A New Affront to Clean Water Protections Brewing in the House
Tomorrow, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will vote on recently-introduced legislation from Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) that will harm our ability to protect coldwater fisheries, indispensable waterfowl habitat, and drinking water for one in three Americans. If this legislation becomes law, it will derail a deliberative rulemaking effort that’s been nearly 15 years in the making.
Hunters and anglers everywhere are counting on this rule to clarify Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and headwater streams. Over 200 hunting, fishing, and sporting groups from across the country have said that the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers need to take action to better protect America’s wetlands and headwater streams.
Efforts to derail the rulemaking at this point will do a major disservice to the hunters, anglers, farmers, and business owners who have submitted more than one million comments in order to improve a version of the rule proposed in March 2014. The EPA and Army Corps have said that these comments have made a definite impact on their clearer and more predictable final rule, and Congress should reserve their judgment until we can evaluate this impact.
Delays caused by Rep. Shuster’s bill are unnecessary. Confusion around jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act can be traced back 15 years but, since then, legal issues have been hashed out, the science has been analyzed, peer-reviewed, and compiled, and the public and key stakeholders have weighed in. Simply put, the agencies have all the information they need to make an informed decision. Let’s not kick the can down the road any further.
This is the best chance we have to clarify the Clean Water Act, and sportsmen should urge their legislators to vote against this bill.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
After a two week break, both chambers are in session this week—the House from Monday through Thursday, and the Senate from Monday through Friday.
It’s cherry blossom season in the rest of D.C., but inside Congress it’s appropriations season. After passing its budget resolution last month,Congress is back in session withthe intent to pass its twelve annual spending bills for fiscal year 2016. A memo from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated that the first appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year will make it to the floor during the last week of April, leaving plenty of work to be done. During the recess, House and Senate negotiators drafted a compromise budget between the two chambers, and lawmakers are expected to reconcile this in the coming weeks.
Appropriators must come to a final agreement to provide guidelines for spending limits by May 15, and neither the House nor Senate can move forward to floor consideration of appropriations bills for fiscal year 2016 until the final budget is adopted. The first two measures headed to the floor are the easiest of the twelve to pass—but the process allows for members to offer an unlimited number of amendments during this time.
Fish and Wildlife Under Review
The Senate regulatory oversight subpanel of the Environment and Public Works Committee panel will meet Tuesday to examine the management of several environmental agencies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as part of the Department of the Interior, will be among those under the microscope, and the focus will likely be on management of federal programs that provide grants to restore and manage sport fishing and wildlife. The hearing will provide Republicans, who have been highly critical of the Obama administration’s management and leadership, an opportunity to scrutinize agency practices.
Hearings in both chambers this week could derail the process for clarifying protections for headwater streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. Sportsmen, including opponents of Pebble Mine, are urging Congress to let the rulemaking process play out, rather than slam the efforts of hunters, anglers, farmers, and business owners who have submitted more than one million comments on the original proposed rule since last March.
I Traveled from Colorado to Washington, D.C. to Stand Up for My Public Lands
Congress has been deciding on appropriations for the national budget, including line items that are way over my head. I don’t understand everything about this process, but I do know that it can shape the discussion of how our public lands are managed for years to come. This was my reason for traveling 1,900 miles to be in Washington, D.C., to stand up for sportsmen’s access to public-lands hunting and fishing. With help from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the National Wildlife Federation, and Trout Unlimited, I met with my representatives from Colorado, Sen. Gardner and Sen. Bennett, witnessed the process, and now I better understand how to fight for our outdoor rights.
While we were in with Senator Heinrich, I also helped to deliver a petition against the sale or transfer of public lands. I have been guiding and outfitting for well over 20 years, almost entirely on public ground and in wilderness settings. During this time, I have hosted people from every corner of the U.S., and some from across the big water, whoseopinions and political leanings are all over the spectrum. (As much as I try to stay away from discussing religion and politics around the campfire, you can’t spend a week on the mountain without learning a little about people’s views and ideas.) Many see something going wrong and, as much as they may care, assume that there is nothing they can do—they’ll most likely be overridden. This assumption has gotten sportsmen in so much deep water that we are about to lose our uniquely American outdoor heritage that we love so much. The hunting industry alone is over 28 million strong, bringing billions of dollars to the economy. If you combined the hunting and fishing community with the outdoor enthusiasts who hike,raft, and cycle on public lands, it seems to me that you’d have one of the largest organizations in the U.S.
The organizations that want to sell off our heritage are masters at getting their word out to our elected officials, and they have an advantage overus, because their only focus is to lobby in D.C. The organizations I belong to, many in life membership, do great work in most respects, but their fundraising dollars are spread very thin, because they’re focused on conservation, education, and habitat. We have to lend our support with individual voices.
Partnerships Power Conservation in Pheasant Country
The crowd was awash with blaze orange—on hats, t-shirts, and even one necktie—at the grand opening of Pheasants Forever’s new regional headquarters in Brookings, S.D., earlier this year. Perhaps the neon hue was a bright indicator of just how eager folks are to stand united for conservation.
This cross-section of the community, made up of hunters, state and federal wildlife officials, conservation leaders, and more, is exactly who needs to be at the table to help Pheasants Forever preserve and enhance habitat in South Dakota. “We live in a different world today, and there are new challenges to conservation on private lands that we can’t solve the way we have before,” Pheasants Forever president and CEO Howard Vincent said at the event. “We have to think differently. We have to bring in new resources and partners. And we’re going to have to bring together the entire state of South Dakota—agriculture, transportation, tourism, and hunting interests as well as private landowners and state and federal agencies—for one reason: to deliver more conservation.”
Habitat loss brought Pheasants Forever to South Dakota, where nearly 2 million acres of grassland habitat have been lost since 2006, and collaborating with partners across the state is how the organization plans to reverse that trend. “We know we can’t do it alone,” says the group’s vice-president of governmental affairs, Dave Nomsen. “Partnerships are how conservation happens today. A group of stakeholders comes together to pool resources and knowledge in order to meet a common goal of keeping habitat on the ground.”
The time is right, Nomsen says, to bring new support to the issue by championing the role that habitat plays in maintaining a healthy landscape and benefits to the general public.
“The value of this work extends beyond heavy game bags,” Nomsen says. “And as an increasing amount of pressure is put on the land to produce food, fuel, and fiber, it is vitally important to that we communicate how the conservation programs that we work to implement—those that provide stream buffers, protect wetlands, and maintain large blocks of grasslands to benefit pheasants, quail, ducks, and other wildlife species—also help protect water resources, maintain healthy soils, and improve air quality for everyone. The key is to find a balance.”
Tom Kirschenmann, chief of terrestrial resources for South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, believes that South Dakota’s private landowners are conservation’s most valuable partner in reaching that balance. “We couldn’t achieve any success in conservation without the commitment and cooperation of families who live on the ground, care for the ground,” Kirschenmann says. “And part of our job is connecting these landowners with the programs that will help them provide quality habitat for pheasants and other wildlife, while still benefitting their operation’s bottom line.”
There is perhaps no better example of this than the success of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in the James River Valley of South Dakota, where 82,000-acres of marginal cropland have been enrolled and restored to grassland habitat. Kirschenmann says that nearly all CREP contracts, which vary in length from 10 to 15 years, were signed with the help of a Farm Bill biologist, a position made possible by Pheasants Forever in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks. Landowners who enroll ground in CREP receive a 40 percent higher rental rate than traditional Conservation Reserve Program contracts, and every acre enrolled in CREP is open year-round to hunting and fishing.
“The program is a win-win situation all the way around,” Kirschenmann says, “and it is all made possible by partnerships involving local landowners, state and federal agency funding, and the work of a private conservation organization.” Continuing to leverage the power of these partnerships will be crucial to finding solutions to the challenges facing conservation on private grounds in South Dakota, adds Pheasants Forever’s Nomsen. “And the key element we need to focus on together—Pheasants Forever, the state of South Dakota, landowners, and everyone else involved—is keeping quality habitat on the ground. Preserving the pheasant hunting culture of South Dakota depends on habitat.”
Author John Pollmann is a life-long bird hunter and freelance outdoor writer from South Dakota. A 2012 recipient of the John Madson Fellowship from the Outdoor Writers Association of America, Mr. Pollmann is a regular contributor to the Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader; provides a bi-monthly report on South Dakota for the Minnesota Outdoor News; and is the waterfowl columnist for the Aberdeen (SD) American News Outdoor Forum. Other writing credits include the pages of magazines for Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, and American Waterfowler.
In addition to outdoor writing, Mr. Pollmann holds an advanced degree in music and currently teaches at Pipestone Area School in Pipestone, MN. He is an active member of Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and was named to the country’s first conservation pro-staff with Vanishing Paradise.
Mr. Pollmann lives in Dell Rapids, SD with his wife Amber, their son Miles, and a yellow Labrador named Murphy.
We’re One Step Closer to Restoring Protection for Trout, Salmon, and Waterfowl
Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took a critical next step toward finalizing a clean water rule that clearly defines protections for headwater streams and wetlands important to trout, salmon, and waterfowl, while keeping farming practices exempt. Taking into account the genuine concerns of hunters, anglers, farmers, manufacturers, and business owners, who submitted more than one million public comments between April 2014 and November 2014, the agencies sent the most recent draft of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review. “The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership would like to commend the EPA and Army Corps for their continued commitment to this rulemaking process and to clarifying legislation that will benefit fish, wildlife, habitat, and anyone who values clean water,” says TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh.
Without any corrective action, 60 percent of stream miles and nesting habitat for the majority of the waterfowl in America are at risk of being polluted, compromised, or destroyed. “The seasonally-flowing streams clearly protected by the proposed rule are often where trout and salmon go to spawn and where juvenile fish are reared,” says Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s Vice President for Government Affairs. “All anglers benefit from the water quality and fish habitat provided by these streams, and we applaud the agencies for moving forward to restore protections to these incredibly important waters.”
As much as this review process is a behind-the-scenes step, it marks a milestone in the evolution of the clean water rule, especially for the growing coalition of organizations fighting to restore protection of our headwaters and wetlands. “Although the full draft hasn’t been released, from what we’ve seen, the comment period has had an impact and the final rule will be better than the proposal from last year,” says TRCP Center for Water Resources Director Jimmy Hague.
According to an April 6 blog post penned by U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy, the new draft of the rule will clarify how protected waters, like streams and wetlands, are significant, and how the agencies make this determination. It will also better define tributaries and protect farming practices. Special consideration has been given to “other waters”—including prairie potholes, the regional waters where 50 to 80 percent of North America’s duck production takes place—that qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act. “We’ve thought through ways to be more specific about the waters that are important to protect, instead of what we do now, which too often is for the Army Corps to go through a long, complicated, case by case process to decide whether waters are protected,” McCarthy and Darcy wrote. The TRCP was one of 185 sportsmen’s groups to address agency leaders in a letter of support for the rulemaking process on the heels of the Clean Water Act’s 42nd Anniversary in October 2014.
“Sportsmen have been actively engaged on this issue and will continue to combat efforts to derail the clean water rule,” says Fosburgh. “Anyone concerned with the rampant loss of wetlands, the health of spawning areas for trout and salmon, or the future of our hunting and fishing traditions should be pleased with the effort to restore protections for these resources.”
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.