Travis Cooke

July 26, 2018

What Didn’t End Up in a Military Spending Bill Makes All the Difference

Find out what we mean when we say that this policy fight gives us “sage-à vu”

We’ve said it before, but when it comes to conservation policy, sometimes the most meaningful victories are celebrated when something doesn’t happen.

America’s sportsmen and women enjoyed that kind of win this week, as we defeated an attempt to nullify collaborative, landscape-scale conservation efforts for sagebrush species across the West. Without the strong, united voice of our community, we might have seen a crowning achievement of habitat conservation severely diminished under dubious pretenses.

The story should sound familiar—the same bad idea has been put down in multiple sessions of Congress—but that doesn’t make the intention any less threatening: In the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets annual policy priorities and funding levels for America’s military forces, some lawmakers included a legislative rider preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken as endangered species for at least 10 years.

The House and Senate passed separate versions of the NDAA earlier in the summer, setting up a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two bills—including the sage grouse language.

Remind Us: Who Said What?

Perennial proponents of the rider cite military readiness as a deciding factor and point to sagebrush habitat on Department of Defense lands. Conservationists argue that this is a smokescreen for legislating wildlife management in a must-pass bill and ultimately undermines the epic collaborative effort to conserve sagebrush habitat across 11 Western states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ultimately decided not to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act in 2015, largely based on cooperative efforts to amend 98 land-management plans across the sagebrush steppe. These plans reflect the importance of managing lands to conserve quality habitat for all sagebrush species, rather than setting arbitrary population targets just for these birds.

Courtesy of Bob Wick, BLM

Preventing any consideration of a future listing in the next 10 years would do little to hold stakeholders accountable for conservation promises.

So, Why Attack Conservation Already In Motion?

Each of the amended plans placed limitations on certain activities, like energy development, grazing, and outdoor recreation, in some areas. But listing the sage grouse as endangered or threatened would have imposed far more restrictions with greater impact on rural economies.

Rather than taking steps to fully implement these plans and prevent a future listing, Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and others have simply tried to take listing off the table and undermine scientific and collaborative efforts through poor legislating of wildlife management.

Then the Pentagon Weighed In…

Supporters of the provision, led once again by Rep. Bishop, claimed that adhering to the revised land-management plans would harm military readiness. The Pentagon, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to pick a side.

Last Wednesday, news circulated that the Pentagon opposed the anti-sage-grouse provision in the NDAA because it was “not necessary to protect military testing and training.” The next day, however, the Pentagon reversed course, and said it did in fact support the provision. Flip-flopping is certainly common in Washington, but a complete 180 overnight raised some eyebrows.

Winning Without a Major Champion

In previous years, the conservation community relied on the steadfast leadership of Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who insisted on limiting the NDAA to topics “germane” to the military. This left Rep. Bishop’s anti-sage-grouse language on the cutting room floor after three previous attempts. Unfortunately, Sen. McCain’s health concerns prevented him from managing this year’s NDAA, raising doubts as to who would champion efforts to keep the provision out.

Thankfully, after months of public outcry from sportsmen and women and much behind-the-scenes debate, the conference committee released its final report—and it does not contain the anti-sage-grouse rider.

Conservation and wildlife advocates can celebrate today, but the fight is hardly over.

The Forecast for Funny Business

Within the next week, Congress will likely pass the NDAA without any more grouse-y shenanigans, but there are other legislative opportunities for such mischief. The BLM and U.S. Forest Service are currently revising the sage-grouse conservation plans agreed upon in 2015, and many scientists say that changes to the plans could undermine protections for the bird. The final outcome must focus on conservation, not hitting a target number of birds, otherwise we’re in for a serious dose of what we’re calling “sage-à vu”—revisiting an endangered or threatened species listing for sage grouse.

But more is at stake than just sage grouse in these comprehensive conservation plans. The sagebrush ecosystem is home to more than 350 different species of plants and animals, including such iconic species as mule deer, pronghorns, and elk—all of which are important to American sportsmen and women.

If lawmakers are successful at legislatively preventing a future listing decision or gutting conservation plans that took years to craft, stakeholders throughout the West, such as ranchers, landowners, sportsmen, and wildlife managers, might not feel the incentive to preserve quality habitat throughout the ecosystem. This could lead to habitat degradation and fragmentation for each of these species that, in aggregate, contribute to the rich sporting heritage of the American West.

The Power of Our United Voices

This week helped prove, once again, that when America’s sportsmen and women unite, we usually win. Over the years, thousands of TRCP members have raised their voices in support of conserving quality habitat in sagebrush country, particularly. You have made an investment of time and effort that we are continually trying to defend. And we understand that many Americans’ livelihoods are tied up in the eventual outcome for the West’s most iconic game bird.

So, yes! We did it. But we’ll have to do it again.

 

Top and bottom photo courtesy of Tom Koerner/USFWS.

4 Responses to “What Didn’t End Up in a Military Spending Bill Makes All the Difference”

  1. We congratulate the Partnership for this outstanding result of united, determined opposition to the Defense authorization rider, on behalf American sage habitats and wildlife, including the iconic sage grouse. It is most encouraging and uplifting for the rest of the country. Thank you.

  2. Jim Lynch

    Good post. I’ve met with my Congressman to support the multi-agency agreement. I’m glad that the bad amendment was kicked out of the final NDAA (he’s on both the Natural Resources and HASC).

  3. Tom Albrecht

    Everyone get out there and DEMAND that your legislator preserve the efforts taken for conservation, and quit acting like children bought and paid for by “K” street!

Do you have any thoughts on this post?

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Scott Laird

July 20, 2018

Montanans: Show Up and Speak Out for Public Lands

This is YOUR chance to play a role in how our public lands are managed and ensure that sportsmen and women have a say about the places where we love to hunt and fish

The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest encompasses over 2.8 million acres in seventeen different Montana counties—from the Snowies and the Highwoods to the Upper Blackfoot and the Rocky Mountain Front. These landscapes provide some of the finest hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities in central and western Montana, as well as important habitat for big game, upland birds, and wild trout.

Currently, the U.S. Forest Service is revising the plan that will determine the future management of these lands. The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest’s Draft Forest Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released in June with a 90-day public comment period, and sportsmen and women must get involved to ensure that the best habitats are conserved and public access for hunting and fishing is maintained.

Please attend one of eleven local public meetings in the next few weeks (see schedule below). These events will offer updates on the planning process, allow the public to share their ideas and opinions on the draft plan, and explain ways for interested citizens to stay involved.

The best way to see that our priorities are included in the plan is to have a presence and provide input at these meetings. Meeting dates, locations, and times, as well as suggested talking points are listed below.

Thank you for taking the time to support our public lands.

Where and When
 Meeting Location  Date   Time  Address
 Stanford  July 23, 2018  11am – 1pm  Stanford City Hall, 102 Central Ave
 Lewistown  July 23, 2018  5 – 7pm  BLM Office, 920 NE Main St.
 Harlowton  July 24, 2018  11am – 1pm  Harlowton Library, 13 Central Ave N.
White Sulphur Springs  July 24, 2018  5 – 7pm  WSS High School Cafeteria, 15 First Ave SE
 Helena  July 25, 2018  5 – 7pm  Radisson Hotel, 2301 Colonial Dr.
 Boulder  July 26, 2018  11am – 1pm  Boulder Fairgrounds Volunteer Hall, 21 Whitetail Rd.
 Townsend  July 26, 2018  5 – 7pm  Townsend Library, 201 N. Spruce St.
 Lincoln  July 30, 2018  5 – 7pm  Lincoln Community Hall, 404 Main St.
 Choteau  August 1, 2018  5 – 7pm  Stage Stop Inn, 1005 Main Ave. N.
 Great Falls  August 2, 2018  5 – 7pm  Civic Center, 2 Park Dr. S.
 Browning TBD TBD Check back for updates

 

Suggested Talking Points
  • Conservation of unfragmented, functional habitats: These high-quality habitats benefit wild trout populations, and they provide the cover needed to support Montana’s 5-week general elk season. Backcountry public lands also enable hunters to get away from the crowds and enjoy a quality hunting experience.
  • Wildlife and fisheries restoration and enhancement: We encourage and support efforts to prioritize active habitat restoration and enhancement on the landscape to benefit cold water fisheries, big game and other wildlife species.
  • Public access: Public access is necessary for outdoor recreation. We encourage the forest service to maintain existing public access important for sportsmen and women, while expanding public access to parts of the forest that are difficult to reach because of surrounding private lands. Road access needs should be balanced with the habitat needs of deer and elk.

 

Photo courtesy of USFS Northern Region

Anna Grubb

July 19, 2018

Featured Podcast: Shortlisting the Most Critical Conservation Issues We Face Today

No matter where you call home, these are the conservation issues you need to know about right now—get caught up in less than 60 minutes

TRCP’s visionary founder Jim Range recognized that conservation won’t work well if we only fight for what we see outside our own windows every day. It can’t be about Western lands and Eastern lands when it comes to America’s public lands. We can’t afford to stand on opposite sides of a dividing line between saltwater and freshwater fishing or big game and small game hunting.

In short, we can’t win on generation-defining conservation battles if we’re not working together.

On a recent episode of the East to West Hunting Podcast, our president and CEO Whit Fosburgh urges sportsmen and women across the country to recognize our greatest challenges and unite to take action. From conservation programs in the Farm Bill, the looming expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a fresh legislative attack on ownership of America’s public lands to invasive species, forage fish management, and the future of deer hunting, there is so much opportunity to find common ground.

Give it a listen below!

“We can talk about whether you want wilderness or managed public lands, that debate is a luxury. As long as we still have those public lands, we can have those debates” 

 

 

Learn more about the East to West Hunting Podcast here.

Randall Williams

July 12, 2018

Wildfire Smoke is Building in Western Skies, But the Future Looks Brighter

As fire season returns, a look ahead at how this year’s budget fix will change the way we pay for suppression efforts in the future

Around this time each year, hunters begin crossing their fingers that an out-of-control burn won’t upend their carefully laid plans for early season elk and mule deer tags, and anglers hold out hope that they’ll enjoy a summer of high-country fishing without too much smoke obscuring the views or entering their lungs. With smoke already covering parts of eleven states, there’s plenty to be worried about, but recent policy changes also give us good reason to celebrate.

The New Reality of Mega-Fires in the West

Perhaps more so than most, those who spend time outside understand that wildfire plays a vital role in many North American ecosystems. Heat and flames stimulate certain plants to seed and certain fungi, such as the morel mushrooms sought after by many sportsmen and women, to release their spores. New growth in a recent burn also provides an excellent source of forage for animals like elk and deer. In a sense, wildfires have historically triggered something of a reset for the affected landscape and produced a variety of differently “aged” forest conditions in a given habitat, which is greatly beneficial for wildlife.

Recent years, however, have seen fires far more intense and destructive than those that have shaped this continent for millennia. The combination of a century of suppression efforts and outbreaks of beetle-kill have resulted in an increased fuel load, while drought, higher temperatures, and longer fire seasons due to a changing climate have heightened many forests’ susceptibility to a blaze. Instead of producing a diversity of old and new growth, the huge fires that we’ve seen of late have burned so hot and on such a large scale that they scorch entire landscapes uniformly, killing off entire stands of trees and in some cases sterilizing the soils underneath.

The sheer, unprecedented size of these fires has also caused problems for the federal agencies tasked with managing our public lands. The annual cost of fighting wildfires now regularly exceeds the amount of funding budgeted, which is currently based on a rolling ten-year historical average. As a result of the escalating costs each year, the U.S. Forest Service now spends 55 percent or more of its budget on fire suppression, up from 15 percent, necessitating that it borrow money for other important aspects of its mission. As a result, forest management work that might help reduce the risk of fire can’t be completed, which in turn reinforces the underlying problem. It’s a vicious cycle.

At Long Last, the Funding Fix We’ve Needed

The good news is that policymakers have finally addressed this issue with a bipartisan legislative solution. Beginning in 2019 (FY 2020), the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior will no longer have to dip into other accounts after running out of appropriated funds during catastrophic fire seasons, thanks to a “fire funding fix” included in the recently passed Omnibus Spending Package.

There are two components to the measure: It freezes the ten-year average base funding of fire suppression and permits the use of natural disaster funding for costs above that ten-year average. This ends the need for ever-increasing appropriations during fire season and halts the steady erosion of funds for non-fire activities at the Forest Service. The language is equivalent to provisions supported by the TRCP and our partners in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (S. 1842 and H.R. 2862).

There is also bipartisan support for provisions that will help the Forest Service expedite active management of forest habitat. Combined with the fire funding fix, the agency will not only have more tools to work on habitat restoration, they’ll have the funding to accomplish it.

So as you hold your breath this summer and wait for the clearer skies of autumn, take comfort in knowing that there’s a solution to the policy side of this problem on the horizon. Addressing the fundamental issue, however, will require further bipartisan cooperation and continued commitment by hunters and anglers throughout the country.

 

 

Photos courtesy: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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.

Learn More
Subscribe

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!