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The Chesapeake Bay watershed is a lifeline to 18 million people and 3,600 species of animals and plants. Its impact reverberates not just in the immediate Bay, but in the six states (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) and District of Columbia, that feed it.
The watershed’s connectivity to major urban environments and working agricultural lands have contributed to massive amounts of pollution flowing into the Bay significantly harming water quality and negatively impacting the fish and wildlife. Every year, a dead zone forms along the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay, occupying about 40 percent of its area and up to 5 percent of the Bay’s water volume.
A Commitment to Clean-Up
While the states worked for decades to try to clean up the Bay and the waterways that fed it, efforts were coming up short. So in 2010, the federal government stepped in to help create a plan to clean up the Bay by 2025. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) established pollution benchmarks that the states would have to meet. In order to achieve those goals, each state developed Watershed Implementation Plans, which have been updated over time. States are currently on Phase 3 of their Watershed Implementation Plans.
Unfortunately, it appears as if Pennsylvania is at risk of falling short. This is deeply troubling since most of the pollutants entering the Bay come from Pennsylvania. For example, the Susquehanna River, which flows from New York through Pennsylvania and into Maryland, provides about half of the water for the Chesapeake Bay. A 2020 preliminary report by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection found that 30 percent (25,850 stream miles) of Pennsylvania portion of the Susquehanna River is impaired.
To meet its nitrogen reduction goals, Pennsylvania needs to reduce the amount of nitrogen that it releases into the Bay by 34 million pounds, but under its Phase 3 Watershed Implementation plan, it will only be able to cut two-thirds of that pollution.
Barriers to a Better Bay
So, what is preventing Pennsylvania from meeting its goal? Well, in order to meet its pollution reduction benchmark, Pennsylvania would need to invest an additional $257 million a year into its Bay waterways. We think this is a wise investment, given that the Bay filters drinking water for 75 percent of watershed residents.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania state lawmakers tried to pass legislation that would freeze or redirect funding for some of the state’s most effective conservation programs.
We know that policymakers are under mounting pressure as they deal with coronavirus impacts and the ensuing economic fallout, but now is not the time to cut job-creating investments. The Bay contributes billions of dollars to our economy every year.
So what can hunters and anglers do?
Because different versions of each bill have been passed by the House and Senate, conference committees will debate which provisions move forward.
Considering the recent wins we’ve been able to celebrate for conservation—some that have been on our community’s bucket list for decades—it would be cynical to think that sportsmen and women are not being heard by decision-makers right now. If we continue to show up with practical solutions, we can continue to expect victories for fish and wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing opportunities, and our outdoor recreation businesses.
In that spirit, we’re watching two bills very closely as they move into a final phase of debate: The Water Resources Development Act and what’s generally referred to as a Highway Bill. Congress has a responsibility to pass these packages every few years—unlike a Great American Outdoors Act, for example, that goes through the process only once.
Here’s what’s at stake and what success could look like.
The Legislation: The Water Resources Development Act is a must-pass two-year bill that authorizes water conservation and enhancement projects, many with benefits for fish and wildlife habitat.
How We Got Here: The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020, with the Senate’s WRDA provisions, passed out of committee in May 2020. The House WRDA passed in a voice vote on the floor in late July.
What Sportsmen and Women Need Out of Negotiations: To safeguard America’s fish and wildlife habitat, it’s critical that the final bill takes meaningful steps forward on managing invasive species, addressing harmful algal blooms, and increasing the use of natural infrastructure that can improve fish and wildlife habitat while also addressing challenges like floods, sea level rise, and coastal land loss.
Both the House and Senate bills contain provisions that we like, and many have to do with clearing the way for more natural or nature-based infrastructure solutions. Reminder: This could mean anything from restoring wetlands that can better filter annual floodwaters to reversing coastal erosion by diverting river sediment that needs to be removed to areas that desperately need it.
These natural solutions boost habitat, are often more cost effective, and age better than traditional “gray” infrastructure, but planning for them requires more than just a mindset shift—WRDA can help outline the policies and procedures that ensure these projects stand up to cost-benefit analyses and ultimately get the green light from federal agencies.
If you’re interested in a deep, section-by-section breakdown of what we like in the House and Senate bills, 14 other organizations joined us in sending this letter to Congress with the details.
The Legislation: The five-year Highway Bill expires in a little over a month, and the clock is ticking on new legislation that authorizes projects related to our road systems. Especially at a time with record unemployment, considering conservation benefits at the start of these projects can help put Americans back to work.
How We Got Here: The Senate bill saw action and approval at the committee level last summer. The House worked its Highway Bill, the INVEST in America Act, into H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, which passed on July 1, 2020.
What Sportsmen and Women Need Out of Negotiations: This must-pass legislation presents an opportunity to energize the American economy, improve habitat connectivity and water quality, enhance public safety, and even expand hunter and angler access.
We especially like the House language and Senate funding levels set for states to prioritize, study, and build wildlife-friendly highway crossings—like overpasses, underpasses, culverts, and fences to funnel wildlife away from roads. These structures save human and animal lives and can connect migration routes disrupted by roadways.
It’s encouraging to see both chambers prioritize investments in wildlife crossings, but we’re pushing negotiators to adopt the Senate’s program, which guarantees new dedicated funding for projects, rather than diverting money from other programs. The Senate version also makes sure that states with smaller populations – often the ones with the greatest need for wildlife crossings – have access to the funds.
As in the water resources bill, conference negotiators can also do more for fish and wildlife while addressing the country’s infrastructure challenges. The TRCP is supportive of provisions that would invest in and authorize programs that prioritize natural infrastructure solutions, enhance water quality, and bolster drought resilience.
In particular, $500 million should be appropriated to the Army Corps of Engineers to complete a backlog of projects with habitat benefits that have already been authorized. Funding proposed for state support—including an increase for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, with 15 percent carved out specifically for natural infrastructure projects—should be included in the final bill, along with authorization for watershed recovery efforts in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Colorado River Basin.
Other important provisions include reauthorization of successful habitat and access programs, including those that support sportfishing, recreational boating, coastal resilience, forest management, conservation funding solutions, and improving outdoor recreation access for underserved communities.
Obviously, between the two bills and a very busy congressional calendar this fall, there is a lot at stake for hunters and anglers. Sign up to receive our emails so you don’t miss a single update.
This blog was co-authored by Kristyn Brady, Andrew Wilkins, and Kim Jensen.
Help us push back and demand transparency—not to mention results for wild deer—from decision-makers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Here’s an important topic to bring up at deer camp this year: Hunters were handed a win when Congress recently set aside funding to address the rampant spread of chronic wasting disease—that other epidemic that sportsmen and women know well by now. But the agency tasked with distributing the funds to state agencies has already carved out nearly a third of the total pot for the captive deer industry.
The TRCP is pushing back on this questionable use of funds and other moves that will undermine results for our wild deer. And we need your help.
For years, sportsmen and women have called on lawmakers to take meaningful federal action to control CWD among our wild deer, elk, and moose populations. In 2020, Congress responded by appropriating $5 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to send directly to state wildlife and agricultural departments tasked with responding to the disease.
Instead, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is funneling $1.5 million of that funding to individual captive deer operations that have had to eliminate CWD-positive animals. These indemnification payments aid businesses that have unfortunately already been part of the CWD problem and don’t address the continued strain placed on state agencies scrambling to manage the spread of the disease.
APHIS has made it clear that they place a higher value on the $4-billion captive deer industry than on hunters who generate $40 billion each year and contribute to conservation.
In a recent stakeholder meeting to determine how CWD funds would be spent, the captive side outnumbered sportsmen’s groups two to one. (We know this because TRCP was invited to contribute, along with the Boone & Crockett Club, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, National Deer Alliance, and the Wildlife Management Institute.) As a result, the conversations and resulting recommendations repeatedly skewed away from our priorities.
It gets worse: The service’s voluntary Herd Certification Program, which certifies that these businesses adhere to best practices for preventing disease transmission, does not effectively guarantee that a herd is CWD-free. Despite this, APHIS continues to allow the movement of captive herds across state lines, facilitating further spread of the disease.
As sportsmen and women, we refuse to be undervalued or ignored. But based on what we’ve seen in this decision-making process, we need to be twice as loud to get the attention of APHIS, or else congressional funding for CWD will make no measurable impact for our wild deer herds.
For APHIS to do right by hunters and wild deer, we need to see the agency do the following:
The TRCP is also pushing for a congressional review of APHIS’s appropriation spending, but in the meantime we need your help to demand the above changes.
Support the future of deer hunting and push back against misuse of CWD response funding by signing our open letter to the USDA.
Hunters encouraged with progress to conserve winter range and migration corridors in the West
The Department of Interior has released a report showing that progress is underway to preserve big game habitat in the West.
The report highlights progress in implementing an Interior policy to improve habitat quality in Western big game winter range and migration corridors.
Secretarial Order 3362, signed on February 9, 2018, has been lauded by sportsmen and women for giving more attention to land management and planning in habitats where mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and other species migrate, rest, and spend the winter months.
“Not all federal policies yield quick results on the ground, but this one has already delivered so far for big game and hunters,” says Madeleine West, director of Western lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We know that much work needs to be done to ensure the long-term conservation of our iconic wildlife species and migrations across the West.”
Since the enactment of the Order on migration, the Department has provided 11 Western states with $6.4 million to address state-defined priority research projects and the mapping of elk, mule deer, and pronghorn migrations and habitat use. Additionally, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program have provided nearly $10 million, matched with more than $30 million from other partners, for habitat improvement and fencing projects.
“The resources provided to the states for research have advanced the science on migration across the West,” said Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The data emerging from those studies, coupled with investments in habitat improvement and restoration, will boost big game populations and ultimately improve sustainable opportunities for hunters in the future.”
The report also highlighted that long-term success will require strong partnerships and diverse funding sources.
Top photo by Gregory Nickerson/Wyoming Migration Initiative.
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