Kristyn Brady

June 10, 2021

House Committee Passes Highway Bill with Dedicated Funding for Wildlife Crossings

$100M annually for wildlife-friendly roadway crossing structures represents one of the bill’s biggest benefits for hunters and anglers

Early this morning in a 38-26 vote, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed its five-year highway bill with $547 billion in transportation infrastructure investments, including a new grant program to help states construct more wildlife crossings that knit together fragmented habitat and increase public safety.

The INVEST in America Act establishes the wildlife crossings program and funds it at $100 million annually. This investment would be the first of its kind in a national wildlife crossings initiative and satisfies what has been a top legislative priority for the TRCP since 2019. The organization has convened wildlife experts, department of transportation planners, engineers, and others to formulate its recommendations in this policy area.

“We are thrilled to see this momentum for a program and funding that would kickstart the construction of critical wildlife crossings,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The timing couldn’t be better, as our enhanced understanding of big game migration routes demands that we reconnect critical seasonal habitats that have been fragmented by roadways, potentially altering the movements of mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and other species.”

Of course, the highway system presents habitat connectivity issues to more than just Western big game. The program would also fund projects that benefit amphibians, fish, and reptiles. “We know that one of the best ways we can ensure fish and wildlife adapt to a changing climate is to enhance their ability to move, as needed, across the landscape,” says Fosburgh. “As Congress prepares to make some of the most impactful investments in our highway system, critical infrastructure, and American jobs, we look forward to working with lawmakers to support these efforts.”

Other important provisions in the INVEST Act include:

  • $555 million per year for the Federal Lands Transportation Program, which helps federal agencies maintain passenger roads through public lands. Of this total, the $50 million set aside for the Forest Service is just one-fifth of the total that the TRCP and others recommended to avoid contributing to the maintenance backlog at the agency. Congress must invest more in the Forest Service’s aging roads, which Americans rely on not just for outdoor recreation but to connect communities that are adjacent to or separated by Forest Services lands.
  • $345 million annually for the Federal Lands Access Program to repair, maintain, and reconstruct roads on public lands, which are essential for outdoor recreation.
  • Establishment of a pre-disaster mitigation program to help communities prepare for future catastrophic weather events that often affect habitat. The TRCP has prioritized this as one of the ways Congress can put Americans back to work through conservation, especially when communities are encouraged to invest in nature-based infrastructure.

The Senate surface transportation bill includes $350 million over five years for wildlife crossings, plus support for climate resilience and better access to public lands. It has passed out of committee and needs a floor vote before both chambers can hammer out a deal to reconcile the two bills.

Also of interest to sportsmen and sportswomen is a bill to increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, which was passed in the same House committee markup today.

Since February, the TRCP has called on Congress to authorize $40 billion over five years for this bedrock program used by states and territories to fund water quality protection, including wastewater control, water treatment, and activities such as land conservation and habitat restoration projects. The TRCP also supported setting aside 15 percent of these funds for the Green Project Reserve Program within the Clean Water SRF to encourage states to invest in natural systems and nature-based approaches to addressing local water quality challenges.

Both of these provisions were included in the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021 when it passed out of committee today with a bipartisan vote of 42-25.

To learn more about the natural infrastructure and water quality solutions championed by hunters and anglers, click here.

 

Top photo courtesy of Wyoming Game and Fish Dept.

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Randall Williams

June 7, 2021

New Report: Federal Agencies Should Update Plans, Conserve Big Game Migrations

Sportsmen and sportswomen urge BLM and Forest Service to manage for this conservation priority

Click here to view the full report.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today released a report on the need for federal land management agencies to amend and revise land-use plans to incorporate the latest science in public land management and take active steps to conserve the West’s big game migrations.

According to the report, “our understanding of the threats to the continued functionality of [migration corridors] has advanced to the point that it can suggest actionable, pragmatic solutions to ensure their conservation. In the meantime, outdated land-use plans are being used every day for on-the-ground management decisions about what can and cannot happen on our public lands.” Citing missed opportunities to complete habitat improvement projects, responsibly site energy development, and manage recreation, the report calls on the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to revise and amend land-use plans to incorporate the latest migration science into their decision making.

“Because so many land-use plans are decades-old and long overdue for an update, we have a real opportunity all across the West to take actions to ensure some of the region’s most iconic wildlife will be enjoyed by future generations,” said Madeleine West, director of the Center for Public Lands with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The science clearly demonstrates that this is an important conservation challenge and also shows what we can do to address it.”

During their seasonal journeys, big game herds move across a patchwork of land ownership and administrative boundaries. The report showcases landscapes in the six Western states of Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and Colorado where agency attention to address this issue would make a big difference for big game herds. It also describes how cutting-edge migration science and mapping can inform public land management to conserve elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and other big game species that rely on their ability to move between winter and summer ranges.

“Modern GPS migration data can pin-point within 15 feet where collared animals travel, documenting how wildlife use the landscape and how specific human activity in these habitats affects, for instance, mule deer populations,” said Joel Webster, vice president of Western Conservation at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This migration science can then be used by public land managers to inform and guide their decision making to balance multiple uses of our public lands, be better partners with state and tribal wildlife managers, and cooperate with private landowners.”

But agency-created land-use plans must consider this science in order for it to be incorporated into public land management decisions. Regrettably, most land-use policy and planning tools for federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management haven’t been updated to reflect this growing body of knowledge, even when the agencies themselves have adopted migration corridor conservation as a management priority. Existing federal agency land-use plans—many of which were written decades ago—frequently do not acknowledge wildlife migrations or do so with minimal emphasis. This includes BLM lands in the states of Colorado and Nevada.

“GPS technology, and the knowledge it provides on where and how animals migrate, has vastly improved in the time since land management plans in Nevada were developed,” said Tony Wasley, director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “Without updates to those plans, in some ways it is as if, despite having a programmable calculator, we are forced to use an abacus. The Department stands ready and willing to bring any and all available resources to assist our valued land management agency partners in this worthy endeavor.”

“Use of the best available science is critical to guide the modernization of land management plans here in Colorado, including the initiation of a statewide plan amendment in partnership with the BLM in the coming year to protect big game movement and habitat on our public lands,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.  “Colorado’s big game herds are a critical component of our state’s identity and economy and we can better protect them with additional research that maps their movements across the landscape.”

Here is what TRCP partner organizations have to say about this work:

“The Mule Deer Foundation works with agencies to advance habitat restoration projects across the West that support mule deer and other species. It is critical that we put this new information to use now, to guide the future uses of our federal lands while protecting key migration corridors and seasonal habitats. By including priorities for migratory habitat restoration and enhancement in land-use plans, the agencies would make it easier for states and NGOs like ours to target restoration work that could provide the greatest benefit for wildlife.”

– Joel Pedersen, President/CEO, Mule Deer Foundation

“Healthy big game herds and intact habitat are essential to sustaining quality hunting opportunities and special outdoor experiences on our public lands. But unless federal agencies incorporate the latest wildlife migration science into the plans that govern how these lands and waters are managed, the seasonal ranges that elk, mule deer, and pronghorn rely on for their survival remain at risk from a variety of threats that could marginalize wildlife populations and compromise future opportunities for outdoor recreation.”

– John Gale, Conservation Director, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

“Ensuring a positive future for the West’s deer herds starts with conserving their habitat, and the science clearly demonstrates that mule deer need to be able to move unimpeded as they migrate from winter to summer ranges and back again. Without adequate safeguards to secure connectivity between these habitats, as well as funding and priorities for habitat restoration and enhancement, it will become more and more difficult for our deer populations to undertake their seasonal journeys.”

– Nick Pinizzotto, President/CEO, National Deer Association

Click here to view the full report.

 

Photo: Josh Metten

June 2, 2021

18 Hits (and a Few Misses) for Conservation in Biden’s Budget

The annual budget request, which guides Congress on administration priorities, emphasizes natural climate solutions but overlooks some critical Western water quality and quantity conservation efforts

Just before the Memorial Day weekend, the White House released its proposed fiscal year 2022 budget, which could push Congress to create new conservation programs and invest more heavily in existing efforts to restore fish and wildlife habitat.

The TRCP policy team has read the proposal with an eye toward some of the most important line items for fish and wildlife conservation. First, the Biden budget proposal makes some of the most meaningful investments targeted at addressing climate change we’ve ever seen, taking a refreshing “whole of government approach” and mobilizing the entire federal government to take climate-smart actions.

The White House also recommended increasing investments in many priorities important to sportsmen and sportswomen, including improving public land access and reconnecting fragmented habitats.

“For the first time ever, a president’s budget is sent to Congress that places action on climate change right where it belongs: front and center,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It is refreshing to see investments in forest health, the national wildlife refuge system, full implementation of the Great American Outdoors Act, and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, among many other positive developments.”

“Congress holds the power of the pursestrings and will ultimately decide how to fund conservation with this proposal in mind, and we look forward to working with decision-makers to invest in critical areas of need, including water quality, climate-resilient habitat, private land conservation, public access to outdoor recreation, and conservation jobs,” says Fosburgh.

Here are the team’s major takeaways in four key areas.

migration corridors
Photo courtesy of Sara Domek.
Climate Change

The president’s budget lays out a “whole of government” approach to tackling the climate crisis, with more than $36 billion in investments for FY22—an increase of more than $14 billion compared to this year. This funding would support new programs or enhance existing efforts through conservation, planning, technical assistance, and research, while actively creating jobs. The plan’s emphasis on ecosystem resilience and research is good news for fish and wildlife habitat that could be improved to capture and sequester more carbon while boosting our hunting and fishing opportunities.

Other key line items:

  • An additional $325 million for forest health programs at the Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture to mitigate the risks and impacts of catastrophic wildfires. This includes $20 million in new funding for Healthy Forests Reserve Program which helps landowners restore, enhance, and protect forest resources on private lands to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species, improve biodiversity enhance carbon sequestration.
  • $914 million for climate-smart agriculture practices (see Private Land section below), including $161 million to help private landowners integrate science-based tools into conservation planning for carbon sequestration.
  • $500 million in new dedicated funding for the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, which helps communities proactively use the power of habitat to lessen the impacts of future storms and other disasters. This was one of the priorities identified by the TRCP’s coalition pushing for conservation solutions that put Americans back to work in the wake of the pandemic.

Learn more about the climate provisions supported by the TRCP-led Conservationists for Climate Solutions coalition.

Photo by Kyle Mlynar
Public Land

The president’s budget proposal recognizes the value of migration corridors and modernizing public land access data so that outdoor recreation is truly accessible to all. It would also fund important place-based efforts to conserve iconic American fish and wildlife resources. Perhaps most importantly, a little more than $59 million has been proposed for improving recreational access across Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service lands. This is a decrease from $67.5 million in FY21, but it far exceeds the $27-million minimum for access projects set by the 2019 John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.

Other key line items:

  • A $6.1-million increase for the Bureau of Land Management to address habitat fragmentation and advance efforts “to identify, protect, conserve, and restore functional, landscape-level wildlife migration, dispersal, and daily movement corridors.”
  • An $82-million increase for the National Wildlife Refuge System to help address staffing and upkeep needs for some of the nation’s best public lands. The $584 million budget set in the president’s request is the largest-ever proposed for the refuge system, which could also be open to more hunting and fishing than ever before under this administration.
  • A $28-million increase for BLM Resource Management Planning that would enable the agency to update decades-old land management plans that could be used to conserve big game migration corridors and winter range, manage and support outdoor recreation, and expand and provide access for millions of Americans.
  • No new resources were proposed to support the Corridors Mapping Team at the U.S. Geological Survey, which is responsible for working with state agencies to map migration corridors, but agency officials on a June 2 briefing call did commit to continue funding this work through the Cooperative Research Unit program. The TRCP hopes to see the USGS corridors mapping work expanded in the future.
Photo by Tim Donovan/FWC.
Private Land

The president is proposing a $2.6-billion increase—or a 9-percent bump—to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s discretionary budget, which includes $914 million to support the adoption of climate-smart agriculture and forestry. But the full USDA budget is projected to shrink by almost $17.4 billion, to $198 billion, after the sunset of COVID-19 emergency support payments.

The White House is seeking an increase of $43 million for more technical assistance to landowners through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which is critical to enabling agricultural producers, conservation districts, and local officials to make informed decisions about conservation planning. The TRCP supports this increase, but more funding is needed to enable the tidal changes in land stewardship that the administration has promised.

Other key line items:

  • Level funding, or $175 million, for the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations Program.
  • USDA will increase resources for CWD research, although it has not shared a specific funding level at this time.
  • No cuts to USDA mandatory program spending, which includes the suite of conservation programs included in the farm bill.
Photo by Lael P. Johnson
Water Resources

In the water space, the president’s budget is, unfortunately, a mixed bag for hunters and anglers. Overall, the Bureau of Reclamation’s budget is cut by almost 10 percent from FY21 funding levels, and WaterSMART—a critical program for restoring fish habitat and developing solutions to water shortage issues brought on by drought, aging infrastructure, and agriculture and population strains—is cut by nearly 63 percent in what seems like a glaring oversight. This represents the smallest investment in WaterSMART since 2015, down from $55 million in FY21 to roughly $15 million in the current proposal.

“The TRCP has long championed solutions to water supply crises in Western states and, more broadly, proposals that improve both water quality and quantity across the country,” says Melinda Kassen, TRCP’s senior counsel and interim water resources director. “We look forward to working with Congress to make sure that these programs receive adequate funding as the FY22 budget process unfolds, and we appreciate the cooperation of both Congress and the administration to support and fund these mission-critical water initiatives.”

Some other water programs did see increases, and funding for the Environmental Protection Agency increased substantially across the board.

Other key line items:

  • A modest $3-million increase for the EPA’s “319” program, which provides grants to projects that help rivers and streams withstand the impacts of polluted runoff.
  • A large additional outlay of $232 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, including the Green Project Reserve for natural infrastructure, water efficiency, and other environmentally innovative projects.
  • An additional $580 million for initiatives to remediate orphan wells and abandoned mineswhere heavy metals and acidic runoff cause water quality issues—tripling the current annual discretionary funding for these purposes. The proposal also includes $165 million for the Abandoned Mine Land and Economic Revitalization program, which will help accelerate remediation and reclamation work on Department of Interior lands.
  • $340 million for Great Lakes restoration, which is $10 million over FY21 enacted levels.
  • $90 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program to continue leading on the restoration of the Bay.
  • $350 million for the Central Everglades Restoration Program is less than half of what the TRCP and others would like to see, but it’s still an increase of almost $100 million over FY21. Here’s where the massive Everglades restoration effort stood at the end of 2020.

Kristyn Brady

May 28, 2021

Five Conservation Podcasts for Your Long Weekend

Whether you’re headed out on the road or straight for your couch, pass the time by getting informed on some of the most pressing conservation issues affecting hunters and anglers 

Top photo by Larry George II on Unsplash

Randall Williams

May 27, 2021

New Report Connects Conservation and Rural Economic Well-Being

Highlights success stories in four Western states and offers guidance to NGOs looking to adopt a new approach to community engagement

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Heart of the Rockies Initiative today released a report on how conservation and outdoor recreation missions align with supporting the well-being of rural communities across the United States.

The report features projects in four Western states where conservation organizations and outdoor recreation groups engaged with rural communities in ways that recognize mutual values and benefits, as well as the intersection of conservation, recreational opportunities, and community economic development. The case studies featured in the report include Aberdeen, South Dakota; Lincoln, Montana; Montrose, Colorado; and Southeast Alaska.

“Quite simply, rural communities with strong economies are more likely to be in a position to support conservation and recreation, including policies that benefit fish and wildlife habitat,” said Joel Webster, Vice President of Western Conservation with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This report showcases what can be accomplished when conservation organizations and outdoor recreation groups adopt the belief that community well-being is critical to the success of their work.”

The report points out that in recent years, a number of conservation organizations have recognized that “rural community revitalization and economic opportunities are important values; that resource conservation and outdoor access can be aligned with those values; and that hunting and fishing organizations, land trusts, and other recreation and conservation groups can provide meaningful support for community-led development priorities in ways that are consistent with a conservation organization’s core mission.”

In the community of Lincoln, Montana, conservation organizations have worked to augment community capacity and to implement the community’s Envision Lincoln plan, including applying for federal and state grants and bringing together people and resources to support community goals.

“After losing our primary industries–logging and mining–we had to reinvent ourselves. Outdoor recreation offers the opportunity for our businesses to keep their doors open and thrive in an every changing economy,” said Laurie Richards, former President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Wheel Inn restaurant.

In Southeast Alaska, where local communities were hit hard by the Covid pandemic, the Sitka Conservation Society pivoted capacity and programs to support urgent community needs in ways that helped create genuine and long-term trust-based relationships.

“Sitka Conservation Society’s Community Conservation Corps program gave us experience with how nonprofits can leverage coronavirus relief funding to employ local residents and subcontractors and spread these funds to local businesses, while investing in projects that have benefits for locals as well as our recreation and visitor industry,” said Katie Riley, Policy Director for the Sitka Conservation Society.

“The Heart of the Rockies Rural Development Program was developed on the premise that the success and sustainability of conservation in the Rocky Mountain West is inextricably linked to rural community vitality and economic well-being,” said Gary Burnett, Executive Director of the Heart of the Rockies Initiative. “In highlighting these four case studies, this report illustrates what can be accomplished when stakeholders recognize the alignment between these interconnected priorities.”

Click here to download a copy of the report.

 

Photo: @NickMKE via Flickr

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