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February 13, 2020

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February 10, 2020

President’s Budget Proposes Deep Cuts to Conservation

Sportsmen and women call on Congress to invest in land, water, wildlife, and fisheries

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s president and CEO Whit Fosburgh issued the following statement in response to the President’s proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget:

“With just a few exceptions, this budget falls woefully short when it comes to investing in conservation and our outdoor recreation economy.  As Congress walks through the appropriations process, it’s imperative that lawmakers listen to sportsmen and women and make lasting contributions to the future of land, water, wildlife, and fisheries.”

Now that the President has rolled out his proposed budget, Congress is tasked with passing appropriations bills by September 30, 2020.

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February 7, 2020

Who Will Protect Our Nation’s Wetlands and Streams Now?

A look back at why EPA’s rollback doesn’t hold water

In January, the administration released its final new rule establishing the reach of the Clean Water Act. If this rule survives court challenges, the landmark federal law protecting our nation’s water from polluting activities will cover fewer waterbodies than at any time since 1972.

The new rule will not safeguard wetlands unless they are adjacent to a river, removing protections for the many wetlands supplied by underground source water, such as the prairie potholes of the upper Midwest, high mountain fens, and the playas of the southern plains. The new rule will also not protect “ephemeral” streams, which flow only after rainstorms.

Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr
The Backstory

The 1972 Clean Water Act responded to catastrophic pollution in the 1950s and 1960s, like the Cuyahoga River burning and Lake Erie being declared “dead.” The law replaced a 1965 federal statute that had given states the lead in fighting water pollution. While states are closer to problems and know the local value of a waterbody better than a federal agency in Washington, D.C., states simply did not have the resources or political will to stop the powerful interests responsible for the most damaging pollution.

So, Congress imposed a comprehensive framework to clean up America’s waters. The newly created Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers became the first line of defense by policing activities that discharged pollutants to rivers, streams and wetlands, although states were given the option to assume these permit programs if they could demonstrate they had the resources to do so. Meanwhile, states continue to set water quality standards, subject to federal approval, for their rivers, streams, and lakes, while the EPA established nation-wide “technology” standards on an industry-by-industry basis.

Finally, to ensure all parties had incentives to work towards better water quality, Congress appropriated billions of dollars to states for revolving funds to make loans to local governments for the construction of modern wastewater treatment facilities.

Over the decades, this strategy proved spectacularly effective. Our waters are substantially cleaner that in 1970 thanks to the Clean Water Act.

To be sure, every state still has its list of “impaired” waters, most of which are polluted by runoff from agriculture, abandoned mines, or urban development. The law requires states to adopt plans that move these waters towards better quality. Congress provides Section 319 funding to incentivize the implementation of measures that can minimize or eliminate polluted runoff.

Photo: Bryant Olsen via Flickr
Looking Ahead

Why is this history important? EPA and the Corps of Engineers argue that their decision to stop protecting many streams and over half of the country’s remaining wetlands is justified because states can and should have this responsibility. They assert this rationale while acknowledging that states currently have neither the programs nor the funds to protect all these waters, especially without the substantial federal investment of the last 48 years.

The federal agencies claim that if these water resources are truly important, states will pass legislation to create new programs and impose the new taxes or fees needed to support them, so that they protect their no-longer federally protected waters and wetlands. And if states don’t, then too bad.

“Too bad” is not responsible clean water policy. Congress acted in 1972 for a reason.

The EPA’s rollback gives the nation a choice: do we really want to lose the clean water gains of the last half century, standing by as activities pollute or destroy the wetlands that support the country’s waterfowl, the headwaters streams that nurture our trout and salmon, and the desert washes that sustain entire communities?

If not, hunters, anglers, and everyone who values these precious water resources will need to organize a massive grassroots campaign. Either we must convince Congress to clarify that the Clean Water Act is intended to protect these water resources or—if Congress refuses to act—we must work to ensure all 50 states have the resources and political will to take over this awesome responsibility.

Failure can simply not be an option.

 

Top photo: BLM Oregon via Flickr

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February 6, 2020

A CLEAR Solution to Nutrient Loading

This Farm Bill-funded program boosts habitat and addresses a watershed-wide problem 

The 2019 planting year was historic—but unfortunately not in the way that many American farmers would like to remember. Unseasonably wet conditions prevented planting on nearly 20 million acres of corn, soybean, and wheat crops, among others, doubling the previous record of 9.6 million acres in 2011. The yearly average is typically between 3-4 million acres.     

Last spring’s deluge caused at least $3 billion in damages to the heartland and brought shipping on the Mississippi to a halt.  The resulting erosion, sediment loss and nutrient runoff carried ecological impacts stretching across thousands of miles. As rain continued to fall in the Missouri and Mississippi River basinsrising waters eroded soils and washed downstream millions of tons of nutrient fertilizer and organic matter from agriculturally productive land. Locally, the depletion of these substances results in reduced crop yields, and when this material reaches the ocean it can be devastating to marine health. 

But thanks to the Farm Bill, there’s a new initiative that will aid in addressing this challenge while both improving water quality and establishing healthy habitat for the birds and game animals that hunters love to chase. 

A Growing Problem

Each year, nutrient runoff in the midwestern United States flows downstream and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The sudden but predictable heightened levels of nitrates and phosphorus result in algae blooms which then decompose and deoxygenate the water tablekilling phytoplankton and fish at the base of the aquatic food-chain. The Gulf of Mexico hypoxia or “dead zone is not the only one in the United States, but it is one of the largest recurring in the world. In 2019, the Gulf dead zone covered 6,952 square miles off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas—the eighth largest on record. Each year, the dead zone dissipates as air and water temperatures drop but swells again in spring.  

The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force (HTF) is comprised of tribal, state and federal officials that coordinate nutrient reduction efforts from both point (wastewater) and non-point (agricultural) sources up and down the Mississippi River basin. The task force is working towards an ambitious goal of reducing the average size of the Gulf dead zone to 1,800 square miles by the year 2035. A problem of such significant scope does not offer a silver bullet solution, and meeting reduction targets requires a full state and federal toolkit. 

A CLEAR Solution

One key mechanism to address non-point source nutrient loading was codified in the 2018 Farm Bill. The Clean Lakes, Estuaries and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative builds on the existing continuousConservation Reserve Program (CRP) to target nutrient and sediment runoff and improve the water quality benefits of existing conservation practices. The CRP incentivizes landowners to retire marginal cropland for a period of 10-15 years and establish vegetative covers that offer a benefit to soil, water, and wildlife habitat—premium for deer, upland bird, and waterfowl hunting. The 2018 bill further required that 40% of continuous-CRP acreage be enrolled via CLEAR, and in order to track the long-term benefit of such practices established a pilot program (CLEAR 30) offering 30-year CLEAR contracts.

Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack oversaw the creation of CLEAR by the USDA in 2016. According to Vilsack, the installation of CLEAR practices such as duck nesting habitat, riparian buffers, contour grasses, and prairie strips can reduce nitrate runoff by up to 40% more than traditional conservation practices. Since its establishment in 1985, the CRP has grown to be one of the USDA’s most powerful tools in curbing nutrient lossreducing nitrogen and phosphorus runoff by a combined 650 million pounds in Fiscal Year 2014 alone. CLEAR has potential to demonstrably increase that benefit. 

As the USDA Farm Service Agency moves ahead with implementing the 2018 bill, the TRCP and our partner organizations are actively engaged in providing feedback to ensure that programs like CLEAR are implemented to achieve the greatest benefit to wildlife. The sum of these efforts will be critical in addressing some of our greatest conservation challenges like the Gulf’s dead zone.   

For more information on the Conservation Reserve Program, visit crpworks.org.

 

Top photo: Jeff Weese via Flickr

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February 5, 2020

U.S. House Passes Bill to Continue Historic Chesapeake Bay Restoration

Support for this legislation is a critical step forward for hunters and anglers in America’s largest estuary

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed legislation that preserves the economic and recreational value of the Chesapeake Bay.

The bipartisan Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1620) fully funds the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program by authorizing $455 million over the next five years. This program hasn’t been formally authorized since 2005, so this legislation will provide much-needed certainty to state, federal, and nonprofit partners working to restore the water quality of the Bay and its tributaries.

“The Chesapeake Bay is the iconic home to incredible fisheries, migrating waterfowl, and powerful economic opportunity, and some of the best hunting and fishing around,” said Steve Kline, chief policy officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and women want to thank Congresswoman Elaine Luria and the cosponsors of this legislation for their work ensuring that Bay watershed states can keep working together to brighten the future of the Chesapeake.”

The Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization Act is also part of the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (ACE Act) which was passed by the Senate unanimously in January.  In addition to the Bay provisions, the ACE Act includes a host of fish and wildlife conservation priorities and House floor passage of the ACE Act represents the clearest way for these key legislative efforts to get to the President’s desk. We urge the House to pass the ACE Act, which also:

  • Reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act at $60 million annually through Fiscal Year 2025. The Act has improved over 30 million acres of wetlands, making it one of the nation’s most effective voluntary conservation programs.
  • Establishes a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service-led task force to address the spread of chronic wasting disease.
  • Codifies the National Fish Habitat Partnership. Since 2006, the Partnership has overseen over 840 projects to benefit fish habitat and populations.

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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