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Back in January, we came up with six New Year’s resolutions we wished Congress and DOI would make, and some progress has been made on more than half
As we enter the fifth month of the year, it’s a pretty good bet that most Americans have long since abandoned their New Year’s resolutions. In fact, according to U.S. News and World Report, 80 percent of resolutions fail by the second week of February.
But we’re still looking to Congress and the Department of the Interior to work through some serious conservation goals we’ve been eyeing since January. Here are the six New Year’s resolutions we hoped to see them make to improve hunting, fishing, and habitat, and updates on where these issues stand today.
A looming budget deadline offered a great opportunity to finally fix the way we pay for catastrophic wildfires—and reform forest management to help prevent fires in the first place. We thought lawmakers should pass a comprehensive fire funding fix in the budget deal to stop taking funds from forest restoration programs like prescribed burning and removal of invasive species and diseased trees.
Status: Done! Congress came through for sportsmen and all who rely on access to Forest Service lands in passing a comprehensive fix for fire borrowing in the fiscal year 2018 spending bill in March. We were thrilled and relieved to see bipartisan support for many other provisions that will benefit fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy, but the fire funding fix is a truly defining achievement, which will ensure that the Forest Service can get back to the business of maintaining healthy habitat and excellent facilities.
Looking ahead to the new Farm Bill, we hoped it would be one that would strengthen and maintain funding for USDA conservation programs. The work done with these funds keeps tons of pollutants out of rivers and expands water conservation on farms, which improves river flows to support healthy fisheries, strong outdoor recreation businesses, and flourishing rural communities.
Status: Possible. In the coming weeks, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018—otherwise known as the Farm Bill. This particular version of the bill is pretty contentious and not likely to be signed into law, but it proposes doubling the scope of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to $3 billion. Of the many features of EQIP, one of the most popular is the incentive for landowners and farmers to incorporate cover crops into their planting rotation, and this practice has some benefit for improving soil health and slowing the progress of polluted farm runoff.
With legislation as massive and far-reaching as the Farm Bill, we knew there would also be a unique opportunity to boost hunting and fishing access in areas where there are few, if any, public lands. If Congress could reauthorize and expand the popular Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program—the U.S. Department of Agriculture program that incentivizes landowners to open their property for public hunting and fishing access—the improved opportunities for hunters and anglers would create a draw in some rural communities that desperately need an economic boost.
Status: Signs look pretty good. There was bipartisan support for a standalone bill introduced in the House in February to reauthorize and enhance VPA-HIP. And though the House version of the Farm Bill did not include quite as much new funding for the program as we wanted, lawmakers have proposed a decent bump.
We were insistent that Congress should not make it easier for the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers eliminate a rule that more clearly defined the protections of the Clean Water Act. Americans overwhelmingly support protecting headwater streams and wetlands, which are critical to fish and waterfowl populations. Trimming down on regulation doesn’t have to mean leaving these foundational waters and rapidly disappearing wetlands vulnerable to pollution or destruction.
Status: Still trending in the wrong direction. The two-step repeal process has been ongoing since last year, despite broad public support for the 2015 Clean Water Rule’s benefits to fish and wildlife habitat. But Congress did not use legislative riders to waive any procedures or give the greenlight to move forward more quickly, which is a quiet win.
Image courtesy of Amanda Nalley/Florida Fish and Wildlife.
For five years, the leading advocates of recreational fishing and conservation worked with policy makers to improve federal recreational fishing management by modernizing data collection and allowing more involvement from state agencies and anglers. These essential changes were included in legislation that passed the House Natural Resources Committee in December 2017 and headed to the House floor. As of the first of the year, the Senate had an opportunity to improve upon this legislation and ensure that the vital contributions—cultural, economic, and conservation efforts—of the recreational saltwater fishing industry are finally recognized in federal law and policy.
Status: Closer than ever before. At the end of February, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation overwhelmingly approved the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, otherwise known as the Modern Fish Act. This legislation calls for critically important updates to the oversight of federal fisheries, by adding more tools to the management toolbox, improving data collection techniques, and examining some fishery allocations that are based on decades-old decisions. If passed into law, the Modern Fish Act would bring to fruition five years’ worth of input from the recreational fishing community and increase the level of trust between America’s 11 million saltwater anglers and federal fisheries managers.
Some of the best news of 2017 came out of the Department of the Interior, when Secretary Zinke asked agency leaders to identify and prioritize opening new hunting and fishing access to previously landlocked public lands and national wildlife refuges. While this is to be celebrated, we were anxious to see the DOI define a “conservation vision” for valuable habitats and hunting and fishing areas in 2018, to work in tandem with the vision that they have already established for expanding sportsmen’s access. This would include clear measures to recognize and conserve wildlife migration corridors, avoid or minimize impacts to habitat from development, plan locally to safeguard our best hunting and fishing areas, and allow conservation plans for greater sage grouse work as intended.
Status: TBD. In February, Zinke issued a Secretarial Order directing agencies to work toward better conservation of critical big game habitat, including migration corridors, stopover habitat, and seasonal ranges. And we’re hearing every assurance that the DOI will begin to make a broader pivot toward conservation now that they are satisfied with the direction we’re going on energy development. But the BLM is launching an amendment process for greater sage-grouse conservation plans that were settled in 2015—changes could affect 98 land-use plans for about 67 million acres across the West.
We originally posted “Six New Year’s Resolutions We Wish Congress and DOI Would Make” on January 5, 2018.
Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Tom Cole, and Bruce Culpepper from Shell Oil Company to be recognized for advancing policy and habitat outcomes for fish and wildlife
At the tenth annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner tonight, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership will celebrate three honorees from Capitol Hill and the private sector for their leadership on fish and wildlife habitat conservation: Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), and Bruce Culpepper, U.S. country chair and president of Shell Oil Company.
The gala event at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., will bring together legislators, outdoor industry innovators, and conservation group leaders at a critical time for hunting and fishing resources. Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a 2016 Capital Conservation Awards honoree, will share the stage for opening remarks on a key component of conservation policymaking—bipartisanship.
Culpepper will receive TRCP’s 2018 Conservation Achievement Award for making Shell a leader on habitat restoration and advocacy for real solutions to climate change, particularly on the Gulf Coast. Informed by Culpepper’s lifelong passion for hunting and fishing, Shell has partnered with the Coastal Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other key allies to conserve more than 13 million acres of wetlands, remove 600,000 pounds of debris from America’s shorelines, and restore more than 1.8 million acres of critical habitat.
“Inspired by his love of the outdoors, Bruce Culpepper has used his influencer status in one of the country’s most lucrative and powerful industries to not only model a smart approach to energy development but also support conservation efforts that give back to the lands and waters that provide us with so much,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “Tonight, we honor him for the meaningful partnerships he has helped to create, which will have a lasting impact on fish, wildlife, sportsmen, and the vitality of Gulf Coast communities for years to come.”
Sen. Cardin and Rep. Cole will each be presented with the 2018 James D. Range Conservation Award—named for TRCP’s co-founder, a conservation visionary, and presented to one Democrat and one Republican each year.
Cardin is being honored for his staunch opposition to rolling back Clean Water Act protections for America’s wetlands and headwater streams and his longtime leadership on many legislative efforts to improve habitat conditions for fish and wildlife. He was the lead Democratic sponsor on the 2017 HELP for Wildlife Act, the lead sponsor on reauthorization of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Chesapeake Bay Program at the EPA, and has introduced bills to improve water infrastructure in the next Water Resources Development Act.
Cardin has also been a longtime champion of the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and Land and Water Conservation Fund. He will accept his award from Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.)
Cole will be recognized for serving as an outspoken champion of bipartisan budget agreements and a vocal opponent of the brinksmanship that can lead to controversial riders and insufficient conservation funding.
Cole has been a voice of reason on the appropriations subcommittee overseeing Department of Interior spending, and he has co-sponsored legislation to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, secure alternative revenue sources for state-led wildlife conservation efforts, and modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act, which provides for federal funding for habitat restoration efforts through excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and hunting gear. He will accept his award from Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.)
Using the industry-leading mapping software, TRCP and onX team up to make the case for a broader approach to public lands access acquisition
For Western hunters who depend on public lands, software from onX combined with a smartphone or a handheld GPS unit has changed the game. Showing a user’s real-time location in relation to tangled property boundaries, this technology allows sportsmen and women to hunt unmarked and isolated tracts of public land along rivers and roads without the risk of trespassing on private land.
Recognizing how transformative their mapping software has been, we’ve partnered with onX to illustrate a major challenge for public land hunters across the West, and how this technology might be used to change the game for public land policy as well. Here’s how.
Still Locked Out of Our Public Lands
In many Western states, millions of acres of public lands remain “landlocked”—meaning they are rendered completely inaccessible by surrounding private lands. Historically, establishing legal access to these often small and remote parcels through easements, right-of-ways, or land acquisitions would not have been particularly useful, given the difficulties involved in identifying them and discerning their boundaries.
The modern GPS-equipped sportsman, however, can confidently make good use of small tracts of public land that might sit only a few hundred yards from a public road, if provided with a means of legal access across private tracts.
Officials in Washington, D.C., currently have at their disposal a powerful tool to do just that. Enacted in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the primary source of federal revenue for acquiring new public lands and a critical program for expanding hunting and fishing access to Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land and water resources. It is incredibly popular among hunters and anglers, and it enjoys bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
While in the past, LWCF acquisition funds have generally been used to consolidate blocks of checker-boarded public lands, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have utilized LWCF funds in recent years to work also toward establishing legal recreational access to currently landlocked parcels of public land. The current state of technology means that we now have more sophisticated means for doing so with tremendous opportunities for the average sportsman.
What’s more, the current administration has committed to improving sportsmen’s access. In September 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce plans for expanding hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands. The agencies were also specifically charged with identifying lands where access is currently limited or impossible via public roads or trails.
This is great news for public land hunters and anglers. But DOI’s focus on access is at odds with the precarious position of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Despite its many existing and potential benefits, the program will expire on September 30, unless reauthorized by Congress. We believe that the new opportunities to expand technologically assisted access to our public lands should inspire Congress and the administration to move LWCF reauthorization across the finish line as soon as possible.
The TRCP and onX are convinced that securing public access to inaccessible public lands should be a priority among policymakers. That’s why we have partnered up to educate legislators and agency personnel on exactly how mobile technologies are changing the way people access our public lands.
As part of this effort, onX founder and CEO Eric Siegfried traveled to Washington, D.C., where he joined TRCP staff in meetings with officials at the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Management and Budget.
Together, we impressed upon the agencies and decision makers how modern GPS technologies that enable the public to pinpoint the exact location of property boundaries have created new opportunities for both sportsmen as well as policymakers looking to expand public access. Using onX software to show how public land is locked up back home, we also explained the importance of LWCF to the ability of the federal government to continue opening inaccessible lands to the public.
We now require your help to convince the administration and your congressional delegation of the need to reauthorize LWCF as soon as possible. Without this critical program, most public land access and acquisition projects would not occur—and time is running out.
Recommended reading for the serious sportsman-conservationist
A good book provides escape and inspires us when we can’t get outdoors. Here’s a peek at just a few of the conservation classics on our shelves.
Steve Kline, TRCP’s director of government relations, enjoys reading thousand-page historical biographies when he’s not in a duck blind, but his recommendation is not going to make you go bleary-eyed. This children’s book is about a crab who escapes the National Aquarium to clean up the Chesapeake Bay with friendly fowl and flounder, you do it.
The Farm Bill may be keeping Alex Maggos busy now, but he spent two seasons as a wildland firefighter in Utah before coming to TRCP as agriculture and private lands director. This might be why he considers this book to be required reading. Post up in a comfy chair for this story of the Great Fire of 1910, the early infancy of the U.S. Forest Service, and President Roosevelt’s response.
Kids as young as three will love the bright artwork and simple narrative in this book about the importance of healthy habitat to trout and all the things fish need to survive. Read it to your budding angler at bedtime, then wake up early to look for bugs and watch the food chain at work.
This collection of Ruark’s best Field & Stream columns brought me to tears. Although it shows its age in other ways (“It pure riles a woman to see a man having any fun that doesn’t involve work. That’s why fishing was invented, really…”), the coming-of-age story is a classic one. The “Old Man” in the title is the author’s hunting mentor, greatest critic, and best friend—his grandfather, who teaches him what it means to be a sportsman and a gentleman.
Our president and CEO Whit Fosburgh handed me this superlatively titled book about the stinky, oily baitfish known as bunker or menhaden—also known as the unsung hero of the Atlantic. If you’ve ever been striper fishing, you probably own your success to this little fish that put whaling out of business and appear in the ingredients list for makeup, cat food, and vitamin supplements.
This has become a conservation classic since its first publication in 1949. According to the Aldo Leopold Foundation, it has been translated into 14 languages and more than two million copies have been printed. That seems a small number when you consider that the most recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey found 101.6 million Americans enjoy hunting, fishing, or wildlife watching, and A Sand County Almanac should be considered required reading for this crowd. Consider listening to the audiobook, narrated by Stewart L. Udall, who served as Secretary of the Interior for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
By the way, if you want to expand your conservation library and support our work to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish, shop for any of these titles via our unique Amazon Smile link or create an Amazon Smile account and select TRCP to automatically receive 0.5% of your transaction, at no additional cost to you.
Have a recommendation that we missed? Share your good reads in the comments section or on Facebook.
This was originally posted on World Book Day 2018 and has been updated to reflect one of the top suggestions from your comments. Keep ’em coming.
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