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This is a guest blog from Fred Ferguson, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications for Anoka-based outdoor gear maker Vista Outdoor Inc.
The solutions for a stronger, more resilient climate are a uniting force. Conservation, stewardship, and efficiencies are ideals that each political party can and should support. But for far too long, the national debate on climate has been coopted by preconceived notions of yesteryear and driven by the ideological extremes of both sides.
Policymakers in Washington, D.C. must come together to chart a new and better path. Relitigating old debates or rehashing the same outdated climate playbook will not cut it.
Americans have migrated back to nature in record numbers during the pandemic. Moving forward these families, enthusiasts and voters look for more from policymakers on climate. They expect elected leadership to unite and work for common solutions on this pressing issue.
The hunting and outdoor recreation industries have led the way in creating some of the nation’s most effective environmental laws, from the establishment of national forests and wildlife refuges to the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Leaders today should embrace these new outdoor trends and again turn to the outdoor industry as a model for advancing climate solutions.
Organizations like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Outdoor Industry Association are leading coalitions who believe that bipartisan climate solutions are governmental, business and societal imperatives. We are proud members of each organization and are supporting these industry-wide initiatives.
Outdoor recreation organizations and companies are uniquely positioned in that we sit in the crossroads of different industries, consumer groups and political interests. Yet despite our wide-ranging consumer interests, we agree that the climate is changing and that we can do something about it.
The hunting and outdoor industries have testified before Congress on the need for individuals, businesses and governments to work together to address climate and its changes. Moving ahead, we look forward to working with President Biden and his team, including Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. Her leadership in bringing together this coalition is needed and will serve our country well.
My company, Vista Outdoor, recently endorsed the Conservationists for Climate Solutions Policy Statement (Climate Statement). The Climate Statement is a first-of-its-kind framework that offers a comprehensive climate plan based in proven, bipartisan land and water management strategies. The Climate Statement outlines detailed solutions for policymakers in the areas of Agriculture, Forests, Rangelands, and Grasslands, Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, and Streams, Wetlands, Coastal Resilience and Adaptation.
The Climate Statement is endorsed by 41 outdoor associations. These associations, much like Vista Outdoor, cover the full range of outdoor interests, from the Trust for Public Land to the National Deer Alliance and Pheasants Forever. The geographic and political diversity of their membership demonstrates the power of pragmatic solutions and outlines a path forward for bipartisanship in Congress.
The Climate Statement is also good policy. Improved management of land, water and our natural resources can support national carbon sequestration and emissions reduction targets. These natural sequestration improvements are significant. A recent study found that the United States could mitigate 20% of its carbon emissions through natural solutions, which is equivalent to removing emissions from all cars and trucks on U.S. roads today.
Congress must take note of these bipartisan and expansive coalitions. Interest in the outdoors is surging and it’s imperative that our elected leaders respond and look to the outdoors as the path forward.
Fred Ferguson serves as Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications for Vista Outdoor Inc. (NYSE: VSTO) and its 34 consumer brands. In this capacity, Ferguson supports the investor relations portfolio and directly manages corporate communications, government relations and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting. Ferguson’s duties support corporate strategy and objectives while also bolstering brand-level planning and execution. Ferguson began with Vista Outdoor Inc. in 2017 following a career in the United States House of Representatives where he served as Chief of Staff to a senior Member of Congress.
Legislation invests in digitized, integrated mapping resources for outdoor recreation
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership applauds the reintroduction of landmark legislation that will enhance outdoor recreation on public lands by investing in modern technology that allows sportsmen and sportswomen to know exactly which lands and waters they can access.
U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced the bipartisan Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act alongside Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Barrasso (R-WY), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Steve Daines (R-Mont), and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz).
The MAPLand Act would digitize recreational access information and make those resources available to the public. The legislation would also provide federal land management agencies with funding and guidance to create comprehensive databases of available map-based agency records related to recreational access and use.
These records include information about:
Currently, many of the easement records that identify legal means of access into lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are stored at the local or regional level in paper files. This makes it difficult for hunters, anglers, and even the agencies themselves to identify public access opportunities. For example, of the 37,000 existing easements held by the U.S. Forest Service, the agency estimated in 2020 that only 5,000 had been converted into digital files.
“Quite simply, the MAPLand Act is a common-sense investment in the future of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Now more than ever, Americans from all walks of life are embracing the world-class opportunities available on our public lands. This bill will allow sportsmen and sportswomen to take full advantage of access opportunities, make it easier to follow the rules while recreating outside, and reduce access conflicts with private landowners. We want to thank these lawmakers for taking the lead on this important legislation.”
In addition to improving the public’s ability to access public lands, the bill would help land management agencies — in cooperation with private landowners — prioritize projects to acquire new public land access or improve existing access. According to a report by the TRCP and onX, a digital-mapping company, more than 9.52 million acres of federally managed public lands in the West lack permanent legal public access because they are surrounded entirely by private lands. Digitizing easement records would be the first step towards addressing this challenge systematically.
“The popularity of outdoor recreation in 2020 increased by the largest margin seen in years, with many millions trying outdoor activities for the first time,” said Lisa Nichols, onX’s access advocacy manager. “As more people visit our public lands and waters, it’s increasingly critical to have access and regulation information readily available. The MAPLand Act will expedite the pace that records can go from paper to digital formats. The easier this information can be discovered with GPS applications, the more people will be able to plan ahead to have their best days outdoors.”
Last year, more than 150 hunting- and fishing- related businesses signed a joint letter calling on congressional leadership to pass the MAPLand Act. From gear manufacturers and media companies to guides, outfitters, and retailers, the letter signers emphasized that their livelihoods depend on sportsmen and women having access to outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands.
“The MAPLand Act helps bring federal land management into the 21st century while simultaneously making information on recreational access more available to all Americans,” said Ford Van Fossan, conservation manager for First Lite, a technical hunting apparel company headquartered in Ketchum, Idaho. “It would certainly be a big win for folks who enjoy our public lands as well as the outdoor industry that depends on them.”
In addition, conservation groups across the country applauded the leadership shown by lawmakers to invest in the future of America’s public lands system.
“Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation and 27 of our member organizations support the MAPLand Act, which would expand recreational access to federal public lands, including 28 million acres in Arizona alone,” said Jim Unmacht, AZSFWC’s executive director. “Access to public land is critical for hunting, angling and a variety of outdoor recreation pursuits enjoyed by many Arizonans.”
The bill was previously introduced in both chambers of Congress last year and received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining last September.
Photo: Rick Hutton
Over the last two decades, federal water policy has swung like a pendulum as courts and the White House try to interpret, expand, or shrink protections for streams, wetlands, and rivers. Hunters and anglers know that clean water is the foundation of our outdoor activities. Unfortunately, we are continuously defending bedrock conservation laws to preserve habitat for fish and wildlife.
Take, for example, the Navigable Waters Protection (NWP) Rule, which was issued by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers last year. It removes Clean Water Act protections from more than 18 percent of the nation’s streams and as much as 50 percent of remaining wetlands. This has serious consequences for fish and wildlife but, despite vocal opposition, the rule went into effect everywhere but Colorado—until now.
(If you want to read more on why Colorado was an outlier, here is an in-depth legal blog that explains it.)
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals issued an order allowing the implementation of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule to proceed in Colorado. This is troubling in many ways as you’ll see in the maps below.
Based on a recent peer-reviewed model, Trout Unlimited estimates that 25 percent of the state’s stream miles would be stripped of protections against the dumping of dredged and fill materials. This includes 10,510 miles of precipitation-dependent streams, which supply public drinking water to Colorado residents. These waters also support world-class hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities.
The Nature Conservancy did a similar analysis of wetlands and found that 22 percent would be unprotected as a result of the Rule going into effect.
E&E News reports that more than 70 percent of U.S. waterways reviewed under the NWP Rule could be permanently damaged, according to Army Corps of Engineers data.
Stripped of federal protections under the new rule, these streams and wetlands in the Centennial State are at risk of being polluted and damaged by the construction of roads, bridges, shopping malls, housing developments, dams, and water diversions. That’s why the state water quality protection agency has begun an effort to find a solution.
A new state permit program would allow the Colorado Water Quality Control Division to oversee activities that discharge materials into streams and wetlands, while putting safeguards in place to ensure these activities don’t jeopardize Colorado’s clean water. This program would rely mostly on the “general” permits that most construction projects routinely obtain. Only a small number of projects would need a more rigorous individual permit. The program’s purpose would be to keep the level of protection that has existed for the preceding 40+ years. By addressing the regulatory gap that the NWP Rule creates, Colorado also can protect its waters against shifting policies in Washington, D.C.
The TRCP is actively participating in a stakeholder process in support of Colorado’s efforts. We also will support the Biden Administration’s efforts to rewrite the NWP Rule and return to a system where seasonal streams and wetlands get the Clean Water Act protections they deserve. Until this happens, hunters and anglers will be there defending our most valuable resource to ensure future generations have access to quality habitat and better days on the water.
[If you want to see a timeline of how clean water policy was developed, click HERE.]
Photo by BLM-Colorado
Tides are shifting in our nation’s capital. Now that COVID recovery legislation has cleared Congress, policymakers are shifting their attention to a massive infrastructure package. This is welcome news for folks in Louisiana, where 158,000 people are unemployed and looking for ways to get back to work.
Conservationists are also eyeing this moment. If Congress can put aside partisanship, we believe an infusion of cash into the Gulf can put people back to work, create habitat for fish and wildlife, increase coastal resiliency, combat climate change, and build more equitable communities.
There are three specific legislative opportunities that hunters and anglers should be talking to their elected leaders about:
Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC)
This pre-disaster mitigation program is administered by FEMA to provide resources to states, local communities, tribes, and territories with the goal of reducing risk from natural disasters. In 2020, there was $500 million available through this program to support communities as they prepare for future catastrophic events. We are asking Congress to set aside 15 percent of future BRIC funds for natural infrastructure projects, which will help create habitat and combat the impacts of climate change.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA)
This U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant program invests in local projects to restore wetlands. Over the past two decades, these funds have supported over 3,000 projects impacting 30 million acres. One of these projects is located near Buras, Louisiana where Ducks Unlimited has partnered with local conservation leaders and used NAWCA funds to build wetlands in areas affected by numerous hurricanes over the last 15 years. The incredibly successful project has built more than 2,500 acres of wetland in areas that were open water less than a decade ago, improving fisheries and duck hunting and increasing community resiliency.
When wetlands are improved, communities experience better flood control, erosion prevention, and air quality, plus more sequestered carbon. We are asking Congress to fully fund this program so waterfowl and migratory birds can thrive and people can find work restoring this important habitat.
National Coastal Resilience Fund
This program is used to restore wetlands, marshes, river systems, dunes, beaches, barrier islands, floodplains, and oyster and coral reefs. Funded by Congress and private entities, it is administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to expand natural features in coastal communities. By fully funding this program, contractors and engineers can get back to work restoring these landscapes and creating habitat for fish and wildlife.
By prioritizing these items, our leaders can make a real impact in a state that has been hammered by COVID and natural disasters. In the last 12 months, construction employment has declined 13 percent in the Bayou State, opening the door for significant investment to help turn the page on a dark year. But, one area where jobs continue to expand is in coastal restoration work as penalties from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon continue to be directed toward construction of large-scale barrier islands, marsh restoration projects, and the engineering and design (and soon construction) of sediment diversions.
The Mississippi River Delta has lost over 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s and continues to lose a football field of wetlands every 100 minutes. Investments in restoring this critical fish and wildlife habitat not only improve fishing and hunting opportunities across the Gulf and throughout the Mississippi River Basin, but also means high-paying jobs for coastal residents.
We believe with the right focus, we can improve the land, water, and fish and wildlife resources that sustain our communities.
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