Interior Will Ensure Land and Water Conservation Fund Is Used Where It’s Needed Most
Hunters and anglers call for prioritization of projects that increase public access to recreational opportunities
The Department of Interior announced today that it will be reducing restrictions on the availability of Land and Water Conservation Fund investments, ensuring that these dollars are used for the best possible opportunities to enhance public land access and habitat.
The LWCF was plussed up last August after the Great American Outdoors Act became law, marking one of the greatest bipartisan conservation achievements in decades. The bill guarantees full funding for the program at $900 million each year. Today’s announcement overturns Secretarial Order 3388, which deprioritized Bureau of Land Management lands for consideration for LWCF projects and gave county commissioners veto authority over private landowners’ decisions to sell their land.
“We are pleased the Department is doing away with rules that could have crippled getting these critical dollars to the ground,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen want to ensure that the LWCF is working to increase public access to outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve important habitats. This is going to require investments in agency capacity, prioritization of areas with recreational value, and coordination between federal, state, and private partners. We appreciate that hunters and anglers are being heard in this process.”
In addition to prioritizing the conservation of habitat and access through federal lands, the Land and Water Conservation Fund provides matching grants to state and tribal governments for the development of fishing areas, hunting access, hiking and biking trails, city parks, and urban green spaces.
“Whether you live in New York City or Cody, Wyoming, the COVID pandemic has shown us that access to the outdoors is critical for our health and wellbeing,” said Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer of the TRCP. “The LWCF opens doors for people to experience our natural resources, while also investing in local economies and creating jobs.”
“Proper implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund can make a lasting difference on these landscapes,” said Joel Webster, senior director of TRCP’s western programs. “Looking forward, if states can put these investments toward conserving fish and wildlife habitat and increasing public access, it will benefit generations of hunters and anglers to come.”
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.
Create Conservation Jobs
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.
Invest in Climate Change Solutions
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.
Modernize Public Land Data
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 117th Congress and Beyond
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.
Major Spending and COVID-Relief Package Contains Investments in Conservation
Year-end bill includes wide ranging provisions for fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation access
A sweeping legislative package to keep the government running and invest in COVID relief has become law. Tucked throughout the bill are numerous conservation provisions that invest in climate solutions, sustainably manage water resources, restore habitat, combat chronic wasting disease, and strengthen access for hunters and anglers.
“In a year that has been incredibly difficult for families and communities across America, conservation provides a place where we can find glimmers of hope and common ground,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This sweeping legislation addresses many issues that are top of mind for hunters and anglers, including investments in habitat and access. We can close out this year knowing we accomplished a lot for conservation and turn our eyes toward 2021 and the goals of investing in climate solutions and putting Americans back to work through conservation.”
The more than 5,500-page bill contains the following provisions:
Invests $900 million in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, of this $67.5 million must be used to expand recreational access to public land.
Infuses $1.9 billion into our nation’s public lands, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and national parks, critical new resources for addressing deferred maintenance projects.
Increases communities’ ability to use nature-based solutions to meet their flood control needs.
$7 million for states to manage chronic wasting disease.
$2 million for chronic wasting disease work at the National Wildlife Research Center.
$3.72 million to fund collaborative chronic wasting disease studies, including research to identify early detection tools and carcass disposal.
Invests in the restoration of the Everglades, the Great Lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Allows conservation organizations to access WaterSMART grants, including for nature-based water solutions.
Updates the Army Corps’ Floodplain Management Service program so that it can improve its ability to provide technical assistance that communities desperately need while also prioritizing assistance for economically disadvantaged communities and communities subject to repetitive flooding.
Ensures consistency in cost-sharing requirements for natural infrastructure projects.
Directs the Army Corps of Engineers to update guidance on sea level rise and inland flooding.
Expands the Cooperative Watershed Management Program that allows communities to develop joint solutions to their water challenges.
Establishes a new program to fund fish passage.
Recognizes tribal water rights and funds projects that will provide access to clean, safe drinking water and other critical water supplies.
Urges Natural Resources Conservation Service when converting wetlands to ensure that one acre of impact equals one acre of conserved land elsewhere.
Requires Natural Resources Conservation Service to prioritize implementation of Drought Contingency Plans for Colorado River Basin.
Directs Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop Environmental Quality Incentives Program guidance for local feedback on irrigation district-led projects.
Strongly encourages the Farm Services Agency to prioritize State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program.
Prohibits new oil and gas leases within ten miles of the Chaco Cultural National Historic Park in New Mexico for the next year.
Additionally, the legislation conveys approximately 93 acres in North Dakota to construct the Roosevelt Presidential Library.
A Toast to the Patron Saint of Conservation on His Birthday
If you’ve looked at the state of our country lately and thought, ‘What would Theodore Roosevelt do?’ this might be your answer
Hunting and the American outdoors were fundamental to who Theodore Roosevelt was—without them, he would be unrecognizable. There have been other sportsmen in the White House (Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight Eisenhower were all passionate flyfishermen), but T.R.’s greatness cannot be separated from his passion for the outdoors, which is what makes him the patron saint of conservation in America.
So, it’s no wonder we’re thinking of him today, as his 162nd birthday coincides with a pivotal time for our nation and the conservation priorities he helped to set in motion.
Theodore Roosevelt led with a clarity of purpose, and he would have seen clearly the task facing modern-day hunters and anglers—it is no less than the survival of our outdoor traditions. The future of hunting and fishing, not to mention our fish and wildlife resources, is in the hands of decision-makers who are often uninformed or downright hostile. But it is also in our hands. We must move fish and wildlife conservation up the hierarchy of our own political decision-making and vote accordingly.
If, like Roosevelt, hunting and angling are foundational to your very being, something you want to pass down to your children, then you can’t afford to be passive about policies that will affect your access or the responsible management of fish and wildlife habitat.
A generation ago, many elected leaders learned the language of the land as kids, knew the culture of opening day, and shared stories of blaze orange and bird dogs at the Formica counters of small town diners. But today, the lawmakers who understand our culture beyond its value at the voting booth are few and far between. This reality reflects broader trends: an increasingly urban population that’s more and more profoundly disconnected from wildlife and wild places.
Still there is no more important issue in this country than conservation, and to celebrate T.R. is to celebrate his famous maxim.
Subsequently we must hold our elected officials accountable when they make decisions that threaten habitat and access. We must inform others, and be informed ourselves, on the importance of the North American model of wildlife management, and explain how hunters and anglers play an absolutely essential role in the funding of conservation work. After all, following in T.R.’s footsteps, we are the prime authors of some of the greatest fish and wildlife conservation success stories in the history of the world.
To be a hunter or an angler in 2020 is to be a steward for the future. It is no less an essential call than the one that motivated Theodore Roosevelt and a generation of American conservationists, to whom we owe a profound debt of gratitude. The hunters of the next century need us to carry that mantle forward with our words and actions.
Get started right now by urging lawmakers to include investments in conservation in any economic recovery legislation. Congress can put Americans back to work during the COVID crisis by supporting conservation programs that restore habitat, fix trails and access sites, make highways safer for people and wildlife, and build more resilient water systems. Click here to take action.
This post was originally published on October 27, 2016 and has been updated.
How the South Racked Up 174K Acres of Inaccessible Public Land
History has shaped how public lands are now organized and, in some cases, completely isolated by private land
After years of analyzing and identifying landlocked public lands across the country, the TRCP and onX have now tallied up 16.43 million acres of lost hunting and fishing opportunities in 22 states.
This is no doubt frustrating, because they’re your public lands and you can’t get to them. But there’s no single policy or decision-maker to blame. As we’ve seen in the West, the Midwest, and the Mid-Atlantic, public lands have become landlocked in many ways. The diverse history of the Southeast has similarly had significant implications for the way this region’s public lands are organized—and in some cases isolated—today.
States such as North Carolina, which had been among the original 13, and Tennessee, part of which had been a territorial claim of North Carolina until it was ceded to the federal government, used an older survey system known as “metes and bounds” to create property lines following geographic features and other landmarks.
Other states were acquired through treaties with foreign powers, such as the Louisiana Purchase, and so their public lands were organized according to the survey system used across the West and Midwest to divide the federal government’s acquisitions into a grid-like pattern of ranges, townships, and sections. These states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi—are known as the South’s “public land states.”
But over time, as in other parts of the country, many public lands in the South were sold off. Particularly in the areas between the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi River, where demand for cotton, the region’s primary cash crop, produced a westward land rush. During the first half of the 19th century, large speculative purchases resulted in the massive transfer of public lands into private hands.
Following the Civil War, Congress enacted the Southern Homestead Act to reduce speculation and encourage land ownership among formerly enslaved people, but the law was repealed in 1876 as the Reconstruction Era came to an end. As a result, the remaining federal estate in the South was subject to massive land sales in which timber and mineral interests accumulated huge swaths of forests.
In the early 20th century, however, the region’s public-land legacy was reborn, beginning with the passage of the Weeks Act in 1911. The law empowered the federal government to acquire lands for national forests in the eastern United States. The intention of the law was to restore cut-over and eroded lands, thereby conserving timber resources and important watersheds.
The 1930s saw the establishment of state forests and parks, in part with the help of Civilian Conservation Corps workers, who built facilities and infrastructure. States also began to acquire Wildlife Management Areas to conserve important habitat for game species, as well as to provide hunting and fishing opportunities for the public.
The result of all of this is today’s unique system of county, state, and federal land holdings and, unfortunately, a remnant patchwork of landlocked public lands.