Kristyn Brady

April 29, 2021

Senate Passes Water Infrastructure Bill with Major Investments in Job-Creating Conservation Projects

Billions could go toward nature-based infrastructure solutions and locally led water quality efforts nationwide

Today in an 89-2 vote, the Senate passed the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 (S. 914), which would invest $35 billion to upgrade aging water treatment infrastructure, improve wastewater control, and empower states to fund water quality protection and habitat restoration projects that have major benefits for fish and wildlife.

The bill would reauthorize the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) Program at $3.25 billion annually over five years, or a total of $14.65 billion. This is the first increase for the bedrock program in more than 30 years. To date, over $110 billion in financing has helped local communities improve water resources through this vital program, with a nearly three-to-one return on investment.

“We applaud the Senate for this bipartisan commitment to investing in water resources to create jobs, energize local economies, and improve the resilience of our communities,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Moving this legislation forward also sends a strong signal to American sportsmen and sportswomen that innovative, science-based approaches to solving our water resource challenges—especially when layered with benefits for the economy, our fish and wildlife, and public access to outdoor recreation—will be rewarded with much-needed federal investments. The TRCP looks forward to working with the House to advance these priorities swiftly.”

Since its inception in 1987, the Clean Water SRF has been utilized by many grant recipients to conserve natural lands that reduce water contamination at the source, protecting water quality and lessening the need for wastewater treatment through traditional methods.

More recently, it has also funded natural infrastructure projects or blended natural and traditional solutions to reduce pollution and protect water quality. This suite of natural approaches, in tandem with traditional infrastructure solutions, have also improved fish and wildlife habitat while enhancing reforestation, wildfire prevention, and groundwater protection efforts.

The healthy watersheds and public access to the outdoors created through these natural infrastructure investments provide a multitude of economic and social benefits. And the Senate bill requires states to use between 10 and 30 percent of their SRF grant to send additional assistance to disadvantaged communities.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund program is one of the proven tools that the TRCP and partners have identified as capable of putting Americans back to work through conservation. The coalition issued this list of six recommendations in a recent call to action for lawmakers and will release a follow-up report on the employment impacts of investing in conservation.

Learn more about the Conservation Works for America campaign here.
Hunters and anglers can support the campaign by contacting their lawmakers here.

 

Top photo by Discover Lehigh Valley, PA via flickr.

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Preserving Pennsylvania Streams: Valley Creek

This video is the fourth in a series detailing conservation projects powered by Pennsylvania’s Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund that benefit hunters and anglers. Since 1993, the Keystone Fund has provided state-level matching dollars for a variety of conservation projects, including land acquisition, river conservation, and trail work. This series is the result of a collaboration between the TRCP and Trout Unlimited where the goal is simply to celebrate conservation success stories that make us all proud to be able to hunt and fish in Pennsylvania. The videos highlight just a few of the projects powered by this critical source of conservation funding. For more information on the Keystone Fund, you can visit: https://keystonefund.org

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is best known for being the encampment where George Washington and the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777 to 1778. Only a day’s march (18 miles) from Philadelphia, this historic site is also at the confluence of Valley Creek, a Class A wild trout stream, and the Schuylkill River.

For decades, a dense population and significant development in the region had sent stormwater and other polluted runoff into Valley Creek, degrading water quality and fish habitat. Fly fishing author Charles R. Meck also documented two cyanide spills and a PCB spill that ended state efforts to stock trout in the creek. But beginning in the 1990s, anglers helped to secure the future of this important waterway, which persists as not only an unheard-of wild trout stream in the middle of suburbia but also one of the state’s designated top-quality waters.

First, Valley Creek was protected as an Exceptional Value stream in 1993, which set guidelines around development activities that could impact the stream and surrounding wetlands. Stream designations help to guide new development, but land preservation and stream restoration were necessary to mitigate the ongoing impacts of stormwater. That’s why the Valley Forge TU Chapter of Trout Unlimited has worked with the Open Land Conservancy of Chester County to protect and restore several portions of Valley Creek using conservation dollars from the state’s Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund.

“Everything we do in the headwaters flows down and impacts Valley Forge National Historical Park,” says local angler Pete Goodman, who has seen firsthand the evolution of this gentle spring creek in his 50 years in Valley Forge. “It’s really important to create these preserves and expand them, but without the grant funding from the county and state, this wouldn’t have been possible.”

In our latest video in collaboration with Trout Unlimited, Goodman describes how Valley Creek has offered a reliable reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the booming region, whether he’s escaping into a local preserve for a few quiet minutes after a busy workday or wading into the waters of history to toss a line to a few hungry trout behind Lafayette’s Headquarters. Enjoy the film and check out our other videos spotlighting Brodhead Creek in the PoconosMonocacy Creek in Bethlehem, and the former Klondike Property in Gouldsboro.

April 27, 2021

Wired to Hunt ft. TRCP: An Era of Opportunity for Conservation

TRCP’s Whit Fosburgh talks to host Mark Kenyon about the big asks the hunting community can push for as we ride a wave of momentum in conservation policy improvements and investments in habitat

Andrew Earl

April 22, 2021

USDA Makes Changes Requested by Hunting and Fishing Community to Boost the Conservation Reserve Program

In a win for rural America and fish and wildlife habitat, these changes will help pull the CRP out of an enrollment slump and better support farmers and ranchers who want to incorporate conservation into their business plans 

Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced several long sought after changes to the Conservation Reserve Program that will help boost shrinking enrollment in our nation’s most popular private lands conservation program. Currently, the program sits 4 million acres below the 25-million-acre cap, with another 9 million CRP acres expiring between now and the 2023 Farm Bill.

Yesterday’s announcement is a strong first step in addressing changes to program administration that accelerated this decline to a historic three-decade low. Six provisions that will support the enrollment and re-enrollment of valuable habitat for decades to come include:

Restoring the use of soil productivity as an adjusting factor in soil rental rate calculations. This reverses a June 2018 decision that led to significantly decreased rental rate offerings on highly productive soils and widely varying rates across county lines. Taking soil productivity into account will ensure these rates more accurately reflect county-wide averages and provide consistency—landowners looking to re-enroll in the program should not be met with rental rate offerings well below what they’ve historically received.

Creating a new incentive for climate-friendly conservation practices. A new carbon incentive will provide an additional 3 to 10 percent on top of base soil rental rates for practices that combat climate change. The CRP can be a valuable tool for sequestering more carbon, and most practices will qualify for this incentive. At the same time, better soil quality equates to better habitat and fewer impacts of climate change on fish and game.

Increasing incentives for particularly high-quality conservation practices. The Farm Service Agency provides Practice Incentive Payments to alleviate the cost burden on CRP landowners who make top-quality habitat improvements, control erosion, or enhance water quality on acreage under Continuous CRP. (The Continuous program targets practices on environmentally sensitive lands and is not subject to a competitive bidding process like General CRP. Plus, landowners can enroll year-round and not just during a sign-up event.) These incentives were lowered to 5 percent in recent years, then increased to 20 percent in December 2020. Yesterday’s announcement increases these payments to 50 percent of the cost of putting conservation on the ground.

Boosting incentives for practices that help high-priority local wildlife by administering the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative through Continuous CRP. SAFE facilitates state and local involvement in the development of practices that safeguard particularly at-risk wildlife. In late 2019, SAFE was moved from the Continuous CRP umbrella to the general sign-up, which limited rental rates and signing and practice incentives, lowering landowner interest. Moving the high-value SAFE practices back to the Continuous program restores benefits that will ensure conservation-minded landowners can make an impact for wildlife.

Removing limitations on long-term efforts to improve clean water. The Clean Lakes Estuaries and Rivers (CLEAR) 30 pilot program was created in the 2018 Farm Bill and supports the establishment of 30-year CRP water quality practices. The bill did not place a geographic restriction on the program, but a June 2020 announcement limited its availability to 12 states in the northeast and Midwest. This week’s announcement makes the pilot available to landowners across the country.

The USDA also announced it would increase CRP technical assistance funds at the Natural Resource Conservation Service to $140 million, which will support soil sampling to determine a baseline standard for carbon sequestration within the CRP.

Several of these updates reflect recommendations shared by the TRCP and partners in recent years, as sportsmen and women have urged administration officials to restore the purchasing power of the CRP, which Congress saw fit to expand in the last Farm Bill. Creating a more healthy CRP and providing its full suite of benefits to wildlife and landowners was also among the TRCP’s top ten conservation priorities for the Biden administration’s first 100 days.

The course correction for CRP follows an announcement in February that the Farm Service Agency would be extending the ongoing general sign-up period to allow for a thorough evaluation of the tools available to interested landowners. The TRCP and several partner organizations have been supportive of this process and are encouraged by the outcome.

As we look to the 2023 Farm Bill, a healthy CRP is important to rural America for so many reasons. Beyond healthy soil and water, quality habitat and carbon sequestration, CRP acreage provides landowners and local communities with economic opportunities that extend well beyond the farm. Further, as Congress and the USDA look to prioritize carbon sequestration and climate resilience into federal decision-making, landowners, farmers, and ranchers must have seat at the table. A strong Conservation Reserve Program offers just that.

A full breakdown of what’s included in the FSA announcement is available here.

To learn more about the benefits of farm bill conservation programs, click here.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

April 21, 2021

19 Groups Push for $100M to Improve Forest Service Roads, Trails, and Habitat Connectivity

Often an overlooked and underfunded tool, the Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation program is uniquely poised to improve hunting and fishing access, habitat, and water quality—all while addressing the agency’s deferred maintenance backlog and creating conservation jobs

When it comes to sizeable federal resources dedicated to improving our hunting and fishing access, there are a few standouts that you probably already know. Of course, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has created outdoor recreation opportunities in every county in the nation and on many kinds of public land, from wildlife refuges to urban parks. And you’ve likely heard us talk about the farm bill program that funds walk-in access programs across the country to help open private lands to public hunting and fishing.

But there’s an often overlooked and underfunded program that could have a direct impact on your access and opportunities if the public lands you hunt and fish are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It’s the only program in federal government that funds road improvements on public lands based purely on environmental conditions, like where sediment from failing roads is degrading our trout streams.

It’s called the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation program, and this month we gathered 18 partners to help us push congressional appropriators to give it a boost. Here’s why our coalition requested that $100 million be dedicated to Legacy Roads and Trails projects.

More Reliable Access, Better Habitat

The Forest Service manages more than 191 million acres of public land that provide essential habitat for a wide range of North American fish and game species. Across the country, from the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia to the Colville National Forest in Washington, projects funded by the Legacy Roads and Trails program have made major improvements to water quality and aquatic habitat while making Forest Service roads and trails more durable.

The program’s targeted activities create outdoor recreation and conservation jobs across the nation and save American taxpayers millions in road maintenance costs. These activities include:

Maintaining and/or storm-proofing thousands of miles of roads to protect habitat, water quality, and downstream communities. These investments on our public lands have helped to improve drinking water and increase flood resiliency in the face of increasingly unpredictable and intense weather events.

Reclaiming thousands of miles of unneeded roads to prevent erosion from damaging streams and reconnecting fragmented habitat. Research has consistently shown that big game species need big, wild country, uninterrupted by motorized disturbance. The LRT program helps address this wildlife need by removing and restoring unused tertiary motorized routes. These efforts help provide secure habitat for sensitive species like elk and mule deer, while also providing hunters opportunities to experience the solitude, challenge, and reward that hunting wild public land provides.

Replacing more than 1,000 culverts to restore fish passage, aiding the recovery of fish species important to restoration goals, tribal communities, and sportfishing enthusiasts. Over half of the money used for fish passage and culvert projects came from external partners, amplifying the effect of Legacy Roads and Trails seed funds.

Improving more than 5,000 miles of trails, driving the $778-billion outdoor recreation economy.

If those results aren’t convincing enough, here’s what else we told lawmakers: The Legacy Roads and Trails program works because it is targeted and results oriented. Collaborative stewardship of the program has made fishing and hunting better, while providing high-paying jobs that help support families in rural communities.

The program is also uniquely positioned to help the Forest Service address its historic maintenance backlog. The Service has identified a backlog of over $3.5 billion in deferred maintenance for roads, close to 400 high-priority culvert projects requiring nearly $110 million, and $675 million for priority watershed restoration projects in just a portion of the watersheds nationwide.

With its proven track record and broad bipartisan support, the LRT program is ideally shaped to begin addressing these needs once again.

If you’d like to be notified about opportunities to directly engage with lawmakers about important conservation funding issues like this, sign up for our newsletter.

 

Image courtesy of Kyle Mlynar

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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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