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Conservation groups rally together to voice support for fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, and headwater streams
Conservation groups are opposing the Administration’s rollback of the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which was finalized today. The Administration’s action will leave roughly 50 percent of wetlands and 60 percent of stream miles across the country vulnerable to pollution and destruction. The 2015 Clean Water Rule had clarified longstanding Clean Water Act protections for millions of acres of wetlands and many headwater streams that protect communities from flooding, contribute to the drinking water supplies of one in three Americans, and provide essential fish and wildlife habitat that supports a robust outdoor recreation economy worth $887 billion.
“Sportsmen and women are outside every day experiencing the benefits of clean water,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Rolling back these protections for wetlands and headwater streams threatens our hunting and fishing traditions and the outdoor economy that powers our communities.”
“No one wants to fish a lake covered in toxic algae, duck hunt in a bulldozed wetland, or pitch a tent next to a creek filled with feces,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Unfortunately, this Administration is working on multiple fronts to rewrite the rules that protect our waters, hoping no one will notice. The collective impact of these changes would be devastating for public health and wildlife across the country—and we will continue to fight to protect America’s waterways every step of the way.”
“Clean water is a basic right of every American,” says Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “To be effective, the Clean Water Act must be able to control pollution at its source. Unfortunately today’s action by the EPA places the health of 60 percent of the stream miles and the drinking water of one in three Americans at risk. Trout Unlimited will not rest, and will use all of the tools at our disposal, to compel EPA to reverse course on this misguided direction.”
“More than 100 million people across the US engage in fish- and wildlife-based recreation, approximately half of whom participate in fishing,” says Patrick Berry, president and CEO of Fly Fishers International. “It is clear the opportunities available to enjoy these outdoor pursuits is directly limited by the health of our natural systems and their ability to support healthy and abundant populations of fish and wildlife. Rolling back protections of wetlands, our lakes streams and rivers—some of the most diverse and productive wildlife habitats—not only compromises our natural heritage, but threatens the cultural and economic value of recreational fishing.”
“This rule will irreparably impact wetlands in America’s duck factory—the prairie pothole region—and threaten the health of riparian habitat critical for big game and 80 percent of all wildlife species,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “Weakened protections translate to lost access and reduced opportunities for hunting and fishing. Hunters and anglers must not stand for shortsighted polices that compromise the integrity of fish and wildlife habitats that have been safeguarded for decades under the Clean Water Act.”
“EPA’s decision to repeal the Clean Water Rule is wholly unsupported by science, can’t be squared with the clear intent of the Clean Water Act, and fails the common sense test,” says Scott Kovarovics, Executive Director of Izaak Walton League of America. “To make matters worse, this is only a prelude to the second blow when EPA finalizes a new rule later this year that will further undermine protections for small streams, wetlands, and drinking water supplies across America.”
“The EPA is tossing out 50 years of peer-reviewed science and in doing so threatens to undermine the integrity of the Nation’s waters that support fish and wildlife,” says Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society. “Allowing unchecked pollution and destruction in the waters and wetlands in the upper reaches of a watershed imperils the sustainability of fish stocks in both upstream and downstream waters and places valuable recreational fisheries and endangered species at risk.”
In a 2018 poll, 80 percent of sportsmen and women said Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands. Additionally, 92 percent believe that we should strengthen or maintain current clean water standards, not relax them.
Our diverse coalition reaches a new milestone
The National Alliance of Forest Owners has joined the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership as its 60th organizational partner, marking a major milestone for the coalition-building organization. This newest addition to the TRCP’s expert Policy Council rounds out an impressive and diverse group of organizations that read like a who’s who of the hunting, fishing, and conservation community and collectively represent millions of Americans.
“We’re so proud to continue expanding our ranks in service of building consensus and empowering advocates across our community to effect real policy change for fish, wildlife, habitat, conservation funding, and sportsmen’s access—this is why the TRCP exists,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO.
“Private forest owners in the U.S. care for more than 450 million acres of forestland–60% of the nation’s forests–and the abundant wildlife that call our forests home,” says Dave Tenny, founding president and CEO of NAFO. “NAFO brings the nationwide scale of privately owned, sustainably managed forests and a deep-rooted commitment to collaborative conservation to the TRCP, where we are looking forward to working closely with partners to advance real conservation outcomes.”
Other recent additions to the partnership include The Conservation Fund, Wild Salmon Center, Property and Environment Research Center, and Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.
All 60 organizational partners meet at least twice a year to find alignment and consensus on conservation priorities, while working groups dedicated to specific issue areas meet frequently to collaborate and track progress. It is a coalition of the willing, with no membership dues and the understanding that, while we won’t agree on everything, we have a better chance of success when we unite behind the things we can agree on.
A closer look at areas with high concentrations of inaccessible state and federal parcels that could be unlocked to dramatically improve sportsmen’s opportunities
By now we know that more than 9.5 million acres of federal public lands—those overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for example—are entirely surrounded by private land and therefore inaccessible to sportsmen and women. An additional 6.35 million acres of state lands are similarly landlocked.
As much as it helps to have this data—which was not available before our first-of-its-kind collaboration with onX over the past two years—the problem can seem overwhelming until you look at specific examples of these landlocked parcels, how they got this way, and what can be done to unlock them.
If you missed our history lesson on shifting land ownership patterns across the West, get caught up here. But if you’re looking for examples of places where tackling access challenges head-on could make a huge difference for hunters and anglers, read on.
Closed by State Policy in Colorado
Colorado stands apart from other mountain states when it comes to access to its trust lands. State rules currently do not allow the public to use or cross 2.22 million of the state’s 2.78 million acres of trust lands for any activity, including hunting and fishing.
In cooperation with the State Land Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has made a commendable effort to improve the access situation by leasing 558,000 acres of state trust lands for sportsmen’s access, and an additional 77,000 acres were just opened last week for the 2019 hunting season.
Colorado has perhaps the single-greatest opportunity to expand public access to outdoor recreation, and in doing so could help fulfill its obligations to generate revenue from trust lands. Colorado could begin by opening the 1.78 million acres of trust lands that are accessible but closed to activities like hunting and fishing and continue this work by establishing new access to the state’s 435,000 acres of landlocked trust lands. In accomplishing this, Colorado would create new possibilities for outstanding outdoor recreation and unleash the full potential of its economy
So Much Potential in Southeast Montana
Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Region 7 is a mule deer hunter’s paradise—but it also contains a disproportionately high percentage of landlocked lands. From the shores of Fort Peck Lake to the Tongue and Powder Rivers, more than 898,000 acres of public land within Region 7 are inaccessible without permission from an adjacent private landowner.
Other sub-regions throughout the West, including eastern Wyoming and northern Nevada, contain similarly high concentrations of landlocked lands. Unlocking landlocked parcels in these areas would both expand hunting opportunities and benefit small-town economies.
A potential solution is ready-made in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which must include at least $15 million annually for the purpose of expanding recreational access.
While the scale of the problem can seem overwhelming, progess on this issue is possible. A monumental access project we highlighted last year in Oregon has already been completed with LWCF funds.
Help us support more access wins across the West. Take action and urge Congress to fully fund the LWCF now!
Top photo: Nick Venture of Become 1
Landlocked doesn’t necessarily mean access is lost for good
It would be a mistake to see the results of our latest landlocked study with onX and think that all hope of accessing these lands is lost. In fact, with excellent news coming out of Oregon this week—a strategic land acquisition is helping to open a combined 13,000 acres of public lands to hunters and anglers there—sportsmen and women have a lot to look forward to.
Knowing the full scope of the landlocked problem is one step toward finding the best possible solutions. Here are four ways that Western states are already working to chip away at the 15.8 million landlocked acres that we’ve identified so far.
Since they received their original land grants, many states have consolidated their trust lands to make them more manageable and profitable. This has been achieved through both land acquisitions and exchanges, whereby the state trades its own lands to another entity for lands in a more desirable location.
Some state natural resource departments have acquired road access easements simply to make it easier to manage previously landlocked parcels. But as access across private lands has become increasingly difficult for sportsmen and women to obtain, these efforts also offer benefits to the public-land hunter or angler.
Now, states have begun to open landlocked state trust lands to public access not just as an ancillary benefit of more streamlined management, but for the expressed purpose of creating more outdoor recreation opportunities. And this is great news for those of us who need more places to hunt and fish close to home.
One of the most powerful steps a state can take to open landlocked state lands is to assign dedicated staff and/or establish specific programs to address access challenges.
Montana has been a leader on this front, having taken several steps to increase access to state trust lands. While many states have recently created positions focused on serving and expanding outdoor recreation, Montana took the additional step of creating a new role for a public access specialist tasked with expanding access to public lands—both state and federal. This person’s responsibilities include helping the state prioritize and complete access acquisition projects and collaborating with landowners and agency land managers to find common ground around the access issue.
What’s more, the public access specialist has a number of programs at his or her disposal. One such program is the Montana Public Lands Access Network (MTPLAN), which was created by the legislature in 2017 to “facilitate collaboration” and “enhance public access throughout the state.” Through the MTPLAN, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation awards grants to eligible groups specifically to acquire public access easements across private lands and open up landlocked or difficult-to-access public lands for recreation.
While the MT-PLAN would benefit from more robust funding, it stands as a praiseworthy effort that other states could follow. And Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has several other programs—including Unlocking Public Lands and the Public Access to Lands Act—that serve to expand access to the state’s 5.2 million acres of trust lands.
Walk-in access programs, such as Idaho’s “Access Yes” and New Mexico’s “Open Gate,” have long been popular with sportsmen and women for their ability to expand hunting opportunities on private lands. These programs are administered by individual state fish and wildlife agencies, which generally enter into short-term contracts with individual private landowners to make their lands available to the public, typically for hunting.
Each program is different, and Nevada is the only state in the Mountain West without one.
Traditionally used only for private land access, state walk-in programs have taken on a new importance as a powerful tool for opening pathways to landlocked state and federal lands. Several states, including Wyoming and Arizona, are deliberately using these programs to open access to landlocked public lands—including state trust lands—by securing leases on private lands that encompass or are adjacent to otherwise inaccessible public lands.
This isn’t a permanent solution, because the access agreements require perpetual renewal, but walk-in programs can be especially valuable in opening smaller and more isolated parcels of state and federal lands that would be difficult or impractical to unlock by any other means. These state programs are generally funded through license dollars or the federal Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program.
Continued and even increased funding for both sources could be fundamental to supplying more public walk-in access. That means recruiting more license-buying sportsmen and women, supporting R3 efforts, and recognizing the important benefits of VPA-HIP in time for the next farm bill debate.
We’ve been a bit of a broken record on this one, but can you blame us? According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 40,000 individual grants and $4.1 billion in LWCF funds have been provided to states and localities to acquire and develop outdoor recreation facilities. And LWCF state dollars—a mandated 40 percent of allocated program funding—can be directed toward unlocking state lands for recreational access right now.
The more funding Congress directs to the LWCF, the bigger chunk of the pie is available to the states, and that’s why we’re pushing for the maximum of $900 million to flow into the LWCF coffers annually, without future quibbling about whether that’s the right amount.
Remember: Oil and gas companies are already handing over $900 million a year for this purpose. But in the past 50 years, more than $20 billion in LWCF funds have been diverted elsewhere.
Support the original promise of the LWCF and the opportunity to unlock inaccessible public lands to which we have every right. Take action now to urge Congress to fully fund this critical access tool.
Top photo by Tom Fowlks.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More