Derek Eberly

November 18, 2020

Three Reasons PA Officials Should Not Drain Conservation Funds to Balance the Budget

At a time when Pennsylvanians are depending on the outdoors for socially distanced recreation and peace of mind, state officials are considering legislation that threatens these resources

Pennsylvania’s 1.5 million acres of state game land, 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, and almost 2.5 million acres of state parks and forests have a lot to offer hunters, anglers, and public land users of all kinds. These places are critical to our wellbeing right now, but the state legislators entrusted with managing them are considering slashing or even zeroing out conservation funds dedicated to our natural resources.

Here’s what you need to know, how soon this could happen, and what sportsmen and women can do to help.

An Enviable Source of Conservation Funding at Risk

Beyond the public lands and waters that make Pennsylvania special, we also enjoy the benefit of a conservation funding model many states would love to have. Special funds are specifically dedicated to the preservation and conservation of our natural resources, don’t require taxpayer dollars, and provide exponential benefits to our local economies.

Two of these programs—the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund, also known as Growing Greener—have supported conservation projects across the state for 20 years using a portion of the realty transfer tax and a landfill tipping fee. The improvements to water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and public land facilities increase opportunities for hunters and anglers, which helps to drive outdoor recreation and tourism spending.

But these special funds are under threat as elected officials attempt to bridge Pennsylvania’s revenue gap, estimated at up to $5 billion. We understand that these are difficult decisions for lawmakers, but spending state conservation funds elsewhere would have a lasting negative impact for three reasons:

The outdoor recreation industry helps to drive Pennsylvania’s economy. An economic analysis by the TRCP has found that the state’s outdoor recreation economy is worth $26.9 billion. For scale, that means hunting, fishing, biking, camping, and other activities generate $2.2 billion more than the state’s construction industry. This includes almost $17 billion in salaries and wages paid to employees and more than $300 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.

And that was before the pandemic. With more people getting outdoors this year, state fishing license sales have increased 20 percent, boat registrations are up 40 percent, and hunting license sales have increased 5 percent. During this difficult economic time, it’s important that we continue to support this growing sector of Pennsylvania’s economy. Conserving lands and waters and improving access to quality hunting and fishing opportunities helps to power this industry—but we can’t do that without dedicated investments.

The Keystone Fund and ESF support more than just the local outdoor businesses that depend on quality places to hunt and fish. They create jobs with the conservation projects themselves, often with local businesses that are contracted to perform the work.

State conservation funding is a force multiplier. State conservation funds are often matched with federal and private-sector dollars and then boosted by volunteer labor to benefit a diverse range of communities throughout the commonwealth. The Keystone Fund and ESF are often matched four to one with other resources to multiply their conservation impacts. If funding for the Keystone Fund and the ESF are reallocated for other uses, Pennsylvanians will lose out not just on critical state funding, but also on the federal and private match.

We can’t afford to fall further behind. The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources estimates that our state parks and forests are operating with a $1-billion maintenance backlog. Additionally, the commonwealth faces a $324-million gap in funding needed to meet our 2025 EPA water quality goals as a part of the Chesapeake Bay Program. For decades, the Keystone Fund and ESF have helped to close these gaps, putting local companies to work in the process.

Don’t Allow Conservation Investments to Get Cut

Conservation projects don’t happen overnight. They take years of planning and collaboration with stakeholders across the community. Landowners, county conservation districts, watershed associations, local municipalities, sportsmen’s groups, and state agencies all work together to make these projects a reality. Money that is currently being held in the Keystone Fund and the ESF accounts have already been committed to on-the-ground conservation, and taking money from these programs now will mean wasting these efforts and taking away funds that local businesses were counting on.

Because of the election and upcoming holiday season, we have a very brief window to make our voices heard with state representatives and senators who have the power to keep the Keystone Fund and ESF working for fish and wildlife habitat.

Do NOT wait. Take action now and tell decision-makers not to reallocate funding from these critical programs for other uses.

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November 9, 2020

TRCP Releases Report on Recreation Opportunity on Private Lands

Report highlights access projects in 15 states and success of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program

(Washington D.C.)—The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today released a report on the wide-ranging recreational opportunities that are available on private land thanks to the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program.

The report features projects in 15 states across the United States, highlighting success stories of how VPA-HIP has improved hunting, fishing, bird watching, camping, and other outdoor recreation activities. REI Co-op provided funding for the report.

“This report showcases the best of the best when it comes to expanding opportunity for all Americans to access our outdoors,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This report looks at the innovative ways in which the Program is being used to boost access across the country, particularly in states where a shortage of public access to wildlife-dependent recreation is reaching crisis proportions.”

“This report helps to highlight the creative ways landowners and agencies are working together to increase access to the outdoors across America,” said Taldi Harrison, Government Affairs Manager, REI Co-op. “Increased access to outdoor recreation on private lands also helps boost the outdoor recreation economy that supports rural jobs across America.”

Championed by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s founder, Jim Range, VPA- HIP helps states to create innovative ways of incentivizing private landowners to open their lands to the public for wildlife-dependent recreation.

Established and funded through the 2008, 2014, and 2018 Farm Bills, VPA-HIP makes grants to states and tribes to increase public access to private lands for hunting, fishing, and other forms of outdoor recreation. VPA-HIP funding is also utilized to provide technical resources and assistance to landowners for wildlife habitat improvement and enhancement projects. The program also allows states to assume liability, alleviating a roadblock for many landowners to open their lands to the public.

“As Congress eyes the next Farm Bill, it’s imperative that they increase investment in Farm Bill conservation programs,” said Andrew Earl, Director of Private Lands Conservation at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “VPA-HIP is the single best federal tool for increasing recreational access on private lands, and this report shows its proven track record across the U.S.”

Click here to download a copy of the report.

Michael O'Casey

November 4, 2020

Oregon Needs to Crowdsource $800K for Conservation by the End of the Year

The Beaver State is testing an innovative new funding idea that would benefit all species, including game

Hunters and anglers have long been champions of a proven conservation funding model based on a user pay-to-play system, which has been incredibly effective at restoring and sustaining fish and wildlife populations across the country.

Unfortunately, participation in hunting is declining. A 2016 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed that participation in hunting dropped in the previous five years by more than 2 million people to a total of 11.5 million hunters. Total expenditures by hunters also declined by 29 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 to $25.6 billion.

This has significant ripple effects on not only the key federal funding models that support conservation of fish and wildlife, but also the base of support for our public lands and natural resources policies.

Though license sales seem to be on the rise in this season of social distancing, declining participation in hunting is expected to speed up within the next ten years and widen already existing funding shortfalls. There is a growing need for the wildlife conservation community to broaden this funding base through alternative measures and opportunities to bring the greater outdoor recreation community into a stronger and more diversified funding model.

In my home state of Oregon, a broad group of stakeholders, including the TRCP, have been working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and state legislators to find innovative ways to bring in more funding and resources for fish and wildlife conservation. Here’s what that could look like and what needs to be done to ensure its success.

A Stronger Future for Conservation Funding

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) receives less than 10 percent of its budget from the state general fund and instead relies on revenue from fees paid by hunters and anglers. As is the case in many states, this funding model cannot keep up with the many challenges facing Oregon’s fish and wildlife, such as human population growth, development, drought, climate change, and ocean acidification.

Additionally, most of the funds received by state agencies like ODFW must be focused on game species. As a result, some of Oregon’s fish and wildlife in greatest need of conservation efforts are without a dedicated funding source because they are not pursued by sportsmen and women.

Oregon has been working for several years to diversify its conservation funding to best address the 21st century challenges facing the state’s more than 700 species of fish and wildlife. In 2019, the state legislature passed HB 2829 to create the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund. The law will put $1 million from the general fund aside to be matched by $1 million in private funds raised by ODFW and other partners, and this will serve as seed money toward an alternative, sustainable source of conservation funding in our state.

The legislation also created an advisory committee that approves the use of this funding for projects that focus on the goals of the Oregon Conservation Strategy and the Nearshore Strategy, two plans developed by ODFW that identify top conservation priorities. Significantly, the new Conservation and Recreation Fund would provide funding for non-game species and for improving outdoor recreational opportunities for all Oregonians. It would also serve as matching funds for federal investments made through the proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, national legislation that would distribute conservation funding across the country, including $20 million annually here in Oregon.

The advisory committee has recently chosen the first set of projects that will be funded through OCRF. Among other things, these efforts will help to conserve wildlife by improving beaver habitat in the high desert, installing a new wildlife underpass and fencing along Highway 97 in central Oregon, and researching the feasibility of reintroducing sea otters along Oregon’s coastline.

But there is a catch: The legislature will only provide the $1 million in general funds if the match is provided by private sources. To date, thousands of Oregonians have already stepped up to raise more than $200,000 as of November 1, but time is running out. The legislature asked for the full amount of funding to be matched by private donations by December 31, 2020.

How to Help

For this idea to work, we must show legislators that all Oregonians who enjoy the outdoors are willing to pitch in for the conservation of fish and wildlife, not just hunters and anglers. Support for OCRF is not just about raising a million dollars, it’s about working together to shift how state government prioritizes general fund dollars and invests in meaningful conservation work.

If the current fundraising campaign is successful, coalition partners like the TRCP will confidently go back to the state capital and make sure a bill is submitted that dedicates $13 million to $15 million a year from the general fund toward fish and wildlife management.

As hunters and anglers, we already pay to play. We shoulder the burden of conservation for everything the outdoors gives us. But we should strive to work with all Oregonians who enjoy the outdoors to give conservation funding a successful future. This new fund will improve critical conservation goals, expand opportunities for responsible outdoor recreation, and reduce barriers for underserved communities to better access the outdoors.

Will we see 100,000 Oregonians support these efforts with a gift of $10 for conservation? Please join us in support of modernizing funding for wildlife conservation and improving outdoor opportunities for all.

Learn more at oregonisalive.org.

Click here for more information about the Advisory Committee and the Conservation and Recreation Fund. For more information on the Oregon Conservation Strategy, visit the ODFW website.

 

Top photo by Rick Swart/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife via flickr.

Guest Blogger Karen Hyun

October 29, 2020

How to Allow Fish and Wildlife Habitat to Protect Us from Severe Storms

Using lessons from Superstorm Sandy and safeguarding the coastal systems that help limit the destructive nature of storms

At this time eight years ago, the Northeast and Atlantic Coast were being pummeled by one of the strongest, deadliest, and most destructive hurricanes in recent memory, ultimately inflicting roughly $70 billion in damage on American communities.

Unfortunately, Sandy has been followed by other destructive and costly hurricanes, and climate change is contributing to more frequent storms. As we work to implement solutions for the impacts of climate change, it is clear that many of the most cost-effective options also provide benefits to fish, wildlife, and all Americans who enjoy outdoor recreation. It is also clear that we face many difficult decisions about the future of development where it can affect our lands and waters.

One law that has helped to keep this balance since 1982 is the Coastal Barrier Resources Act. But there are opportunities and threats to the future success of this policy.

Keeping Coastal Habitat Intact

When Ronald Reagan signed the CBRA into law, he commended it as a “major step forward in the conservation of our magnificent coastal resources [that] will enhance both wise natural resource conservation and fiscal responsibility.” Nearly 40 years later, the CBRA has saved the federal taxpayer $9.5 billion, while protecting coastal habitat that is vital to fish, shellfish, birds, and other wildlife. The CBRA has also helped to improve coastal resiliency by discouraging development in areas that are vulnerable to hurricanes, sea level rise, and storms.

The CBRA established the Coastal Barrier Resources System, which includes roughly 3.5 million acres of undeveloped barrier islands, beaches, wetlands, inlets, and estuarine areas along the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Areas in the System are shielded from most federally funded development, so these habitats remain undeveloped or lightly developed.

This is good news for sportsmen and women who enjoy saltwater fishing, boating, and other forms of outdoor recreation. Coastal wetlands and nearshore waters protected by the Coastal Barrier Resources System comprise important fish habitat. In fact, more than half of the fish and shellfish caught recreationally in the Southeast depend on coastal wetlands and estuarine habitat.

Wetlands protected by the System also help to buffer and absorb the impacts from storms like Sandy, helping to shield upland communities from flooding and other harm. A 2020 study found that, on average, wetlands can greatly reduce property damage from storms, providing roughly $700,000 in protective value per square mile annually.

The Future of the CBRA

In 2018 and 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified more than a quarter-million acres that could be added to the protective System in nine states affected by Hurricane Sandy—New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia—a storm that affected almost half the country. The proposed maps were publicly reviewed and now must be finalized and sent to Congress for action next year. Adding new areas to the Coastal Barrier Resources System would help conserve more habitat for fish and wildlife, enhance coastal resiliency, and save money.

But while the new maps are welcome, an action by the Department of Interior has prompted concern by taxpayer advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and sportsmen’s groups, including TRCP. In November 2019, the Department of Interior announced that federally funded sand mining would be allowed in undeveloped inlets, islands, and beaches in the areas protected by the CBRA to generate sand for beach renourishment projects in developed areas.

Sand mining threatens habitat and reduces storm resiliency—the cornerstones of the CBRA. CBRA expansion could make even more of a difference for fish, wildlife, and coastal communities, but undercutting one of its core protections will reduce its ability to conserve habitat and buffer upland communities. The National Audubon Society has challenged the DOI’s decision so the CBRA’s full benefits to habitat and public safety can be restored.

Learn more here.

Karen Hyun is the vice president for coastal conservation at the National Audubon Society.

Top photo by Daniel X. O’Neil via flickr.

 

Major Conservation Rollbacks Finalized in Alaska Despite Opposition from Hunters and Anglers

Decision to fully repeal the Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest opens 9.2 million acres of public lands to development

Today the U.S. Forest Service issued its final decision to eliminate conservation safeguards on 9.2 million acres of public land in the Tongass National Forest, a move that would allow logging and roadbuilding in areas of the forest that have never been developed. This dramatic policy shift poses a clear threat to the region’s world-class fisheries and vital big game habitat.

The Forest Service issued its proposed plan for the Tongass last fall, after the White House instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to fully exempt the forest from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a successful management plan that conserves national forest lands that have never been developed. This directive closely followed an off-the-record meeting between President Trump and Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy. By pursuing the most extreme option, the administration effectively foreclosed any opportunity for a compromise solution and forced a majority of stakeholders—locally and nationally—to oppose the agency’s proposal.

By some estimates, only 50 percent of the most mature, large-diameter trees in the Tongass remain standing. For two decades, the Roadless Rule has supported industries in Alaska that depend on conserving the remaining high-quality habitat, such as hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation, tourism, and commercial fishing. The rule also has built-in flexibility and allows for community development projects when they serve the public interest.

Here are three examples of how lifting the Roadless Rule might affect the fish, wildlife, and people who call the Tongass home.

The future of Southeast Alaska’s abundant salmon fisheries will face new risks.

According to the Forest Service, approximately 17,000 miles of pristine creeks, rivers and lakes in the Tongass provide optimal spawning and rearing conditions for all five species of wild Pacific salmon and several varieties of trout. The nutrient-rich waters of the Tongass produce approximately one-quarter of all commercially harvested salmon in Alaska and offer exciting sportfishing opportunities for anglers from around the world.

Critical to the health of this fishery are the intact stands of spruce and hemlock trees that anchor stream banks and help regulate water temperature by shading streams in the summer and insulating them in the winter. Because the Roadless Rule exemption results in a loss of protections for these key elements of salmon habitat, it could be a blow to the region’s commercial fishing and seafood processing industries.

Sitka blacktail deer populations are likely to see declines in the long-term.

Deer in Southeast Alaska are generally confined to old-growth forest winter ranges from December through March. According to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, medium and large-tree hemlock and spruce forests provide the best winter habitat during deep snows. Larger trees offer more protection from the snow and provide greater access to winter food sources. Old forests also provide vital fawning habitat in the spring and foraging habitat in the fall.

Although deer populations tend to increase in the short-term (20 to 30 years) following timber harvest, populations tend to decline in the long run as the new canopy closes, resulting in lower habitat quality. In the agency’s cost-benefit analysis of Roadless Rule alternatives, the Forest Service determined that repealing the Roadless Rule “could lead to a decline in the deer population, particularly following severe winters.” Healthy populations of Sitka blacktail deer support recreational hunting opportunities and food security in rural communities.

Alaska’s economy could have a harder time rebounding.

The Forest Service projects that a full exemption of the Roadless Rule on the Tongass would result in $319,000 per year in lost revenue across Southeast Alaska’s recreation industry. That doesn’t account for the potential negative impacts of development to the entire tourism industry, which has contributed more than $700 million annually in visitor spending across Southeast Alaska in recent years.

While important for several reasons, Alaska’s timber industry supplies less than one percent of all jobs in Southeast Alaska. By the Forest Service’s own analysis, a full repeal of the Roadless Rule is expected to have only a “minimal beneficial effect” on the region’s forest products industry, and at a significant cost to taxpayers. Instead of focusing on cutting critically important undeveloped forests, we should be helping the timber industry transition to second growth forest restoration and management – an approach that would support both jobs and forest health.

What happens next?

Today’s final decision to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule is the unfortunate result of a politically driven process at the expense of irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat. Six options were considered in the rulemaking process, ranging from “no action” to the full repeal of the Roadless Rule. Despite overwhelming public feedback to keep conservation safeguards in place, the administration chose the most extreme option and repealed the Roadless Rule.

Because the most unbalanced option was chosen, it will likely be challenged at every turn until a different outcome is reached. The TRCP is focused on achieving durable solutions, and we will continue to roll up our sleeves and find common ground in Alaska to safeguard roadless areas for the benefit of hunting, fishing, and recreation-based economies; encourage a transition away from logging intact forests that have never been developed and toward second-growth logging that benefits both mills and forest health; and support the needs of local communities to diversify their income sources and look long-term toward sustainable outdoor recreation industries.

Sign up as a TRCP partner and stay tuned for future opportunities to help restore conservation safeguards to the Tongass.

 

Photo: Ben Matthews (www.bentmatthews.com)

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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