Andrew Wilkins

January 17, 2020

Breaking Down the Budget

Here’s how Congress will fund conservation in 2020

Every year, Congress must decide how federal funds will be divided among virtually every agency and program, from defense to medical research, federal highways, and conservation. This process of appropriations reflects which issues are most important—or have the broadest appeal—in our country. 

At the end of 2019, the passage of H.R. 1865 showed that conservation remains a bipartisan priority for lawmakers.  With generally strong numbers across the board, this spending bill for Fiscal Year 2020 reinvests our tax dollars into programs, research, and federal agencies that are essential to hunters’ and anglers’ enjoyment of America’s natural resources.  

You’re probably not going to want to read H.R. 1865, which weighs in at over 1,700 pages, but here are a few highlights that sportsmen and women should celebrate. 

Empowering State Wildlife Agencies to Invest in the Future of Hunting

H.R. 1865 included more than just monetary investments in conservation – The appropriations package also included the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act, which  gives state wildlife agencies the ability to use tax dollars they receive through firearm, ammunition, and archery equipment sales to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters. This flexibility is critical to preserve and grow hunting in the United States and, in turn, to uphold and strengthen the North American Model of Conservation. TRCP and our partners have long advocated for this change, and its permanent passage is a landmark conservation achievement for this Congress. 

Support for Clean Water and Place-Based Conservation

Congress also made substantial investments in water quality and the recovery of aquatic ecosystems. WaterSMART, which stands for Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow, is a critical initiative by the Bureau of Reclamation to ensure that Western states have access to safe, reliable, and well-managed water supplies. At the insistence of TRCP and our partners, Congress boosted funding for WaterSmart to $55 million – a $20 million increase – which will support projects that conserve water, increase efficiency, prevent further decline and accelerate the recovery of species, and address climate-related impacts of the water supply essential to maintaining healthy communities and ecosystems. Additionally, in response to the increased threat of water shortages, Western watersheds received further relief by way of $20 million allocated specifically for drought response. 

EPA Geographic Programs, which are used to protect and restore some of America’s most iconic waterways and ecosystems, also saw an increase in funding bringing them to a total of $85 million, including a $12 million increase for the Chesapeake Bay Program. Funding for this program comes at a crucial time: last year the health of the Bay continued its slow decline, alarming ecologists, sportsmen and women, and communities whose economy relies upon the health of the waterway. 

Strengthening Public Lands Funding

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of the most celebrated federal conservation programs, received a substantial plus-up in funding through H.R. 1865 to a sum of $495 million. While this certainly counts as a big win for FY20, looking ahead the larger aim should be to remove LWCF from the back-and-forth of the appropriations process entirely. Now that Congress has authorized the program permanently, it needs mandatory funding to ensure its continued status as one of the United States’ signature conservation measures. 

In addition to LWCF, the National Wildlife Refuge System was funded at $502 million, just $1 million shy of its high-water mark set in FY10. Among other benefits, the bump in support includes additional resources for the upkeep of refuge facilities and equipment, invasive species control, and increased law enforcement efforts across the refuge system. 

CWD Funding: A Step in the Right Direction 

In the 116th Congress, sportsmen and women have turned up the pressure on lawmakers around another critical issue: addressing the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer, elk, and moose populations. But while hunters successfully pushed Congress to reinstate funding to support CWD research and testing after a multi-year lapse, the amount appropriated, just $5 million, falls far short of what is needed to effectively monitor and combat this disease across the 26 states where it has been detected.  

Despite this missed opportunity for a more robust response to CWD, the FY20 appropriations bill did include new funds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor the spread of the disease and study the effectiveness of testing methods. Appropriators also allocated funds for a study on the transmission of CWD and testing methods for the disease that will be conducted by the National Academies of Science in partnership with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.  

The Cycle Continues: FY21

While Congress made many strong investments in conservation in the FY20 bill there is, as always, room to grow going forward.  

Though appropriators funded the National Wildlife Refuge System at a near-historically high level, the conservation community encourages Congress to make an even more robust investment in the system in the FY21 budget. Without a larger investment, federal wildlife officers will remain spread thin, certain facilities and roadways will remain in a state of disrepair or closure, and Americans will have reduced access to and enjoyment of the refuge system. TRCP, as a member of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), requested $586 million to fully support these initiatives, meaning there’s room for this funding line to be improved upon in the next appropriations bill. 

In addition to improving baseline funding levels to combat CWD in the next appropriations bill, Congress should pass the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Act, introduced in the House by Congressman Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), and in the Senate by Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.). This bill would establish a comprehensive, multi-state and tribal grant program to provide funding to agencies and communities on the frontline of this wildlife health crisis by allocating $35 million annually to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies, along with an additional $10 million to support research grants to study and develop improved management practices to help curb the disease. 

Lastly, it remains imperative that Congress continues to at least maintain funding levels for conservation programs across the board. Responsibly managing and safeguarding our land, water, and wildlife is an ongoing project – not just a one-off purchase or investment – and future generations are relying upon us to make it a priority.  

TRCP and our partners are already working with lawmakers to set the stage for another strong budget in the next fiscal year.  

Join us now to be a part of this important work. 

6 Responses to “Breaking Down the Budget”

  1. william shuster

    I wish that congress would separate fire fighting funding from land agencies. a many of fire are on multi agencies. and funding for fire fighting drains the funding from many projects.

  2. Vicki Cook

    If sustaining wildlife, including wild horses and if recreation is the goal why is the Forest Service allowed to fence off the Salt River in the Tonto National Forest so people don’t have access to the River? Why is the FS allowed to fence off 40% of the habitat of the Salt River Wild Horses who are protected by state and federal law? Too many chiefs in control and not enough communication between them. I’m happy you got something, but there’s a lot of species who didn’t!!

    • Chip Wittrock

      Currently, there are approximately 500 horses in the Tonto National Forest’s Lower Salt River Recreation Area. These horses are being artificially fed to prevent mass starvation as the horses have over-grazed the area of all its natural forage. The horses have cost the public approximately $5.614 million since the Arizona Department of Agriculture entered into a management agreement with the Forest Service in December 2017 as the result of A.R.S. 3-1491 sponsored by Rep. Kelly Townsend and signed by Governor Ducey.

      Two dozen horses have been killed in motor vehicle collisions since December 2017. Miraculously, no motorists have died though one young woman has been brain-damaged for life as the result of a horse running in front of her motorcycle.

      One nearby rancher has suffered almost $4,000 in damage to his property when starving horses broke through his fencing in search of food.

      Another nearby guest ranch operator has been struggling with Salt River horses breaking through their fences to get into their hay barn and with their clients’ rides being disrupted by Salt River horses. These are overpopulated feral horses,,,

  3. The Trump administration (Andrew Wheeler, coal lobbyist head of EPA, David Bernhardt, oil and gas lobbyist head of Interior, William Pendley, “all federal lands should be sold” head of BLM) has not been kind or helpful to our environment. They have been gutting environmental protections left and right. Some of these short term may look good, their long term attacks on our environment are beyond bad. We need people in these positions who genuinely care about our environment and these are not it.

    • Robert Wiseman

      Indeed, Murray! Couldn’t have said it better myself. We really need real conservation heroes in these positions. People like Zinke and Pruitt were the exact opposites of who should have been in charge, and both had to step down in shame. Time for true conservation minded activists to step up and take these jobs to protect our wildlife and our environment.

  4. S. Schroeder

    Instead of empowering people in the future of hunting we should be empowering people in the future of conservation and preservation. Killing is NOT conservation. Hunting is not the only funding, in fact, we are in dire need of a New Guard of conservationists who promote non-consumptive funding. All trapping and fur sales should be banned as we enter a new age of compassion and true conservation. Fur trapping is cruel and barbaric and has absolutely ZERO to do with conservation. The Fish & Wildlife Agencies need more non-hunter members, people who genuinely care about our environment, our wild habitats and the lives contained therein, who do not look at it solely as a “sport” to take and use. The Trump administration is no friend to wildlife or the environment. We will see long term suffering from many of the horrid decisions these big oil men have made. True conservationists must work together, and work harder, to protect our national treasures, our wildlife.

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Cory Deal

January 14, 2020

Podcast: Whit Fosburgh Joins MeatEater to Discuss Conservation Priorities

TRCP’s president and CEO Whit Fosburgh appeared on the MeatEater podcast to discuss pressing conservation priorities to keep on your radar.

 

Randall Williams

January 10, 2020

The North American Model, Explained

A Quick Primer on the Foundation of Our Hunting and Fishing Heritage

Hunters and anglers have long been the driving force behind wildlife conservation in America. In the second half of the 19th century, hunters began to organize and advocate for the creation of wildlife refuges, after witnessing the effects of market hunting and the wanton destruction of habitat. Some species, like the passenger pigeon, were taken to the point of no return; others such as bison, whitetail deer, and wild turkeys, were pushed to the edge of extinction.

President Theodore Roosevelt is generally remembered as the father of conservation in our country. He credited wild places and wildlife for his own personal development, and feared that the rugged individualism the wilderness taught him would be lost if he didn’t succeed in making conservation the nation’s highest priority. During his tenure as president, Roosevelt set aside more than 240 million acres as national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife refuges. He and his colleagues were instrumental in ending market hunting and ushering forward our nation’s conservation ethos.

Subsequent generations expanded Roosevelt’s legacy by creating funding mechanisms, primarily through excise taxes and license fees, to pay for the professional management and acquisition of millions of acres for the public to enjoy. During the early 1900s, important laws were passed, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act of 1934, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 (better known as the Pittman-Robertson Act), and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950 (the Dingell-Johnson Act).

These statutes and the legal and funding framework that has since developed through these collective actions is now known as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The term — coined and further expanded upon by luminaries such as Valerius Geist and Shane Mahoney, and championed by groups such as the Boone and Crockett Club and The Wildlife Society— outlines the principles that have underpinned successful wildlife conservation efforts in Canada and the United States.

 

USFWS Mountain Prairie
The Seven Pillars

As articulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seven features make the North American model distinct:

1) Wildlife is a public resource and held in public trust. In the Unites States, wildlife is considered a public resource, independent of the land or water where wildlife may live. Government at various levels have a role in managing that resource on behalf of all citizens and to ensure the long-term sustainability of wildlife populations.

2) Markets for game have been eliminated. Government actions making it illegal to buy and sell meat and parts of game and non-game species have removed a huge threat to the survival of those species. A market in furbearers continues as a highly regulated activity.

3) Allocation of wildlife by law. Wildlife is a public resource managed by government. As a result, access to wildlife for hunting is through legal mechanisms such as set hunting seasons, bag limits, license requirements, etc.

4) Wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose. Wildlife is a shared resource that must not be wasted. The law prohibits killing wildlife for frivolous reasons.

5) Wildlife species are considered an international resource. Some species, such as migratory birds, cross national boundaries. Treaties such as the Migratory Bird Treaty and CITES recognize a shared responsibility to manage these species across national boundaries.

6) Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy. In order to manage wildlife as a shared resource fairly, objectively, and knowledgeably, decisions must be based on sound science such as annual waterfowl population surveys and the work of professional wildlife biologists.

7) The democracy of hunting and fishing. In keeping with democratic principles, government allocates access to wildlife without regard for wealth, prestige, or land ownership.

 

Jeff Sullivan via Flickr
A Heritage Worth Fighting For

Today, we all have a duty to understand this uniquely American privilege and to preserve it for future generations.

Too often we take for granted what Roosevelt and generations of conservation-minded leaders have left us: a system of public lands that is unparalleled in all the world; the best-managed fish and wildlife populations of any nation; and the ability for all Americans to hunt and fish, regardless of class or economic status.

 

Top photo: Paul VanDerWerf via Flickr

Marnee Banks

January 9, 2020

A Season of Firsts: Getting Started

An Aspiring Hunter Reflects on Potential Barriers to Recruiting New Sportsmen and Women

Whenever I tell people that I grew up in Montana, the first question I’m always asked is whether I hunt.

Up until this year, I’ve always sheepishly answered “no,” thinking that my reply in the negative would undermine my credibility as a Westerner.  

Growing up at the base of the Rocky Mountains, I was surrounded by big antlers on the wall, game meat on the table, and camo attire at weddings and funerals.  But I didn’t hunt.  

I was intimidated by the sport. I didn’t have anyone in my family who could teach me. I didn’t own a gun. I didn’t have any of the right gear. I didn’t know how to get a license or what I might need one for.  

But I knew I needed to learn when I began working at TRCP. If I wanted to talk the talk, I had to walk the walk. And with an office full of potential mentors, there was no excuse not to give it a shot.

Diving In

After asking a few of my co-workers how to get started, I discovered I could take a online hunter education course, which would then allow me to purchase a hunting license in any state. 

Given my current residence in Washington D.C., I signed up for the Maryland web course, which took about four hours to complete.  After passing the online portion, I had to spend an afternoon at a face-to-face class where an instructor would teach us how to handle a firearm, identify ethical shots, and navigate the complexities of landowner permission.   

It sounds relatively easy, but there were several barriers that needlessly frustrated the process.  And, because I know the statistics surrounding hunting’s declining rates of participation, they troubled me.  

For instance, because there were no opportunities to take the class near my apartment in the city, I had to rent a car and drive three hours to complete my certification. Meanwhile, the location of the course had been moved and I had no way of knowing until I showed up to the wrong building, just 10 minutes before the class was supposed to begin. The change in venue might not have been a big deal to someone familiar with the local community or who hadn’t needed to carefully plan their travel that day, but for me it presented another hurdle that could have been easily avoided.

When I arrived late, I was one of two female students in a class of 20 led by all male instructors.  One man, clearly amused by the D.C. license plate on my car, asked “Why would a city girl come all the way up here to learn how to hunt?” Another man quipped, “Don’t hold that gun like you’re scared of it.” While not intended to be mean-spirited, these words and others throughout the day clearly implied that I was out of place.

These challenges did not stop me from passing the course, but I can imagine for some they might. How would a prospective new hunter without easy access to transportation get there? Can we make it easier to reach new hunters where they might be found? How would someone with less self-confidence respond when they walk into that room or when they encounter skeptical gazes and teasing? Can we find ways to understand how underrepresented groups might feel as they learn about hunting?

We have to ask ourselves these questions as we watch the number of hunters decline year after year.

 

The Road Ahead

Thankfully, at the end of 2019 Congress took a major step forward in addressing some of these problems.  They passed the bipartisan Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act allowing excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to be used to improve the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters.  

As this law gets implemented, states should take a hard look at the hurdles that people have to jump over and work to address them so more people feel comfortable learning about the sport and joining our community.  Reversing the trend of declining participation will require us to think seriously about what we can do better to make hunting more accessible to all, no matter where they live or what they look like.

This blog is part one is a series. Tune in next week to hear more about Marnee’s bird hunting adventure.  

 

Randall Williams

December 5, 2019

House Committee Advances Bills to Invest in Hunter Recruitment and Proactive Conservation

Lawmakers tee up floor vote for legislation to modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act and to head off habitat challenges for at-risk species

In a House Natural Resources Committee hearing today, decision-makers voted to advance two critical funding priorities with long-term impacts for American sportsmen and women.

The Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act would allow a portion of hunting license sales and excise taxes on gear, guns, and ammunition to be used not only for conservation but also to recruit, retain, and reactivate more hunters.

“State wildlife agencies have the most to lose if hunting participation continues to decline, because many of them depend entirely on Pittman-Robertson dollars, but that’s why it’s so critical that these agencies market to and educate prospective sportsmen and women,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This critical update to the original law—which was written at a time when more than half the country hunted or had access to someone who could likely show them how—would help ensure the future of our traditions and turn the tide on a looming conservation funding crisis in America.”

The committee also debated and passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would invest roughly $1.4 billion in proactive, voluntary conservation efforts led by states, territories, and tribal nations to prevent vulnerable wildlife from becoming endangered. This new fund could benefit up to 12,000 species, including 40 percent of the nation’s freshwater fish, that need conservation action.

“We’re thrilled to see momentum behind a new investment in conservation that recognizes the real need to get ahead of habitat challenges—rather than scramble to revive a species on the brink,” says Fosburgh. “Together, these two pieces of legislation represent a forward-thinking approach to conservation that should be applauded, and we hope to see bipartisan support on the House floor very soon.”

Watch a video of the hearing here.

 

Photo: Ken Mattison via Flickr

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.

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