Join Steven Rinella of the hit TV show “MeatEater” as he hunts in Mexico and discusses how NAWCA conserves waterfowl, fish and wildlife resources across North America while producing a variety of environmental and economic benefits.
Sportsmen and the Farm Bill: A Match Made in Heaven
Not long ago, I was graphically reminded of the critical importance of the Farm Bill to conservation of privately owned lands in the American West.
A map of our federal lands I saw during a presentation depicted the western half of the country largely in various shades of green, showing public ownership in one form or another. Lands east of the Great Plains, however, remained largely devoid of color, indicating areas under private ownership. I realized that here – on these lands that provide key habitat to fish and wildlife species prized by sportsmen, offer unmatched outdoor recreational opportunities and feed the world – the Farm Bill’s central role in our sporting heritage becomes paramount.
The current Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2012. In its present iteration, the bill has assisted farmers and landowners in conserving millions of acres of fish and wildlife habitat and making improvements to farming operation that have reduced soil erosion and nutrient runoff. If the bill is allowed to expire, private lands conservation in this country may come to a screeching halt.
By keeping nutrients and topsoil out of streams and rivers, Farm Bill conservation programs reduce the need for costly, often ineffective, water quality mitigation efforts. By conserving and restoring wetlands, these also can help reduce the impacts of downstream flooding as well as restore groundwater aquifers.
In places like the Chesapeake Bay and in Montana and Wyoming, Farm Bill programs help farmers reduce their potential regulatory burden. The Chesapeake Bay watershed initiative incentivizes farmers to reduce their nitrogen runoff to improve the health of the nation’s largest estuary, and the sage grouse initiative in the Inter-Mountain West assists ranchers in keeping this iconic bird off the endangered species list. As these conservation goals are met, farmers, ranchers and landowners can focus on making a living and not on the threat of new or expanding regulations.
For sportsmen, the list of benefits we derive from the Farm Bill is a long one. The bill’s conservation programs restore and conserve habitat for a litany of waterfowl and upland game birds, and the Voluntary Public Access program is the only federal program aimed at increasing public access to private lands for hunting and angling, thereby enhancing the quality of our days afield.
We received the following photo submission from Laura Morris, the PR coordinator for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. Laura wrote, “Here’s what I was doing on my vacation! This was my first-ever redfish.” Congrats Laura!
When “jobs, jobs, jobs” seems to be the refrain coming from the halls of Congress, you’d think these elected officials would embrace the economic importance of our nation’s conservation programs. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives proved last week that it is not ready to give these programs the respect they deserve.
Funding levels and policy riders approved by the House Appropriations Committee in its fiscal year 2013 Interior appropriations bill would slash operating budgets for agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Numerous programs critically important to the sportsmen’s community, such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, face deep cuts and damaging impacts from policy riders in the bill. State and tribal wildlife grants, which support cooperative projects with states and private landowners to keep species from being listed under the Endangered Species Act, would be cut by 50 percent.
If the proposed cuts – including a $50 million reduction for the National Wildlife Refuge System – advance, look for major layoffs of biologists and law enforcement personnel, closures of visitor centers and reductions in such activities as managed hunts.
Ourrecreation economy creates 6.1 million American jobs that cannot be exported overseas. Unfortunately, these facts were lost on members of the House Appropriations Committee, as it cut the very programs upon which the recreation economy depends.
While sportsmen are willing to help shoulder our share of the nation’s economic burdens, the fact remains that conservation programs did not create the budget deficit, and slashing conservation funding cannot solve the problem. As a percentage of federal spending, conservation has decreased from about 2.5 percent in the 1970s to about 1.25 percent today.
Congress could eliminate every conservation program and barely make a dent in the deficit. Moreover, as all of us who work on conservation projects in our communities know, every dollar of federal funds is leveraged several times over by state and private funds as well as volunteer labor.
The House can and must do better. All sportsmen need to make their voices heard: Conservation is a fundamental part of what makes America great, and it is central to our economy. Congress ignores this at its own peril.
Common sense and the best interests of Western wildlife prevailed last week when Representative Mike Simpson withdrew his policy rider to the House appropriations bill for interior, environment and related agencies. The amendment would have prevented the implementation of a management plan in the Payette National Forest in Idaho that would separate bighorn sheep from domestic sheep grazing on public lands.
Keeping the two species apart is critical in the effort to prevent the transmission of a fatal respiratory disease from domestic sheep and goats to bighorn sheep. The respiratory disease has devastated populations of bighorn sheep throughout the West.
Not only was the removal of the rider a victory for wild sheep, it was a win for science-based policy and the consensus on grazing that’s been forged between wildlife professionals, range managers and the hunting community.
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.