Chris Macaluso

April 24, 2020

Louisiana’s Brown Pelican: A Story of Resilience

Queen Bess Island lies just a short boat ride from Grand Isle, Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island and one of the Gulf of Mexico’s top recreational fishing destinations. Locals call it “Bird Island” because it’s home to the largest nesting colony of brown pelicans in the state as well as thousands of gulls, herons, and other coastal birds. It’s also a great place to catch speckled trout, sheepshead, redfish, and other popular recreational targets.

A decade ago, Queen Bess Island was one of the first places oiled by the Deepwater Horizon spill, fouling nesting areas and coating birds in thick, tarry crude. In the decade since, most of the island sank into Barataria Bay and was battered by storms, further reducing nesting areas and fishery production. However, an investment of $19 million in oil spill penalties has brought the island back using sand dredged from the Mississippi River and rock breakwaters to protect it from erosion, allowing pelicans to thrive and the fishermen to find speckled trout along its shore for decades to come.

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Congress Could Put Americans Back to Work Through Conservation

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.

Salmon migrating upstream in the Bonneville Dam fish ladder. Photo by Tony Grover.
Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure

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.

Photo by Michael Campbell/BLM.
The Great American Outdoors Act

This legislation was poised for Senate floor action before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis and includes $1.9 billion per year for five years to address the deferred maintenance backlog at our public land management agencies.

The Act also includes mandatory full funding at $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a critically important conservation and access enhancement tool, which would expand funding for exactly the kinds of outdoor spaces that are serving Americans so well right now. Greater access to recreational activities will spur economic activity that boosts local communities and further funds critical conservation programs.

Click here to advocate for the provisions in this legislation.

A Five-Year Highway Bill

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.

Photo by Paul Bakke/USFWS.
Water Resources

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.

Specific Line Items That Advance Conservation on a Landscape Scale

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.

Photo by FolsomNatural via flickr.
Lessons from the Past

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.

 

Top photo of a fish-friendly culvert project by Washington State Department of Transportation via flickr.

Jenni Henry

April 16, 2020

Two Ways the Stimulus Bill Helps You Support Nonprofits Like the TRCP

The CARES Act has specific incentives for those who are in a position to give back

In these trying times, we know that many of you are finding solace in the outdoors—either to escape the confinement of home or to quiet anxious thoughts. Focusing on the sights and sounds of the natural world, rather than the latest scary headline, can be healing, and we hope you’re weathering this storm as best as you can.

Because of our supporters and your investments in us, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has continued to make an impact on conservation policy during this national emergency. On behalf of the whole team at TRCP, I want to thank you all for your enduring generosity.

I also want to share an important update concerning changes to charitable giving. On March 27, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, a $2.2-trillion emergency relief bill aimed at providing much-needed support to the American people and businesses in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Recognizing that nonprofits play an important societal and economic role, the CARES Act also creates charitable giving incentives for donors in 2020.

It does this in two ways: First, the legislation allows individual taxpayers to deduct up to $300 in charitable contributions on top of the standard deduction, even if you don’t itemize other deductions at tax time. Second the suspension of certain adjusted gross income limits allows individuals and corporations to contribute and deduct more than in previous years.

These tax incentives apply to cash contributions only—don’t worry, if you enter a credit card number on our website, this is for you—and do not apply to contributions to a Donor Advised Fund—you would know if you were working through a fund like this.

We cannot provide tax advice, but we encourage you to review the implications of the CARES Act to determine if now might be a beneficial time to for you to give. If you are in a position to do so, you can donate cash or stock online right now.

We know these are difficult times, and our staff is incredibly grateful for your consideration and support. Of course, we recognize that this pandemic has also created major financial burdens for many Americans. Public lands and waters are yours. And they’re here for you right now.

Stay well.

Andrew Earl

April 1, 2020

$49M Will Expand Recreational Access on Private Land

Because we could all use some good news right now

This month, the Natural Resource Conservation Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would invest nearly $49 million in projects to enhance public access for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, on private land across 26 states. These awards are made possible by the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, or VPA-HIP, which is the only federal conservation program that helps private landowners open their property to public access.

The NRCS asked state and tribal governments to apply for VPA-HIP dollars in September 2019, after Congress stepped up its investment in the program by $10 million in the most recent Farm Bill. Projects were eligible to receive up to $3 million in federal dollars to be leveraged with locally matched funding over the next three years.

Sportsmen and women fought to maintain or improve conservation funding in the 2018 Farm Bill, and the TRCP called on lawmakers to support VPA-HIP investments in walk-in access programs and other initiatives that would give rural hunters and anglers more access.

Ultimately, this could be a down payment on hunter recruitment where lack of access is a major barrier for beginners. In some places, the funding will be focused on lands near metropolitan areas or improving online resources to market these opportunities.

But don’t forget the “hip” part of this program: Dollars can also be used to improve wildlife habitat, which could boost game populations across the entire landscape. This will be done in wetland, upland, grassland, forest, and stream habitats with the most recent round of funding.

These advances for access and habitat highlight the need to continue investing in VPA-HIP in the next five-year Farm Bill, which is already something we’re prioritizing with our conservation partners.

Here are the 26 states gaining more ground, how much will be spent, and what types of habitat will benefit.

Image courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Arizona

$1.18 million to expand the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Landowner Relations Program, which provides financial incentives to private landowners who provide the public with opportunities to hunt and fish on their land.

Arkansas

$2.1 million to enhance hunting access and waterfowl habitat on rice fields neighboring nearby National Wildlife Refuges and state Wildlife Management Areas.

Colorado

$1.2 million to expand the state’s Walk-In Access program for small- and big-game hunters.

Georgia

$1.9 million will fund the lease of farm and forest land to expand opportunities for dove hunting in the state’s Wildlife Management Area Public Access Program.

Idaho

$900,000 will fund the enrollment of additional hunting and fishing acres into the state’s Access Yes! Program, as well as jumpstart the creation of a Teton Valley Wildlife Viewing Project.

Illinois

$2 million will expand the Illinois Recreational Access Program with a focus on metropolitan areas and the enrollment of wetland easements.

Indiana

$750,000 will fund the strategic enrollment of acreage into the state’s Access Program Providing Land Enhancements (APPLE) initiative.

Iowa

$1.5 million will help expand the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP).

Kansas

$2.1 million will fund the expansion of incentive payments and lease options made available to landowners to open public access and improve wildlife habitat.

Kentucky

$850,000 will fund agency efforts to create a new access program with a focus on dove fields and wetland easements.

Michigan

$1.6 million to expand the state’s Hunting Access Program (HAP), specifically to provide sharptail grouse and deer hunting opportunities.

Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS
Minnesota

$2.5 million to boost incentives for landowners to enroll in Minnesota’s Walk-In Access program.

Missouri

$2.23 million will go to the Missouri Outdoor Recreation Access Program (MRAP) for private landowners willing to allow access and improve wildlife habitat on their farm, ranch, and forest lands.

Montana

$1.89 million to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to provide more walk-in hunting access on previously inaccessible acres with high-quality game bird habitats.

Nebraska

$3 million to expand walk-in access and improve habitat on acreage within Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters (OFW) program.

New Mexico

$1 million will go to the Santa Clara Pueblo Tribe to support access restoration and improved fishing opportunities on the Rio Grande.

Image courtesy of Russ Terry, Ducks Unlimited.
Ohio

$1.83 million will support the newly created Ohio Public Access for Wildlife (OPAW) program, opening acres to hunting, trapping, and wildlife viewing across the state.

Oklahoma

$3 million will support expansion of the Oklahoma Land Access Program (OLAP) near metropolitan areas and establish an online database of private acres open for access.

Oregon

$2.86 million will support expansion of existing public access programs and facilitate the reenrollment of access on expiring VPA-HIP acreage.

Pennsylvania

$668,361 will support fishing access via Pennsylvania’s Public Fishing Access and Conservation Easement Program.

South Carolina

$469,476 in funds will facilitate the growth of the state’s Public Waterfowl Lottery Hunts Program to support more duck blinds on private land.

South Dakota

$2.18 million will support expanded hunting opportunities as well as new access to state fisheries from across private lands.

Image courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Texas

$1.83 million will support the expansion of existing public hunting programs, increasing both available acreage and days. The funds will also increase maintenance capacity across state-leased fishing access sites.

Virginia

$2.998 million will facilitate growth of Virginia’s Public Access Lands for Sportsmen program and provide additional financial support to enrolled landowners seeking to improve wildlife habitat.

Washington

$2.74 million will build upon existing state recreational access programs and support habitat restoration on enrolled lands.

Wisconsin

$1.91 million will support wetland and grassland restoration in southern counties and support financial incentives for landowners to enroll acreage in the state’s Turkey Hunting Access Program.

Wyoming

$1.54 million will support enrollment and habitat restoration on acreage in the state’s Access Yes Program, plus other lands and habitat programs.

 

Is your state on the list? Leave us a comment if you use walk-in access programs where you live.

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.

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