The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was created to bring together nonprofit partners, individual hunters and anglers, and outdoor recreation businesses to rally behind common conservation policy goals. Here’s why we do what we do—and how you can help.
Seven Bills That Sportsmen and Women Need Congress to Pass During the Lame Duck Session
If Congress can pull off a Hail Mary pass for legislation that benefits hunters and anglers in the remaining weeks of 2018, here are the bills we want to see land on the president’s desk
Now that Election Day has come and gone, there may be as little as three weeks of worktime left in the 115th Congress—and that means we have one last window to finalize top legislative priorities for habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and conservation funding. It’s important to note that bills written, introduced, debated, and passed this Congress will head back to square one at the start of a new session on January 4, 2019.
Time is short, but it isn’t over ‘til it’s over.
Fortunately there’s already support from both sides of the aisle on crucial legislation to enhance habitat conservation and sportsmen’s access on public lands. And Congress has the opportunity to put these priorities to bed so that 2019 can be spent making more progress for conservation, not making up for lost time.
These are the seven bipartisan, ready-to-vote pieces of legislation they’ll need to carry across the finish line during the lame duck session to make that happen.
The Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act, or HELP for Wildlife Act, is one of the strongest pieces of legislation for habitat conservation to emerge in decades—and one of the most meaningful things Congress could get done in the waning days of 2018.
Introduced and passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with broad bipartisan support in October 2017, this legislation includes reauthorization for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Chesapeake Bay restoration program through 2022. Additionally, the bill contains the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, which would improve fish habitat and expand recreational fishing access. These provisions have made it this far before, only to be left behind as Congress wraps. It’s time to get them done.
Another key sportsmen’s priority is the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act of 2017, which would help address the decline in hunter participation that has wildlife professionals worried for the future of conservation funding.
The original Pittman-Robertson Act is the foundation of our unique wildlife conservation funding framework, where excise taxes on the purchase of firearms, ammunition, and other hunting gear go toward funding state-level wildlife conservation work. Modernizing Pittman-Robertson would allow a percentage of funds to be used for activities related to the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters and recreational shooters, thereby improving the trust fund’s ability to support our state wildlife agencies.
This is bipartisan legislation that has already passed in the House and should definitely be in the mix if lawmakers want to be part of a long-term solution for boosting conservation coffers.
Modern Fish Act
Benefits for recreational fisheries and forage fish
Last move: Passed out of Senate committee and House this summer
The Modern Fish Act addresses many of the challenges faced by recreational anglers and represents the fishing community’s practical wishlist for updating fisheries management and data collection. The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by allowing science and technology to guide decision-making, all while placing a higher priority on the needs of anglers.
We have been operating within a system designed to manage commercial fishing for too long—our coastal economies deserve to see us build upon the bipartisan support for MFA, not head back to the drawing board in January.
The Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act, or WILD Act, would reauthorize the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, a critical initiative to assist private landowners who want to voluntarily restore habitat on their lands, for the next five years. The program also establishes a series of Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prizes to help prevent poaching, promote wildlife conservation, manage invasive species, and conserve endangered species.
This program has become a household name among outdoor recreation enthusiasts—and for good reason. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a critical tool for conserving habitat and opening access to public lands, but Congress allowed the LWCF to expire on September 30.
Even though the LWCF doesn’t use a single taxpayer dollar—it’s funded from a portion of offshore oil and gas fees—the program has rarely been funded to its full potential and short-term authorization cycles create uncertainty for proposed outdoor recreation projects. While majorities in both chambers currently support permanent reauthorization and full funding, the ultimate length and funding levels are matters of continued negotiation.
Still, bipartisan legislation to save LWCF has broad support in both chambers and could easily pass today. We’d be excited to see this program put to work on the 9.52 million acres of landlocked public land across the West with no permanent legal access. Take action to let your lawmakers know.
Benefits for states with landlocked public lands
Last move: Introduced in both the House and Senate
Sportsmen have been advocating for several bills that would fit well in a comprehensive public lands package by the end of the year. One of them, the Advancing Conservation and Education, or ACE, Act, would improve the quality of public lands and allow Western states to generate more revenue for state land-trust beneficiaries, such as schools.
ACE would facilitate land-swaps to unlock state lands entirely surrounded by federal lands, or vice versa. In both cases, these swaps are designed to improve land management in the West by streamlining jurisdiction over land parcels. (Imagine how hard it would be to manage upkeep and improvements on your land if you had to cross someone else’s property to do it.)
This bill enjoys bipartisan support from Western lawmakers who oversee a complicated mosaic of public, state, and private land. And since ACE is a winner when it comes to improving public lands management, it’s a strong candidate for inclusion in a package alongside permanent authorization and full funding for LWCF.
It’s difficult to overstate the threat that chronic wasting disease poses to the future of deer and elk hunting in America or the conservation funding generated by this powerful segment of the sportsman population. Though additional solutions must be proposed soon, legislation introduced in the House this year would kick start one critical component of a nationwide response to the rapid spread of CWD.
The bill directs the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on how CWD is transmitted between wild, captive, and farmed deer in the United States. The aim would be to identify factors that contribute to the spread of the disease and where the deeper focus of research should be. The bill also calls for a review of the best practices and standards around managing CWD in both captive and wild deer, resulting in a report of findings and recommendations.
A Senate companion bill could be introduced any day, and support for both will be crucial. But if these bills can’t cross the finish line this year, we hope they at least indicate strong interest in continuing to create solutions for curbing the spread of CWD. Our wild deer and elk herds are depending on it.
New Public Land Management Plan Should Reflect Colorado’s Values
When it comes to determining the next 20 years of management on our public lands, local sportsmen and other stakeholders have been engaged from the start—and our voices should carry weight
Our public lands. That phrase means a lot to me, and if you’re reading this, I bet it does to you too. As Americans, we’re uniquely privileged to enjoy the best that the outdoors has to offer, regardless of our income or station.
This is certainly true for the world-class elk, mule deer, wild trout, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep habitat of eastern Colorado, much of which is overseen by the BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office. Some of the other species you can pursue in this area, if you have the luck or ingenuity, include white-tailed ptarmigan, bobwhite and scaled quail, lake trout, waterfowl, moose, mountain goats, black bears, and wild turkeys.
So, when it comes to how these lands are managed, the stakes are high. And, right now, the BLM is rewriting the guidelines for the next two decades, or more, of public land management.
Working Together for our Public Land Heritage
In the very near future, the Royal Gorge Field Office will have a new Resource Management Plan, which guides decision making for things like public-land access, development, and management objectives. Our community of hunting and fishing groups has already invested significant time and resources to see that the final guidelines for this region reflect Colorado’s values.
Government bureaucracy can be daunting, and the policy-making process grueling, but our coalition of 23 local businesses, more than 500 individual hunters and anglers, and seven sporting organizations has been consistently engaged in planning efforts for this area for more than 11 years.
There have been some challenges along the way, but we’ve been proud to work for Colorado’s habitat, access, and outdoor heritage. It’s not hard to see that these efforts are all about upholding the public-lands legacy that we’ve inherited from the likes of Theodore Roosevelt. We are aware of both the immediate consequences and long-term significance of this negotiation, and many of us have been inspired by the work and encouraged by the progress made so far.
In addition to having tradition and individual commitment on our side, there are other reasons to feel optimistic about the possible outcome. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has prioritized expanding and enhancing hunting opportunities (see Secretarial Order 3347), conserving big game migration corridors and winter habitats (see Secretarial Order 3362), and supporting recreational opportunities on public lands (see Secretarial Order 3356).
Importantly, to date, the Colorado BLM has done a great job listening to the local community—particularly sportsmen and women. Preliminary drafts prioritized maintaining and enhancing hunting and fishing opportunities on some of our most-celebrated landscapes, including the South Platte River, the South Park valley, and the Arkansas River canyon.
Seeing It Through
As decision-makers finalize the plan, it’s critical that they uphold the substantive results of the long-term process by managing these lands for the benefit of fish and wildlife, habitat, and sportsmen and women. Our coalition represents just a portion of the community that is counting on the Colorado BLM to move forward with what local stakeholders have asked for and supported in the Royal Gorge Field Office plan.
Over the years, we’ve been encouraged by the collaborative spirit and consideration of local preferences demonstrated throughout this process. Continuing along this path, with everyone on board, will no doubt result in a huge victory for sportsmen and our community.
PA Sportsmen Support Increasing License Fees to Better Fund Conservation
Sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly want state decision-makers to ensure robust funding for conservation programs that improve water quality and fish habitat
The majority of Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers want decision-makers in the state to invest in clean water and fish habitat, even if it means sportsmen and women have to open their own wallets to do so, according to polling data revealed today by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Public Opinion Strategies.
Once they were provided with basic information on how it would help conservation, nearly three-quarters of the hunters and anglers polled (74 percent) said they would agree to increase the state’s fishing license fee, which hasn’t been adjusted in more than a decade, despite the rising costs facing the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Sixty percent of respondents supported the fee increase without any additional information about how the money would be spent.
Even as the primary agency tasked with providing safe access to 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, the PFBC has been forced to scale back conservation efforts and operate with fewer wildlife conservation officers in recent years.
“This study shows that, regardless of political affiliation, sportsmen and women in the Keystone State are spurred to action by clean water issues that affect our hunting and fishing opportunities,” says Derek Eberly, Pennsylvania field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’ve always been willing to pay our fair share for conservation, but it’s time to pay a little more.”
Beyond the price of fishing licenses, 77 percent of poll respondents who hunt and fish were also willing to pay more in taxes to restore and/or maintain water quality and quantity in Pennsylvania, where healthy in-stream flows support strong fish populations. And 92 percent of the sportsmen and women polled said state lawmakers should strengthen or maintain the clean water laws and standards currently in place.
Other key results:
81% of Pennsylvania hunters and anglers across the political spectrum have a more favorable opinion of elected officials with pro-conservation views.
90% of voters who hunt and fish say habitat and water issues are important to them as they decide whether or not to support an elected official, with almost no distinction between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.
37% went even further to say that habitat and water issues are of primary importance as they decide whether or not to support an elected official.
Four in five say they support fully funding the Growing Greener program, which provides grants to restore watersheds, clean up abandoned mines, and plug abandoned oil and gas wells.
How Maintenance Backlogs Could Affect Your Hunting Season
Deferred maintenance projects without suitable funding crop up on more than just national park lands, and it could waste your precious daylight hours afield—here’s everything you need to know about the backlog issue, proposed solutions, and why it’s personal
Picture this: You draw a special deer tag in a unit you’ve never hunted before, and like most people, you’re busy. So, you study maps and satellite imagery to mark roads and trails on your GPS, but family and work obligations prevent you from being able to get out there and scout in-person.
You could be pulling into camp the day before a six-day hunt, with your entire strategy reliant on being able to use access that you’ve never laid eyes on. It’s not ideal, but it happens. And there is a real possibility that you’ll be confronted with washed out roads and deep ruts that make passage difficult or impossible by vehicle, while some non-motorized trails are so overgrown that you can’t even find them to hike on.
No one wants to burn up half their hunt frustrated by road and trail conditions that fall short of their expectations. But this kind of access to public lands has become more difficult for America’s sportsmen and women because of the massive maintenance backlogs at many federal land management agencies—not just the National Park Service. It’s time to recognize the breadth of this challenge and how it plays out during your hunting and fishing season.
Know the Numbers
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 36 percent of American hunters depend on public lands for some or all of their access. In the West, where the BLM oversees 245 million acres of multiple-use public lands, 72 percent of hunters rely on public lands. When the roads and trails on these lands become difficult to navigate, these are the sportsmen and women who waste their precious time afield and get frustrated with land managers.
Currently, the Interior Department has a maintenance backlog totaling roughly $16 billion. While the bulk of that figure—or $11.6 billion—is tied to national parks, America’s sportsmen and women remain concerned about the backlogs at the Bureau of Land Management and the National Wildlife Refuge System, which have a combined backlog of $2.2 billion. Meanwhile, at the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service has a backlog totaling more than $5 billion, an issue further exacerbated by the practice of “fire borrowing” before this fix.
Combined, these agencies manage public lands that provide some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in the country. But nothing is more frustrating than having to ground-truth every route to make sure it’s accessible as presented on a map. Especially in today’s world, when time is precious and most people don’t have extra days to spare.
Loss of access is often cited as the number-one reason hunters quit the sport. With hunting numbers already in decline, creating a ripple that reduces funding for state wildlife conservation, we can ill-afford to let a backlog of repairs put negative pressure on hunter retention and recruitment.
Finding a Solution
The deferred maintenance backlog across federal agencies and Americans’ access to public lands appears to be top-of-mind for the administration. In his infrastructure proposal earlier this year, President Trump offered a new funding stream to address the maintenance backlog on lands managed by the Interior Department, including our nation’s parks and wildlife refuges. And Secretary Zinke has been outspoken about the maintenance backlog issue, even as he has urged agency staff through two Secretarial Orders to prioritize public access to outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing.
Creating a solution will be critical, but it can’t come at the cost of other important conservation programs. While the TRCP supports initiatives to address the significant maintenance backlog on our nation’s public lands, we are opposed to efforts to restructure programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund with an aim of shifting funding from one important need to another.
Instead, we need an all-of-the-above strategy: Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund to continue creating access where there is none, recognize that the maintenance backlog issue is meaningful for more than just national park visitors, and identify new funding sources to deal with it.
Fortunately, the House Natural Resources Committee recently showed strong bipartisan support for doing just that. In September, they advanced two pieces of critical public lands legislation that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide dedicated funding to address the maintenance backlogs in our national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands, and National Wildlife Refuge System.
Now, sportsmen and women need Congress to see these solutions through before the end of the year, when all good intentions are left on the cutting room floor and a new Congress begins. If you agree, voice your support for the public lands that we call Sportsmen’s Country—sign the petition now.
This was originally posted March 27, 2018, and has been updated to reflect recent events.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.