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January 25, 2017

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January 23, 2017

What Rural America Needs Right Now is Support for Fish and Wildlife

If POTUS tackles these four major conservation priorities in the next two years, farmers, sportsmen, and critters in ag country will benefit

Federal policies that impact private and agricultural lands are a critical part of our country’s conservation equation: More than 70 percent of America’s total land is in private hands, and more than 50 percent is in agricultural use. So it’s no surprise that private land provides much of the habitat for both resident and migratory critters.

The TRCP and our partners have long sought to better balance the needs of production agriculture and private landowners with the needs of fish, wildlife, and sportsmen. And with President Trump’s promise to focus on the needs of rural America—and with a nominee to lead the Department of Agriculture who understands the sportsman’s perspective better than most—the next four years present a major opportunity to support habitat and water conservation solutions that also sustain agriculture in these communities.

Here are some of the conservation goals at USDA that we’ll be working toward in the first half of Trump’s tenure.

More Opportunities, Fewer Funding Cuts

The next administration needs to focus on growing, not cutting, conservation funding and support for landowners who want to do right by fish, wildlife, soil health, and water quality downstream.

The last Farm Bill consolidated or eliminated nearly a dozen conservation programs and reduced conservation spending by $4 billion compared to previous versions. Every year since then, more farmers, ranchers, and foresters have been prevented from enrolling in important voluntary conservation programs due to additional repeated cuts by Congress. Even states, tribes, and local governments looking to improve waterways or habitat conditions have not received the funding or guidance promised by the Farm Bill to help carry out their projects.

hunting pheasants Minnesota farm bill
Image courtesy of m01229/Flickr.

We cannot weaken our nation’s investment in habitat, water quality, or water quantity by underfunding any of USDA’s conservation programs. That’s why we have formally recommended that the Trump administration reject additional cuts to USDA conservation programs and ask to increase the budget for the technical assistance landowners need to put conservation on the ground. At the same time, the administration should push for better funding for programs that support locally-led projects to protect watersheds, mitigate flood damage, and reduce erosion—which is all critical to habitats and communities downstream.

More Accountability, Less Dysfunction

Landowners looking for conservation support aren’t just stymied by lack of program funding. As well as being locked out of conservation programs due to insufficient budgets, stakeholders who do get through the door have sometimes struggled to actually access the programs, claiming slower-than-usual payment delivery or reimbursements, and cumbersome or contradictory application requirements. Meanwhile, USDA has ended up in some worrying situations, such as when the government’s watchdog agency reported that the Department, because of insufficient enforcement, may have issued payments to landowners who violated wetlands or highly erodible land compliance requirements.

These and other issues undermine incentives for voluntary conservation and the legitimacy of USDA programs in the eyes of the American taxpayer. In the first 100 days of the presidency, we’d like to see steps to improve transparency, contracting, monitoring, and enforcement of conservation programs.

Healthier, More Drought-Resilient Waterways

Ongoing droughts across the United States reveal serious threats for meeting the needs of agricultural and other water users—like urban residents, outdoor enthusiasts, and fish and wildlife. Reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin, for instance, are at historic lows; the Colorado River no longer flows to the sea, and demand for water that vastly exceeds the supply threatens many fish and wildlife species that hunters, anglers, and others value.

Image courtesy of USDA.

In its first year, President Trump’s USDA should focus on drought resiliency and support new investments in water conservation that benefit both growers and fish and wildlife. One way we can get there is by working with private-sector lenders to help finance infrastructure improvements that prepare cities and farms for the next drought, while also benefiting rivers and fish—the resources that power tourism spending and local outdoor businesses.

A Farm Bill That Can Cross The Finish Line

Before September 2018, Congress will need to craft and pass the next Farm Bill—and delays can be just as damaging as no Farm Bill at all to those who are counting on it. It is essential that the Trump administration openly supports conservation in this major legislative vehicle and makes sure it moves efficiently toward passage.

Several years of painfully low farm incomes, along with extreme weather events, have created more competition among Farm Bill stakeholder groups for available funding, so our work is cut out for us. Sportsmen and women want to see a Farm Bill that recognizes the importance of the $646-billion outdoor recreation economy, especially in parts of the country where it’s tough to scratch out a living.

Image courtesy of USDA.

Healthy habitat, clean water, and sportsmen’s access on private lands is a critical piece of the business portfolio in rural America and deserves support from Trump’s USDA. That’s why we’ll be working with all stakeholders to boost conservation in the next Farm Bill.

You’ll be hearing a lot about that right here on the TRCP blog. Keep an eye out for Farm Bill updates every month, and let us know what conservation on private lands has done for critters in your neck of the woods by leaving a comment below.

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Glassing the Hill: January 23 – 27

The Senate will be in session all week, while the House will recess on Wednesday to attend the congressional Republicans’ annual retreat in Philadelphia, Penn.

Lawmakers tinker with Obama-era regulations

Before January ends, the House is expected to block some regulations by utilizing the Congressional Review Act, which would allow Congress to debate controversial regulations that were introduced after May 16, 2016. The Stream Protection Rule, which would limit coal mining near waterways, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Reduction Rule, which would reduce natural gas waste on public lands, could be on the chopping block. The CRA requires a simple majority to halt regulations, which Republicans in the Senate currently have at 52-48.

The Trump administration issued a government-wide freeze on unfinished rules and regulations held over from the waning days of the Obama administration. Freezing regulations is not an uncommon practice for newly elected presidents. In 2009, the Obama administration issued a similar memorandum soon after taking office.

Cabinet appointments begin to get locked in

Following confirmations of the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security, the Senate will continue to consider President Trump’s cabinet nominees, starting with the Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In order for President Trump’s picks to take up cabinet positions, they must be confirmed by the Senate. Respective committees must vote in favor of the nominees before they are considered on the Senate floor, where they  must pass with more than 50 votes. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to slow down the pace of floor consideration of Trump nominees to ensure they get a full debate.

Secretary of Agriculture selected, but not yet confirmed

President Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, will continue visiting with Senate Agriculture Committee members and other senators in preparation for the confirmation process and to discuss their expectations. The Senate Agriculture Committee has not scheduled a confirmation hearing as of this writing. We’re optimistic about Mr. Perdue’s potential to engage in conservation efforts in the Farm Bill and on U.S. National Forest Service lands.

What else we’re tracking:

The 115th congressional agendas and committee leader decisions will be discussed and decided on by the House Budget Committee, the House Appropriations Committee, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, Jan 24.

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January 19, 2017

Trump Taps a Quail Hunter for Secretary of Agriculture Seat

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue understands the balance between agriculture and wildlife habitat on America’s private lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The hunting and fishing community recognizes the potential for collaboration and compromise in President-elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of Agriculture, announced today. An avid sportsman, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has the kind of personal and policy experience that is likely to benefit the nation’s farmers and ranchers, as well as fish and wildlife habitat on private and public lands.

In Georgia, Perdue implemented the first comprehensive statewide land conservation plan, which included policy provisions aimed at improving wildlife habitat and boosting outdoor recreation opportunities, but his response to a major drought in 2007 was somewhat controversial. He also established a trust fund for the state to purchase conservation lands and encouraged the donation of perpetual conservation easements through a new tax credit that successfully conserved more than 185,000 acres.

“We’re happy to see that a true sportsman is a candidate for this position, especially one who worked to create a culture of conservation during his tenure as governor,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s clear to us that, where private lands dominate the landscape, local hunters and anglers track and care deeply about ag policy and its impacts on fish, wildlife, and water quality. They can feel optimistic that Perdue is up to the task of serving rural communities and our natural resources well.”

Farmland with wetland buffered by acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, Prairie Potholes Region, Iowa. Photograph by Mark Vandever, U.S. Geological Survey.

The Secretary of Agriculture oversees many of the federal agencies with a major role in conservation, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, and U.S. Forest Service. The next person to fill this leadership role will not only engage in debate over the 2018 Farm Bill, he or she will also lead the implementation of this legislation and oversee approximately $5 billion in annual conservation spending on private lands.

“While I’ve yet to meet the Governor, as hunters I’m sure we have commonality in understanding the importance of policies and programs that assist our nation’s farmers and ranchers with meeting resource conservation needs important to the overall sustainability of our agricultural system, while also benefiting fish and wildlife,” says Howard Vincent, president of Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever.

“We believe Gov. Perdue’s experiences afield will lead to a greater understanding of conservation needs, shared access, and multi-use opportunities on the numerous public lands managed by the USDA,” says George Thornton, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Learn more about the coalition of hunting, fishing, and conservation groups working to enhance conservation funding, improve water and soil quality, and boost voluntary access programs in the next Farm Bill.

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SHOT Show 2017: A Glimpse at the Innovation and Our Challenges

Industry leaders at SHOT Show acknowledge that, as #OriginalConservationists, we have our work cut out for us

Thousands of marketers, buyers, and product innovators made their annual migration back to Vegas this week for the 2017 Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, where deals are being struck and minds are being blown over the hottest new and yet-to-be-released gear. The outdoor media is here to film, tweet, and post it all, so you can start to salivate over what could be in your gun safe come fall.

It’s a place where you can start to grasp the scope of the $646-billion outdoor recreation economy. And, luckily for habitat and access that needs conserving in our country, big business for outdoor brands can mean major opportunities for fish and wildlife. Of course, millions of dollars in excise taxes on firearms and ammunition go toward conservation each year, but the brands behind your favorite gear also have some serious clout as conservation advocates and storytellers.

That’s why TRCP chooses SHOT as the venue for an annual discussion of our priorities for fish and wildlife, bringing together outdoor retailers, non-profits, and publishers to identify ways we can all work together in the coming year. Yesterday, the conversation naturally veered toward the uncertainty of a new chapter in Washington, but it was also clear that many in this industry are willing to step up and directly face the challenges ahead.

Mark Seacat, Randy Newberg, and Joel Webster.

In the wake of a House vote on rules that would undervalue public lands and clear the way to transfer or sell them off, the threats to our sportsmen’s access were top-of-mind for the group—which included writers, radio personalities, and Field  Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, and Bugle editors, as well as conservation leaders from state fish and wildlife agencies, TRCP, Pheasants Forever, Mule Deer Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, The Council to Advance the Hunting and Shooting Sports, and many, many others.

There were also many questions about conservation priorities that failed at the end of the last Congress: Why did wildfire funding reform fall apart? How do we approach yet another attempt at a Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act? Together, how can we work smarter together this time?

Howard Vincent, president of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, reminded the group that it’s not too soon to start talking about the 2018 Farm Bill. In fact, our work is cut out for us if we have any hope of urging lawmakers to enhance conservation programs in the legislation that would keep up with growing demand. The good news is that we have more opportunities to collaborate with agriculture. “Because of market prices, farmers are growing negative dollars, so there’s a lot of demand for the Conservation Reserve Program and not enough enrollment,” Vincent said. “Many people are starting to recognize the importance of these programs to water quality downstream. For the first time in 30 years, commodity groups are asking us to come to the table and partner.”

Despite the sheer size of the crowd on the showroom floor, there were many concerns about the dwindling number of hunters. R3 (Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation) efforts are more widespread than ever, but Ryan Callaghan, conservation and public relations director at First Lite, thought that part of the solution is incumbent on all of us. “In our industry, we tend to talk about hunting as the pinnacle of badassery, but it can turn people off or be intimidating,” he said. “If we only show people the Mount Everest of hunting”—the backcountry solo hunts and adventures in far-flung places—“we can’t be relevant to a larger community.”

TRCP’s president and CEO Whit Fosburgh agreed that we cannot get complacent as a community—we can’t just leave these solutions up to someone else. He left the group with this final plea, bringing the conversation back to the current political climate. “I think many would agree that threats to our second amendment rights are mostly off the table for the next four years, but it’s not time to sit back. Turn your attention and energy to the places we hunt, the habitat, and our access. It will be critical to have as much support as possible.”

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.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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