Lapsed LWCF Is a Lost Opportunity to Improve and Enhance Hunting and Fishing Access
Congress avoids a federal shutdown, but allows the best tool for opening landlocked public lands to expire
Midnight last night marked the end of fiscal year 2018 and the expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that makes critical investments in fish and wildlife habitat and sportsmen’s access on public land. This lapse in authorization effectively represents a loss of potential for millions of dollars in important conservation funding.
“Despite strong bipartisan support for the LWCF, congressional gridlock has effectively created a one-two punch for outdoor recreation opportunities in America—continued inaction would stall efforts not only to conserve key fish and wildlife habitats, but also suspend our best tool for opening access into 9.52 million acres of existing public lands that are entirely isolated by private holdings,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“Congress will have opportunities after the mid-term elections to not only reauthorize LWCF but make that authorization permanent with full funding, so that generations of Americans can continue to benefit from this sensible and long-standing investment,” says Fosburgh. “Lawmakers must avail themselves of those opportunities.”
New Study: Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife Watching on BLM Lands Generates Billions in Spending
BLM public lands are critical to our hunting and fishing access, but a new study finds that they also support outdoor recreation businesses and local economies in a big way
Total direct spending for hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing on the 246 million acres of America’s public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management in the western U.S. totaled more than $2 billion in 2016, according to a new study on wildlife-related recreation spending unveiled yesterday.
Visits to BLM public lands also supported 26,500 jobs, generated more than $1 billion in salaries and wages, and produced more than $421 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.
The research was conducted by the independent firm Southwick Associates Inc. with support from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Wildlife Management Institute, Trout Unlimited, Archery Trade Association, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.
Southwick’s analysis found that visits in 2016 to BLM-managed lands in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming for the purpose of wildlife-related recreation resulted in more than $3 billion in total economic output.
“Our research found that recreation associated with fish and wildlife on BLM lands is a significant jobs generator, providing income for rural communities for decade after decade with minimal investment compared to other industries,” says Rob Southwick of Southwick Associates. “Smart business and planning call for managing BLM’s fish and wildlife-related resources as important economic assets.”
“These findings confirm what many of us have known all along: BLM public lands are critically important for public hunting and fishing in America, and these activities are good for businesses and local communities alike,” says Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This report should be a foundational resource as decision-makers consider the economic effects of wildlife habitat conservation on BLM public lands.”
“Hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching are long-standing traditions in the U.S., and public lands and waters offer some of the best places to enjoy these pursuits,” says Matt Skroch, an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts. “The report underscores the importance to communities in the West of wildlife and its associated public lands habitat and provides a strong economic argument for conserving our wildlife heritage on BLM lands.”
Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, adds, “This study shows that our public lands provide not just incredible places to hunt and fish; they also boost the economies of local communities while contributing billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.”
“You can’t put a price on the importance of public lands for our outdoor traditions, but this study shows that you can put a price on the economic impact of these special places,” says Corey Fisher, Trout Unlimited’s public lands policy director. “We’ve long known that public lands are critical to the health of our trout and salmon fisheries, and we now know just how valuable fishing on these lands is for the bottom line of businesses large and small.”
“As advocates for the fly-fishing industry on conservation, access, and business issues, we see firsthand the benefits public lands bring to local economies. As a nation, we must continue to protect access to our public lands; they are an invaluable asset to the people of the United States and our economy,” says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.
“This study shows that the West’s sporting heritage on public lands, including bow hunting and other archery-related recreation, is a significant driver of jobs and revenue for local communities,” says Dan Forster, president of the Archery Trade Association. “Maintaining this heritage, along with the habitat that our wildlife depend on, is an important priority for our community as well as public land agencies.”
Southwick Associates calculated the economic contribution generated by the spending of visitors who engaged in wildlife-related recreation activities on BLM lands in 11 western states and Alaska. The researchers based their calculations on 2016 visitation data from the BLM and spending data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation.
Here’s Another Side to the Landlocked Public Lands Story
Only recently has LWCF funding been specifically purposed with unlocking our inaccessible public lands, meaning that we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to establishing access to isolated parcels
When the TRCP and onX began the research for our recent inaccessible public lands report, “Off Limits, But Within Reach,” the primary goal was to produce the most accurate calculation of landlocked public lands possible. But in addition to determining that the thirteen Western states contain more than 9.52 million acres of landlocked federal public lands, we also uncovered another startling finding: the work to open access to these inaccessible public lands has largely just begun.
As part of the report, we wanted to highlight successful examples of acquisition projects that provided public access to the two different types of landlocked public lands: checkerboard and isolated parcels. Checkerboard lands are remnants of a bygone era when the federal government gave railroad companies alternating sections of land that met corner-to-corner, whereas isolated parcels are tracts of public land entirely enclosed by surrounding private holdings.
Searching for these real-world examples, we called every expert we could imagine within the land trust community and the federal land management agencies. There was no shortage of great LWCF-funded checkerboard consolidation projects, but we were shocked by how difficult it was to find an example of a LWCF-funded project that opened access to an isolated parcel. In fact, our research turned up only one isolated parcel access success story nationwide: Western Rivers Conservancy’s Thirtymile Project along the John Day River in eastern Oregon.
As we came to realize, isolated parcels haven’t been prioritized for access acquisition in the past because of the way that LWCF projects were traditionally “scored” by the federal agencies when being considered for funding.
While the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been around since 1965—using revenue from offshore oil and gas development to fund outdoor recreation projects—the Fund has primarily been used by the federal agencies to benefit public lands by conserving resources like wildlife habitat, clean water, and special places. Acquisition projects that consolidate checkerboard lands not only improve or establish new access to public lands, they also prevent habitat fragmentation and the future development of intact landscapes, and thus often check the necessary boxes to score highly under the traditional rating system.
While the long-term use of LWCF dollars has benefited millions of Americans and advanced countless projects that were worth their weight in gold—including many that benefitted access— it wasn’t until 2012 that Congress mandated an annual portion of the Fund be used exclusively to address the issue of limited or nonexistent access to public lands. The timing of that change made sense, given that private land access issues weren’t a major concern when the fund was originally created—in decades past, most sportsmen and women could obtain landowner permission without too much difficulty. And so acquisition projects to unlock isolated parcels of public land for hunters and anglers only very recently became a priority for LWCF funding.
As a result, our research found that in places like the BLM Miles City Field Office of eastern Montana, nearly one million acres of federally managed public lands sit entirely inaccessible to the public, yet not a single LWCF project has been completed in the area to fund public access. The story is much the same in other areas with a similarly high concentration of landlocked lands, such as the BLM Buffalo Field Office in eastern Wyoming.
Sportsmen and women should not see this situation as a failure, but rather as a sign that this important work is now just getting started and that we still have much to do. In fact, many lawmakers appear to recognize the need to fund access acquisition and on September 13, the House Natural Resources Committee passed HR 502, a bipartisan and well-reasoned LWCF-reauthorization bill that includes up to $27 million annually for access acquisition—twice the amount that has been previously available.
While last week’s development represents an encouraging opportunity, the House committee’s actions on LWCF were just one of many needed steps to save this vital program before its scheduled expiration on September 30. With no clear resolution in sight, there’s a very real risk that sportsmen and women will lose the best available tool to open access to landlocked public lands across the West when we need it most.
Take action today to encourage your lawmakers to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund with full, dedicated annual funding before it expires on September 30. Your future ability to access more than 9.52 million additional acres of our public lands depends on it.
This American Holiday is All About Your Right to Enjoy the Outdoors
National Hunting and Fishing Day is like Christmas, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving for sportsmen and women—so go enjoy the many gifts of the outdoors, cherish our American traditions, and give thanks
God put us in charge. At least, that’s what the Good Book says. Our human connection to nature and wildlife is so special, because we are at once a part of it, yet differentiated from it. The experiences we have with wildlife and wild places are vital to our existence, because they help us affirm our own uniqueness and value in life.
No one understands and appreciates this relationship more than American sportsmen and women. When a hunter or angler fairly and ethically pursues wildlife or fish, he is connecting with nature at a primal level—life and death are at stake. And with a respectful harvest of that animal, he is celebrating and appreciating what it has provided and taught him.
Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the virtues of a “strenuous life.” I believe he meant that life is an accumulation of experiences, big and small. Only by pushing ourselves in this pursuit can we know our full potential. Life is all around us, and sportsmen go out to meet it! It’s in the friction of water around your legs as you step into a stream, the crunch of frosty ground under your boot, the smell of a campfire, and the sound of laughter and tales being shared.
Sportsmen are the original conservationists. Our traditions and passions for wildlife support a system found nowhere else on Earth, one that benefits all. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation prioritizes professional science-based wildlife management, provides funding mechanisms through license sales and excise taxes that pay for conservation programs and, most importantly, holds that our fish and game resources are a public resource belonging to all Americans. Inherent in this truth is our democratic tradition of public lands, which goes back to the days of Roosevelt and others.
God put us in charge, therefore we are responsible. It is up to all of us, as sportsmen and women, to be vocal advocates for conservation of fish, wildlife, habitat, America’s public lands, and the sporting traditions we hold so dear.
In the spirit of this day, there are two things you can do to help guarantee that future generations have quality places to hunt and fish:
1) Go hunting or fishing. Just get out there. Live the strenuous life. Even better, take someone with you.
2) Speak up! Contact your lawmakers and elected officials to tell them why conservation and sportsmen are so important to our blessed country. Urge them to stand with sportsmen and women in celebrating our uniquely American traditions, on Saturday and every day.
This is a great place to start: Sign the Sportsmen’s Country petition at sportsmenscountry.org. Tell lawmakers that access promises mean nothing if our public lands are not well-managed for the next generation of hunters and anglers.
This was originally posted September 22, 2016 and has been updated. Top photo courtesy of Northwoods Collective.
House Committee Backs Public Land Access and Paying Down Maintenance Backlogs
Swift passage in the House and similar movement in the Senate would permanently secure the most critical tool for opening 9.52 million acres of landlocked public lands and address long-standing maintenance issues on public lands across the U.S.
Today, the House Natural Resources Committee took strongly bipartisan action to advance two pieces of critical public lands legislation: permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, a bill that would provide dedicated funding to address the maintenance backlogs in our national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands, and National Wildlife Refuge System.
“We want to thank Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Grijalva for rolling up their sleeves and working together in bipartisan fashion for the benefit of American sportsmen and women,” says Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the single most important federal program for conserving habitat on and expanding access to America’s 640 million acres of public lands; and the Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act provides the funding necessary to begin to ensure those public lands are being well-managed and maintained.”
The House bill would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million and dedicate 3 percent of LWCF dollars specifically to increasing public access on existing public lands. (Without further action, the program’s current authorization is set to expire on September 30.)
“Sportsmen are depending on Congress to act swiftly and see that the LWCF is permanently reauthorized with full, dedicated annual funding and that a comprehensive public lands maintenance backlog fund is established to benefit all of our land management agencies,” says Fosburgh. “We hope this commendable move by the House Natural Resources Committee is the first step toward getting these priorities passed into law.”.
Photo courtesy: The Trust For Public Lands
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.