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September 13, 2016

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September 12, 2016

Glassing The Hill: September 12 – 16

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate and House are both in session this week.

Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

A major piece of water legislation will see a final vote early this week. The Senate will begin the week by wrapping up consideration of a two-year reauthorization of “The Water Resource Development Act.” The bill includes important provisions, such as the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which would restore natural water flows in Florida’s Everglades, and provisions that would aim to improve habitat connectivity.

Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee James Inhofe (R-Okla.) asked all Senators to file amendments by last Friday at noon. Two amendments passed with a voice vote, including revisions to the Rural Western Water program – a voluntary land sale or transfer program funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to enhance freshwater habitat. Chairman Inhofe and ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are negotiating on the remaining proposed amendments that will be debated on the Senate floor early this week.

Next, the Senate will decide how to fund the government through December 9. A short-term continuing resolution (CR) could include monetary aid to help combat lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, fund Zika virus relief, and assist with the $8.7 billion in damages from the flood disaster in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

House leadership also met last Friday to discuss what comes after a short-term CR. House Majority Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) suggested passing smaller packages, referred to as “minibuses,” which would fund agencies through multiple spending bills, instead of funding all agencies through a single omnibus package. These would be passed during the lame duck session, which occurs after an election but before a new administration is sworn in. More talks will follow in Congress in the coming weeks, but we expect the Senate to leave D.C. once the short-term CR passes on the Senate floor.

At the tail-end of another record wildfire season, a fire borrowing fix will be discussed by the Senate Agricultural Committee. Chairman Pat Roberts intends to offer a substitute amendment  to Congressman Bruce Westerman’s (R-Ark.) bill, “The Resilient Federal Forest Act” (H.R. 2647), which includes language from his bill, “The Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act.” Democrats on the Committee also intend to offer their own substitute language. Several committees continue to work on forestry and fire borrowing issues, with an eye towards having an agreement ready to move on an omnibus funding bill at the end of the year.

Over in the House, a new bill targets trapping on public lands. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) introduced “The Limiting Inhumane Federal Trapping for Public Safety Act” (H.R. 5954) last week. The bill would ban the use of body-gripping devices, such as steel-jaw spring traps, body-crushing traps, and foot and neck snares, on public lands, except to cull invasive species or protect endangered species. In other cases, non-lethal methods must prove to be ineffective before body-gripping traps could be used for control or protection.

What else we’re tracking:

Tuesday, September 13

Livestock grazing practices on public lands will be discussed at a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior hearing.

A ban on federal agency use of social media to lobby the public in support of pending rules will be considered at a House Rules Committee meeting.

Wednesday, September 14

The “Utah Public Lands Initiative Act” will be up for debate at a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing.

Thursday, September 15

Methane regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency are on the docket in a House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment hearing.

The Army Corps of Engineer chief’s report on water projects will be discussed at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing.

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September 8, 2016

The Top Four Things Lawmakers Can Do for Conservation by the End of 2016

Congress gets back to work this week—here’s what we’ll be focused on while you’re out in your treestand or duck blind

It’s that time of year, when the nation’s hunters begin to sight-in rifles in preparation for the deer woods and clean last year’s feathers and shell casings out of the dove bucket. But for a few hunters, like me, who have to while away the days in Washington, the autumns of even-numbered years sometimes contain a flurry of activity that keeps us out of our duck blinds and deer stands: This is the end-of-the-year push to meet a cascade of tight political deadlines that come with an election and the official end of Congress. The end of the 114th Congress promises a similar array of action, some of which could have profound impacts on conservation policies that are important to sportsmen and women across the country.

Image courtesy of USDA/Flickr
Don’t Lock In 2016 Funding Levels

First and foremost, a comprehensive funding bill for fiscal year 2017 could be debated by Congress in November and December. We expect a stop-gap continuing resolution, meant to keep government running through mid-December, to be passed by Congress sometime in the next few weeks. This development, by design, leaves the window of opportunity open for a more deliberate funding bill—one that allows Congress to actually make funding decisions on a program-by-program level, instead of just funding everything at last year’s levels. Of course, as TRCP advocates for an omnibus funding bill, we’ll be lobbying for sensible increases in priority funding areas, like for Everglades restoration, North American Wetlands Conservation Act projects, and Farm Bill conservation programs.

Let Conservation Work for Sage Grouse

Of course, every potential opportunity in Washington seems to come with its share of risks, and anything that is deemed “must-pass” becomes a potential vehicle for last-minute mischief. What TRCP is most worried about is an effort to derail federal sage grouse conservation plans, a threat that has manifested itself not only as a rider in the appropriations process, but also as a provision within the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, annual legislation that keeps the military operating smoothly. The provision as it currently exists, and as TRCP has strenuously opposed in all its guises for months, would give state governors veto authority over conservation plans on federal public lands. This would not only threaten what might be perhaps the greatest western wildlife conservation effort in generations, but also represents an unprecedented shift in national public lands management authority.

Image courtesy of USDA/Flickr
Pass Sportsmen’s Act and Wildfire Funding Fix

Off the must-pass list, but certainly on the TRCP radar, are the ongoing negotiations between the House and Senate around comprehensive energy legislation, discussions that could produce agreement on some things that TRCP has prioritized, such as provisions to increase active management of our national forests, ending the damaging budgetary practice of ‘fire borrowing’ and, very importantly, a deal to finally get key provisions of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act on the President’s desk. Energy conference provisions that survive the negotiation process could become fodder for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill I mentioned earlier, as energy leaders search for a must-pass vehicle.

Give Habitat a Happy New Year

I always plan a duck hunt on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay for the last morning of the year. Here’s hoping we can close out 2016 with plenty of canvasbacks committed to the decoy spread and a Congressional session that ends with good tidings for conservation in the New Year. If we see better funding for key conservation programs, no bad sage grouse provisions, sensible improvements to national forest management, an end to fire borrowing, and all, or most of, the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act getting across the finish line, I’ll be celebrating.

Be the first to know about how these important issues are progressing and how you can get involved—sign up for The Roosevelt Report, and check back on the blog every Monday for a new Glassing the Hill, The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress.

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Filling Coolers and Crunching Numbers on an Eat-What-You-Catch Adventure

Five friends on a four-hour charter get half their limit, but experience the full value of the Oregon coast’s recreational fishery—a critical segment of the local economy

Not only do I have a wonderful, beautiful girlfriend, but when I asked what she wanted to do for her birthday, Laura replied, “Go fishing!” Within a few minutes, I had lodging and a charter boat booked out on the coast of Oregon for the weekend. Oh, the things we do for love.

To accommodate the two of us plus three friends on one boat, we had to take an afternoon trip, meaning more sun, rougher seas, and unfortunately, a cooler bite. But, hey, it was an adventure on public water, and I knew anything was possible! Our captain, Bill, promised us a good time.

Kevin Farron, TRCP’s Western field associate, poses with his blue lingcod, a rare and delicious catch. Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

This wasn’t our first chartered trip, so we were pretty sure we’d limit out on rockfish and Dungeness crab, but we hoped to land one or two of the more elusive—and delicious—lingcod.

Our empty coolers sat in waiting. By our rough estimates, each angler had the potential to land around $350 worth of fresh seafood, meaning $95 for a four-hour charter was a financially-sound investment—and plenty of fun.

Within minutes of clearing the harbor, the excitement began. As gigantic gray whales surrounded the boat, Captain Bill, who has been doing this for more than twenty years, joked about charging us more for whale watching, and we all laughed. Bill’s two teenage sons spend their summers working as his deckhands, and make good money doing it. “If you live on the Oregon coast, you can bet that you’re logging trees, catching fish, or selling souvenirs to the tourists,” he said. “There’s not much else in terms of industry here.”

A bile pigment called biliverdin is the reason for the blue tint. Biologists are puzzled as to how the pigment gets into fish in the first place, and why only few lingcod are affected. Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that recreational fishing brought in $68.9 million for Oregon’s coastal communities in 2014 (commercial harvests netted an additional $160.3 million that year). According to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, the effects trickle down from there, accounting for a total of 15,759 direct and indirect jobs in coastal communities and $904 million of Oregon’s gross domestic product.

As for me and my friends, we were happy to be contributing to this important segment of the economy, yet determined to get our money’s worth, and within a few minutes of dropping our lines, I hooked a nice one. Captain Bill was giving me a hard time for the way I was battling with what he thought to be a measly rockfish, but once he saw that I had a two-foot blue-bellied lingcod hooked, he scampered backward to grab the net. I landed a rare and delicious blue beauty.

We high-fived and wondered who’d be next. Laura was all smiles and things were going great. But how the tides can turn.

The belly, the meat, the mouth, and the throat – nearly all of this fish was a brilliant, bright blue. Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

When the bite went cold, conversation turned to politics, particularly the establishment of marine reserve areas, where fishing is not permitted. A compromise reached in 2012 limited the proposed reserve areas to a handful of designated waterways, comprising about 10 percent of the territorial sea, rather than banning all commercial and recreational fishing within three miles of the coast, where the overwhelming majority of recreational fishing and crabbing happens. Bill doesn’t have a problem with the current reserves, but he’s not interested in adding any more.

“I’d be out of a job!” he explained. “There has to be a better way of addressing fisheries mismanagement. We’re willing to follow the rules.” He explained that his wife is a marine fisheries technician for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (another one of those jobs related to the resource and the industry), and her work has helped to prove that bycatch fatalities were greatly exaggerated back when the statewide reserves were proposed. So were they even necessary?

“They can’t close down fishing entirely,” said Bill. We could see his point but, then, our poles remained unbent. Could we blame poor management? As it turns out, no. We hauled up about half our limit of crabs, about 35 keepers. And when we approached the docks, we saw that numerous anglers had returned with their entire limits. The fishery appeared to be faring quite well.

Freshly shelled excess crab meat is vacuum-sealed and frozen – a treat for a future day. Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

That night, on unwavering ground—thankfully—Laura and I spent four hours cracking and peeling the fresh crab, dipping it in garlic butter and eating our fill as we went. The taste of our own catch, which went from sea to stomach in the same day, was well worth the costs.


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September 7, 2016

Glassing the Hill: September 6 – 9

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate and House are both in session this week after a seven-week recess.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

With nineteen legislative days left to negotiate a spending bill, congressional leaders continue to disagree on how to keep the government funded when the new fiscal year begins on October 1. As the clock ticks, some prefer to pass a short-term spending bill through the end of 2016, which would theoretically allow time in December to craft an omnibus funding agreement for the rest of 2017. Others prefer a continuing resolution, which would extend the enacted funding levels from the current fiscal year into the first few months of 2017, allowing the new president and the new congress to address funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2017.  This is the only thing Congress must do in the coming weeks, with a particularly abbreviated work period.

Sage grouse are still mixed up in the “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA). While the NDAA is must-pass legislation, conference talks have slowed due to disagreements about the bill. As you may remember, the House NDAA included Congressman Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) “The Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act,” which would bring state and federal agencies’ efforts to coordinate on sage-grouse conservation to a grinding halt. Thankfully, the Senate version of the NDAA does not include similar provisions.

In other sage grouse news, last week the Bureau of Land Management released the final seven instruction memorandums for the greater sage-grouse conservation plans, responding to local concerns about grazing and drilling. While federal and state agencies will continue implementing these collaborative plans, their future may be in the hands of lawmakers.

For the first time in nine years, lawmakers will meet to discuss a first comprehensive energy bill. Earlier this year, a package of high-priority legislation with habitat and conservation funding impacts was added to “The Energy Policy Modernization Act” (S. 2012) by Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). These provisions included the permanent reauthorization of “The Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act,” the reauthorization of the “North American Wetlands Conservation Act” through 2020, and the establishment of “The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act” program. The package passed with a vote of 97-0, an overwhelming victory for the sportsmen-conservation community. On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear conferees’ concerns with the Senate energy bill, including the habitat and conservation package, but Chairwoman Murkowski is optimistic about continuing to negotiate with conferees and finally passing the bill.

An amendment to address Louisiana flooding and habitat connectivity may come to the Senate floor before the end of the year. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced an amendment to “The Water Resource Development Act” (WRDA) that would require the Army Corps of Engineers to implement flood-control projects in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after devastating floods damaged area homes, as well as fish and wildlife habitat. Ultimately, projects would restore and mitigate habitat connectivity.

The overall bill would provide $9 billion in funds for water resource projects. It does not include the language on natural infrastructure provisions that sportsmen were hoping to see in the final bill, which passed the committee with a 19-1 vote earlier this year, but a motion to add those provisions is expected when WRDA reaches the Senate floor—most likely after a spending bill and the NDAA have been passed.

But there is even more work to do. Lawmakers are also faced with discussion of a bill that would set aside $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus, and a mark-up of “The Resilient Federal Forests Act,” (H.R. 2647), which would offer a wildfire funding fix and provide forest management provisions, has been set for next week.

 

What else we’re tracking:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Federal Power Act will be discussed at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing.

Four energy and natural resources bills, including Congressman Ryan Zinke’s (R-Mont.) “Certainity for States and Tribes Act,” will be the subject of a House Natural Resources Committee mark-up.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Discussions will continue on natural resources bills in the House Natural Resources Committee mark-up.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

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.

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