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When Congress returns from about a month spent with in-state constituents, the clock will be ticking on these spending bills and conservation policies we need to get across the finish line
You might be picturing lawmakers on a five-week vacation, but the annual August recess is time that senators and representatives spend meeting with their constituents and visiting with leaders in their communities. Ideally, they also find some time to enjoy the outdoors and experience what we all value so much as sportsmen and women.
Of course, we hope they’re thinking about the legislative to-do list for when they return in September, because the timeline grows short for several critical conservation items that must be addressed to benefit fish, wildlife, and habitat. Here’s what we need Congress to move on before the end of the year or, in some cases, within weeks of their return to Capitol Hill.
A familiar debate awaits when Congress returns to Washington: writing and passing all the required appropriations, or annual spending, bills. Now that both the House and Senate have reached a two-year, bipartisan budget deal they must pass appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2020, which starts on October 1. This means that Congress must find a way to fund the government for the next year before the end of September, or they risk another government shutdown.
The House’s spending measures passed earlier this summer include landmark wins for conservation including strong investments in—and in some cases new funding for—Farm Bill conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, chronic wasting disease surveillance and research, and critical infrastructure projects from the Everglades to the Front Range.
The ball is now in the Senate’s court to support conservation in their own appropriations bills and send it all to the president’s desk. What happens if they don’t? The government shuts down while they agree on a deal or lawmakers can give themselves an extension by passing what’s known as a continuing resolution. CRs keep money flowing at previously agreed upon funding levels, but they prevent new funding going to something like CWD research that has never been done before.
Before leaving town, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously passed a new highway bill that includes a powerful new tool for conservation: a $250-million pilot program to construct wildlife crossings such as overpasses, underpasses, and culverts across the country over the next five years.
State departments of transportation, wildlife biologists, and conservationists have been urging Congress to provide dedicated funding for crossings to restore and improve habitat connectivity within migration corridors and reduce deadly wildlife-vehicle collisions where animals are often found crossing roads.
This also marks the first time that climate change language has been included in a highway bill. As written, the legislation creates a grant program called PROTECT to prioritize natural infrastructure solutions as roads and bridges are being planned, which would help to restore and improve ecosystem conditions around passenger roads.
All in all, senators on the committee have been trailblazers for conservation in the next iteration of the highway bill. Now, it’s on the House to get the job done.
In fact, the House can do even more for conservation in its forthcoming version of the bill by increasing funding for the Federal Lands Transportation Program, which supports the ongoing maintenance of passenger roads through public lands. Carrying on the chronic underfunding of U.S. Forest Service roads through FLTP will contribute to an already colossal deferred maintenance backlog on these important public lands.
The TRCP and our conservation partners have been leading the charge to update a vital source of funding for state fish and wildlife agency conservation efforts—the Pittman-Robertson Act. Right now, the fund created from excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment can’t be used to help recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) hunters.
It’s time for that to change.
Congress has already updated the policy for fishing-related spending to give state agencies the ability to recruit new anglers. And this has likely helped to drive the recent bump in fishing participation and a more than 36-percent increase in spending on fishing equipment, which in turn creates an increase in funding for conservation.
It’s time for Congress to modernize Pittman-Robertson and allow similar outreach campaigns for hunters. Before the recess began, the Senate introduced S. 2092, a companion bill to the House’s H.R. 877. These bipartisan bills, aptly titled the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act, are essential to help fund, preserve, and grow our rich heritage of hunting.
Last Congress, a similar measure passed unanimously out of the House but did not make the end-of-year finish line. Now that the legislation has been introduced in both chambers, passage of this long-overdue legislation is a no-brainer. It’s a bipartisan success story waiting to happen.
From the Gulf to the Great Plains, there’s a lot happening this summer that affects our fisheries and the anglers who enjoy them, including pending legislation that deserves a vote without further delay.
The National Fish Habitat Through Partnerships Act—H.R. 1747 in the House and S. 754 in the Senate—would permanently authorize and provide funding for one of the nation’s best tools to protect and restore fish habitat across the nation. Comprised of 20 individual partnerships that advocate for regionally specific projects, this model has been effective for years but still limps from authorization to authorization, depending on the whims of Congress.
But legislation introduced in both chambers is vote-ready and can end this vicious cycle.
Another easy win would be passing legislation to conserve forage fish, which support all the sportfish we love to pursue. Numerous pressures, including changing ocean conditions and overfishing by commercial interests, have led to a decline in forage fish populations, which could shorten or even end recreational fishing seasons for the predators that rely on these baitfish.
Bipartisan legislation in the House, the Forage Fish Conservation Act (H.R. 2236), aims to ensure that forage fish remain in the marine food web by introducing a variety of commonsense, science-based provisions into existing management plans. These include creating a national, science-based definition for forage fish in federal waters, accounting for predator needs, assessing the impact of commercial fisheries on marine ecosystems before authorization, and requiring that managers consider forage fish when establishing research priorities.
Anglers are dependent on forage fish to keep our fisheries healthy and we are, in turn, depending on Congress to act now on this major conservation priority.
Numerous conservation-wins-in-waiting are ready for congressional action once lawmakers return to Capitol Hill. Though the most pressing demand for legislators will be drafting and passing appropriations bills that strengthen our nation’s investment in conservation, we need to turn their attention to other measures that preserve wildlife, improve habitat connectivity, and ensure the future of our hunting traditions.
After the spending deadline has passed, the 2020 election will take a lot of the air out of the room, and we need to clinch these victories before that happens.
This is YOUR chance to play a role in how our public lands are managed and ensure that sportsmen and women have a say about the places where we love to hunt and fish
The Forest Service is revising its plans for the Carson and the Santa Fe National Forests that will determine the future management of more than 3 million acres of public land in northern New Mexico, including the world-class fisheries of the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers. Sportsmen and women must get involved to ensure that the best habitats are conserved and public access for hunting and fishing is maintained.
Please attend a local public meeting in the next few weeks (see schedule below) and share your perspective as a public land user.
These events will offer updates on the planning process, allow the public to share their ideas and opinions on the draft plan, and explain ways for interested citizens to stay involved.
The best way to see that our priorities are included in the plans is to have a presence and provide input at these meetings. Meeting dates, locations, and times, as well as suggested talking points are listed below.
Thank you for taking the time to support our public lands.
Suggested Talking Points:
|Santa Fe||Tuesday, Aug. 20||2 – 6pm||Santa Fe Community College (this is a joint meeting with the Santa Fe, Carson, and Cibola National Forests)|
|Jemez Pueblo||Wednesday, Aug. 21||6 – 8pm||Pueblo of Jemez Welcome Center (back building; formerly Walatowa Visitor’s Center), 7413 Highway 4|
|Buena Vista||Thursday, Aug. 22||6 – 8pm||Buena Vista Fire Department|
|Pecos||Monday, Aug. 26||6 – 8pm||Pecos High School (Boardroom)|
|Gallina||Tuesday, Sept. 3||6 – 8pm||Gallina Elementary|
|Rio Rancho||Wednesday, Sept. 4||6 – 8pm||Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue, 5301 Santa Fe Hills Blvd.|
|Cuba||Thursday, Sept. 5||6 – 8pm||Sandoval County Fairgrounds- Community Building, 37 Rodeo Rd.|
|Las Vegas||Tuesday, Sept. 10||6 – 8pm||NM Highlands University (student union building, Rm 321)|
|Santa Fe||Wednesday, Sept. 11||6 – 8pm||Santa Fe NF Headquarters, 11 Forest Lane|
|Los Alamos||Monday, Sept. 23||6 – 8pm||Mesa Public Library|
|Abiquiu||Wednesday, Sept. 25||6 – 8pm||Ghost Ranch (lower pavillion), 280 Private Drive|
|Santa Fe||Tuesday, Aug. 20||2 – 6pm||Santa Fe Community College (this is a joint meeting with the Santa Fe, Carson, and Cibola National Forests)|
|Taos||Wednesday, Aug. 21||12 – 2pm||Carson NF Supervisor’s Office|
|Buena Vista||Thursday, Aug. 22||6 – 8pm||Buena Vista Fire Department|
|Canjilon||Wednesday, Aug. 28||5 -7pm||Canjilon Community Center|
|El Rito||Wednesday, Aug. 28||1 – 3pm||El Rito Ranger District Office|
|Bloomfield||Thursday, Aug. 29||1 – 3pm||Jicarilla Ranger District Office|
|Farmington||Thursday, Aug. 29||5 – 7pm||San Juan College|
|Tres Piedras||Friday, Aug. 30||1 – 3pm||Tres Piedras Ranger District Office|
|Red River||Tuesday, Sept. 3||5 – 7pm||Red River Convention Center|
|Peñasco||Wednesday, Sept. 4||1 – 3pm||Camino Real Ranger District Office|
|Peñasco||Tuesday, Sept. 10||5 – 7pm||Camino Real Ranger District Office|
|Questa||Wednesday, Sept. 11||1 – 3pm||Questa Ranger District Office|
|Canjilon||Thursday, Sept. 12||1 – 3pm||Canjilon Ranger District Office|
|El Rito||Thursday, Sept. 12||5 – 7pm||Northern NM College|
|Taos||Tuesday, Sept. 17||4 – 7pm||Sagebrush Inn (this will be a facilitated, topic-driven workshop)|
|Abiquiu||Thursday, Sept. 19||6 – 8pm||Ghost Ranch (lower pavillion), 280 Private Drive|
The law that is broadly and affectionately known as PR ironically doesn’t allow state wildlife agencies to market hunting to a new generation of license buyers—the sportsmen and women we desperately need to keep funding conservation
By now, you probably know that every time you buy a hunting or fishing license and certain gear, you’re paying into a hugely successful system of conservation in America—where those of us who enjoy and take something from our natural resources also give back to fish and wildlife. You’re probably even aware of the two laws that made this happen: the Pittman-Robertson Act for hunting-related spending and the Dingell-Johnson Act for fishing-related spending.
But there’s a major difference between these policies that has become glaring as fishing participation has crept back up and hunting participation has taken a steep nosedive.
Between 2011 and 2016, the number of hunters declined by 16 percent. Hunters spend fewer days afield and less money on equipment on average than they used to. In that same time period, 2.7 million more Americans started fishing, and spending on fishing equipment increased by more than 36 percent.
This could be because about $12 million in funds created by the Dingell-Johnson Act annually go toward national efforts to recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) anglers. Meanwhile, no such provision is made in Pittman-Robertson.
Besides the next generation of sportsmen and women, state wildlife agencies have the most to lose if hunting and fishing participation declines, because many of these conservation-focused departments depend entirely on P-R and D-J dollars. But, as the laws are written, even a state department of natural resources with an excellent apprentice hunter program can’t so much as print up a poster to advertise it using P-R funding.
The ability to communicate with and educate the public about hunting is so much more important today than it was in the 1930s when this bill was written. At that time, more than half the country hunted or had access to someone who could likely show them how. This just isn’t the case anymore.
It’s time to modernize Pittman-Robertson and allocate just a small portion of its funds to R3 activities—the return on investment is likely to be millions of more active and engaged outdoorspeople paying into a conservation model that supports some of America’s greatest traditions. Failing to do so could create a conservation funding crisis like we’ve never seen before.
Legislation called Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act (H.R. 877) has been reintroduced this Congress and debated in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing earlier this year. After the August recess, we need to move this bill forward without delay and before we lose lawmakers’ attention to the chaos that comes with an election year.
Have you seen state agency efforts to attract and educate new hunters that deserve more of a PR spotlight? Tell us in the comments.
TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation
Hometown: Cazenovia, Wisconsin
Occupation: Site and land management consultant and contractor; part-time manager of a 400-acre family farm
Conservation credentials: Helped raise $5,500 and led the effort to provide six dumpsters for the proper disposal of deer bones and carcasses to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in southwest Wisconsin. This kept an estimated 1,400 carcasses from being moved or disposed of in areas where CWD could infect other deer.
Conservation motto: “It’s not ours. It’s just our turn.”
Doug Duren has some stories, and you may have even heard a few. He’s a MeatEater podcast regular and good friend of Steven Rinella, but he’s also a lifelong conservationist who has lived closer to the land than many of us can say. In his neck of the woods, chronic wasting disease prevalence has been growing steadily, and Duren is concerned about the role that hunters are playing in the spread of this always-fatal deer disease.
That’s why he spearheaded a project with Hunt to Eat to raise enough funding to place six deer carcass disposal dumpsters across the region for the duration of the 2018 hunting season. (The brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils, and spleen of a deer are the parts most likely to hold the prions responsible for CWD, and bringing carcasses home, to a deer processor, or left in a traditional gut pile could pass the disease on.)
We’re proud to showcase Duren’s incredible work and conservation ethos. Here’s his story.
The person who introduced me to hunting, fishing, and the outdoors was my father, Vincent Duren. But, growing up in Wisconsin farm country, outdoor activities of all sorts were just a part of our lives.
Cazenovia is built around an 80-acre mill pond where all the local kids swam and fished. The hilly terrain of the Driftless Area is filled with trout streams and the farms are a mix of fields, wetlands, and woodlands. So, in the late 1960s and 70s, when I was a kid, my friends and I spent much of our time—after our farm chores were done, that is—exploring, fishing, and hunting this area.
These days, if I could hunt or fish anywhere, I wouldn’t have to go very far. I still love the Driftless Area of the Midwest and all the hunting and fishing opportunities it has to offer. My family has lived in this very special place for five generations, and I feel very fortunate to spend my days working and hunting in this part of the world.
Honestly, it’s enough for me.
But I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lot of memories wherever I find myself in the outdoors. I’ll tell you about a recent one. First, it’s important to note that I’ve known Steve Rinella for a decade or so now, and he and I have become pretty good friends who hunt and fish together fairly often—both on and off camera. I’ve made a lot of friends through Steve and the folks on his crew are some of my favorite people in the world.
Recently, Steve asked me to go on an Alaska caribou hunting trip that would be filmed. I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were joined on the trip by some of my favorite guys from the MeatEater crew: Janis Putelis, Chris Gill, Garrett Smith, and Brody Henderson. Also joining us on the trip was Mark Kenyon, a fellow Midwestern whitetail hunter.
And it turned out to be a series of amazing experiences: Driving through some amazing country. Pushing the weight limit of a Super Cub (much to the chagrin of the pilot.) Landing on what seemed like a postage-stamp-sized area in the alpine tundra. Seeing and being close to more than 5,000 caribou—never mind harvesting one of those amazing animals. The meals, the camaraderie, the incredible vistas, and even the weather couldn’t be beat.
The most amazing part of the trip for me was the encounter we had with a boar grizzly bear. It was the first evening, and we were all setting up camp, prepping gear for the next day, and settling in. Janis was looking for a good water source and was some distance away. Suddenly, I heard him yell, “Grizz!” from across the ridge, and we all stopped what we’re doing to look. Sure enough, there was a light-colored grizzly working its way up a ravine near our camp, eating blueberries “like he was angry at them,” as Steve says.
Steve and I walked over to the edge of the ravine with our binoculars to get a better look, and I was just dumbfounded by the beauty of it all. We were traded guesses at its age while tracking the bear as it worked its way up the ravine. Soon, I realized Steve was no longer at my side. A minute later was back with his .300 WinMag over his shoulder.
I said, “Well, clearly I’m in good hands, because I would have stood here like a dummy and watched that bear until he was on top of me.” Steve smiled and said we’d watch him a little bit more, but “we’ll have to let him know he’s not welcome here soon. If he wants to, he can cover the distance between us in a few seconds.”
We made some noise and tried to look as large as we could, to which the bear just stood up, regarded us with no expression, and then slowly wandered off. Even if nothing else happened on that trip, I would have gone home happy. The memory makes me smile with wonder and awe.
Conservation, too, has been part of my life as far back as I can remember. My family was in the timber and sawmill business for three generations, and the forest on our family farm has been sustainably managed for even longer than that.
I took a couple years off from college and worked for a reforestation company, traveling around with a bunch of other gypsies and hand-planting trees throughout the South. I went for the adventure, but that experience really showed me how important conservation was, no matter what I did or where I lived.
I also taught high school for a number of years in northern New Hampshire, where I worked on a trail maintenance crew in the White Mountains during the summers. The work was hard, the people were incredible, and I spent a lot of time in and caring for access to places that are awe inspiring.
I’ve worked in land management for nearly 30 years now, and conservation is one of the key elements and considerations in everything I do. There is such joy in it.
It’s from this perspective and with all this experience that I say chronic wasting disease is the biggest conservation challenge where I live. There are other concerns, like water quality, resource protections, and access issues, but nothing is as bigger crisis than CWD.
So, in 2018, the Adopt-a-Dumpster Program was born out of a need for proper deer carcass disposal in the CWD Endemic Area of southwest Wisconsin. The intent was to mitigate the spread of CWD by providing dumpster locations around the area where hunters could properly dispose of deer bones and carcasses, thus removing possible infected deer parts from the landscape. And in some cases, dumpsters were located at CWD testing locations.
Six dumpsters were fully funded for the 2018 hunting season, with partial funding provided for three other locations run and monitored by two organizations and one business. Throughout the season, we collected more than 39 tons’ worth of carcasses, and we learned valuable lessons that could help this effort expand.
We saw that our Adopt-a-Dumpster Program and other Adopt-a-Kiosk programs, because they involve and empower hunters and landowners, provide an opportunity for discussion and education about CWD and proper carcass disposal. This kind of interaction and advocacy is invaluable, especially as some efforts to control CWD get twisted to look like a loss of hunting rights.
Some areas were unable to secure a dumpster because there was not a solid waste provider in the region who was willing to take deer carcasses as part of their services or to their landfill. It would help if the Wisconsin State Legislature considered legislation requiring licensed landfills to accept and properly dispose of deer carcasses. Lawmakers could also allocate funding specifically for the disposal effort. A voluntary check-off box on deer license applications could be another source of dedicated funding for disposal.
Hunters will likely continue to support this kind of effort. And it follows that organizations and businesses concerned about the health of the deer herd or the future of hunting should get involved, too.
Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a questionnaire.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More