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September 14, 2016

Secretary_of_the_Interior_Ken_Salazar_announces_a_$280_million_investment_in_the_U.S._Fish_and_Wildlife_Service_during_a_press_conference_at_the_Montana_State_Capital_in_Helena

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September 13, 2016

A Conservation Convert Goes Back to School

Our summer intern leaves for the fall semester with a newfound appreciation for habitat conservation, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

After a summer interning for the TRCP in Washington, D.C., I’m headed back to school with a whole new perspective on conservation policy, Congress, and the role of sportsmen. So, for my final blog, I’d like to share a little bit of what I learned about the TRCP and what they do for sportsmen and women across the country.

From day one, I was surprised by the range of issues that impact our ability to hunt and fish. For example, at first glance, the Farm Bill might not seem that important to sportsmen, but I learned that this giant bill encompasses many provisions that affect wildlife. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), in particular, helps establish and conserve habitat for quail, pheasants, waterfowl, whitetails, and countless other critters that are important to sportsmen. For you anglers out there, CRP also helps protect 170,000 stream miles through riparian buffers, which keep pollutants from reaching the water.

I was surprised that despite support from farmers, sportsmen, and both sides of the aisle, eligible CRP acreage has been shrinking, which means less habitat benefits for fish and wildlife. Not only did I see firsthand how the TRCP engaged in discussion with partners about how to protect the program, but I also got to sit courtside as we launched a #CRPWorks petition to urge lawmakers to build a better CRP in the next Farm Bill.

Because of the TRCP’s Sportsmen’s Access campaign and website, I learned a lot about the ongoing threats to America’s public lands, as well. I grew up on the east coast and I go to college in the Midwest, where folks are not as aware of talk about transferring public land to states, despite some local governments’ history of selling or closing off land to recreation.  At the TRCP, I gained valuable perspective on this issue from the Western field representatives, who live and work in the communities that would directly feel the impacts of these proposed policies, and the government relations team in D.C., who do their best to share this local sportsmen’s perspective with members of Congress.

I understand now that my name on a petition does make a difference, and when a stack of names—like the more than 32,000 on TRCP’s petition opposing public land transfer—appears on the desk of your Congressmen, it’s hard to ignore. I’m grateful that groups like the TRCP won’t let lawmakers forget that they aren’t standing with their constituents who hunt and fish if they support or vote for land transfer.

I’ve also learned that sometimes the provisions that aren’t included in legislation are just as important to sportsmen as the provisions that are. For example, the TRCP staff has spent a lot of time and energy trying to keep language that would effectively halt federal conservation plans to restore and protect greater sage-grouse habitat out of the National Defense Authorization Act. And, in a big win for public lands this May, lawmakers blocked a proposal to transfer the popular Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico for debt relief, a move that would have set a harmful precedent of privatizing public lands that are crucial to outdoor recreation.

Overall, I had an amazing summer here at the TRCP. I learned a ton about federal policy, habitat conservation, the outdoor recreation economy, and how they are interconnected. It’s been great to work with a dedicated staff that is also intelligent and incredibly kind. I came to D.C. as an outdoor enthusiast, and I’m leaving as a well-informed conservation advocate, ready to take action and support the ambitious community of conservation partners I’ve come to admire over the past few months. I look forward to seeing all the great things to come for conservation!

Shannon Fagan was the TRCP summer intern through the Demmer Scholar Program. She is now in her senior year at Michigan State University where she is majoring in Social Relations and Policy and minoring in Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy.

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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.


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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