President Signs Great American Outdoors Act Into Law
TRCP’s CEO attends White House signing ceremony
President Donald Trump today signed bipartisan legislation that invests in America’s public lands, waters, and outdoor economy.
Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, was among the conservation leaders who were invited to attend the historic signing of the Great American Outdoors Act.
“Hunters and anglers across the nation have a reason to celebrate today,” said Fosburgh. “The Great American Outdoors Act is the product of years of hard work by all segments of the outdoor community, from hunters and anglers to hikers and kayakers. To all the lawmakers who carried the water on Capitol Hill, we say thank you, and we thank President Trump for signing the bill into law. Today is proof that conservation stands above partisanship and political rancor.”
The Great American Outdoors Act fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually, and invests $9.5 billion over the next five years to address the maintenance backlog on federal public lands.
BLM Releases Final Montana Management Plans that Conserve Key Backcountry Lands
Backcountry Conservation Areas near Missoula and Lewistown will safeguard recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat
(Missoula, Mont.)–The Bureau of Land Management today announced it’s finalizing new Resource Management Plans in western and central Montana that will shape hunting and fishing opportunities for generations to come.
These two plans will guide the future of forest and grassland management, wildlife habitat, fisheries conservation, and outdoor recreation on approximately 900,000 acres of public lands east of Missoula, surrounding Lewistown, and in and around the Missouri River Breaks. In response to requests from sportsmen and women, the final plans include Backcountry Conservation Areas, a new multiple-use framework aimed at conserving prized big game habitat and hunting and fishing areas.
“Thanks to these plans sportsmen and women will experience high-quality big game hunting in places like the Hoodoos and Ram Mountain in the Missoula area, as well as Arrow and Crooked Creeks in central Montana,” said Scott Laird, Montana Field Representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate that the Montana BLM listened to the input of many hunters and anglers and adopted Backcountry Conservation Areas in the final plans.”
The Missoula Field Office plan guides the management of local landmarks including the Blackfoot River corridor and portions of the Garnet and John Long mountain ranges. The revision process was formally initiated in early 2016 with a scoping phase and then the draft plan was published in May 2019. Hunters, anglers, the state of Montana, tribal representatives, Missoula County, and other entities spoke up in support of Backcountry Conservation Areas in the highest value wildlife and recreation areas. Those comments are reflected in the final plan.
In the Lewistown Field Office, which encompasses some of Montana’s best elk hunting units in the Missouri River Breaks, the planning revision process unfolded along a parallel timeline to Missoula’s. Similarly, strong support from the sporting community, the state of Montana, and local conservation groups led BLM decision-makers to include Backcountry Conservation Areas in the Crooked Creek and Arrow Creek areas.
“While the Lewistown RMP didn’t include everything we asked for, we are grateful that our comments generated some compromise, said Doug Krings, the Region 4 Chapter Leader for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “In particular, the addition of the BLM’s new Backcountry Conservation Areas—which ensure that wildlife and wild places will stay intact and productive for hunters and other outdoor recreationists—is something that all public land owners are pleased to see.”
“The recently released plans are not perfect, but Trout Unlimited appreciates changes in the final Lewistown plan that give greater consideration for the conservation and restoration of rare native trout populations in the Judith Mountains,” said Colin Cooney, Montana field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “We also feel that this RMP sets a new, much-welcomed standard for stream buffers in the West and one that we are going to work with other field offices to adopt in a region where economic diversity is so important. Specifically, the plan includes ½ mile oil and gas development buffers for all Blue and Red Ribbon fisheries, native trout streams, and streams suitable for restoring populations of Westslope cutthroat trout. We thank the BLM for including this necessary, balanced, and common-sense bar of protection for our most important trout fisheries.”
In collaboration with landowners, local government officials, and other stakeholder groups, several hunting and fishing organizations helped activate sportsmen and women to provide meaningful feedback on the draft plans that was then incorporated into the final proposals.
Pebble Mine Was Too Risky Then, and It’s Too Risky Now
Despite the results of the Army Corps’ final environmental impact statement, sportsmen and women still oppose greenlighting the copper and gold mine permit
In 2014, the EPA all but doomed the now-infamous Pebble Mine proposal on the grounds that it would irrevocably damage Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon fishery. But last week, the Army Corps of Engineers concluded in its final environmental impact statement that the mine would not have a measurable effect on fish numbers.
Now, the Corps could give the green light to dig in the headwaters of Bristol Bay in as little as 20 days, even though its study confirms that Pebble would destroy 185 miles of streams and over 4,000 acres of wetlands in the most prolific sockeye salmon fishery on the planet.
This decision would do harm to:
A $1.5-billion economy that supports over 15,000 jobs for lodge owners, guides, commercial fishermen, fish processors, tourism operators, and more.
One of the most sought-after sportfishing destinations in the country.
31 federally recognized Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq tribes that depend on salmon to support their way of life.
More than 50 percent of the world’s catch of sockeye salmon.
The broader habitat at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, where Pebble would permanently store 10.2 billion tons of toxic waste.
Taxpayers, who would be stuck footing the bill for pollution and habitat damage.
Oh, and did we mention that Pebble Mine investors wouldn’t even be satisfied with the project as it has been proposed? You see, to get the permit, the applicant substantially shrank the footprint of the mine from what they were proposing five years ago.
This New Rule Deals Another Serious Blow to Fish Habitat and Wetlands
While the conservation world focused on the Great American Outdoors Act, the administration quietly limited the states’ authority to protect water quality
It feels unfair to be writing about bad news for water quality as we celebrate such a hard-earned victory for public lands this week. Certainly, with the year we’ve been having, all Americans needed a win. But those of us who have been fighting the dismantling of Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands needed a morale boost even more. Here’s why:
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency quietly finalized changes to Clean Water Act rules that allowed states to look out for their own water quality as development activities needing federal permits are proposed that may affect the rivers, streams, and wetlands. What is noteworthy from an administration that usually champions states’ rights is how this rule removes state power.
The EPA’s new rule deals with the “401 certification” process, which is an important, if obscure, Clean Water Act authority. To understand how it works, you need to know two things:
Federal agencies permit thousands of construction activities across the country each year. The Army Corps of Engineers typically issues permits for building roads, bridges, shopping malls, housing developments, dams, and diversions that touch the nation’s water bodies—inland and coastal, big and little—and wetlands. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses hydropower facilities and transmission pipelines.
The Clean Water Act authorizes states to tell these federal agencies what conditions to include in their federal permits that will protect the state’s water quality from the adverse effects of development.
At least twice since the mid-1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the broad scope of states’ authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. In the first of these cases, the State of Washington successfully required a dam operator to maintain healthy river flows for the resident salmon fishery. That’s just one example of how this process has provided checks and balances to benefit fish and wildlife.
To be clear, the states’ role is not to prevent development. With tens of thousands of certifications issued annually, half the states who responded to an EPA survey reported zero denials. Because projects need certification, the process is usually one where states and applicants work together to find ways for development to proceed without compromising water quality, habitat, or outdoor recreation opportunities.
The new rule would fundamentally change this process, which has existed for 50 years.
Most dramatically, it limits the states to imposing only conditions that relate directly to water quality standards that EPA approves. So, if a bridge were proposed across a stream that currently supports a recreational fishery and provides fishing access, the state could not require that substitute access be provided close by, because EPA does not do this work.
States can no longer institute certain flow requirements—like Washington did to save its salmon—or require a permittee to build or maintain fish passage, even when the permitted activity would fragment an intact fishery’s habitat.
And states will no longer be able to require water quality protection for the streams and wetlands that the federal government no longer protects under the new “waters of the US” rule. (Here’s my post about that.) According to Trout Unlimited scientists, this is 50 percent of the nation’s stream miles and 40 percent of wetlands, like the prairie potholes of the Upper Midwest.
The rule finalized last week also tightens timelines for the states to take action. States issue most of their certifications in less than six months, but large complex infrastructure reviews take more time. It is appropriate to ask regulators to work quickly, but this new rule shifts the power to applicants. The clock starts to run when applicants first put in a basic request—not when a state receives a complete application, with all the information needed for analysis and decision.
Why these changes? In 2019, in Executive Order 13868, President Trump directed the EPA to change the certification process “to encourage greater investment in energy infrastructure.” Regardless of the importance of this policy, it is unrelated to the only objective of the Clean Water Act, to restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation’s waters.
During debate over the latter, the administration argued that the states could use their authority to protect the headwaters and wetlands that the federal government would no longer regulate. But this latest change constrains the states’ ability to do just that.
While EPA takes contrary positions regarding state authority, the beneficiaries of these rules are the same—those who want to build pipelines without having to safeguard fish and wildlife. These developers also win under the NEPA rule changes.
Sadly, the losers may be those of you reading this blog.
Four Reasons to Root for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
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.
The timing couldn’t be better.
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.
RAWA dollars would meet their match on the ground.
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.
Bipartisanship is strong with this one.
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.
It creates a new source of federal conservation funding for the next five years.
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.
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.
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create jobs, restore habitat, and preserve fish and wildlife.