Sportsmen speak up and get huge win for Puerto Rico
We got good news out of the House of Representatives this morning when we learned that the latest version of legislation to help Puerto Rico deal with a looming debt crisis no longer contains language that would transfer the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Initial versions of the legislation included a provision to give the popular wildlife refuge to Puerto Rico, potentially setting the stage for a fire sale to private interests in order to raise money to pay down debts. But as powerful economic engines that generate jobs and tax revenue, national public lands are part of the economically sustainable future, not part of the problem. So we’re glad the transfer provision was removed from the legislation, although we’ll remain vigilant as the bill moves through the process. Public lands are essential to American hunters and anglers, and TRCP will defend those lands from the tundra of Alaska to the gem-blue waters of Puerto Rico.
Sportsmen, Here’s Your Chance to Help Shape Future Use of BLM Lands
From river breaks to high mesas, and from sage coulees to semi-arid mountain ranges, America’s 245 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands are some of the best places to hunt and fish left on the planet. These lands are “Sportsmen’s Country” and their future management is currently being reevaluated by public land managers.
If you depend on these BLM public lands for access to hunting and fishing, now is your chance to shape how these lands are managed for the next 20+ years. With many sportsmen in the West dependent on publicly-accessible, highly-functioning BLM public lands—the ones essential for producing quality big game, robust fisheries, and sustainable hunting and fishing opportunities—it’s critical we speak up to ensure our sporting heritage.
The BLM is currently requesting public input on their proposed rules to revise the agency’s national land use planning strategy for these public lands located primarily in the West. Dubbed “Planning 2.0,” the process represents the first substantial revision to the BLM’s land use planning process since 1983. This action will address the land use planning process that shapes landscape-level management through the creation of Resource Management Plans (RMPs). All local areas of BLM land are managed through RMPs, and these plans are the basis for every action and approved use on BLM managed lands. RMPs help to determine how and if fish and wildlife habitat conservation and management will be carried out, and they direct the agency to manage for outdoor recreation.
So how will this benefit sportsmen?
More (and hopefully better) public involvement: Successful land use planning includes early and frequent communication with the public, including sportsmen and women. Under the current BLM planning process, the public submits comments at the scoping period, those comments seem to disappear into the hands of the agency, and years later the BLM comes back with a proposed draft land use plan. The public then submits comments on the draft land use plan and the BLM disappears for another year or more before issuing a proposed final plan. This long timeline with little communication from the agency makes it difficult for the public to remain interested in the process, and the lack of transparency makes people question how and if their comments are being used.
Planning 2.0 is focused on fixing these problems by increasing the transparency of the land use planning process by creating a “plan assessment” process and “preliminary alternatives.” The plan assessment stage would enable the public (as well as agencies and elected officials) to provide information about the planning area before the agency begins considering how the lands should be managed. The preliminary alternative stage would offer draft management alternatives to the public for feedback before the draft land use plan is formally proposed. These additional steps would help to maintain increased public interest in the planning process and help to ensure that the draft RMP more closely meets the expectations of stakeholders.
Landscape level planning: As hunters and anglers, we know that mule deer and steelhead don’t stop and turnaround at the county line. Neither should land use plans. The BLM planning rules are also proposing to revise RMPs at the landscape level, such as across multiple BLM Field Offices at one time. Right now, land use plans are created along artificial jurisdictional boundaries, often at the Field Office level of the BLM within a particular state. This current system doesn’t account for resources that move beyond the lines on a map. By integrating landscape level planning into BLM management, the agency should be able to better care for fish and wildlife species that migrate and depend on different habitats throughout the year. Numerous fish and wildlife species should benefit from this change.
Managing for modern resource needs: Times have changed since the last time the BLM made significant revisions to its planning regulations. Over the past 33 years, the US population has increased by 85 million people, driving with it an increased thirst for natural resources and an increasing demand for outdoor recreation. Advancements in science and technology have given land managers an improved understanding of how fish and wildlife species use the landscape. As proposed, Planning 2.0 would better enable the BLM to manage for modern challenges and opportunities, by balancing resource development with habitat and recreation, allowing for the conservation of intact habitats and migration corridors, and providing for high-quality dispersed recreation, like hunting and fishing.
Now is your chance to help see these important changes integrated into BLM lands use planning. Take action today to ensure a positive future for fish and wildlife and your sporting heritage on America’s public lands.
House Passes Dangerous Sage-Grouse Rider in Defense Bill
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.”
Gulf Snapper Anglers See Red, Experts Look To Improve Angling Opportunity
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.
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.
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
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.