Browns Canyon National Monument. Image courtesy of Bob Wick, BLM.
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As more detail emerges on cuts to conservation programs and agencies in the president’s FY2018 budget, Congress retains the power of the purse
A detailed budget request released today shows that President Trump will continue to push for steep cuts to conservation programs and agencies among other major changes for fiscal year 2018. Today’s announcement expands upon the “skinny” budget blueprint released back in mid-March, which outlined detrimental budget cuts for public and private land management agencies, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and restoration programs in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.
New proposed cuts released today include: $1.4 billion decrease to the Department of Interior, $4.6 billion decrease in funding for the Department of Agriculture, $2.6 billion decrease in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, and a $1.5 billion reduction to the Department of Commerce budget.
“Sportsmen shouldn’t be surprised that this request is largely along the same lines as Trump’s skinny budget earlier this spring, but we’re not yet in an unworkable position to continue investing in conservation,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Congress retains the power of the purse, and based on their recent fiscal year 2017 spending agreement, lawmakers seem to have an appetite for expanding support for habitat, clean water, and the outdoor recreation economy.”
The congressional spending agreement that became law earlier this month stabilized and even increased conservation funding levels through the end of the current fiscal year, thanks to bipartisan efforts from Senate and House leadership. The TRCP and its partners will encourage leadership and appropriators to continue championing conservation funding in FY2018 by passing a budget deal that strengthens and invests in critical programs for the future of America’s fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing traditions.
“Enjoying the outdoors is an American pastime that’s critical to a healthy future for all Americans—from connecting with family and friends on the water while boating or fishing to camping and exploring our national parks—activities that have proven to drive economic growth and provide millions of jobs in communities where there’s access to the outdoors,” says Thom Dammrich, president at the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Federal investments in conservation make all of this possible and are not expendable. Congress seems inclined to agree, and sportsmen and women will be counting on lawmaker support for conservation and the industry’s 7.6 million outdoor recreation jobs in the fiscal year 2018 budget process.”
Header image courtesy of Bob Wick/Flickr.
Follow our government relations representative as she keeps tabs on important bills, helps to juggle relationships with policy makers and shakers, and fights the good fight for habitat and access
As half of the two-person government relations team at TRCP, it’s my job to stay informed on all the legislative and administrative policies that affect American sportsmen and women, as well as build relationships with congressional and agency staff—all to help ensure hunter and angler needs are heard in decision-maker offices.
The grind of drafting joint letters to ranking members and top agency brass, attending meetings with partners, and tracking legislation from introduction through hearings, mark-ups, and votes might not sound like the glamorous Hollywood version of Washington. But every day I get to work towards a future I believe in—accessible and quality habitat for American sportsmen and women—and that’s an incredible privilege.
Here’s what my day looks like:
I start most days early by reading headlines, prepping for meetings, and gathering intel on the bills that we’re watching. If it’s Monday I put together our Policy Rider, a weekly email to more than 160 people—including partners, board members, and top donors—with the latest on what to expect from Congress and the administration in the coming week.
This is no small task. I’m reading, listening, talking to key players, and generally hunting down the latest information on political moves that affect hunters and anglers. And today I’m diving in especially early, coffee in hand, to get up to speed before some special TRCP events.
I clutch my backpack, throw on the heels that I keep under my desk, and make my way to TRCP’s biannual Policy Council meeting. This is where our partners are updated about what TRCP is working on internally and what specific recommendations our smaller working groups have drafted on a whole range of issues. I begin organizing and help caterers set up a breakfast buffet for representatives from our 54 partner organizations to enjoy once they arrive and settle in. I lay out nametags, set up the projector, and put the conference phone on an intercom system. More than 70 people trickle into the room, and we get to work hammering out priorities for the coming months.
After a detailed discussion of the Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group’s proposed recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill, plus recent developments for marine fisheries, national monuments, and funding for flood prevention, I step to the front of the room. I’m presenting on the outlook for conservation funding in the fiscal year 2017 appropriations process and fiscal year 2018 budget and appropriations. The Policy Council meeting concludes at 12:15 PM, and I do one final sweep of the room for forgotten belongings and unused nametags.
Next, I grab a taxi over to the House Office Buildings. Here, I meet up with TRCP field representatives who are in town and accompany them to congressional offices. Idaho field rep Rob Thornberry, senior scientist Ed Arnett, and I meet with Congressman Simpson to discuss fire borrowing, and marine fisheries director Chris Macaluso and I pitch staff for Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) on possibly co-sponsoring the Modern Fish Act. I probably sit down face to face with decision makers or their staff about three to four times a week when Congress is in session, and I keep up with them over email as the need arises. These are our opportunities to highlight the real consequences of legislation for habitat, clean water, access, and the outdoor recreation economy, long before that lawmaker needs to make a vote on behalf of sportsmen and women back at home.
My colleagues and I go our separate ways. Some head to other meetings while I make my way back to the office. Once I’m at my desk, I sit down and begin working on a letter that we plan to send to the Department of Defense and Department of Commerce on critically important infrastructure projects for public safety and conservation in the Gulf of Mexico.
I am also working on congressional appropriation letters that we plan to send to Senate and House committee staff. These letters address TRCP’s top funding priorities, line by line, that we want to see stabilized in fiscal year 2018. This is where our work gets wonky, and it’s my job to make sure lawmakers understand the very real impacts these decisions have on fish, wildlife, and the pursuits of hunters and anglers.
While jumping from letter to letter, I’m also answering emails from Hill staffers and coordinating efforts with partners on federal strategies for national monuments, public land management, and forestry. The truth is that my typical day looks a lot like this, with phone calls, emails, Word documents, and taxi rides to the Hill, but many of my conversations are about the lands and waters where you’d never think to crack open a laptop or join a conference call.
I pack up my things and turn my computer to sleep mode. I’m excited to be headed back to my English Setter and my husband. It’s not every day that I head straight home after work—often I’m out the door to my next event, like a gala or happy hour, perhaps something hosted by one of our partners. Attending these, especially in D.C., is as much a part of the work as reading formal legislation and getting on conference calls. Informal interactions with Hill staff and people in the conservation community allow us to get to know each other, strategize, and be more efficient overall.
This is just one day in the life of one TRCP staffer, but it takes the hard work of many people here and at other organizations to create positive change for hunting and fishing through federal policy. Sometimes it’s hard to point to a definitive accomplishment at the end of the day. But when we win, we get to win at something deeply meaningful. And that makes all the difference.
The suspension of the BLM’s local advisory committees threatens transparent and collaborative management of America’s public lands
In a world that seemingly becomes more polarized and political by the day, public-land resource advisory councils—commonly known as RACs—have represented a last bastion of cooperation in public land management. These collaborative committees are made up of individuals from diverse interest groups, including ranchers, local agency representatives, environmentalists, commercial interests, and sportsmen-conservationists. RACs serve the important purpose of bringing diverse local perspectives to the table to find agreement over competing demands on our public lands, like grazing, development, recreation, and conservation. They have been very successful in shaping positive public-land management outcomes.
The Department of the Interior oversees more than 200 individual advisory committees, including 38 RACs that meet with the Bureau of Land Management—the largest public-land management agency in the country, responsible for 245 million acres of our public lands. In fact, three TRCP field staffers serve on full RACs in Idaho, New Mexico, and Oregon, and weigh in on issues affecting BLM lands.
That is, until their meetings were indefinitely suspended.
Per instruction from the Department of the Interior, the BLM recently notified all RAC members that future meetings will be postponed until at least September in order for the agency to review the “charter and charge of each Board/Advisory Committee.” In the meantime, local decisions about the management of our public lands will continue to be made, but without input from local stakeholders who are trying to find common ground and who are actually out there using the lands.
As a part of these committees, sportsmen and women have helped to shape the future management of world-class fish and wildlife habitat in places like the High-Divide of east-central Idaho and the Owyhees of southeast Oregon. These are places that we depend on for our hunting and fishing opportunities, and when ranchers, business owners, environmentalists, and sportsmen are all on the same page about how these lands should be managed, we all win.
Our Oregon field rep, Mia Sheppard, serves on the Southeast Oregon RAC, where recently they’ve made collaborative recommendations to state and BLM-district managers about everything from fire management to handling wild horse and burro populations. Mia has witnessed their recommendations having a real impact on the ground and sees her RAC’s involvement as critical to finding balanced solutions on Oregon’s public lands. To remove RAC members from the process would further disconnect and delay resource policy and planning.Groups created to provide local input on #publicland management told to stay home Click To Tweet
Down south, our New Mexico field rep, John Cornell, serves on the Las Cruces District Southwest New Mexico RAC. Currently, they are helping to shape a plan for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, focusing on improving access and maintaining sensible restrictions around historical sites—part of the reason this monument was designated. Stakeholder representation and input from hunters and anglers, specifically, is crucial and could be cut out entirely if these meetings are postponed until at least September.
In Idaho, Coby Tigert, deputy director of our Center for Western Lands, serves on the Idaho Falls District RAC, where they’ve been actively involved in management decisions that will affect more than four million acres of BLM lands. “In addition to upcoming land-use plans,” says Tigert, “the Idaho Falls District manages grazing, sage grouse habitat, and extensive phosphate mining leases on public lands. The diverse membership of our RAC helps balance the interests of the public with the BLM’s multiple-use mandate.” The postponement of RAC meetings could put all of this into question.
These are just a few examples of the collaboration and public input that would be lost if RACs were disbanded across the West. Moreover, the suspension not only threatens the responsible management of our public lands—it could further build disdain for the federal government.
RAC members have committed their precious time to do what’s best for our public lands, and now the agency risks sending the signal that it may not value their opinions or, in some cases, their years of hard work. This is the kind of action that encourages discontent and adds to the misguided sentiment that transferring public lands to the states may be a better alternative.
At a time when the public’s trust in the federal government is at an all-time low, the Dept. of the Interior and administration should be holding up RACs as the standard for how we should be working together to best utilize our natural resources in a way that benefits the most amount of people. We encourage the agency to restart the RAC meeting process as soon as possible.
In the meantime, watch for more from the TRCP on how the threats to public land management are just as real as the movement to transfer or sell off your public lands access—enthusiasm for public lands is at an all-time high, but it’s not enough to simply keep it public.
Department changes could shift the focus of the Natural Resources Conservation Service away from habitat programs to farm services
At a press event today, Secretary Perdue announced restructuring at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would move the Natural Resources Conservation Service to a newly-created Farm Production and Conservation mission area to also house the Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency. A new undersecretary position has been created to oversee all the on-the-ground needs of America’s farmers, ranchers, and private foresters.
The move could provide opportunities to better align farm programs and improve conservation delivery. However, the concern from the sportsmen’s community is that this could shift the priorities at NRCS—the agency responsible for hugely successful programs benefiting water quality and game species like sage grouse—to focus more on farm productivity and perhaps give short shrift to fish and wildlife conservation on private lands.
NRCS is one of the most important federal agencies for conservation in America, wielding approximately $4 billion annually in conservation funding and boasting great success working with farmers and ranchers to improve soil health, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat. The stewardship of private landscapes through voluntary actions by agricultural producers has helped create rural American sporting destinations that support jobs and healthy communities.
With so many benefits to landowners, hunters, anglers, and businesses on the line, sportsmen’s groups hope that USDA moves forward with this reorganization plan in a way that maintains the department’s integrity and focus on soil, water, and wildlife program goals.
The National Wildlife Federation, Izaak Walton League of America, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the rest of the sportsmen’s community look forward to working with Secretary Perdue to learn more about this transition and find ways to ensure that NRCS wildlife conservation efforts are strengthened, not weakened.
Learn more about TRCP’s work on agriculture and private-land conservation here.
Photo courtesy of USDA/Flickr
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More