We can’t move conservation forward if there’s a strict policy of “out with the old, in with the new”
It has become a political ritual for an incoming administration to undo actions from the previous administration. Some of this is natural and appropriate, but if the goal of the Biden Administration is to advance conservation that withstands political whirlwinds, then prudence dictates that we look at every action on its own merits—not simply assume that everything done under the previous administration has to go. It’s worth remembering that the Great American Outdoors Act, the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, and the Modern Fish Act were all signed into law by President Trump and the permit for the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay was ultimately denied during his time in office.
Here’s a list of actions that the Trump Administration took that we think should be embraced and expanded moving forward.
One of the best ways to help big game adapt to a changing climate is to ensure they can move freely across the landscape. So conservationists cheered when the Department of Interior issued Secretarial Order 3362, prioritizing the conservation of big game winter ranges and migration corridors. Since that time, the states and federal government have partnered to research big game movements and improve habitat for mule deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope. In addition, the Department and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided more than $15 million to implement the order, funds that were matched by about $30 million in state and private funds. This resulted in on-the-ground projects that range from restoring habitat to improving fencing.
The Order also inspired Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming to adopt their own migration corridor conservation programs, with additional states working to join them.
The Biden Administration should build off the Trump Administration’s efforts by ensuring that Bureau of Land Management and national forest management plans prioritize migratory habitats. Agency-wide conservation policies should also be expanded to include wild sheep and moose, as well as summer range for all big game species. Finally, the administration and Congress should team up to direct funding toward migration research and construction of wildlife crossings, including $500 million as part of a new Highway Bill, which Congress is expected to pass in 2021.
In 2019, Congress passed the John Dingell Conservation Act, which, among other things, made it clear that hunting and fishing is allowed on federal lands unless specifically closed through a transparent public process. A separate provision in the Dingell Act directed the federal land management agencies to identify lands within their holdings that were inaccessible or had restricted access and to develop priority lists for making those lands accessible to the public.
Expanding hunting and fishing access on our public lands is not a new idea. During the last two administrations, access was expanded on national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries, a recognition that hunting and fishing are, and always have been, important drivers of local economies.
In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service under President Trump worked to, where appropriate, conform access regulations to those of the state. As any hunter and angler knows, rules and regulations can be confusing at the best of times, so when it is possible to keep the rules the same across jurisdictions, it makes the user experience far more enjoyable.
The Biden Administration, too, can be a leader in expanding and enhancing public access for outdoor recreation. Like hunting and fishing, public lands should be open and available to all Americans, regardless of their background or economic status. Hunting and fishing participation numbers have exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic as people head outdoors for recreation and relief. This trend calls for more access and opportunities, be it for hunting, fishing, hiking, paddling, or the myriad other uses that make up the outdoor recreation economy. Access to our public lands is the base of this economy.
In addition to looking at hunting and fishing opportunities on our accessible public lands, the Biden Administration should aggressively pursue projects that open access to the more than 16 million acres of public lands that are landlocked by private lands.
In 2019, then-Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed Secretarial Order 3373, which directed the agency to prioritize public access when considering the disposal and exchange of public lands. For the past 40 years, the BLM has been required to identify small tracts of land available for sale or disposal, and prior to the Trump Administration this frequently included public lands that offer important recreational access. The Order changed that, ensuring that small but important tracts would remain in public hands.
This approach to land disposal should be maintained and further implemented by the Biden Administration.
Backcountry Conservation Areas
Bureau of Land Management public lands contain some of the best hunting and fishing in the country, so in 2011, the TRCP—in coordination with other hunting and fishing groups and businesses—proposed a new management tool called Backcountry Conservation Areas (BCAs). We like to think of it is a “keep special places like they are AND make them better” option for land management. For areas with exceptional wildlife habitat, major development would be prohibited, but traditional uses, such as grazing, wouldn’t be affected. And the areas could be improved through habitat-focused restoration and enhancement—a critically important approach for establishing climate resilience and controlling invasive species.
Because of their unique bipartisan appeal—with supporters ranging from state wildlife agencies, county commissioners, and BLM retirees to a tribal council—the Obama Administration adopted the concept of BCAs, and then the management tool was implemented by the Trump Administration.
BCAs should now be embraced by the Biden Administration and included in BLM resource management plans as they are updated. This provides a golden opportunity to protect biodiversity, while simultaneously supporting access to outdoor recreation.
The Trump Administration made Everglades restoration a priority, including projects along the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida. It is imperative that this work continues. A functioning Everglades is a giant sponge, slowing and cleaning water as it makes its way south. Not only is Everglades restoration critical for water quality and hunting and fishing, it’s important in addressing the impacts of climate change on South Florida.
In the TRCP’s nearly 20 years of working on conservation issues, we have seen administrations come and go, and we have watched as the political makeup of Congress has shifted. Despite those changes, we have found conservation to be a unifier—bringing people together, providing a place for consensus, and bridging divides.
We know that the voices of sportsmen and sportswomen are integral in making that happen, so we urge this next administration to keep an open mind. We stand ready to help.