Three Ways States Use Federal Funding to Control CWD
Without dedicated investments, these essential efforts by state wildlife managers wouldn’t be successful
Day-to-day efforts to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease among wild deer and elk require a significant dedication of resources from state departments of natural resources and wildlife agencies. Unfortunately, it has become common to redirect funding and personnel from other ongoing conservation programs to manage a steady stream of outreach, surveillance, and testing needs.
And this strain on bandwidth has only grown as CWD has broken new ground, expanding the need for hunter education and outreach, testing capacity, data management, and more. As of January 2021, the disease was present in 339 counties across 25 states.
The most immediate and direct way to make an impact in containing CWD is to provide state agencies with the resources and capacity to meet the disease head on. That’s why it was a big win in fiscal year 2020, when the TRCP and its partners succeeded in pushing Congress to spend $5 million to support CWD management in the states.
Using South Dakota as a case study, it’s clear why CWD response funding should continue to be made available by Congress. Here are the three ways that the Game, Fish, and Parks Department made the most of these dollars.
Based on the natural movement of deer across the landscape, the Department ranked and prioritized sampling efforts, including non-endemic areas within 25 miles of known CWD “hot” zones. To do so, they provided tribal governments, taxidermists, processors, and other relevant private businesses with a modest incentive to submit samples for testing from deer harvested over the course of the 2020 season. The agency provided processors with sampling ID tags, established collection stations near processing kiosks, and provided hunters with incentives for sample submission, including by covering the cost of testing.
Deer and elk hunters provide the lion’s share of harvested deer samples and are an invaluable management partner in the fight against the disease. Hunter education and outreach are vital to this cooperative management effort and our thorough understanding of the scope of the disease on the landscape.
Supported by the federal funding, the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks issued mailers and used targeted emails to contact hunting license holders within priority surveillance areas and urge them to get their deer tested. The Department developed and shared a video on how to properly remove tissue samples for testing, used its licensing databases to expedite notifying hunters of test results through email and worked alongside a communications consultant to amplify their messages across the web.
They also contacted taxidermists, processors, and waste management providers to alert them to updated carcass transportation and disposal regulations. Throughout the season, GFP staff were active in doing media interviews and podcasts, providing updates to partner agencies and responding to questions from resident and non-resident hunters alike.
There’s little doubt that the increased visibility by the agency and urgency felt by deer hunters seeing the emails, web, and social media ads was converted in some degree to testing samples being submitted. Considering the influx of non-resident hunters each season, there’s also a likelihood that the information stopped the inadvertent improper transportation or disposal of a CWD-positive deer.
Analysis and Response
The bump in testing helped the agency identify CWD-positive deer in four additional counties—there are now 16 counties on watch statewide. Particularly notable is detection in Sully County, the first positive in the state east of the Missouri River. In total, the South Dakota tested over 1,700 deer, elk, and moose in 2020, with 49 testing positive for CWD.
As a result of such strong levels of sampling, wildlife managers can refine statistical analysis in the coming year and have already taken action to update carcass transportation and disposal rules.
Investing in the Future of Deer and Hunting
Congressional funding supported CWD management activities at 15 state wildlife agencies in 2020. Unfortunately, CWD has been detected in 25 states, so the gap is wide. In order to get ahead of the spread of this disease, which threatens not only deer hunting but also the $40 billion in economic activity directly tied to hunting, the TRCP and our partners are calling on Congress to grow this important funding stream to $15 million in fiscal year 2022. This will help enhance existing efforts to respond to the disease, supply other states with resources they desperately need, and provide a safety net in places where the spread of CWD is, unfortunately, imminent.
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.
Long before the election, as part of a comprehensive process of preparing decisionmakers in both the Trump and Biden camps, the TRCP team identified the top-tier issues that could be addressed in the first 100 days in office. Here’s our list of the ten most imminent habitat needs and impactful conservation measures that the Biden Administration should influence before April 30, 2021.
Put Americans Back to Work Through Conservation
Conservation funding spans a wide range of federal departments and agencies and touches upon nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Yet, conservation’s portion of the pie has been cut in half in the past 40 years—from 2 percent of the total federal budget in the 1970s to less than one percent today. This decline in federal funding has had significant impacts on our nation’s public lands and on federal agencies’ ability to protect and improve habitat.
The recent enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act will provide an important infusion of federal funding to address deferred maintenance backlogs, as well as land acquisition and public access priorities. This dedicated funding comes at a critical time, as visitation to our nation’s public lands, particularly during COVID, continues to increase at a dramatic scale. But more can be done.
The Administration must support Congressional efforts to increase conservation funding in the Farm Bill, improve the resilience of transportation infrastructure, invest in pre-disaster mitigation and sustainable water systems, and strengthen coastlines and habitat. These investments can help our nation recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, while also spurring conservation.
Building on that, the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget is slated for delivery to Congress in early February, and it should provide strong investments in conservation. Beyond the first 100 days, a new budget deal will need to be negotiated with Congress—which holds the power of the pursestrings, no matter what the president’s budget request may include—to secure these investments and create conservation jobs.
Use Habitat Improvements to Address Climate Change
Hunters and anglers are on the front lines of climate change, observing changes in fish and wildlife migration patterns, altered breeding seasons, shifts in home ranges, loss of habitat from sea-level rise, and even loss of trail and road access due to extreme weather events such as flooding and storm surges.
We need to focus on harnessing the power of natural systems—in other words, habitat—to remove and sequester carbon from the atmosphere and protect communities faced with severe storms and other impacts of a changing climate. This would not only advance our country’s climate resilience but also improve air quality, soil health, and water quality. In the balance, sportsmen and women would gain stronger, more adaptable fish and wildlife populations and support for our vibrant outdoor recreation economy.
Invest in a Coordinated Response to Chronic Wasting Disease
This administration should take definitive steps to stem the spread of chronic wasting disease, which threatens the very future of deer and deer hunting, by investing both in state surveillance and testing efforts and in federal research on the disease.
Further, to ensure that the captive cervid industry is holding up its end of the bargain, we’d also like to see a third-party scientific review of the Herd Certification Program—a voluntary program at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for keeping captive deer herds at “low-risk” of contracting and spreading CWD. Until this review is complete, and its recommendations are implemented, the administration should place a moratorium on the interstate movement of live deer.
Max Out Conservation Reserve Program Acres
With just 21.9 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program—the lowest enrollment since 1987—the incoming administration must restore the health of this popular Farm Bill program and its benefits to wildlife and landowners. Under the Trump Administration, the Farm Service Agency changed how CRP rental rates are calculated, reduced incentives, eliminated management cost-shares, and failed to roll out forest conservation practices. This has led landowners to look elsewhere when evaluating how best to manage their lands, leaving millions of potential CRP acres on the table.
In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress raised the total CRP acreage cap from 24 million to 27 million acres, in part to accommodate growing landowner interest. In the first 100 days of Biden’s term, the administration needs to hold an emergency General Signup for the Conservation Reserve Program that offers incentive and cost-share payments at historic levels and restores soil productivity as an adjusting factor in rental rate determinations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture should also develop a public timeline for CRP signups to provide certainty as landowners make decisions regarding use of their lands.
Restore Roadless Area Protections in the Tongass National Forest
The Tongass National Forest is America’s largest national forest, encompassing nearly 90 percent of the southeastern panhandle of Alaska. By lifting roadless area safeguards in the Tongass, the Forest Service under the Trump Administration has threatened 9.2 million acres of undeveloped forest, potentially undermining the region’s world-class fisheries and vital habitat for Sitka blacktail deer, bears, moose, and Roosevelt elk.
In the first 100 days, the Biden Administration should halt any pending projects that could undermine the habitat value of roadless areas and take immediate steps to restore roadless area safeguards for the Tongass.
These fish and wildlife resources not only serve as an important food source for thousands of local families—including many from indigenous communities—they provide outstanding opportunities for recreational hunting and fishing that fuels Southeast Alaska’s vibrant tourism industry. Today, the region’s recreation and fishing industries account for more than 25 percent of all local employment. Given the opportunity to influence forest management practices and budgets, the administration should also prioritize sustainable forest uses—including restoration and recreation projects—that have the greatest potential to support the region’s long-term economic growth.
Ensure That Savings from the “Fire Fix” Go Toward Forest Health
In 2018, Congress passed a spending bill that finally helped us shift away from a dysfunctional model of funding wildfire suppression and recovery, in which the U.S. Forest Service was forced to dip into conservation accounts during catastrophic fire seasons after running out of appropriated funds. This practice was crippling the ability of agencies to manage forests effectively and actually reduce the risk of future megafires.
But, to date, the Trump Administration and Congress have not used the fire funding fix as intended. While federal agencies can now access emergency funding when they run out of fire suppression dollars, the fix was also designed to provide substantial new resources—more than $400 million for the Forest Service in 2020—that agencies could use for forest restoration and other activities. This funding was not made available in the 2020 budget.
In the first 100 days, the Biden Administration should ensure that these vital funds are invested in the health of our forests.
Rebuild the Bedrock Conservation Law That Protects Our Streams and Wetlands
The Clean Water Act has been one of the country’s most successful conservation tools since its passage in 1972. Sadly, in the last 20 years, uncertainty about the scope of the Clean Water Act—drawn from confusing Supreme Court decisions and several Trump Administration rules weakening the Act—has accelerated wetlands loss and threatened our most vulnerable trout streams.
The Biden Administration needs to move quickly to reverse this damage, while allowing for robust public comment. They should conduct public listening sessions and work to reach agreement on a durable definition of which waters and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. Sportsmen and women can then engage—and show up in force, as we have in the past—to support the conservation of our headwater streams and wetlands.
Commit to Modernizing Fisheries Management
The TRCP and its sportfishing partners have been working for the last eight years to advance fisheries policy and law that recognizes the conservation, cultural, and economic importance of saltwater angling. The recently passed bipartisan Modern Fish Act finally recognizes the fundamental difference between commercial and recreational fishing and prescribes changes in fisheries management to improve data collection and conservation strategies.
The Biden Administration should renew this commitment in its management of the federal agencies that oversee fisheries management. It is vital that the incoming administration recognize the need for NOAA Fisheries to move away from its history of focusing solely on commercial fishing and continue to develop relationships and policies that recognize the management needs and economic importance of recreational fishing. It is also vital that NOAA Fisheries examine how it applies policies and laws related to coastal habitat restoration as states seek to restore wetlands, barrier islands, and reefs that have been damaged by development, subsidence, and sea-level rise.
Restore Strong Conservation Plans for Greater Sage Grouse
These plans were revised and ultimately weakened under the Trump Administration, which stripped out safeguards for certain sagebrush habitats and created more potential for development and mineral extraction within sage grouse habitat. A court injunction prevents these 2019 plans from being used, but in the meantime habitat continues to be lost and long-term grouse population trends remain in decline.
TRCP strongly recommends that the Biden Administration renew and expand efforts on all fronts on sage grouse conservation and management, including by restoring the strength of conservation plans that convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the bird.
Reverse Mining Decision in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters
Minnesota’s one-million-acre Boundary Water Canoe Area is the most visited Wilderness Area in the country, a playground of fish, wildlife, and water adventure that supports a thriving recreation economy. In 2012, a mining company bought old leases and asked the Forest Service to renew them so they could open a massive copper mine five miles upstream of the Wilderness. The Forest Service completed an environmental analysis and in 2016 denied the lease renewal, because it was just too risky. The Forest Service also temporarily withdrew the land for mining and began a study of mining effects on the landscape.
But in 2018, the Trump Administration reinstated the leases, rushed through a cursory review to justify undoing the mineral withdrawal, and refused to publicize any part of the abandoned study. The Biden Administration should act quickly to develop and implement a strategy for reversing these decisions and protect the Boundary Waters permanently.
Major Spending and COVID-Relief Package Contains Investments in Conservation
Year-end bill includes wide ranging provisions for fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation access
A sweeping legislative package to keep the government running and invest in COVID relief has become law. Tucked throughout the bill are numerous conservation provisions that invest in climate solutions, sustainably manage water resources, restore habitat, combat chronic wasting disease, and strengthen access for hunters and anglers.
“In a year that has been incredibly difficult for families and communities across America, conservation provides a place where we can find glimmers of hope and common ground,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This sweeping legislation addresses many issues that are top of mind for hunters and anglers, including investments in habitat and access. We can close out this year knowing we accomplished a lot for conservation and turn our eyes toward 2021 and the goals of investing in climate solutions and putting Americans back to work through conservation.”
The more than 5,500-page bill contains the following provisions:
Invests $900 million in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, of this $67.5 million must be used to expand recreational access to public land.
Infuses $1.9 billion into our nation’s public lands, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and national parks, critical new resources for addressing deferred maintenance projects.
Increases communities’ ability to use nature-based solutions to meet their flood control needs.
$7 million for states to manage chronic wasting disease.
$2 million for chronic wasting disease work at the National Wildlife Research Center.
$3.72 million to fund collaborative chronic wasting disease studies, including research to identify early detection tools and carcass disposal.
Invests in the restoration of the Everglades, the Great Lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Allows conservation organizations to access WaterSMART grants, including for nature-based water solutions.
Updates the Army Corps’ Floodplain Management Service program so that it can improve its ability to provide technical assistance that communities desperately need while also prioritizing assistance for economically disadvantaged communities and communities subject to repetitive flooding.
Ensures consistency in cost-sharing requirements for natural infrastructure projects.
Directs the Army Corps of Engineers to update guidance on sea level rise and inland flooding.
Expands the Cooperative Watershed Management Program that allows communities to develop joint solutions to their water challenges.
Establishes a new program to fund fish passage.
Recognizes tribal water rights and funds projects that will provide access to clean, safe drinking water and other critical water supplies.
Urges Natural Resources Conservation Service when converting wetlands to ensure that one acre of impact equals one acre of conserved land elsewhere.
Requires Natural Resources Conservation Service to prioritize implementation of Drought Contingency Plans for Colorado River Basin.
Directs Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop Environmental Quality Incentives Program guidance for local feedback on irrigation district-led projects.
Strongly encourages the Farm Services Agency to prioritize State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program.
Prohibits new oil and gas leases within ten miles of the Chaco Cultural National Historic Park in New Mexico for the next year.
Additionally, the legislation conveys approximately 93 acres in North Dakota to construct the Roosevelt Presidential Library.
Why PA Officials Should Not Drain Conservation Funds to Balance the Budget
At a time when Pennsylvanians are depending on the outdoors for socially distanced recreation and peace of mind, state officials are considering legislation that threatens these resources
Pennsylvania’s 1.5 million acres of state game land, 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, and almost 2.5 million acres of state parks and forests have a lot to offer hunters, anglers, and public land users of all kinds. These places are critical to our wellbeing right now, but the state legislators entrusted with managing them are considering slashing or even zeroing out conservation funds dedicated to our natural resources.
An Enviable Source of Conservation Funding at Risk
Beyond the public lands and waters that make Pennsylvania special, we also enjoy the benefit of a conservation funding model many states would love to have. Special funds are specifically dedicated to the preservation and conservation of our natural resources, don’t require taxpayer dollars, and provide exponential benefits to our local economies.
Two of these programs—the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund, also known as Growing Greener—have supported conservation projects across the state for 20 years using a portion of the realty transfer tax and a landfill tipping fee. The improvements to water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and public land facilities increase opportunities for hunters and anglers, which helps to drive outdoor recreation and tourism spending.
But these special funds are under threat as elected officials attempt to bridge Pennsylvania’s revenue gap, estimated at up to $5 billion. We understand that these are difficult decisions for lawmakers, but spending state conservation funds elsewhere would have a lasting negative impact for three reasons:
The outdoor recreation industry helps to drive Pennsylvania’s economy. An economic analysis by the TRCP has found that the state’s outdoor recreation economy is worth $26.9 billion. For scale, that means hunting, fishing, biking, camping, and other activities generate $2.2 billion more than the state’s construction industry. This includes almost $17 billion in salaries and wages paid to employees and more than $300 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.
And that was before the pandemic. With more people getting outdoors this year, state fishing license sales have increased 20 percent, boat registrations are up 40 percent, and hunting license sales have increased 5 percent. During this difficult economic time, it’s important that we continue to support this growing sector of Pennsylvania’s economy. Conserving lands and waters and improving access to quality hunting and fishing opportunities helps to power this industry—but we can’t do that without dedicated investments.
The Keystone Fund and ESF support more than just the local outdoor businesses that depend on quality places to hunt and fish. They create jobs with the conservation projects themselves, often with local businesses that are contracted to perform the work.
State conservation funding is a force multiplier. State conservation funds are often matched with federal and private-sector dollars and then boosted by volunteer labor to benefit a diverse range of communities throughout the commonwealth. The Keystone Fund and ESF are often matched four to one with other resources to multiply their conservation impacts. If funding for the Keystone Fund and the ESF are reallocated for other uses, Pennsylvanians will lose out not just on critical state funding, but also on the federal and private match.
We can’t afford to fall further behind. The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources estimates that our state parks and forests are operating with a $1-billion maintenance backlog. Additionally, the commonwealth faces a $324-million gap in funding needed to meet our 2025 EPA water quality goals as a part of the Chesapeake Bay Program. For decades, the Keystone Fund and ESF have helped to close these gaps, putting local companies to work in the process.
Don’t Allow Conservation Investments to Get Cut
Conservation projects don’t happen overnight. They take years of planning and collaboration with stakeholders across the community. Landowners, county conservation districts, watershed associations, local municipalities, sportsmen’s groups, and state agencies all work together to make these projects a reality. Money that is currently being held in the Keystone Fund and the ESF accounts have already been committed to on-the-ground conservation, and taking money from these programs now will mean wasting these efforts and taking away funds that local businesses were counting on.
Because of the election and upcoming holiday season, we have a very brief window to make our voices heard with state representatives and senators who have the power to keep the Keystone Fund and ESF working for fish and wildlife habitat.
Do NOT wait. Take action now and tell decision-makers not to reallocate funding from these critical programs for other uses.
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.