Marnee Banks

February 14, 2020

A Bird Would Be a Bonus

Reflections from a rookie hunter’s first day afield 

When the alarm went off, I had already been awake for 15 minutes.  I easily popped out of bed and started layering up.  Ed told me it would be chilly and I needed to be prepared for the crisp, fall air.  

My butterflies were surprisingly active for 4:00 am.  It felt like Christmas morning growing up in Montana, but instead it was opening day in Colorado. And would need to work a little harder for any gifts that might come my way 

The pickup and trailer were already loaded down with decoys, two different blinds, a sled, extra clothing, and Dekea chocolate lab who would prove to be an excellent partner in the blind.   This was Ed’s 1,000th (or so) hunt, but it was my first.   

Earlier in the year, I had mentioned on a work call that I wanted to start hunting and TRCP’s chief scientist Ed Arnett generously volunteered to take me on my first excursion. I was nervous about how this might all shake out, but Ed patiently calmed my nerves in the days leading up to our trip 

After a short drive, we pulled up near the pond where we planned to set up and I asked if I could be put to work.  I wanted to know how to do it all. I wanted the experience of hauling the equipment to the spot, wading through the water, setting up the decoys, covering the blind with brush, and sitting quietly as the sun rose.   

It was a picturesque morning, and stereotypical beginning to my first experience in the field. Moments after placing the spread, a HUGE flock of birds flew overhead just before shooting lightso there we sat, still under the blues and yellows of the morning sky, waiting for the next opportunity. 

As we waited, Ed walked me through the best way to hold my gun in the blind and what would happen when and if the next round tried to land.  There’s something about duck hunting that is quite different than what I understand about big game hunting: It’s more social. Ed and I swapped stories of our experiences outside, talked to Deke, drank our coffee, and waited for the birds to come in. 

was eager to bust out of the top of the blind and take my first shot at a bird. I had practiced by breaking clays in the days and weeks leading up to this hunt. If I had the opportunity, I wanted to make sure not to miss.  

As with any good hunting story, there are exaggerations and compressions and extensions of time.  So this next part falls into the category of true, but the full story has been shortened so you don’t have to read a play-by-play of two full days in the blind with Ed and me and zero action. (You’re welcome.) 

“Ed!” I whisperyell.   

He calmly signals for me to hold.  Thenseconds later I hear him say, “Take them!”  

We pop up out of the blind. There are three mallards just about to land. I fire.  He fires. One drops.  

It’s definitely not mine.  

Deke retrieves perfectly and my pulse is racing.   

There was something magical about the whole experience. I could have been disappointed that I didn’t get my first bird, but I wasn’t. I was grateful to be outside learning from an experienced hunterfeeling an indescribable rush, and taking it all in.  

Whatever anxiety I’d felt about taking on this challenge, developing new skills, and putting myself out there had evaporated with the morning fog. The biggest takeaway from my time in the blind was clear: the attention and generosity of a thoughtful mentocan make all the difference in the world.  

It was a great reminder that if our community will succeed in addressing some of the most important conservation challenges—hunter recruitment among them—everyone has a role to play, no matter how big or small. 

As we packed up the decoys onebyone, I was thankful for such a rewarding first hunting experience and knew it wouldn’t be the last.

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Marnee Banks

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.

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. 

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

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.

Learn More
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