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Why post-COVID economic recovery efforts should include investments in our public lands, fish and wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation infrastructure
While the coronavirus pandemic has significantly affected the health of Americans and stressed entire segments of the economy, the efforts of our lawmakers to negotiate and pass multiple emergency supplemental funding bills deserves recognition. These steps have improved COVID-19 response and helped to protect America’s small businesses and workers.
This effort has focused on providing support for those who are struggling—and rightly so. The legislation even incentivizes those with the means to contribute to first-response efforts, care groups, and nonprofits like the TRCP.
But when the time comes to turn our attention to economic recovery and putting Americans back to work, we believe that Congress should make key investments in conservation. Here is what we’d prioritize and why.
Think: Improvements to access roads, boat ramps, campgrounds, visitor facilities, and other deferred maintenance projects that have been sorely underfunded on our public lands.
The benefits of investing in this recreation infrastructure are clear and compelling. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation’s annual economic impact is $778 billion each year. While 40 million Americans hunt and fish each year, it is likely that millions more have enjoyed the benefits of the outdoors over the past several weeks and will continue to do so in the months ahead. It has become evident that American wellbeing is inextricably linked to our commitment to conserving and improving our great outdoors. Investing in the restoration of our nation’s natural resources helps get people back to work.
These investments attract new businesses, recruit and retain employees, and improve quality of life by supporting rural economies, connecting urban populations with our natural treasures, and helping people build healthy lives. In the bargain, we get cleaner air and water, improved fish and wildlife habitat, and better experiences afield.
Congressional leaders should keep this in mind.
Given that the current highway bill expires in September 2020, the conservation community sees this as an opportunity to improve federal road systems, greenways, campgrounds, trails, marinas, and bike paths that connect our communities, improve safety, enhance quality of life, and drive forward recreation economies for rural and urban areas alike. The TRCP is especially supportive of language in the existing Senate bill that funds wildlife-friendly highway crossings at $250 million over five years.
Along with this influx of cash, however, it is critical that design and construction of our roads, highways, bridges, ports, and airports is better integrated into our communities and natural systems—beginning from the project inception phase. As the country recovers and gets back to work, we’ll need to look for every opportunity to reduce costs, address costly safety concerns, expedite project timelines, reduce environmental impacts, and respond to societal needs. Congress has a chance to lead on improved implementation of nature-based and natural infrastructure solutions—including fish and wildlife crossings and connectivity, stormwater reduction, and wetlands restoration—that are smart from the start.
Congress also needs to address the biennial authorization of the Water Resources Development Act, which traditionally garners widespread bipartisan support. Conservationists strongly encourage lawmakers to specifically include robust funding for studies and restoration projects in the Mississippi River watershed and programs that build drought resiliency, increase water efficiency, and infuse critical resources for our nation’s Western water delivery systems and agricultural sector.
Across the federal government, there are a suite of habitat restoration programs designed to benefit fish and wildlife and enhance the resiliency of our natural systems, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the National Fish Habitat Partnership, and the Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trails Program. These on-the-ground restoration programs infuse important resources into local communities, generate construction jobs, leverage state, local, and private sector resources at ratios of 3:1 or greater, and provide countless environmental benefits for our local communities.
There are also high-priority projects across the country to reverse wildfire damage, remove invasive species, restore habitat and water quality, and empower outdoor recreation users to get involved in conservation and wildlife research.
These efforts could productively and rapidly utilize an influx of funding to achieve meaningful on-the-ground conservation work, and we strongly encourage funding for these programs to be included in the stimulus. But legislative language should ensure that funding for projects should be contingent on the completion of an appropriate level of environmental review, with a strong preference for projects that have already been subject to environmental analysis.
It’s important to note that lawmakers have taken these steps before. In what became a successful effort to get the economy moving again after the financial crisis of 2008, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Among a host of other provisions, ARRA wisely included substantial investments in public lands, fish and wildlife habitat restoration, and water quality, sending critical funding to projects that had the dual benefit of getting people back to work and providing a multitude of clear public benefits.
Certainly, COVID-19 is the most serious threat our nation and our world has faced in many years, and Congress must continue to combat the virus and its impact on our healthcare system and vulnerable populations. But in the midst of this crisis, addressing our natural resources and outdoor recreation infrastructure is also of particular relevance, as so many Americans seek renewal and reconnection on public lands and waters. The current economic situation seems well-suited for committing to America’s outdoor resources and the jobs they can create.
This post was updated on July 22, 2020, when the House passed the Great American Outdoors Act, securing a top priority for creating shovel-ready jobs that we listed here previously.
Top photo of a fish-friendly culvert project by Washington State Department of Transportation via flickr.
A handful of page-turners to keep hunters and anglers entertained and educated
Perhaps not surprisingly, given his well-known curiosity and his own accomplishments as a writer, Theodore Roosevelt was a voracious reader. He often juggled several books at once, covering wide-ranging subjects, and commonly recommended or sent books to friends and acquaintances.
With more time at home than usual, many Americans are finding time to catch up on the reading that can seem difficult to fit into everyday life. So we reached out to staff, board members, and friends of TRCP for suggestions on what books sportsmen and women might enjoy during these strange times.
I am reading Walter Stahr’s Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, a detailed biography of the disheveled man from Auburn, New York, who would be President Lincoln’s right hand throughout the depths of the Civil War, and would go on to serve as Secretary of State for another three years after Lincoln’s death. Of course, we have Seward to thank for the acquisition of Alaska from Russia, often referred to as ‘Seward’s Folly.”
Steve Kline, chief policy officer, TRCP
To be fair, it was the film adaptation of A River Runs Through It that inspired so many people, including me, to pick up a fly rod for the first time. But Maclean’s prose deserves all of the credit. The writing is, at times, impossibly beautiful and feels effortless—much like a perfect fly cast. And the final sentence will stay with you, always.
Colin Kearns, editor-in-chief, Field & Stream
Butcher’s Crossing: A Novel by John Williams tells the story of a buffalo hunt in the 1870s. The conservation movement was driven in part by the slaughter of animals in the second half of the 19th century enabled by improved firearms, improved transportation, and a growing population. This realistic novel of a late buffalo hunt curled my hair.
John Griffin, TRCP Board of Directors
I would recommend Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, about the failed attempt to cross Antarctica in 1914. It is a really good read about leading through challenge – and a cool historical story.
Becky Humphries, chief executive officer, National Wild Turkey Federation
I’m currently reading the novel A Gentleman in Moscow, which was a wedding gift last year from a mentor in the outdoor industry. It’s entirely different from what I’m usually reading, but now is the perfect time to dive into some fiction that takes place in a world far away. It’s a charming story that really takes me out of the day-to-day and I appreciate how little it relates to what I spend most of my time thinking and worrying about. Now is definitely the time for all my non-fiction lovers to pick up a good novel!
Jessica Wahl, executive director, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable
Fishing Through the Apocalypse by Matthew Miller: Writer and conservationist Matthew Miller manages to write a series of stories about the dire situation for fish in this country, while also making the reader feel hopeful. Each one is full of valuable insight and information packaged together as entertaining fishing stories. If you need a watery escape, pick this one up.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: This novel is part a story about overcoming grief and largely a story about hawks, hunting and a human’s connection to the wild. It’s also a pure joy to read. Her sentences, paragraphs, pages and chapters read like music, even as that music describes a hawk eviscerating a rabbit.
Christine Peterson, journalist and vice president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America
The one I’m reading now is The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan, a fascinating account of how we have abused the Great Lakes. It is a good read and also provides hope if we chose to undo, or at least not repeat, some of the mistakes of the past.
Whit Fosburgh, president and chief executive officer, TRCP
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1939)
“If you want to read a single book that speaks to the foundations of wildlife ecology and management in the United States, this is the one.”–Dave Hays, Boise, ID
Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley (2010)
“One of the best books I’ve read on Teddy Roosevelt’s fight to establish the public lands that we hold dear and his uncompromising values regarding the great outdoors and his passion for fair chase hunting.”–Gary Payeur, Florissant, MO
American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon by Steven Rinella (2008)
“The book does a fantastic job describing the history of the buffalo in North America. The story is all told in parallel to the author pursuing this wonderful game animal. Once the history is told and a buffalo is in the meat is packed out, the author describes the future of the animal and how we can continue to help preserve it going forward.”–Zachary Denton, Peawaukee, WI
The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark (1957)
“This is a book on raising a child to appreciate the outdoors, hunting, and becoming a sportsman, told in an incredibly poignant and humorous way.”–Glen Carlson, Silverdale, WA
That Wild Country: An Epic Journey through the Past, Present, and Future of America’s Public Lands by Mark Kenyon (2019)
“Best book I’ve ever read about public lands. Kenyon does an extraordinary job weaving his personal storytelling with the history, current status, and future of public lands. It is motivating and awe-inspiring.”–Garrett Miller, Butler, PA
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner (1954)
The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan (2009)
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey (1968)
Goodbye to a River by John Graves (1960)
The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf (2015)
The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers (2018)
The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1947)
Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis by Jim Lichatowich (1999)
The Tenth Legion by Col. Tom Kelly (1973)
If you’re looking to pick up one of these titles, be sure to click through to our AmazonSmile page so that a percentage of your purchase is donated to the TRCP. Happy reading!
In 2019, conservation provided fertile common ground for smart policymaking
Today, Washington is known more for acrimony and partisanship over policy than for achievement. Yet amidst all this noise and dysfunction, conservation—and the TRCP—had an amazing year in 2019.
Early in the year, Congress passed S. 47, a massive public lands bill that, among other things, protected key lands and waters and permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a critical conservation tool. It also clarified that all federal lands are open to hunting and fishing unless they are specifically closed through a public and transparent process.
Soon after, Congress passed legislation to manage water scarcity in the Colorado River and ramp up research on chronic wasting disease. Migrating animals got a helping hand in the Senate Highway Bill, thanks to a $250-million pilot program to build wildlife-friendly roadway crossings and aquatic connectivity projects. Lawmakers also invested in the next generation of hunters by modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Act.
On the administrative front, the Department of Interior made it harder to dispose of federal lands that are important for public access and outdoor recreation. And the Department of Commerce shut down the Atlantic menhaden fishery after Omega Protein—the only company that still practices industrial reduction fishing of this key forage species—decided to ignore federal catch limits.
The TRCP and its 60 formal partners played a key role in these victories and many others, proving once again that the voice of sportsmen and women transcends politics. Our annual report explores these accomplishments.
Hunting, fishing, and conservation have never been partisan issues. But today, a profound appreciation for the outdoors provides common ground for policymakers across the political spectrum to tackle some of our top priorities.
There are still many challenges, such as efforts to legitimize the overfishing of menhaden, roll back the Clean Water Act, or mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay and Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. But our united front, and that of sportsmen and women across the country, is proving to be a formidable force for good.
Thank you for your enduring support.
Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO
Rod Nelson, Board Chair
Top photo by Kyle Mlynar.
Here’s how current administration of the conservation reserve program is leading to shrinking acreage and fewer habitat benefits across private lands
Each year, millions of American sportsmen and women hunt turkeys, quail, pheasants, deer, and other game species on private lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, one of the most widely recognized voluntary private land conservation programs in the Farm Bill. In the 35 years since its inception, the CRP has become one of the most successful programs, as well, providing a host of benefits to wildlife, farmers, ranchers, and sportsmen alike.
But even with a boost to CRP in the 2018 Farm Bill, which was largely celebrated by the hunting and fishing community, the country could end up with fewer overall acres of CRP lands—and therefore less conservation on the ground.
How is this happening?
In addition to improving soil, water, and habitat health, the CRP has become an economic support for rural communities and serves an important risk management function for enrolled landowners. Unfortunately, the current administration of the program has led to the hemorrhaging of baseline acreage, which threatens to unwind years of accrued conservation benefits.
The 2018 Farm Bill made a handful of changes to the CRP to ensure that enrollment could grow from 24 million to 27 million acres incrementally over the life of the five-year bill. Then, in late 2019, the Farm Service Agency announced guidance revising the management of CRP enrollment in the coming years.
This is typical following the passage of a Farm Bill and allows the agency to use its discretion to ensure that the program remains a practical tool for interested landowners. However, in reviewing the FSA’s changes, the TRCP and several of our partner organizations have grown concerned with two things: changes to rental rate calculations and the elimination of valuable cost shares.
Previously, the FSA would take into account the soil productivity of given acreage when determining rental rates. Now, the local county rental average is the sole factor in determining the annual rental rate for CRP—ignoring the various conditions that contribute to the value of a tract of land.
Further, the agency eliminated cost shares for the mid-contract management of CRP lands—this means that landowners are compensated for the land being out of production but not for upkeep. Program contracts last ten to 15 years, and conservation practices, particularly those on sensitive lands, require maintenance over time to safeguard their conservation value. By removing this support but continuing to require that the work be done, the FSA puts landowners in the position of facing additional expenses that will play out over the life of their contract.
The TRCP and others warned that weakening the economic support for CRP landowners could affect landowner interest and result in the program leaking acreage. And this is something we were watching as the agency proceeded in holding a General CRP sign-up from December to February 2020.
In mid-March, the FSA announced that the agency succeeded in enrolling 3.4 million acres into the program. Unfortunately, 5.4 million acres currently in the program will expire just as those contracts go into effect.
Here’s how this all shakes out:
22.5 million acres—or 2 million acres below the 24.5-million-acre cap—were enrolled in CRP as of December 2019
+ 3.4 million acres enters CRP in October 2020
– 5.4 million acres expire by October 2020
20.5 million total acres—4.5 million acres below the 25-million-acre cap—will be enrolled in CRP as of October 2020
This more than doubles the current acreage shortfall, and another 7 million acres is set to expire by October 2021. [It’s important to note that sign-ups are still ongoing for the continuous CRP, as well as CRP Grasslands, Clean Lakes Estuaries and Rivers (CLEAR), and the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP), but enrollment in these programs will not make up the growing acreage shortfall.]
An increasing acreage shortfall is concerning, particularly given that this should have been a banner year for CRP sign-ups. Enrollment in the program typically has an inverse relationship with crop prices, and between weather events that shortened growing seasons and trade disputes harming export markets, farmers have faced a tough couple of years. In fact, USDA agricultural projections have anticipated that lower corn, soy, and wheat prices would drive the CRP to meet its rising cap.
So why didn’t more landowners seize the opportunity to enroll in the most recent sign-up? Simply put, the financial incentives offered by the FSA just didn’t cut it.
A host of variables go into how a farmer plans their land use to ensure that they can keep the lights on and gas in the tractor. If the incentives and rental rates offered by the FSA aren’t competitive, it makes more sense for a landowner to plant potential CRP lands or rent them out to a neighboring farmer.
We’ve heard numerous calls for the FSA to re-open the sign-up and give more landowners the chance to enroll acreage. However, if the product they are offering isn’t attracting interest in the first place, keeping their doors open for a few more weeks isn’t going to address the problem. With that in mind, in early April, the TRCP joined with several of our partner organizations in making recommendations to the FSA to grow landowner interest in the program.
Among the recommendations, we suggested restoring mid-contract cost shares as well as the consideration of soil productivity in rental rates. We also asked for a published timeline of general CRP sign-up periods to give landowners all the information necessary to make informed decisions about their lands.
USDA Secretary Perdue has said publicly that he intends for the FSA to keep pace with the new CRP enrollment cap, and we are committed to helping that happen. The TRCP, alongside our partners, is working to ensure that the program continues to be an American conservation success story, but we could use your help.
Please visit crpworks.org and add your name to the list of sportsmen, landowners, and concerned citizens fighting for the future of private land conservation.
Top photo by Brad Covington via flickr
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