habitat, clean water, and public access for hunting and fishing on the ground.

We brought this message to a group of 25 reporters in Minnesota this week, just as the renowned state fair was wrapping up and on the cusp of hunting season. We visited farmers and outdoorsmen to illustrate what these critical conservation programs mean at a local level, and what we saw was passion for healthy landscapes, sustainable livelihoods, and enduring traditions.

A new Farm Bill is on the way, and the connections between agriculture and recreation become clearer with every passing year. We need to tell our story and make sure that decision makers in D.C. know all of us are on the same team. With the right people at the table in this unique and critical time for conservation and rural America, we have the best possible chance of doing right by the land and the people who use it.

Read our recommendations for conservation and access in the 2018 Farm Bill.

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Kim Jensen

August 24, 2017

Why Sportsmen Support the Clean Water Rule, In Their Own Words

We asked sportsmen and women to take action and more than 1,000 have submitted comments to the EPA in support of clean water—here are some of our favorites

One of the cool things about our democracy and the North American model of conserving fish and wildlife as a shared resource is that we as citizens often have the opportunity to take part in the public process of decision making. That’s why we let you know when you have the chance to speak out for your hunting and fishing access and opportunities—it’s our responsibility and a privilege.

We’ve seen it: When sportsmen and women take the time to tell their stories, it makes a difference.

A few years ago, Americans had hundreds of days to submit their feedback on a rulemaking that would help end the confusion around which streams and wetlands receive Clean Water Act protection. The final Clean Water Rule helps safeguard 20 million acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of headwater streams—that’s 60 percent of the country’s flowing waters.

But the current administration has started the process of repealing this rule meant to lift headwaters and wetlands out of regulatory confusion.

Without the rule, we risk seeing streams polluted and wetlands destroyed. Failing to recognize wetlands and headwaters as critical to clean water downstream means we’re fighting a losing battle in nearby watersheds, and making decisions on a case-by-case basis overburdens state and local water quality personnel.

Many sportsmen from across the country have already made their voices heard by submitting comments to the EPA about why they support the Clean Water Rule. We love that these folks have taken the time to make this issue personal—because it is. Here’s why they want decision-makers to stand up for our headwaters and wetlands.

Missouri native Jonathan took the time to write the EPA while deployed with the U.S. military, and from what he’s seen, our outdoor traditions make our country different from anywhere else. He told us that he feels a responsibility to stand up for the wise use of our country’s natural resources that are so noticeably absent in many other places in the world. He writes to the EPA:

I send this while deployed with the US Army. One of many things I look forward to about coming home is being able to resume enjoyment and utilization of the natural resources so abundant in the US. Please do the right thing and listen to those of us who took the time to write. As a sportsman, conservationist, and, above all, as an American, [I urge you to] please work to keep our natural resources secure.

For Alex from California, the sole objective of hunting and fishing is not the taking of an animal; it’s to feel connection with our natural world and see all your preparation and efforts pay off. He believes that these traditions are not only important, but also that they help build better people. He writes:

I will have my first son this November. I hope he has the opportunity to come of age hunting and fishing on public lands. I don’t want to have to explain to him that there was once a time where our wetlands and flowing water [were] protected and how we had access to them.

It seems that thinking about the future of clean water inevitably leads people to wonder about the future of hunting and fishing—and what their own children will experience. James writes:

I grew up fishing and hunting with my family, and now that I have children of my own, I’m worried that they won’t have access to the opportunities to spend time enjoying the streams, wetlands, and headwaters that I love if the Clean Water Rule is repealed. The thought of future generations in this nation missing out on one of our greatest resources is horrifying.

Other sportsmen remember a country without the Clean Water Act. Thomas from Michigan writes:

Every waterway matters. When I was a child, I had the unfortunate luck to become seriously ill after accidentally swallowing a gulp of water while swimming in Lake Erie. The town that I grew up in used to be called the Ecorse Creek or Ecorse River. Sixty years ago it had the distinction of being the dirtiest and most polluted river in the USA. We must not have those kind of distinctions ever again.

There is Still Time to Make Your Voice Heard

When the federal government creates or repeals a rule that government agencies and the American people will have to follow, they are required to have a comment period. When the Clean Water Rule was created in 2015, sportsmen and women had more than 200 days to comment on the proposed rule. Even with a recent extension of the current comment period, sportsmen and women will only have 60 days to make their voices heard.

This rule could impact our access and traditions, and we only have until September 27 to speak up.

Click HERE to tell the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to tell your story and urge decision-makers to uphold Clean Water Act protections for the headwater streams and wetlands that matter so much to our wildlife and traditions. If we want to preserve hunting and fishing opportunities for the next generation, we need to act now.

 

 

SFRED

by:

posted in: Habitat & Cleanwater

August 16, 2017

Three Lessons for Balancing Wildlife Habitat and Responsible Energy Development

In Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico, careful planning seems to be the key to keeping productive hunting and fishing alongside thoughtful energy development

Energy development can coexist with healthy habitat and quality hunting and angling, but it doesn’t happen by chance. Responsible energy development requires careful planning and commitment from stakeholder groups, the public, and decision makers to get it right. Only through collaboration can we strike the appropriate balance. And it is critical that our public land management agencies—the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service—have the right policies and procedures in place to facilitate both energy development and the conservation of healthy fish and wildlife habitat.

A recent report led by the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition and supported by 16 other hunting and fishing groups points to examples on different types of landscapes: examples of responsible development, areas where energy development has not been balanced with fish and wildlife habitat, and places where the potential remains to do things right.

Energy development and fish and wildlife habitat need not be mutually exclusive, but it will take leadership and sound policy from our decision makers to strike the right balance. The approach to these three landscapes could be instructive.

Vermejo Park Ranch: An Exemplary Balance on Private Land

The 585,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico spans from the Great Plains to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The ranch and its surrounding landscape are known for their natural beauty, high-quality wildlife habitat, and status as a model for responsible energy development. While privately owned by Turner Enterprises, there are many lessons that lawmakers, the Bureau of Land Management, industry, other stakeholders and the public can learn from Vermejo, especially when looking to develop our energy resources responsibly on America’s public lands.

Vermejo is situated in some of the finest elk country in North America, near the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains, with the Carson National Forest to the west and private land to the east. Between 8,000 and 10,000 elk live on the ranch, as do mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The property is primarily managed as a guest ranch where hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, Nordic skiing, horseback riding, and other activities are the primary uses. The ranch is known for trophy bulls and scenic vistas, and its business model depends on the area’s world-class natural amenities.

Vermejo is also rich with natural gas—972 producing coalbed methane wells are scattered across the ranch. To preserve the land’s character, wildlife habitat, and guest services, park managers and Atlas Resource Partners, LP, the energy company that owns the oil and gas rights, have established a Mineral Extraction Agreement.

“We have established a shared vision with an energy company that is focused on developing energy resources while protecting the world-class wildlife habitat and natural amenities of Vermejo,” says Gus Holm, Vermejo Park Ranch manager. “I hope that the lessons learned and examples set here can be applied to public lands where similar opportunities for responsible development exist.”

The goal is to develop and implement an approach for energy development on the ranch that both enables extraction and protects the ranch’s natural resources and amenities. This shared vision has shaped the model energy development project since 1998. Among the stipulations in the agreement and development plan between Atlas Resource Partners and Vermejo are:

  • About one-third of the property is closed to development to protect areas of special sensitivity.
  • There is a limit on the total number of wells and pads that can be producing at any one time, limiting the overall footprint for development.
  • Well spacing is limited to one well per 160 acres.
  • Impacts to the scenic views are minimized by siting wells carefully.
  • At the conclusion of the project, all surface features, wells, and compressors will be removed from the property.
  • A reclamation bond is required for an amount equal to 125 percent of Atlas Resource Partners’ total reclamation responsibilities.

Although privately-owned, lessons from this project can be applied across the West. Many areas of BLM land in states like Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah possess similarly important scenic and wildlife values, and they also hold rich reserves of oil and natural gas. If oil and gas development is proposed for landscapes where the wildlife and recreation values are high, sportsmen and women expect federal land management agencies to work closely with stakeholders to find a shared vision. For this to happen, the BLM must do thorough upfront planning that plots a clear path for development to be balanced with other resources that are equally important for the American public.

Pinedale, Wyoming: A Cautionary Tale

The 198,000-acre Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming has long been known by sportsmen as an area rich in wildlife values and sporting opportunities. It is also known as the quintessential example of how older drilling technology coupled with poor planning can adversely affect critically important habitats. The Anticline sits in the upper Green River valley area, adjacent to the Jonah Field and serves as crucial winter range for the migratory Sublette mule deer herd. It also intersects one of the longest migration paths for pronghorn antelope in North America.

In 17 years, the Pinedale Anticline has gone from largely undeveloped to a fully industrialized landscape. The original authorization of 750 wells increased later to 4,400 additional wells. Currently there are 3,049 wells in the Anticline and 2,037 wells to the south in the Jonah Field with additional wells authorized to be developed in the next 15 to 20 years.

Since 2001, mule deer populations have declined by 36 percent on the Anticline, forcing the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to shorten the hunting season by a week and reduce the number of deer tags available to sportsmen. Recent research on this area has demonstrated that mule deer go more than a half-mile out of their way to avoid well pads and that “behavioral effects of energy development on mule deer are long term.” The Wyoming and Salt River ranges are known to offer some of the best high-country mule deer hunting anywhere, but the long-term impacts of poorly planned energy development in mule deer winter range could be significant for animals, hunters and Wyoming’s outdoor recreation economy. We should learn from these lessons as we look to develop our energy resources elsewhere.

South Park, Colorado: A Collaborative Plan

In the backyard of the Denver metro area lies a sportsmen’s paradise of Gold Medal trout waters and high-elevation “parks” that serve as a haven for wildlife. Nestled in the headwaters of the South Platte River basin, the area known as South Park attracts visitors from around the country to fish along the “Dream Stream,” known for its trophy trout and stunning Colorado scenery. Energy development has not made inroads into this corner of Colorado—yet.

But the area sits atop the Niobrara oil and gas formation and oil and gas companies have eyed South Park in the past. So, a forward-thinking group of sportsmen and women joined local government officials, businesses, water providers, and federal agency officials to plan for the future. What began as dialogue initiated by those who care deeply for the region has morphed into a collaborative planning process, bringing together diverse stakeholders to ensure energy development is done right and does not adversely affect the water and wildlife resources of the area.

The end goal is to provide certainty for all, give industry a roadmap for responsible development, increase economic opportunity and keep South Park an amazing place to fish, hunt and live. The South Park process is shaping up as a win-win solution and could serve as a model for collaborative planning.

Want to learn more about the balance between energy development, habitat, and sportsmen’s access? Read about other lessons learned in Colorado’s Piceance Basin and the Greater Little Mountain Area of southwest Wyoming. Or download the full report here.

The Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition is led by the National Wildlife FederationTrout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Guest blogger Debbie Hanson

August 14, 2017

Five Things Your Fishing License Does for Conservation While You Catch Fish

These are your license dollars at work for fish habitat, water quality, and the next generation of anglers

When you’re buying or renewing your fishing license, you’re probably only thinking about the possibility of the new season or exploring a promising new stretch of river. But are you aware of just how hard your fishing license is working on your behalf of your future days on the water?

Here are five examples of how the dollars spent on your fishing licenses, boat registrations, and excise taxes on fishing gear and boat fuel purchases go back to conservation and public access. And at $1.1 billion that’s a sizeable down payment on the next generation of anglers in America.

Improving Fishing and Boating Access

First, funds from license sales go toward fishing and boating access projects. One example is the Ramps & Pier Program in Mississippi, which helps pay for repairs to existing access points and the construction of four to six new boat ramps each year. The state of Oregon also has an excellent model of involving state and federal agencies in adding and upgrading new boating facilities.

Enhancing Water Quality

Boat registration funds help implement clean water projects that benefit fish habitat and improve the experience of anglers and boaters. The Clean Vessel Act program in Hawaii, for example, helped use these funds to construct a new sewage pump-out station and three new floating restrooms at the Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor—all in an effort to protect the sparkling turquoise waters of Hawaii for future generations.

 

Maintaining Fish Habitat

The excise taxes on your fishing gear go toward fisheries maintenance projects that help manage our state sport fisheries. For example, in New York State, biologists collect data through creel surveys and work to restore fish habitat for native brookies, American shad, river herring, and striped bass largely thanks to the taxes paid by the manufacturers of your fishing rods, reels, lures, baits, and flies. In Massachusetts, these funds are used to map fish habitat with GPS technology, sonar, and underwater vehicles through the state’s Fisheries Habitat Program. The more these experts learn, the better prepared they are to spot habitat issues and plan for improvements.

 

 

Teaching and Recruiting New Anglers

Fishing license funds also go to work for educational and recruitment programs that introduce new anglers to the sport. As more people take up fishing, there is a greater need for education on topics like species identification, conservation, regulations, and proper catch-and-release techniques. The state of Texas offers free workshops for first-timers or anyone who wants a refresher on the basics, and the saltwater angler education programs hosted by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have been so successful that they hope to extend courses to all coastal areas of the state.

 

Planning for Long-Term Conservation

With an eye toward investing in our marine and freshwaters resources, as well as the next generation of anglers, fishing license fees support long-term conservation plans for our rivers and streams. This robust funding, which has nothing to do with the federal balance sheet, is critical to ensuring an adequate quantity and quality of water to maintain the natural balance of aquatic ecosystems. Texas has used this money to fund its River Studies Program that addresses long-term water development, water planning, and water quality issues.

 

Whether state agencies are studying rainbow trout populations or repairing boat ramps, your license fees are put to excellent use. Want to get started on your next fishing trip and give back to conservation?  Buy or renew your license here.

Sportsmen and women have a long history of giving back to conservation through our purchases. Read about the federal program responsible for that funding model and the hunters in one Western state who wholeheartedly supported raising license fees earlier this year to do even more for fish and wildlife.

TakeMeFishing.org contributor Debbie Hanson is an outdoor writer and avid angler who has written articles on fishing and boating for publications such as USA Today Hunt & Fish and Game & Fish Magazine. She is a member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Read her blogs at takemefishing.org/blog and visit her personal blog at shefishes2.com.

Photos courtesy of Canstock Photo.

Katherine Kasischke

August 9, 2017

How Improvements to a Family Forest in Maine Will Mean More Whitetails and Turkeys This Fall

TRCP’s summer intern finds a personal connection to the issue of active forest management and its many benefits for wildlife and fire prevention

In my summer internship with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, I’ve learned about Senate and House floor procedures, the budget and appropriations process, and sportsmen’s policies on a federal level. All of this was enlightening, but I was perhaps most surprised by what I found I already knew. The value of actively managing forests—to reduce the risk of wildfires, improve fish and wildlife habitat, and allow for responsible timber harvest that supports local jobs—is something I’ve personally witnessed on my family’s property in Maine.

It may seem like the responsibility of managing forests lies only with the U.S. Forest Service or the states. But there is also support on the federal and local level for private landowners to responsibly manage forested areas they own, too.

One of those private landowners is my grandmother. On vacations when I was young, I was fortunate enough to hike and explore the 21 acres of forested land she owns on a hillside with a view of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Over time, the taxes on the land increased, and my grandmother found some relief by enrolling the land in a state program that had financial benefits for her and habitat benefits for the forest.

How Active Management Works

Proper forest management actually makes forests more productive for landowners and wildlife, which is why the TRCP advocates for active forest management on both public and private lands. For example, when an older tree is cut, the forest canopy opens up allowing light to penetrate to the lower levels of the forest, in turn, supporting new growth. With her land classified as a managed woodlot, my grandmother can still choose to selectively harvest timber, which helps put money in her pocket, employ local timber crews, and open up the forest canopy so that younger trees can grow.

This increased the diversity of wildlife we were seeing as birdwatchers and hunters, in fact there was a major bump in the number of turkeys and whitetail deer on the property after just a few years.

There’s also the benefit of prevention: Without active management, forests will see fewer young trees and more overcrowding of old growth and excess leaf debris, which makes the forest vulnerable to wildfires.

Active Management Programs to Know

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service offers a Forest Stewardship Program that is available in all 50 states as part of a partnership with state forestry agencies. It pushes for long-term stewardship of state as well as private forested lands. There is also a Forestry Incentives Program (FIP), which provides forest owners with financial assistance for managing their forests. In Maine, which has a Tree Growth Tax Law, we found the Department of Revenue was able to help identify options for my grandmother to enroll her forest in a program that had benefits all around.

If I learned anything this summer, it’s that conservation takes many forms, and the complex policies that govern how we take care of forests, prairies, wetlands, sagebrush, or any other landscape, are worth trying to understand and support. I’m heading into my professional career with a new appreciation for the privileges I’ve had to enjoy and actively engage in the conservation of our family’s forest land.

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