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The public process for vetting these important projects will affect conservation, hurricane protection, and land loss over the next five years
Louisiana’s coast is a dynamic landscape of swamps, marsh lands, barrier islands, bayous, rivers, lakes and bays surrounding coastal towns and cities—and all of this is linked by a unique culture of food, music, fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities that rely on our abundant natural resources.
Unfortunately, for the last 80 years, this ever-changing system has been shrinking faster than any other landscape on earth, threatening world-class fishing and hunting opportunities, domestic energy development, commercial seafood harvest, the country’s largest port system, and the homes of hundreds of thousands of residents.
The impacts to the nearly 2 million people living south of Interstate 10 (and arguably the entire state and nation) can be devastating, but there are solutions in the works and a public process for Louisianans to be heard. This week and last, concerned sportsmen and women had the chance to ask questions and challenge the folks in charge of planning for the next five years of coastal protection and restoration projects designed to reverse devastating land loss, while boosting fish and wildlife habitat.
Here’s what they learned.
For the last decade, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has been tasked with trying to slow coastal land loss, protect coastal communities, and safeguard our infrastructure, including the kind that supports fisheries and wildlife. The blueprint for this effort has been a detailed list of projects and initiatives aimed at ensuring Louisianans don’t face the catastrophic losses we experienced during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
The Coastal Master Plan, by law, must be reviewed by the public every five years and then approved by the state’s legislature. As wonky as it sounds, this is a critical opportunity for everyday sportsmen and women to get involved with shaping the future of conservation in our state.
The 2017 plan, like the 2012 plan before it, calls for funding to be split roughly in half between building community resiliency—using levees and floodwalls and elevating homes and businesses—and habitat restoration—through marsh and barrier island creation, diversions, and limiting saltwater intrusion.
Thanks mostly to the nearly $8 billion the state has received, or will receive, in fines from BP and others responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, some coastal wetlands, barrier islands and vital ridges and other geographic features can be created, restored, and protected in the long term. The agency proposes to accomplish this by diverting sediment from the Mississippi River below New Orleans, diverting freshwater from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to wetlands threatened by saltwater intrusion, and various dredging projects.
Diversions are the cornerstone of efforts to restore and sustain the marshes adjacent to the Mississippi River. A single diversion on the west side of the river south of New Orleans called the Mid-Barataria Diversion, will move as much as 75,000 cubic feet per second of sediment-laden river water into shallow bays and lakes to help re-establish marshes that have been lost over the last century to erosion and subsidence. East of the river, the Mid-Breton Diversion will move water at about 35,000 cubic feet per second.
The 2017 plan is the first Master Plan for our area with detailed models that predict the future of coastal habitat for species like speckled trout, brown and white shrimp, largemouth bass, and crawfish—fisheries that are vital to commercial and recreational fishermen. It also projects what changes we can expect for habitat important to gadwall and teal, the ducks most targeted by coastal waterfowl hunters.
Unfortunately, the latest models also paint a grimmer picture of what can realistically be saved and protected and what will, ultimately, be claimed by the Gulf of Mexico. The worst-case scenario from 2012 was a one- to two-foot rise in sea level—these are now the best-case scenarios in the 2017 plan.
If we do nothing, projections show that as much as 4,000 square miles of land will sink or be inundated by rising seas (yes, both of these things are happening at once) over the coming century—that’s more than twice the land loss predicted in 2012.
More than 25,000 homes and businesses across Louisiana’s coast will have to be elevated and made more storm-resilient over the next half century so as not to succumb to coastal flooding from tropical storms, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events. Some communities may have to be relocated altogether. Presenting this worst-case scenario isn’t the easiest task for state coastal planners, but it’s absolutely essential that coastal residents understand the difficult future that lies ahead in an ever-changing landscape.
We’ve outlined the basics here, but if you want to learn more, read the full draft plan at the Louisiana CPRA website. Public comments are still being accepted through March 26—it is your civic right and, ultimately, your duty as a sportsman to weigh in. Email email@example.com to make your voice heard!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.Learn More