Kristyn Brady

October 2, 2018

Farm Bill Expiration Brings Uncertainty for Landowners, Sportsmen, and the Rural Economy

Without a new five-year bill, conservation and voluntary access incentive programs are currently unavailable to well-intentioned landowners

On Sunday night at midnight, the 2014 Farm Bill expired, effectively hitting the pause button on a number of vital conservation programs. If Congress can’t get a new five-year bill reauthorized by the end of this Congress, it could have profound impacts on future funding for conservation programs and begin to influence whether farmers and ranchers across the nation even want to take advantage of conservation incentives.

“Farmers, ranchers, and forest owners across the country depend on Farm Bill conservation programs for the tools they need to protect and improve soil, water, and wildlife habitat on working lands, and this failure to pass an on-time Farm Bill means that farmers and ranchers will no longer be able to enroll in the full suite of conservation programs over the coming weeks,” says Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “We call on Congress to come together quickly to pass a strong, bipartisan, and conservation-friendly Farm Bill.”

Until lawmakers resolve debate and vote to pass a new bill, well-intentioned landowners—whose demand for conservation programs already outstrips the funding available—can’t enroll in important programs and services that benefit wildlife, water quality, and outdoor recreation.

“Farmers, ranchers, and landowners need these conservation tools available to them to address natural resource concerns on their property,” says Jim Inglis, director of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “Right now, for example, enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program—one of our country’s most successful conservation programs that provides tremendous benefits for wildlife while reducing soil erosion and improving water and air quality—is not possible. This means a loss of habitat benefits for pheasants, quail, and many other species across the country that we enjoy pursuing each fall.”

The lapse in authorization could also create confusion for hunters and anglers who rely on private land for access. “By missing the September 30 deadline, Congress has created tremendous uncertainty among sportsmen and women who enjoy the conservation and public-access benefits of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, a farm bill program that has opened hundreds of thousands of private acres for walk-in access to hunting and fishing,” says Alex Maggos, director of agriculture and private lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This could cause ripple effects in rural communities that typically see an influx of spending during the fall hunting season.”

Any bill that passes should contain strong conservation provisions and funding for key programs. “The Farm Bill plays a critical role in keeping America’s working lands in working hands and yields significant economic benefits to farms, ranches, and communities across our nation,” says Lori Faeth, government relations director of the Land Trust Alliance. “We urge Congress to pass a Farm Bill that restores funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to $500 million annually and enacts common-sense changes to make the Agricultural Land Easement program more efficient and effective. But Congress must act now. Every day we lack a new Farm Bill is another day we stand to lose another farm or ranch.”

“The expiration of the Farm Bill shuts the door on farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners trying to voluntarily protect and enhance their lands through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program,” says Jenny Conner Nelms, senior policy advisor for agriculture at The Nature Conservancy. “These innovative projects bring together public and private partners, who in the first five years have matched federal funding with more than $2 billion in local and private funding, to tackle local natural resource concerns and boost conservation nationwide. This popular program brings new partners to the table and has already funded projects from irrigation efficiency and soil health to base buffering around military installations—all of this will be on hold until Congress passes a new farm bill.”

“With nearly two-thirds of America’s forests under private ownership, mostly in the hands of families and individuals, the Farm Bill is a critical tool for forest conservation that benefits big game and upland birds,” says Brent Rudolph, director of conservation for the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society. “Improving stewardship of private and family-owned forests should be as bipartisan as any issue out there, especially considering that the Farm Bill is a resource for safeguarding clean air and water, providing incredible recreation and habitat value, and supporting more than 2.4 million rural jobs, as well. The inability to move a Farm Bill that provides such support is a missed opportunity and true disappointment.”

Contact your lawmakers in support of a timely Farm Bill with strong conservation provisions and funding NOW.

4 Responses to “Farm Bill Expiration Brings Uncertainty for Landowners, Sportsmen, and the Rural Economy”

  1. Albert Dewald

    The CRP is one of the few programs that brings money back into the economy. It provides
    much needed funds that help each state with their conservation programs. Your help in passing this bill is also needed.

  2. Jerry Johnson

    The Quail and Upland Game Alliance is concerned about the loss of CRP programs. In the next four years , over twelve million acres will expire from the past programs and as we understand there is no programs for these acres that are not in a floodplain to be reenrolled into. If this is not addressed, we will see a huge loss of upland habitat. Also not paying a competitive rental rate will cause a loss of these programs.
    Jerry Johnson
    Regional Director, Quail & Upland Game Alliance (QUGA)

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Joel Webster

October 1, 2018

Act Now For Alaska’s Roadless Areas

With an Alaska roadless rule on the way, sportsmen and women need to advocate for habitat, clean water, and quality hunting and fishing opportunities

The US Forest Service has announced plans to rewrite the rules for the management of 16.8 million acres of roadless backcountry in the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska.

The lands under consideration have never been roaded or developed, and they provide enormous benefits for hunters, anglers, and the commercial fishing industry right now, just the way they are.

These areas are currently managed under the direction of the 2001 roadless rule, and a re-write of their management could result in industrial development, impairing streams important to salmon and disturbing valuable big game habitat.

Take a few moments right now to submit a letter in support of safeguarding these critically important hunting and fishing lands. We have developed the below talking points to help you write your letter.

Comments will be accepted until October 15, so make your voice heard today!

Suggested Talking Points

  • As a sportsman, I am concerned by the US Forest Service’s actions to rewrite the management of national forest roadless areas on the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska.
  • These lands provide enormous benefits for hunters, anglers, and the commercial fishing industry, and the current 2001 roadless rule is doing its job of ensuring they continue to do so.
  • Alaska’s national forest backcountry lands provide incredibly valuable habitat for salmon, Sitka black-tailed deer, moose, Dall sheep, and bear.
  • I ask that you support our hunting and fishing traditions by maintaining strong safeguards for Alaska roadless areas and preventing rollbacks that would open them to industrial development.

 

Photo courtesy: Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA

John Cornell

September 12, 2018

New Mexicans: Ensure Our Public Lands Are Managed Responsibly

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 BLM’s Carlsbad Field Office encompasses over two million acres across southeast New Mexico, including the Guadalupe Mountains, Pecos River, Delaware River, and the Black River. These landscapes provide some of the finest hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities in the state, as well as important habitat for big game and fish.

Currently, the Bureau of Land Management is revising the plan that will determine the future management of these lands. The Carlsbad Field Office’s Draft Resource Management Plan was released in August with a 90-day public comment period, and sportsmen and women must get involved to ensure that the best habitats are conserved and that these lands are managed responsibly for multiple-use.

Please attend one of eight 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, and I hope to see you at one of the following meetings.

Where and When
 Meeting Location  Date   Time  Address
Carlsbad September 17  12:30 – 3pm;  5:30 – 8pm  Pecos River Village Conference Center, 711 Muscatel Avenue
Artesia  September 18  12:30 – 3pm  Central Valley Electric Cooperative, 1403 N. 13th Street
Roswell  September 18 5:30 – 8pm  Holiday Inn Roswell, 3620 North Main Street
Hope  September 19  5:30 – 8pm  Village of Hope, 408 South 2nd Avenue
Albuquerque  September 20  12:30 – 3pm  Holiday Inn Albuquerque, North I-25, 5050 Jefferson Street NE
Jal  September 25  12:30 – 3pm  Jal Community Center, 109 W. Panther Ave
Hobbs  September 25  5:30 – 8pm  New Mexico Junior College, 5317 N Lovington
Midland, TX September 27  12:30 – 3pm  Midland County Centennial Library, 2503 Loop 250 Frontage Rd

 

Suggested Talking Points
  • Conserve big-game seasonal habitat and migration corridors: Elk, mule deer, and antelope utilize a variety of landscapes throughout the year, and the long-term health of these areas—particularly those contiguous, high-quality wildlife habitats that are not yet developed—should receive special consideration under the plan.
  • Additional resources for responsible stewardship: Funding for the reclamation and restoration of abandoned and orphaned well sites and energy infrastructure should equal that spent on new development. Additionally, the agency should provide the resources necessary to effectively monitor and enforce existing rules and regulations.
  • Responsible energy development: Oil and gas development on these lands should be conducted thoughtfully and in balance with other multiple-uses. Wildlife-dependent recreation and the hunting and fishing opportunities in places such as Serpentine Bends, or on the clear waters of the Black River, Delaware River and Pecos River should be safeguarded as this area undergoes further development.

 

Photo courtesy of BLM New Mexico

Joel Webster

September 7, 2018

Roadless Rule for Alaska Should Follow the Examples Set in Idaho and Colorado

If the forest service and Alaska are going to develop a state-focused roadless rule, they should stick to the standards set by previous efforts

Sometimes the world of public lands policy makes me feel like I’m helping my young daughter with her latest Lego set. She and I might spend hours assembling a boat or car, one piece at time until it’s completed and functional, and then she’ll play with it for a few days before deciding that it’s time to tear it apart and start all over again.

Such a process resembles the current situation of public land management in Alaska, where a carefully crafted conservation plan has been working with success since its establishment seventeen years ago, but the Forest Service must return to the drawing board to create a new plan for managing 14.7 million acres of some of the world’s most productive salmon and Sitka blacktail deer habitat.

And in this case, rather than the few hours it takes to rebuild my daughter’s plastic toys, the decision to scrap this carefully crafted policy will require millions of public dollars and years of committed work by our already overworked management agencies.

That’s right, the U.S. Forest Service recently announced that it has agreed to work with the state of Alaska to develop a state-specific rewrite of the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which is designed to conserve undeveloped backcountry public lands that have never been roaded or developed. These areas in the Tongass and Chugach National Forests provide enormous benefits right now for hunters, anglers, and the commercial fishing industry, and the current roadless rule is doing its job of ensuring they continue to do so.

With that said, since it is now clear that a new plan will be rewritten for Alaska, we want to outline how this process must unfold in order for it to succeed. About a decade ago, the states of Idaho and Colorado followed a similar path and developed state-based rules for roadless areas within their borders, and the TRCP played a leading role in seeing that these efforts produced plans that benefitted wildlife, conserved habitat, and safeguarded quality hunting and fishing opportunities.

Below are the lessons learned along the way that the Forest Service and state of Alaska must heed if they hope to develop a workable and supportable Alaska roadless rule.

Must-Dos for Roadless Rule Planning

First, in order to generate broad buy-in and support, an Alaska roadless rule must be, on balance, as strong as or stronger than the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. In order to do this, any new allowances for development in roadless areas must be counterbalanced with increased conservation measures. This was the approach taken in both Colorado and Idaho, where negotiations for provisions allowing new roads, more aggressive timber harvest, and mineral extraction in some areas resulted in additional safeguards for what were deemed the highest value roadless areas. This model enabled solutions-focused stakeholder groups to collaborate over the management of these lands and develop an end product with support from multiple interests. A similar expectation must be established for an Alaska roadless rule to help drive cooperation and compromise, and the rule’s ultimate success.

Second, any changes to the current management of roadless areas must result from a collaborative process that includes pragmatic representatives from a wide array of state and national stakeholder groups. The Forest Service’s memorandum of understanding with the state of Alaska indicates that the state will establish a state-driven collaborative to develop recommendations on the management of these lands. Both the Idaho and Colorado roadless rules succeeded, however, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service, and the states themselves supported the inclusion of stakeholders representing both state and, critically, national interests in the collaborative process. Because of this diverse level of involvement, these management rules were able to pass muster and be supported both locally and nationally.

Finally, the rule-making process should require as much public participation as possible. The success of Idaho and Colorado rules was dependent on strong public participation, and a number of key refinements to these rules were suggested by the public. The USFS should not only embrace and fully consider input from a broad range of voices, but also hold public meetings in the lower 48, in addition to the state of Alaska. Right now, the planned public meeting schedule does not include any meetings outside of Alaska, despite the fact that these lands are owned by all Americans. Ample commenting opportunities for the public to weigh-in officially will ensure that a variety of perspectives and interests will be heard in the planning process.

We’ve been here before, and if policymakers are serious about developing a roadless rule for Alaska that will be supported by stakeholders and provide for balanced management, they would do well to heed the lessons learned in the Idaho and Colorado roadless rule processes. With so much at stake, there’s no excuse to reinvent a proven model.

 

Photos courtesy: Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA

Chris Macaluso

August 30, 2018

A Fishing Paradise Rises from the Remnants of Louisiana’s Barrier Islands

How oil spill fines are helping to restore beaches and marshes that serve as critical defense against storm surge and enhance coastal fisheries

Louisiana’s barrier islands are an integral part of the state’s rich coastal fishing, culture, ecology, and economy. Eighteen barrier islands stretch from the Chandeleur Island chain east of the Mississippi River to Raccoon Island nearly 200 miles away in Terrebonne Parish. This includes Grand Isle, the state’s only inhabited barrier island and one of America’s top recreational fishing destinations.

Along with headland beaches like the Caminada and Pass Chaland Headland—where the marsh extends into but is not surrounded by water—Louisiana’s barrier islands are the first line of defense against winds and waves from the Gulf of Mexico. They provide protection to sensitive wetlands surrounding coastal lakes and bays, as well as the communities perched on what little high ground exists in the Mississippi River’s rapidly shrinking delta.

The islands are incredible places to fish and offer unique nesting and resting spots for hundreds of species of resident and migrating birds. From spring to fall, barrier island surf teems with speckled trout that have been drawn out of the interior wetlands to the Gulf to spawn or chase migrating shrimp and schools of menhaden and mullet.

Late-summer and fall also bring huge schools of breeding-size 12- to 50-pound redfish into the passes and surf zones, where they spawn and fatten up on blue crabs that gather in large masses along barrier island beaches to lay eggs. When Gulf-side surf is roughened by summer’s southerly winds, the marshy backsides of the islands offer protection, and often better fishing, to anglers.

Unfortunately, Louisiana’s barrier islands have been ravaged by the same forces of subsidence, erosion, and sediment starvation that have claimed 2,000 square miles of coastal wetlands in the last century. Restoring the state’s barrier islands is a key part of the overall effort by Louisiana to restore and protect its coast.

The Tale of Whiskey Island

Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has invested nearly $500 million in rebuilding more than 60 miles of beaches and barrier islands since 2007. They have also overseen construction of hundreds of acres of back-barrier marshes designed to enhance fisheries habitat and help retain the sand that has been pumped ashore by dredges to rebuild beaches and dunes.

Arguably, the most ambitious of these efforts is the recently completed restoration of Whiskey Island in Terrebonne Parish. For more than a year, sand was pumped to the island by a dredge from an ancient, sunken sand deposit 10 miles southwest of the island called Ship Shoal. Gradually built up by the Mississippi River about 7,000 years ago, Ship Shoal has proven to be the ideal source of material for two largescale beach restoration efforts and will be tapped again for at least two more barrier island restorations in the next decade.

The $117-million project to restore 1,000 acres of beaches and dunes at Whiskey Island—and establish another 160 acres of marsh platform behind the dunes to complement a 2009 project on 300 acres of marsh—was funded entirely with fines paid by BP and the other companies responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Nearly $20 billion in fines will be paid by BP alone over the next 15 years, and much of it will be used to address damage to fish and wildlife habitat.

Anglers are particularly fortunate that Whiskey Island’s beaches and marshes, coated and stained by oil eight years ago, have been renewed. The effort has helped to sustain and even enhance Terrebonne’s rich recreational and commercial fisheries and give coastal birds, like brown pelicans, which were hit hard by the spill, a place to nest and feed for at least two more decades.

Nearly $20 billion in fines will be paid by BP alone over the next 15 years, and much of it will be used to address damage to fish and wildlife habitat.
More Funding Equals More Savings

The project also demonstrates the broader scale of Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts now that oil spill dollars have become available. Past barrier-island restoration efforts were pieced together over a decade or more. But with oil spill penalties committed by Louisiana and federal resource agencies like NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, larger, more comprehensive projects can be built all at once, which ultimately saves money and makes for a more resilient and productive island.

Here’s why: We used to have to wait for $20 to $50 million in funding to restore 200 to 400 acres of marsh or beach at a time, then agencies would have to come back in five years or so with another chunk of money to build the next section. Now that money is available to complete an $80- to $100-million barrier island restoration all at once, millions aren’t wasted on mobilizing and demobilizing equipment and manpower at the beginning and end of multiple projects.

It’s actually a lot less expensive to build one 1000-acre restoration project than to break that effort into two or three smaller efforts spread out over a decade.

The Long Haul for Habitat

The TRCP and its sportfishing partners have advocated and worked with state and federal officials over the last eight years to make sure restoration efforts, like those on Whiskey Island, are the top priority as the Gulf continues to rebuild areas devastated by the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Good fishing requires good habitat. Projects like the Whiskey Island restoration and other efforts to rebuild beaches, barrier islands and marshes across the Gulf make sure there is high-quality habitat for fish and fishermen for decades to come.

Watch this video to see these project benefits in action.

 

Top photo by Flickr user Spencereblake

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.

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