Three Recent CWD Outbreaks Highlight the Need for Meaningful Federal Action
The TRCP and partners have urged the Secretary of Agriculture to take two immediate steps to curb the spread of the fatal deer disease
In recent months, chronic wasting disease outbreaks at multiple captive deer operations have put wild deer at risk for infection. Last week, the TRCP was joined by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, National Deer Association, and National Wildlife Federation in calling on U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to take immediate action to curb the spread of CWD, especially considering its impact on the nation’s $40-billion annual deer hunting economy.
The following three events, which have forced states to undertake immediate and costly actions to address potential contaminations in the wild, are compelling motivation:
In May, the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife Department took on a full epidemiological investigation to track the spread of CWD from three endemic breeding operations that shipped deer to more than 260 sites across the state. Despite the agency’s diligent efforts to combat the spread of CWD, tracking and testing so many animals once they have been shipped is extremely difficult, particularly since, according to reports, breeders have refused to test some of the suspected deer. As a result, the potential for unchecked transmission to wild herds remains.
Later that month, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced a CWD detection at a hunting facility in the northwestern part of the state—the first along the New York-Penn. border and outside of existing CWD management zones. The state is working hard to trace the deer’s origins but cannot say at this time if additional quarantines at any of the state’s 760 deer farms or hunting preserves will be necessary. While the detection will result in the establishment of a new disease management zone, the movement of deer between facilities has not been halted while the investigation moves forward.
Finally, on June 1, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources imposed a two-month ban on the movement of deer after 13 tested positive at a captive facility in the north woods—hundreds of miles from the state’s endemic CWD area. Biologists have determined that the deer were transported from an endemic facility in the southeastern corner of the state. Most shockingly, it became apparent during the investigation that the facility owner had been dumping infected deer carcasses on nearby public lands for several years. The dead deer had since been scavenged and spread across several acres. In response to the detection, the state approved $100,000 in emergency funding, and Governor Tim Walz has endorsed transferring oversight of the state’s captive whitetail deer from the state’s Board of Animal Health to the Department of Natural Resources.
The need for federal leadership and coordination on this crisis is highlighted by the fact that even a state like Texas, which has tough rules on CWD and an extremely capable wildlife management agency, has been unable to prevent the spread of the disease.
In a letter to Secretary Vilsack, our five groups representing millions of hunters, conservationists, and outdoor enthusiasts strongly urged two immediate courses of action:
First, we called on the USDA to implement a moratorium on the interstate movement of all live deer, as recommended by the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council as recently as last year. CWD has now been found in 26 states and on the borders of several more. We need to protect those states that have not yet detected the disease.
Second, we urged the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to convene an emergency meeting of the CWD interagency task force that was authorized by Congress in 2020 to develop an immediate federal response to contain CWD. This should include a third-party, independent review of the USDA Herd Certification Program, expedited research into the transmission pathways of CWD, recommend strategies for reducing the spread of CWD, and direct assistance for state surveillance, monitoring, and testing for the disease.
If you support these steps to safeguard wild deer and deer hunting as we know it, take action now. Send your message to Secretary Vilsack using our simple advocacy tool.
18 Hits (and a Few Misses) for Conservation in the President’s Proposed 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 mines— where 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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.