Congress Announces Legislation to Invest in the Future of Hunting and Conservation
Bipartisan bill to keep the government open includes Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act
In one of the biggest conservation victories of the year, bipartisan leadership in the House and Senate released legislation to invest in the future of hunting and secure new investments in wildlife and habitat.
The bipartisan compromise to fund the government through September 2020 includes historic legislation that for the first time allows excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to be used to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters.
As the number of hunters decline nationally, the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act will ensure that millions of more active and engaged outdoorspeople are paying into conservation and supporting some of America’s greatest traditions. This legislation has been a top priority for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which has actively worked to include it in the year-end government funding deal.
“Every time hunters purchase guns and ammo they invest in habitat and wildlife, and this legislation will help avert a major conservation funding crisis,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We cannot underscore the importance of this bill for sportsmen and women, conservation, and the next generation of hunters. We hope everyone in the House and Senate will stand with hunters across the nation and send this to the President’s desk for swift signature.”
Between 2011 and 2016, the number of hunters declined by 16 percent contributing to a decline in funding from hunters.
“This is truly a landmark day for hunting and conservation,” said Fosburgh.
Read more about how the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act supports conservation HERE.
To take action and tell Congress to get this bill across the finish line sign our petition today.
Conservation Is Increasingly an All-Hands-on-Deck Endeavor on Private Lands
In the last decade, more and more Farm Bill dollars have been invested to enhance habitat and watersheds through creative partnerships on landscape-scale projects, and TRCP partners are some of the most prolific collaborators
With approximately $5 billion a year in conservation funding to invest across nearly 70 percent of our country’s land mass, conservation programs in the Farm Bill affect all of us who hunt and fish on or near private lands. Many of these initiatives help landowners improve hunting and fishing conditions acre by acre and problem by problem, from boosting wildlife habitat to overhauling water quality and soil health.
These partnerships are changing the face of conservation and growing a restoration economy that can benefit not only farmers and sportsmen but entire communities. Notable examples are in places with longstanding conservation challenges, like the Chesapeake Bay, Colorado River, Great Lakes, Everglades, Mississippi River Basin, Prairie Pothole Region, Puget Sound, and the longleaf pines of the Southeast. Millions of people live in these watersheds, and they offer significant opportunities to hunt and fish.
We’re especially proud to have many of the partners in our 24-member Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group at the helm of these locally led efforts, which look very different from place to place.
In the Driftless Area of lower Wisconsin, for example, Trout Unlimited is helping landowners restore streams a dozen miles at a time on farmland to improve overall water quality downstream—this has resulted in a billion-dollar economic boost to the region. To similarly reduce nutrient runoff into waterways, the Nature Conservancy has partnered with agribusinesses to sell conservation to farmers in the Great Lakes region. Meanwhile, local land trusts in Central Florida work with ranchers to protect the headwaters of the Everglades from overuse by cattle and improve water flows downstream. Joining forces at a local level is making a big difference for these watersheds.
These landscapes are literally changing with rapid improvements for wildlife, water, and the climate. Wildlife Mississippi has helped restore and permanently protect more than 700,000 acres of forest and wetland habitat, benefiting local communities, waterfowl, and threatened species, such as the Louisiana black bear. Ducks Unlimited works with rice growers to create long-term benefits for waterfowl and wetland health while improving working lands. And the National Wildlife Federation is working with ranchers to create mesic habitat, such as beaver ponds, to restore scarce water reserves and create vital habitat for wildlife.
From Local to Landscape
For perspective, many of these kinds of strategic partnerships, which create more valuable conservation outcomes, have only come together in the past decade or so. As a conservation community, we are just learning how to create a larger restoration economy by working in concert to chip away at discrete problems. There’s a new Farm Bill every five years, and over the past couple of iterations we have moved from random acts of conservation to strategic and well-prioritized efforts for the benefit of entire communities—from those of us who like to hunt and fish to those who just happen to live downstream.
This is something we can only achieve by working together. Since the 2014 Farm Bill, hundreds of new partnerships have formed within iconic landscapes and watersheds, and there are some positive ways that this kind of collaboration can be encouraged and empowered in the next bill.
As everyone from NGOs to local water district managers are learning how to be more effective at meeting conservation challenges and work with a greater variety of people and landowners to craft solutions, we want to see a Farm Bill that will make more of these kinds of efforts possible by supporting smart collaboration. Simply put, efforts like these and more across all parts of our country get more hands involved in conservation so that we can continue to meet our growing challenges.
Chris Adamo is a Farm Bill conservation consultant for the TRCP. Adamo helped lead the effort for the last farm bill as staff director of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee under Senator Stabenow and is currently a senior fellow at National Wildlife Federation.
To Have Great Fishing Anywhere, We Need Clean Water Everywhere
The basic needs of America’s world-class trout and waterfowl populations—healthy headwaters and wetlands—are about to be undermined, so sportsmen and women need to act now
We’ve written before about how water is connected, and how pollution from small, diffuse sources can accumulate and create big problems downstream. Scientists and conservationists understand that this is a serious issue, but sportsmen and women are also well-informed—after all, we see the effects directly in our trout streams and from our duck blinds. Perhaps that’s why 83 percent of hunters and anglers, and overwhelmingly across party lines, support the application of Clean Water Act protections for smaller streams and wetlands.
Finalized in 2015, the Clean Water Rule clarifies Clean Water Act protections for 20 million acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of headwater streams—that’s 60 percent of the country’s flowing waters. If we can’t ensure that waters and wetlands are protected at the source, this endangers the future of beloved downstream land and waters.
But for some reason, there’s been some serious misunderstanding as to what this rule does and does not do. With less than 30 days for hunters and anglers to tell the EPA and Army Corps that headwaters and wetlands matter to us, we want to set the facts straight.
By keeping smaller headwaters and wetlands clean, this rule protects:
Early mornings that are worth the extra cup of coffee
Your story about that first catch
A good reason to buy just a few more decoys because you’ll definitely use them this season
That Day Away from the Office
But the rule IS NOT regulating these things:
Regular farming practices
What the Rule Does
Without the Clean Water Rule, we risk seeing streams polluted and wetlands destroyed because of confusion as to which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. This ambiguity started with two Supreme Court decisions, which chipped away protections for headwater streams and wetlands that had been protected until that point. After the 2006 Rapanos v. UnitedStates case, Chief Justice Roberts urged the agencies to write a rule that would clarify which waters were covered. This kicked off a transparent public process that eventually led to the final Clean Water Rule, which was celebrated by sportsmen in 2015.
Rather than operating with clarity and consistency, federal and state water quality personnel will need to determine which waters qualify for protection on a case-by-case basis—throwing tremendous uncertainty back into the decision-making process and burdening water quality managers.
This ambiguity also hurts sportsmen and our efforts to restore clean water resources.
The bottom line is that without Clean Water Act protections, wetlands that serve as key habitat for waterfowl can be drained and smaller headwater streams that are crucial spawning areas for trout and other fish can be polluted. Pollution doesn’t simply stay put in headwaters; it flows into larger water bodies downstream, damaging more fish and wildlife habitat along the way.
There’s Less Time Than Before
Any time the federal government creates or repeals a rule that government agencies and American citizens have to follow, they’re required to have a public comment period. When the Clean Water Rule was created in 2015, sportsmen and women had more than 200 days to comment on the proposed rule. This time around there are only 30 days to make our voices heard.
This rule could impact our access and traditions for the foreseeable future, but we’ve been given very little time to speak up about it.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
Administration picks continue to be put to the test before lawmakers. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a confirmation hearing on Congressman Zinke’s (R-Mont.) possible role as the next secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. On Tuesday, Rep. Zinke, who is perhaps the least controversial pick among President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominees, answered questions on federal public land transfer, coal programs, energy extraction on public lands, funding for land management agencies, and other conservation issues.
The following day, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, who will testify and answer questions about his agenda as the next administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
We’re still watching out for President-elect Trump’s pick for secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has yet to be announced.
Budget resolutions were filed, indicating lawmaker priorities. Last week, the Senate and House passed the Fiscal Year 2017 budget resolution by the skin of its teeth, with a 51-48 vote, mostly as a legislative vehicle for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. While budget resolutions are non-binding, they are taken into account when lawmakers sit down to draft the real deal.
We can also look to natural resources amendments, which were filed but not considered on the Senate floor last week, to predict what will be submitted for the next year’s budget resolution. The FY18 resolution will likely be much more relevant to conservation policy, and we expect it to be introduced in the Senate and House by the end of February.
Another forecast: The Clean Water Rule could be withdrawn. In order to clarify the jurisdiction of headwater streams and wetlands, Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) introduced a non-binding resolution that would express Senate support for the withdrawal of the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule.
To cap the week, Washington, D.C. is expecting an influx of visitors for the presidential inauguration. President-elect Trump will be sworn into office on Friday, January 20.
A deeper dive on the issues. Conservation is a complex topic, but what we care about boils down to this: We need habitat and clean water, plenty of access to hunting and fishing spots, and support for conservation funding and outdoor recreation businesses. Explore the legislation and management challenges related to these essential fights, and we’ll always give you at least one opportunity to take action and make a difference.
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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.