November 19, 2020

CRP Provides New Administration an Opportunity to Invest in Conservation

Four ways the Biden Administration should boost Conservation Reserve Program enrollment

With just 21.9 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program—the lowest enrollment since 1987—hunting and fishing groups are calling on the incoming administration to restore the health of this popular Farm Bill program and its benefits to wildlife and landowners.

“There’s a chance to once again make the CRP a success story for pheasants, quail, big game, waterfowl, and pollinators, rather than a story of wasted potential for our lands, waters, and rural communities,” says Andrew Earl, director of private lands conservation at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Besides the habitat benefits, the economic support this program can provide to farmers, ranchers, and forest owners couldn’t be more critical right now, but program managers need to rethink recent changes to make CRP an attractive option.”

Since the 2018 Farm Bill raised the total CRP acreage cap from 24 million to 27 million acres, in part to accommodate growing landowner interest, the Farm Service Agency has changed how rental rates are calculated, reduced incentives, eliminated management cost-shares, and failed to roll out forest conservation practices. This has led landowners to look elsewhere when evaluating how best to manage their lands, leaving millions of potential CRP acres on the table.

“Congress sent a clear message in the 2018 Farm Bill that USDA should boost enrollment of CRP acres, but instead we saw the 13th straight year of declining CRP acreage,” says Duane Hovorka, agriculture program director at the Izaak Walton League of America. “The soil, water, and wildlife benefits of the program are too valuable to put at risk by shortchanging farmers on CRP payments.”

A coalition of hunting, fishing, landowner, and conservation organizations suggests that the Biden-Harris Administration could boost enrollment in the CRP by:

  • Immediately restoring soil productivity as an adjusting factor in rental-rate calculations
  • Increasing practicing incentives that were greatly reduced in recent years
  • Once again providing a cost-share for the mid-contract management of practices
  • Accelerating the delayed rollout of forest management incentives

These recommendations are supported by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America, National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, National Deer Association, National Wildlife Federation, North American Grouse Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Western Landowners Alliance.

“The Conservation Reserve Program is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the United States and a cornerstone to American agriculture and wildlife conservation,” says Sara Parker Pauley, director of the Missouri Department of Conservation and president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “With CRP enrollment at its lowest point in decades, the Association urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture to boost incentives and increase enrollment in this crucial program.”

Over the last 35 years, the Conservation Reserve Program has proven to be among our nation’s most valuable tools in providing landowners the assistance necessary to conserve marginal or ecologically sensitive acreage on their lands. Beyond benefits to soil and water quality, the program has helped to keep vulnerable species off the endangered species list and support hunter spending in rural communities across the country.

“Despite an increase in Conservation Reserve Program acreage in the 2018 Farm Bill, enrollment has plummeted and is now 3.1 million acres under the enrollment cap — with millions more acres set to expire,” says Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “The Conservation Reserve Program is essential for recovering wildlife species, improving water quality, strengthening soil health, and supporting farmers, ranchers, and foresters. We need bold action to drive enrollment up.”

Visit CRPworks.org to learn more about the Conservation Reserve Program.

Visit the TRCP’s interactive model farm to see how CRP and other Farm Bill conservation programs make an impact for wildlife habitat, soil and water quality, and sportsmen’s access.

 

Top photo by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service – Montana office.

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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.

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.

 

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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