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The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate will be in session from Monday through Friday. The House will be in session from Tuesday through Friday. (Don’t feel guilty, guys. We went fishing on Monday, too.)
Will they have the energy? After the House Appropriations Committee announced its spending plan that funds the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency last week, House and Senate Committees will spend this week putting together the first comprehensive energy bill introduced in over a decade. Most notably, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider over 20 energy-efficiency bills from every end of the political spectrum in a two-part hearing on Thursday. One part will be dedicated to the consideration of efficiency policies and the other to the best uses of the U.S. petroleum reserve, considering increased domestic petroleum production. Details on the hearing and bills being considered can be found here.
A Last-Minute Swipe at the Clean Water Rule
This week, the House will consider an energy and water spending bill that would kill the Obama administration’s “Waters of the U.S. Rule,” a regulation that seeks to clarify which streams and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. The bill would provide Fiscal Year 2016 funding for the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies, but block them from using funds to implement the WOTUS rule. The House is expected to vote on the $35.4 billion spending bill after both chambers finalize a settled budget agreement.
Carbon Rule Roleplay
On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies will host EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will likely use this as an opportunity to heavily scrutinize the EPA’s budget, given his hardline stance on the EPA in the past. Sen. McConnell will likely attempt to undermine the EPA’s proposed carbon rule in the coming weeks by using policy riders. He and others in his camp must temper their expectations, however, as the President is likely to veto legislation that is too partisan or threatens his pivotal climate rule. More information on the hearing can be found here.
A Frack Attack?
On Tuesday, Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze will defend the BLM’s controversial new fracking rule before the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining, led by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY). A premiere critic of the rule, which was finalized in March after years of consideration and public commentary, Senator Barrasso will have the opportunity to engage the agency on its proposals, perhaps citing the fact that Wyoming’s fracking regulations are among the strongest in the country and do not require expansion or clarification. Other states are not up to Wyoming’s standards, though. The new rule is the first significant change to fracking regulations in over three decades. The focus of the rule is to address public health concerns and suspicions of fracking fluid leakage, while accounting for the dramatic increase in sophisticated fracking technology in the last 10 years.
Also this week:
Tuesday, April 28
Energy and Commerce Committee
Wednesday, April 29
Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies
Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry
Commerce, Science, and Transportation
9:30 AM, 253 Russell
Thursday, April 30
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Natural Resources Committee
Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining
At TRCP’s seventh annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner last week, we proudly honored lifelong conservation leader Dr. Steven A. Williams, Senator Lamar Alexander, and Senator Patty Murray for their lasting commitment to real on-the-ground results for sportsmen. The gala event, held at the historic Decatur House, brought together policy makers, conservation advocates, and outdoor industry leaders.
Williams received TRCP’s 2015 Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award for expanding access to sportsmen, addressing climate change, allowing science to guide management, and championing conservation funding throughout his career. He is currently the president of the Wildlife Management Institute and formerly served as director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under President George W. Bush. Williams also held leadership positions with wildlife agencies in Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. “Steve has become the moral compass of the hunting conservation community, a role we hope he won’t relinquish anytime soon,” said TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh in his opening statements last night.
Williams said he’d like to share the honor with the hundreds of collaborators he’s had in more than 30 years of wildlife conservation efforts. “No one gets anything like this done alone, so this award also belongs to them,” he said. “The people in this profession are like family, and it isn’t hard to see why. We all care about the future and where it intersects with nature.”
Sen. Alexander and Sen. Murray were presented with the 2015 James D. Range Conservation Award—named for TRCP’s co-founder and conservation visionary—for their dedication to protecting what sportsmen value in Congress.
Alexander said that part of his job is “reminding our country how much the great outdoors is a part of our American character. Egypt has its pyramids, Italy has its art, and we have the great outdoors.” The third-term senator grew up hunting and fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Indicative of his unrepentant support of conservation, Alexanderbucked 51 of his colleagues to oppose an amendment endorsing the sale of our public lands, during the recent budget resolution process. His award was presented by Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho.
Sen. Murray was the driving force behind last session’s budget deal that ended sequestration and reinvested in conservation, an achievement lauded by Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who presented her award. “Patty Murray was able to forge real, lasting bipartisan compromises to make sure we didn’t give short shrift to all those things we care about as sportsmen.” Murray spoke about her love of salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest and the need to renew our efforts for conservation funding. “I’ll keep pushing for robust funding and to keep conservation and sportsmen’s access a top priority, so our children and grandchildren will have the same opportunities I’ve had to fish these unique, beautiful places,” she said.
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 eight from Toledo, Ohio:
It’s ambitious, but we know this is 100% doable and will have fantastic benefits.
Mistakes of the past reached a boiling point in the summer of 2014 in Toledo, Ohio, where residents were warned against drinking and even bathing in local tap water.
Bright green algae bloomed across Lake Erie, fed by phosphorous- and nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff—causing extremely high levels of microcystin (which can damage the liver) in the water supply. Toxins in the water supply were so bad that fish were dying.
The incident highlights the importance of the Howard Farms Coastal Restoration Project, which is transforming nearly 1,000 acres of farmland along Lake Erie back into its original wetland habitat. The efforts will result in restoring a natural filter for polluted water.
More than 75 years ago, in an effort to cultivate new cropland, the Howard Farms property was drained, ditched, and disconnected from Lake Erie by levees.
As a result, twenty-eight species of fish could no longer spawn there, an important creek channel disappeared, and hundreds of acres of wetland habitat vanished along with their natural ability to cleanse water before it reached Lake Erie.
To tackle the problem, Ducks Unlimited and local stakeholders turned to grant funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to restore the property back to its former wetland habitat. Metroparks of the Toledo Area (the local parks agency) previously had bought Howard Farms with the idea of restoring habitat and transforming the agricultural land into a world-class metropark.
The project will hydrologically reconnect the property to Lake Erie and restore several hundred acres of coastal emergent wetlands and nearly 7,500 feet of the historic Cedar Creek riverbed. The 28 species of fish now suffering from habitat loss will soon benefit from the restoration, which will make it possible for them to once again migrate from Lake Erie into the wetlands for spawning.
A key part of this project will be installing boardwalks around the land, opening up the wetlands to hunting, fishing and birding. The Toledo area is one of the most popular birding spots in the country, and the Howard Farms restoration project will bring back new opportunity for birders across the country.
The project’s $2.8 million in grants from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will be pooled with $1 million from the Ohio Division of Wildlife and an additional $5 million from Metroparks. The plan is to finish designs and hire contractors in early 2015. Habitat restoration and installation of the recreational use amenities will run into 2016.
As 11 Western states anxiously await the end of September, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to list the range-wide population of greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), good news has emerged from Nevada and California. Today, the agency determined that a smaller population of the majestic western gamebird isolated to these two states was not warranted for listing under the ESA, indicating that, with concerted conservation efforts, a federal listing may be avoided.
The decision comes after months of proactively planning a combination of regulatory and voluntary measures on federal, state, and private land to assure the birds’ future. “Today’s decision is great news for this population of sage-grouse and all the stakeholders who rolled up their sleeves and demonstrated that the states can work with the federal government to achieve a positive outcome,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We’re poised to get the same result for the remaining populations of sage-grouse, if we stay the course and don’t back away from strong conservation efforts that will benefit allsagebrush-dependent species.”
The Service must decide whether to list the broader, range-wide population by September 30, 2015. Sagebrush ecosystems that support sage-grouse are also critically important to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including mule deer, pronghorns, and elk.
“The same regulatory assurances and proactive voluntary measures that have helped prevent the listing of this bi-state population are exactly what we need in the rest of the sage-grouse’s range,” says Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Ultimately, the decision to list the range-wide population will end up in a federal court, and unless the state and BLM plans and assurances can be defended by the Service, a judge may rule that the sage-grouse must be listed,” Williams adds.
Nearly half of the nation’s remaining sagebrush habitat lies on federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and conservation measures in that agency’s new resource management plans will likely carry a lot of weight in the September 2015 decision. Private and state lands, however, are also vital to the birds’ future, and the ESA listing decision will hinge on strong state conservation plans.
“Governors simply cannot take their foot off the gas now,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “They must finalize solid plans for their states and support federal plans in order to avoid a listing later this fall. We need their leadership to embrace change, conservation, and a newly defined future for sagebrush ecosystems.”
Policy makers in Washington enacted a rider in the recently passed budget bill stating that FWS cannot “write or issue” listing rules for four grouse species, and new bills are being developed to propose delaying a listing decision by 6 to 10 years. “Politicians seeking to drag out the September 2015 deadline for listing greater sage-grouse were sent a strong message today—putting in the hard work now will pay off in the long run,” says Fosburgh. “The necessary assurances for state and federal plans don’t require 6 to 10 years to result in a positive outcome. By buckling down, stakeholders in California and Nevada have shown us a path forward for the rest of the western states.”
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