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Yesterday the US Senate passed a budget resolution that, while it does not carry the weight of law – does serve as an internal instructional document, a broad outline of the policies and priorities that Congress will seek over the next few months to implement in legislation that most certainly will carry the weight of law. As such, it included a series of up or down votes that put members of the Senate on record on several issues important to sportsmen.
And, in general, it was not good news. First, the numbers:
The Senate budget resolution would maintain sequestration for non-defense discretionary spending (including all conservation spending) and then cut an additional $236 billion over the 2017 to 2025 period. The Senate budget would cut conservation funding in FY2016 by about $5 billion dollars relative to 2013 levels. Conservation Funding wouldn’t return to its 2013 funding level of $41 billion until 2022. If you adjust for inflation the cuts inflicted by the budget will be far worse.
And now the policy:
I’ll start with the two bright spots. Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) amendment clarifies that all existing agricultural exemptions in the Clean Water Act, which date back to the early 1970s, should be maintained in the proposed Waters of the US rule. That the amendment passed unanimously may signal that Congress may be willing to look at the facts on the proposed rule and not just the rhetoric from status quo stakeholders. The next bright spot was an amendment offered by Senators Crapo (R-ID) and Wyden (D-OR) that changes the way we pay for catastrophic fires, which now eat up almost half of the Forest Service’s annual budget. The amendment had sufficient support that it was included in the manager’s report by acclimation.
Besides the basic funding levels, the giant alarm bell coming from the budget resolution was the amendment offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that essentially encourages Congress to “sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument…” The amendment passed 51-49. Here is a roll call of the vote.
As most sportsmen know, transferring lands to the state or selling them off is a bad deal for sportsmen. See www.sportsmensaccess.org for more information on the issue. If Congress were to follow these instructions, all BLM lands, National Forests and even National Wildlife Refuges could go on the chopping block. Heck, even national battlefields and historic sites could be transferred or sold.
The budget resolution does not carry the weight of law and is an easy place for members to make “symbolic” votes without actually changing the law. But symbolic votes show what members think and what they think is important.
Make no mistake about it, the public lands vote on the budget resolution was a finger in the eye to sportsmen everywhere. But the real action is still to come, the question is whether sportsmen and women will pay attention and make their elected representatives know what they think about selling off or giving away our public lands.
Make no mistake. Round two of Critter Madness 2015 was a nail-biter. Three of the eight matches were decided by only a handful of votes.
Yellowfin v. tarpon went down to the wire, with the tuna barely advancing with 52.5% percent of the vote. The mallard narrowly escaped an upset scare at the hands of the sharp-tailed grouse and advanced to the field of eight with 53.4% of the vote. And, after a match-up with record turnout and multiple lead changes, the wild turkey outlasted the pheasant in a true knock-down, drag-out fight.
Of course, it wasn’t always close. After taking down the largemouth bass, the smallmouth bass was no match for the brook trout’s Cinderella run. Chinook salmon easily upset our saltwater fishing favorite, the blue marlin, 71.6% to 28.4%. And while we know westerners love their mule deer, it’s pretty clear that they love elk even more.
Now, it’s time for America to determine its regional champions. By the end of the day on Monday, we’ll know America’s favorite big game species, game bird, and saltwater and freshwater fish.
On the terrestrial side, we have a match-up of heavy-weights. Two staples of North American game, the whitetail and the elk, will lock antlers to see who will take home the title of America’s favorite big game species. The mallard and the turkey will face off, beak-to-beak, for the chance to be the avian representative in the Sportsmen’s Four.
While favorites have dominated on land, the aquatic bracket is wide open. Will the brook trout continue its Cinderella story to be our freshwater champion or will the rainbow trout leave the upset bid in its wake? In a matchup of two of America’s hardest hitters, will king salmon or yellowfin tuna emerge as your favorite saltwater game fish?
The stakes are higher now so we’re upping our prizes. Brett Fitzgerald of Florida won our second round prize, a brand new pair of Costa Sunglasses. For the round three, we’re going even bigger. On the March 30, we’ll draw our next winner and they’ll go home with a Abu Garcia Orra SX Low Profile baitcasting combo.
We’re giving out trophies soon, and as American sportsmen and women, you’re on the selection committee. What will you decide?
Josh Grieser from Colorado Springs, Colo., was selected as the first winner of our Critter Madness bracket challenge, and we sent him some great gear from Orvis, Buck Knives, and Berkley. He plans to use his prizes on his next trip to Eleven Mile Canyon on the South Platte River, where he’s pictured here fishing for brown trout.
TRCP: Josh, which species do you see going all the way in our Critter Madness Tournament?
JG: I think Critter Madness is a great idea, and I think that elk are going to take the whole thing. I’d definitely like to see steelhead make it pretty far, because I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest and grew up fishing for them, but elk are high on every hunter’s list. I bet, across the country, almost everyone who likes to hunt would love a shot at a big bull at least once in their lifetime.
TRCP: Does that include you?
JG: Oh, yeah! My wife and I recently got into bowhunting for elk, and we’ve got a pretty intense off-season training regimen going, so we’ll be prepared to stalk in close. I love that, especially with archery, you really have to work for it and put in the miles. We’re also planning to put in for our first mule deer tag this year.
Congratulations, Josh, and we hope you have great hunting and fishing this year!
Want to read more fan predictions? Check out Brett Fitzgerald’s picks here.
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.
Here is lesson three from Lemhi Valley, Idaho:
“My neighbors wanted to know if I was going to jail,” Beyeler said. “That’s how bad the mistrust was at the time.”
That was more than 20 years ago. Funding was scarce. But Merrill Beyeler’s initial conversation eventually brought together the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and state agencies, which found funding to improve fencing on Beyeler’s ranch. And a major conservation partnership began.
Before the partnership, irrigation along the Lemhi resulted in polluted water, limited flow and increased water temperatures. Irrigators had also installed diversions that prevented traditional spawning migrations for Chinook salmon. Water quality and quantity suffered, and so did salmon populations.
But relationships improved. Local landowners and irrigators along the Lemhi eventually teamed up with The Nature Conservancy to use Bonneville Power Administration grant funding through the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program (CBWTP) to restore the river and redevelop the natural habitat for salmon and many other fish, wildlife and vegetation.
With funding from the CBWTP, project leaders acquired a 630-acre conservation easement allowing local landowners to protect 7.5 miles of river habitat. The project allows ranchers and landowners to continue their long-term stewardship of
their land while meeting the conservation needs of the ecosystem.
It’s not just the fish that benefit from the project. With help from The Nature Conservancy, farmers and ranchers in the Lemhi Valley installed high-efficiency sprinkler systems, which means less demand for river water for irrigation—and more water for fish.
Merrill Beyeler, now a Republican state representative in Idaho, entered into a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy. The agreement allowed him to purchase another ranch with an existing easement, almost doubling the size of his property. The expansion of the property provides more flexibility while adjusting to the conservation standards set forth by the easement. Grazing areas can be rested and rotated with greater frequency, and cattle have been kept off sensitive riverbanks without negatively impacting the ranch’s bottom line.
In recent years, Beyeler has witnessed the Lemhi River rush back to life, rejuvenating the entire valley and the economy it supports. Fish and wildlife have reappeared, and local communities see children return to establish their own families and businesses. Merrill Beyeler sees conservation as a catalyst for economic opportunity, business diversity and community vitality.
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