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March 12, 2019

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The Land and Water Conservation Fund’s Future Is Secure

Sportsmen and women celebrate this watershed moment for conservation and outdoor economy

Today, President Trump signed bipartisan legislation permanently authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the nation’s best tool for increasing access to public lands and supporting fish and wildlife habitat.

“From elk habitat in the Rockies to trout fisheries in the Delaware River Basin, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided public access to our nation’s best hunting and fishing spots,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The passage of this legislation proves that conservation is above partisan politics and that by working together we can leave a lasting legacy for the next generation of sportsmen and women. We now call on Congress to fully fund LWCF, sending resources to every corner of the country to benefit hunters and anglers.”

The legislation requires that 3 percent of LWCF funding be used to establish and retain access to public lands. This could help unlock some of the 9.52 million acres of public lands in the West that are landlocked by private lands with no permanent legal access.

The public lands package also contains more than 100 local and regional public lands bills that benefit sportsmen and women. It reauthorizes the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, a conservation grant program in which dollars are typically matched three times over at the local level to benefit waterfowl and wetlands. Another provision reauthorizes the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, a critical initiative to assist private landowners who want to voluntarily restore habitat on their lands.

Leading up to the passage of this legislation, TRCP organized thousands of individual sportsmen and women to contact their elected representatives urging reauthorization of the LWCF. Now, the TRCP will rally hunters and anglers to contact their congressional delegation and support fully funding LWCF at $900 million annually.

Click here to send a message to your elected officials supporting full funding for LWCF.

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With Cuts in Trump’s Budget, Congress Must Lead on Conservation

Administration’s budget request indicates a continued appetite for major cuts to conservation, but Congress can choose to ignore the president’s recommendations

President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2020 includes deep cuts at the agencies that carry out conservation in America. Sportsmen and women are now looking to Congress to lead on the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and investments in public lands access, water and soil quality, and the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy in the U.S.

“Even after conservation’s share of the federal budget has been slashed in half over the past 30 years, this proposal further handcuffs the agencies that are responsible for public land access, clean water, and healthy wildlife,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Congress has indicated that the health of our fish and wildlife populations, habitat, and outdoor recreation economy is a bipartisan issue and has reliable champions. We hope to see continued leadership in the House and Senate to ensure that investments in conservation are in keeping with the value of the American natural resources that are the envy of the world.”

The 150-page proposal recommends a 14-percent cut at the U.S. Department of the Interior and 31 percent less funding for the Environmental Protection Agency compared to Fiscal Year 2019. A $9-billion cut to U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs would come just months after Congress provided full funding for these critical programs in the 2018 Farm Bill. And the Army Corps of Engineers would take a 31-percent hit as flooding returns early to hard-hit areas.

The funding ask for the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund is down to a fraction of its $900-million potential, despite having bipartisan support in Congress, and many line item reductions are at odds with administration priorities, like conserving migration corridors and enhancing hunting and fishing access.

One bright spot is a $21.5-million boost for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Its total funding of $509.5 million is dedicated to supporting more hunting and fishing opportunities than in years past, after a series of orders from this administration. If appropriated, this would be the highest funding level ever for the Refuge System.

It is important to note that the president’s budget is only a set of recommendations, and Congress has largely ignored cuts suggested in the president’s past two proposals. Government funding is slated to run out September 30, and Congress must pass appropriations legislation by that time to avoid another costly government shutdown.

Here’s how the president’s budget would affect fish, wildlife, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy.

Photo by Stephen Baker/BLM Oregon
Public Lands in Sportsmen’s Country

The Department of the Interior would see proposed cuts of $2 billion, or 14 percent, from the FY19 appropriated funding levels. Though the president’s budget acknowledges the need to allocate $300 million in additional wildfire suppression funds, severe cuts to critical fish and wildlife programs are a no-go for sportsmen and women.

The Bureau of Land Management is charged with managing 245 million acres—more than any other federal agency—and yet it is slated for an 11-percent cut, which would only make it more difficult for the BLM to do its job.

Sportsmen and women are among the first to be affected by a growing maintenance backlog on our public lands and infrastructure in dire need of repair. The budget’s proposed creation of a Public Lands Infrastructure fund using offshore and onshore energy revenues is a compelling solution to this problem, however the funds being put into this new maintenance account have been stripped away from the Land and Water Conservation Fund in this proposal.

Though conservationists support whittling down the maintenance backlog to accomplish better proactive conservation, it cannot be at the expense of this critically important program—the promise of LWCF must be fulfilled as well.

Hunting and Fishing Access

The TRCP has encouraged Congress to appropriate $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was permanently reauthorized in the recent public lands package without any guarantee for funding. This total includes 40 percent or $360 million for federal agencies, $27 million of which should be made available for establishing recreational access, in particular.

But the president’s budget includes just $7.5 million for land acquisition, and not a single penny of that would go to the Forest Service. Elimination of land-acquisition funds at the Forest Service would hamper the administration’s ability to open and expand access to public lands, including the nearly 400K acres of landlocked public lands that the Forest Service oversees.

Given that 93 percent of the West’s 9.52 million acres of landlocked public lands are administered by the BLM, the agency carries some of the greatest land acquisition needs. But not only is there no budget for the BLM to strategically acquire lands, the Trump proposal would rescind $10 million from funds already appropriated for FY19. See TRCP’s report with onX that outlines total landlocked acres by agency.

The president’s budget also seeks to cut $9 billion from the USDA’s voluntary conservation programs for private lands, just months after Congress passed a 2018 Farm Bill that strongly supported investments in habitat and walk-in access.

The TRCP opposes these proposed cuts and urges Congress to provide full funding for these important programs during the appropriations process.

Image courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Not Even a Wash for Wetlands

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that manages national wildlife refuges, protects endangered species, manages waterfowl and other migratory birds, and enforces federal wildlife laws, would see a $267-million overall budget cut—that’s 16 percent less than FY19 funding levels. However, a $21.5-million increase for the National Wildlife Refuge System could help address ongoing maintenance shortfalls as refuges expand hunting and fishing opportunities.

There was also a suggested 7-percent cut to North American Wetlands Conservation Act funds, which go toward wetland restoration projects around the nation. Because every federal dollar is matched as many as three times over by non-federal dollars, cuts to grant programs like NAWCA have an outsized negative impact on the ground.

Water Safeguards

The president’s budget proposes a 31-percent overall cut for the EPA, with deep slices into restoration programs in the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes. Both regional programs would be knocked down to just 10 percent of what they received in FY19, further jeopardizing clean water and fish habitat in watersheds that already face steep challenges. Every other geographic program at EPA—including one in the Puget Sound that helps build fish passages, increase salmon habitat, and protect shorelines—would be eliminated under this budget proposal.

The proposal zeroes out a grant program the states administer to control runoff carrying pollutants like fertilizer, sediment, and chemicals to our rivers and streams. This means that while the EPA is rolling back Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and streams that are being polluted directly, it would be providing states with fewer resources to address pollution from nonpoint sources, as well. The narrative for this section of the budget proposal explicitly touts how the rollback of Clean Water Act protections will streamline permitting, since fewer polluting activities will need permits.

Trump’s proposal also includes a 70-percent cut to WaterSMART Grants, the Bureau of Reclamation’s premier program for funding activities that conserve and recycle water in the West while also benefiting fish and wildlife habitat.

And from too little water to too much: There would be a 31-percent cut to Army Corps of Engineers funding, which is disappointing at a time when flooding has begun earlier than expected throughout the Mississippi River Basin, Tennessee River Valley, and in other major watersheds. Waterway management, natural infrastructure, and coastal habitat restoration couldn’t be more critical.

Image courtesy of Take Me Fishing.
Recreational Fishing and Our Coasts

There is no additional money in this budget for Everglades restoration, which is critical to the future of coastal estuaries and fisheries in South Florida. And the budget proposal eliminates the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund, which has helped to stabilize and improve the condition of salmon and steelhead stocks from California to Alaska.

However, there is a positive provision for water management and wetland restoration projects that could benefit recreational fishing and habitat. Trump’s proposal would allow local sponsors to use federal dollars to build water management projects and rebuild wetlands without being mired in bureaucracy at the Army Corps of Engineers.

The proposal also suggests reforms to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to help invest in improvements. In places like the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and other man-made canals, the inability of the Corps to properly maintain the canal banks or dredge has led to wetland destruction, saltwater intrusion, and loss of recreational access. Receiving additional funding would help better maintain these waterways.

The Takeaway

Because Congress still holds the power of the pursestrings, the TRCP will continue to send the message to lawmakers that we will not stand for an endless chipping away at conservation funding. If you want to get involved, sign up for our updates here.

 

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

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March 8, 2019

TRCP Leaders to Testify in Two Congressional Hearings Next Week

CEO Whit Fosburgh will speak in a Senate hearing on improving access for outdoor recreation and Chief Conservation Officer Christy Plumer will address a House subcommittee about sportsmen-sourced conservation funding

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s top brass will appear as expert witnesses in two Capitol Hill hearings next week.

Whit Fosburgh, the TRCP’s president and CEO, will address the full Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources about the importance of the outdoor recreation economy, solutions for unlocking access to public land, and the need to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Christy Plumer, the TRCP’s chief conservation officer, will speak about the vital role of hunters and anglers in supporting fish and wildlife conservation through our license fees and excise taxes at a House Natural Resources oversight hearing on the state of America’s wildlife. She will underscore the importance of Congress moving forward with the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act and reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and highlight opportunities to conserve migration corridors and improve fish habitat connectivity.

House Subcommittee on Waters, Oceans, and Wildlife Hearing

Featuring: Christy Plumer, Chief Conservation Officer, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Date: 
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Time: 2:00 PM EDT
Location: 1324 Longworth House Office Building, 15 Independence Ave SE, Washington DC 20515

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing

Featuring: Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Date: Thursday, March 14, 2019
Time: 10:00 AM EDT
Location: 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 50 Constitution Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002

 

Join us as we livestream the hearings on our Facebook page and live-tweet during each event.

 

Top photo by Whitney Potter

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Third-Party Certification Puts a Blue Ribbon on Depletion of Critical Striped Bass Food Source

It is negligent to certify Omega Protein’s menhaden purse-seining operation as sustainable when striped bass populations are in decline

The Marine Stewardship Council, a private international institution, has determined it will grant a certification of sustainability to Omega Protein Corporation for its U.S. Atlantic menhaden purse-seining operations, despite the fact that the industrial harvest of these important forage fish depletes the east coast’s striped bass population.

Menhaden are small, oily baitfish that form the base of the Atlantic food chain, supporting every marine sportfish from stripers and bluefish to tarpon and sharks. As filter feeders, they also benefit water quality in places like the Chesapeake Bay.

Reduction fishing—where menhaden are caught in giant nets and then “reduced” for meal, fish food, and other products—was once common on the east coast, but it is now banned in every state except Virginia because of the destructive nature of the fishery. Today, a single company, Omega Protein, accounts for 80 percent of the coastwide catch of menhaden, and this level of harvest could be responsible for as much as a 30-percent reduction in striped bass, the nation’s largest marine recreational fishery.

“This week’s announcement from MSC puts a blue ribbon on the last holdout of an antiquated and harmful reduction fishing industry,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This certification ignores what’s really happening to east coast sportfish, which rely on menhaden for survival and support a thriving recreational fishing economy. You cannot mine the base of the food chain and not expect it to affect every species that depend on those fish.”

MSC’s published assessment makes it clear that the certification is conditional, meaning that Omega has to meet certain milestones over the next four years—they have not met these milestones yet. Omega Protein has strongly opposed conservation measures, including current catch limits in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the federal and state governing body charged with managing menhaden, is developing a management model where it considers the fish’s role in the entire ecosystem and the impact of menhaden harvest on other species. Until these updates are complete, it is too soon to make a ruling on the sustainability of commercial menhaden harvest.

“It is negligent to call Omega’s operations sustainable now on the condition that the company meets certain milestones in the future, especially considering the important changes that fisheries managers are committed to making,” says Fosburgh. “This is actually about the foreign-owned company’s willingness to pay for a certification as a PR boost. It won’t fool America’s anglers, and we plan to formally object through the appropriate channels.”

The TRCP is calling on sportsmen and women to sign this open letter to MSC opposing the certification.

Learn more about the menhaden’s role in supporting sportfishing opportunities.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

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

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