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Once-in-a-generation legislation now heads to President Trump’s desk
In a historic moment for bipartisan support of America’s public lands and waters, the Great American Outdoors Act passed in a 310-107 vote on the House floor today.
The legislation now lands on the president’s desk for signature, which will secure full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Funding at $900 million annually and invest $9.5 billion over the next five years to address the deferred maintenance backlog on our public lands.
“Sportsmen and women who have spoken out for years in support of the LWCF and against the chronic underfunding of our conservation agencies should be very proud to be a part of this historic win for public lands, fish and wildlife habitat, and our hunting and fishing access,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These issues don’t make the front page every day, which is all the more reason to celebrate the willingness of our lawmakers to prioritize the Great American Outdoors Act with a spirit of urgency and bipartisanship.”
Securing dedicated, full funding for the LWCF has been a major goal of the conservation community for decades. When the LWCF was created, Congress intended for $900 million from offshore oil and gas royalties to be used each year for conservation projects, but this level of funding was never realized and more than $20 billion in LWCF funds have been diverted elsewhere.
Still, in its 50-year history, the LWCF has conserved land in every U.S. state and supported more than 41,000 state and local park projects. It is the best tool we have for unlocking inaccessible public lands that are entirely surrounded by private land with no legal means of access. The TRCP and onX have identified nearly 16 million landlocked acres across the West and plan to release data on six states east of the 100th meridian this year.
In 2019, sportsmen and women celebrated permanent authorization of the fund through the passage of S.47—the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act—which also required that three percent of total LWCF funds, or a minimum of $15 million, be used each year to establish or improve access to public lands. With $900 million annually from the Great American Outdoors Act, $27 million will be dedicated to public land access each year.
The backlog of maintenance projects on National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management lands has grown as conservation’s share of the federal budget has been cut in half over the last 40 years. The crumbling of America’s outdoor recreation infrastructure undermines quality experiences in the outdoors, which could contribute to decreased hunting and fishing participation, fewer license sales, and less conservation funding.
Prioritizing shovel-ready projects during this economic downturn not only revamps sportsmen’s access and opportunities, it can also put people back to work. In this way, the Great American Outdoors Act addresses two of TRCP’s top issues for 2020 and beyond.
“For Americans who are increasingly turning to the outdoors for solace and enjoyment during the pandemic, this vote confirms that our natural resources are worthy of robust investment, especially at a time when conservation and access improvement projects can create much-needed jobs,” says Fosburgh.
Watch our CEO’s message to the thousands of TRCP members who supported the Great American Outdoors Act and Land and Water Conservation Fund by contacting their lawmakers. And check out this video recorded live with Fosburgh before the vote, which highlights just how big this conservation victory is.
Top photo by Kyle Mlynar.
Billions of dollars in annual funding could go to habitat restoration and boosting wildlife species
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act as an amendment to its sweeping infrastructure package, and this builds momentum for what could be the most impactful wildlife conservation investment in U.S. history. The Act would provide $1.4 billion in dedicated funding annually to restore habitat, recover wildlife populations, and rebuild the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities across the country.
Here are four reasons why the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is one for sportsmen and women to watch in the weeks ahead.
These investments would put Americans back to work immediately by creating non-exportable jobs—as many as 33,500 annually—that will fuel our nation’s $778-billion outdoor recreation economy just as local businesses need it most. And as states continue to slowly re-open parks and public lands, Americans are grateful for the escape that the outdoors can provide. Congress can support economic recovery and underscore the value of our natural resources by advancing this bill.
The $1.4-billion annual investment included in the House bill would generate an additional $3.36 billion in economic output. This means every federal dollar spent on species and habitat restoration would generate 2.4 times that amount for the national economy. This is a net positive gain of $1.96 billion for the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, but sportsmen and women would also see the results of healthier wildlife habitat in the form of world-class recreation opportunities.
This common-sense, fiscally responsible solution is endorsed by 182 House cosponsors on both sides of the aisle. It received strong bipartisan support when it was reported out of the House Committee on Natural Resources last December and as it was passed on the House floor. (It is worth noting that the group of amendments that included RAWA was praised as the only bipartisan legislation being considered “en bloc” during these floor proceedings.) This consensus makes a strong case for the bill’s passage in the Senate.
As an amendment to the House infrastructure package (H.R.2), the bill would fund the implementation of existing science-based wildlife action plans managed by state fish and wildlife agencies on the same timeline as the five-year highway bill. But, ultimately, we want to see this become a permanent, dedicated 21st-century funding model for the much-needed conservation of our fish and wildlife.
This is exactly what the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife was established to accomplish. We bring together members representing the outdoor recreation, retail, and manufacturing sector, including the energy and automotive industries, plus private landowners, educational institutions, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups, and state and federal fish and wildlife agencies to achieve our mission.
In June 2020, we rallied this strong partnership to send a letter signed by 250 groups, businesses, and tribes to U.S. House leadership in support of including the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in the infrastructure package. This proved effective, and we’ll continue to build on this broad base of support as we look to the Senate.
Keep following the TRCP for updates about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.
Sean Saville is the Alliance for America’s Fish & Wildlife campaign manager for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. He resides just outside of the nation’s capital in Virginia and is an avid outdoorsman and wildlife enthusiast. Among his favorite outdoor activities are hiking with his son, backcountry camping, motorcycle riding, snowboarding, and birdwatching. Feel free to contact Sean with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top photo by Alex Butterfield via flickr.
Watch four conservation seminars from the virtual sportfishing trade show
Adapting quickly to the new digital format of this year’s trade shows, the TRCP was able to showcase its leadership on marine fisheries conservation issues and coastal restoration this week by bringing together expert voices, business leaders, and the media for the fifth consecutive year at ICAST.
One additional benefit of hosting these discussions online is that anyone can take part, which seems appropriate considering one of the major themes that emerged: Anglers can and do make a difference when they get involved in conservation.
This point was stressed by all five expert panelists in Thursday’s presentation, “Building a Better Model for Menhaden Management,” which focused on the recent successes for the important forage fish in Chesapeake Bay. Outspoken recreational fishermen were critical to clinching many of these wins, including holding Omega Protein accountable for willfully ignoring the harvest cap in the Bay and transferring menhaden management authority away from the political body of the legislature, said Matt Strickler, Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources.
The goal of the more scientifically guided Marine Resources Commission and its new menhaden advisory committee is to make management decisions more transparent, said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association who was recently appointed to join the committee. They will have the authority to set the new cap in the Bay and reduce it to account for Omega’s overages in 2019. “I think you’ll see a much more open and robust dialogue on how the fishery should be regulated compared to the state legislature, where you’d just have to wait to see what they came out with. Recreational fishing and conservation groups can have a greater seat at the table,” said Leonard.
The panelists also seemed to agree that there’s little reason for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission not to vote for a more holistic management model for menhaden at their upcoming meeting. Taking into account the value of these fish—not only to the marine food web, and striped bass in particular, but also to water quality in the Bay—makes sense, said David Sikorsky, executive director of CCA Maryland. And shifting to this model allows us to gather better data on whether there is a localized depletion of menhaden in the Bay, said Chris Moore, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Watch the full presentation below to see how panelists answered questions about a possible ban on purse seines, whether we can expect an increase in fish populations soon after this management shift, and how this model could be applied in the Gulf of Mexico and with other embattled forage fish, like shad and herring.
TRCP’s other panel takes us from an issue where sportsmen and women have helped achieve success to an urgent need for hunters and anglers to engage: As elected officials craft legislation to boost the economy and put Americans back to work, we have a unique opportunity to prioritize habitat restoration and natural infrastructure projects that create jobs.
An infusion of government funding would provide certainty to the businesses and workers who design and build projects, manufacture and sell equipment, plant native vegetation and trees, and contribute to Gulf Coast restoration in other ways, said Scott Kirkpatrick of the Coast Builders Coalition. A lot of this work has thankfully been able to continue during the pandemic, he added, with engineers able to work from home, some construction workers being deemed essential personnel, and outdoor job sites being safer than others.
TRCP’s Chief Policy Officer Steve Kline went on to outline the various legislative efforts already in motion to carve out funding for shovel-ready projects and jobs at every level of the economic spectrum, from heavy machinery operators to entry-level biologists. His list includes the Water Resources Development Act, a five-year Highway Bill, and the Great American Outdoors Act as well as yet-to-be-introduced economic recovery bills.
And Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) appeared via pre-recorded video to share his view that investing in habitat restoration and natural infrastructure has benefits for the economy but also for mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Watch the full presentation below for answers to audience questions about the prospect of maintaining Everglades restoration funding and addressing invasive species like Asian carp during this economic downturn.
These panel discussions were made possible with the support of TRCP’s sponsors: NOAA Fisheries, the American Sportfishing Association, Bass Pro Shops, Costa, Peak Design, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Power Pole.
TRCP experts were also featured in two additional conservation seminars hosted by ICAST architects at the American Sportfishing Association.
On Monday, President and CEO Whit Fosburgh argued that the devil is in the details when it comes to executing the idea of protecting 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030, which has been proposed by the United Nations and some state and national decision-makers. “I like big, audacious conservation goals, but a slogan should not be driving policy,” he said, even if on its face “30 by 30” sounds great.
Watch the 22-minute video below to see Fosburgh caution against protecting certain waters without consulting the people who live and breathe conservation every day—sportsmen and women.
Also earlier this week, TRCP’s Chris Macaluso weighed in on the progress made since the 2018 passage of the Modern Fish Act. He addressed how close we might be to seeing federal fisheries managers change decades-old allocations in the video below.
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