January 25, 2019

Deal to Reopen Government Could End These Access and Funding Headaches

A short-term funding patch would open some closed gates and put conservation workers back on the job, but there could be long-term consequences for public and private lands

News outlets are reporting that lawmakers have reached a deal to reopen the nine federal departments that have been shut down for more than a month. The temporary funding extension would buy Congress three weeks to come to a long-term agreement.

Over the past few weeks, sportsmen and women have been posting to social media and speaking with reporters about how this historic shutdown has affected hunting and fishing opportunities across the country. During this time, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Forest Service—some of the nation’s most important land management agencies—have been without funding.

Here are some of the access challenges, risks to public lands, and delayed conservation work that made news during the shutdown.

Locked Out, Left Home

While some national wildlife refuge employees returned to work to prevent lost hunting opportunities, an estimated 800,000 federal workers were furloughed without pay—this included public-lands firefighters, wildlife biologists, law-enforcement officers, foresters, and maintenance workers.

Understaffing may have contributed to some of the reports we saw of hunters and anglers locked out of public lands. In Idaho, volunteers picked up trash around a popular fishing area within Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge, but the shutdown delayed the repair of an access gate that was damaged on Jan. 1 in a vehicle crash. Normally, the timer-operated gate closes automatically at 5:30 p.m. to discourage vandalism after hours. For now, it remains stuck closed.

Stunted Growth

Just days before the shutdown, President Trump signed into law a new five-year farm bill, which—despite being nearly two months behind schedule—included some big wins for habitat and public access. Farmers and ranchers had already experienced months of uncertainty while the farm bill debate stretched into overtime, and the shutdown delayed farm bill benefits even further. Politico reports that some farmers may not be able to take advantage of other USDA programs in time for the growing season, either.

Failure to Launch

In mid-December, the EPA and the Army Corps took the next step to replace a 2015 rule that benefited headwater streams and wetlands across the country. We know from a 2018 poll that 4 in 5 sportsmen and women supported this move, but the agencies’ new rule would instead roll back these Clean Water Act protections. Because of the shutdown, however, hunters and anglers have been prevented from voicing their feedback on the new rule, keeping waterfowl and fish habitat in limbo.

Waiting for Numbers

Another unintended consequence of the government shutdown might be delayed research that could help sportsmen and women advocate for better policies. For example, it is likely that some marine fisheries stock assessments will be postponed. And this could influence decision-making if the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meets to consider important management questions without the latest striped bass stock assessment—which is likely to show that the population is overfished.

Funding Shortfalls Stack Up

Unfortunately, the shutdown is also adding to the growing $18.6 billion maintenance backlog on our public lands. The bulk of that figure is tied to overdue projects in national parks, but more than $7 billion in deferred maintenance work is affecting BLM, Forest Service, and national refuge lands where we hunt and fish.

Quite simply, even if Congress can strike a long-term bargain before this deal expires on Feb. 15, it may take years to make up for the time and funding lost during this shutdown.

 

Top photo by seth schulte on Unsplash

5 Responses to “Deal to Reopen Government Could End These Access and Funding Headaches”

  1. When Representatives can’t perform their Legislative assignments, There should be a Law stating that they cannot shutdown the Government because they failed to achieve, that’s an under successful performance. And, causing Public Federal Land Agencies, to lock the gates must be stopped!

    • Hugh Carola

      Pont of clarification: It was the President who caused the shutdown. Althogh Sen. McConnell could have at least reintroduced the CR that had previously been passd 100-0. But, no. And I would have much prefered the public lands, parks, etc. ALL be loked during the shutdown as opposed to being given over to poachers, vandals & thieves.

  2. Thomas Doyle

    There is no mechanism in place for the President and Congress to have ownership of their lack of ability to do their jobs. There should never be a day that the government shuts down because of politics. The Senate Majority Leader should not be allowed to refuse to take bills to the President because he doesn’t want to suffer the Presidents wrath. If he doesn’t have the moxie to do his job then remove him from office. It is high time that Congress starts doing its job and representing the people that elected them.
    The amount of damage done to our parks and land will take months to repair. The damage to the national monuments can never be repaired. I FISH, I HUNT, and I HIKE and I VOTE!!!

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Marnee Banks

January 10, 2019

The Government Shutdown Needs to End

To do right by public lands, lawmakers need to work together

While Washington plays the blame game, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is calling on our elected officials to work together and reopen the government.

Stories about trash piling up in wildlife refuges and volunteers cleaning toilets in national parks are making national news.

As a result, the TRCP is in contact with the nation’s land management agencies to get status updates on our lands, waters, and wildlife. If you have experienced an impact of the government shutdown, please let us know so we can work to address it.

Our fish and wildlife resources, public lands, and the people who carry out conservation in America should not be ignored. Take action today and join the TRCP in calling for an end to this shutdown.

I stand with @TheTRCP in supporting our public lands. It’s time for Washington to #EndTheShutdown. Click To Tweet

 

Photo Credit: Architect of the Capitol

Kristyn Brady

January 2, 2019

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.”

This story was updated on January 4, 2019.

Randall Williams

December 20, 2018

Congress Fails to Reauthorize LWCF, Advance Lands Package

Critical measures for public lands and sportsmen’s access had broad support but didn’t make it across the finish line

Last night, the 115th Congress moved closer to adjourning after failing to advance a wide-ranging and noncontroversial public lands package that had been under careful development by lawmakers for years. Part of the proposed legislation was a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, key provisions from the Sportsmen’s Act, Pittman-Robertson Modernization, and numerous regionally specific bills.

“These critical measures for our public lands and sportsmen’s access were teed-up and ready to go with broad support, yet Congress still failed to get them across the finish line,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “While we truly appreciate the best efforts of some lawmakers who went to bat for this, we are disappointed to see common-sense solutions kicked down the road yet again.”

Chief among the opportunities missed was a reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired on September 30 despite the efforts of an outspoken, diverse coalition of advocates. For more than 50 years, the LWCF has helped conserve habitat and create public access for hunting and fishing all across the nation.

“Permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund should have been an easy win for lawmakers of both parties,” says Fosburgh. “We still have 9.5 million acres of landlocked public lands in the West, and the task of conserving important fish and wildlife habitats is no less critical, but we no longer have at our disposal the best tool to address these issues.”

With the 115th Congress now at a close, sportsmen and women are turning their attention to the prospects of advancing the lands package in the next two years. When a new Congress convenes in January, much could be accomplished by making good on the unfinished business of the last session, with a simple reintroduction of these bills and expeditious votes.

Congressional champions of the public lands package include Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah, 1st) and Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz., 3rd). These decision-makers fought hard for consideration of the package this year and are now working to secure a commitment from House and Senate leadership to move to consider the package in early 2019.

There have been few chances in recent memory to achieve so much for fish, wildlife, and the future of hunting and fishing, and certainly none as ready-made as this. “If our Congressional leaders take seriously the priorities of sportsmen and women, this lands package should be high on their agenda when they begin work in 2019,” says Fosburgh. “Common-sense, noncontroversial solutions to some of the most pressing conservation challenges are simply waiting for our elected officials to act. We hope that the next Congress will honor the collaboration and effort that went into this deal by considering and voting on these bills when they convene in early January.”

 

Photo Credit: Wyatt Bensken

December 7, 2018

Featured Podcast: Will Congress Act in Time to Pass a 2018 Farm Bill?

Tune in to find out how the Farm Bill could enhance habitat and access on private land—if lawmakers can strike a deal in time

The hosts of the Your Mountain Podcast remind us that decisions are being made every day that could affect your land, water, and wildlife. So you should know about them. That couldn’t be more true right now, when we’re anxiously awaiting an agreement on the next Farm Bill. This critical legislation helps landowners implement conservation practices and open hunting and fishing access you wouldn’t otherwise have in rural America.

Here’s what you need to know about the time crunch and how conservation could lose out if lawmakers need to start the process all over again next Congress.

Learn more about the Your Mountain Podcast here.

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