Andrew Wilkins

November 9, 2018

Seven Bills That Sportsmen and Women Need Congress to Pass During the Lame Duck Session

If Congress can pull off a Hail Mary pass for legislation that benefits hunters and anglers in the remaining weeks of 2018, here are the bills we want to see land on the president’s desk

Now that Election Day has come and gone, there may be as little as three weeks of worktime left in the 115th Congress—and that means we have one last window to finalize top legislative priorities for habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and conservation funding. It’s important to note that bills written, introduced, debated, and passed this Congress will head back to square one at the start of a new session on January 4, 2019.

Time is short, but it isn’t over ‘til it’s over.

Fortunately there’s already support from both sides of the aisle on crucial legislation to enhance habitat conservation and sportsmen’s access on public lands. And Congress has the opportunity to put these priorities to bed so that 2019 can be spent making more progress for conservation, not making up for lost time.

These are the seven bipartisan, ready-to-vote pieces of legislation they’ll need to carry across the finish line during the lame duck session to make that happen.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 Greg Shine BLM
HELP for Wildlife Act

Benefits for wetlands, water quality, fishing access
Last move: Passed out of Senate committee

The Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act, or HELP for Wildlife Act, is one of the strongest pieces of legislation for habitat conservation to emerge in decades—and one of the most meaningful things Congress could get done in the waning days of 2018.

Introduced and passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with broad bipartisan support in October 2017, this legislation includes reauthorization for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Chesapeake Bay restoration program through 2022. Additionally, the bill contains the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, which would improve fish habitat and expand recreational fishing access. These provisions have made it this far before, only to be left behind as Congress wraps. It’s time to get them done.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 Chuck Pyle USFWS
Pittman-Robertson Modernization

Benefits for conservation funding and swelling our ranks
Last move: Passed unanimously in the House and referred to the Senate

Another key sportsmen’s priority is the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act of 2017, which would help address the decline in hunter participation that has wildlife professionals worried for the future of conservation funding.

The original Pittman-Robertson Act is the foundation of our unique wildlife conservation funding framework, where excise taxes on the purchase of firearms, ammunition, and other hunting gear go toward funding state-level wildlife conservation work. Modernizing Pittman-Robertson would allow a percentage of funds to be used for activities related to the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters and recreational shooters, thereby improving the trust fund’s ability to support our state wildlife agencies.

This is bipartisan legislation that has already passed in the House and should definitely be in the mix if lawmakers want to be part of a long-term solution for boosting conservation coffers.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 Benjamin Carmichael
Modern Fish Act

Benefits for recreational fisheries and forage fish
Last move: Passed out of Senate committee and House this summer

The Modern Fish Act addresses many of the challenges faced by recreational anglers and represents the fishing community’s practical wishlist for updating fisheries management and data collection. The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by allowing science and technology to guide decision-making, all while placing a higher priority on the needs of anglers.

We have been operating within a system designed to manage commercial fishing for too long—our coastal economies deserve to see us build upon the bipartisan support for MFA, not head back to the drawing board in January.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 Jennifer Strickland USFWS
WILD Act

Benefits for habitat on private land
Last move: Passed unanimously in the Senate, introduced in the House

The Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act, or WILD Act, would reauthorize the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, a critical initiative to assist private landowners who want to voluntarily restore habitat on their lands, for the next five years. The program also establishes a series of Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prizes to help prevent poaching, promote wildlife conservation, manage invasive species, and conserve endangered species.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 BLM Oregon
The Land and Water Conservation Fund

Benefits for unlocking landlocked public lands
Last move: Passed out of House committee

This program has become a household name among outdoor recreation enthusiasts—and for good reason. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a critical tool for conserving habitat and opening access to public lands, but Congress allowed the LWCF to expire on September 30.

Even though the LWCF doesn’t use a single taxpayer dollar—it’s funded from a portion of offshore oil and gas fees—the program has rarely been funded to its full potential and short-term authorization cycles create uncertainty for proposed outdoor recreation projects. While majorities in both chambers currently support permanent reauthorization and full funding, the ultimate length and funding levels are matters of continued negotiation.

Still, bipartisan legislation to save LWCF has broad support in both chambers and could easily pass today. We’d be excited to see this program put to work on the 9.52 million acres of landlocked public land across the West with no permanent legal access. Take action to let your lawmakers know.

ACE Act

Benefits for states with landlocked public lands
Last move: Introduced in both the House and Senate

Sportsmen have been advocating for several bills that would fit well in a comprehensive public lands package by the end of the year. One of them, the Advancing Conservation and Education, or ACE, Act, would improve the quality of public lands and allow Western states to generate more revenue for state land-trust beneficiaries, such as schools.

ACE would facilitate land-swaps to unlock state lands entirely surrounded by federal lands, or vice versa. In both cases, these swaps are designed to improve land management in the West by streamlining jurisdiction over land parcels. (Imagine how hard it would be to manage upkeep and improvements on your land if you had to cross someone else’s property to do it.)

This bill enjoys bipartisan support from Western lawmakers who oversee a complicated mosaic of public, state, and private land. And since ACE is a winner when it comes to improving public lands management, it’s a strong candidate for inclusion in a package alongside permanent authorization and full funding for LWCF.

Chronic Wasting Disease Study Act

Benefits for wild big game herds
Last move: Introduced in the House

It’s difficult to overstate the threat that chronic wasting disease poses to the future of deer and elk hunting in America or the conservation funding generated by this powerful segment of the sportsman population. Though additional solutions must be proposed soon, legislation introduced in the House this year would kick start one critical component of a nationwide response to the rapid spread of CWD.

The bill directs the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on how CWD is transmitted between wild, captive, and farmed deer in the United States. The aim would be to identify factors that contribute to the spread of the disease and where the deeper focus of research should be. The bill also calls for a review of the best practices and standards around managing CWD in both captive and wild deer, resulting in a report of findings and recommendations.

A Senate companion bill could be introduced any day, and support for both will be crucial. But if these bills can’t cross the finish line this year, we hope they at least indicate strong interest in continuing to create solutions for curbing the spread of CWD. Our wild deer and elk herds are depending on it.

Top photo by: Dusan Smetana

8 Responses to “Seven Bills That Sportsmen and Women Need Congress to Pass During the Lame Duck Session”

  1. Where is the Restoring America’s Wildlife Act on your priority list? There is actually wildlife other than hunted and fished species and real needs applicable to them. Or is TRCP just another hook and bullet outfit with a limited vision?

  2. As a nonhunter AND a supporter of TRCP I can say without question that TRCP is most definitely NOT “just another hook and bullet outfit with a limited vision” as you unfairly suggest. Just a casual perusal of its archives makes that abundantly clear. Also, as a conservation professional I’ve spent the last twenty years doing all I can to bring together ALL outdoorspersons to support clean water, protected habitats, better public access and science as THE deciding factor in conservation management. We do our shared concerns no favor when we snipe at each other for whatever reason(s). Look, I’m also a longtime DU member even though I’ve never hunted waterfowl. Why? because DU protects wetlands. Period. They buy them, restore them, manage them, sometimes pass them on the state and provincial wildlife agencies. The late John Sawhill, CEO of The Nature Conservancy once told me that when all people who love the outdoors and wild places stand together, they are an unstoppable force for conservation. Let’s face it: “Conservation” and “Environmental” go together like “Liberty” and “Freedom”.

  3. Ted Eisele

    Excellent job, TRCP! Now we need to work on getting the salmon and steelhead runs of the Snake river/Columbia river system on that list and back to good health. Formerly the biggest runs in the U.S., they have dwindled in large part because of political inaction. While politicians pretend the status quo is healthy (yet only FOUR endangered sockeye salmon made it to Idaho this year!), and they waste BILLIONS of tax dollars subsidizing a barge system around the obsolete lower Snake river dams, the fish runs are on life support. Idaho has announced they are closing fishing for steelhead, which will devastate river communities’ economies. All to pretend that the lower Snake dams still provide enough value to justify the deadly toll they take on salmon and steelhead runs. Our Northwest politicians refuse to even talk about the issue. We really need TRCP and conservation-minded politicians to step up and help spread the word! The American Fisheries Society agrees with us. So does the Idaho Statesman and a great many sportsmen! Thank you!

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Nick Payne

November 2, 2018

New Public Land Management Plan Should Reflect Colorado’s Values

When it comes to determining the next 20 years of management on our public lands, local sportsmen and other stakeholders have been engaged from the start—and our voices should carry weight

Our public lands. That phrase means a lot to me, and if you’re reading this, I bet it does to you too. As Americans, we’re uniquely privileged to enjoy the best that the outdoors has to offer, regardless of our income or station.

This is certainly true for the world-class elk, mule deer, wild trout, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep habitat of eastern Colorado, much of which is overseen by the BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office. Some of the other species you can pursue in this area, if you have the luck or ingenuity, include white-tailed ptarmigan, bobwhite and scaled quail, lake trout, waterfowl, moose, mountain goats, black bears, and wild turkeys.

So, when it comes to how these lands are managed, the stakes are high. And, right now, the BLM is rewriting the guidelines for the next two decades, or more, of public land management.

Photo by Royal Gorge Field Office via Bureau of Land Management on flickr
Working Together for our Public Land Heritage

In the very near future, the Royal Gorge Field Office will have a new Resource Management Plan, which guides decision making for things like public-land access, development, and management objectives. Our community of hunting and fishing groups has already invested significant time and resources to see that the final guidelines for this region reflect Colorado’s values.

Government bureaucracy can be daunting, and the policy-making process grueling, but our coalition of 23 local businesses, more than 500 individual hunters and anglers, and seven sporting organizations has been consistently engaged in planning efforts for this area for more than 11 years.

There have been some challenges along the way, but we’ve been proud to work for Colorado’s habitat, access, and outdoor heritage. It’s not hard to see that these efforts are all about upholding the public-lands legacy that we’ve inherited from the likes of Theodore Roosevelt. We are aware of both the immediate consequences and long-term significance of this negotiation, and many of us have been inspired by the work and encouraged by the progress made so far.

Photo by BLM-Colorado via tumblr

In addition to having tradition and individual commitment on our side, there are other reasons to feel optimistic about the possible outcome. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has prioritized expanding and enhancing hunting opportunities (see Secretarial Order 3347), conserving big game migration corridors and winter habitats (see Secretarial Order 3362), and supporting recreational opportunities on public lands (see Secretarial Order 3356).

Importantly, to date, the Colorado BLM has done a great job listening to the local community—particularly sportsmen and women. Preliminary drafts prioritized maintaining and enhancing hunting and fishing opportunities on some of our most-celebrated landscapes, including the South Platte River, the South Park valley, and the Arkansas River canyon.

Seeing It Through

As decision-makers finalize the plan, it’s critical that they uphold the substantive results of the long-term process by managing these lands for the benefit of fish and wildlife, habitat, and sportsmen and women. Our coalition represents just a portion of the community that is counting on the Colorado BLM to move forward with what local stakeholders have asked for and supported in the Royal Gorge Field Office plan.

Over the years, we’ve been encouraged by the collaborative spirit and consideration of local preferences demonstrated throughout this process. Continuing along this path, with everyone on board, will no doubt result in a huge victory for sportsmen and our community.

 

Main photo by BLM-Colorado via tumblr

Kim Jensen

October 31, 2018

PA Sportsmen Support Increasing License Fees to Better Fund Conservation

Sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly want state decision-makers to ensure robust funding for conservation programs that improve water quality and fish habitat

The majority of Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers want decision-makers in the state to invest in clean water and fish habitat, even if it means sportsmen and women have to open their own wallets to do so, according to polling data revealed today by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Public Opinion Strategies.

Once they were provided with basic information on how it would help conservation, nearly three-quarters of the hunters and anglers polled (74 percent) said they would agree to increase the state’s fishing license fee, which hasn’t been adjusted in more than a decade, despite the rising costs facing the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Sixty percent of respondents supported the fee increase without any additional information about how the money would be spent.

Even as the primary agency tasked with providing safe access to 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, the PFBC has been forced to scale back conservation efforts and operate with fewer wildlife conservation officers in recent years.

“This study shows that, regardless of political affiliation, sportsmen and women in the Keystone State are spurred to action by clean water issues that affect our hunting and fishing opportunities,” says Derek Eberly, Pennsylvania field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’ve always been willing to pay our fair share for conservation, but it’s time to pay a little more.”

Beyond the price of fishing licenses, 77 percent of poll respondents who hunt and fish were also willing to pay more in taxes to restore and/or maintain water quality and quantity in Pennsylvania, where healthy in-stream flows support strong fish populations. And 92 percent of the sportsmen and women polled said state lawmakers should strengthen or maintain the clean water laws and standards currently in place.

Other key results:

  • 81% of Pennsylvania hunters and anglers across the political spectrum have a more favorable opinion of elected officials with pro-conservation views.
  • 90% of voters who hunt and fish say habitat and water issues are important to them as they decide whether or not to support an elected official, with almost no distinction between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.
  • 37% went even further to say that habitat and water issues are of primary importance as they decide whether or not to support an elected official.
  • Four in five say they support fully funding the Growing Greener program, which provides grants to restore watersheds, clean up abandoned mines, and plug abandoned oil and gas wells.

To learn more about poll methodology and review the full results, click here.

Travis Cooke

October 19, 2018

How Maintenance Backlogs Could Affect Your Hunting Season

Deferred maintenance projects without suitable funding crop up on more than just national park lands, and it could waste your precious daylight hours afield—here’s everything you need to know about the backlog issue, proposed solutions, and why it’s personal

Picture this: You draw a special deer tag in a unit you’ve never hunted before, and like most people, you’re busy. So, you study maps and satellite imagery to mark roads and trails on your GPS, but family and work obligations prevent you from being able to get out there and scout in-person.

You could be pulling into camp the day before a six-day hunt, with your entire strategy reliant on being able to use access that you’ve never laid eyes on. It’s not ideal, but it happens. And there is a real possibility that you’ll be confronted with washed out roads and deep ruts that make passage difficult or impossible by vehicle, while some non-motorized trails are so overgrown that you can’t even find them to hike on.

No one wants to burn up half their hunt frustrated by road and trail conditions that fall short of their expectations. But this kind of access to public lands has become more difficult for America’s sportsmen and women because of the massive maintenance backlogs at many federal land management agencies—not just the National Park Service. It’s time to recognize the breadth of this challenge and how it plays out during your hunting and fishing season.

Know the Numbers

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 36 percent of American hunters depend on public lands for some or all of their access. In the West, where the BLM oversees 245 million acres of multiple-use public lands, 72 percent of hunters rely on public lands. When the roads and trails on these lands become difficult to navigate, these are the sportsmen and women who waste their precious time afield and get frustrated with land managers.

Currently, the Interior Department has a maintenance backlog totaling roughly $16 billion. While the bulk of that figure—or $11.6 billion—is tied to national parks, America’s sportsmen and women remain concerned about the backlogs at the Bureau of Land Management and the National Wildlife Refuge System, which have a combined backlog of $2.2 billion. Meanwhile, at the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service has a backlog totaling more than $5 billion, an issue further exacerbated by the practice of “fire borrowing” before this fix.

Combined, these agencies manage public lands that provide some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in the country. But nothing is more frustrating than having to ground-truth every route to make sure it’s accessible as presented on a map. Especially in today’s world, when time is precious and most people don’t have extra days to spare.

Loss of access is often cited as the number-one reason hunters quit the sport. With hunting numbers already in decline, creating a ripple that reduces funding for state wildlife conservation, we can ill-afford to let a backlog of repairs put negative pressure on hunter retention and recruitment.

Finding a Solution

The deferred maintenance backlog across federal agencies and Americans’ access to public lands appears to be top-of-mind for the administration. In his infrastructure proposal earlier this year, President Trump offered a new funding stream to address the maintenance backlog on lands managed by the Interior Department, including our nation’s parks and wildlife refuges. And Secretary Zinke has been outspoken about the maintenance backlog issue, even as he has urged agency staff through two Secretarial Orders to prioritize public access to outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing.

Creating a solution will be critical, but it can’t come at the cost of other important conservation programs. While the TRCP supports initiatives to address the significant maintenance backlog on our nation’s public lands, we are opposed to efforts to restructure programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund with an aim of shifting funding from one important need to another.

Instead, we need an all-of-the-above strategy: Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund to continue creating access where there is none, recognize that the maintenance backlog issue is meaningful for more than just national park visitors, and identify new funding sources to deal with it.

Fortunately, the House Natural Resources Committee recently showed strong bipartisan support for doing just that. In September, they advanced two pieces of critical public lands legislation that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide dedicated funding to address the maintenance backlogs in our national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands, and National Wildlife Refuge System.

Now, sportsmen and women need Congress to see these solutions through before the end of the year, when all good intentions are left on the cutting room floor and a new Congress begins. If you agree, voice your support for the public lands that we call Sportsmen’s Country—sign the petition now.

 

This was originally posted March 27, 2018, and has been updated to reflect recent events.

John Gans

October 18, 2018

Dreams of the Fabled Fall Blitz Turn Into an Industrialized Fishing Nightmare

The scene that shocked East Coast anglers who waited all year to cruise up to striped bass blitzing on an embattled forage fish

I look forward to fall fishing all year long. It is a little cooler, the days a little shorter, and the convergence of baitfish and predators feeds the fabled fall blitz and takes over my imagination. A few weeks ago, I headed out ready to fish the fall migration with coolers full, sandwiches made, and strong reports of striped bass, false albacore, and bluefish in the area. A Long Island Grand Slam was on our agenda.

We couldn’t get out there fast enough when we saw what every angler wants to see: birds dive-bombing the water above a huge pod of bunker. These Atlantic menhaden support pretty much every sportfish we care about. And they’re so critical to the ecosystem that anglers up and down the East Coast would like to see them managed with their value as a forage fish in mind.

Through binoculars, we saw an even larger flock of birds indicating some action in the distance, so we got the boat up on plane and gunned it to see what was going on. But we were not prepared to see a 200-foot purse seining boat vacuuming up millions of bunker.

I knew this was happening down in Virginia—where a single company represents the last holdout in the commercial harvest of menhaden—but what the heck were these boats doing up in New York waters? Hearing about it is bad, but seeing the scale of this type of fishing in person is shocking and demoralizing. There was a spotter plane flying above to find the fish and two smaller boats dispatched by the mother ship to surround the school with a huge net.

They were removing millions of pounds of bait that make our best days on the water possible. And, quite simply, if you remove the bait, the predators will leave, too. Imagine a fresh chill in the air and no birds on the horizon.

Courtesy: Stephan Lowy

Standing there with my rod and reel, I felt really insignificant next to this industrial operation. New York doesn’t allow reduction fishing—the practice of “reducing” commercially harvested fish like menhaden into fishmeal or fish oil—in the three miles offshore that constitute state waters. In fact, reduction fishing has been banned off the coastal waters of every Atlantic state, with the exception of Virginia. But we were just beyond that boundary within federal waters, where reduction fishing of this sort is currently permitted in what is known as the Exclusive Economic Zone. (Ironically, all striped bass fishing–both recreational and commercial–is strictly prohibited in the EEZ.)

How can removing that much forage from the marine food web be the best use of the resource for New York fishermen and our economy? These boats, run by Omega Protein, would soon be taking these fish back to Virginia to be processed and then shipped to Canada to feed farmed salmon. But what about our wild stripers, albies, and blues?

Not too long ago, menhaden were in real trouble due to overfishing. Scientists agree that the menhaden’s recovery began when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the government body that manages the species, enacted the first-ever catch limits on bunker in 2013.

But the return of menhaden has now also brought the Omega Protein fleet back to our waters with their spotter planes, and our future fishing opportunities could be left in their wake.

For decades, Omega (now owned by Canadian Cooke Inc.) has opposed a more ecological approach to fisheries management and consistently lobbies for aggressive catch increases that would jeopardize the return of menhaden populations. Why? Because their business depends on churning out more fishmeal and fish oil.

Omega’s return to New York and New Jersey has created outrage and should spark action. If menhaden populations in Virginia are as healthy as Omega says, why did they need to travel 270 miles from their home port in Reedsville to catch their quota?

Removing a critical food source for sportfish in the New York Bight and taking it back to Virginia is an irresponsible use of the resource. We need this bait for our predators and the outdoor recreation economy they support. Our policymakers should not allow local anglers to sacrifice for the benefit of one company.

All but one of the Atlantic Coast states have banned the ecologically damaging practice of menhaden reduction fishing in their territorial waters. Perhaps the time has come for the federal government to do the same.

 

Top photo courtesy: David Blinken

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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