House Reversed Rule That Made It Easier to Sell Off Public Lands
Lawmakers have undone a 2017 rule-change that was widely criticized by hunters and anglers concerned about the threat of public land transfer or disposal
This week, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership encouraged House lawmakers to reverse a 2017 measure that made it easier to transfer or sell off public lands.
“Considering the benefits they provide to local communities and the nation—including outdoor recreation opportunities, clean water, and abundant wildlife habitat—America’s public lands continue to increase in value,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Congress should not be in the business of finding new ways to get rid of our public lands, and we applaud measures proposed by House lawmakers that recognize public lands are national assets, worthy of conservation.”
In its first day in session, the House of the 116th Congress passed a rules package that did not include language widely criticized by hunters and anglers last Congress.
The original rule-change—made by a 40-vote margin on the first day of the 115th Congress—overturned a requirement under Congressional Budget Office accounting rules to offset the cost of any transfer of federal land that generated revenue for the U.S. Treasury, whether through energy extraction, logging, grazing, or other activities.
In other words, for the past two years, public lands—even those producing billions in revenue for the federal government—had no official value and thus were vulnerable in terms of possible transfer to the states. House rules passed on Thursday did not carry this provision forward.
Once again, if lawmakers want to give federal land to a state or local government or tribe, they have to account for that loss of revenue.
“This indicates that public lands are on firmer footing in the 116th Congress,” says Fosburgh. “We encourage all our lawmakers to restore or create policies that will help keep public lands in the public’s hands.”
How Fishing Guides Accelerated Everglades Restoration Efforts
As fishing guides, charter captains, and other small business owners share their stories, decision-makers get inspired to make conservation happen in South Florida
From the top of a poling platform in the Florida Keys, a fishing guide scans the flats for a slender outline or a silver flash, whispering instructions to an angler at the bow. “There’s one at ten o’clock. Drop it right in front him. Strip… faster, now…” The more precise the directions, the greater the chance of hooking into the targeted fish. Patience and perseverance are critical, especially when almost every element is outside of your control.
In a moment of such pure concentration, politics should be the furthest thing from the mind of a guide. The unfortunate reality, however, is that our unique experiences on the water—not to mention the livelihoods of countless outdoor recreation business owners in south Florida—are directly affected by decisions made every day in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.
So, these days, the captain who guides you to bucket-list bonefish and tarpon is more likely to be tuned into, and willing to speak out about, the policy decisions that could threaten the future of recreational fishing here in the Everglades.
And it’s paying off for conservation.
Gathering the Guides
For decades now, water quality across Florida’s southern peninsula has declined, causing massive seagrass die-offs and toxic algal blooms. The consequences of this trend are dire: The state’s fishing, boating, real estate, and tourism industries, as well as the health of its residents, all depend on the quality of its water.
Citizen engagement on this issue had been lacking, and politicians at the state and federal level let opportunities to fix these problems slip away. This water crisis could have been fixed years ago with greater awareness of the problem and available solutions.
This realization, combined with the tangible economic impacts to charter fishing businesses, inspired guides like Captains Daniel Andrews and Chris Wittman to take leave of their skiffs and spend their time educating others about Florida’s water mismanagement issues and possible solutions. In 2016, they founded Captains for Clean Water, a non-profit that advocates for clean water and healthy estuaries.
They had no idea that they would be rallying the outdoor industry to the front lines of a decades-old fight.
Action for the Everglades
Fast-forward to May 2018, when hundreds of anglers, business owners, and conservationists traveled to Washington, D.C., for the America’s Everglades Summit, a two-day event hosted by the Everglades Foundation. There, they took to the halls of the Capitol to make their voices heard.
“Our sense of urgency and the passion we share for this place, can only be felt in person,” says Captain Benny Blanco. “That’s why I made it a priority to show up and do whatever I could to convince decision-makers. My livelihood and the livelihoods of every South Florida guide hang in the balance. I think they can hear that in my voice.”
The group’s first request for Congress was to authorize the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act. This project will significantly reduce toxic discharges to Florida’s coasts and restore the flow of clean water to the Everglades, where it is needed.
Since then, the collective efforts of organizations like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Captains for Clean Water have helped to bring anglers together and push lawmakers to pass WRDA with critical support for the Everglades. This is strong evidence that when our community unites, we win.
“Having the ability to move forward on the reservoir south of the lake means that we are one step closer to saving Florida Bay and the northern estuaries,” says Captain Josh Greer, a southwest Florida business owner and fishing guide, who encourages his customers to keep up the pressure on lawmakers. “If we can do that, guides like me can continue to make a living on the water. We need everyone to continue making noise and pushing the state and federal government for funding before we lose the Everglades for good.”
The Next Chapter
The effort to restore the Everglades is far from over, and attention now turns to providing federal funding for the EAA Reservoir. In 2019, Captains for Clean Water pledges to lead this charge, rallying supporters and working with elected officials to solve this critical issue.
With so much at stake, the time to act for Florida’s water quality and outdoor economy is now.
“Restoring flows to Florida Bay has never been more crucial,” says Blanco, “but we’ve never had more evidence that the voices of recreational fishermen can make an impact.”
Alycia Downs is the communications associate for Captains for Clean Water, a non-profit advocating for clean water and healthy estuaries. As an avid sportswoman, writer, and Southwest Florida native, she creates content for numerous organizations promoting tourism, conservation, fishing, and outdoor involvement. Downs can be found casting lines along the Gulf Coast, where she lives with her husband Mike. For more outdoor inspiration and to get in touch, visit tideandtale.com or follow her on Instagram @tideandtale.
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.
We Make Time for the Outdoors, So Why Not for Conservation?
The TRCP is joining forces with REI to urge you to #OptOutside on Black Friday—and get more involved every day in the conservation issues that matter
As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we’re proud to link arms once again with our friends at REI—and hundreds of global brands—to urge hunters and anglers to #OptOutside.
This year’s theme is about breaking our routines and finding time to spend in the outdoors. And this resonates with many of us, even if, as hunters and anglers, we probably go outside more than the average American. No matter how many days you log in the woods or on the water, don’t you feel the tug of your smartphone screen or the ping of a busy schedule?
It never hurts to slow down, shut our devices off, and head down the trail to where true adventure is within our reach—even if we may be unreachable for a few hours. But making time to enjoy the outdoors (and derive the cortisol-lowering benefits of testing ourselves in the pursuit of game and fish) is only meeting half the need.
It’s also critical that we prioritize taking action to safeguard our outdoor recreation opportunities for the next generation.
Engaging in the fight for well-managed public lands, cleaner water, better habitat, more funding for conservation, and stronger outdoor recreation businesses looks different for everyone. You might donate to an organization you trust. (After all, Giving Tuesday is coming up—hint hint.) You might sign a petition, attend a workday, or share an article on social media that taught you something about conservation, hoping others will learn from it, too.
But how many times has something like this happened: You get an email about an upcoming meeting hosted by your local BLM field office to collect public comments on a proposed plan for managing public lands in your area. As someone who cares about the fish and wildlife resources and hunting and fishing opportunities on these lands, the stakes are pretty high for you, and your opinion carries a lot of weight in this public process. But the meeting is on a weekday night and you’re not sure you understand all the issues. You delete the email.
Or this: You’re scrolling through your Instagram feed and see a call to action about the lapsed Farm Bill. A conservation organization you trust says that we lose out every day we go without the programs that help farmers improve habitat and walk-in access for hunting and fishing, and it’s imperative that we pressure Congress to take urgent action. You click the link in their bio, but then a stream of text messages come in that you need to respond to, and before you know it, you’re late to drop the kids off somewhere.
Getting more involved in conservation isn’t always convenient, especially when it’s all we can do to carve out time to actually use our hunting and fishing licenses or the access we worked hard to secure with a landowner’s permission. Still, the routine we may need to break is the one where we tell ourselves, “I’ll do it later,” “This is not my fight,” or worse, “Someone else will do it.”
It’s up to all of us to find the time and energy to dedicate ourselves to the conservation issues that will determine whether or not our children and grandchildren have quality places to hunt and fish. We must sign up, step up, and speak out for more responsible management of public lands, stronger habitat and access incentives for private landowners, and the best possible clean water standards and conservation funding levels.
As REI reminds us, #OptOutside is about more than a company making a bold move on Black Friday. It’s about inspiring a movement.
So find the time. Stretch your legs and your mind. Replenish your soul in the outdoors. Then, when you finally head back to your screens and social networks, do whatever you can, whenever you can, to support conservation.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was created to bring together nonprofit partners, individual hunters and anglers, and outdoor recreation businesses to rally behind common conservation policy goals. Here’s why we do what we do—and how you can help.
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.