May 5, 2021

Checking in on the Conservation To-Do List We Set for Biden’s First 100 Days

Here’s what got done and which issues still need urgent attention this year

In January, we outlined the TRCP’s top ten conservation priorities for the Biden Administration to influence in the first 100 days after inauguration. Here’s a status check on these top-tier issues and what we’ll be pushing for beyond this first critical and indicative period of the president’s term.

 

Priority: Put Americans Back to Work Through Conservation
Status: Some Success with More to Come

In the wake of COVID restrictions that drove unemployment rates up while also inspiring more Americans to get outdoors, we pushed the new administration to make smart and robust conservation investments that would put people back to work while improving habitat, combatting climate change, and supporting public lands at risk of being loved to death.

Biden’s $1.8-trillion American Jobs Plan, unveiled in March, has broad themes around creating jobs through investments in infrastructure and resilience. It specifically mentions restoring the Everglades and Great Lakes as a part of this push. It’s too early to take a few of our other suggestions, like doubling conservation funding in the 2023 Farm Bill, and many of our priorities related to funding hinge on the president’s budget request, which may not be ready until late May (though it was expected earlier this spring.)

The administration has supported recent congressional efforts to invest in clean water infrastructure. Just this week, in a nearly unanimous vote, the Senate passed a bill that would increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, which has put Americans to work conserving habitat and protecting water quality for more than three decades. The House still needs to pass its version of the bill to take this first important step for infrastructure and jobs.

To read more about how investments in conservation can create jobs, rebuild our economy, and improve the health of our communities, click here.

 

Priority: Use Habitat Improvements to Address Climate Change
Status: Strong Momentum

The administration’s intense focus on climate is a bright spot for conservation, especially because many of the land- and water-based tools for combatting climate change are habitat improvements that hunters and anglers want anyway. The same week we outlined our priorities for the first 100 days, President Biden issued an Executive Order on climate change and later created a climate task force run out of the White House, which will consider input collected from across federal agencies. Those stakeholders were required to get their recommendations to the task force by April 28, and many of the agency staff who are responsible for conservation in America were willing to listen to sportsmen and sportswomen when it came to crafting those comments.

 

Priority: Invest in a Coordinated Response to Chronic Wasting Disease
Status: Nothing So Far

Unfortunately, as news has been coming out of the states about CWD test results from this past hunting season, the administration hasn’t done anything headline-worthy to stop the spread of the fatal deer disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture did gather stakeholders for input on how funding already appropriated for this fiscal year should be spent. States still need to make their requests for the portion of this funding that should go toward the local response where CWD needs careful management.

The TRCP continues to push for a study and overhaul of the USDA’s voluntary Herd Certification Program, which is supposed to keep captive deer herds at “low-risk” of contracting and spreading CWD, and a moratorium on the interstate movement of live deer until this program is updated. And Congress may still choose to act on its ability to fund or inquire into disease management.

 

Priority: Max Out Conservation Reserve Program Acres
Status: Important Changes Made

We’re happy to report a solid win in this category that will support the rural economy and our hunting and fishing opportunities. In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would extend the ongoing Conservation Reserve Program sign-up period while it looked at ways to improve program administration. Thankfully, the department followed up with specific and much-needed changes to the incentives offered to boost CRP acreage. This is critical to digging out of a historic enrollment slump, and it is what sportsmen and sportswomen have been calling for since spring of 2020.

 

Priority: Restore Roadless Area Protections in the Tongass National Forest
Status: Backcountry Habitat Still at Risk

After roadless area safeguards were lifted in the Tongass in 2020, the TRCP urged the Biden Administration to halt any pending projects that could undermine the habitat value of 9.2 million acres of undeveloped forest, world-class fisheries, and vital habitat for Sitka blacktail deer, bears, moose, and Roosevelt elk. There have been no immediate steps taken to restore roadless area protections, and the threat still stands.

 

Priority: Ensure That Savings from the “Fire Fix” Go Toward Forest Health
Status: Hinges on Budget Talks

Now that we treat—and pay for—catastrophic wildfires the same way we do other natural disasters, the U.S. Forest Service should be able to spend more on forest health and maintenance, including $400 million that was promised but never made available in the fiscal year 2020 budget. Whether the Biden Administration will reinvest in the Forest Service in FY2022 hinges on official budget request, which should be delivered to Congress this month, and ultimately the congressional budget deal that must get done by the end of September.

 

Priority: Rebuild the Bedrock Conservation Law That Protects Our Streams and Wetlands
Status: It’s Complicated

While it seems that the administration would like to take on the job of clarifying which waters and wetlands can receive Clean Water Act protections—as the fourth administration to do so since a series of Supreme Court decisions created confusion in the early 2000s—it may not get the chance before the courts influence this debate yet again.

Further, the Trump Administration rulemaking can’t just be undone. A new rule would have to be substantially different than past iterations, including the one from 2015 that was widely celebrated by hunters and anglers. This process will be difficult to get it done in a four-year term. What may ultimately be needed is legislation to see that headwaters and wetlands are subject to Clean Water Act protection and for sportsmen and sportswomen to fend off legislation that codifies the current rule, which leaves important clean water resources at risk.

 

Priority: Commit to Modernizing Fisheries Management
Status: Agencies Need to Staff Up

On the administration side, there’s not much to report and likely won’t be until two key positions are filled: National Marine Fisheries Service Director and NOAA Assistant Administrator of Fisheries. However, legislation has been introduced in the Senate to update the management of forage fish species that our favorite sportfish rely on for food.

 

Priority: Restore Strong Conservation Plans for the Greater Sage Grouse
Status: No Change for Conservation, More Grouse Habitat Lost

The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have not opened their plans for yet another round of changes, but a court injunction issued in October 2109 still stands and requires implementation of the original 2015 conservation plans—for now. Meanwhile, we know that the long-term decline in grouse populations has deepened slightly. Learn why the loss of habitat is directly tied to fewer male grouse being counted on mating grounds, or take a deep dive on the history of sage grouse conservation since the first seasons and bag limits were set for hunters.

 

Priority: Reverse Mining Decision in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters
Status: Not Addressed

The TRCP and partners urged the Biden Administration to not only withdraw mining leases reinstated on the merits of a cursory environmental study but to quickly develop and implement a strategy to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from a massive copper mine. The Forest Service has yet to act on this in the first 100 days. Meanwhile, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act was reintroduced in the House last month.

 

Top Photo: Maven/Craig Okraska

3 Responses to “Checking in on the Conservation To-Do List We Set for Biden’s First 100 Days”

  1. Mark van Roojen

    I appreciate TRCP keeping these priorities in focus and taking advantage of political opportunities to work together to invest in conservation. All of these things are important. It is unfortunate that between the Supreme Court and the previous administration the Clean Water Act has been seriously weakened. I would especially welcome greater protections of headwaters and small streams that had been protected until the regulations were withdrawn.

  2. Stephen Smith

    I think many anglers and hunters are concerned about the Biden’s administration’s recent announcement of potential land grab of 30%. What does this really mean?? Could this land be taken from hunting and fishing altogether?? I think most will agree that the Federal Government has failed miserably around managing forests for habitat. Managed burns are a rare occurrence and we have seen wildlife suffer and many wild fires. So, the announcement of the 30% does not give me great comfort.

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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.

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

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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