Kristyn Brady

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May 28, 2015

BLM looks to new landscape plans to enhance sage grouse conservation efforts

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took a critical step forward in ensuring the future of the greater sage grouse today, when the agency released plans to amend nearly 100 resource management plans (RMPs) across the West to benefit the bird. The reveal of 14 environmental impact statements comes after years of federal, state, and local stakeholders working to better protect sage grouse and other sagebrush-dependent species while allowing for energy development, livestock grazing, and recreation.

Image courtesy of Department of Interior.

The plans announced today take a landscape-scale approach that builds off initiatives like Wyoming’s core area strategy. Improvements include measures to minimize new and additional surface disturbance, enhance habitat, and reduce threats from rangeland fires. In the very best remaining sage-grouse habitat, mining activities will be prohibited. No surface disturbance will be permitted in most priority habitat and landscape surface disturbance caps will go into effect in other areas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is set to decide whether to list the range-wide population of greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by September 30. The looming deadline has inspired unprecedented coordination among federal agencies, states, private landowners, and numerous other stakeholders. The BLM and the U.S. Forest Service manage nearly two-thirds of remaining sage-grouse habitat. Sportsmen’s groups are applauding the BLM’s new approach and support federal efforts on public lands as a vital foundation for the range-wide conservation of the species.

“The BLM should be commended for their work on these plans and today’s release is yet another step  in the right direction for sage grouse, sagebrush ecosystems, and the stakeholders committed to balancing conservation with other uses of the land to achieve a positive outcome,” says Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “These federal plans, combined with strong state plans and contributions from private landowners through the Sage Grouse Initiative, and other efforts, will hopefully set us up for success in the form of a ‘not warranted’ decision on the listing in September.”

In order to reach this decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires regulatory assurances and conservation measures grounded in the best available science that the agency can ultimately defend in court. “While we still need to review the details, the revised plans appear to have improved the conservation measures and assurances needed to prevent the listing,” 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 the BLM has taken a positive step forward by producing plans that hopefully can be defensible to a judge.”

As the BLM finalizes their efforts on federal lands, Western states continue working on their own efforts for state and private lands. Some, like Wyoming, have had a strategy in place for years and have already begun implementing conservation measures. Other states have yet to finalize their approach to sage-grouse conservation. “We need the states to finalize their own plans to complement strong federal efforts and keep the momentum and collaboration going,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We also need Congress to step up to the plate by funding the federal agencies for long-term implementation and success rather than promoting delays to the process.”

Whether these RMP revisions will be enough to reverse declining sage-grouse habitat and population trends remains to be seen. “The bottom line comes down to implementation of the BLM plans and commitments to sagebrush ecosystem conservation that will actually improve sage-grouse populations,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We not only need strong conservation plans but also strong commitments and funding to ensure the plans manifest into real conservation actions and long-term improvements on the ground.”

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posted in: General

May 20, 2015

It’s a lot more than “The Big Empty”

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.

Image courtesy of USFWS Mountain-Prairie.

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.

PBS Nature has posted this full-length documentary online. Check out all 53 minutes of “The Sagebrush Sea” and learn more about one of the greatest conservation challenges of this era.

Watch the full-length episode right here.

Or check out this full length trailer from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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May 18, 2015

Glassing The Hill: May 18 – 22

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.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.

Package Deal

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.

Details of the hearing can be found here.

This Week in Full:

Tuesday, May 19

House Hearing on state management of greater sage grouse

Natural Resources

House Meeting to set rules on research, fisheries bills (Not announced***)

Rules

Senate Hearing on S. 1140, The Federal Water Quality Protection Act

Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife

Senate Hearing on the impact of the Waters of the U.S. rule on small businesses

Small Business and Entrepreneurship

Senate Markup of energy and water spending bill

Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water

Wednesday, May 20

House Hearing on legislation to improve sporting opportunities on federal lands and waters

Natural Resources subcommittees on Federal Lands and Water, Power and Oceans

House Hearing on OSMRE’s stream protection rule

Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Senate Hearing on EPA Science Advisory Board reform bill

Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight

Senate Markup of fisheries bills (Not announced***)

Commerce, Science and Transportation

Thursday, May 21

Senate Hearing on public lands bills

Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

May 13, 2015

Top Marks Are Great—Your Trust is Better

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.

 

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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 One Million Acres and Counting

Image by Dusan Smetana.

USDA just enrolled land in La Moure County, North Dakota, in the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement initiative, bringing the nationwide SAFE acreage total across the one-million-acre mark. Val Dolcini, the USDA official who oversees the program, sums it up best: “SAFE began in 2007 as an offshoot [of the Conservation Reserve Program] to focus on establishing key plant species that help not just soil and water, but also are beneficial to selected rural wildlife habitat. And, as it enhances the flora and fauna of the countryside, it can also create recreational opportunities for the sportsman, which is an investment in the rural economy as well.” SAFE is helping private landowners across 36 states and Puerto Rico to provide habitat for the fish and game species we love.

With $235 Million Available for Conservation Partnerships

Image by Dusan Smetana.

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

Image by Dusan Smetana.

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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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