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Ongoing concern for sage-grouse resources was matched with guarded optimism by a room full of state, federal, and non-profit wildlife conservation professionals at a gathering during the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Omaha, Nebraska, last week. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership organized the event to celebrate the largest landscape-scale conservation effort in the history of contemporary wildlife management on behalf of this threatened game bird.
The fact that a once abundant, widely-distributed, and liberally-harvested game species is now at population levels low enough to be considered for listing as threatened or endangered—that decision will be made in September—has greatly concerned many. But habitat loss impacts more than just sage-grouse. Sagebrush ecosystems are critically important to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including mule deer, pronghorn, and elk. Thriving populations of sage-grouse would indicate healthy sagebrush ecosystems, and this is the bigger-picture goal of those working to restore this troubled landscape, many of whom were in attendance as the TRCP expressed its gratitude for their efforts.
Collaboration between the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the states has been augmented by the participation of sportsmen, conservation groups, academic and research institutions, private landowners, and a multitude of other stakeholders in the energy and agriculture industries. At the event, posters and displays from many TRCP partners, including the Sage Grouse Initiative, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North American Grouse Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Mule Deer Foundation, and the High Lonesome Ranch, demonstrated their efforts to conserve sage-grouse and sagebrush ecosystems
The highlight of the evening was a fascinating and impressive presentation by Jason Weller, Chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In its Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), the NRCS has played a tremendous role in working proactively with private landowners to balance sustainable ranching with sage-grouse conservation. Under Weller’s leadership, the NRCS is demonstrating solid results, continued investments, and committed stakeholders as they remain steadfast in their dedication to protecting and bringing back the greater sage-grouse. Weller shared some outstanding achievements of that program:
Event attendees were also treated to a sneak preview of “The Sagebrush Sea,” a new film about sagebrush and sage-grouse sponsored by the George B. Storer Foundation and produced by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology for the NATURE series on PBS. The episode will air on May 20.
As they celebrate the heroic progress made in the sagebrush-steppe ecosystems thus far, the TRCP and its partners are continuing to press federal, state, and private landowners to create solid plans and make sufficient commitments to keeping this iconic bird of the American West off the threatened or endangered lists.
This morning, our Director of Government Relations, Steve Kline, testified to the Subcommittee on Interior, Energy, and the Environment for the House Committee on Appropriations. You can read his oral testimony to the committee below. Links to the testimony and the TRCP press release follow:
Chairman Calvert, Ranking Member McCollum, and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Steve Kline, and I am the Director of Government Relations at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of more than 40 of the leading hunting and angling conservation organizations, that is working to guarantee every American quality places to hunt and fish.
My testimony today will focus on five specific funding areas: the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (or NAWCA), the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the State Wildlife Grants Program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and sage-grouse habitat conservation.
Keeping the greater sage-grouse off the endangered species list is a national conservation priority; achieving that goal requires coordination between states, federal land managers, and private landowners. But coordination must inevitably result in conservation—on-the-ground habitat restoration and resource decision-making that demonstrably results in more birds. By providing robust funding levels for sagebrush-steppe ecosystem conservation to the BLM, Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service in fiscal year 2016, Congress can help to ensure that land managers can conserve and restore sagebrush-steppe habitat, for the productive future of sage-grouse, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope.
Appropriations for NAWCA, State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, and Partners for Fish and Wildlife are also at the top of sportsmen’s priority list. Federal funding stakeholders often refer to their favorite programs as ―investments,‖ and that is a word that applies particularly well to these three grant programs, each of which can be measured by their returns in both matching dollars and conservation results. Each federal dollar invested in these grant programs is matched, on average, three times over by non-federal dollars, and in some cases the match is even more significant. What this means in application is that even a minimal increase in funding for these grant programs will have a major on-the-ground impact, and of course the reverse is true: even minimal reductions in funding to programs like NAWCA and Partners for Fish and Wildlife will have outsized negative impacts. For every dollar cut, at least three dollars, and in many cases much more, will not be used for measurable, boots-in-the-mud conservation work. Sportsmen have long supported NAWCA, State Wildlife Grants, and Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and—given the strong demand and bullish ROI—we encourage the Committee to consider reasonable funding increases for these three priorities.
Finally, my testimony today would not be complete without mentioning the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This year marks a seminal moment in this program’s history. If not reauthorized in September, the Fund will become unhitched from its dedicated funding source, offshore energy royalties. In September 2014, TRCP, along with 15 key national sporting groups, produced a report outlining the importance of LWCF to America’s hunters and anglers. I’d like to submit that report for the record, and note that this program is critical to the future of sportsmen and –women in this country. From improving access on federal lands to conserving private-land habitat with voluntary easements, LWCF is having a profoundly positive impact on the outdoor recreation landscape, and we encourage appropriators to provide robust funding levels for the program and to support a more permanent and mandatory solution this Congress.
I will close with a note of appreciation for this Committee’s support of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. While there is no need to get into the particulars of that legislation today, it is important to note that, fire borrowing is needlessly costing American taxpayers, as prevention programs are short-changed. The reality that appropriators must try and anticipate the cost of these natural disasters, and subsequently attempt to fund those costs via appropriated funds, comes with sweeping impacts across the entire Interior and related agencies’ portfolio. TRCP will continue to lead on this issue, and we look forward to working with the committee to move the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act over the finish line.
America’s natural resources are the infrastructure of a robust outdoor recreation economy, one that accounts for $646 billion in direct consumer spending and more than 6 million jobs. Of that total, hunting and angling powers a $90-billion annual economic engine, with billions more contributed directly to state and federal revenues.
Despite the obvious benefits of a robust outdoor recreation economy and productive, accessible natural resources, conservation programs are frequently the target of budgetary cuts that, while having virtually no meaningful impact on the federal deficit, have profoundly negative long-term impacts. In the end, we are costing ourselves far more resources than we’re saving—dollars and habitat. As I have illustrated today, returns on conservation investments include jobs, increased tax revenues, non-federal dollars that far outstrip the initial federal commitment, and importantly, better days afield for America’s hunters and anglers, who are part of an outdoor recreation tradition that is the envy of the world. With reasonable investments in those programs, we can all reap these many benefits.
From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance. They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.
In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them. The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.
Lesson one from Sonoma County, California:
“People are having to truck water in during the summer, just to live—to flush their toilets, wash their dishes and have a glass of water at night before bed,” says Valerie Minton, the program director of the Sonoma Resource Conservation District.
The challenge in the Russian River watershed is to combat the scarcity of water without threatening Coho salmon, whose populations are suffering from low water levels—even dry riverbeds. It’s a challenge that requires an effective and balanced solution from a dynamic partnership.
To benefit both people and fish, multiple efforts are underway to improve water use and conserve water through diversions, habitat restoration, catchment systems, off-stream ponds and tanks, and frost protection systems.
Critical funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal sources helped fund cooperative projects with landowners to improve flow in tributaries to the Russian River and Dry Creek.
With the many creeks and tributaries of the Russian River drying up, smaller fish were not surviving to make it back to the ocean to grow as adults. In years past, the 110-mile long Russian River hosted thousands of spawning salmon. But between 2000 and 2009, fewer than 100 salmon returned. The low numbers resulted in their placement on the Endangered Species List. The Russian River project is helping farmers and landowners reduce diversions during the driest part of the season, improving streamflow. Juvenile fish will then be able to survive over the dry season and migrate out to the ocean.
Trout Unlimited and other partners are taking full advantage of federal funding, and it’s working. More adult salmon and steelhead are returning and spawning since restoration work began. More than 500 adult coho returned for the 2012-13 winter.
It’s a debate that has raged in drift boats, duck blinds, and around the campfire decades. Which game species reigns supreme? The majestic elk? The wily turkey? The powerful tarpon or the charismatic brook trout? Which species makes your heart thump and makes you reach for your rod or gun?
Well, America, we’re here to settle that question. Many folks may have basketball on the brain this March, but we at the TRCP have set out to crown a different kind of champion: America’s favorite game species.
We are proud to present “Critter Madness,” a 32-species tournament to determine which game animal is the favorite among America’s hunters and anglers. Using the irrefutable science of bracketology, we’ve matched up all your favorite game species head-to-head across four divisions: big game, upland birds and waterfowl, freshwater fish, and saltwater fish. Your votes determine which species will advance to the championship.
So have at it, America. It’s time for you to decide. Log on to crittermadness.org and cast your vote in each of 16 round-one match ups. How does a feral pig hunt stack up against a pronghorn chase? Does the dove have what it takes to knock off the pheasant? Would you rather hook a muskie or a smallmouth bass? Do you want to get your hands on a record-breaking yellowfin tuna or a larger-than-life redfish?
We’re also offering fantastic prizes at the conclusion of each round. Register and your name will be entered to win prizes like a Remington shotgun, a new Abu Garcia rod, or a custom TRCP Yeti cooler.
It’s about to get real. Mule deer versus bighorn sheep. Sharp-tails versus chukars. King salmon versus stripers. Steelhead versus walleye. Make sure your favorite doesn’t get bumped. Cast your vote today.
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