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In the final months of the 115th Congress, the Speaker of the House may have his legacy on his mind—here’s how he can do right by hunters, anglers, and wildlife
A session of Congress progresses about the same way as a day in a deer stand—both get started with enthusiasm about the opportunities to achieve meaningful things, and flashes of brief activity keep you focused on why you are here and what you are doing.
Both seem to end the same way, too: With a hopeful and expectant feeling that the last minutes might be productive, that all your effort will be worthwhile. And even if the tag is not filled, or the bill is not passed into law, we hope we’ve learned a few things that might help us next time.
The 115th Congress will see its sunset in the final days of 2018, and this is a particularly unique closing gavel for a Congress, for it will be the end of Representative Paul Ryan’s speakership and congressional career after serving Wisconsin’s 1st district since 1999.
It might be a long time before another bona fide hunter is in the Speaker’s office. As Ryan prepares to step away, there are four bills he should send to the president’s desk to leave an enduring legacy as the Sportsmen’s Speaker.
Versions of this critical legislation have been passed by both the House and the Senate, and while both chambers of Congress are working in conference to reconcile differences, the current law expires at the end of September. Both versions of the Farm Bill include provisions that are important to sportsmen, from funding critical conservation projects on working farms and forests to ensuring a bright future for the Conservation Reserve Program and reauthorizing the Voluntary Public Access program—the only private lands access incentive program in the entire federal government.
This close to the finish line, it would be a shame—not to mention a setback for high-priority wildlife habitat work nationwide—if the next Congress is forced to start all over again.
Passed out of both the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, the Modern Fish Act is the legislative application of the recreational fishing industry’s vision for improving marine fisheries management. In fact, it reads like a priorities list for TRCP and our marine fishing partners, like the American Sportfishing Association and Coastal Conservation Association.
The bill would improve data collection and take better advantage of some of the groundbreaking work being done to analyze recreational fishing activity through smartphone apps—all in service of creating longer, more predictable fishing seasons.
Perhaps most compellingly, the Modern Fish Act would give federal fisheries managers the flexibility to try new approaches to managing recreational fishing, where the hard poundage quotas that work for commercial fisheries just don’t get the job done.
Passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the very beginning of this Congress back in 2017, the Help for Wildlife Act is one of the most comprehensive wildlife bills to be assembled by federal lawmakers in recent memory. The legislation would inject new life and fresh funding into such critical programs as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act.
In short, if passed, this bill would put many of our most effective conservation initiatives on firmer footing moving forward.
It may be tough to get excited about a Senate vote count, but this legislation passed by unanimous consent—this is the very definition of bipartisanship and a rare thing in Washington in 2018.
The WILD Act has a host of provisions, but among the most important for sportsmen is the bill’s inclusion of a reauthorization for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, one of our most effective private lands conservation programs. It emphasizes on-the-ground work to benefit some of the most imperiled species, including sage grouse and lesser prairie chickens. The WILD Act would reauthorize the Partners program, which has been lapsed since 2011, through 2022.
The WILD Act also includes language prioritizing coordination between a variety of stakeholders on addressing invasive species outbreaks and encouraging expedited action before AND after invasive species are discovered. This language could help state and federal agencies get a handle on pythons in the Everglades and Asian carp in watersheds across the country.
All of the aforementioned bills have bipartisan support, and signing them into law would meet some serious needs of the fish and wildlife conservation community. We hope that in our final months working with a Speaker of the House who deeply understands the importance of quality days afield, this success could be within reach.
If Speaker Ryan can see the wisdom in working to get these bills over the finish line, he will earn the well-deserved applause of America’s hunters and anglers before he gets to spend more time outside himself. And we stand ready to help make sure the last days of the 115th Congress are productive ones.
Thankfully, when it comes to funding for maintenance and improvement of fish and wildlife habitat or sportsmen’s access, all our eggs aren’t in one basket—here are the major conservation funding sources that every hunter and angler should know
Sportsmen and women know that the money we spend hunting and fishing not only drives an $887-billion outdoor recreation economy, but it also pays for wildlife conservation and fisheries management across the country. License sales by state agencies and duck stamps from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service offer the most obvious examples, but the full picture includes a diversity of sources. Thankfully, not all our eggs are in one basket, and though we contribute heavily to the American conservation funding model, we are not alone.
At the federal level, conservation funding can be a complicated landscape of laws and acronyms. But it is critical that sportsmen and women understand where this money comes from—and it’s not always out of our own pockets—and the incredible value of investing in our fish and wildlife resources now, in case there’s ever a need to defend these revenue streams against shortsighted cutbacks in the future.
Get on a first-name basis with these major conservation funding programs.
The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, more popularly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, allows the federal government to assist states in wildlife management and restoration efforts. Passed on September 2, 1937, Pittman-Robertson applies an 11 percent excise tax to sporting arms and ammunition, the funds from which are distributed to states to cover up to three-quarters of the cost of specifically approved projects. Since its initial passage, the law has been amended to tax pistols and revolvers, bows, crossbows, arrows, and archery parts and accessories. Habitat improvement, population surveys, species introductions, wildlife research, hunter education, and the building and maintenance of public shooting ranges are among the types of projects funded by Pittman-Robertson (“P-R”) dollars.
In 1950, lawmakers passed the Dingell-Johnson Act, or the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act. Modeled after Pittman-Robertson, the law provides federal dollars to states from an excise tax on fishing tackle, a motorboat fuels tax, and import duties on fishing tackle and recreational watercraft. These funds are used to support projects relating to the management of fish populations with a “material value in connection with sport or recreation in the marine and/or fresh waters of the United States,” including boating access facilities, wetlands restoration, boat safety, public education, and clean vessel sanitation efforts.
Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson have been tremendously successful, generating more than $20 billion dollars for conservation since the first annual P-R apportionment in 1939. In addition, both laws mandate that any state seeking funds under these programs must refrain from diverting fishing and hunting license sales for any purpose other than funding their fish and game departments. In this way, they reinforce the broader fiscal structures of our conservation model.
Although its name may bring to mind crop insurance and nutrition programs, the Farm Bill is the single-largest source of conservation funding in the United States. Given the fact that 70 percent of land in the lower forty-eight states is under private ownership and 45 percent of that is agricultural, American farmers and ranchers are critical to ensuring that our woods, waters, and fields continue to support healthy populations of fish and wildlife.
By supporting the nation’s agricultural producers, farm bill funding improves water quality and habitat, while also incentivizing public access and wetlands protections. Among the many important Farm Bill conservation programs are those encouraging the planting of cover crops and compensating farmers for removing environmentally sensitive lands from production. In addition to the sheer scale of the Farm Bill’s impact on the landscape, it is a fiscally significant source of funding at $6 billion in conservation spending each year. From 2012 to 2018, more than 900,000 acres of private land in thirty different states were opened for public hunting and fishing thanks to $40 million in Farm Bill allocations.
In 1964, Congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund to establish new and improve existing outdoor recreational opportunities on public lands. LWCF dollars come from a small fraction of the oil and gas royalties collected by the federal government, and are divided into one of two pools: grants to state and local governments for projects like boat-launches, playgrounds, and trail networks, and appropriations to federal land management agencies for acquiring lands, waters, and access for the sporting public. Parks, forests, shorelines, farms, ranches, and refuges all across the country have been conserved with LWCF dollars.
Over the years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has invested more than $16 billion in conservation. Because nearly every county in the United States has benefitted from an LWCF project and the program costs nothing to taxpayers, it enjoys bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and among the American public. And given that it spends dollars raised through resource extraction on outdoor recreation opportunities, it stands as the perfect example of a balanced conservation program.
These funding sources have made an incredibly positive impact on our nation’s fish and wildlife while also improving the opportunities available to hunters and anglers. But sportsmen and women must understand how necessary these funding sources are to the future of hunting and fishing. Our continued contributions to fish, wildlife, and access are too important to be left to chance or the political winds in Washington, D.C.
Top photo courtesy: leighklotz
Land-use guidelines for 2 million acres of public lands in New Mexico include some conservation, some room for improvement
The American public now has access to a proposed long-term plan for energy development and recreational use of more than two million acres of BLM lands in southeast New Mexico. When finalized, the new Resource Management Plan (RMP) will guide management decisions for the next twenty years or more on lands within the Carlsbad Field Office.
This is the first draft BLM land-use plan to be released under the Trump administration, and perhaps offers a glimpse of what’s to come in a number of forthcoming forest plans and RMPs. With zero plans finalized in 2017 and many in drastic need of an update to incorporate changing conditions, new challenges, and more recent science, sportsmen and women would do well to give the Carlsbad plan careful consideration. The degree to which their voices are heard on this particular draft could set a precedent for future plans across the West.
“The draft RMP takes into consideration a number of changes that have affected Carlsbad BLM lands since the old land-use plan was created 30 years ago,” says John Cornell, New Mexico field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As sportsmen, we recognize the need to update the RMP to address management concerns, especially those regarding wildlife habitat.”
As part of the planning area, the Delaware Basin will soon be part of the third largest oil- and gas-producing region in the world, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia. Because of the growing importance of this area to the current administration’s energy development plans, public land resources have been strained, and the draft RMP addresses the resulting increase in user conflicts in a way that largely benefits game species.
The RMP currently guiding decision-making was written in 1988.
“While this draft is an improvement on the decades-old plan, we would still like to see an increased emphasis on restoration and reclamation of old well sites, where caliche pads, roads, and utility corridors void of vegetation are desperately in need of re-seeding with weed-free, native grasses,” explained Cornell. “We will continue to work cooperatively with our sportsmen partners, local livestock producers, and BLM officials to ensure that energy development is balanced with the needs of fish, wildlife, and our outdoor traditions.”
The BLM will soon announce a series of public meetings to be held in several communities within and outside the planning area, where the public will have the opportunity to learn more about the draft and submit written comments.
Top photo courtesy of BLM New Mexico
Rep. Wittman introduces first House legislation since 2009 to authorize the popular National Fish Habitat Conservation Program
Yesterday, Congressman Rob Wittman introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to advance the conservation of our nation’s fish habitat and improve fish populations and angler opportunity. The National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act (H.R. 6660) represents a long overdue next step for fisheries resources and builds upon years of work by the sportmen’s community.
“We’re grateful for Rep. Wittman’s leadership in working to advance this vital bill to authorize the National Fish Habitat Partnership, which was created during the Bush administration to foster partnerships that improve conditions for fish species and enhance recreational fishing opportunities,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The most successful conservation work of our day is done collaboratively, with local input, and with the most efficient use of federal funds. The Fish Habitat Partnership model checks all of these boxes to the benefit of anglers across the country.”
The National Fish Habitat Action Plan was first established in 2005 by state fish and wildlife agencies and their federal, conservation, and private sector partners, and since that time, 20 Fish Habitat Partnerships have been formed to guide federal grant funding matched by state, local, and private dollars and to incentivize locally driven, community-based fish habitat conservation.
Wittman’s bill is also an example of good governing: It guarantees that a maximum amount of program-designated federal dollars will be directed toward collaborative on-the-ground projects to improve sportsmen’s fishing access, restore water conditions, and ensure abundant fish populations. To date, more than 600 successful conservation projects have been carried out through Fish Habitat Partnerships across the country.
The TRCP strongly supports H.R. 6660, and encourages expeditious review and approval of this important legislation by the House Natural Resources Committee. The TRCP also supports the Senate companion bill, S. 1436, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s recent inclusion of this priority within the HELP for Wildlife Act (S. 1514.)
Top photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program 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