The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
Both the House and the Senate will be in session this week, the first of four legislative weeks before the August recess and eight weeks from the end of fiscal year 2015.
This Month at a Glance July is expected to see consideration of a Highway Bill solution (the highway trust fund expires July 31); there is also some appetite to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank’s charter, which expired on July 1. The Senate could also soon see action on a nuclear deal with Iran, and both chambers will begin conference proceedings on the Fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
On the Floor
This week, the Senate will be considering reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (S.1177).
Conservation Funding Alert: This week, the House will resume consideration of the Fiscal Year 2016 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 2822) on the floor, and is expected to vote on a variety of amendments throughout the week. You can review all the amendments currently filed here.
The Week in Full:
Tuesday, July 7
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to examine S.1694, which would authorize phase III of a project to improve water management in the Yakima River basin.
Wednesday, July 8
House Committee on Agriculture hearing on energy and the rural economy: the economic impact of exporting crude oil.
Full House Appropriations Committee Markup of Fiscal Year 2016 agriculture spending bill .
Full House Natural Resources Committee Markup – A list of bills will be posted once available.
Thursday, July 9
Full House Natural Resources Committee Markup, continued from Wednesday.
House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing on examining the EPA’s regulatory overreach.
House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing on HR 702, legislation to prohibit restrictions on the export of crude oil.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing to examine mitigation requirements, interagency coordination, and pilot projects related to economic development on Federal public lands.
Angling Community Knows Just What to Do with $18.7B Oil Spill Settlement
Leaders of the Gulf of Mexico’s recreational fishing community reaffirmed their commitment to improving the region’s fisheries and access opportunities following the announcement of an $18.7-billion settlement between BP, the five Gulf States, and the federal government for environmental damages and lost revenues resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. According to details released today, BP will pay $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, and at least $5 billion to Louisiana alone, for injuries determined through a Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Funds will be paid over 16 years. BP will also commit $232 million to any future damage.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and its sportfishing partners—the American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, and Center for Coastal Conservation—have been working closely with the Gulf’s angling community, state and federal agencies, researchers, and conservation groups since 2010 to identify and advance projects and initiatives to sustain and improve fisheries using oil spill recovery funds.
“Exactly five years ago, oil was still spilling into the Gulf, closing and limiting recreational fishing and making the future of Gulf fisheries uncertain,” says TRCP Center for Marine Fisheries Director Chris Macaluso. “This settlement gives us a clearer picture of what the future of Gulf fishing will look like, by allowing state and federal agencies and research institutions an immediate timeline and definitive budget for selecting the projects and initiatives that will protect and restore damaged ecosystems. It is critical that we get to work restoring, protecting, and improving habitat now, rather than after a decade or more of litigation.”
“Louisiana is losing critical fish habitat on a daily basis, and it’s very important that projects to restore our coast and curb land loss move forward to the design and construction phase as quickly as possible,” says CCA Louisiana Executive Director David Cresson. “Our organization remains committed to representing the saltwater fishermen of our state in ensuring that barrier islands, reefs, marshes, science centers, and fisheries management are at the top of the lists of projects built with these unprecedented conservation funds.”
In 2013, TRCP and its partners released the report “Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries: Recommendations for Restoration, Recovery and Sustainability,” which broadly identified steps to improve habitat, fisheries science, data collection, and boost angler confidence that damages would be repaired. We followed up that report with a list of 25 specific Gulf-area projects that would help accomplish these broad goals, including barrier island restoration efforts in Louisiana and Alabama, Gulf-wide fish tagging and catch-and-release mortality reduction programs, water quality improvement efforts in Florida and Texas, and the restoration of oyster reefs throughout the Gulf. These projects remain a priority today.
“Saltwater recreational fishing is enjoyed by more than 3.5 million Gulf residents, and many more who visit the area each year,” says Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “Wise investment of this settlement will give anglers in the region a chance to have better management of our fisheries, better places to fish, and better access to wonderful fishing opportunities. Gulf anglers remain committed to working with state and federal officials to ensure fisheries conservation is given top priority.”
“Recreational fishing in the Gulf accounts for more than $10 billion in annual contributions to the region’s economy and supports nearly 100,000 jobs,” says Mike Leonard, American Sportfishing Association’s ocean resource policy director. “This economic activity came to a grinding halt in the spring and summer of 2010 due to the oil spill, and it can only be sustained or increased by building better fisheries science and management and better habitats that attract fishermen. This settlement allows us to make commitments to improve the Gulf’s fisheries for generations to come.”
Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access: Part Two
In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds.
This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.
In Part Two of our series, we head to the Land of Enchantment to look at the Bootheel of New Mexico.
It is often said that living well is the best revenge. For a hunter, that could mean stalking a high-desert Coues deer buck in short sleeves, while your friends shiver in rain and snow far away to the north.
The Bootheel of far southwestern New Mexico is the answer to a lot of hunters’ winter prayers. Sprawling and mostly uninhabited, the Bootheel is almost one-third public lands, giving hunters room to roam on 488,320 acres managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. It’s a cholla and chaparral world, dry and bony until you get into some rainier and snowier altitudes in the mountains. The Peloncillos, Animas, and Guadalupes are the major ranges, towering from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. The high country encompasses an ecoregion called the Madrean forest, a mixture of piñon pine, junipers, and five different species of oak. There are wild places here, remote and requiring the utmost self-sufficiency, in the Big Hatchet Mountains and the Peloncillos.
The star of this country is the elusive little Coues deer, but there are plenty of other opportunities to spend long days afield. You can hunt three species of quail in one day, starting out in the lower country with Gambel’s and scaled quail and climbing the mountain flanks for the close-holding Mearn’s quail. There are javelinas, mule deer, rare desert bighorns, and a recovered population of Gould’s turkeys – the largest of all the wild turkey subspecies.
These experiences are made possible by public access to federal lands, but some New Mexicans, like so many Westerners, have a deep rooted distrust of the federal government. This distrust has been used by some politicians, who care little for the state’s hunting and outdoor heritage, to push for New Mexico’s federal public lands to be transferred to state control. But transferring the lands is not a viable solution to the conflicts over federal management, because the burdens of management far outweigh any benefits that would come to most residents. The financial burden, in particular, would include firefighting costs on federal lands, which exceeded $240 million in New Mexico in 2012 alone.
Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who opposes state takeover of federal public lands, told reporters, “The states would have no choice but to auction off the best public lands to cover costs. That would devastate our outdoor traditions like hunting and fishing as well as the 68,000 jobs associated without door recreation in New Mexico. These lands belong to all of us, and it is imperative that we keep it that way.”
Three bills were introduced during the 2015 New Mexico state legislative session that promoted the transfer of federal public lands to the state. More than 250 hunters and anglers rallied at the capitol to make a statement against this legislation, and local sportsmen’s groups worked with state legislators to put a stop to these misguided proposals. In the end, a bipartisan group of lawmakers helped to defeat these bills.
Sportsmen should be proud of this successful effort to stop public-land seizure bills in New Mexico, and we all must remain vigilant to prevent future proposals from gaining traction in the Land of Enchantment.
Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.
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 Monday through Thursday.
Congress may look like it’s getting an early start on spending bills, but we’re pretty sure they’re going nowhere for a while. This week, the House will vote on its appropriations bill for the Department of Interior and EPA. The spending plan would shortchange key conservation programs and target the Obama administration’s environmental and climate change programs. The bill allocates a total of $30.17 billion for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Forest Service. These disappointing numbers are $246 million below fiscal year 2015 funding levels and represent historically low funding for conservation.
Add to that some damaging policy riders—which would delay the listing of the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act and undermine the recently released clean water rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands—and you’ve got some serious political posturing. As many expected, the GOP-crafted appropriations bill also targets the EPA in a number of these riders and seeks to reduce EPA staff.
There is language prohibiting the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management from ordering new closures of public lands to hunting and recreational shooting.
Here are the highlights of the House spending bill:
The Environmental Protection Agencyreceived $7.4 billion, a 9% funding decrease
$69 million cut to regulatory programs.
Payments in Lieu of Taxes program is fully funded at $452 million
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received $1.1 billion, a $30 million increase from FY15
The National Park Servicereceived $2.7 billion, a $53 million increase over FY15
$52 million was provided to address the frequently-discussed maintenance backlog
The U.S. Forest Servicereceived $1.4 billion, an $8 million decrease in funding from FY15 levels
$3.6 billion provided to DOI and USFS to combat wildfires
$92 million for the Flame Wildfire Suppression Reserve Fund
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) received $1.4 billion, an $8 million decrease from FY15 funding levels
North American Wetland Conservation Fund (NAWCA) received $35 million
State and Tribal Wildlife Grants received $59.195 million
The grass isn’t any greener for other agencies. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee will mark up its fiscal year 2016 spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration. The $20 billion spending package features significant cuts to key conservation programs:
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
Enrollment cut by 23%
Reduction from 10 to 7.74 million acres.
Or a 5-year cut of $200 million
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
$300 million cut
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
$35 million cut
Conservation Operations (i.e. on-the-ground technical assistance and program delivery)
$13.5 million cut
The spending plan also features a controversial policy rider that would delay implementation of conservation compliance, a program that requires farmers receiving federal crop insurance to implement conservation practices aimed at improving soil and water quality. The rider would not preclude the U.S. Department of Agriculture from employing compliance, as needed, but would allow the agency to continue to provide subsidies for a year without requiring conservation compliance across the board.
“Not only does this bill sell sportsmen short, but its funding levels and policy provisions have made it unnecessarily controversial—it’s going nowhere and everyone knows it,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s time for both parties to roll up their sleeves and hammer out a successor to the Murray-Ryan Bipartisan Budget Act. A bipartisan budget deal is the only way Congress is going to be able to make the investments in conservation that American sportsmen deserve.”
The bill contains a few pro-sportsmen priorities, including steady funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a wildfire funding cap adjustment to bring an end to the practice of “fire borrowing.”
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.