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.
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