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Andrew Earl

February 24, 2021

Six Ways Congress Can Create Jobs and Safeguard Habitat

Conservation works for hunters, anglers, and the American economy

After COVID hit the United States, people flocked to mountains, rivers, lakes, and trails to escape the four walls of our homes and clear our heads.  These outdoor places provided respite and improved the wellbeing of millions of Americans.

Unfortunately, it’s our economy that needs a breath of fresh air now. Following the economic downturn of the past year, Congress should make bold investments to create jobs, rebuild our economy, and improve the health of our communities.

Our natural resources can once again bring our nation together, if Congress seizes the opportunity to invest in them.  As policymakers search for ways to stimulate the economy, they need look no further than our lands and waters. That’s why hunters and anglers are joining a diverse coalition of conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts to ensure that Congress considers fish and wildlife habitat as part of the solution to the many challenges we face.

The six policy proposals that we have put forward will put Americans back to work, combat climate change, and enhance our outdoor recreation opportunities. Here’s what Congress should do to let conservation work for America.

Strengthen America’s coastlines and restore iconic ecosystems.

Our coastal wetlands, marshes, river systems, and floodplains serve an outsized role in minimizing the impacts of extreme weather events. Restoring these landscapes will not only ensure the functionality of important coastal ecosystems for years to come, it will also enhance natural flood buffers, protect critical infrastructure and communities, improve water quality, and support economic growth.

In the Gulf of Mexico, wildlife tourism alone supports $19 billion in annual spending and supports over half a million jobs, but the region is also incredibly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The Mississippi River Delta has lost more than 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s and continues to lose the equivalent of a football field worth of wetlands every 100 minutes.

Congress should support the conservation and restoration of these systems by funding publicly vetted coastal or watershed restoration plans. Congress should also create a new program to fund coastal restoration and fisheries management initiatives, like those that were supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Prioritize wetlands restoration.

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act has proven to be our nation’s most effective program for protecting, restoring, and enhancing wetlands and waterfowl habitat. Since 1990, the program has provided flood control, protected water quality, improved ecosystem function, and secured recreational access on more than 30 million acres of wetlands. The partnership model established in this legislation generates roughly 7,500 jobs and supports over $200 million in salaries annually. We strongly encourage Congress to fully fund this program.

Invest in our nation’s private lands.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers a suite of voluntary conservation programs that provide value to rural America beyond their well-known ecological benefits. Incentives offered through the Conservation Reserve Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program optimize farm and forestry operations, improve fish and wildlife habitat, and add value at a time when the agricultural economy needs it most.

These initiatives help agricultural producers, hunters, and anglers but require significant investment to ensure they remain effective in protecting soil, water, wildlife, and landowners’ bottom lines. We urge Congress to double its investment and significantly grow enrollment in Farm Bill conservation programs, so we can address natural resource challenges—like habitat loss and climate change—and provide landowners with the technical and financial assistance they need.

Use habitat to improve the resilience of transportation infrastructure.

With over 4 million miles of public roads in the U.S., the scope of repairs needed to support our aging transportation infrastructure seems daunting. We encourage Congress to pass a highway bill that creates a new competitive grant program aimed at enhancing the resilience of these critical transportation systems. This kind of dedicated funding is necessary to prioritize the use and restoration of natural infrastructure—natural systems, like wetlands and dunes, that can mitigate threats to our roadways, like flooding from powerful storm surge.

Incorporating natural infrastructure approaches and relocating vulnerable assets out of flood-prone areas can increase the resilience of our communities. These projects would provide quality jobs and pay dividends to local taxpayers.

Invest in pre-disaster mitigation.

When communities experience major disasters, their resources are drained as they rebuild.  That’s why we need an infusion of cash to not only help them pick up the pieces, but also to prepare for future catastrophic weather events.

Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities Program provides communities with matching funds to identify existing infrastructure vulnerabilities and develop innovative, nature-based solutions that lessen the impacts of future disasters to life and property. These pre-disaster mitigation grant projects reduce risk and increase habitat for the fish and wildlife we love to pursue.  We encourage Congress to set aside 15 percent of funds for nature-based approaches to reducing disaster risk.

Invest in sustainable water systems.

From water quality issues in the East to water quantity issues in the West, we need thoughtful approaches to watershed management that are based in local needs.  These solutions are not one size fits all, but several key initiatives can prop up our most valuable resource—the water that powers our lives and outdoor recreation opportunities.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund is a proven tool to help communities overcome challenges to water quality and infrastructure. Since its inception, the Fund has provided communities, many of them disadvantaged, with over $110 billion in financing for estuary protection, wastewater control, and water treatment.

Like the rest of America’s infrastructure, Western water delivery systems are aging and struggling to adequately keep pace with the needs of growing communities and economies. The WaterSMART Drought Response and Cooperative Watershed Management programs help develop local watershed management programs to address this challenge. WaterSMART grants help to improve water delivery, efficiency, and reliability and reduce conflicts over water-use in the West.

Congress should support and increase investments in these water initiatives to put Americans back to work—and back out on our kayaks and driftboats.

How You Can Help

The TRCP will continue to offer sportsmen and women a chance to engage in our #ConservationWorksforAmerica campaign in 2021. Take action now and urge decision-makers to put people back to work through conservation.

 

 

To learn more about the Conservation Works for America campaign, click here.

4 Responses to “Six Ways Congress Can Create Jobs and Safeguard Habitat”

  1. One program TRCP could get behind is the Navigation-Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) for the Upper Mississippi River Basin. NESP would restore an iconic ecosystem on the only river Congress has designated as a nationally-important ecosystem and navigation conduit. NESP would also improve its wetlands and improve water navigation, an integral part of our Nation’s multi-modal network for moving products we all use, every day.

  2. Dan Banks

    Fantastic! Now if enough members of Congress can be convinced that their local interests will served so that we all benefit, with no quibbling about it costing too much, it should be a go!

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Rob Thornberry

February 12, 2021

A Watershed Moment for Pacific Northwest Salmon and Steelhead

Idaho lawmaker takes the lead on recovery effort

Sportsmen and women should rally behind Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) who earlier this week laid out a bold, thoughtful, and highly vetted plan to solve the Northwest’s most intractable conservation problem: the impending extinction of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.

Last Sunday, the 11-term representative from Idaho’s Second Congressional District, proposed a $33-billion infrastructure investment plan that would bypass four dams on the Lower Snake River to aid in the recovery of salmon and steelhead runs, which have dwindled over the past three decades despite the government spending $17 billion on recovery efforts. The plan would also reform the region’s power network and help the Northwest’s commodity producers embrace new ways to ship their crops to the Pacific Rim and the world.

Click Here or Scroll Down To Watch A Short Video About the Proposal

The need is critical. Runs of salmon and steelhead are at historic lows, driven to the precipice by hostile ocean conditions, climate change, and barriers that obstruct their migration to upstream spawning habitat.

Simpson’s plan is an audacious one, for sure. It would set aside:

  • $1.8 billion for dam bypass.
  • $2.3 billion for updating the region’s transportation network.
  • $10 billion for the Bonneville Power Administration to offset its lost hydropower production and modernization of its infrastructure to better accommodate new power sources.
  • $1.5 billion to help the agriculture industry transition from a river-based travel corridor to a rail-based one.
  • $1.25 billion for creation of a research facility where technology can be developed to capture and store energy from renewable sources.

It also accounts for less vocal interests, like marina owners, river guides, and boat owners who could be hurt by the loss of slack water.

While it is ambitious in scope, Simpson’s plan is rooted in collaboration and extensive communications. Simpson and his team have held more than 300 meetings in the past three years, hearing the opinions of grain growers, shippers, state officials, anglers, irrigators, sportsmen, and leaders of all the communities impacted by his proposal.

“Working together as a delegation and with the governors, stakeholders, and conservationists, we can create a Northwest solution that ends the salmon wars and puts the Northwest and our energy systems on a certain, secure, and viable path for decades and restores Idaho’s salmon,” Simpson said.

As climate change intensifies and partisan divides deepen, Simpson has returned to the roots of great conservation: a collaborative solution that comes from the realities on the ground. It is based in pragmatic care for all stakeholders and a commitment to consensus and the economic impacts of the region.

It is the kind of process that hunters and anglers should support. Thank you, Rep. Simpson for showing the way.

 

Top photo: BLM (Bob Wick) via Flickr

Marnee Banks

February 11, 2021

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.”

The Great American Outdoors Act requires the federal land management agencies to set aside a minimum of $27 million annually for recreational access projects. The TRCP has partnered with onX to release five reports detailing 16 million acres of inaccessible public land in 22 states.

“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.”

To read more about the administration’s announcement, click HERE.

Defending Oregon’s Last Best Place

New coalition of sportsmen and women seeks to keep a landscape from being ‘”loved to death”

Oregon’s Owyhee Country is a paradise for those fond of adventure and solitude with a rod or rifle in hand. But what was once enjoyed mostly by locals is now in danger of being “loved to death” as the Pacific Northwest population booms and Instagram influencers crave never ending likes through adventure. Additional pressures such as a climate change, invasive annual grasses, and renewable energy pressures are mounting, which is why I’m representing the TRCP within a coalition of seven conservation groups proposing solutions that safeguard fish and wildlife habitat and the unique hunting and fishing opportunities the region is known for. Here’s what we stand to lose if hunters and anglers are not at the table when it comes to conserving the Owyhee. 

What’s at Stake?

Stretching across 4.6 million acres of public lands in the BLM’s Vale Districtthis landscape is among the most remote and unpopulated in the lower 48 states and can test the skills of even the most seasoned outdoorsperson. It encompasses more than 1.2 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas, made up of a rugged and remote sagebrush sea, broken only by narrow lava rock canyons that wind down to the banks of its namesake river.  

Far removed from the famed Douglas fir forests of Oregon’s west side, the outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities found in the Owyhee Country can sometimes be overlooked. These canyons provide vital habitat for mule deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and more than 200 other species of wildlife. Anglers catch native red-band trout in the beaver ponds of the West Little Owyhee, cast for 20-inch browns in the reach below the Owyhee dam, and introduce their kids to fishing on the abundant and easytofool smallmouth bass found throughout the river basin. Hunters in the area enjoy some of the best units within the state for mule deer, bighorns, antelope, and chukar.  

While its remote location has allowed the Owyhee Country to maintain its backcountry character, pressures from renewable energy, mining, oil and gas, and off-highway vehicles grow with each passing decade. The recent surge of outdoor recreation within the area from rafters, hunters, anglers, hot springs enthusiasts, and other recreation-seekers also presents difficult management challenges. The impacts of these increasing usescombined with invasive annual grasses, wildfire, and climate change-fueled drought, all threaten the unique fish and wildlife habitat within the region. Both the health of the landscape and the rural economies of the nearby communities need more resources to address these issues 

Working Towards a Collaborative Solution

Thankfully, Oregon’s congressional delegation is seeking pragmatic solutions after multiple requests from both the ranching and conservation communities. In 2019, Senator Ron Wyden spearheaded a series of stakeholder meetings to find common ground for a bill that would promote the long-term health of the landscape while providing for economic development and the continued traditional uses of public lands. The result was the introduction in November 2019 of S.2828, the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act (MCEOA). Notably, the bill would safeguard one million acres of undeveloped backcountry across Malheur County while releasing an equal amount of wildernessquality lands back to multiple use. Additionally, it would provide for important funding to restore the health of degraded sagebrush habitats and infuse economic development money into many surrounding rural communities.  

In order to ensure sportsmen and women have a strong voice in this decision-making process, the TRCP has partnered with the Oregon Hunters Association, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Friends of the Owyhee, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Soul River Inc., and the Oregon Chapter of The Foundation for North American Wild Sheep to form, organize and engage a new coalition of hunting and fishingbased conservation organizations called the “Owyhee Sportsmen.”  Since August 2019, the coalition has worked closely with the Oregon congressional delegation—especially Senator Wyden’s office—to provide input and recommendations to the bill that would improve the conservation of the region’s fish and wildlife habitat. Our sportsmen and women’s coalition has strongly urged Senator WydenSenator Jeff Merkley, and Representative Cliff Bentz to work together to make a few changes and pass this bill, which we expect will see consideration from lawmakers this year 

Speaking Out for the Owyhee

The Sportsmen for the Owyhee campaign is currently working to educate the public, business owners, and decisionmakers on the need to protect Oregon’s Owyhee Canyons from development while highlighting the abundant opportunities the region provides for hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreators of all types.  

Recently, I joined several other members of the coalition to work on a hunting and fishing film with Alpenglow Press Productions to showcase just a few of the great adventures one can find in the Owyhee Country. I have spent hundreds of nights under the darkest skies in the nation exploring this vast area over the years, but it is hard to beat some of the experiences we enjoyed during the filming of this project. The Coalition is excited to share the film with the public and to work with members across our organizations to show support for this unique and stunning landscape that needs our attention. 

There are few large areas of land and water left in the U.S. where one can get truly lost, where skies at night are completely free of artificial light, and where sportsmen and women can chase such iconic game animals, upland birds, and trout. Oregon’s Owyhee Country is such a place, and we are committed to keeping it that way.  

If you want to get involved, please take action HERE to support protecting the Owyhee Country and to stay informed on future opportunities to weigh in. 

Andrew Earl

February 5, 2021

U.S. Department of Agriculture Moves to Boost Private Lands Conservation

Farmers and ranchers have more time to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program

Heeding calls from the hunting and fishing community, the U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced it’s extending enrollment for the Conservation Reserve Program—the nation’s most successful private lands conservation initiative.

Since 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program has offered incentives for American farmers, ranchers, and landowners to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and create wildlife habitat. The current enrollment period for general signup was set to expire on February 12, but the USDA has announced it will be extending that deadline to “evaluate and implement changes.”

“Getting more landowners signed up for the Conservation Reserve Program will improve soil, water, and habitat health,” said Andrew Earl, director of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s private lands program. “Increased enrollment also benefits sportsmen and sportswomen who hunt and fish on private land, while providing economic support for farmers and ranchers. Further, the Conservation Reserve Program is an important tool in our toolbox of land- and water-based solutions to climate change.”

CRP has helped restore more than 2.3 million acres of wetlands and set aside land that has sequestered more than 12 million metric tons of carbon. Despite these notable successes, enrollment in the program has been dwindling.

The program is currently at a three-decade low of 20.7 million acres enrolled. Just two years ago, Congress increased the program’s acreage cap from 24 to 27 million acres in response to rampant landowner interest. However, in the time since, significant changes to rental rate formulas and incentive reductions have diminished the attractiveness of the program.

The TRCP has been raising alarms about the weakening of the CRP over the past few years and has laid out a plan to strengthen the program moving forward.

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

 

Photo by Lance Cheung, USDA

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

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 conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.

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