Derek Eberly

October 12, 2018

Conservation is Never a Bad Investment

With management and conservation cutbacks looming, the future of Pennsylvania’s fisheries depends on anglers’ leadership in footing the bill

Hunters and anglers have always stepped up to the plate when it comes to conserving our best fish and wildlife habitat for future generations. Right now, Pennsylvanians have another golden opportunity to do just that.

In recent years, fish and wildlife conservation programs at both the state at federal level have seen cuts in funding, leading to fewer quality hunting and fishing opportunities across the country. Among those agencies affected by this trend is the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which is tasked with providing safe access to Pennsylvania’s 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, the most of any state in the lower 48. The commission also handles the enforcement and regulation of boating and fishing on all waters within the Commonwealth. Revenue from the sale of fishing licenses provides the PFBC with its primary source of funding, and it receives no money from the state general fund. In short, this model means that the PFBC’s scope of responsibilities has no bearing on the size of its budget.

The last increase in recreational angling license fees occurred in 2005, thirteen years ago. Only eight years later, expenses were projected to soon outpace revenues, and in an effort to lower operating costs the PFBC planned to close two hatcheries. The announcement caused an outcry among sportsmen, and as a result lawmakers in 2013 promised to work alongside the agency toward a license fee increase.

Five years later, little progress has been made. And, still, the PFBC continues to operate with diminished funds.

The most visible consequence of this inaction is fewer wildlife conservation officers, who not only respond to waterway emergencies but also investigate pollution reports and provide resource education.

Less visible, however, is the effect of declining revenues on conservation programs, like the wildly successful Unassessed Waters Initiative, a collaborative effort by the PFBC and conservation groups. Guided by recommendations from sportsmen and anglers, PFBC staffers and wildlife science students from local colleges visit streams that have never been surveyed to document the presence of wild trout. Waters with wild trout populations often qualify for additional protections, so that these habitats and the fishing opportunities they offer will be conserved for generations to come.

Given the sheer volume of running water in Pennsylvania, this is a time-intensive effort. As of January 2017, PFBC staffers and partners had only surveyed approximately 32,442 stream miles, but a more robustly funded PFBC would allow the UWI to operate at full potential. “A license fee increase would have a profound impact on the Unassessed Waters Initiative,” says George Kutskel, an officer for the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited.

Legislation that has been introduced in the state capital could provide the agency with the license fee increase it needs to operate conservation programs currently under threat. The bill’s future, however, remains uncertain. While some have raised concerns regarding the amount of the proposed increase, the PFBC has determined that a $7 increase on the cost of an annual fishing license would allow the agency to better fulfill its mandate to “protect, conserve, and enhance the commonwealth’s aquatic resources.”

Despite the tremendous good that this license fee increase would do for fish, clean water, and the future of Pennsylvania’s angling traditions, sportsmen and women will only see progress on this front in the next legislative session if we make our voices heard. Concerned residents should let their state representative or senator know the importance—and urgency—of this issue.

Pennsylvania residents can look up contact information for their state representative and state senator at the following link:

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/

 

Photos courtesy: Chesapeake Bay Program

One Response to “Conservation is Never a Bad Investment”

  1. jack irvin

    I get a bit tiered of paying for a trout stamp when I would never keep a trout, just so that others can take home piles of trout, need much more catch and release, sick of paying for put and take. I have purchased license and stamps since 1969 and have not kept a trout since 1976, It is a much better deal to go out of state

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Kristyn Brady

October 1, 2018

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.

In August 2018, the TRCP released a report with leading app-makers onX to quantify the scope of the landlocked public lands problem in the 13 Western states.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used for more than 50 years to invest billions into the acquisition of lands and enhance access to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation. Thousands of Americans who enjoy our public lands have reached out to Congress to express overwhelming support for a renewal of LWCF. Despite this, Congress still failed to act on what may be the most significant and bipartisan public lands conservation initiative in the country.

“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.”

Urge Congress to support swift reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund here.

Joel Webster

September 20, 2018

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.

Checkerboard BLM lands in Oregon. Red striping indicates landlocked parcels.

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.

An isolated parcel of USFS land in Idaho. Red striping indicates landlocked parcels.

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.

Photo courtesy of BLM Wyoming

 

Steve Kline

August 22, 2018

The Four Bills Paul Ryan Should Help Pass to Solidify his Standing as the Sportsmen’s Speaker

In the final months of the 115th Congress, the Speaker of the House may have his legacy on his mind—here’s how he can do right by hunters, anglers, and wildlife

A session of Congress progresses about the same way as a day in a deer stand—both get started with enthusiasm about the opportunities to achieve meaningful things, and flashes of brief activity keep you focused on why you are here and what you are doing.

Both seem to end the same way, too: With a hopeful and expectant feeling that the last minutes might be productive, that all your effort will be worthwhile. And even if the tag is not filled, or the bill is not passed into law, we hope we’ve learned a few things that might help us next time.

The 115th Congress will see its sunset in the final days of 2018, and this is a particularly unique closing gavel for a Congress, for it will be the end of Representative Paul Ryan’s speakership and congressional career after serving Wisconsin’s 1st district since 1999.

It might be a long time before another bona fide hunter is in the Speaker’s office. As Ryan prepares to step away, there are four bills he should send to the president’s desk to leave an enduring legacy as the Sportsmen’s Speaker.

The Farm Bill

Versions of this critical legislation have been passed by both the House and the Senate, and while both chambers of Congress are working in conference to reconcile differences, the current law expires at the end of September. Both versions of the Farm Bill include provisions that are important to sportsmen, from funding critical conservation projects on working farms and forests to ensuring a bright future for the Conservation Reserve Program and reauthorizing the Voluntary Public Access program—the only private lands access incentive program in the entire federal government.

This close to the finish line, it would be a shame—not to mention a setback for high-priority wildlife habitat work nationwide—if the next Congress is forced to start all over again.

The Modern Fish Act

Passed out of both the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, the Modern Fish Act is the legislative application of the recreational fishing industry’s vision for improving marine fisheries management. In fact, it reads like a priorities list for TRCP and our marine fishing partners, like the American Sportfishing Association and Coastal Conservation Association.

The bill would improve data collection and take better advantage of some of the groundbreaking work being done to analyze recreational fishing activity through smartphone apps—all in service of creating longer, more predictable fishing seasons.

Perhaps most compellingly, the Modern Fish Act would give federal fisheries managers the flexibility to try new approaches to managing recreational fishing, where the hard poundage quotas that work for commercial fisheries just don’t get the job done.

The HELP for Wildlife Act

Passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the very beginning of this Congress back in 2017, the Help for Wildlife Act is one of the most comprehensive wildlife bills to be assembled by federal lawmakers in recent memory. The legislation would inject new life and fresh funding into such critical programs as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act.

In short, if passed, this bill would put many of our most effective conservation initiatives on firmer footing moving forward.

Photo Courtesy of the USDA.
The WILD Act

It may be tough to get excited about a Senate vote count, but this legislation passed by unanimous consent—this is the very definition of bipartisanship and a rare thing in Washington in 2018.

The WILD Act has a host of provisions, but among the most important for sportsmen is the bill’s inclusion of a reauthorization for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, one of our most effective private lands conservation programs. It emphasizes on-the-ground work to benefit some of the most imperiled species, including sage grouse and lesser prairie chickens. The WILD Act would reauthorize the Partners program, which has been lapsed since 2011, through 2022.

The WILD Act also includes language prioritizing coordination between a variety of stakeholders on addressing invasive species outbreaks and encouraging expedited action before AND after invasive species are discovered. This language could help state and federal agencies get a handle on pythons in the Everglades and Asian carp in watersheds across the country.

Support Is There, But Time Is Running Out

All of the aforementioned bills have bipartisan support, and signing them into law would meet some serious needs of the fish and wildlife conservation community. We hope that in our final months working with a Speaker of the House who deeply understands the importance of quality days afield, this success could be within reach.

If Speaker Ryan can see the wisdom in working to get these bills over the finish line, he will earn the well-deserved applause of America’s hunters and anglers before he gets to spend more time outside himself. And we stand ready to help make sure the last days of the 115th Congress are productive ones.

Randall Williams

August 16, 2018

Do You Know Where Your Conservation Dollars Come From?

Thankfully, when it comes to funding for maintenance and improvement of fish and wildlife habitat or sportsmen’s access, all our eggs aren’t in one basket­—here are the major conservation funding sources that every hunter and angler should know

Sportsmen and women know that the money we spend hunting and fishing not only drives an $887-billion outdoor recreation economy, but it also pays for wildlife conservation and fisheries management across the country. License sales by state agencies and duck stamps from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service offer the most obvious examples, but the full picture includes a diversity of sources. Thankfully, not all our eggs are in one basket, and though we contribute heavily to the American conservation funding model, we are not alone.

At the federal level, conservation funding can be a complicated landscape of laws and acronyms. But it is critical that sportsmen and women understand where this money comes from—and it’s not always out of our own pockets—and the incredible value of investing in our fish and wildlife resources now, in case there’s ever a need to defend these revenue streams against shortsighted cutbacks in the future.

Get on a first-name basis with these major conservation funding programs.

The Gold Standards

The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, more popularly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, allows the federal government to assist states in wildlife management and restoration efforts. Passed on September 2, 1937, Pittman-Robertson applies an 11 percent excise tax to sporting arms and ammunition, the funds from which are distributed to states to cover up to three-quarters of the cost of specifically approved projects. Since its initial passage, the law has been amended to tax pistols and revolvers, bows, crossbows, arrows, and archery parts and accessories. Habitat improvement, population surveys, species introductions, wildlife research, hunter education, and the building and maintenance of public shooting ranges are among the types of projects funded by Pittman-Robertson (“P-R”) dollars.

In 1950, lawmakers passed the Dingell-Johnson Act, or the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act. Modeled after Pittman-Robertson, the law provides federal dollars to states from an excise tax on fishing tackle, a motorboat fuels tax, and import duties on fishing tackle and recreational watercraft. These funds are used to support projects relating to the management of fish populations with a “material value in connection with sport or recreation in the marine and/or fresh waters of the United States,” including boating access facilities, wetlands restoration, boat safety, public education, and clean vessel sanitation efforts.

Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson have been tremendously successful, generating more than $20 billion dollars for conservation since the first annual P-R apportionment in 1939. In addition, both laws mandate that any state seeking funds under these programs must refrain from diverting fishing and hunting license sales for any purpose other than funding their fish and game departments. In this way, they reinforce the broader fiscal structures of our conservation model.

Photo courtesy: Lisa Hupp/USFWS
An Overlooked Workhorse

Although its name may bring to mind crop insurance and nutrition programs, the Farm Bill is the single-largest source of conservation funding in the United States. Given the fact that 70 percent of land in the lower forty-eight states is under private ownership and 45 percent of that is agricultural, American farmers and ranchers are critical to ensuring that our woods, waters, and fields continue to support healthy populations of fish and wildlife.

By supporting the nation’s agricultural producers, farm bill funding improves water quality and habitat, while also incentivizing public access and wetlands protections. Among the many important programs in the Farm Bill for hunters and anglers are those encouraging the planting of cover crops and compensating farmers for removing environmentally sensitive lands from production. In addition to the sheer scale of the Farm Bill’s impact on the landscape, it is a fiscally significant source of funding—experts suggest it accounts for nearly $1 billion in conservation spending each year. In the last five years alone, more than 900,000 acres of private land in thirty different states have been opened for public hunting and fishing thanks to $40 million in Farm Bill allocations.

Photo courtesy: Kansas Tourism
The Premier Lands and Access Program

In 1964, Congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund to establish new and improve existing outdoor recreational opportunities on public lands. LWCF dollars come from a small fraction of the oil and gas royalties collected by the federal government, and are divided into one of two pools: grants to state and local governments for projects like boat-launches, playgrounds, and trail networks, and appropriations to federal land management agencies for acquiring lands, waters, and access for the sporting public. Parks, forests, shorelines, farms, ranches, and refuges all across the country have been conserved with LWCF dollars.

Over the years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has invested more than $16 billion in conservation. Because nearly every county in the United States has benefitted from an LWCF project and the program costs nothing to taxpayers, it enjoys bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and among the American public. And given that it spends dollars raised through resource extraction on outdoor recreation opportunities, it stands as the perfect example of a balanced conservation program.

Photo courtesy: Katie Theule
What’s Next?

These funding sources have made an incredibly positive impact on our nation’s fish and wildlife while also improving the opportunities available to hunters and anglers. But their future remains uncertain. Experts worry that declining rates of participation in hunting will result in the diminishment of Pittman-Robertson funding. And every five years, the passage of a new Farm Bill hangs on complex legislative processes that are unfortunately too often steered by partisan gamesmanship. This year’s bill is no exception.

Perhaps most significantly, however, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is set to expire on September 30, 2018, if Congress does not authorize its renewal. While there stands a tremendous amount of public support behind the process and key lawmakers have voiced their commitment, the administration’s proposed FY19 budget suggests little appreciation for the fund’s importance to hunters and anglers.

Federal decision makers need to hear from sportsmen and women how necessary these funding sources are to the future of hunting and fishing. Their continued contributions to fish, wildlife, and access are too important to be left to chance or the political winds in Washington, D.C.

 

Top photo courtesy: leighklotz

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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