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The must-do list for the new administration to support fish and wildlife resources and create conservation jobs
In his first full week in office, President Biden has already taken steps to begin addressing how climate change affects fish and wildlife habitat. But the opportunities for this new administration to support conservation do not stop there.
Long before the election, as part of a comprehensive process of preparing decisionmakers in both the Trump and Biden camps, the TRCP team identified the top-tier issues that could be addressed in the first 100 days in office. Here’s our list of the ten most imminent habitat needs and impactful conservation measures that the Biden Administration should influence before April 30, 2021.
Conservation funding spans a wide range of federal departments and agencies and touches upon nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Yet, conservation’s portion of the pie has been cut in half in the past 40 years—from 2 percent of the total federal budget in the 1970s to less than one percent today. This decline in federal funding has had significant impacts on our nation’s public lands and on federal agencies’ ability to protect and improve habitat.
The recent enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act will provide an important infusion of federal funding to address deferred maintenance backlogs, as well as land acquisition and public access priorities. This dedicated funding comes at a critical time, as visitation to our nation’s public lands, particularly during COVID, continues to increase at a dramatic scale. But more can be done.
The Administration must support Congressional efforts to increase conservation funding in the Farm Bill, improve the resilience of transportation infrastructure, invest in pre-disaster mitigation and sustainable water systems, and strengthen coastlines and habitat. These investments can help our nation recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, while also spurring conservation.
Building on that, the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget is slated for delivery to Congress in early February, and it should provide strong investments in conservation. Beyond the first 100 days, a new budget deal will need to be negotiated with Congress—which holds the power of the pursestrings, no matter what the president’s budget request may include—to secure these investments and create conservation jobs.
Click here to visit our Conservation Works for America webpage and learn more about how investments in conservation can create jobs, rebuild our economy, and improve the health of our communities.
Hunters and anglers are on the front lines of climate change, observing changes in fish and wildlife migration patterns, altered breeding seasons, shifts in home ranges, loss of habitat from sea-level rise, and even loss of trail and road access due to extreme weather events such as flooding and storm surges.
As of day one in office, Biden reengaged with other world leaders tackling this problem by re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement. His Executive Order this week marks another step forward. As his administration works out the implementation, we encourage the president to consult with communities that are impacted, including hunters and anglers.
We need to focus on harnessing the power of natural systems—in other words, habitat—to remove and sequester carbon from the atmosphere and protect communities faced with severe storms and other impacts of a changing climate. This would not only advance our country’s climate resilience but also improve air quality, soil health, and water quality. In the balance, sportsmen and women would gain stronger, more adaptable fish and wildlife populations and support for our vibrant outdoor recreation economy.
This administration should take definitive steps to stem the spread of chronic wasting disease, which threatens the very future of deer and deer hunting, by investing both in state surveillance and testing efforts and in federal research on the disease.
Further, to ensure that the captive cervid industry is holding up its end of the bargain, we’d also like to see a third-party scientific review of the Herd Certification Program—a voluntary program at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for keeping captive deer herds at “low-risk” of contracting and spreading CWD. Until this review is complete, and its recommendations are implemented, the administration should place a moratorium on the interstate movement of live deer.
With just 21.9 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program—the lowest enrollment since 1987—the incoming administration must restore the health of this popular Farm Bill program and its benefits to wildlife and landowners. Under the Trump Administration, the Farm Service Agency changed how CRP 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.
In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress raised the total CRP acreage cap from 24 million to 27 million acres, in part to accommodate growing landowner interest. In the first 100 days of Biden’s term, the administration needs to hold an emergency General Signup for the Conservation Reserve Program that offers incentive and cost-share payments at historic levels and restores soil productivity as an adjusting factor in rental rate determinations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture should also develop a public timeline for CRP signups to provide certainty as landowners make decisions regarding use of their lands.
The Tongass National Forest is America’s largest national forest, encompassing nearly 90 percent of the southeastern panhandle of Alaska. By lifting roadless area safeguards in the Tongass, the Forest Service under the Trump Administration has threatened 9.2 million acres of undeveloped forest, potentially undermining the region’s world-class fisheries and vital habitat for Sitka blacktail deer, bears, moose, and Roosevelt elk.
In the first 100 days, the Biden Administration should halt any pending projects that could undermine the habitat value of roadless areas and take immediate steps to restore roadless area safeguards for the Tongass.
These fish and wildlife resources not only serve as an important food source for thousands of local families—including many from indigenous communities—they provide outstanding opportunities for recreational hunting and fishing that fuels Southeast Alaska’s vibrant tourism industry. Today, the region’s recreation and fishing industries account for more than 25 percent of all local employment. Given the opportunity to influence forest management practices and budgets, the administration should also prioritize sustainable forest uses—including restoration and recreation projects—that have the greatest potential to support the region’s long-term economic growth.
In 2018, Congress passed a spending bill that finally helped us shift away from a dysfunctional model of funding wildfire suppression and recovery, in which the U.S. Forest Service was forced to dip into conservation accounts during catastrophic fire seasons after running out of appropriated funds. This practice was crippling the ability of agencies to manage forests effectively and actually reduce the risk of future megafires.
But, to date, the Trump Administration and Congress have not used the fire funding fix as intended. While federal agencies can now access emergency funding when they run out of fire suppression dollars, the fix was also designed to provide substantial new resources—more than $400 million for the Forest Service in 2020—that agencies could use for forest restoration and other activities. This funding was not made available in the 2020 budget.
In the first 100 days, the Biden Administration should ensure that these vital funds are invested in the health of our forests.
The Clean Water Act has been one of the country’s most successful conservation tools since its passage in 1972. Sadly, in the last 20 years, uncertainty about the scope of the Clean Water Act—drawn from confusing Supreme Court decisions and several Trump Administration rules weakening the Act—has accelerated wetlands loss and threatened our most vulnerable trout streams.
The Biden Administration needs to move quickly to reverse this damage, while allowing for robust public comment. They should conduct public listening sessions and work to reach agreement on a durable definition of which waters and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. Sportsmen and women can then engage—and show up in force, as we have in the past—to support the conservation of our headwater streams and wetlands.
The TRCP and its sportfishing partners have been working for the last eight years to advance fisheries policy and law that recognizes the conservation, cultural, and economic importance of saltwater angling. The recently passed bipartisan Modern Fish Act finally recognizes the fundamental difference between commercial and recreational fishing and prescribes changes in fisheries management to improve data collection and conservation strategies.
The Biden Administration should renew this commitment in its management of the federal agencies that oversee fisheries management. It is vital that the incoming administration recognize the need for NOAA Fisheries to move away from its history of focusing solely on commercial fishing and continue to develop relationships and policies that recognize the management needs and economic importance of recreational fishing. It is also vital that NOAA Fisheries examine how it applies policies and laws related to coastal habitat restoration as states seek to restore wetlands, barrier islands, and reefs that have been damaged by development, subsidence, and sea-level rise.
Sportsmen and women have made a longstanding investment to maintain productive populations of the greater sage grouse, an iconic bird of the West and once-abundant quarry for American hunters. An unprecedented effort to conserve sagebrush habitat for grouse and 350 other species of wildlife and plants resulted in a historic win in 2015, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided the sage grouse did not warrant listing as threatened or endangered, partly based on the strength of federal, state, and voluntary conservation plans created to restore the health of the species.
These plans were revised and ultimately weakened under the Trump Administration, which stripped out safeguards for certain sagebrush habitats and created more potential for development and mineral extraction within sage grouse habitat. A court injunction prevents these 2019 plans from being used, but in the meantime habitat continues to be lost and long-term grouse population trends remain in decline.
TRCP strongly recommends that the Biden Administration renew and expand efforts on all fronts on sage grouse conservation and management, including by restoring the strength of conservation plans that convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the bird.
Minnesota’s one-million-acre Boundary Water Canoe Area is the most visited Wilderness Area in the country, a playground of fish, wildlife, and water adventure that supports a thriving recreation economy. In 2012, a mining company bought old leases and asked the Forest Service to renew them so they could open a massive copper mine five miles upstream of the Wilderness. The Forest Service completed an environmental analysis and in 2016 denied the lease renewal, because it was just too risky. The Forest Service also temporarily withdrew the land for mining and began a study of mining effects on the landscape.
But in 2018, the Trump Administration reinstated the leases, rushed through a cursory review to justify undoing the mineral withdrawal, and refused to publicize any part of the abandoned study. The Biden Administration should act quickly to develop and implement a strategy for reversing these decisions and protect the Boundary Waters permanently.
This list of priorities for the administration complements what we’re asking of Congress this year—read more about those priorities here.
Top photo by Kyle Mlynar.
Experts have spent years or, in some cases, decades monitoring trout populations and water quality in these streams—now their time has come
Right now, hunters and anglers in the Keystone State have a rare opportunity to help strengthen protections on more than 45 miles of exceptional coldwater trout streams in the middle Lehigh River basin.
Through February 12, 2021, this list of waterways is being considered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for additional conservation safeguards under the commonwealth’s Water Quality Standards, Clean Streams Law, and the federal Clean Water Act.
In short, this public comment period is one of the final steps toward bestowing the highest possible protections on our best waters.
Our polling shows that 92 percent of sportsmen and women in Pennsylvania support maintaining or strengthening clean water standards. You probably feel the same way if you’ve ever taken action to support upgrading PA streams to wild trout or Class A wild trout status. The TRCP provides local sportsmen and women the opportunity to engage in this process at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission four times a year.
But this is different. Taking action today actually doubles down on those advocacy efforts and pushes exceptional trout waters into two even more elite categories.
Properly designating qualified waters as High Quality (HQ) or Exceptional Value (EV) recognizes the significance of protecting and maintaining clean water where it already exists. This is not only the correct conservation ethic, it is also a more cost effective way to maintain water quality than attempting to restore these streams after they have been degraded.
Waterways can be recommended for upgraded status by the DEP, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), or the public, but an arduous assessment by the DEP then follows. In fact, the evaluation and designation of High Quality and Exceptional Value streams often represents years, if not decades, of work and detailed water surveys.
Documenting the presence of wild trout is often a first step, but there are other qualifiers for HQ and EV status that are determined through macroinvertebrate sampling and water chemistry testing. Many waters being considered right now are already recognized as wild trout waters and several are recognized as Class A wild trout waters by PFBC. This means that not only do these waters sustain naturally reproducing populations of trout, but several of them are among the best in the state.
This effort to conserve the best of the best is particularly important to our state’s $26.9-billion outdoor recreation economy right now. Last year, the PFBC saw fishing license sales jump by 20 percent, and boat registrations spiked by an impressive 36 percent. As 2021 begins, license purchases are outpacing even last year’s sales, further highlighting the importance of conserving our most productive waters.
These streams have waited long enough. Now is the time to help them across the finish line.
Take a minute and sign our action alert to let the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection know that sportsmen and sportswomen believe in protecting these waters for generations to come.
Top photo by Derek Eberly.
TRCP focuses on putting Americans back to work using climate solutions
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s president and CEO, Whit Fosburgh, issued the following statement in response to President Biden’s Executive Order on climate change:
“From the wetlands that make coastal communities more resilient to the forests and grasslands that sequester carbon, our nation’s lands and waters are engines ready to be turned on to address the impacts of climate change. We appreciate the president’s commitment to using the best available science to conserve our outdoor places for future generations. As this administration implements these directives, we urge them to engage people who live in the communities most affected by these policies, including hunters and anglers. The outdoor recreation economy is a powerful job creator and can play a key role in putting Americans back to work while mitigating the impacts of our changing climate.”
The TRCP is leading a coalition of 40 other hunting, fishing, and conservation nonprofits to advance land- and water-based solutions to climate change. The coalition released the Sportsmen & Sportswomen Climate Statement in July 2020.
How lawmakers can make history for conservation in 2021 and 2022
The 116th Congress was truly historic in its conservation achievements, with passage of the John Dingell Conservation Act, the Great American Outdoors Act, and the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act. It ended with a bang, as well, with a strong Water Resources Development Act that included natural infrastructure policies for which TRCP had long advocated.
But, as more Americans have turned to the outdoors and our fish and wildlife resources, there is more for the 117th Congress to get done. As we saw throughout 2019 and 2020, nothing sparks bipartisanship quite like conservation, and TRCP looks forward to working with our Democratic and Republican allies to assemble the next coalitions for conservation policy success.
Here is our shortlist for the habitat, access, and funding priorities they should take up first.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was a keystone of the New Deal response to the Great Depression, and it put significant numbers of unemployed Americans back to work building a legacy of trails, parkways, lodges, and tree-plantings that are still plainly visible across the country. Seventy years later, in response to the Great Recession of 2008, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), funding all manner of infrastructure and natural resource restoration projects meant to get people back to work.
As we stand at another economic threshold, with 10 million Americans still out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress should once again craft economic recovery legislation that invests in conservation programs with a track record of creating jobs and restoring our natural resources.
Visit our Conservation Works for America webpage to learn more about how investments in conservation can create jobs, rebuild our economy, and improve the health of our communities.
In the last decade or more, it has become clear that American hunters and anglers are among the first to witness the impacts of a changing climate. Altered migrations, delayed rut seasons, and invasive species are just a few of the challenges sportsmen and women face as we plan time afield.
Now, leaders in Washington seem poised to act on climate, and with such a unique stake in the outcome, hunters and anglers must be at the table.
While there will certainly be much talk about pricing carbon, electric vehicles, and grid modernization, truly comprehensive climate legislation must include dramatically expanded roles for our nation’s water- and land-based systems that, conservative estimates indicate, could sequester at least 20 percent of our carbon targets. This means investing in grassland conservation, coastal and wetland restoration initiatives, and active forest health projects—exactly the kind of climate projects that benefit rural America and enhance the adaptability of our fish and wildlife resources.
Increasingly, hunters, anglers, and all forms of outdoor enthusiasts seek to plan their adventures using the latest in mobile technology. This revolution in how people interface with their public lands has highlighted how little data about those lands is available in a technologically relevant format. To this day, knowing where one can go and what one can do there sometimes requires paper maps and an awareness of arcane and ever-changing agency policies.
Seeking to address these challenges, in 2020 the TRCP worked with a diverse bipartisan mix of House and Senate legislators to introduce the Modernizing Access to our Public Lands (MAPLand) Act.
The bill, supported by a wide swath of hunting and fishing organizations, would provide the funding necessary over several years for our national land management agencies to digitize paper maps, access data, and recreational use regulations for modern-day public land use. We’d like to see the bill reintroduced and ultimately passed this Congress.
With less time spent commuting and fewer things competing for our limited time, folks have found more chances to head afield during the pandemic. Some states have indicated that hunting and fishing license sales have soared, and outdoor businesses have seen strong demand. But this uptick in outdoor enthusiasm means more pressure on access points and outdoor recreation infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the state wildlife agencies haven’t been able to keep up. Across the nation, state fish and wildlife agencies have seen furloughs, layoffs, hiring freezes, and a reduction in volunteer participation, all while usage of natural resources has been increasing, creating a tremendous capacity issue for our frontline fish and wildlife professionals. What’s more, we now enter into that time of year when state governors and legislatures will be considering state budgets, and fish and wildlife agencies may well be on the proverbial chopping block.
Congress should prioritize swift passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act as part of their comprehensive COVID response and get needed support to state and local governments. Many aspects of state governments have been stressed by this pandemic, and state fish and wildlife agencies are no exception. They shouldn’t be ignored as they perform an ever more essential role in keeping the American public safely enjoying our outdoors.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act creates a badly needed permanent and dedicated funding source for every state’s fish and wildlife agency. This has never been more relevant.
And while COVID-19 has had catastrophic effects on our nation and the world over the course of the last year, a wildlife disease crisis has continued to spread throughout the country. Chronic wasting disease, a 100-percent fatal disease that affects all species of North American deer, was recently identified in Ohio’s wild whitetail population and the wild elk population of Grand Teton National Park.
More than half the states in the country are now dealing with a disease which, if left unchecked, threatens the very future of wild deer, deer hunting, and our model of conservation funding—and all of this while perhaps more people than ever before seek to add venison to the family meal plan.
It is time indeed for Congress to act on comprehensive chronic wasting disease legislation, which would fund strong state response plans including better testing and surveillance, funding for better research, and improved management of the movement of live deer. There is arguably no more important issue facing wildlife conservation, and the issue deserves the attention of congressional leaders and the Biden Administration.
No matter how much of great import we got done in the last Congress, there is much more to do, including far more than we can include in this list. The role that conservation and natural resources play in our national economy, our health, and our quality of life have never been more clear. All of us at the TRCP look forward to getting to work on our agenda for the 117th Congress and the future of America’s hunters and anglers and fish and wildlife.
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