Randall Williams

December 15, 2018

President Will Soon Choose a New Interior Secretary

TRCP outlines qualifications necessary for this key leadership role

Recent reports have confirmed that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to resign from his post at the end of 2018, creating a vacancy in one of the most important policymaking roles for hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation issues in this nation.
In response to this news, TRCP President and CEO, Whit Fosburgh, issued the following statement for President Trump to consider as he chooses the next Secretary of the Interior:

The Secretary of the Interior serves as the chief steward of America’s outdoor legacy. Whoever holds this office oversees the management of nearly 440 million acres of public land, which provide some of the best hunting and fishing in the world. The secretary also plays a central role in the management of migratory birds, including ducks and geese, and safeguards all species from extinction through the powers of the Endangered Species Act. The secretary controls the flows of rivers across the West through the Bureau of Reclamation, which also provides extensive hunting, fishing and boating opportunities on its reservoirs. And the secretary supervises energy development on and off Interior lands, including leasing and development on the outer continental shelf.

In order to fulfill these significant and wide-ranging duties, the next secretary must possess several attributes:

  • A dedication to keeping public lands in public hands
  • A commitment to ensuring that public lands are well-managed and accessible, including hunters and anglers
  • An unwavering fidelity to science-based management
  • An appreciation of public input in the policymaking process
  • An understanding of the importance of outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, to local economies and the national economy
  • A willingness to fight for strong budgets for the department and a respect for its employees, who have dedicated themselves to upholding and advancing America’s conservation legacy
  • An eagerness to collaborate with the states, which hold primary management authority for managing fish and wildlife
  • The foresight to promote long-term stewardship over short-term economic gains

Join TRCP and hunters and anglers across the nation to make a difference on this and other issues, and to make your voice heard.

Photo: Jeffrey Sullivan

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Kristyn Brady

December 11, 2018

New EPA Rule for Clean Water Protections Would Threaten Fish and Waterfowl

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers proceeds with rolling back Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands—harming trout, waterfowl, and outdoor recreation businesses

Today, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers took the next step to replace an Obama-era rule that benefited headwater streams and wetlands across the country. The new rule would redefine which waters are eligible for Clean Water Act protections and leave important habitat for fish and waterfowl vulnerable to pollution and destruction.

The rule proposed today would remove Clean Water Act protections for ephemeral streams, which only flow in response to rainfall, and likely excludes intermittent streams, which only flow during wet seasons. These waters are important for fish and wildlife, especially in the West.

Under the new rule, adjacent wetlands will only receive protection if they are physically connected to other jurisdictional waters. This disregards the EPA’s own research that shows wetlands and ephemeral and intermittent streams, even those that lack surface connection, provide important biological and chemical functions that affect downstream waters.

“No matter which party holds the power in Washington, the needs of America’s hunters and anglers have not changed since we supported the 2015 Clean Water Rule—all streams and wetlands are crucial to supporting healthy fish and waterfowl populations that power our sports, and an entire swath of these important habitats does not deserve to be overlooked or written off on a technicality,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and women will remain engaged in the public process of creating a new rule for how our smaller streams and wetlands are regulated, because our quintessentially American traditions in the outdoors depend on it.”

“The agencies’ refusal to consider the science is detrimental to the integrity and security of our fish and wildlife resources,” says Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society. “Headwater streams are key to the sustainability of fish stocks in both upstream and downstream waters. Now, species that are already in trouble will be harder to recover, and more species will be at risk of becoming imperiled. Loss of protections for these waters will have grave ecological consequences for fish and fisheries—and ultimately the communities across the U.S. will lose the economic, social, and cultural benefits that are derived from headwater streams.”

“This proposal is fundamentally flawed for one simple reason: It focuses on the wrong criteria—continuous flow of water—rather than protecting water quality in our rivers, lakes, and drinking water reservoirs,” says Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America. “This misguided approach is completely unsupported by science and common sense, and it not only jeopardizes public health, it will undermine the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.”

The Obama administration finalized its Clean Water Rule in 2015 and clarified that the Clean Water Act protects smaller streams and wetlands. The Trump administration’s rule embraces the minority opinion written by late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on what constitutes the “Waters of the U.S.”

Scalia’s definition was not adopted by the Supreme Court and is not supported by hunters and anglers. In fact, 80 percent of sportsmen and women in a 2018 poll said Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands. Additionally, 92 percent believe that we should strengthen or maintain current clean water standards, not relax them.

“The administration’s new proposal turns its back on the importance of small headwater streams to healthy waterways and sportfishing recreation,” says Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Small headwater streams are like the roots of our trees, the capillaries of our arteries. Sportsmen and women know that all the benefits of our larger streams, rivers, and bays downstream are dependent on the health of our small streams.”

Today’s proposed rulemaking would roll back protections on diverse wetland habitats, including prairie potholes in the Great Plains region. Also known as America’s duck factory, these wetlands support more than 50 percent of our country’s migratory waterfowl. Since the Supreme Court created confusion about the application of the Clean Water Act in the 2000s, America has experienced accelerated wetlands loss—only 40 to 50 percent of the original prairie potholes remain.

“From wetlands in the prairie potholes region to the riparian areas that are critical to 80 percent of all wildlife—including big game—our hunting and fishing traditions can’t exist without clean water,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Hunters and anglers will not stand for shortsighted policies that weaken protections and threaten the integrity of fish and wildlife habitats currently safeguarded by bedrock conservation laws like the Clean Water Act.”

The new rulemaking could also threaten America’s outdoor recreation businesses and communities that rely on tourism spending related to hunting and fishing.

“No one who loves the outdoors wants to fish a lake covered in toxic algae, duck hunt near a bulldozed wetland, or pitch a tent next to sewage ditch,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Yet more water pollution is exactly what will happen if the administration dismantles clean water protections. It’s bad for wildlife, and it’s bad for the nearly 8 million jobs powered by the outdoor recreation economy.”

Today’s proposal will be published in the Federal Register here. At that time, the public will have 60 days to comment.

Kristyn Brady

December 10, 2018

Farm Bill Agreement Includes Boost for Access and Habitat Programs

Passage before the end of this Congress would deliver certainty for landowners and sportsmen who use walk-in access

House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on provisions to be included in the 2018 Farm Bill, setting lawmakers up to pass legislation that makes significant investments in land and water conservation and boosts support for hunting and fishing access.

This is welcome news to farmers, ranchers, landowners, and sportsmen and women, who depend on farm bill programs to restore and improve wildlife habitat, enhance water quality, and make private acres available for hunting and fishing.

“We’re relieved to see a Farm Bill move forward before this Congress concludes, because every day we go without critical programs for habitat and access it creates more uncertainty for rural America,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “With full funding for conservation and increased funding for states to create new walk-in access for hunting and fishing, this bill is a win all around—for sportsmen and women, landowners, wildlife, water quality, and our economy.”

The agreement includes a $10-million increase for the Voluntary Public Access program, which funds walk-in access for hunting and fishing on private land across the country.

“Since the 2014 Farm Bill expired this fall, it has been tough for landowners like me to make definitive decisions about how to put conservation on the ground, despite having the best intentions,” says Zane Zaubi of Horizon Land Development, who hosts youth and first-time hunters on land he has enrolled in VPA. “For farmers, ranchers, and landowners across the country who are willing to do the right thing, it’s a tremendous positive to have a Farm Bill on the horizon, ready to work for our business portfolios, local wildlife, and access to hunting and fishing.”

The conference committee was able to agree on providing increased funding for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program, which helps landowners protect, restore, and improve wetlands. The legislation also provides a much needed increase in funding and flexibility for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which funds multi-state and watershed-scale projects to enhance soil, water, and wildlife conservation.

For all the benefits of farm bill conservation and access programs, click here..

Kim Jensen

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posted in: Press Releases

Where Outdoor Recreation Ranks in Pennsylvania’s Economy

New research finds that hunting, fishing, biking, camping, and other activities drive $27 billion in statewide spending

A new economic study finds that outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania, including hunting and fishing, generated $26.9 billion in 2016—that’s $2.2 billion more than the construction industry. The state’s wealth of natural resources and rich outdoor traditions also supported more than 390,000 jobs, where Pennsylvanians earned $17 billion in salaries and wages.

The research, conducted by Southwick Associates for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, showed that 780,000 state residents hunted and 1.3 million went fishing in 2016. This group spent nearly $1.3 billion to pursue their passions, supporting nearly 20,000 jobs, $800 million in salaries and wages, and more than $300 million in local, state, and federal tax revenue.
Additionally, 370,000 jobs in Pennsylvania were supported by other outdoor recreation activities, including biking, camping, and off-roading.

“Economic activity generated by outdoor recreation is too powerful to ignore,” says Derek Eberly, Pennsylvania field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “That’s why our local, state, and federal decision-makers should prioritize legislation that helps conserve the fish and wildlife resources that outdoor recreation businesses rely on to employ and serve Pennsylvanians.”

The Growing Greener program is a good example. This important state program helps to preserve open spaces, improve working lands, and clean up abandoned mines that could endanger habitat. But the program has seen drastic budget cuts in recent years, from a budget of roughly $200 million per year in the mid-2000s to less than $60 million this year.

The TRCP and other groups plan to advocate for better investments in conservation through increased funding for this program and others in the state.

You can read the full report and methodology for the study here.

Top photo by Bob Travis via flickr.

Kristyn Brady

December 6, 2018

BLM’s Revised Sage Grouse Plans Continue Conservation But Create Uncertainty

The agency’s revised sage grouse conservation plans for 11 Western states will play a major role in determining the future of the sagebrush ecosystem, which supports more than 350 species

Today, the Bureau of Land Management revealed its revised plans to conserve greater sage grouse populations across nearly 70 million acres of public land in 11 Western states. The Trump administration’s approach will replace the original Obama-era plans, which helped to give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confidence that the species did not warrant listing as threatened or endangered in 2015.

While the state-specific plans maintain the basic framework of the originals, which were created through years of collaborative effort, the new plans do not provide the same safeguards for certain sagebrush habitats. There is more potential for development and mineral extraction within sage grouse habitat in the new plans. Combined with the Department of Interior’s policy shift on habitat mitigation, this could be cause for concern.

“These new plans are a mixed bag, with some changes addressing legitimate requests from the states to help align with their conservation approaches and other changes stripping back protections for core sage grouse habitat and creating more uncertainty for the West,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“Unless the impacts of development are properly mitigated to avoid further habitat loss, sage grouse could easily become a candidate for the threatened and endangered species list yet again. Success will ultimately come down to implementing these new plans to the letter, and never wavering from an approach that produces results for sage grouse populations and other species that depend on the sagebrush ecosystem. We will continue working with the BLM, the states, industry, and local partners to ensure that happens,” says Fosburgh.

Changes That Create Uncertainty

The revised plans eliminate focal areas, a subset of about 11 million acres of priority habitat on BLM land that would have been permanently withdrawn from any potential mineral extraction in the 2015 plans. The original no-surface occupancy policy remains—meaning infrastructure for development cannot be built on priority habitat—but the revised plans also give the BLM more flexibility to waive these protections in certain cases.

Mitigation also remains a sticking point, now that the Department of the Interior maintains that it lacks legal authority to require developers to pay for any negative impacts to habitat. (Quick tip: Here’s a metaphor that helps explain mitigation using beer!) This shifts the onus of regulation to the individual states, each of which has different mitigation standards and legal requirements. The states now must ensure their mitigation approaches are not only effective at curbing habitat loss, but also at holding all developers accountable on a level playing field.

“We cannot manage grouse at a level where we are only one major event away from having to list the bird,” says Steve Belinda, executive director of the North American Grouse Partnership. “Habitat, particularly on public lands, must be managed to withstand events we cannot control, like drought, fire, and disease, so conservation can be balanced with energy development, grazing, and other human activities we can control.”

Image by Mia Sheppard.
No Time to Waste

The Trump administration first initiated a review of the original conservation plans in 2017. Since that time, secretarial orders and instruction memorandums issued by the DOI set the stage for amending the 2015 plans and changing how habitat is prioritized in relation to eligibility for oil and gas leasing.
A year ago, 105 wildlife and habitat experts urged the BLM and Secretary Zinke not to deviate from what the best science indicates is necessary in sagebrush country. They warned that major amendments to the 2015 plans and a lengthy delay in implementing conservation work could drastically alter the course for habitat conservation and undo years of hard work.

This is time that sage grouse don’t have to waste.

It will be important to move forward swiftly with implementation of any plan to conserve sagebrush habitat and begin tracking the effectiveness of conservation measures. “Whatever approach we take, the outcome for sage grouse and sagebrush habitat will need to be legally defensible,” says Dr. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “If there is not enough regulatory certainty, if there is too much flexibility leading to negative impacts on habitat, and it is determined that our actions were not effective, we may end up facing a legal challenge deeper than the one we started from years ago. At that point, it’s difficult to see a future where sage grouse aren’t reconsidered for listing.”

“The scale and magnitude of sage grouse conservation planning, while extraordinary, has always been an enormous experiment, and management actions largely remain untested,” says Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We need solid research and monitoring to demonstrate that management efforts implemented in these plans are, in fact, good for grouse. Until we see conservation manifested on the ground, we still just have good intentions for habitat and birds on paper in planning documents.”

The U.S. Forest Service is finalizing its own amendments to eight forest plans dealing with sage grouse conservation in the West. The public comment period for those proposed amendments closes on January 3, 2019.

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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