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The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The House returns to work on Tuesday. The Senate is not in session this week.
Let’s hold Congress to these New Year’s resolutions. As we reported before the holidays, Congress concluded its business for 2015 with a widely-applauded omnibus funding bill that increased investments in many conservation priorities. Lawmakers did leave some important issues for the second session of the 114th Congress, kicking off this week.
In 2016, we’re anxious to finally see a fix for fire borrowing, forest management reform, and final passage of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, a mark-up for which may occur in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as early as Wednesday, January 13.
Gun control and the latest incendiary push from public lands transfer advocates will also be top-of-mind in Washington and across the country this week.
A big-game hunter should do more than just dream of next fall
If you’re like me, you live for the fall. But now that the meat is cut up, packaged, and stacked high in my freezer, I’ve entered the post-big-game-season lull. My bow, rifle, and other gear have all been cleaned and put away. I’ll likely get out this winter to call in a few ducks and pull some fish through the ice, but my heart is in the mountains, and I’m still daydreaming about high-elevation basins full of bucks and bulls.
But a true big-game hunter should never stop preparing for the hunt. Here’s what I consider to be the key elements of the off-season:
Staying in shape. Climbing ridges and mountainsides is hard work, and it will wear you down if you keep skipping your workout. I like to stay on top of my fitness regimen throughout the year. If I need a break from the gym during the winter and summer months, I get outside and glass for deer and elk. It’s actually a great way to stay motivated—you literally keep your eyes on the prize.
Researching and applying for tags. One of my favorite things to do during the winter and spring is research hunting units and apply for special hunts. I don’t have the best luck when it comes to drawing special tags, but my bonus points are adding up, and I know that I’m bound to draw a coveted bighorn sheep or trophy mule deer tag at some point. This is also time I use to investigate new public hunting areas that have peaked my interest throughout the year. Opening day is no time to make fresh tracks in an area I’ve never researched.
Attending to equipment. From broken bootlaces to torn pants, it seems like something wears out every season. Now is the time to take care of this stuff, and make a few gear upgrades I’ve been dreaming about, so I’m not scrambling the night before a big trip. Many manufacturers and retailers mark down their gear this time of year, too.
Being an advocate. The wildlife we pursue depend on functional habitat, and sportsmen depend on access and opportunity. If we don’t get involved and advocate for these resources, other interest groups might soon be writing the rules. I like to encourage hunters and anglers to get involved at three levels: national, state, and local. At the national level, the TRCP is the best group to keep you posted on major opportunities to get involved and actions that could impact the entire country. We try and make it as easy as possible for sportsmen to engage, and when you do, it is meaningful—lawmakers do listen.
It’s also a good idea to join an organization that focuses its attention on the proceedings in your state’s legislature and fish and game commission. And, especially if you’re a public lands hunter, it is important that you keep an eye on how public lands are managed in your area. You can do this by taking a look at the local BLM field office or national forest website every month or two. Usually that’s where proposed actions are listed under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, log—this could be anything from proposed changes impacting access to discussion of industrial development, and the agencies are required to allow you an opportunity to provide comments. At this level, it is easy for proposed management actions to fly under the radar, and sportsmen wake up to what is happening after all of the decisions have been made.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to the TRCP staff if something requires our attention, or if you have any questions about getting involved. Want to do something today? Visit sportsmensaccess.org and support our public lands. You won’t regret that you did when you down that big buck or bull on public land next fall.
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.
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