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November 17, 2015

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Glassing the Hill: November 16 – 20

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate and House are both in session this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

More money, more… well, you know the rest. Last week, the Senate passed the first of twelve appropriations bills, the Military Construction and Veterans Affair Appropriation. This is the first step towards the creation of a Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus appropriations package from Senate and House leaders before the December 11 shutdown deadline, but spending priorities are only half the battle. Controversial riders, including those that could undermine the Clean Water Act, Clean Power Plan, and the Endangered Species Act, could threaten the path forward for a funding bill.

Now is the time to tell your lawmakers what is important to sportsmen, including clean water, conservation funding programs, healthy fish and wildlife habitat, and access to public lands. That’s why the TRCP and 27 partners sent this letter  to House and Senate appropriators today.

A Senate panel will vote Thursday on the “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015,” which would improve access for hunting, fishing, and shooting on federal public lands. The legislation is considered popular. Dozens of other public-land and water bills are also on the docket for that hearing.

And keep your eye on the Highway Trust Fund—its short-term extension expires Friday and conferees from both chambers met today to begin negotiating the long-term packages each has passed. A conference agreement could come up this week, but the House is planning on passing another short extension, in case the conference doesn’t wrap up in time, especially with adjournment for the Thanksgiving holiday approaching.

What We’re Tracking

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

  • International negotiations on climate, in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Chairman Bishop’s (R-UT) legislation to reform the expired program

Thursday, November 19, 2015

  • Energy regulations, in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Well Control Rule and other offshore oil and gas production regulations

 

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November 12, 2015

See the Wet-Nosed, Waggly-Tailed Winning Photos That Make Us #PublicLandsProud

We know there’s nothing better than seeing your dog retrieve ducks in the marsh, hold a point in the brush, investigate the trail ahead, or curl up next to you after a long, cold sit in a treestand. Having a great gun dog by your side makes for a better outdoor experience—and we’d argue that having access to millions of acres of public lands does the same.

So, thank you to everyone who submitted pictures of their furry, four-legged friends for the latest round of our #PublicLandsProud photo contest, which continues to help us highlight the value of our uniquely American public lands heritage. Here are the three shots that our guest judge, wildlife photographer Bill Buckley, chose from weeks’ worth of fantastic canine contenders:

First Place: Instagrammer b_rio802

“This image has great light, color, and a perfect catch light in the shorthair’s eyes,” says Buckley. “The hand holding the rainbow trout leads right to the dog’s face in a wonderful example of great composition. Perhaps best of all, this shot shows that hard-running pointing dogs also make perfect fishing companions. I loved this picture!”

First Runner-up: Instagrammer wildrums.media

“I love the perspective of this shot: low, from the dog’s viewpoint, with an interesting sky and environment,” says Buckley. “Rich in detail and color, the underneath of the pheasant’s tail against the dog’s fur really grabs my attention. If only the dog’s head was turned slightly toward the camera, enough to show one eye!”

Second Runner-up: Instagrammer upland_ish

 

“I can’t help smiling every time I view this image! I think it’s a familiar scene for anyone who’s owned a bird dog that can’t get enough of birds, even the dead ones inside a hunting vest,” says Buckley. “To me this captures, in a funny way, a bird dog’s intensity. Brings me back to when my last pointer was young!”

Submit your best big game photos for the next round of our photo contest! You could win a new pair of Costa sunglasses, a copy of Steven Rinella’s lastest book, or even our grand prize—a Yeti cooler packed with great swag. Keep showing us what makes you #PublicLandsProud, and we’ll continue to protect your access to quality fish and wildlife habitat.

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November 10, 2015

Are the BLM’s Sage Grouse Conservation Plans Really Worse Than an ESA Listing?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) recent decision not to list the range-wide population of greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was perhaps the greatest collaborative conservation effort in the history of contemporary wildlife management—but it didn’t happen overnight or by accident. The years of planning, monitoring, research, and coordination among state and federal agencies, private landowners, and many other stakeholders have also resulted in a new model for conservation.

Image courtesy of Ed Arnett.

But rather than celebrate a great achievement, stakeholders at both ends of the special-interest spectrum have proclaimed that listing the bird would have been a better choice. Some in the environmental community have argued that far more should have been done to strengthen protections for the species and believe a listing is still warranted. Meanwhile, some industry proponents and members of Congress have cried out that a listing would have been better than the “draconian” federal overreach they see in the BLM’s amended land-use plans that will impact a majority of the bird’s remaining range.

All of this rhetoric makes for good soundbites and headlines, but would we really be better off? Is it possible that compliance with the proactive conservation measures needed to avoid a listing is actually a harsher reality than a listing itself? Let’s look at the facts about what could have happened under the law.

Project Management

Under a listing scenario, anyone with plans for federal land designated as sage-grouse habitat would need to comply with all the restrictions and conservations actions under the ESA and consult with the FWS on every future project, extending the timeline. This would apply to businesses, the BLM, the states, and private landowners—even those who have received funding or other resources from a federal agency for a project on their land. Compared to this case-by-case consultation process under a listing, the BLM land-use plans provide a firm set of guidelines to give every industry and community stakeholder the certainty they need to plan for the future.

Buffers and Caps

The BLM plans prescribe buffers and caps for the disturbance to breeding ground areas from human activity and development. One opponent of the plans has promoted the idea that an ESA listing doesn’t come with these buffers and disturbance caps. It’s true that the Act itself doesn’t mandate these restrictions, but immediately following any listing, there would be a designation of critical habitat and development of a recovery plan, which could include even more stringent buffer zones. It’s very doubtful that a post-listing plan would be weaker than the current federal plans.

‘Take’ Note

Obviously, sportsmen would lose the opportunity to hunt sage grouse if they were listed, but the concept of ‘take’ under the ESA also extends to the habitat of the listed species. Under Section 3 of the ESA, ‘take’ means “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” Aside from hunting them, any activity that would disturb or harass the bird, or alter its habitat in a negative way, would technically be a violation of the ESA and could be subject to penalty under the law. If you don’t believe me, just ask the timber industry what ‘take’ meant to them after the northern spotted owl was listed.

Image courtesy of Jeannie Stafford/USFWS.

At Home and Afield

With a listing, mandatory enforcement of ESA restrictions extends to all critical habitat, which would include, at the least, everything currently considered priority habitat areas on public land, plus at-risk habitat on private lands. Regardless of ownership, any take of sage grouse or habitat on these lands could be subject to prosecution under the law, with the exception of those already enrolled in conservation agreements with the FWS. This includes applicable programs under the NRCS’s Sage Grouse Initiative or Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs), of which there are several million acres already enrolled.

The Best Path Forward

So, does a listing of the greater sage grouse really sound better than implementing the current federal and state plans? I’d say that this rhetoric is really just a last-ditch effort to thwart change and maintain business as usual. Perhaps some of the largest companies and landowners in the region could afford to comply with the ESA, but would this have been the best path forward for the West as a whole? Of course not.

Clearly, and without question, a listing scenario would be far more time-consuming, expensive, and disastrous for the Western economy than implementing the proactive conservation plans that have already been finalized. And that’s not to say that we’re settling for the devil we know. The decision not to list sage grouse required that strong federal plans, complemented by solid state plans and extraordinary voluntary efforts exhibited by private landowners, be developed with assurances that they’d be implemented. And all of this needs to stand up in court.

The next step should be to make sure everyone does what they said they would do to implement their plans. And Congress needs to ensure full funding for implementation of conservation measures in the federal plans and continue supporting the NRCS’s Sage Grouse Initiative to benefit these birds. Let’s not get distracted by attempts to dismantle the collaborative efforts that got us where we are today.

Take action now.

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November 9, 2015

Glassing The Hill: November 9 –- 13

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress 

The House is not in session this week. The Senate will conduct legislative business, except on the Veterans Day holiday this Wednesday.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

On the road again, indeed. Late last week, House members exited D.C. for their districts on a strong note, after passing a $325-billion transportation bill that will fund highway and transit programs for the next six years. The bill also reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank until 2019. Both Congressional chambers have now passed a long-term bill, and they will need to reach a negotiated conference agreement before the Highway Trust Fund expires on November 20, otherwise another short-term extension will be required.

Meanwhile, congressional leaders continue to seek an agreement on how to spend the fiscal year 2016 budget. Over the past few months, Senate Democrats have blocked all appropriations bills while calling for a bipartisan budget deal, which was finally reached on October 30. Today they allowed the bill that funds Military Construction and Veterans Affairs to move forward to the floor. And Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) has indicated that he and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are “very close” to an agreement on an omnibus spending bill to fund the government after a short-term continuing resolution expires on December 11.

This week, Senators are also expected to vote on a revised National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), after the first version was vetoed by the President. The House passed its revised version with a very strong 370-58 margin last week.

And, speaking of vetoes, the president may get his chance to nix a Congressional attempt to strike down the EPA’s Clean Water Rule—by now, you know it as the rule that will improve protection for America’s headwater streams and prevent future wetlands loss—as early as next week. After the Senate approved a resolution that would overturn the rule, and prevent federal agencies from ever issuing a similar rule to clear up regulatory confusion, this bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass easily. Once it reaches the president’s desk, it is expected that he’ll say, ‘Do not to pass go.’ Learn more here.

What We’re Tracking

Last Thursday, Congressman Bishop (R-UT) introduced his long-anticipated plan for a revamp and reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Only, it sounds more like a bait-and-switch. Bishop’s bill would fully fund the program at $900 million for seven years and shift a much higher percentage to state-oriented projects. It would also slash funds slated for federal land acquisition— a proven strategy for reducing maintenance costs on checkerboard public and private lands—from $30 million to $2 million. Upon its release, the bill was decried by many in the conservation community, and it is unclear how much support the legislation has on the Hill. A hearing is expected in the House Natural Resources Committee next Wednesday, November 18.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

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.

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