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No matter how you like to spend your time outdoors, Congress just stuffed your stocking
Congress will likely pass a budget bill this week that will make significant investments in conservation and begin to reverse a decades-long decline for funding that impacts fish and wildlife habitat. Whether you hunt public or private lands, and whether you fish freshwater or saltwater, this is good news for hunters and anglers. ‘Tis the season of giving, and there’s something for everybody.
For Public Land Hunters
Our national public lands, like the Missouri Breaks and Arizona Strip, have been underfunded for decades. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has lost 12 percent of its workforce in the last four years alone. The Forest Service has had to cut 39 percent of its personnel working on land management, timber production, and recreation since 1998.
This budget deal starts to reverse the trend. With funding increases across the board—12 percent for the Forest Service, 10 percent for the BLM, and 5 percent for the Fish and Wildlife Service—our public lands managers finally have the resources they need to protect and improve habitat.
For Private Land Hunters
As part of the omnibus deal, Congress permanently authorized a tax incentive that helps farmers and ranchers place conservation easements on their land. This provision will drive over $3 billion worth of easements to be created in the next ten years, which will translate into at least three million acres of conserved habitat that benefits big game, birds, and water quality.
For Freshwater Anglers
This week’s spending deal is also notable for what it didn’t include. Certain members of Congress, at the behest of developers, were pushing hard for a policy rider to block the Obama Administration’s clean water rule. This rule clarifies that the Clean Water Act does indeed—and always has—apply to 200,000 miles of headwater streams that provide irreplaceable habitat for trout and salmon. And this rule is also meant to combat wetlands loss, so it’s good for ducks, too.
For Saltwater Anglers
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is home to the National Marine Fisheries Service, will receive $325 million for in 2016. That’s a 6 percent boost to improve fisheries data collection and management.
For Everyone Who Loves to Be Outdoors
The spending bill also includes a three-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a hugely successful tool for improving everyone’s access to national, state, and local lands, and boosts its funding next year by $100 million. These are dollars that forest rangers and state fish and game agencies can use to purchase inholdings and easements to create better access for sportsmen, but you’ve probably also seen LWCF dollars put to work in your local parks and state forests.
Sportsmen have always believed that we have a moral responsibility to pass on America’s great outdoors to our kids and grandkids a little better than we found it. Thanks to this bill, we are giving our kids better days afield in the New Year and beyond.
These are the stories that had sportsmen talking and tweeting—some even made us fighting mad—this year
Endangered Species Act protection is not warranted for sage grouse
The greater sage grouse was not listed as an endangered species back in September, thanks to epic collaboration among federal agencies, state land managers, Western businesses, and local volunteers.
Sportsmen flood lawmaker offices with letters opposing the transfer of public lands
After Senators went on record as supportive of public land transfer by passing a non-binding budget resolution in March, it took us all a minute to understand what that would mean—that the sale of our public lands was more possible than ever. Thanks to hunters and anglers across the country, lawmakers are starting to understand that we won’t sit idly by and watch this happen. As of July, sportsmen like you had sent 174,000 letters to their local, state, and federal decision-makers opposing this bad idea—that number is now up to 218,000 letters.
Habitat restoration is top priority for $18.7B oil spill settlement
A little more than five years after the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, BP agreed to an $18.7-billion settlement with the five Gulf states and the U.S. government for environmental damages and lost revenues. And anglers know just what to do with all that money.
Congress is seriously out of touch with sportsmen on clean water
In July, the National Wildlife Federation released a poll showing that 83 percent of hunters and anglers surveyed thought the Clean Water Act should apply to smaller, headwater streams and wetlands that are crucial to fish and wildlife. Congress wanted to ignore public opinion and get in the way of clean water protections.
Ducks, quail, pheasants, and turkeys get a big boost from new Farm Bill initiatives
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in May that an additional 800,000 acres would be eligible for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), with a special focus on duck nesting habitat and wetlands. And in September, the USDA started accepting applications for a new, nationwide CRP Grasslands initiative meant to keep hooves on the ground and grassland habitat intact.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired—then finally had its day in Congress
The conservation fund that has effectively opened up public access to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation on national, state, and local lands for the past 50 years was not reauthorized by Congress before the September 30 deadline. We knew it wasn’t the end, but were relieved to see the LWCF could be re-upped for three years in the end-of-year spending bill being considered by Congress this week.
Board of Supervisors supports sportsmen’s access and local economies over short-term economic gain
Yesterday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution opposing any effort to transfer national public lands to the state of Arizona or local governments. The vote was held amid efforts by an Arizona State Legislature committee to examine processes to transfer, manage, and dispose of public lands within the state of Arizona.
The resolution recognizes the importance of public lands for:
The resolution also recognizes that the state does not have the financial capability to responsibly manage public lands—and sportsmen’s groups agree. “While federal land management certainly isn’t perfect, transferring these public lands to the state is not a viable solution, especially considering that the vast majority of Arizona sportsmen and women depend on public lands for hunting and fishing,” said John Hamill, the Arizona Field Representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Arizona simply doesn’t have the funds to maintain roads and recreation facilities, prevent and fight wildfires, restore damaged wildlife habitat, and enforce laws or prevent abuses. Ultimately, the state would be left with no choice other than to sell these lands, which, once privatized, would be off-limits to hunters and anglers forever.”
“I don’t always agree with federal policies and processes, but the Forest Service and BLM are generally good stewards and work toward conservation that’s good for Arizonans who depend on public lands for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation,” said Supervisor Ray Carroll (R-District 4), who cast his vote on the resolution yesterday. “The state is in a tough financial situation and would probably use or sell these lands to fill critical budget gaps.”
“Pima County appreciates the importance of federal public lands to the citizens of our state,” said Carolyn Campbell, executive director of the Coalition of Sonoran Desert Protection. “In 2012, voters in Pima County and throughout Arizona overwhelmingly rejected the idea of transferring ownership of public lands to the state by a two-to-one margin. The Board recognizes this fact and believes that this latest attempt to circumvent the loud voice of public opinion is a bad idea.”
A growing number of Western counties in states like Wyoming and Colorado have recently taken formal positions to oppose the sale or transfer of national public lands. To learn more about the land transfer movement across the country, visit sportsmensaccess.org.
Funding for Environment and Interior is up, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is in, but a much-needed fix for fire borrowing is out
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Overnight, Congressional leadership unveiled a bipartisan omnibus appropriations bill that includes some important investments in habitat and sportsmen’s access. The must-pass legislation, which is necessary to avoid a government shutdown, will move forward quickly after weeks of intense negotiating.
Sportsmen and women should be pleased to see:
But, not this major blow to conservation:
The most important function of an omnibus appropriations bill is to set funding levels for priority programs. The package currently before Congress allows a recommitment to key conservation initiatives that matter to sportsmen, including many programs that represent a great dollar-for-dollar investment.
“Our community has pressed for a comprehensive budget deal like this one since July 2015, and we are pleased to see that this bill makes key investments in conservation,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Overall, this reflects a commitment to natural resources conservation and sportsmen’s access as essential elements of a strong outdoor recreation economy.”
Although negotiations were extended, lawmakers failed to achieve a policy fix for fire borrowing, the financially destructive way we fund wildfire suppression, which hunters and anglers have been demanding for years. “This is a tremendous missed opportunity, which perpetuates a legacy of fiscal mismanagement with profound national costs,” says Fosburgh.
Congress has included a three-year reauthorization of the expired Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has been one of the country’s most important tools for conserving fish and wildlife habitat for the past 50 years. “While this isn’t the permanent reauthorization that sportsmen and women have been advocating for, we can all support the fact that this action puts LWCF back on solid footing in the near-term—especially with $450 million allocated,” adds Fosburgh. “Rest assured that the TRCP will continue to work with champions on the Hill to get LWCF back on the books permanently.”
Sportsmen have every right to be pleased that language that would weaken sage grouse conservation plans and the Clean Water Act were left out of this bill. “Sportsmen made their case clear on policy riders aimed at undoing so much good groundwork for sagebrush country, headwater streams, and wetlands: These would be poison pills for the sporting community—simply untenable,” says Steve Kline, TRCP Director of Government Relations. “Those voices were heard on Capitol Hill, and as such, this omnibus is free from the most-damaging of riders.”
The bill also makes permanent an incentive for farmers and ranchers to donate conservation easements. This provision will greatly expand private lands conservation across the country.
The TRCP and its partners have been calling for appropriators to support investments in conservation since July 2015, and this group applauds Congressional leaders—House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid—for their work on this package over the past several weeks. Hunters and anglers look forward to seeing it passed by Congress and signed by the president.
Follow the TRCP for the latest news on how Congress plans to pay for conservation in 2016.
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