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Investments in conservation and support for fish and wildlife are a match made in hunting and fishing heaven, but cuts may be coming
Today, when most grade schoolers are exchanging candy hearts and Marvel superhero valentines, 213 groups are sending a message to President Trump and leaders in Congress about the heartbeat of conservation—smart investments in the future of our country’s lands, waters, and wildlife.
A coalition known as America’s Voice for Conservation, Recreation, and Preservation (AVCRP)—which comprises hunting, conservation, outdoor recreation, historic preservation, and cultural resource organizations—is calling for strong funding levels for a portion of the federal discretionary budget known as Function 300. This is the part of the budget that pays for a wide range of federal departments and agencies that manage our public lands and waters and work with private landowners in rural communities to ensure intact, working landscapes now and into the future.
These federal departments, from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce to the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, touch upon nearly every aspect of our daily lives. From the water we drink and air we breathe to the health of the nation’s fish and wildlife populations, conservation programs in the federal budget play a critical role.
But, despite its name, Function 300 has become, well, less functional than we’d like. It has been shrunk to half its size over the last 40 years, from approximately two percent of the federal budget to slightly more than one percent. In comparison, the nation’s outdoor recreation economy, which is sustained by this important conservation funding, generates more than $646 billion in revenue annually—that’s more than 98 percent of the Interior Department’s annual budget.
For sportsmen and women, conservation funding is an investment in our outdoor heritage. It helps restore water quality and support working lands, such as private farms and ranches adjacent to public lands that provide critical habitat for elk, whitetails, wild turkeys, waterfowl, and other game species.
Yet, throughout the country, federal funding for conservation has not kept pace with the needs on the ground. While about 72 percent of Westerners depend on public land to hunt and fish, the funding needed to manage and enforce order on public lands has dwindled. Our federal agencies lack staff for large swaths of our public lands, meaning that visitor centers have been shuttered, while biologists, ecologists, and range managers have been laid off and never re-hired. In some instances, public access points are closed altogether.
Meanwhile, the ability of agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management to ensure their multiple-use mandate is extremely challenged. The workforce that remains is in dire need of an infusion of new resources in order to carry out their mission of managing for grazing, logging, development, recreation, and a healthy balance of fish and wildlife populations and intact natural systems that can withstand invasive species, fire, drought, and other natural disasters.
We have been asking these Americans to safeguard our public lands for the next generation on a shoestring, and that’s a tall order.
It’s time to re-prioritize our nation’s public lands and the health and vitality of our fish and wildlife populations. That’s why the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership would like to see the Trump administration propose a fiscal year 2018 budget that sustains and increases funding for conservation programs within important federal departments and agencies, including the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture. That’s also why nearly 1,200 national, regional, state, and local organizations across multiple sectors have supported the 8-year AVCRP effort.
The TRCP, both as an independent organization and via the AVCRP campaign, will also be speaking out against efforts to reinstate sequestration in the FY2018 budget. Originally proposed in 2011, sequestration would cut $1.2 trillion in federal funding, with the majority of these cuts disproportionately impacting non-defense, discretionary spending like Function 300.
The natural resources that are a part of our American identity can’t survive this level of cutbacks to conservation, particularly given the smaller sliver of the federal pie they’ve already been given over the past 40 years. We can’t afford to balance the budget on the backs of fish and wildlife and still pass healthy lands and waters on to the next generation.
Trump’s budget should sustain and invest in conservation. Congress should see to it that those funds are distributed. It’s simple enough to fit inside a greeting card.
Out West and on the national stage, recent wins for public lands prove that our voices matter, but we can waste no time patting ourselves on the back
Recently, sportsmen and women in Wyoming were instrumental in keeping state legislators in line by speaking out against a constitutional amendment that would have set the stage for transfer of America’s public lands to the state. The amendment would have sent the message to D.C. that Wyoming is willing and able to take over public lands, if given the chance. (Even though, as most of you know, this is not just an unpopular idea, it’s also financially inconceivable.)
Since some federal lawmakers are working to make this happen, too, an immediate response from hunters and anglers was critical.
The text of this legislation was deliberate: Wyoming lawmakers carefully reserved the right to exchange newly acquired lands, and even sell them, but only for “public purposes,” which, conveniently, were not defined. This was nothing more than another veiled attempt to take over the public lands that are the backbone of our hunting and fishing heritage, and sportsmen and women, the original conservationists, were not fooled.
Hunters, anglers, and other public-land enthusiasts packed two public hearings about the proposal and testified with an overwhelming No way, not our lands! In just a few short weeks, nearly 1,000 of TRCP’s advocates in Wyoming sent 1,980 letters to their state representatives, urging them to reject this bad idea. You called, emailed, faxed, and showed up in person to voice your displeasure. It took all of us to finally get the message across.
The result was empowering and an example of the clout that hunters and anglers have when we unite and take action: The Wyoming legislature dropped the land transfer amendment, and the window to propose anything similar has passed. We want to thank you for showing that everyday sportsmen and women are a force to be reckoned with and for helping us make a difference in the Cowboy State.
Fortunately, this pattern seems to be playing out elsewhere. A few days after we heard the good news in Wyoming, sportsmen and locals rallied at Montana’s Capitol in Helena, chanting “keep public lands in public hands.” It was impossible for lawmakers to ignore the more than 1,000 people decked out in camouflage and brandishing signs in the rotunda and stairwells.
There, Governor Bullock reaffirmed his commitment to public lands, rallying the crowd with his proclamation that “the proposals to transfer public lands have no place in this building and they have no place in Montana.” But he didn’t stop there. “Not only do we need them to hear us here in this building,” he cried, “but we need them to hear us all the way in D.C.”
His comments seemed to foreshadow the events of last week, when social media blowback forced Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz to withdraw his bill that would dispose of 3.3 million acres of our public lands. As satisfying as that was to see, it is critical that we keep our game faces on and keep speaking up, especially because not all threats to our public lands are highly publicized and obvious.
We all need to stay vigilant and informed, and when called upon, hunters and anglers everywhere need to make sure their voices are heard loud and clear. Since it’s the off-season, we’re pretty sure you’ve got the time. Here’s what to do:
We should pat ourselves on the back for our recent triumphs, and feel inspired and confident about the outcomes we helped to shape. But there will be bills that do not disappear overnight. They will get hearings and may force your elected officials to choose what side they’re on. Make sure there isn’t a choice. Make sure our lawmakers are siding on the side of sportsmen. And make sure whenever they look over their shoulder, it’s a sea of blaze orange they see looking back.
Representatives would revert BLM land-use planning back to an ineffective and outdated rule and prevent positive changes from being included in future revisions
Using an obscure legislative process, a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to block the BLM’s new land-use planning rule, known as Planning 2.0, and roll back the additional opportunities the rule affords the public to voice concerns about land management decisions on 245 million acres. The Senate is expected to vote on a similar resolution next week.
Nineteen sportsmen’s groups, conservation organizations, outdoor recreation trade associations, and businesses that rely on public lands sent a letter to congressional leadership this week opposing the move to roll back Planning 2.0 through the Congressional Review Act, a little-known law that enables Congress to roll back regulations within 60 legislative days of their enactment. Once repealed through this process, a substantially similar rule cannot be rewritten.
The letter urges lawmakers to allow the incoming Secretary of the Interior a chance to address concerns with the new rule, rather than scrap it altogether.
“A Congressional Review Act repeal of the BLM planning rule would eliminate Planning 2.0, revert BLM planning to a problematic decades-old planning process, and likely eliminate the BLM’s authority to revise its planning regulations ever again in the future,” says Joel Webster, director of Western lands with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We urge Congress to take a different course and address remaining concerns by working collaboratively with the new Secretary of the Interior.”
Many groups are frustrated by the potential lost momentum for improvements that would benefit wildlife habitat along migration corridors and in seasonal ranges. New technology has revealed critical data on these important areas, which are not considered under the old planning rule largely developed in 1983.As Congress dials back our say in #publiclands, sportsmen won't stay quiet Click To Tweet
“Under the spirit of Planning 2.0, improvements are already being made to the way we conserve once-overlooked habitat that elk, mule deer, and other big game animals rely on, even if it’s just for a portion of their journey,” says Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Increased coordination under the rule will only mean that the best possible science is used to our advantage, not ignored.”
Outdoor recreation businesses deserve better, but sportsmen and women will not stay quiet on this issue, says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “If recent public outcry against bad public land policy proves anything, it’s that we’ll be heard either way—we’d just rather be part of the democratic process.”
Click here to take action now. Don’t let Congress roll back this rule and take away your voice in how our public lands are managed.
If you were shocked and angered earlier this year by a bill to dispose of public lands, then you should know about these less blatant—but similarly dangerous—legislative moves
[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published February 7, 2017 with ten legislative threats—one of which has become a reality for 245 million acres of Bureau of Management Lands. The post below has been updated as of March 29, 2017 with the latest on these developments and the newest threats to our public lands legacy.]
In February, sportsmen flooded the office of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) with phone calls, letters, tweets, and Facebook messages about his unpopular and dangerous public lands bill, H.R. 621. Shortly after, he dropped the legislation that would have enabled the sale of 3.3 million acres of public lands.
We celebrated. We were reminded that our voices have power. Then, we went back to work.
Here’s the thing: The tug-of-war between Americans who are proud to have 640 million acres of public lands as their birthright and those who seek to undermine these lands has never been tied to one individual bill, state, or lawmaker—it’s a longstanding ideological battle that puts conservation, access, and our hunting and fishing traditions on the line.
And, because D.C. politics are hardly ever as simple as black and white, the intent to transfer or sell public lands isn’t always explicitly stated in a bill’s title. To add to this confusion, sometimes a “win” for us is when nothing happens at all—a bill is introduced, never receives a hearing or co-sponsors, and gets swept from the docket at the end of that Congress. H.R. 621 languished in obscurity in this way last year, and Chaffetz probably wasn’t prepared for the backlash from public lands advocates when he reintroduced identical legislation in 2017.
Well, it’s a new day, and sportsmen are watching. Keep your eye on these legislative actions that would dismantle our public lands heritage, piece by piece.
We expect that the Fiscal Year 2018 budget resolution will pick up legislative riders like fleece picks up burrs. Riders are policy priorities tacked onto larger must-pass legislation and, coupled with bills that help guide government spending, they could have scary implications for public lands and habitat. Pretty much anything is fair game, but we’re keeping an eye out for language that undercuts federal plans to benefit sage grouse and the broader sagebrush ecosystem. Because stripping federal authority over management of national public lands is a big ol’ slippery slope.
In fact, Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) has already introduced legislation (S. 273) that would give state officials full authority over state and federal conservation plans to restore sage-grouse habitat. This might sound mild, but don’t be fooled—transferring control of management plans is a back door to transferring control of the land itself. This would be “an unprecedented shift of management responsibility that erodes the implementation of bedrock conservation statutes,” according to Ed Arnett, our senior scientist. Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) introduced a near-identical bill last year.
In addition to the bill he withdrew*, Rep. Chaffetz also introduced the “Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act” (H.R. 622) as a measure to pull funding for federal public-land law enforcement. This bill is still alive in Congress and has six co-sponsors.
*Many of you have asked why it appears that H.R. 621 is still alive in congressional records and online, even though Chaffetz requested that the bill be withdrawn. Well, the committee chair is the one who officially files the forms to withdraw legislation and strike it from the books—and nobody likes doing paperwork. It’s typical for bills to collect dust in committee until the end of the congressional year.
The “State National Forest Management Act of 2017” (H.R. 232), introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), would take two million acres of National Forest System land away from Americans to be managed solely for timber production (read: short-term profit.) Just a friendly reminder that this could transfer management of all of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest to the state. This language was originally introduced in 2016 and made it the next step to a committee hearing, despite sportsmen’s outcry. The 114th Congress wrapped without seeing that bill move any further, but now it’s back for round two.
The “Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act,” introduced last Congress by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), was an explicit attempt to transfer federal public lands in Nevada to state ownership—at which point public access could be barred. While we haven’t seen this language reappear verbatim, Amodei has introduced two public lands bills so far. The Small Tracts Conveyance Act (H.R. 1106) would allow for the sale of some federal public lands in Nevada to private landowners or other entities, and the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act (H.R. 243) prohibits the expansion or establishment of national monuments in Nevada.
Last year, the “Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act” passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, but didn’t make it to a floor vote. It never should have made it that far. Introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), the bill would have given management authority for large segments of our national forests to “advisory committees”—no previous professional experience in forest management would be required on these committees. Conservation and access would surely be an afterthought to generating revenue, but the financial burden of wildfire management would still be on the American taxpayer. That’s why we’ll be watching for something similar to emerge.
Bills at the federal level aren’t the only place we see shots fired at public lands. There are clear examples of state legislators easing the skids for public land transfer in Oregon, Washington, and Utah. Even in Missouri, a resolution encouraging transfer of Western federal lands to the states is making its way through the state legislature.
It’s easy to get complacent as long as these threats never really come to a head. But consider what’s already been lost this year.
Alarmingly, Congress has already voted to roll back public involvement in public land management by blocking the Bureau of Land Management’s new planning rule through a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval. The resolution, which could eliminate the BLM’s ability to provide similar benefits in a planning rule ever again, was signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2017. Planning 2.0 was the result of more than two years of collaborative work, and overturning it was a gut-punch to sportsmen who celebrated conservation benefits for big game migration corridors and backcountry habitats.
And, in Oregon, a two-to-one vote by the State Land Board is likely to seal the fate of the Elliott State Forest, which is much beloved for its recreation opportunities, including hunting and fishing, but has been a drag on the state budget sheet. Federal public lands aren’t managed for profit, but they would be in the hands of the states. Now, it’s likely that the Elliott will be sold. This could make it the poster child for what could happen to America’s public lands if land transfer proponents get what they want.
It’s also a reminder of why we’re fighting tooth and nail to keep public lands public. Give them an inch and they’ll take millions of acres. Let your elected officials know that our public lands are not for sale.
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