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State and federal progress to keep iconic Western gamebird off endangered species list could be undone by Congress
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act. Contained in this ‘must-pass’ legislation that funds America’s military readiness was language that would force the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to abandon successful sage-grouse conservation plans. These federal plans resulted from years of collaboration and millions of taxpayer dollars that successfully kept the sage-grouse off the Endangered Species Act list.
“Sportsmen across the country are very disappointed with the House’s action to play politics with our national defense by inserting unrelated and detrimental language about sage-grouse conservation into the bill,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “If language contained in the House bill were to become law, it would throw into question decades of statutory precedent, scores of environmental laws, and the subsequent legal decisions around those laws. This legislation is a Trojan horse for transferring public lands to the states and stands to have lasting repercussions beyond curtailing conservation efforts in sagebrush country.”
Opponents of the 2015 conservation victory would rather see state-developed plans implemented instead. The shift in management, elimination of judicial review, and long-term delay of any future listing decision erodes the implementation of bedrock conservation statutes—such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. While many of the 11 western state plans are good, some do not fully address threats to sage-grouse and need to be complimented by federal plans.
“Success for the greater sage-grouse was achieved in 2015 through the combination of strong conservation plans on federal public lands, coupled with state conservation plans and voluntary efforts from private landowners,” said Steve Williams, President of the Wildlife Management Institute. “Future success depends heavily on immediate and consistent implementation of all these combined efforts. Congressional efforts to eliminate federal plans would negate effectiveness of all efforts and result in a waste of both state and federal funds expended to date.”
“We are disappointed to see this effort by the House to snatch defeat from the jaws of a victory that has already been achieved,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever. “The eleven western states, federal agencies, and private landowners must continue with their unprecedented efforts to conserve and manage sage-grouse. Congress simply needs to fund implementation of these combined efforts, especially private landowner efforts to conserve sage-grouse and 350 other sagebrush-dependent species.”
Sportsmen organizations continue to communicate to lawmakers that the best thing they can do for sage-grouse is ensure that adequate funding goes toward implementation of federal plans, that necessary resources go to the states, and that private lands conservation continues. If implemented, these plans would be a windfall for habitat of species like mule deer and pronghorns, not to mention a boon to sportsmen. Undoing those conservation plans might be the best way to ensure a listing—bad news for just about everyone.
The Senate is expected to consider their version of the NDAA—which currently does not include the detrimental sage-grouse provisions – sometime next week. “This issue has no link to military readiness and it’s simply playing politics to suggest otherwise,” continued Fosburgh. “Our community looks forward to working with the Senate to ensure that these provisions to undermine sage-grouse conservation are kept out of their version of the legislation.”
Constructive solutions the key to improved fisheries management and more certainty for recreational fishermen
Duck hunters in Louisiana have known for a month their season will begin in early November and last for 60 days. For the last 20 years, duck seasons in the Bayou State have consistently started either the first or second weekend in November, ended in late January, with a bag limit of six ducks.
Coastal anglers across Gulf States and beyond who pursue popular sportfish like speckled trout and redfish have year-round seasons and can take advantage of good weather and time off from work to catch a few fish and even take a couple home for dinner – all while maintaining healthy, sustainable stocks.
Consistency and certainty is vital to duck hunters, anglers, and the businesses that support those activities. However, achieving that level of certainty enjoyed in waterfowling, other hunting, and in state-based fisheries management has proven to be very difficult to maintain at the federal level where conservation measures required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act have forced managers to shorten fishing seasons for many popular reef fish such as red snapper and grouper. This problem has been compounded by imprecise data collection methods even despite recovering populations and stock sizes at record levels for many of these species.
In many cases, management approaches for these popular fish were established to allow a maximum amount of commercial harvest while maintaining barely sustainable stocks. Recreational fishing has been forced into the same management structure despite obvious differences in culture and approach to the resource by commercial and recreational fishermen.
The 2014 report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” released by the TRCP and the foremost angling advocacy and conservation organizations in America made six recommendations to improve federal fisheries management for recreational fishing, including “adopting a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management.”
These groups will take that recommendation a step further over the next two months by convening workshops comprised of experts in fisheries management, biology, and policy at the state and federal level as well as recreational fishing advocacy groups and conservation organizations. They will all discuss what works well in fish and game management, where the deficiencies are in achieving certainty in federal management, and how better data collection efforts and alternative approaches to current federal management can be incorporated into laws and policies that govern recreational fishing.
This is not an effort to simply launch attacks on current federal approaches and those responsible for their implementation. It is a cooperative effort by the TRCP, the American Sportfishing Association and other concerned sportfishing and conservation groups to try to constructively address management shortcomings that even NOAA Fisheries officials recognize as well.
The first workshop was held May 17-18 in Tampa, Fla. and facilitated by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Fisheries Management Director Jessica McCawley and Deputy Director Jim Estes. Representatives from NOAA Fisheries gave overviews of current federal management policies and data collection efforts. This was closely examined and compared with state inland and coastal fisheries management approaches and to the cooperative effort by state and federal waterfowl biologists to balance conservation and access to duck and goose hunting. The workshop will also feature efforts by states like Louisiana and Florida to collect more accurate data on angler harvest in federal and state waters.
The second workshop will be in Washington, DC in June and will tackle how the management approaches discussed in the first meeting can be used to improve federal management through policy recommendations and legislative changes. Policy experts from the recreational fishing and conservation community will participate in the discussion alongside congressional staff who are working to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act and advance other fisheries management legislation.
The goal at the end of this process is to have a concise set of recommendations that can help Congress, state and federal fisheries managers, and anglers work together toward common goals of achieving long-term fisheries conservation and sustainability. By doing so in a constructive and collaborative way, we can allow the economy and the culture of recreational fishing to thrive as fish stocks across our coasts continue to grow larger and healthier.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate and the House are both in session.
One appropriation bill passed, 11 more to go. Last week the Senate passed a $37.5-billion Energy and Water Appropriations Bill on a 90-8 vote. The TRCP supported passage of this bill because it increased funding for water conservation and did not include harmful language blocking the administration’s Clean Water Rule that clarifies the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The House has yet to take up its version of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.
This week the Senate will consider “The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” and combine it with “The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.” The Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up legislation that affects the U.S. Department of Agriculture funding levels.
The House is expected to begin considering appropriation bills this week by starting with the military construction spending bill.
While Congress is making progress processing appropriations bills, many of the appropriations bills likely won’t be signed into law until Congress passes a continuing resolution or an omnibus bill in the lame duck. It took the Senate three weeks to pass the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. The chamber only has 29 legislative days before the national party conventions and 46 legislative days before the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
The National Defense Authorization Act is no place for attacks on critical conservation programs for sage grouse. The House begins consideration of its version of “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) this week. The House bill includes language that would block conservation of critical habitat for greater sage grouse. Democrats are expected to offer an amendment to strike the language about sage grouse and two other endangered species provisions related to the lesser prairie chicken and burying beetle.
The Senate Armed Services Committee passed their version of the NDAA last week. This version did not include language regarding the greater sage grouse, but we’re anticipating that it could be offered as an amendment on the Senate floor as early as next week.
What’s the summer forecast look like for Western states? On Tuesday, two drought bills offered by Senators Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Flake (R-Ariz.) will be debated by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. Sen. Feinstein’s bill would primarily focus on California’s drought and change the state’s water facility operations, while Sen. Flake’s legislation would be directed at the Army Corps of Engineers to update a better forecasting plan for water storage. This will be the first time the Senate will consider comprehensive drought legislation that is directed toward Western states’ concerns.
Hearings and mark-ups:
Tuesday, May 17
Fisheries: Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife hearing on marine debris
Fish: House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Ocean hearing entitled; “The Implications of President Obama’s National Ocean Policy”
Conservation: House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry hearing entitled; “Focus on the Farm Economy: Impacts of Environmental Regulations and Voluntary Conservation Solutions”
Water: House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers chief’s reports
Water: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power hearing on drought legislation
Federal Regulations: House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law hearing on judicial review
Agriculture, FY17 Spending Levels: Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture mark-up on the agriculture spending bill
Wednesday, May 18
Energy: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee mark-up on coal ash, nuclear bills
NOAA, FY17 Spending Levels: House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies mark-up on the Fiscal Year 2017 commerce, justice, and science related spending bill
Public Lands: House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs hearing on legislation about transferring land to an Alaskan tribe
Thursday, May 19
DOI: House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing on the U.S. Department of Interior’s economic development opportunities
Agriculture, FY17 Spending Levels: Senate Appropriations Committee mark-up on the agriculture spending bill
Energy: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to survey the OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program
News for Immediate Release
May. 12, 2016
Contact: Kristyn Brady, 617-501-6352, firstname.lastname@example.org
Increased funding will go to proactive, collaborative projects that leave water in the river for fish and wildlife, with new aid available for drought-stressed areas
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Senate passed a bill that sets funding levels for energy and water development and includes increased investments in conservation that would benefit fish, wildlife, riparian habitat, and sportsmen, especially in drought-stricken states.
In a victory for sportsmen, the bill did not include a rider to block the Clean Water Rule, which will restore protections to headwater streams and wetlands that are critical for fish and the majority of the country’s waterfowl. The Senate rejected Sen. Hoeven’s attempt to add the rider in late April.
“Hunters and anglers understand the essential nature of clean water and healthy river systems as well as the threats posed by drought and falling water levels,” says Jimmy Hague, director of the Center for Water Resources with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Senate’s investments in water conservation will bring about tangible benefits for all species, improve our days afield, and begin to restore balance to the wild places we cherish.”
Senators voted to match the president’s request for critical funding in the WaterSMART Program, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. With $24 million available for WaterSMART Grants, projects can move forward that leave more water in our rivers for fish and wildlife. The appropriations bill also includes $100 million to help address Western drought issues, and increases the amount that can be spent on cooperative water conservation efforts for the benefit of the entire Colorado River system.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to deal with drought, and Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Feinstein have wisely chosen to fund programs that will help us find adequate water for fish and rivers, as well as for farmers and cities,” says Steve Moyer, vice president of government affairs for Trout Unlimited. “We are also pleased by the amendment offered by Nevada Senators Reid and Heller, which will strengthen a new and promising effort to develop water solutions for the Colorado River basin.”
The House still needs to vote on its energy and water appropriations bill, which contains the harmful rider that would block the Clean Water Rule.
Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.
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