Fosburgh’s Senate Testimony Urges Congressional Action on Chronic Wasting Disease
In his third appearance before Congress this year, the TRCP’s president and CEO again presses lawmakers to invest in surveillance and testing for the deer disease that has sent state wildlife agencies scrambling to respond
In a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership President and CEO Whit Fosburgh continued to push lawmakers on the need for more meaningful federal action in the fight against chronic wasting disease. The always-fatal disease has spread rapidly among wild deer, elk, and moose populations in recent years and creates increasing uncertainty for hunters who represent a critical source of conservation funding in America.
The committee convened to discuss creating a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chronic wasting disease task force, but Fosburgh argued that this does not go far enough.
“Coordinating and expediting the federal response to CWD is important—and the task force proposed by this committee could help do this—but the single most important thing Congress can do to stop the spread of CWD is to give the states the resources they need to track and fight the disease in the wild,” Fosburgh testified. “Congress provided strong and consistent federal funding to assist the state wildlife agencies in responding to CWD through 2011, but when this funding ran out, states were forced to cut back on other programs to respond to the disease. Some simply stopped looking for it.”
Fosburgh pointed to the 2020 House Agriculture Appropriations bill, which would reestablish federal funding for CWD by providing $15 million to state wildlife agencies for surveillance and testing. That bill is currently in conference with the Senate, which provides just $2.5 million for wild deer in its bill.
“If members of this committee care about stopping CWD, I urge you to reach out to your colleagues on the Appropriations Committee and ask them to support the House level of $15 million in the Agriculture Appropriations bill,” he said. “Chronic wasting disease is a symptom of a systematic failure to invest in conservation. That is why America’s hunters and anglers so fervently hope that this Committee will help address the CWD crisis.”
Rather than focus on what we need as hunters and anglers, let’s take a minute to appreciate what we have
Every year around this time, we pause from the everyday distractions of the modern world to acknowledge those things in our lives for which we’re truly thankful. From family and friends to health and security, many indispensable parts of our lives can be easy to take for granted.
But in the spirit of next week’s holiday, we thought we’d take a moment to express our gratitude to things and people—in no particular order—that make our lives as hunters and anglers, and our work as conservationists, so rewarding. Sportsmen and women have a lot to be thankful for in this country and it’s worth remembering what makes this way of life possible.
Access in Abundance, Both Public and Private
Whether it’s through the generosity of a landowner or the wealth of public lands owned by all, Americans enjoy a tremendous variety of opportunities to get outside and participate in our sporting traditions. We’re fortunate that our nation’s history saw the creation of both a vast public estate as well as a rich tradition of stewardship on family farms and ranches.
A Shared Mission Among Strong Partners
When new challenges emerge or opportunities arise in the world of conservation, bold leadership from our policy council and partner organizations ensure that we’ll know what’s going on, what’s at stake, and how to respond. On the issues that matter most to sportsmen and women, there is a robust community working tirelessly towards solutions that will secure a bright future for our fish and wildlife. Collaboration, consensus, and coordinated action allow us to present a united front and strengthen the voices of hunters and anglers.
Smart Policy and Dedicated Decisionmakers
This year, we have seen a lot of good ideas and top priorities gain traction in Congress, like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and dedicated funding for LWCF. For all that we hear about dysfunction in Washington, D.C., there are lawmakers and public officials who take seriously the interests of our community and advance legislation and policy to benefit fish, wildlife, and access to our nation’s best hunting and fishing.
A “Most Glorious Heritage”
As Americans, we benefit from a unique legacy of fish and wildlife stewardship, forged over more than a century by our predecessors in the sporting community. Every day on the water and trip afield, like every fish on the line or deer in the freezer, would not be possible without the hard work and problem-solving of earlier generations who took up the cause of conservation. These gifts are a powerful reminder that we must do our part if we hope to pass them on.
Businesses that See the Big Picture
Our work is made possible by the generosity of amazing corporate partners, such as SITKA GEAR’s pledge to match all new and increased donations to TRCP through December 31. We’re proud—and thankful—to have the support of industry-leading brands that recognize the critical role played by clean water, healthy habitat, and outdoor access in the economic futures of American businesses and communities.
Of course, we owe everything to the hunters and anglers who comprise our membership and those of our partner organizations. It should never be forgotten that countless individuals dedicate their own time and money so that future ranks of sportsmen and women will inherit a strong outdoor tradition. As this season of harvest culminates in one major meal next week, we’ll be raising a glass to YOU, the lifeblood of conservation. Thank you for all your support of our work and America’s hunting and fishing traditions.
But that’s not all. Here are three lessons lawmakers learned from anglers and experts who know the real stakes.
We’re Talking About 100% Consumption of the Habitat
Brian Kraft, owner of two remote sportfishing lodges in Alaska and an advocate for Bristol Bay’s salmon for the past 15 years, hosts fishing clients from every state in the nation and not one has failed to remark on how unique the landscape and fishery are. He says he and his wife understand the concerns of businesses in their community as part of the $65-million sportfishing industry in Alaska.
In his testimony, Kraft pointed out that the simple question of “Is this the right place to mine?” can only be answered when you assume that the mine will consume 100 percent of the habitat it touches. In this particular case, you can’t directionally drill and you can’t shift the ore deposit, so the smaller of the two mine proposals would still consume 80 miles of streams and 3,500 acres of wetlands in an area that was legislatively preserved for its fisheries in 1972.
The Army Corps Has Yet to Address the Concerns of Salmon Fishermen
Three generations of Mark Niver’s family have worked as commercial fishermen in Alaska, and as an expert witness, he pointed out that fishermen are just one link in a chain—Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery employs 14,000 people every summer and generates $1.5 billion in worldwide economic activity. But he adds that this wouldn’t be possible without the area’s pristine, undeveloped freshwater habitat and science-based fisheries management. “For over a decade, the proposed Pebble Mine has cast a shadow of uncertainty over my livelihood and my family’s future,” he said. “Nowhere in the world has a mine of this type and size been located in a place as ecologically sensitive as Bristol Bay.”
After weighing in thoughtfully at multiple stages of the lengthy public process to consider the mine, commercial fishermen have not had their concerns adequately addressed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Niver told lawmakers that he fears the permitting process is a runaway train toward approval, despite the science indicating that salmon and Pebble Mine cannot coexist.
Unless the Proposed Footprint is Expanded, the Mine Will Lose Money
In his testimony, geologist and environmental scientist Richard Borden agreed that energy development is necessary in our society, but not all ore deposits can or should be mined. He believes Bristol Bay is the most “sensitive, globally significant, and challenging environmental setting” of any project he’s ever reviewed in more than 30 years of consulting for the mining industry, and the environmental impact statement completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in haste six months ago is deeply flawed. But, perhaps most surprisingly, he points out that the mining company is basing their timeline and promises about impact avoidance on examples of much smaller mines. To construct a mine on a scale that—they say—would minimize environmental risks, investors would certainly lose money, and pressures to expand the mine’s footprint would likely follow.
Now You Have Three Reasons to Get Involved
This testimony gives anglers three more reasons to speak out against Pebble Mine and safeguard habitat and our fishing opportunities in Bristol Bay. Sportsmen and women sent thousands of messages to the Army Corps during the last public comment period, but our lawmakers need to hear from YOU to influence Bristol Bay’s future. Reach out to your senators NOW using our simple action tool.
Please consider attending a local public meeting in the next few weeks (see schedule below) and share your perspective as a local public land user. We need to speak up for our traditions and for the importance of balanced use of public resources.
Here are a few things you can say in a meeting to make an impact:
The Tongass National Forest provides hunters with some of the finest and most readily available opportunities to pursue Sitka blacktail deer, and it is among the world’s largest wild-salmon-producing regions. [Tell your personal hunting or fishing story.]
An Alaska roadless rule exemption would eliminate conservation safeguards from 9.2 million acres of unroaded and undeveloped national forests in the Tongass. This proposal is extreme, and it could open some of Alaska’s best hunting and fishing areas to development, degrading spawning habitat for salmon and negatively affecting wildlife habitat over the long-term.
I request that the Forest Service maintain safeguards for roadless areas within the Tongass National Forest.
This Congress continues to show an appetite for boosting outdoor recreation opportunities on lands open to all Americans
After a historic win for public lands across the U.S. in March—we’re talking, of course, about the milestone package of legislation that permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund and made many other improvements that benefit hunters and anglers—conservation and access advocates aren’t resting on their laurels. And Congress continues to show an appetite for passing commonsense legislation that boosts access, habitat, or funding for fish and wildlife resources, even with an incredible amount of to-dos lined up to distract them.
Here are five bills on the move that you should know about.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act
The CORE Act would safeguard approximately 400,000 acres of Colorado’s most rugged landscapes that define an outdoor way of life—particularly the sprawling Thompson Divide, where thousands of hunters pursue elk each year. Roughly half of the area is roadless and provides refuge for abundant fish and wildlife populations. The bill, which has benefited from the input and the support of a long list of diverse stakeholders, including sportsmen and women and business leaders, passed out of committee in July and succeeded in a 227-182 vote on the House floor this week.
Next step: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee should move forward with a legislative hearing on the CORE Act in the near future.
The Recreation Not Red-Tape Act
Across our nation’s public lands, hunters, anglers, guides, and outfitters find legal access difficult, but not always because of closed gates or lack of trails: A complicated and outmoded process for permitting outdoor recreation activities on public lands can keep kayaks in storage and guide vehicles stuck in park.
Supported by the TRCP and championed by partners like the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, the Outdoor Industry Association, and others, the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act seeks to improve access to public lands by modernizing the process of permitting for certain kinds of outdoor recreation—including by bringing that process online—and creating a system of National Recreation Areas. It would also help prioritize access improvements that benefit military veterans and emphasizes the need for adequate staffing of facilities on our public lands. Expert witnesses from the outdoor recreation industry testified in support of the RNR Act in both a House Small Business Committee hearing and a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing this week.
Next step: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee can now move forward with passage. In the House, the legislation has been referred to multiple committees, and an agreement should be reached by leadership to move this important and bipartisan legislation forward to the floor.
The Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act
Passed on the House floor this week with a bipartisan vote count, this bill would make permanent the 20-year mining withdrawals that were made administratively in 2012, aimed at protecting the lands around Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining. In a place that has long been associated with Theodore Roosevelt and is one of the most iconic landscapes in all the world, uranium mining poses an unacceptable risk to the region’s air and water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and critically important outdoor economy. H.R. 1373 has been a longtime priority of Arizona sportsmen and women.
Next step: The House passed the legislation this week by a vote of 236-185, and while there is not a Senate companion at this point, the legislation should be made a priority in that chamber, as well.
“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison–beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1903
The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act
Similar to the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, the SOAR Act is supported by businesses and nonprofits across the industry and would help ensure the continued growth of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy by further improving and modernizing the recreational permitting process on public lands.
The legislation reauthorizes the permitting authority of the BLM and Forest Service, and it brings the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation under the authority of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, allowing those agencies to retain and reinvest permit fees. Importantly, the bill also allows agencies to issue a single permit when a trip crosses an agency boundary, a significant improvement over current policy which requires multiple permits for the same trip.
S.1665 was also included in this week’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing, which featured testimony from leaders of the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, education and research initiatives, and the ski industry.
Next step: With hearings complete, it is time for both the House and Senate Committees to move this bill forward for floor votes.
The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019
Another effort to balance demands on public lands from energy development, this House bill would protect areas around Chaco Canyon—a world heritage site known for its archaeological significance and cultural importance—from oil and gas development. The legislation would make permanent a current administrative deferral of oil and gas leasing instituted by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt earlier this year. It was passed in a bipartisan 245–174 vote on the House floor this week. Besides the buildings and sacred dwellings still standing from the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries, Chaco Canyon is also home to pronghorn antelope and mule deer.
Next step:A Senate companion bill was introduced and debated in committee early this year. That will have to move to successful floor consideration in the Senate before these can be conferenced, likely as part of a bigger comprehensive public lands package.
Top photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS.
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.