Joel Webster

February 27, 2018

Cuts to LWCF Could Undermine Zinke’s Public Lands Access Agenda

Proposed cuts to land acquisition funding would prevent agencies from enhancing public hunting and fishing access—the most widely celebrated part of DOI’s public lands agenda

Ryan Zinke completes his first year in office as Secretary of the Interior this week, on the anniversary of his March 1, 2017 confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

I think everyone can agree that a lot has changed in this time. While some actions have been met with scrutiny, Secretary Zinke has also initiated processes that are laudable: These include directing public land management agencies to increase public access through Secretarial Order 3356 and steps taken to protect big game migration corridors through Secretarial Order 3362.

The process to identify and conserve migration corridors appears to be off to a good start, but there is a real risk that the agency’s celebrated access directives could fall by the wayside unless Zinke works with Congress to support funding for land acquisition in the federal budget. Here’s why.

Strategic Acquisition Opens Access

Back in September, Secretary Zinke directed the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce plans to expand access for hunting and fishing AND identify lands where access is currently limited. This might include areas that are currently impractical or impossible to access via public roads or trails, but where there may be an opportunity to gain access through an easement, right-of-way, or land acquisition. The agencies were asked to provide a report to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior detailing such lands.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the federal program that funds nearly all public land acquisition and easement projects to open public access. Enacted in 1965, the LWCF is America’s premier conservation and recreation program. It has helped to conserve parks, forests, shorelines, farms, ranches, refuges, and trails in nearly every state and county in the U.S. It doesn’t cost taxpayers a cent—LWCF helps invest in America’s public lands using a small portion of federal offshore oil and gas drilling fees.

But if this program is allowed to lapse or if it doesn’t receive strong funding, the Department of the Interior would not be able to expand public access to public lands in most circumstances.

Possible Effects of Shrinking or Raiding the Fund

While Secretary Zinke has long expressed support for the LWCF, President Trump’s 2019 budget has nearly zeroed out the Department of the Interior’s proposed LWCF budget from $154 million in 2018 to eight million dollars in 2019. If enacted, this drastic reduction in funding for the Department’s would make it difficult, if not impossible for the agency to achieve the expanded access goals created by Secretary Zinke just last fall. (More on the president’s budget and infrastructure proposals here.)

Loss of access is commonly cited as the number one reason people stop hunting, and millions of acres of BLM public lands are currently landlocked across the West, specifically in places like eastern Montana, southwest Oregon, and northeast Nevada. Secretary Zinke has an opportunity to leave a positive legacy for public access by helping to open many of these lands to the public, and the sporting community is ready to be a partner in this effort. But we can’t get it done without funding.


Top photo courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM via flickr.  

5 Responses to “Cuts to LWCF Could Undermine Zinke’s Public Lands Access Agenda”

  1. I just can’t trust the Secretary or the Administration. This is a no brainer yet it will be batted around Washington until it’s too late. That being said I will reach out to my representatives to make sure they understand what is at stake.

  2. I saw his hearing and interview in the senate and he said he holds Teddy Roosevelt as his hero, I really had feeling he was lying, all the time. Zinke makes James Watt look like a good guy, the second worse Secretary of Interior. We need to save the nations lands from this corrupt Trump secretary. And, the secretaries who were all approved they are representing the new Robber Barons. so many of if not all of our public agencies our under the jack boot of Trumps corrupt administration.

  3. Hugh Carola

    PLEASE don’t get swayed by Sec. Zinke throwing us a few Trump-allowed crumbs. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the winner of the Center for Biological Diversity’s annual Rubber Dodo award. (And NO, the Arizona-based CBD is not some off-the-wall “anti” group). The “award” is awarded each year to the person or group who has most aggressively sought to destroy America’s public lands (and waters) heritage. In his short tenure with the Trump administration, Zinke and his agency have signed off on massive cuts to national monuments, opened bidding for the largest oil lease-sale ever offered in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, overturned Obama’s moratorium on federal coal leasing, and proposed a staggering increase in offshore drilling off America’s coasts. He might talk a good game, especially to to westerners, but IMO that’s all it is – talk. And cheap at that.

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Alex Maggos

February 26, 2018

Five Places Where Nutrient Pollution Could Prevent You from Fishing

Largescale algal blooms lead to fish kills, beach closures, and loss of your fishing access, but Congress has a chance to do something about them right now

Last week in D.C., we caught just a glimpse of spring, with 80-degree weather punctuating the February doldrums. Soon thoughts of bass and trout fishing were creeping into my head during the mid-morning meeting.

I’d like to think that there will be a certain payoff for all my anticipation, but nutrient pollution and—the pea-soup-colored water that is often the cause of large fish kills, beach closures, and shortened seasons—are increasingly problematic for anglers across the country.

The primary cause of algal blooms—as well as the record-sized dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, for that matter­— is an excess of nutrients in the water that feed rapidly reproducing algae. In turn, the algae sucks vital oxygen out of the water, killing fish and plant life. (Here’s more on how that works.) In other instances, the algae can also be toxic to humans and pets.

The good news is there are conservation programs and funding meant to create solutions to our water quality and fish habitat issues—and many of them are up for debate right now as Congress works to draft the 2018 Farm Bill. Programs like the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provide financial and technical assistance to landowners to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands, while ground enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) can serve as a natural filter for runoff before it washes downstream. On a much larger scale, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) tackles landscape- or watershed-sized challenges through creative partnerships and requires one-to-one matching of federal funds to double the impact of Farm Bill dollars.

While Congress decides the fate of the Farm Bill and its effective conservation programs, it’s important that sportsmen and lawmakers consider what’s at stake. Here are five fishing destinations across the United States where recent algal blooms have thrown a wrench in anglers’ plans.

Photo courtesy of USGS
Ohio River

The Ohio River is home to more than 160 species of freshwater fish, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish, pike, and trout. In the summer of 2015, the Ohio River suffered a 650-mile-long algal bloom—with affected waters running through six states. As a result, fishing and other recreational activities were shut down in order to limit human exposure to the toxic algae.

Photo courtesy of Chris Zoeller, Globe Gazette
Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake, home to the world’s largest Bullhead, is a one of Northern Iowa’s top fishing destinations. In July 2015, the shorelines of Crystal Lake were covered with thousands of fish- killed off by a large algal bloom.

Photo courtesy of Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Utah Lake

A 2017 algal bloom covered 90 percent of Utah Lake and made more than 100 people ill. This particular bloom was a blow to the local economy as it hit just before the July 4 weekend, reducing tourism traffic by 60 percent.


Photo courtesy of the Vermont Department of Health
Lake Carmi

Lake Carmi is the fourth largest natural lake in Vermont and a hotspot for northern pike and walleye fishing. Last year, the lake’s recreational season was cut short by three weeks due to an algal bloom.

Red Cedar Watershed

Home to Lake Menomin and Tainter Lake, the city of Menomonie, Wisconsin, loses out on an estimated $36.1 million in tourism revenue due to the frequency of lake closures and recreation restrictions caused by algal blooms.


Are you on algae watch where you live and fish? Let us know in the comments section so we can represent your water quality concerns in Washington, D.C.

Coby Tigert

February 20, 2018

Putting These Public Lands Planning Tools on the Backburner Creates More BLM Backlogs

While new habitat challenges arise every year, land managers are stuck following management plans created in the 1970s and 80s—with no updates in sight

Conditions on Western landscapes are always changing, and sportsmen and women are often the first to experience the difference. We see intense wildfires burn large sagebrush landscapes, leaving invasive cheatgrass in their wake. The varying cycles of precipitation and drought have become more extreme, affecting wildlife habitats and sending wildlife into a roller coaster of population variation. And so the success of each hunting and fishing season ebbs and flows, as well.

While some of these unforeseen challenges have only emerged or escalated in recent years, many of the Bureau of Land Management offices tasked with facing them remain beholden to plans that haven’t changed in decades.

Like many of us who recall feeling a little less winded a few seasons ago, these resource management plans, or RMPs, aren’t getting any younger. And the ramifications are being felt in many of the places where we love to hunt and fish.

Stuck in the Past

With hundreds of plans in place to manage the BLM’s 245 million acres, ten or more revisions need to be completed each year to keep up with changing conditions on the ground and balance diverse demands on these lands. Exactly zero RMP updates were completed in 2017, largely due to a shift in administrative focus. Meanwhile, the old plans fail to address new problems and rely on science that may be decades old.

Delays in the revision process can often result in massive backlogs. In east Idaho, for example, five RMPs covering more than 5 million acres were expected to be in the planning process or completed by 2018. Of those, none have been completed and only one is in the planning process. And that plan—the Upper Snake RMP that will replace a plan from the 1980s—has been given a lower priority because it lacks oil and gas potential. Meanwhile, the importance of this habitat to tens of thousands of big game animals continues to go unaddressed.

Gradual Demise of Public Input

Updated plans not only reflect current resource conditions, but also public priorities. Based on legal requirements developed decades ago, the planning process provides the public with multiple opportunities to weigh-in on how they would like their public lands to be managed, either in writing or at in-person meetings. The BLM is tasked with providing information on any changes and other ways to engage on RMPs in progress.

We’re already contending with the absence of resource advisory councils—which have been shut down for nearly a year to be “reviewed”—and other cuts to public input. Neglecting RMPs is yet another way we are prevented from voicing our opinions on how public lands should be managed. These incremental changes add up to a big overall shift in how much say Americans have a say in the management of our public lands. These lands are important to all of us, and what seems to be unnecessary and never ending delays, has increased public dissatisfaction with the process and resulted in animosity and distrust.

Only by getting the planning process back on track can the BLM ensure that the interests of all Americans are incorporated into how our lands are managed for years to come. Our public land heritage is too important to put on the back burner.

The Buck Stops Here

Addressing the many clogs in the system that are contributing to the slowdown of RMPs means ensuring that the BLM is fully staffed and appropriately funded. The president, Secretary of the Interior, and Congress need to move quickly to fill important positons in the agency and budget for the future of public lands—because conservation shouldn’t be cut to offset new costs or pay for infrastructure.

We also need agencies to refocus on balanced multiple uses of public land, which includes managing for quality fish and wildlife habitat and our outdoor traditions. Let decision makers know that public land is sportsmen’s country by signing our petition to support responsible management of public land and wildlife habitat.



Kristyn Brady

February 14, 2018

New House Legislation Enhances Hunter Opportunity and Access on Private Lands

Expanding a popular Farm Bill program will help more landowners open private land to hunters and anglers who drive spending in rural regions

Today, Representatives Dr. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) introduced new bipartisan legislation to reauthorize and expand the popular Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program—the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s signature program for incentivizing private landowners to open their property for public hunting and fishing access. Identical legislation was introduced in the Senate in December 2017.

“As an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, I’m proud to introduce the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act, a program that expands hunting and fishing access in Kansas and across the country,” says Rep. Marshall of H.R. 5022. “Our state’s Walk-In Access Program already helps landowners voluntarily open up thousands of acres for the public to enjoy, and enhancing the federal support for access and conservation of private lands will undoubtedly help carry those benefits to more Americans.”

This isn’t just good for sportsmen and women—VPA funds give farmers and ranchers more options for their business plans, and access opportunities draw tourism spending to rural communities.

“Our Voluntary Access Program not only provides essential access for Illinois hunters and anglers, but it also strengthens our local economy,” says Rep. Bustos. “Enhancing the program will boost this investment in the local businesses where sportsmen and women buy their gear, grab their coffee, and gas up their trucks. It’s an investment in the next generation of hunters and anglers, as well.”

States like Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Michigan use VPA funds to support walk-in access in a number of ways: by compensating landowners for opening their lands, posting signs on the property and publishing the location of access points in brochures and online, improving habitat, repairing roads and fences, patrolling access points for poachers, and sometimes covering the costs of liability insurance for landowners, in case someone gets hurt on their property.

East of the Mississippi, where some states are 99 percent privately owned, this is critical access that might mean the difference between taking a kid on his or her first hunt and not passing the tradition on at all.

“Funds from this program have grown Pennsylvania’s existing Hunter Access Program, providing more places for parents to teach their children about an important American tradition,” says Rep. Thompson. “Sportsmen and women on the east coast deserve to enjoy convenient access to the outdoors, even in states that are mostly private land, and this bill will support the landowners who want to help provide it.”

“Hunting and fishing are part of Michigan’s culture and heritage, and continuing to expand sportsmen’s access and opportunity is important to continuing these rich traditions,” says Rep. Dingell.

Members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees are currently drafting the 2018 Farm Bill for introduction this spring. Language from the VPA-HIP bills in both chambers would hopefully be rolled into that legislation, and with broad bipartisan support, reauthorization of the program is not likely to be contentious, though funding levels will be up for debate.

“If we have any hope of growing the next generation of sportsmen and women to sustain these traditions, we need quality places to hunt and fish all across the country, not just in states that look like Montana,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Enhancing the voluntary public access incentives in the Farm Bill has long been a part of TRCP’s mission and we’re proud to see lawmakers on both sides of the aisle embrace this solution.”

Learn more about the TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill and explore our new online resource center for sportsmen, lawmakers, and landowners.

Kristyn Brady

February 13, 2018

Trump Budget and Infrastructure Proposals Suggest Hunters and Anglers Must Be More Vocal Than Ever

Though Congress can choose to ignore the president’s recommendations, two documents released Monday indicate that major cuts to conservation could be part of offsetting new costs

If the president’s priorities for the federal budget or a critical infrastructure overhaul are any indication, sportsmen and women will need to speak out against major cuts and dramatic reprioritizations for the agencies that carry out conservation in America and the programs that ensure our ability to find quality places to hunt and fish.

Officially made public yesterday, President Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget request included $3.7 billion in cuts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $1.7 billion in cuts at Interior, and a 23-percent reduction at the Environmental Protection Agency. Many line item reductions seem to be at odds with the administration’s priorities, like enhancing hunting and fishing access. It also suggests slashing multiple programs that help support state efforts to conserve fish and wildlife or match federal grants for projects.

“As it is, federal funding for conservation represents barely one percent of the budget, having been slashed in half over the past 30 years, and it would be impossible to balance the budget on the back of conservation,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Unfortunately, this proposal seems to indicate that cash-strapped conservation agencies deserve these cuts, while public land facilities, forests, waterways, wetlands, and millions of acres of sagebrush continue to fall by the wayside. The $887-billion outdoor recreation economy relies on healthy fish and wildlife populations, quality habitat, and the upkeep of public land infrastructure, and we will continue working with Congress and the administration to ensure these basic tenets of conservation are upheld.”

It is important to note that the president’s budget is only a set of recommendations, and Congress did not follow through on cuts suggested in last year’s proposal. Here’s how the president’s budget would impact fish, wildlife, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy.

U.S. Forest Service

The budget fails to address the fiscally catastrophic effects of ‘fire borrowing’ and the ever-climbing cost of fire suppression. The Forest Service estimates that by 2021, wildland fire costs will consume 67 percent of the Forest Service budget, which would be cut by 9 percent overall per the president’s proposal.

Two Forest Service programs were zeroed out entirely: The Forest Legacy Program, which supports state efforts to conserve environmentally sensitive forest lands, and the Legacy Roads and Trails Program, which supports urgently needed road and trail repair and maintenance, road decommissioning, and removal of barriers to fish passage.

One bad idea that could catch on is tapping into the Land and Water Conservation Fund for routine maintenance of public lands. Particularly, a 98-percent reduction in land acquisition funds at the Forest Service would hamper the administration’s ability to open and expand access to public lands. Further, if inholdings are more susceptible to development, this would also increase public access challenges and the costs of public lands management.

Bureau of Land Management

The BLM is charged with managing 240 million acres—more than any other federal agency—and yet its FY18 budget of $1.3 billion was just 43 percent of the National Park Service’s budget of $2.9 billion. For FY19, the agency is slated for an additional 17.5-percent cut, which would only make it more difficult for the BLM to do its job. We also noticed a 14-percent reduction for management of lands and resources, including 32 percent less funding for “management of rangeland and forest resources; riparian areas; soil, water, and air activities; wild horses and burros; and cultural resources.”

“Further cuts to the BLM’s budget would only lead to increased public frustration with the agency—it will inevitably be seen as the BLM’s inability to do its job as expected by the American people,” says Joel Webster, TRCP’s director of Western lands. “This is what led to the need for sportsmen and women to fight for public ownership of public lands in the first place.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The agency that manages national wildlife refuges, protects endangered species, manages migratory birds (including waterfowl), and enforces federal wildlife laws would see an 18-percent overall budget cut. State and Tribal Wildlife Grants would be slashed in half, and Competitive State and Tribal Grants would be eliminated completely.

The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program gives money directly to state fish and wildlife agencies to fund conservation projects targeted at species of greatest conservation need, but also to improve habitat for countless species important to hunters and anglers. Dramatically cutting funds for projects that help keep species from becoming threatened and endangered ensures higher conservation costs for reduced habitat gains in the future.

In addition, a $7.6-million reduction for the National Wildlife Refuge System would zero out accounts for conservation planning activities, leaving the refuge system flat-footed and unable to address tomorrow’s resource challenges.

There was also a suggested 11-percent cut to North American Wetlands Conservation Act funds, which go toward wetland restoration projects around the nation with every federal dollar matched as many as three times over by non-federal dollars. Deep cuts to matching grant programs like NAWCA have an outsized negative impact to on-the-ground conservation projects.

Water Quality Programs

Beyond a 16-percent cut to USDA’s overall budget, the president’s budget proposes an elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program and Regional Conservation Partnership Program—both of which help to improve water quality and soil health on private lands. Both programs enjoy tremendous bipartisan support and demand from landowners, and their loss would be felt from the Mississippi River Basin to the Delaware River Watershed.

Trump’s proposal also included a 76-percent cut to WaterSMART, the Bureau of Reclamation’s premier program for conserving and recycling water in the West in ways that also benefit fish and wildlife habitat. Additional cuts, such as the proposed elimination of the EPA program funding local watershed-level clean water projects, or a 90-percent reduction in the Chesapeake Bay Program, further jeopardize clean water and quality fish habitat at the local, state, and regional levels.


Meanwhile, the president’s infrastructure plan—also released on Monday—contains some strong provisions for the systems that ensure we have clean water, including $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program, which leverages federal investment with private and non-federal dollars to build new clean water infrastructure.

Possible cuts to agency budgets and programs that help facilitate access to outdoor recreation experiences on public land seem to be at odds with an appetite for investing in the infrastructure of our national parks and drastically reducing the maintenance backlog on public lands. It remains to be seen where the $200 billion needed for the president’s infrastructure plan will be cut elsewhere in the budget, but one line in the plan suggests that public lands could be sold to offset costs.

There is ongoing concern that a forthcoming bill might include provisions to limit public input and environmental review on infrastructure projects, as well.

“Make no mistake, we are paying attention to the clear shift away from budgeting for public land acquisition and questioning whether the infrastructure plan is really implying that we should sell off public lands to make improvements to roads, bridges, and airports,” says Fosburgh. “An infrastructure bill should present a major opportunity to enhance natural solutions for modern infrastructure challenges. Restoring wetlands and creating wildlife-friendly roadway passages, for example, not only boosts fish and wildlife habitat, it also helps mitigate flooding that threatens American communities during more and more frequent catastrophic storms. These natural solutions are often more cost-effective and worthy of American taxpayer dollars than gray infrastructure, which only begins to deteriorate after day one.”

The TRCP will continue working to amplify the voices of sportsmen and women, who want decision makers to stop chipping away at conservation policies that have made America’s natural resources the envy of the world.



Without the efforts of hunters and anglers, whitetails wouldn’t be a part of the modern American landscape. But we can’t stop there. Support our work to represent all sportsmen in Washington.

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