There is much to do in 2019 as threats to our traditions and unmet opportunities remain
This past year has been chock-full of conservation challenges, and it’s worth celebrating some of the successes we enjoyed along the way. Here’s a quick rundown of 2018’s big wins for fish and wildlife, and what they mean for hunters and anglers across this country.
Shining a Light on Landlocked Lands
Our partnership with the digital-mapping company onX resulted in the groundbreaking (and headline-grabbing) conclusion that 9.52 million acres of our public lands in the West remain landlocked and inaccessible without the permission of adjacent private landowners. This study not only highlighted to policymakers a problem of which many sportsmen and women are already aware, it opened new conversations about what can be done to address this issue and improve public land access systematically across the country.
Standing Our Ground for Conservation and Access
Throughout 2018, we fought back against attempts to roll back the policies that keep our woods and waters full of fish and game. Twice this year we joined our partners to defeat riders attached to defense spending and appropriations bills that would have underhandedly dismantled plans for sage grouse conservation and Clean Water Act protections for headwaters and upland streams.
We also joined with Western governors and partner groups to push back against the administration’s attempts to erode key protections for sage grouse during the revision process for the BLM’s 2015 plans. While aspects of these recently released plans are weaker, their underlying frameworks remain intact, and the TRCP believes that the outcome of this process could have been much worse.
And the TRCP continues to resist the administration’s attempt to undermine the Clean Water Act headwaters and wetlands rule through the EPA’s regulatory process. This fight remains ongoing, and we intend to see it through.
Holding the line on these critical issues will ensure that hunters and anglers hard-won gains for conservation won’t be negated after the fact by political maneuvering.
A Win for Water
This October, the Water Resources Development Act passed into law, in part due to strong support from the TRCP and our partners. This law provides for the restoration of important habitats in the Everglades and Lower Mississippi River Basin, authorizes funding for two critical projects that will improve water quality throughout south Florida, and supports research on preventing the spread of invasive species like Asian carp and zebra mussels.
The benefits to these projects are many, and will improve fishing opportunities not only in Florida, which boasts a $2.9-billion recreational angling industry, but also in places like the Great Lakes and Mississippi River system.
A Funding Fix for Fire Season
It’s no secret that wildfire season continues to grow longer, and the fires themselves more intense. Among the many consequences of this trend is that our public land managers are spending an ever-growing share of their budget fighting wildland fires, and resources are drained from other important aspects of their work.
Early this year, the TRCP and our partners helped to address this issue through the inclusion of new provisions in the 2018 spending package. For the first time, the Forest Service will be able to use natural disaster funding—rather than money borrowed from other programs within the agency—when firefighting costs exceed the appropriated funds. Secondly, the Forest Service will also now have an additional $165 million annually to work on the active management and restoration of forest habitat.
As a result, our national forests will offer better hunting and fishing experiences for all Americans through enhanced access, management, and habitat.
Anglers Get Their Due
Believe it or not, recreational fishing had not been recognized as an important consideration by federal fisheries managers until the passage of this year’s Modern Fish Act, which was supported by the TRCP and a long list of its marine fisheries partners. This law will allow federal managers to use management tools more appropriate for recreational fishing than commercial fishing, improve the collection of recreational harvest data, and better understand how our marine fisheries are used by a variety of users.
Thanks to the Modern Fish Act, saltwater anglers will enjoy improved access to the species they chase and greater stability in the resource.
A Farm Bill We Can Celebrate
Every five years, the drafting of a new Farm Bill holds enormous implications for wildlife and sportsmen’s access, and we were proud to help spearhead a strong partnership to see that this year’s law provided robust funding for private land conservation.
In addition to securing more than $5 billion in annual funding (i.e., full funding for the conservation title), the 2018 Farm Bill saw a $200 million annual increase in funding for a critical wetland easement program, a boost of 3 million acres for the Conservation Reserve Program, a doubling of the funding dedicated to wildlife habitat under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and $50 million in funding for a critical hunter and angler access program.
All told, these provisions mean that sportsmen and women will find more walk-in access, better habitat, healthier wildlife populations, and increased opportunities on working farms and ranches across our nation.
Safeguarding Seasonal Habitat
This year the TRCP worked across the West to protect big game migration corridors and winter range from incompatible development. And our efforts to protect these important seasonal habitats are only just beginning. We intend to see that Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3362 – a great policy issued to recognize the value of migration corridors – is implemented in a meaningful way, and in 2019 we hope to expand on this critical work. Doing so will ensure that the West’s antelope, elk, and mule deer herds will continue to sustain our hunting traditions for generations to come.
Thanks for your support in 2018, and let’s keep it up in the coming year!
Photo courtesy: Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington