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The bipartisan legislation will address growing challenges to species and habitat health
More than 50 conservation groups are banding together and calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to pass bipartisan legislation that invests in wetlands, fisheries, chronic wasting disease research, and the Chesapeake Bay.
In early January, the Senate passed the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act or ACE Act (H.R. 925), and now a coalition of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation groups are asking the House to follow suit.
“Passage of the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act will not only have wide-ranging ecological benefits but will facilitate outdoor recreation on behalf of millions of Americans, strengthening conservation funding streams for years to come,” said the groups.
The coalition is asking the House to take up the legislation as passed by the Senate and make no changes.
The ACE Act:
The coalition’s letter to the House is available HERE.
EPA undermines protections for wetlands and streams
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency today announced a final decision to redefine which waters are eligible for Clean Water Act protections, leaving important habitat for fish and waterfowl vulnerable to pollution and significant harm.
Speaking at the National Association of Home Builders conference, Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he would be rolling back the 2015 Clean Water rule.
“This announcement flies in the face of all the hunters and fishermen who have contacted the EPA saying they oppose this decision,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These rollbacks undermine the intent of the Clean Water Act, which has a proven track record of protecting America’s waters and supporting healthy habitat.”
The new rule will leave roughly half of the nation’s wetlands and almost one out of five of its stream miles without federal protection from pollution. In drier western states, as many of 90 percent of stream miles will not be protected from being polluted.
Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, creating a federal regulatory floor for pollution control across the country, as well as a partnership with states to address the many threats to our nation’s waters. This was important because states had not had the financial or political resources necessary to ensure clean water. Now the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are asserting that for all of the streams and wetlands they will no longer protect, states could step in, if they want, even as the agencies acknowledge that many states won’t have the resources to do so.
In a national poll, 93 percent of hunters and anglers say they believe the Clean Water Act has benefited the country. Additionally, 80 percent of sportsmen and women said Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands. Additionally, 92 percent believe that we should strengthen or maintain current clean water standards, not relax them.
Nevada sportsmen today voiced support for legislation that ensures responsible energy development on public land.
The End Speculative Oil and Gas Leasing Act of 2020 S.3202) introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), would require the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to not lease lands that have little or no potential for the development of oil and gas reserves. The legislation would apply to all federal lands across the West, specifically to lands that are considered low or no potential for oil and gas development.
Sen. Cortez Masto is also sponsoring a separate bill, the Ruby Mountain Protection Act (S.258), which would prevent speculative leasing in one of Nevada’s most revered hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation areas.
“In 2019 over a million acres of land in Nevada were offered for lease, yet less than seven percent of that acreage even received a bid,” said Carl Erquiaga, the Nevada Field Representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Agencies are currently spending taxpayer dollars offering low potential parcels for sale that nobody wants to buy, and these precious resources could be better spent managing the lands and resources that we all own. We want to thank the Senator for her work on this important legislation.”
90 percent of lands managed by BLM are available for oil and gas leasing, even in places with no or little potential for development.
Sen. Cortez Masto’s bill doesn’t change the BLMs mission or mandate, but it would require that the agency have current and up to date plans for oil and gas development before allowing leasing. Importantly, the bill would not impact the availability of medium and high potential lands for leasing or affect existing oil and gas operations.
“This is a common-sense bill,” said Pam Harrington, a field staffer for Trout Unlimited based in Crescent Valley, NV. “Requiring upfront planning before making leasing decisions that will impact generations of Nevadans is the right thing to do and we appreciate Sen Cortez Masto working on this issue.”
Sportsmen for the Rubies is made up of 14 Nevada hunting and fishing groups who are focused on safeguarding the Ruby Mountains from inappropriate oil and gas development.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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