Whit Fosburgh-center-hunters in sunflowers photo by Mark Weaver
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As fire season returns, a look ahead at how this year’s budget fix will change the way we pay for suppression efforts in the future
Around this time each year, hunters begin crossing their fingers that an out-of-control burn won’t upend their carefully laid plans for early season elk and mule deer tags, and anglers hold out hope that they’ll enjoy a summer of high-country fishing without too much smoke obscuring the views or entering their lungs. With smoke already covering parts of eleven states, there’s plenty to be worried about, but recent policy changes also give us good reason to celebrate.
The New Reality of Mega-Fires in the West
Perhaps more so than most, those who spend time outside understand that wildfire plays a vital role in many North American ecosystems. Heat and flames stimulate certain plants to seed and certain fungi, such as the morel mushrooms sought after by many sportsmen and women, to release their spores. New growth in a recent burn also provides an excellent source of forage for animals like elk and deer. In a sense, wildfires have historically triggered something of a reset for the affected landscape and produced a variety of differently “aged” forest conditions in a given habitat, which is greatly beneficial for wildlife.
Recent years, however, have seen fires far more intense and destructive than those that have shaped this continent for millennia. The combination of a century of suppression efforts and outbreaks of beetle-kill have resulted in an increased fuel load, while drought, higher temperatures, and longer fire seasons due to a changing climate have heightened many forests’ susceptibility to a blaze. Instead of producing a diversity of old and new growth, the huge fires that we’ve seen of late have burned so hot and on such a large scale that they scorch entire landscapes uniformly, killing off entire stands of trees and in some cases sterilizing the soils underneath.
The sheer, unprecedented size of these fires has also caused problems for the federal agencies tasked with managing our public lands. The annual cost of fighting wildfires now regularly exceeds the amount of funding budgeted, which is currently based on a rolling ten-year historical average. As a result of the escalating costs each year, the U.S. Forest Service now spends 55 percent or more of its budget on fire suppression, up from 15 percent, necessitating that it borrow money for other important aspects of its mission. As a result, forest management work that might help reduce the risk of fire can’t be completed, which in turn reinforces the underlying problem. It’s a vicious cycle.
At Long Last, the Funding Fix We’ve Needed
The good news is that policymakers have finally addressed this issue with a bipartisan legislative solution. Beginning in 2019 (FY 2020), the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior will no longer have to dip into other accounts after running out of appropriated funds during catastrophic fire seasons, thanks to a “fire funding fix” included in the recently passed Omnibus Spending Package.
There are two components to the measure: It freezes the ten-year average base funding of fire suppression and permits the use of natural disaster funding for costs above that ten-year average. This ends the need for ever-increasing appropriations during fire season and halts the steady erosion of funds for non-fire activities at the Forest Service. The language is equivalent to provisions supported by the TRCP and our partners in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (S. 1842 and H.R. 2862).
There is also bipartisan support for provisions that will help the Forest Service expedite active management of forest habitat. Combined with the fire funding fix, the agency will not only have more tools to work on habitat restoration, they’ll have the funding to accomplish it.
So as you hold your breath this summer and wait for the clearer skies of autumn, take comfort in knowing that there’s a solution to the policy side of this problem on the horizon. Addressing the fundamental issue, however, will require further bipartisan cooperation and continued commitment by hunters and anglers throughout the country.
Photos courtesy: U.S. Department of Agriculture
House passes major federal fisheries management reauthorization bill with provisions of the Modern Fish Act, which would help recognize the value of recreational fishing and update data collection methods
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 200, a bipartisan bill that includes the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act). This historic vote marks the first time the priorities of the recreational fishing sector are included in the reauthorization of our nation’s primary marine fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
The provisions of the Modern Fish Act (H.R. 2023) were included in H.R. 200 by the House Committee on Natural Resources on December 13, 2017. H.R. 200 is sponsored by Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) and cosponsored by Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.); Brian Babin (R-Texas); Clay Higgins (R-La.); Gene Green (D-Texas); Robert Wittman (R-Va.); Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.); Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.); Steve King (R-Iowa); Marc Veasey (D-Texas); Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), and Austin Scott (R-Ga.).
“Marine recreational fishing is not a partisan issue, which was illustrated by the support H.R. 200 received from both parties today in the House,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “We owe great thanks to Chairman Rob Bishop, Congressmen Don Young, Garret Graves, Gene Green and Marc Veasey for working together to properly recognize recreational fishing within the Magnuson-Stevens Act. These bipartisan leaders have made the difference for anglers from coast to coast.”
In 2014, the priorities of the recreational fishing and boating community were identified and presented to federal policy makers by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management in a report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.” This group is also referred to as the Morris-Deal Commission, named for co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group.
Many of the recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission are addressed by the Modern Fish Act and included in H.R. 200. This legislation addresses many of the challenges faced by recreational anglers, including allowing alternative management tools for recreational fishing, reexamining fisheries allocations and improving recreational data collection. The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by incorporating modern management approaches, science and technology to guide decision-making.
“The recreational fishing industry is grateful that H.R. 200, which includes the provisions of the Modern Fish Act, has now passed the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “The Modern Fish Act represents the collective priorities of the recreational fishing community for improving federal marine fisheries management. There are 11 million saltwater anglers in the U.S. who have a $63 billion economic impact annually and generate 440,000 jobs. This legislation will help ensure that the economic, conservation and social values of saltwater recreational fishing will continue well into the future.”
“We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for passing commonsense legislation modernizing the federal fisheries management system, which will provide America’s recreational anglers and boaters reasonable and responsible access to public marine resources,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “The recreational boating industry calls on the U.S. Senate to pick up the baton, and immediately take up and pass S.1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act). Millions of Americans are counting on it.”
“We are grateful to our champions from both sides of the aisle in the House for recognizing the needs of recreational anglers and advancing this important fisheries management reform,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “This is truly a watershed moment for anglers in our never-ending quest to ensure the health and conservation of our marine resources and anglers’ access to them.”
“We thank the House Leadership, Congressman Young and the leaders of the House Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus for their leadership in finding bipartisan solutions to move the bill forward,” said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “The provisions of the Modern Fish Act contained in H.R. 200 are a top priority for saltwater anglers across the United States and charts a clear course for effective recreational fisheries management while ensuring abundant, sustainable fisheries for future generations.”
“We are on our way to pragmatic Magnuson-Stevens Act reform that will allow better access to rebuilt fish stocks while ensuring long-term sustainability,” said Jim Donofrio, president of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
“Passing these provisions of the Modern Fish Act means taking the next important step in recognizing the cultural value of recreational fishing and conservation contributions of American anglers,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We will continue to work with our sportfishing partners to engage with senators and see to it that the Modern Fish Act becomes law—it is critical if we hope to see saltwater anglers benefit from the advances in fisheries science, data collection, and management at the heart of this important legislation.”
Following today’s vote, the coalition encourages the Senate to quickly pass S. 1520. Marine recreational anglers and boaters are eager to see these landmark reforms signed into law.
Looking out on an impressive public lands vista may make you feel like a king, but the argument that America’s public lands are akin to England’s “royal forests” is completely ridiculous
On June 29, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) addressed a conservative public policy think tank with an impassioned speech about the tyranny of the federal government and three pieces of legislation aimed at selling off and developing America’s public lands.
In this monologue, Lee equated modern-day public lands in America to feudal England’s “royal forests,” which provided game and amusement for the landed gentry while the peasants starved. In Lee’s mind, eastern elites are today’s landed gentry and the peasants are those living in states with abundant public land.
Perhaps Senator Lee should study the evolution of and philosophy behind America’s public lands system, which was created to be the exact opposite of England’s.
Theodore Roosevelt felt that all Americans should have the chance to prove themselves in the wild—as he had done after the death of his wife and his mother—and enjoy the resources that the forests, rivers, mountains, and prairies could provide. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation comes from Roosevelt’s vision and continues to govern wildlife management by several key tenets, with the most fundamental being that our fish and wildlife belong to all Americans—not governments, private landowners, or corporations—and they must be managed in a way that sustains fish and wildlife populations in perpetuity.
Each citizen has an opportunity, under the law, to hunt and fish in the United States, and we have more than 600 million acres of public lands, open to everyone, to do just that. Yet, Senator Lee laments that public lands have somehow become the play areas for a select few.
The facts offer a different story.
In Utah last year, more than 200,000 residents bought hunting licenses and the overwhelming majority of those people hunted on public lands in the state. Only about 30,000 non-resident hunting licenses were sold.
It hardly seems that Utahans are being kept from enjoying the public lands in Utah.
To the contrary, multiple studies across the West (here’s one) have shown that communities located close to public lands are more prosperous than those without public land access. Almost 75 percent of hunting in the West takes place on public lands. And, obviously, public lands are available to Americans for more than just hunting and fishing.
This is why our public lands support and are managed for multiple uses—from hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation opportunities to logging, energy development, and grazing. Some areas are managed as wilderness or monuments, while others are best suited for development.
This is what was intended by Roosevelt, Pinchot, and other conservation luminaries, and it is a system that has worked well. Yes, we can have debates about the management of certain parcels, but that debate is a luxury, one that does not occur in England or in U.S. states without extensive public lands.
The three bills that Sen. Lee outlined are all designed to transfer, sell off, and/or industrialize the nation’s public lands, and as usual, the argument is cloaked in the rhetoric of “states’ rights” and “economic opportunity.”
Will some people get rich if Utah’s public lands are developed? Absolutely. But at what cost?
Yes, we can have debates about the management of certain parcels of public land, but that debate is a luxury, one that does not occur in England or in U.S. states without extensive public lands.
If Lee were to succeed, the public lands that all Americans enjoy today for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, off-road vehicle riding, and myriad other uses will certainly be off-limits. Those who were once able to challenge themselves, find restorative solitude, or make lifelong memories with family and friends in what Lee calls “land that is just sitting there, unused” will be greeted by industrial development or locked gates.
Senator Lee is correct that there are times when public lands in or near urban areas are best used for other purposes, such as affordable housing or schools. But federal law expressly permits those types of properties to be sold off with the proceeds benefiting conservation and access elsewhere. In fact, this is fresh in the minds of lawmakers, who reauthorized the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act in the omnibus spending bill in March 2018.
America’s hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts remember well when former Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced HR 621, which would have disposed of 3.3 million acres of public lands to help balance the budget, in 2017. Our community’s outcry against this provision was so strong that Rep. Chaffetz took to Instagram dressed in camo to announce that he was withdrawing his bill—and then he withdrew from Congress.
Perhaps Senator Lee needs to be reminded how much all Americans care about their public lands. He should certainly experience them firsthand and discover for himself what Theodore Roosevelt found out more than a century ago—that the privilege of access for all to wide open spaces is actually fundamental to what it is to be an American.
We are not “greedy kings” for wanting to keep our public lands public.
Send that message to your lawmakers now: Sign the petition at sportsmensaccess.org.
Then send the link to a friend who relies on public land for his or her hunting or fishing access. We have been here before and, united for public lands, we won.
Top photo by Bob Wick via flickr.
Sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelming want the federal government to provide Clean Water Act protections for headwaters and wetlands, even as the EPA and Congress work to repeal a rule that does so
Today we revealed the full results of a national bipartisan poll, which shows that sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelming support Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands.
The majority of hunters and anglers polled (92 percent) would strengthen or maintain the federal government’s current safeguards for clean water that supports healthy fish and wildlife habitat—even as federal agencies and Congress seek to roll back these standards. Hunters and anglers showed nearly unanimous support for the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which the Trump administration’s EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have worked to repeal and replace.
Only 6 percent of sportsmen and women polled supported relaxing clean water standards. (The remaining 2 percent were unsure.) And four out of five sportsmen polled said that Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands—a point of clarification in the 2015 Clean Water Rule that many hoped would reverse a troubling trend of wetlands loss.
“The responses to our poll left little room for doubt that America’s sportsmen and women want to see an end to the unnecessary regulatory confusion over what streams and wetlands deserve Clean Water Act protections,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As we’ve been saying since the EPA and Army Corps began the process of repealing the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, any replacement rule should provide certainty for landowners and the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy that depends on access to clean water and abundant fish and wildlife.”
The poll also revealed that, while hunters and anglers already contribute heavily to conservation in America through license purchases and excise taxes on gear and ammunition, the majority (81 percent) of respondents were willing to tax themselves to improve rivers, streams, and wetlands—even tax-averse Republicans. Nearly a third of those surveyed were willing to pay $100 or more in new taxes to restore and/or maintain water quality or quantity.
Other key survey results:
The TRCP’s national survey was conducted by respected polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. They spoke to 1,000 voters who participate in hunting and fishing nationally online and over the phone this spring. Hunting and fishing are an important part of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy that directly supports 7.6 million American jobs.
Explore hunter and angler attitudes toward other conservation issues on TRCP’s poll page.
Top photo by Jeff Weese via flickr
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