Fishing Chesapeake Bay
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Changes to a bedrock conservation law threaten to put blinders on federal decision-makers
As sportsmen and women know, big game animals migrate through landscapes that stretch across many boundaries. Rivers cross both state lines and international borders. Fish swim not only in large navigable waters, but in their tributaries, including ones that are small, intermittent or even ephemeral; some fish, in early life stages, live in wetlands. And the North American flyways send ducks and other waterfowl across our whole country and into Canada every year.
Our world is interconnected, which means we must look holistically at the impacts that human development has on land, water, wildlife, and fish.
Unfortunately, the Administration’s recently proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act would significantly inhibit federal agencies’ ability to measure these impacts.
President Richard Nixon signed NEPA into law in 1970 directing federal agencies to take actions that “restore and enhance [and also] avoid or minimize any possible adverse effects of their actions upon the quality of the human environment.”
NEPA requires every federal agency to consider the effects of its decisions on the environment; to look at a range of alternatives before acting; and to seek public comment on various aspects of a given project, from its scope and positive or negative effects to possible alternatives and mitigation.
The rules guiding this process have not been updated since the 1980s, but earlier this year the Administration proposed a major set of changes: some of which threaten to undermine its effectiveness and others that are welcome improvements.
For example, because so much of our communication is now conducted online, agencies should use web-based tools to announce proposed decisions and collect public comments. This is a welcome improvement.
There are also changes to streamline the process, in an effort to address widespread complaints that NEPA documents are too lengthy and take too long to develop. TRCP supports these changes, in part because they do not impose rigid or arbitrary limits. We just hope the agencies are given the resources to accomplish these goals.
As noted above, however, other changes are cause for concern. The purpose of NEPA has never been to require a specific outcome, but instead to ensure that federal decision making is well-informed by an awareness of and concern for any potential environmental impacts.
Perhaps the most dramatic proposed change would eliminate an agency having to consider the cumulative impacts of its actions and look only at the immediate action’s direct effects on nearby lands and waters. These changes so limit NEPA’s directive to consider reasonably foreseeable effects that it would force agencies to consider an action in a vacuum. The TRCP strongly opposes this change because we live in a world both that is both connected and ever-changing.
It is hard to imagine how an agency considers acting on a proposal without looking both at what is already there –roads and dams, cities and farm fields – and also what is expected in the near future – other new coastal developments, oil wells, timber sales or dams. Under the administration’s proposed rules, for example, agencies will not consider how multiple energy development proposals proposed across the same corridor would have a cumulative impact on a mule deer migration. Nor would agencies be required to study how a project that diverts water would add to a larger problem, such as serious drought conditions on a river system that already has multiple diversions.
So, please think about your future as sportsmen and women and exercise your public right to have a voice in this decision. Click here to learn more and submit a public comment by March 10.
Photo: Bob Wick, BLM via Flickr
Senators Manchin and Gardner propose bill to provide full dedicated funding to LWCF, make critical investments in National Parks
With the support of President Donald J. Trump, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced today during a press conference new legislation that will provide full dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The new proposal combines two bills that would fully fund LWCF (S. 1081 – the LWCF Permanent Funding Act) and address the maintenance backlog at National Parks (Restore America’s Parks Act ROPA – S.500).
“Sportsmen and women are thrilled to see bipartisan momentum building behind the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It has a proven track record of supporting hunting, fishing, and our booming outdoor economy. We urge the full Senate to invest in the future of LWCF and the conservation of our natural resources.”
“This is a historic deal reflecting the tremendous bipartisan support for our public lands. It is the once-in-a-generation chance we have been waiting for to solidify our investments in the outdoor economy and put an end to the constant raiding of LWCF. We applaud our congressional champions and the Administration for demonstrating that bipartisan cooperation can achieve great things, and for finding common ground in the fight to ensure that future generations will continue to have access to close-to-home recreation,” said Tom Cors, Director of Government Relations for Lands at The Nature Conservancy and a spokesman for the LWCF Coalition.
About the Land and Water Conservation Fund
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is America’s most important conservation program, responsible for protecting parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas at the federal, state and local level. For 50 years, it has provided critical funding for land and water conservation projects, recreational construction and activities and the continued historic preservation of our nation’s iconic landmarks from coast-to-coast.
LWCF does not use any taxpayer dollars – it is funded using a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments. Outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation activities contribute more than $887 billion annually to the U.S. economy, supporting 7.6 million jobs.
About the LWCF Coalition
The LWCF Coalition is the umbrella group of more than 1,000 state and local land owners, small businesses, ranchers, sportsmen, veterans, outdoor recreationists and conservation organizations working to protect America’s public lands and safeguard our shared outdoor heritage for future generations.
The Coalition is united in its advocacy for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will ensure the continued conservation of our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness, civil war battlefields, as well as state and local parks.
For more information on LWCF and the places in each state that have been protected using LWCF funds, visit www.lwcfcoalition.com
Photo by Stephen Baker/BLM Oregon
New poll shows strong support for additional wildlife crossings and new safeguards for migration routes
These days, it can seem like a daunting challenge to find an issue that on 9 out of 10 registered voters will agree. That’s particularly true when you’re polling across party lines, up and down the socioeconomic ladder, and in rural and urban areas alike.
But sportsmen and women should be encouraged by a new report out of Nevada, which demonstrated overwhelming support for two critical issues facing the West’s big game animals: migration corridor conservation and highway crossings for wildlife.
As roads and development increasingly fragment the seasonal habitats and routes used by elk, mule deer, and antelope, it has become much more difficult for our herds to reach the winter and summer ranges where they can access the best-available food sources throughout the year. And highways in particular not only pose a barrier to migrating herds, as GPS collar data has shown; collisions between wildlife and vehicles pose a significant safety risk to drivers and passengers on our roads.
According to the poll, conducted by the research firm FM3 for The Pew Charitable Trusts, registered voters in Nevada agree on the need to pursue common-sense solutions to these issues. More than 93% support the implementation of new conservation measures to protect wildlife migration corridors, and 92% support the installation of additional wildlife overpasses and underpasses to protect migrating wildlife.
Significantly, 77% of registered voters in Nevada said that wildlife migration should be prioritized over oil and gas drilling in the Ruby Mountains, home to the state’s largest mule deer herd. Hunters and anglers have led an effort to defend the Rubies, an iconic destination for sportsmen and women, against speculative energy development. These findings suggest widespread support for the Ruby Mountain Protection Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) earlier this year.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the numbers highlighted in the report:
Top photo: BLM Nevada, Chip Caroon via Flickr
Bill supports recreational fishing economy and science-based management
With strong bipartisan support the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that improves menhaden management in the Atlantic.
The bill, which is headed to Governor Northam’s desk, transfers management authority of Atlantic menhaden to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which oversees every other saltwater fishery in the Commonwealth.
Once signed into law, the legislation puts Virginia on a path toward compliance with the regional fishery management plan which was flouted by foreign fishing giant Omega Protein.
“With this landmark decision, the Virginia General Assembly has acknowledged the critical role that recreational fishing plays in the Virginia economy and the need for science, and not politics, to guide management,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “For too long, Omega has exploited the Chesapeake Bay at the expense of recreational anglers. This is a huge step forward for sound fisheries conservation in the Chesapeake. The recreational fishing community thanks the bill sponsors and Governor Northam for their leadership as well as the unfailing support of charter captains, fishing guides and other small businesses who rely on a healthy Chesapeake Bay for their livelihoods.”
In late 2019, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission found Omega Protein had exceeded the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishing cap by 35 million pounds, a ruling upheld by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Conserving menhaden is particularly important because striped bass, which feed on menhaden, are in worrisome decline.
“As a critical food source for rockfish and other important recreational fisheries, menhaden must be managed sustainably to support their role in the ecosystem,” said Mike Leonard, the American Sportfishing Association’s Vice President of Government Affairs. “Allowing the fisheries management experts at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to manage menhaden is a long-awaited step in ensuring science-based management of the resource. The sportfishing industry is particularly grateful to Governor Northam and leaders in the Virginia state legislature for prioritizing this bill and working diligently toward its passage.”
“There is a growing need for more robust conservation practices in our fisheries – not only with menhaden but all forage fish – and the passage of this bill is an important step towards better recognizing and correcting the harmful impacts overfishing can have on our communities,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Protecting menhaden is essential for recreational activities in the Chesapeake Bay and we thank Virginia legislators for taking action to that ensure our marine ecosystems remain healthy for generations to come.”
Captain Chris Dollar is a professional fishing guide, tackle shop owner, all-around Chesapeake outdoorsman, and writer.
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