Ed Arnett

August 3, 2018

This Policy Change Means Habitat Lost to Development Stays Lost

With public-land agencies weakening their stance on habitat mitigation, sportsmen and women may see unnecessary loss of habitat and opportunity

We accept that energy development is a necessary activity that, quite literally, powers our lives. But the conversation about where it should occur becomes more complicated when there could be a risk to fish and wildlife resources that power our hunting and fishing opportunities.

For years, there has been a kind of regulatory backstop to ensure that unnecessary impacts to habitat are avoided or compensated for. This is called mitigation, and the Department of the Interior just made changes that would weaken this foundational conservation tool.

If you’re familiar with our favorite metaphor for how mitigation works, the DOI just spilled your beer and walked away without a second thought.

The Beer Metaphor That Explains Mitigation

Here’s what we mean: Imagine I spill half your beer. Would you feel better about this loss if I bought you half a drink? How about if I soaked up your spilled beer with a napkin and squeezed it back into your glass? Truly mitigating the impact I had on your evening would, at the very least, mean buying you a new drink and possibly even the next round.

Now, imagine that the precious resource lost was not your favorite IPA, but fish and wildlife habitat. Mitigation calls for a hierarchy of steps to avoid, minimize, or compensate for habitat damage by providing for conservation on site or elsewhere.

But in recent weeks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rescinded its compensatory and Service-wide mitigation policies, and the Bureau of Land Management issued instructions to its offices that essentially halt the agency’s use of compensatory mitigation on BLM public lands.

What Does This Mean for Habitat?

Quite simply, from this point forward, if a development project can’t avoid damage to habitat on public land through early planning, or minimize its impacts during construction, then there will be no requirement to compensate for those damages. On the ground, this means loss of habitat or its quality—plain and simple.

Photo credit: BLM Nevada

Spilled beer can’t be un-spilled, just like some habitat can’t be unspoiled. But, now, the BLM won’t hold developers accountable to even try to make up for the hunting and fishing opportunities they may have cost you on your public lands. We can never hope for a net positive, or net zero, for fish and wildlife if this is the way that DOI does its math. We will always be losing ground where impacts occur and are not mitigated.

Greater Threat to Some Species

Conservationists have long viewed compensatory mitigation as a common sense approach to balancing development with fish, wildlife, and habitat values. It is a fundamental component of land-use management, habitat conservation, and recovery of endangered or threatened populations.

These decisions to scale back on mitigation are not only harmful for listed species, but also for species that are most at risk of being listed in the future.

In states like Colorado and Nevada, which rely heavily on mitigation for impacts to the sagebrush ecosystem for their conservation strategies, these policy changes also undermine collaborative work to restore sage grouse populations and habitat across the West.

Chipping Away at Conservation Bedrock

At the center of DOI’s argument for these changes is that the department and its agencies have no legal authority to require mitigation. That may be true in a purely legal context, but the BLM most certainly has the authority and ample discretion to require developers to avoid, minimize, and even compensate for habitat impacts under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Environmental Protection Act (better known as NEPA), and other statutes governing federal land management and development on these lands.

Application of the full mitigation hierarchy is critical for the BLM to achieve its multiple-use and land health standards mandated by federal policy and statute. And if the agency would like to avoid pushing developers for compensation after damage occurs, there’s a real incentive to do better up-front planning to avoid impacts in the first place—which is what we all want.

Taking away the last line of defense for fish and wildlife only creates a wildly uneven playing field: Inevitably there will still be developers who want to do the right thing and mitigate for damages, but the door will be open for bad actors to simply ignore the costs of doing business on our public lands.

The DOI has stated that the policy changes won’t affect state mitigation policies, but most states do not require mitigation. Perhaps it’s time for state legislatures and Congress to consider codifying legal requirements for mitigation, as political swings and varying interpretations of policy and law have clearly taken us many steps backward in balancing our management of public lands and energy development.

What Sportsmen Can Do

Ultimately, we are disappointed to see DOI take steps to weaken a fundamental management tool and potentially create huge setbacks for conservation of a species like sage grouse and the quality of our public land experiences as hunters and anglers. These decisions do not reflect balance nor adherence to bedrock conservation laws, like NEPA and FLPMA, which protect habitat and guide us toward a careful balance.

The TRCP will continue working with our partners and a wide range of stakeholders—including conservation and sportsmen’s groups but also landowners and businesses—to speak up for habitat mitigation, especially in this new era of expanded development on public lands.

And you can help. Visit sportsmenscountry.org to send a message to lawmakers that they need to do more than keep our public lands public—they need to support policies that keep our public lands well-managed for all the ways we use them. Show them we are paying attention.

 

Photos courtesy of Tom Koerner/USFWS. 

21 Responses to “This Policy Change Means Habitat Lost to Development Stays Lost”

  1. David Winters

    I am sick and tired of seeing the protection for our natural resources lost to absurd energy and other development. I worked my entire life to educate people and politicians about the terrible loss of our species and habitat. What about our future
    Generations? Do we just forget that what we peri envied will be gone? Please help protect our natural resources!

  2. BILL CRUMRINE

    Developers need to be held accountable in this regard. As a great believer and proponent of the Boy Scouts of America policy “Leave No Trace, Behind,” developers should be held to the same accountability. The Appalachian Mountains states were left decimated by the coal companies and we can see what the results once were – scarred land, heavily clear-cut forests, etc., are evidence of such. Don’t allow these multi-national companies do the same to the Western States.

  3. Michelle D. Law

    We need less big oil and more conservation protections. We were put on earth to sustain and manage it. Not to develop, destroy and profit from it. Kick those kind of people out of “this” country.

  4. Su Williams

    Who at DOI believes in a future for wild places for hunters, fishermen, photographers, hikers, recreation entusiasts? Those corporations will not mitigate, they will profit and skate off,
    rendering the bill to the individual tax payer.

  5. Ken Kerr

    I went to the website highlighted in this brief you have written for us. It led to a petition for me to sign that seemed extremely general in nature and not specific enough to be meaningful to elected reps. If I am wrong, let me know. If I am right I strongly recommend that Backcountry Hunters and Anglers staffers develop more meaningful links for members to write to their elected reps regarding specific issues. The more specific letters etc the better. Similar to Trout Ultd, Wilderness Society etc. make it easy for us to help and make it meaningful. Right now I’m not sure if BHA and TRCP is on the fence about these issues (unwilling to piss anyone off) or “on-board” with keeping these negative things from happening. Thank you for listening. I appreciate it.

  6. Todd Huston

    Besides being an underhanded move to support the abuse of public lands, I also see another BS move. They are dumping the mitigation responsibility on the states. This is a sneaky way to shift management responsibility from fed to state to further forward their ultimate goal of giving the public lands away.

  7. Thanks to TRCP for keeping the focus on the threat to our public lands at the forefront. These are dangerous times and the profiteers have not been so emboldened in decades. For readers and members of TRCP, please keep up the pressure on your National and state political reps. Most will no longer hold or attend town hall meetings (exception: Montana Senator Jon Tester) , so phone calls and letters to the editor of local newspapers go a long way to expose the reckless policies and corruption. If you have a political rep up for re-election in 2018, and they have sold out our future generations’ public lands inheritance, ensure you are registered to vote and work for a change in leadership.

  8. Scott Schaeffer

    Mid Terms are on the horizon. Sportsman were so worried about gun control, we forgot that ya got have place to hunt to!!! And your favorite game species needs Habitat.

  9. Jack L. Meredith

    I find it interesting that throughout most of the comments to this vital issue that has been going on for decades seems to be centering around the Trump Administration. I lived in Jackson, Wyoming for many years and the Sage Hen, Antelope and many species were endangered by necessary development of oil, coal, minerals that provide jobs for people that still want to work, love their country and respect The Constitution. So much has been dumped into President Trumps lap by crooked politicians from both sides of the political aisle that even with his level of success at getting the economy back on track, constantly attacked by he miscreant liberal democrats and his own party his biggest stumbling block, people like you want to blame it all on the present administration. I hunt, have trained German Shorthair Pointers for fifty years, and enjoy the outdoors as a gift from God, each and every day. Think of it as an opportunity to make positive change with a president like Donald Trump in office and pray our nationin all ways survives. God, Family, Country, Job, has always worked if we follow moral principals.

    • Ben Gille

      Skipping past your “people are lazy” and your “boohoo, Trump is a victim” blather, how is any of this either a positive or moral thing for your “gift from God”?

  10. Joshua Martz

    I have nothing but respect and support for TRCP; however, this article is a bit misleading.
    If you read the policy itself, the goal of this change is not “open the door for unregulated development”. How it appears to me is that the BLM will not allow offsite mitigation to compensate for impacts created directly on a new site – meaning that all development projects now much reach a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) through the NEPA process without incorporating offsite mitigation as an offset. Unnecessary or undue degradation is not allowed on Federal lands. Offsite compensatory mitigation does not directly mitigate impacts onsite and therefore may not be used to compensate for unnecessary or undue degradation. A project proposal that will result in unnecessary or undue degradation must either be modified, denied, or mitigated onsite to eliminate the potential for causing unnecessary or undue degradation.

  11. Tyler Johnson

    This is an issue that TRCP and other organizations will have to get re-instated asap when there are more responsible players involved. One of the many problems is that the land and waters have never been more pressured but the politicians and lobbyists and industries still act like it’s the 1970s. In 1950, there were 2.5 billion people; now, there are 7.5 billion. The pressure on wildlife and our natural resources has never been greater. Therefore we should be smarter than ever about managing energy development and its impacts. Instead, this bunch is just trying to grab everything they can…for money. The November vote needs to send a corrective message. And one commenter mentioned Zinke and Trump, Jr being hunters….I think they now have unlimited access to private ranches from their oil and gas buddies. Access that very few of us will ever see. We have to fight like hell for public lands and their health.

  12. Hugh Carola

    Zinke, Wheeler, Pruitt and the rest are shills for the fossil fuel and mining industries. Period. Despite the trappings and throwaway rhetoric, they DO NOT care about he concerns of hunters, anglers, birders, paddlers, hikers and the rest. Period. The sooner more of us realize that – and realize the real threat to America’s natural heritage – the better. Although I fear the longer the current administration is given free rein to dismantle environmental protections, the harder it will be to get them back. Lip service and photos of DonJr. & Eric on (virtually) canned hunts are only masking (badly IMO) the real agenda. Gotta stop ’em. Now.

  13. John Reynolds

    This is what you get when you vote republican or if you don’t vote at all. The republicans have not been friends of sportsmen for a long time and they’ve gotten worse in the past few years. The NRA is not a friend of sportsmen either.

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>

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.

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

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!

You have Successfully Subscribed!