Kristyn Brady

July 11, 2018

Landmark Fisheries Reform Takes Major Step Toward Becoming Law

House passes major federal fisheries management reauthorization bill with provisions of the Modern Fish Act, which would help recognize the value of recreational fishing and update data collection methods

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 200, a bipartisan bill that includes the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act). This historic vote marks the first time the priorities of the recreational fishing sector are included in the reauthorization of our nation’s primary marine fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The provisions of the Modern Fish Act (H.R. 2023) were included in H.R. 200 by the House Committee on Natural Resources on December 13, 2017. H.R. 200 is sponsored by Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) and cosponsored by Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.); Brian Babin (R-Texas); Clay Higgins (R-La.); Gene Green (D-Texas); Robert Wittman (R-Va.); Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.); Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.); Steve King (R-Iowa); Marc Veasey (D-Texas); Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), and Austin Scott (R-Ga.).

“Marine recreational fishing is not a partisan issue, which was illustrated by the support H.R. 200 received from both parties today in the House,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “We owe great thanks to Chairman Rob Bishop, Congressmen Don Young, Garret Graves, Gene Green and Marc Veasey for working together to properly recognize recreational fishing within the Magnuson-Stevens Act. These bipartisan leaders have made the difference for anglers from coast to coast.”

In 2014, the priorities of the recreational fishing and boating community were identified and presented to federal policy makers by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management in a report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.” This group is also referred to as the Morris-Deal Commission, named for co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group.

Many of the recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission are addressed by the Modern Fish Act and included in H.R. 200. This legislation addresses many of the challenges faced by recreational anglers, including allowing alternative management tools for recreational fishing, reexamining fisheries allocations and improving recreational data collection. The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by incorporating modern management approaches, science and technology to guide decision-making.

“The recreational fishing industry is grateful that H.R. 200, which includes the provisions of the Modern Fish Act, has now passed the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “The Modern Fish Act represents the collective priorities of the recreational fishing community for improving federal marine fisheries management. There are 11 million saltwater anglers in the U.S. who have a $63 billion economic impact annually and generate 440,000 jobs. This legislation will help ensure that the economic, conservation and social values of saltwater recreational fishing will continue well into the future.”

“We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for passing commonsense legislation modernizing the federal fisheries management system, which will provide America’s recreational anglers and boaters reasonable and responsible access to public marine resources,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “The recreational boating industry calls on the U.S. Senate to pick up the baton, and immediately take up and pass S.1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act). Millions of Americans are counting on it.”

“We are grateful to our champions from both sides of the aisle in the House for recognizing the needs of recreational anglers and advancing this important fisheries management reform,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “This is truly a watershed moment for anglers in our never-ending quest to ensure the health and conservation of our marine resources and anglers’ access to them.”

“We thank the House Leadership, Congressman Young and the leaders of the House Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus for their leadership in finding bipartisan solutions to move the bill forward,” said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “The provisions of the Modern Fish Act contained in H.R. 200 are a top priority for saltwater anglers across the United States and charts a clear course for effective recreational fisheries management while ensuring abundant, sustainable fisheries for future generations.”

“We are on our way to pragmatic Magnuson-Stevens Act reform that will allow better access to rebuilt fish stocks while ensuring long-term sustainability,” said Jim Donofrio, president of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

“Passing these provisions of the Modern Fish Act means taking the next important step in recognizing the cultural value of recreational fishing and conservation contributions of American anglers,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We will continue to work with our sportfishing partners to engage with senators and see to it that the Modern Fish Act becomes law—it is critical if we hope to see saltwater anglers benefit from the advances in fisheries science, data collection, and management at the heart of this important legislation.”

Following today’s vote, the coalition encourages the Senate to quickly pass S. 1520. Marine recreational anglers and boaters are eager to see these landmark reforms signed into law.

2 Responses to “Landmark Fisheries Reform Takes Major Step Toward Becoming Law”

  1. Ron Benitez

    I’ve begun reading about this issue (embarrassing late however) and find it hard to see how it’s an improvement. This bill seems like it increases recreational anglers status in relation to commercial interests but guts conservation. How DOESNT this bill make it easier to harvest fish until they are nearly wiped out?

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Kim Jensen

July 2, 2018

National Poll: Hunters and Anglers Don’t Support Relaxing Clean Water Standards for Streams and Wetlands

Sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelming want the federal government to provide Clean Water Act protections for headwaters and wetlands, even as the EPA and Congress work to repeal a rule that does so

Today we revealed the full results of a national bipartisan poll, which shows that sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelming support Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands.

The majority of hunters and anglers polled (92 percent) would strengthen or maintain the federal government’s current safeguards for clean water that supports healthy fish and wildlife habitat—even as federal agencies and Congress seek to roll back these standards. Hunters and anglers showed nearly unanimous support for the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which the Trump administration’s EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have worked to repeal and replace.

Only 6 percent of sportsmen and women polled supported relaxing clean water standards. (The remaining 2 percent were unsure.) And four out of five sportsmen polled said that Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands—a point of clarification in the 2015 Clean Water Rule that many hoped would reverse a troubling trend of wetlands loss.

“The responses to our poll left little room for doubt that America’s sportsmen and women want to see an end to the unnecessary regulatory confusion over what streams and wetlands deserve Clean Water Act protections,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As we’ve been saying since the EPA and Army Corps began the process of repealing the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, any replacement rule should provide certainty for landowners and the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy that depends on access to clean water and abundant fish and wildlife.”

The poll also revealed that, while hunters and anglers already contribute heavily to conservation in America through license purchases and excise taxes on gear and ammunition, the majority (81 percent) of respondents were willing to tax themselves to improve rivers, streams, and wetlands—even tax-averse Republicans. Nearly a third of those surveyed were willing to pay $100 or more in new taxes to restore and/or maintain water quality or quantity.

Other key survey results:

  • 95% of hunters and anglers, regardless of party affiliation, said that habitat and water issues are important factors as they decide who to support at the ballot box.
  • There was virtually no difference in a hunter’s view of the Clean Water Rule (78% support) versus an angler’s view (81% support.)
  • 93% believe the Clean Water Act has been a good thing for the country.

The TRCP’s national survey was conducted by respected polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. They spoke to 1,000 voters who participate in hunting and fishing nationally online and over the phone this spring. Hunting and fishing are an important part of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy that directly supports 7.6 million American jobs.

See the full results of this national survey on clean water issues.

Explore hunter and angler attitudes toward other conservation issues on TRCP’s poll page.

 

Top photo by Jeff Weese via flickr

Melinda Kassen

June 27, 2018

This Farm Bill Program Builds a Conservation Community Working for Rivers and Fish

There’s tremendous demand for landscape-scale water conservation projects that involve farmers, ranchers, urban communities, and sportsmen—now, the program that makes these projects possible could see a boost in the 2018 Farm Bill

The Senate has passed its version of the next five-year Farm Bill with bipartisan support for conservation programs that boost America’s rural economies. There’s a lot to like in the bill, but for those of us watching drought conditions worsen in the West, one provision stands out.

The Senate Farm Bill would improve and expand the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which encourages farmers, ranchers, sportsmen, and others to work together to improve watersheds on a landscape scale. This program has already been used everywhere from the Chesapeake Bay to the Columbia River to build resiliency in the face of pollution and drought.

The RCPP program has been wildly popular in agricultural communities, but it’s easy to see how sportsmen and women also benefit from these multifaceted projects. Here in Colorado, RCPP funding went toward improving the river in a way that helped to solve a water battle with cities east of the Continental Divide and allow ranchers to draw water into irrigation structures. But, at the same time, the project improved river flows and fish habitat in the Colorado River’s gold-medal trout fishery. Another RCPP project in our state will help ranchers conserve water while improving conditions for trout in the Gunnison River.

Better fishing and bigger outdoor recreation business is easy to describe to lawmakers who have the fate of RCPP in their hands. That’s why the TRCP brought hunters and anglers from Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming up to Capitol Hill this spring to talk to decision makers about the local benefits of landscape-scale conservation through RCPP. Here are the stories they shared.

The Economy-Savvy Rancher

Gib McKay, whose family owns Babbitt Ranch in Arizona, described educating Congressional staff and elected officials as a powerful responsibility. “Our job was to make sure that more than a select few people understand the urgent need for water solutions in the West,” he says. Local outdoor recreation businesses can only thrive if anglers and paddlers having suitable access to healthy waterways, and as a rancher, McKay knows too well just how critical it is to efficiently use surface and groundwater drawn from the river and shared with other Colorado River Basin states, especially in years with low snowpack.

“We work every day to ensure this limited water supply is not finite,” he says. “The Colorado River is our lifeblood and the indispensable resource that allows us to continue our stories. To conserve and care for the river is not just what we should do, it is what we must do.” And RCPP ensures that no one group has to do it alone.

The Trout Specialist

Also in our delegation was Mely Whiting, one of the architects of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Headwaters Project, which used RCPP funds to divert warm, silty water away from the Colorado River’s gold-medal trout stream and into a bypass channel. She explained to lawmakers that this project helped the region’s warring water interests to forge an important partnership, bury the hatchet, and improve fishing unlike any other single effort.

The Cowboy Fishing Guide

Paul Bruchez, a fishing guide and fifth-generation rancher with property that borders the Colorado, spread his message in a cowboy hat and suit. He described how the Colorado Headwaters RCPP project will help his family and their neighbors enhance irrigation practices, while strengthening the river banks and improving river flows—which is also great for his fishing clients.

“The RCPP program has allowed my family and neighboring families to comprehensively and collaboratively address the water resource problems that affect our ranches in the headwaters of the Colorado River,” says Bruchez. “These issues are too big for one ranching family to tackle. In fact, they are too big for any one sector of water users to solve. But combine 11 ranching families with conservation organizations, Front Range water providers, state and local governments, agricultural associations, and others, and we have been capable of results that would have been unheard of just ten years ago.” This is the power of the RCPP program—it creates a framework for collaboration and partnership around shared goals.

The Fly-Inspired Veteran

Finally, decision makers got a dose of inspiration from Jim Kuhns, a disabled veteran who learned to fly fish as part of his rehabilitation and liked fishing so much he started his own organization to give other vets the chance to build rods, tie flies, and experience the zen of casting. For Kuhns, fishing on streams improved by the Colorado Headwaters Project, as well as RCPP-funded projects in his home state of Wyoming, is a privilege. “I thought the D.C. decision makers we visited listened to our stories and let us know they appreciate our work to help veterans and improve the Colorado River.”

Their support for RCPP in the next Farm Bill could help other interested groups improve watersheds across the country.

Farm Bill Next Steps

Though the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill vary greatly, both chambers have shown confidence in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program by enhancing program funding and flexibility, even though the administration has proposed eliminating RCPP in its last two budget proposals.

After the Senate floor vote on the Farm Bill this week, Congress will meet in conference to work out the differences between their two bills. The product, we hope, will contain the very best conservation provisions for water quality and quantity, sportsmen’s access, and habitat improvements on private land before arriving on the president’s desk.

With the current Farm Bill set to expire on September 30, the pressure is on. But this is also an opportunity to make programs like RCPP work even better for sportsmen and women—we can’t afford to miss it.

Click here to learn more about TRCP’s Farm Bill platform and activities.

 

Top, second, and last photo courtesy of Russ Schnitzer, Schnitzerphoto.
Editor’s note: This post was updated after the Senate vote to advance the Farm Bill.

Kristyn Brady

June 21, 2018

House Passes Farm Bill with Some Positives for Habitat and Access, Troubling Outlook for Conservation Funding

Big wins for the hunting and fishing community are undercut by unacceptable provisions that sap long-term conservation funding and threaten headwaters, forests, and wetlands

Today the House of Representatives passed its 2018 Farm Bill, “The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018,” with a 213-211 vote. While there are some positive provisions for conservation and sportsmen’s access in the bill—the single largest source of federal conservation funding—it also includes a number of provisions that would undercut long-term conservation benefits to headwaters, forests, and wetlands.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is especially pleased to see a 25-percent increase for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. As the only federal program aimed at opening private land to public access, VPA-HIP is a valuable tool for increasing hunting and fishing access to sportsmen and women across the country. The funding increase provided by the House bill is a much needed step towards meeting the $150 million required to meet landowner demand for the program. To date, this successful program has opened more than 950,000 acres of private land to the public for hunting and fishing across 30 states.

But this boost for hunting and fishing access is somewhat overshadowed by the long-term cuts to conservation funding in the bill. Unmet demand for Farm Bill conservation programs is at an all-time high, and sportsmen and women believe Congress should provide increased conservation funding to meet farmer and rancher demand. Also of concern is the inclusion of an amendment which seeks to repeal the Clean Water Rule, which protects our nation’s most vulnerable waterways.

“The proposed $795 million cuts to conservation would constitute a major disservice to all taxpayers—not just hunters and anglers—whose support for agriculture should not come at the cost of clean water and healthy soil,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “The Farm Bill ensures that fish and wildlife continue to thrive in and around private lands while boosting hunting and fishing opportunities and the economic health of rural America. Especially since the House bill includes many of our community’s recommendations, we would have liked to see it move forward without short-sighted funding provisions or the handful of unacceptable amendments—like a repeal of the rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands and forestry provisions that would weaken the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.”

Other positive provisions overshadowed by cuts to conservation include:

  • $250 million in additional funding for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program, which incentivizes landowners to conserve agricultural land and wetlands.
  • An additional $3 billion per year for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps landowners plan, install, or maintain practices that enhance water quality and wildlife habitat or reduce soil erosion and sedimentation.
  • Increased flexibility and $250 million per year for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which supports partnerships between conservation groups and agricultural producers to enhance soil, water, and wildlife conservation in multi-state or watershed-scale projects.
  • Maintains conservation compliance—the compact between America’s taxpayers and landowners that ensures support for crop production does not come at the cost of clean water and wildlife habitat.
  • An amendment from Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.) that would prioritize USDA research on controlling the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in deer.

Should the Senate follow suit and successfully pass their bill in the coming weeks, the TRCP and its Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group will work to ensure the best provisions of each chamber’s proposal are included in the final legislation.

 

Photo courtesy of Northwoods Collective. 

Kristyn Brady

June 13, 2018

Senate Committee Advances Farm Bill with Benefits for Habitat and Access

Bipartisan Senate Farm Bill includes major victories for sportsmen, wildlife, and water quality

Today the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee passed its 2018 Farm Bill, “The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018,” with a 20-1 vote. The Senate version of the bill shows bipartisan support for maintaining overall conservation funding on private lands, strengthening conservation compliance, and fully funding the Voluntary Public Access program that helps to enhance hunting and fishing opportunities on private land.

“This bipartisan Farm Bill sets the high-water mark for conservation on private lands that make up more than 70 percent of the country,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow for producing a bill that meets some of the most pressing needs around habitat conservation and sportsmen’s access.”

Over the past two years, the TRCP and its 25-member Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group have developed and lobbied for key sportsmen’s priorities in this Farm Bill, and many have been included in the Senate committee’s draft—particularly full funding for conservation. In light of the proposal to cut conservation spending by nearly a billion dollars in the House version of the bill, the TRCP and more than 100 other hunting, fishing, conservation, food and farm organizations and businesses sent a letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee in May requesting full funding for conservation.

The TRCP is particularly grateful to see a renewed commitment to enhancing hunting and fishing access by maintaining level funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program—the only federal program helping to expand hunting and fishing opportunities through partnerships with landowners. “We recognize it was a hard-fought bipartisan negotiation just to maintain VPA-HIP funding, and we look forward to working toward funding levels that better meet landowner demand,” says Fosburgh.

Sportsmen should also be pleased to see positive improvements for these three key conservation programs:

  • The percentage of Environmental Quality Incentive Program funds that must be used on farming practices that benefit wildlife increased from 5 percent to 10 percent.
  • Additional funding and flexibility was proposed for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which funds projects to improve wildlife habitat and water quality on a watershed scale.
  • Funding for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program got a boost—the high demand for ACEP dollars to create wetland and agricultural easements far outstrips current budgets.

The Senate bill also maintains conservation compliance—the compact between America’s taxpayers and landowners that ensures incentive funding is being put into conservation on the ground—and closing the “perennial crop loophole,” which allows producers to sidestep conservation compliance by converting native sod to crops like alfalfa that have minimal wildlife benefits.

Hunting and fishing in America accounts for $63 billion in direct consumer spending and supports 483,000 jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. The future success of this vibrant economic sector is dependent upon clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and adequate public access to outdoor recreation. The tools provided by the Farm Bill can play a significant role in boosting all three.

Provisions in the House Farm Bill do not currently match this Senate version, although there is much to celebrate in both. Sportsmen’s groups look forward to working with Congress to build a bipartisan conservation title that pulls the best features of each proposal into a Farm Bill that can be signed into law on time.

While this debate continues, brush up on your Farm Bill basics here.

 

Top photo by Chesapeake Bay Program via flickr

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WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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