Alex Maggos

May 2, 2018

The Farm Bill Program That Helps Landowners Think Bigger than Food Plots

With tools provided by the Farm Bill, cover crops are helping to boost habitat for our favorite critters, while improving soil health

It’s pretty obvious that with 60 percent of land in the lower 48 states under private ownership and 45 percent of that land devoted to some form of agriculture, farmers and ranchers can have an outsize impact on fish and wildlife habitat. That’s why we spend years—from the day the ink is dry on one five-year Farm Bill and all through its tenure—advocating for and finding consensus on critical policies to boost conservation on private land in the next round of legislation.

In the coming weeks, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018-otherwise known as the farm bill. While this particular version of the bill is not likely to be signed into law, it is worth taking a look at some of the major changes the bill would make to the conservation programs on private land.

For one, the proposed House bill would double the current size of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to $3 billion by dissolving the Conservation Stewardship Program and diverting most of the funding and features to EQIP. Of the many features of EQIP, one of the most popular is its incentives for landowners and farmers to incorporate cover crops into their planting rotation.

 

 

Cover Crops Improve Soil Health

We all know that food plots help provide food and cover to our favorite game, but cover crops are different—they are legumes, grasses, grains, and root vegetables that are typically planted after row crops like corn and soybeans are harvested. Like food plots on a much larger scale, the benefits of cover crops to soil, water, and wildlife are significant. Some benefits are obvious to farmers: If cover crops are not planted, a field might be left bare for up to seven months while waiting for the next row crop planting. And, as our nation learned during the days of the Dust Bowl, that bare soil is vulnerable to erosion caused by wind, rain, and snowmelt.

Losing healthy soil, even incrementally, is bad for business, like losing pennies on every dollar. And the problem worsens—both for landowners and for fish and wildlife habitat—when more than just soil runs off the farm in a rainstorm. Large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer end up in our rivers, lakes, and streams, causing catastrophic algal blooms that can keep you from being able to fish.

The Critter Connection

The planting of cover crops can not only improve the farm field and our favorite lakes and streams, they can also serve as prime habitat for a variety of our favorite critters. With farmers’ interest in cover crops on the rise, an increase in EQIP funding in the next Farm Bill could mean great things for species we care about as sportsmen and women. Here are four standout cover crops and how they benefit fish and wildlife.

Photo credit: OakleyOriginals

 

Walleyes, Bass, and Everything in Between

Algal blooms caused by nutrient pollution can put a damper on summertime fishing by limiting access and shortening seasons. From the Gulf of Mexico to Utah Lake, the Ohio River, and Vermont’s Lake Carmi, fish and anglers would benefit from the increased use of cover crops—like clover, radishes, winter wheat, and rye—that slow the incremental loss of nutrient-rich topsoil.

 

Photo credit: Jason Mrachina
Deer

As our friends at QDMA can attest, radishes can make great food plots for whitetails. Deer are attracted to them during the fall and especially during late season when other foods are typically scarce.  During the winter months, the large tap root can provide much needed energy to those post-rut bucks. The tap root also serves as a natural tiller as it drills down and breaks up compacted soil, reducing the need for a field to be heavily tilled before the primary crop is planted.

 

Photo credit: Don DeBold
Turkeys

In the spring, clover and alfalfa are great sources of protein for wild turkeys, and they attract some of the bird’s favorite insects to help draw gobblers out of the hardwoods. In the late season, turkeys will appreciate the hearty meal provided by grains like winter wheat, that also help prevent soil erosion between planting seasons.

 

Photo credit: Nick O’Doherty
Upland Birds

For pheasants and quail, various cover crops like clovers, rye, and brassicas can provide some nesting and brood-rearing habitat so long as they are not tilled or sprayed during the nesting/brood rearing season. Cover crops that mature in late summer and early fall as the commodity crop is growing, will also provide both forage and bugs into fall after the crop is harvested.

 

Learn more about Farm Bill basics and what’s at stake for sportsmen, wildlife, and access in the ongoing debate over 2018 legislation. And read the letter from 104 nonprofit groups and businesses across the hunting, fishing, conservation, food, and farming communities urging Congress not to cut Farm Bill conservation funding.

One Response to “The Farm Bill Program That Helps Landowners Think Bigger than Food Plots”

  1. Scott Schaeffer

    More in-depth study of cover crops and their perceived benefits to upland wildlife is warranted. Can or will a hen pheasant tolerate a field application(s) of herbicides, and a 30 or even 20 inch planter over the top of her clutch? Assuming the cover crop is not desturbed before it’s 18 inches tall! CRP my dear friends, CRP must be elevated in this new Farmbill.

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May 1, 2018

Checking In on Our Wishlist for Congress and DOI

Back in January, we came up with six New Year’s resolutions we wished Congress and DOI would make, and some progress has been made on more than half

As we enter the fifth month of the year, it’s a pretty good bet that most Americans have long since abandoned their New Year’s resolutions. In fact, according to U.S. News and World Report, 80 percent of resolutions fail by the second week of February.

But we’re still looking to Congress and the Department of the Interior to work through some serious conservation goals we’ve been eyeing since January. Here are the six New Year’s resolutions we hoped to see them make to improve hunting, fishing, and habitat, and updates on where these issues stand today.

Fix Our Forests

A looming budget deadline offered a great opportunity to finally fix the way we pay for catastrophic wildfires—and reform forest management to help prevent fires in the first place. We thought lawmakers should pass a comprehensive fire funding fix in the budget deal to stop taking funds from forest restoration programs like prescribed burning and removal of invasive species and diseased trees.

Status: Done! Congress came through for sportsmen and all who rely on access to Forest Service lands in passing a comprehensive fix for fire borrowing in the fiscal year 2018 spending bill in March. We were thrilled and relieved to see bipartisan support for many other provisions that will benefit fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy, but the fire funding fix is a truly defining achievement, which will ensure that the Forest Service can get back to the business of maintaining healthy habitat and excellent facilities.

Bulk Up Water Quality Efforts in the Farm Bill

Looking ahead to the new Farm Bill, we hoped it would be one that would strengthen and maintain funding for USDA conservation programs. The work done with these funds keeps tons of pollutants out of rivers and expands water conservation on farms, which improves river flows to support healthy fisheries, strong outdoor recreation businesses, and flourishing rural communities.

Status: Possible. In the coming weeks, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018—otherwise known as the Farm Bill. This particular version of the bill is pretty contentious and not likely to be signed into law, but it proposes doubling the scope of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to $3 billion. Of the many features of EQIP, one of the most popular is the incentive for landowners and farmers to incorporate cover crops into their planting rotation, and this practice has some benefit for improving soil health and slowing the progress of polluted farm runoff.

Invest in Access on Private Land

With legislation as massive and far-reaching as the Farm Bill, we knew there would also be a unique opportunity to boost hunting and fishing access in areas where there are few, if any, public lands. If Congress could reauthorize and expand the popular Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program—the U.S. Department of Agriculture program that incentivizes landowners to open their property for public hunting and fishing access—the improved opportunities for hunters and anglers would create a draw in some rural communities that desperately need an economic boost.

Status: Signs look pretty good. There was bipartisan support for a standalone bill introduced in the House in February to reauthorize and enhance VPA-HIP. And though the House version of the Farm Bill did not include quite as much new funding for the program as we wanted, lawmakers have proposed a decent bump.

Defend the Clean Water Act

We were insistent that Congress should not make it easier for the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers eliminate a rule that more clearly defined the protections of the Clean Water Act. Americans overwhelmingly support protecting headwater streams and wetlands, which are critical to fish and waterfowl populations. Trimming down on regulation doesn’t have to mean leaving these foundational waters and rapidly disappearing wetlands vulnerable to pollution or destruction.

Status: Still trending in the wrong direction. The two-step repeal process has been ongoing since last year, despite broad public support for the 2015 Clean Water Rule’s benefits to fish and wildlife habitat. But Congress did not use legislative riders to waive any procedures or give the greenlight to move forward more quickly, which is a quiet win.

Image courtesy of Amanda Nalley/Florida Fish and Wildlife.

Modernize Marine Fisheries Management

For five years, the leading advocates of recreational fishing and conservation worked with policy makers to improve federal recreational fishing management by modernizing data collection and allowing more involvement from state agencies and anglers. These essential changes were included in legislation that passed the House Natural Resources Committee in December 2017 and headed to the House floor. As of the first of the year, the Senate had an opportunity to improve upon this legislation and ensure that the vital contributions—cultural, economic, and conservation efforts—of the recreational saltwater fishing industry are finally recognized in federal law and policy.

Status: Closer than ever before. At the end of February, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation overwhelmingly approved the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, otherwise known as the Modern Fish Act. This legislation calls for critically important updates to the oversight of federal fisheries, by adding more tools to the management toolbox, improving data collection techniques, and examining some fishery allocations that are based on decades-old decisions. If passed into law, the Modern Fish Act would bring to fruition five years’ worth of input from the recreational fishing community and increase the level of trust between America’s 11 million saltwater anglers and federal fisheries managers.

Champion Conservation and Access Equally

Some of the best news of 2017 came out of the Department of the Interior, when Secretary Zinke asked agency leaders to identify and prioritize opening new hunting and fishing access to previously landlocked public lands and national wildlife refuges. While this is to be celebrated, we were anxious to see the DOI define a “conservation vision” for valuable habitats and hunting and fishing areas in 2018, to work in tandem with the vision that they have already established for expanding sportsmen’s access. This would include clear measures to recognize and conserve wildlife migration corridors, avoid or minimize impacts to habitat from development, plan locally to safeguard our best hunting and fishing areas, and allow conservation plans for greater sage grouse work as intended.

Status: TBD. In February, Zinke issued a Secretarial Order directing agencies to work toward better conservation of critical big game habitat, including migration corridors, stopover habitat, and seasonal ranges. And we’re hearing every assurance that the DOI will begin to make a broader pivot toward conservation now that they are satisfied with the direction we’re going on energy development. But the BLM is launching an amendment process for greater sage-grouse conservation plans that were settled in 2015—changes could affect 98 land-use plans for about 67 million acres across the West.

 

We originally posted “Six New Year’s Resolutions We Wish Congress and DOI Would Make” on January 5, 2018.

Kristyn Brady

April 25, 2018

TRCP Celebrates Three Champions of Conservation and Funding Solutions

Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Tom Cole, and Bruce Culpepper from Shell Oil Company to be recognized for advancing policy and habitat outcomes for fish and wildlife

At the tenth annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner tonight, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership will celebrate three honorees from Capitol Hill and the private sector for their leadership on fish and wildlife habitat conservation: Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), and Bruce Culpepper, U.S. country chair and president of Shell Oil Company.

The gala event at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., will bring together legislators, outdoor industry innovators, and conservation group leaders at a critical time for hunting and fishing resources. Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a 2016 Capital Conservation Awards honoree, will share the stage for opening remarks on a key component of conservation policymaking—bipartisanship.

Culpepper will receive TRCP’s 2018 Conservation Achievement Award for making Shell a leader on habitat restoration and advocacy for real solutions to climate change, particularly on the Gulf Coast. Informed by Culpepper’s lifelong passion for hunting and fishing, Shell has partnered with the Coastal Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other key allies to conserve more than 13 million acres of wetlands, remove 600,000 pounds of debris from America’s shorelines, and restore more than 1.8 million acres of critical habitat.

“Inspired by his love of the outdoors, Bruce Culpepper has used his influencer status in one of the country’s most lucrative and powerful industries to not only model a smart approach to energy development but also support conservation efforts that give back to the lands and waters that provide us with so much,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “Tonight, we honor him for the meaningful partnerships he has helped to create, which will have a lasting impact on fish, wildlife, sportsmen, and the vitality of Gulf Coast communities for years to come.”

Sen. Cardin and Rep. Cole will each be presented with the 2018 James D. Range Conservation Award—named for TRCP’s co-founder, a conservation visionary, and presented to one Democrat and one Republican each year.

Cardin is being honored for his staunch opposition to rolling back Clean Water Act protections for America’s wetlands and headwater streams and his longtime leadership on many legislative efforts to improve habitat conditions for fish and wildlife. He was the lead Democratic sponsor on the 2017 HELP for Wildlife Act, the lead sponsor on reauthorization of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Chesapeake Bay Program at the EPA, and has introduced bills to improve water infrastructure in the next Water Resources Development Act.

Cardin has also been a longtime champion of the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and Land and Water Conservation Fund. He will accept his award from Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.)

Cole will be recognized for serving as an outspoken champion of bipartisan budget agreements and a vocal opponent of the brinksmanship that can lead to controversial riders and insufficient conservation funding.

Cole has been a voice of reason on the appropriations subcommittee overseeing Department of Interior spending, and he has co-sponsored legislation to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, secure alternative revenue sources for state-led wildlife conservation efforts, and modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act, which provides for federal funding for habitat restoration efforts through excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and hunting gear. He will accept his award from Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.)

Learn more about the Capital Conservation Awards Dinner here.

Jennifer Byerly

April 23, 2018

Six Books That Should Be on Any Conservationist’s Shelf

Recommended reading for the serious sportsman-conservationist, just in time for World Book Day

A good book provides escape and inspires us when we can’t get outdoors. So, to celebrate World Book Day, we’re giving you a peek at just a few of the conservation classics on our shelves.

 

 

Chadwick and the Garplegrungen by Priscilla Cummings

Steve Kline, TRCP’s director of government relations, enjoys reading thousand-page historical biographies when he’s not in a duck blind, but his recommendation is not going to make you go bleary-eyed. This children’s book is about a crab who escapes the National Aquarium to clean up the Chesapeake Bay with friendly fowl and flounder, you do it.

 

The Big Burn by Timothy Egan

The Farm Bill may be keeping Alex Maggos busy now, but he spent two seasons as a wildland firefighter in Utah before coming to TRCP as agriculture and private lands director. This might be why he considers this book to be required reading. Post up in a comfy chair for this story of the Great Fire of 1910, the early infancy of the U.S. Forest Service, and President Roosevelt’s response.

 

Trout are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre

Kids as young as three will love the bright artwork and simple narrative in this book about the importance of healthy habitat to trout and all the things fish need to survive. Read it to your budding angler at bedtime, then wake up early to look for bugs and watch the food chain at work.

 

Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark

This collection of Ruark’s best Field & Stream columns brought me to tears. Although it shows its age in other ways (“It pure riles a woman to see a man having any fun that doesn’t involve work. That’s why fishing was invented, really…”), the coming-of-age story is a classic one. The “Old Man” in the title is the author’s hunting mentor, greatest critic, and best friend—his grandfather, who teaches him what it means to be a sportsman and a gentleman.

 

The Most Important Fish in the Sea by H. Bruce Franklin

Our president and CEO Whit Fosburgh handed me this superlatively titled book about the stinky, oily baitfish known as bunker or menhaden—also known as the unsung hero of the Atlantic. If you’ve ever been striper fishing, you probably own your success to this little fish that put whaling out of business and appear in the ingredients list for makeup, cat food, and vitamin supplements.

If you want to expand your conservation library and support our work to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish, shop for any of these titles via our unique Amazon Smile link or create an Amazon Smile account and select TRCP to automatically receive 0.5% of your transaction, at no additional cost to you.

Have a recommendation that we missed? Share your good reads in the comments section or on Facebook.

Geoff Mullins

April 19, 2018

Restoring America’s Everglades Should Be a National Priority Right Now

Conservation champions from the “Fishing Capital of the World” will bring this urgent message to Washington, D.C., next week

The rich, diverse ecosystem and one-of-a-kind fishing opportunities in the Everglades have captured the imaginations of many Americans. And yet the response to South Florida’s decades-old conservation challenges has been drawn out and sporadic.

It’s time to prove that restoring the Everglades is a national priority. And there is a major opportunity coming up for Congress, especially, to show its support.

National Treasure

Not only is the Everglades home to hundreds of unique plant and animal species, it is the largest subtropical wetland ecosystem in North America and serves as the water supply for more than 8 million Floridians.

Hunters lucky enough to experience this special place anticipate each new hunting season and with it the thrill of pursuing whitetails, waterfowl, or even feral hogs. And anglers know all too well why Florida is the “fishing capital of the world.” Thoughts of stalking snook in the Caloosahatchee, scanning for tailing redfish in the Everglades, and even drifting live bait for tarpon in Florida Bay is enough to get the heart and mind racing.

Along with these activities comes serious economic benefits: Recreational fishing in the Everglades region alone supports nearly $2.9 billion in total economic activity and more than 26,000 jobs.

 

Fly-In for Florida’s Fisheries

For all these reasons, restoring the Everglades and improving the flow of water south is vital to our economy, health, and way of life. But hasn’t been easy. In fact, it has been more like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with some of the stickers missing.

Everglades restoration is about quantity, quality, location, and timing. We have to get the right amount and quality of water to the right places at the right time throughout South Florida—that’s a lot easier said than done. We’ve made progress over the decades thanks to some very dedicated partners, advocates, policy makers, and scientists. And in 2018, we could be on the verge of a significant step forward.

That’s why hundreds of advocates for Everglades restoration will come to Washington, D.C., next week to attend America’s Everglades Summit. Hosted by the Everglades Foundation, this two-day gathering will focus on the economic and environmental importance of a healthy Everglades ecosystem. Attendees will also ask lawmakers to prioritize policies and funding to keep restoration projects moving forward.

One of these projects is the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir that is a central component of the Central Everglades Project. Once completed, the reservoir is expected to reduce damaging algae-causing discharges of polluted water by 60 percent, alleviating inundated communities along the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. It will also send an additional 370,000 acre-feet of clean water south towards the Everglades and Florida Bay each year.

It is imperative that Congress seize this opportunity and authorize this important project in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act. Not doing so would mean another two years of unnecessary and costly delays for Florida’s celebrated fisheries.

Click here to tell members of Congress to seize this opportunity and prioritize the future of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir.

And read the letter from 176 hunting and fishing businesses urging Congress to authorize the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir in the upcoming 2018 Water Resources Development Act.

TAKE ACTION NOW

Top photo credit to Steve Davis

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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