The sagebrush steppe of the western U.S. stretches for hundreds of thousands of miles across 11 states. This massive ecosystem often goes overlooked and is frequently dismissed as “The Big Empty.”
But there’s more going on in this vast landscape than meets the eye. More than 350 plants and animals, including huge herds of pronghorn and mule deer, call the sagebrush home. The highlight of this menagerie is one iconic and somewhat peculiar bird: the greater sage-grouse.
The folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and PBS have teamed up to produce “The Sagebrush Sea,” a documentary that profiles the greater sage-grouse and the other species that call the sagebrush home.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate is in session from Monday through Friday. The House is in session from Tuesday through Thursday.
You might say that it’s rush hour for members of Congress looking to fund the highway bill. Both the House and Senate will be scrambling to find common ground on stopgap funding levels for an extension to the existing highway bill set to expire on May 31. This process will reimburse the Highway Trust Fund, the funding source for most federal transportation projects, but this legislation has also been a critical funding source for federal conservation programs since 1992. It pays for programs vital to the establishment of historic easements, native habitat and wetland mitigation areas, scenic byways, and recreational trails. As such, it is imperative that a long-term funding solution be established in the coming months or, at the very least, that a short-term solution be implemented to ensure that vital conservation programs do not run out of funding.
In the current climate, where smaller pieces of legislation are almost always passed as amendments to larger “must-pass” legislative packages, the highway bill will also present a prime opportunity to lawmakers who need a vehicle for their priorities.
Republicans in the House lobbied for implementing a 7-month funding plan, but quickly realized that the $10 billion needed to do so was unavailable. They will likely acquiesce to Democrats who’d been pushing for a 2-month extension. With Memorial Day recess on the horizon, lawmakers are running out of road.
Water Rule Under Fire
The controversial clean water rule, which would clarify Clean Water Act protections over wetlands and headwater streams, will come under scrutiny this week at two back-to-back Senate hearings. Republicans, who feel the rule is a gross expansion of government and EPA authority, will use these hearings to draw Democrat support for their opposition.
The first hearing, held by the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife will center on S. 1140, which was introduced by Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joe Connelly (D-IN) and has become the central legislative means of opposing the clean water rule. Details on this hearing can be found here. Details on an oversight hearing on Scientific Advisory Panels and Processes at the EPA can be found here.
Conservationists and sportsmen argue that the rulemaking process conducted by the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was thorough and inclusive, and attempts to block a rule that has not been published yet would be premature. More than one million comments were read and considered during the rulemaking process, and the publication of the final rule will not mark the end of the amendment process.
These two hearings come at a sensitive time, with Senate appropriators set to mark up their energy and water spending bill this week. It is likely that the clean water rule will be discussed, if not heatedly debated, during that amendment process. Last year, attempts to force a vote on amendments to the rule disrupted the entire discussion.
A joint hearing will take place on Wednesday as the House Natural Resources Subcommittees on Federal Lands and Water, Power, and Oceans will look at the legislative “sportsmen’s package,” the purpose of which is to enhance hunting, fishing, and target shooting opportunities on federal lands and waters. Details of the package can be found here. Land Tawney, the Executive Director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, will be the only witness.
For the past two years, a bipartisan sportsmen’s package failed in the Senate as discussions on the Senate floor were politicized and became focused on gun rights. The measure passed through the House in 2014, however, and this year’s draft bill features the same language.
The hearing is Wednesday. Additional details can be found here.
Sage Grouse in the House
Conservationists will testify on sage-grouse management authority before the House Natural Resources Committee tomorrow. The hearing will examine the methods and practices employed by states to manage greater sage grouse populations. The implications of dwindling sage-grouse populations could have profound impacts on the economies of the Western states if the birds are listed under the Endangered Species Act in September.
Epic collaboration among federal land managers, state agencies, and local stakeholders is resulting in conservation plans to ensure the sustainability of the species. These tactics will likely be a central part of tomorrow’s discussions, as the panel considers delaying the listing decision and/or shifting management responsibility to the states. Discussions will likely deal with concerns that the federal government is less-equipped to protect the species than the state governments.
Among those testifying is Ed Arnett, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Senior Scientist, whose unparalleled experience on this issue will undoubtedly aid in the decision-making process.
Usually we’re in it for the meat, not the trophies, but the staff here at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is really proud to announce that we received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator for the second year in a row! That’s the highest possible rating from the nation’s largest independent charity evaluator, and this two-time recognition for our financial health, accountability, and transparency puts the TRCP in the top 19 percent of organizations rated.
In case you were curious, here’s a look at how we spent our budget last year, and even more information can be found in our annual report, where we also detail our conservation policy successes from 2014.
In a letter, John P. Dugan, founder and chairman of Charity Navigator, says, “This ‘exceptional’ designation differentiates Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”
We think trust is a huge factor in our ability to bring together partners, build coalitions, and champion bipartisan progress towards protecting sportsmen’s access, investing in conservation, and guaranteeing Americans our unique sporting heritage, which is reliant on the vitality of the outdoors. That’s why, while accolades are nice, we’ll keep working to protect the places you hunt and fish.
Three USDA projects that could open more private land to sportsmen
There has certainly been some ongoing frustration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the ag community and sportsmen, but “The People’s Department” continues to put out good news for private lands conservation. By investing in partnerships with landowners, producers, ranchers, and foresters, the USDA is directly supporting sportsmen’s access and opportunity. Here’s how:
With $235 Million Available for Conservation Partnerships
Earlier this year, USDA announced the first round of RCPP awards—we highlighted a few of the projects here and here. Now, the agency is ready to receive the next round of applications, in which private partners will propose to match over $200 million in USDA funds dollar-for-dollar—meaning there will be more than $400 million worth of new projects to improve soil health, water quality, water-use efficiency, and wildlife habitat on private lands. For this round, USDA is specifically targeting projects that respond to the western drought, develop environmental markets (i.e. water trading or wetland mitigation banks), and combat climate change. These types of projects might not seem relevant to sportsmen at first, but when you read reports about the domino effect the drought is having on California’s wildlife, or the shocking rate of habitat loss over the last decade, it becomes more clear that these seemingly unrelated initiatives can have a cascade effect on our sporting heritage.
By Cleaning Up Waterways in Mississippi River Basin States
USDA will invest $10 million this year across 11 states to improve water quality and habitat and restore wetlands that feed into the Mississippi River. Importantly, the resulting projects will enhance productivity for farmers and foresters throughout the watershed, which is absolutely essential if we hope to encourage more landowners and managers to put conservation on their acreage. But sportsmen of all stripes can also cheer the move: The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative will directly safeguard fish habitat in dozens of inland watersheds, conserve waterfowl habitat up and down the Mississippi Flyway, and reduce the amount of farm runoff flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, which is necessary to restore healthy saltwater recreational fisheries.
The USDA is said to be “helping people help the land,” and we can see why. Especially in the eastern U.S., where the majority of wildlife habitat is on private lands, these voluntary public-private partnerships are an essential piece of the puzzle for quality sportsmen’s access.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate is in session from Monday through Friday. The House is in session from Tuesday through Friday.
These Senators are all charged up.
After a flurry of proposals were submitted for inclusion in the bipartisan energy bill last week, the Energy and Natural Resources Committeehas a busy few days ahead as they hold a hearing to consider 22 pieces of legislation that address issues from solar energy to natural gas pipelines. The Committee is anxious to move the bill this summer, marking the first time federal energy policies have been altered significantly since 2007. The Senate legislative package will focus on smart-grid technology, transmission lines, and gas pipelines. The controversial Keystone XL will most likely be discussed by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and other supporters, but will not be included in the bill. Details on the Senate hearing can be found here.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also begun drafting its companion bill but, unlike the Senate’s, their package will feature a much more partisan slate of bills that support the GOP agenda. A draft of the House bill can be found here. Information on the hearing can be found here.
The Case of Lawsuits vs Wildfire Relief
On Thursday, a House Natural Resources Panel will address the issue of litigation and its impacts on the federal government’s forestry work, particularly in treating fire-prone areas. With wildfire suppression costs increasing at an average annual rate of 22 percent, the Forest Service no longer has the resources necessary to fund suppression costs and prevention measures. Many key players agree that boosting forest treatment and prevention programs is a necessary step to decreasing the dangers and costs of catastrophic wildfires.
However, for two decades, many organizations have employed lawsuits, often to great effect, as a tactic for blocking logging and forestry treatments throughout national forests. And, though the USFS was once quite adept at winning these lawsuits, the agency has been severely hampered by them in the past ten years. In this hearing, opponents of this tactic will most likely argue that costly litigation is preventing the federal government from employing programs to support forest health and mitigating the long-term risk of wildfires.
Dems on Sage-Grouse Delays
After a failed vote in last month’s House Armed Services Committee markup, this week House Democrats plan to file amendments to legislation that would delay an endangered species listing for the greater sage-grouse. Many conservationists feel strongly that a listing decision, which would have wholescale impacts upon energy development in the West and its regional economy, could be avoided if additional state and federal resources were invested in proactive conservation measures promoting sustainable population growth. So far, the immediacy of a September listing deadline has driven unprecedented collaboration to bring these birds back from the brink.
The House Rules Committee will meet this week to decide if the amendment filed by Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass) to block a delay of the decision will be allowed a floor vote.
Clean Water Rule Could Be Dammed
Sometime this week, members of the House are expected to attack the controversial Waters of the U.S. rule, which would clarify protections for headwaters and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The House spending bill, which was introduced last week and will almost assuredly pass through the chamber, featured a policy rider which would block the clean water rule in fiscal year 2016.
The rule also faces an uphill battle in the Senate where John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) have filed legislation to prevent its passage.