Andrew Wilkins

August 16, 2019

Four Conservation Priorities That Need Lawmakers’ Attention After Recess

When Congress returns from about a month spent with in-state constituents, the clock will be ticking on these spending bills and conservation policies we need to get across the finish line

You might be picturing lawmakers on a five-week vacation, but the annual August recess is time that senators and representatives spend meeting with their constituents and visiting with leaders in their communities. Ideally, they also find some time to enjoy the outdoors and experience what we all value so much as sportsmen and women.

Of course, we hope they’re thinking about the legislative to-do list for when they return in September, because the timeline grows short for several critical conservation items that must be addressed to benefit fish, wildlife, and habitat. Here’s what we need Congress to move on before the end of the year or, in some cases, within weeks of their return to Capitol Hill.

Settle Up on Spending

A familiar debate awaits when Congress returns to Washington: writing and passing all the required appropriations, or annual spending, bills. Now that both the House and Senate have reached a two-year, bipartisan budget deal they must pass appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2020, which starts on October 1. This means that Congress must find a way to fund the government for the next year before the end of September, or they risk another government shutdown.

The House’s spending measures passed earlier this summer include landmark wins for conservation including strong investments in—and in some cases new funding for—Farm Bill conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, chronic wasting disease surveillance and research, and critical infrastructure projects from the Everglades to the Front Range.

The ball is now in the Senate’s court to support conservation in their own appropriations bills and send it all to the president’s desk. What happens if they don’t? The government shuts down while they agree on a deal or lawmakers can give themselves an extension by passing what’s known as a continuing resolution. CRs keep money flowing at previously agreed upon funding levels, but they prevent new funding going to something like CWD research that has never been done before.

Pave the Road Ahead for the Highway Bill

Before leaving town, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously passed a new highway bill that includes a powerful new tool for conservation: a $250-million pilot program to construct wildlife crossings such as overpasses, underpasses, and culverts across the country over the next five years.

State departments of transportation, wildlife biologists, and conservationists have been urging Congress to provide dedicated funding for crossings to restore and improve habitat connectivity within migration corridors and reduce deadly wildlife-vehicle collisions where animals are often found crossing roads.

This also marks the first time that climate change language has been included in a highway bill. As written, the legislation creates a grant program called PROTECT to prioritize natural infrastructure solutions as roads and bridges are being planned, which would help to restore and improve ecosystem conditions around passenger roads.

All in all, senators on the committee have been trailblazers for conservation in the next iteration of the highway bill. Now, it’s on the House to get the job done.

In fact, the House can do even more for conservation in its forthcoming version of the bill by increasing funding for the Federal Lands Transportation Program, which supports the ongoing maintenance of passenger roads through public lands. Carrying on the chronic underfunding of U.S. Forest Service roads through FLTP will contribute to an already colossal deferred maintenance backlog on these important public lands.

Photo by Michigan DNR.
Modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act

The TRCP and our conservation partners have been leading the charge to update a vital source of funding for state fish and wildlife agency conservation efforts—the Pittman-Robertson Act. Right now, the fund created from excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment can’t be used to help recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) hunters.

It’s time for that to change.

Congress has already updated the policy for fishing-related spending to give state agencies the ability to recruit new anglers. And this has likely helped to drive the recent bump in fishing participation and a more than 36-percent increase in spending on fishing equipment, which in turn creates an increase in funding for conservation.

It’s time for Congress to modernize Pittman-Robertson and allow similar outreach campaigns for hunters. Before the recess began, the Senate introduced S. 2092, a companion bill to the House’s H.R. 877. These bipartisan bills, aptly titled the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act, are essential to help fund, preserve, and grow our rich heritage of hunting.
Last Congress, a similar measure passed unanimously out of the House but did not make the end-of-year finish line. Now that the legislation has been introduced in both chambers, passage of this long-overdue legislation is a no-brainer. It’s a bipartisan success story waiting to happen.

Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Reviving These Fish Bills

From the Gulf to the Great Plains, there’s a lot happening this summer that affects our fisheries and the anglers who enjoy them, including pending legislation that deserves a vote without further delay.
The National Fish Habitat Through Partnerships Act—H.R. 1747 in the House and S. 754 in the Senate—would permanently authorize and provide funding for one of the nation’s best tools to protect and restore fish habitat across the nation. Comprised of 20 individual partnerships that advocate for regionally specific projects, this model has been effective for years but still limps from authorization to authorization, depending on the whims of Congress.

But legislation introduced in both chambers is vote-ready and can end this vicious cycle.

Another easy win would be passing legislation to conserve forage fish, which support all the sportfish we love to pursue. Numerous pressures, including changing ocean conditions and overfishing by commercial interests, have led to a decline in forage fish populations, which could shorten or even end recreational fishing seasons for the predators that rely on these baitfish.

Bipartisan legislation in the House, the Forage Fish Conservation Act (H.R. 2236), aims to ensure that forage fish remain in the marine food web by introducing a variety of commonsense, science-based provisions into existing management plans. These include creating a national, science-based definition for forage fish in federal waters, accounting for predator needs, assessing the impact of commercial fisheries on marine ecosystems before authorization, and requiring that managers consider forage fish when establishing research priorities.

Anglers are dependent on forage fish to keep our fisheries healthy and we are, in turn, depending on Congress to act now on this major conservation priority.

Image courtesy of National Parks.
A Challenging Timeline

Numerous conservation-wins-in-waiting are ready for congressional action once lawmakers return to Capitol Hill. Though the most pressing demand for legislators will be drafting and passing appropriations bills that strengthen our nation’s investment in conservation, we need to turn their attention to other measures that preserve wildlife, improve habitat connectivity, and ensure the future of our hunting traditions.

After the spending deadline has passed, the 2020 election will take a lot of the air out of the room, and we need to clinch these victories before that happens.

5 Responses to “Four Conservation Priorities That Need Lawmakers’ Attention After Recess”

  1. dennis deibert

    We need to make sure they dont change the part where they cant use the money for other things in a state . In other words cant touch the money to build hyways, bike lanes, homeless ect.

  2. Kenneth C Dwigans

    I would prefer the p and r act money to be left to preserving land. However, I want a new tax that taxes all outdoor products not covered by p and r act. This can go to either hunting land or non hunting land which would still help habitat and hunting opportunities.

  3. Ed Gabsewics

    With this McConnell-led dysfunctional Senate, I don’t think we will be seeing the actions we know are needed. There’s a line in the movie “Grumpy Old Men” that comes to mind…”You can wish in one hand and crap in the other, guess which one gets filled first.”

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Kristyn Brady

August 9, 2019

Failing to Modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act is Like Trying to Recruit Hunters With One Hand Tied Behind Your Back

The law that is broadly and affectionately known as PR ironically doesn’t allow state wildlife agencies to market hunting to a new generation of license buyers—the sportsmen and women we desperately need to keep funding conservation

By now, you probably know that every time you buy a hunting or fishing license and certain gear, you’re paying into a hugely successful system of conservation in America—where those of us who enjoy and take something from our natural resources also give back to fish and wildlife. You’re probably even aware of the two laws that made this happen: the Pittman-Robertson Act for hunting-related spending and the Dingell-Johnson Act for fishing-related spending.

[Need a refresher on all the biggest sources of federal conservation funding? We got you.]

But there’s a major difference between these policies that has become glaring as fishing participation has crept back up and hunting participation has taken a steep nosedive.

Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region.

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of hunters declined by 16 percent. Hunters spend fewer days afield and less money on equipment on average than they used to. In that same time period, 2.7 million more Americans started fishing, and spending on fishing equipment increased by more than 36 percent.

This could be because about $12 million in funds created by the Dingell-Johnson Act annually go toward national efforts to recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) anglers. Meanwhile, no such provision is made in Pittman-Robertson.

Besides the next generation of sportsmen and women, state wildlife agencies have the most to lose if hunting and fishing participation declines, because many of these conservation-focused departments depend entirely on P-R and D-J dollars. But, as the laws are written, even a state department of natural resources with an excellent apprentice hunter program can’t so much as print up a poster to advertise it using P-R funding.

The ability to communicate with and educate the public about hunting is so much more important today than it was in the 1930s when this bill was written. At that time, more than half the country hunted or had access to someone who could likely show them how. This just isn’t the case anymore.

The Bottom Line

It’s time to modernize Pittman-Robertson and allocate just a small portion of its funds to R3 activities—the return on investment is likely to be millions of more active and engaged outdoorspeople paying into a conservation model that supports some of America’s greatest traditions. Failing to do so could create a conservation funding crisis like we’ve never seen before.

Legislation called Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act (H.R. 877) has been reintroduced this Congress and debated in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing earlier this year. After the August recess, we need to move this bill forward without delay and before we lose lawmakers’ attention to the chaos that comes with an election year.

Have you seen state agency efforts to attract and educate new hunters that deserve more of a PR spotlight? Tell us in the comments.

Chris Macaluso

July 19, 2019

Is It Finally Time to Re-Examine How We Divvy Up the Catch Between Recreational and Commercial Fishing?

Today’s allocations are still based on data that is decades old

Divvying up the total catch of a fish stock between recreational and commercial fisheries is arguably the most difficult job for federal fisheries managers.

These allocations are generally set in percentages, as in 51 percent of the Gulf of Mexico red snapper stock is allocated to commercial fishing and 49 percent to recreational fishing. But these percentages are often based on catch data that is decades old.

Even when updated data shows a reallocation may be needed to reflect current catch rates or maximize the cultural and economic value of a fishery, regional management councils are slow to use that data. Sometimes they reject efforts to reallocate a fishery because of political pressure or objections from the sector that stands to lose some of its historic allocation.

Fortunately, recent policy advancements may support a fresh look at allocations. Here’s what happened.

The Timeline

2014

The Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fishing Management—an expert panel of state and federal agency administrators, researchers, industry representatives, and economists that is also known as the Morris-Deal Commission—recommends in its landmark report that allocations should be examined and reconfigured “for the greatest benefit of the nation.”

July 2016

NOAA Fisheries releases a “Fisheries Allocation Review Policy” that guides regional fishery management councils in determining how and when to examine allocations. Since the release of this document, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council have worked to develop criteria and timeframes by which allocations will be examined.

December 31, 2018

President Trump signs the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018 (S. 1520), a bill that was developed with support from and in consultation with the TRCP, Coastal Conservation Association, American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Yamaha, Recreational Fishing Alliance, and many others.

This bill requires the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico within one year to:

  • Recommend criteria—including economic, ecological, conservation, and social factors—that could be used for allocating/reallocating fishing privileges in a mixed-use fishery.
  • Identify sources of information that could reasonably support the use of the above criteria.
  • Assess the budgetary requirements for performing periodic allocation decisions in both councils.
  • Develop recommendations of procedures for allocation reviews and potential adjustments in allocation.

The bill also requires the Comptroller General to consult with NOAA, the applicable Councils and their Science and Statistical Committees, applicable state fisheries management commissions, and the recreational, commercial, and charter fishing sectors in conducting the required study.

The TRCP and its partners have worked with the Government Accountability Office and with the councils to help establish allocation criteria and ensure that future guidance documents include specific instructions for councils to help break the impasse on examining allocations.

Soon, anglers may get even more of a fair shake, and we can all stop living in the past.

 

This topic was featured at TRCP’s annual Saltwater Media Summit at ICAST on July 10, 2019.

Thank you to our expert panelists: Kelly Denit, division chief of domestic fisheries, NOAA Office of Sustainable Fisheries; Brad Gentner, economic consultant, Gentner Group; Doug Boyd, Sportfishing and Boating Partnership Council member and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council member; and Spud Woodward, retired chief of marine fisheries management, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and a member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

And our sincerest gratitude to our generous sponsors: American Sportfishing Association, Bass Pro Shops, Costa, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, National Marine Manufacturers Association, NOAA, Peak Design, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, takemefishing.com, and Yamaha.

Kristyn Brady

June 25, 2019

House Approves Investments in Chronic Wasting Disease Research

After sportsmen and women urged Congress to invest in solutions, spending bill contains new funding dedicated to combatting CWD in wild deer

House spending bill for federal agriculture, interior, and environmental agencies (H.R. 3305) has passed with amendments that create new dedicated funding to research, test for, and battle chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease discovered in deer and elk populations across more than half the U.S. 

Led by Representatives Veasey, Gosar, Kind, and Abraham, an amendment to the House’s Agriculture Appropriations bill will send $15 million to the states to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer.  

“Chronic wasting disease is a dangerous and contagious condition affecting deer, elk, and moose in 26 states and over 250 counties,” said Representative Marc Veasey (D-Texas). The disease spreads to new counties and states every year, threatening our wild deer populations rises. State fish and wildlife agencies are doing their best to combat the spread of this disease with the limited resources they have, but they need more support from the federal government to ramp up their efforts and effectively respond to both new and ongoing outbreaks in wild deer populations. That’s why I introduced a bipartisan amendment to dedicate new resources in the fight to contain and eventually eradicate the disease. My amendment designates an additional $12 million to be sent to state fish and wildlife agencies, bringing the total to $15 million, and I was glad to see the it adopted by the House of Representatives.” 

Reps. Gosar and Abraham successfully introduced a second amendment that will direct $1.72 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to research chronic wasting disease and improve the effectiveness of testing methods. 

“Research into chronic wasting disease and enhanced testing methods will help give hunters the confidence they need to continue to harvest wild deer, elk, and moose,” said Representative Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) “I look forward to continuing to address threats posed by CWD in order to conserve resources for sportsmen and protect America’s hunting traditions.” 

Together, these amendments allocate a total of $16.72 million to fighting CWD in wild deer. It’s the first time that some portion of funding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which maintains a certification program for captive deer operations that take precautions against CWD, could be used to benefit wild deer herds.   

 “This is a major milestone in our effort to combat CWD and preserve our hunting traditions,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of TRCP. This new funding will support states in their efforts to keep deer herds healthy. We want to thank House appropriators for taking this first step, and we urge the Senate to prioritize these investments, as well, so Congress can pass legislation that tackles this epidemic headon. 

The Senate has yet to release its version of the appropriations bill.  

This news comes on the heels of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s advocacy  
push to include increased resources for responding to CWD in the Agriculture Appropriations bill. The TRCP has rallied more than 1,500 sportsmen and women to contact their lawmakers and ask for these investments.  

Take action and urge senators to include these investments in their appropriations bills.

Randall Williams

June 20, 2019

New Study: Significant Opportunities to Open Recreation Access in Colo.

Outdoor Retailer audiences get a sneak preview of a new report from TRCP and onX identifying landlocked state lands across the West

Denver, Colo. — Today, onX and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership revealed a snapshot of new data uncovered in their latest collaborative study to calculate the acreage of landlocked state lands across 11 Western states.

In a press briefing at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, onX founder Eric Siegfried and TRCP’s director of Western lands Joel Webster announced their preliminary findings on access barriers to trust lands in the state of Colorado, including:

  • More than 435,000 acres are landlocked by private land and cannot be reached at all by public roads or through adjacent federally managed public lands.
  • Meanwhile, 1.78 million acres of accessible lands are closed to public access by state policy.
  • A total of 558,000 acres of accessible trust lands are currently open to hunting and fishing because of collaborative agreements between the State Land Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

There are 2.78 million acres of state trust lands in total across Colorado. All Western states were granted lands by the federal government at statehood, and Colorado is the only state in the Mountain West that does not allow public access to the majority of its trust lands. Webster noted that Colorado’s restrictive access rules are actually a greater hindrance to outdoor recreation on state trust lands than the landlocked land issue, which makes it an outlier among other Western states.

Governor Jared Polis is taking proactive steps to address this challenge. “Colorado is arguably the most beautiful state in America, and I’m committed to expanding the public’s access to our treasured federal and state-owned land,” said Governor Polis. “I’m delighted that Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Public Access Program for sportsmen and women will be growing by more than 100,000 acres in time for the upcoming 2019 hunting season. We will continue looking at more opportunities to increase access in the near future.”

“We appreciate the collaborative work that has already gone into opening state trust lands to public access in Colorado and believe the state currently has perhaps the single greatest opportunity to expand public access in the West,” said TRCP’s Joel Webster. “Without a doubt, Governor Polis’s commitment to expanding public access should be encouraging to everyone who recreates in the outdoors. Other states have come up with innovative ideas for opening access to trust lands, and they offer a model for how Colorado could continue to tackle this issue.”

The project is building on a 2018 report by onX and the TRCP that found more than 9.52 million acres of federally managed public lands in the West are landlocked and lack legal public access. Those findings are available in a new report, “Off Limits, But Within Reach: Unlocking the West’s Inaccessible Public Lands,” which unpacks the issue in unprecedented detail.

“Our company’s mission is to help people find places they can explore to create a memorable outdoor experience,” says onX founder Eric Siegfried. “State lands can be easily overlooked by the recreating public, and more can be done to make these lands accessible to all. We are looking forward to calculating the full extent of access challenges and highlighting constructive opportunities to open lands to the public.”

The full report will delve deeper into the issue of recreational access across 11 Western states by focusing on landlocked lands at the state level. It will be formally presented to the press and public at the TRCP Western Media Summit on August 19, 2019 in Seattle, Washington.

“We’re excited to partner once again with onX on a collaborative project that wouldn’t be possible without their world-class product and commitment to public access,” concluded Webster.

Learn more about the forthcoming report and sign up to be the first to receive it at unlockingpubliclands.org.

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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