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Non-defense spending gets a bump, but the agreement doesn’t include a solution for fire borrowing, which saps the Forest Service of its budget for habitat maintenance and improvement
This morning, Congress passed a bipartisan budget agreement to end the cycle of short-term funding patches that has sustained the federal government through one-third of the fiscal year.
While a modest increase to conservation funding is likely with a $131-billion boost to non-defense spending, lawmakers again missed a major opportunity to fix the dysfunctional way we pay for wildfires in America—by forcing the U.S. Forest Service to borrow from accounts meant to fund maintenance and improvement of forest habitat once they’ve exceeded the budget for firefighting.
“Any increase to conservation funding is a good thing for America’s public lands, fish and wildlife resources, and sportsmen and women, especially given that conservation’s share of the federal budget has been cut in half over the last 40 years,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“Congress’s failure to address fire borrowing in the most germane legislative vehicle for the purpose—especially after one of the most costly wildfire seasons on record—makes you wonder if they really want to find a solution for America’s forests and the federal land managers who are expected to safeguard these places on a shoestring. It’s frustrating for hunting and fishing groups who have been calling for a fix for years.”
Technically, funding for the government ran out at midnight last night, but the House voted to end the shutdown just a few hours ago. The agreement avoids a lengthy government shutdown, which could have temporarily halted ongoing conservation projects and closed some access.
Congressional appropriators still need to allocate funding to specific programs across the government by March 23. Appropriations bills will ensure that new conservation projects can begin and funding for outdated or ineffective efforts can be used for something else.
President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 is expected early next week, as is the official version of a leaked report on proposed infrastructure improvements that may present opportunities to improve public lands facilities and wetlands. Stay up to date on TRCP’s response here.
Our financial health and accountability has earned us another exceptional 4-star rating from the leading charity evaluator in America
Usually we’re in it for the meat, not the trophies, but the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is very proud to announce our fifth consecutive 4-star rating from Charity Navigator—that’s the highest possible rating awarded by the nation’s largest independent charity evaluator.
This five-time recognition of TRCP’s financial health, accountability, and transparency puts the organization in the top 8 percent of American charities rated.
In a letter, Charity Navigator president and CEO Michael Thatcher says this designation indicates that the TRCP “executes its mission in a financially efficient way,” exceeding industry standards and outperforming most charities—not just in our area of work, but in the country overall.
“We’re honored to be recognized as a solutions-oriented organization that sportsmen and women can trust to represent their needs in Washington, D.C., where ongoing policy debates will decide the future of hunting and fishing,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Establishing this track record of financial accountability and transparency has been of utmost importance to us, and we hope it underscores the integrity with which we approach all of our communications and relationships with members, donors, foundations, and partners.”
Top photo by Steven Earley via Pheasants Forever
The elimination of Master Leasing Plans alters the up-front planning process meant to help balance the needs of wildlife with energy development
This week, the Bureau of Land Management made changes to its energy leasing process, altering up-front planning for development and limiting public input for land management decisions affecting fish, wildlife, and sportsmen’s access.
The agency specifically chose to eliminate the Master Leasing Plan policy, a tool designed to proactively balance energy development with other uses of public lands.
“Hunters and anglers have been working for more than a decade to help strike a more appropriate balance between wildlife habitat and energy production on our public lands,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Unfortunately, yesterday’s decision by the BLM alters the up-front planning and engagement process and reduces the American public’s ability to have a say in how their public lands are managed. This could easily lead to increased and unnecessary conflict between energy development and fish and wildlife habitat.”
The Master Lease Planning concept was a look-before-you-lease approach to identifying and resolving areas of conflict early in the process of development. Ideally, once leasing and development did occur, the BLM and stakeholders would have already taken care to avoid impacts to fish and wildlife habitat. This process played out successfully on public lands in Moab, Utah, and Northwest Colorado in recent years.
The memorandum released this week makes public participation optional at best in the review of public land parcels identified for potential leasing. It also shortens the protest period for contestable leases from 30 days to 10 days.
“Rolling back the MLP policy is a step backward for an administration that says it wants to deregulate and bring decision-making on public lands closer to home, because diligent and transparent up-front planning prevents the need for red tape and costly mitigation later,” says Fosburgh. “We encourage the BLM to gather public feedback early in the process, use the best available science, and listen to constituents from every economic sector reliant on public lands—including the hunters, anglers, guides, outfitters, and retailers who drive the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.”
Top photo by BLM Wyoming via flickr
Opening more public land to hunting and fishing is something we can all agree on—and to leave a truly sportsmen-friendly legacy, Interior must match access achievements with a vision for habitat and conservation funding
As we round the corner into year two of the Trump administration, there is plenty to debate about the Interior department’s track record on conservation and how the agency plans to safeguard some of our best places to hunt and fish. It can be said with a straight face that we haven’t yet seen a conservation vision from the department, and what we have seen is predicated on addressing roadblocks to energy development.
I think what we can agree on is that DOI is moving things in a positive direction on public access to our nation’s public lands.
The Interior department’s focus on expanding access has been building since March of 2017, when Secretary Ryan Zinke signed the first of two hunting-and-fishing-focused Secretarial Orders. The first order, SO 3347, directed the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service to develop reports that (among other things) would identify ways to expand recreational access to public lands. Those reports can be accessed here and here, and they include some good ideas that would be positive for hunters and anglers.
Then, in August, DOI went forward with acquiring 4,176 acres of private land adjacent to the 16,000-acre Sabinoso Wilderness Area in New Mexico, which until that time was completely landlocked by private ranches. Because of this acquisition, the Sabinoso area is now open and accessible to all Americans. In November, the department finalized a process to open an additional 132,000 acres across 10 national wildlife refuges to recreational hunting and fishing.
Perhaps most significantly, Secretary Zinke issued his second secretarial order on hunting and fishing in September—SO 3356. Among other things, it directed the BLM, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce plans to expand access for hunting and fishing AND identify lands where access is currently limited. This might include areas that may be impractical or effectively impossible to access under current conditions via public roads or trails, but where there may be an opportunity to gain access through an easement, right-of-way, or land acquisition. The agencies will need to provide a report detailing such lands to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior.
Sportsmen know firsthand that just because public lands are public, it doesn’t guarantee that they’re accessible. Plus, many roads and trails have fallen into disrepair, barring further access. We believe that the action plans being developed by the agencies could help make major progress toward securing access to inaccessible lands.
We applaud what these orders stand for and would like to see them implemented thoughtfully and collaboratively with the locals who understand their public lands challenges best. However, if the administration is truly interested in seeing their access vision reach fruition, they must step forward and make sure that there is federal money to support these projects. This includes reauthorizing and funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund by the end of the 2018 fiscal year.
The LWCF is a federal program that uses royalties from offshore oil and gas development to finance land acquisitions and easements aimed at providing public access and conserving valuable habitats. Without this program, most acquisition projects aimed at expanding public access would not be possible. The 54-year-old program’s authorization will expire at the end of September, throwing into question DOI’s ability to secure access to landlocked parcels of public land.
There has been a lot of talk between Congress and the Administration about striking a budget deal for the remainder of 2018, and the president is expected to release his proposed 2019 budget by February 12. These budget processes represent a golden opportunity for the administration to not only support strong funding for LWCF, but also demonstrate a commitment to road and trail maintenance projects that benefit public land users.
Beyond expanding our access, American sportsmen and women are depending on the administration to create a parallel vision for habitat conservation on public lands. After all, access doesn’t matter if we don’t also have strong conservation policies to ensure that we’ll find healthy fish and game populations once we’re out there.
The TRCP remains committed to persuading the Interior department to do just that. If you want to add your voice, visit Sportsmen’s Country.
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