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Randall Williams

November 18, 2021

Senate Committee Advances Two Priority Public Lands Bills

MAPLand Act and Ruby Mountains Protection Act move one step closer to the finish line

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today passed important legislation that would digitize public land maps and records for outdoor recreation and safeguard an iconic Western landscape from development.

Both the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act (S.904) and the Ruby Mountains Protection Act (S.609) received markups in the committee hearing.

The MAPLand Act passed with unanimous support. With only a few minor technical modifications, the bill will now be referred to the floor for consideration by the full chamber. The House companion bill (H.R. 3113) similarly cleared its committee markup in July. The Ruby Mountains Protection Act passed out of committee by a vote of 12-8.

“We thank the members of the committee for advancing these bills, which have become top-line priorities for hunters and anglers across the country,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The MAPLand Act will allow more Americans to get outdoors and share in the public land legacy that belongs to us all, while the Ruby Mountains Protection Act secures some of the best fish and wildlife habitats for future generations of sportsmen and sportswomen. We now encourage lawmakers in both the House and Senate to commit to final passage of these bills that will strengthen our hunting and fishing opportunities.”

Introduced in March 2021 by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, the Ruby Mountains Protection Act would prohibit oil and gas leasing in the Ruby Mountains, one of the most important landscapes in Nevada for fish, wildlife, and sportsmen and sportswomen. If passed into law, the bill would not affect other important uses of the area, including mining, but it would help ensure that future generations are able to experience the tremendous hunting and fishing opportunities in the Rubies.

Sportsmen and sportswomen have been among the most vocal in support of the bill. In 2019, fifteen hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation organizations formed the Sportsmen for the Rubies coalition to raise awareness—both around the state and in Washington, D.C.—of the potential threats that energy development poses to this habitat.

Introduced with bipartisan support by Senator Jim Risch of Idaho earlier this year, the MAPLand Act would direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available all recreational access information in a format that can be used with computer mapping programs and GPS applications.

These records include information about:

  • legal easements and rights-of-way across private land;
  • year-round or seasonal closures of roads and trails, as well as restrictions on vehicle-type;
  • boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting;
  • and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or have horsepower restrictions.

Companion legislation awaits consideration before the House Natural Resources Committee. 

“Given fall hunting seasons are ongoing across the nation, public access is on the minds of millions of Americans,” said Fosburgh. “We are encouraged by the MAPLand Act’s progress, and we will continue to voice our support for this commonsense investment that—when passed into law—will help provide outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans.”

Learn more about the MAPLand Act here.

Learn more about the Sportsmen for the Rubies coalition here.

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Ian Nakayama

November 5, 2021

Bipartisan Infrastructure Package Secures Major Conservation Investments

Representatives make the most of this opportunity to fund wildlife crossings, public land access, and natural infrastructure solutions that benefit habitat and American communities

The House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) in a 228-206 vote tonight, advancing crucial conservation priorities for all Americans. The bill was passed by the Senate in August and now awaits the president’s signature.

“Making this commitment to our nation’s land, water, and wildlife signals that lawmakers understand the relationship between infrastructure and natural resources,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The provisions within this comprehensive package are not only worth the investment as we think about the future—many are long overdue. We look forward to President Biden signing and enacting this legislation that makes a strong commitment to conservation.”

Numerous provisions in the $1.2-trillion bipartisan deal are top TRCP priorities, including:

  • $350 million for a first-of-its-kind grant program to construct wildlife-friendly roadway crossings and reconnect fragmented migration corridors.
  • $250 million for the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program to improve access to Forest Service public lands and safeguard fish and wildlife habitat from harmful runoff and pollutants caused by roads in disrepair.
  • Reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, which pays for fisheries conservation, access improvements, and education for anglers and boaters.
  • $1.4 billion for natural infrastructure solutions through the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Grant Program.
  • $14.65 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, which supports estuary restoration and stormwater management projects.
  • $400 million for WaterSMART grants, with $100 million set aside for natural infrastructure solutions that enhance resilience to drought and wildfires, facilitate water conservation, create new habitat, and improve water quality.
  • Significant investments in programs aimed at enhancing the resiliency of Western watersheds to climate change and drought, including $300 million to implement the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans, $3.2 billion to modernize aging agricultural infrastructure and generate benefits for fish and wildlife, and $50 million to support ongoing Endangered Species recovery efforts that sustain habitat for native fish.

“The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the House tonight has not had the most straightforward path to completion, but the conservation provisions included in this package are a clear victory for American hunters and anglers, and they should be recognized and widely celebrated,” says Steve Kline, TRCP’s chief policy officer. “The impact of these investments will be felt by more than just migratory big game, waterfowl, and sportfish: Improving access, habitat, and water quality while lowering the risks of wildfire, drought, and storm damage will keep communities safer, boost our economy, and expand our hunting and fishing opportunities.”

Andrew Wilkins

August 24, 2021

What Is Budget Reconciliation and How Can This Process Do More for Conservation?

Breaking down the budget process that will make or break the effort to secure once-in-a-generation investments in habitat

As we’ve shared over the past few weeks, the Senate has passed a once-in-a-generation infrastructure package that would provide significant funding for conservation priorities, including wildlife crossings, national forest road repair and maintenance, drought and climate resilience, clean water, and habitat restoration.

But leading lawmakers aren’t planning to advance this legislation without a budget reconciliation bill that invests in conservation and climate-smart measures at the same time. This means that hunters and anglers need to not only push Congress to carry the decade-defining infrastructure package across the finish line, but also urge decision-makers to include robust funding for conservation in this other crucial bill—which, as it stands, leaves out some essential habitat programs.

So, what is reconciliation?

Reconciliation refers to a special, Senate-driven step in the budget-making process that is typically only possible when the same party controls both Congress and the White House.

When the Senate passes an annual budget resolution, it can include instructions to align—or reconcile—spending priorities with a particular objective. These instructions direct changes in spending, revenues, deficits, or the debt limit by specific amounts to pursue a specific policy agenda. In the past, this process has been used by both parties to lower taxes, adjust social safety net programs, and change health care and education law.

This time around, the intention is to significantly increase funding for conservation priorities, which is why hunters and anglers need to weigh in.

Unfortunately, though conservation funding and priorities still enjoy broad support by both Republicans and Democrats, this is not a bipartisan process. But it’s still important for hunters and anglers to speak up and alert the Senate and House Democrats driving this bill to the full scope of opportunities for fish and wildlife conservation success.

Here are five major priorities we’re still pushing for.

Overall Funding for the Department of the Interior

Early reports indicate that draft reconciliation instructions do not include adequate funding for the Department of the Interior. This is troubling, since the original goal of this process is to commit more funding to respond to critical conservation challenges facing our nation, many of which will be tackled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and Bureau of Reclamation—all agencies that could miss out if Congress doesn’t commit more funding to Interior. Bureau of Land Management lands alone account for nearly half of the nationwide acres experiencing fire or drought, not to mention an overwhelming amount of hunting and fishing opportunities in the western United States.

If Congress is serious about making a historic investment in conservation, lawmakers must ensure that Interior’s topline for funding is increased so that these funds can go to agencies that sportsmen and sportswomen rely on to restore and protect critical public lands and waters.

Wetlands Restoration Funds

Hunters and anglers will benefit from doubling funding for one key program at Interior: the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which has successfully restored nearly 30 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the last 30 years. This program has resulted in billions of dollars being invested in wetlands conservation, and the return on investment has been proven. That’s why we’re encouraging budget negotiators to not only increase funding for Interior, but also to make sure that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives double the annual funding for this signature conservation program.

Private Land Conservation Efforts

We also request that lawmakers double the conservation investments in the Farm Bill through the reconciliation process. Demand for conservation on 13.8 million acres of private land goes unmet each year because of inadequate funding for the Farm Bill’s most popular and effective conservation programs. That means nearly 40 percent of all applications submitted for Farm Bill conservation programs cannot be enrolled. Congress should use this opportunity to double the reach of these programs and ramp up the on-the-ground technical support provided to farmers, ranchers, and forest-owners as they work to boost fish and wildlife habitat on their lands.

Support for Bedrock Conservation Policy

As I mentioned above, a decade-defining infrastructure package is tied to reconciliation, and once this legislation passes, it will kickstart a boom in necessary infrastructure upgrades and innovative new projects. This is a good thing! But with all of this activity comes a need to make sure that habitat will not be impacted by development. This can only be done through thorough and timely reviews directed by our bedrock conservation laws, which make sure that projects in and around public lands and waters don’t cause undue harm to fish and wildlife.

Reconciliation funding for the Department of the Interior currently overlooks the increased investments needed to build capacity for the deluge of new projects. Without the ability to complete these studies in both a timely and thorough manner, this will slow down the construction of new infrastructure projects and could threaten our lands, waters, and wildlife. Lawmakers should support and invest in the agencies that carefully manage fish and wildlife resources in balance with essential infrastructure projects.

Conserving Water in the Colorado River Basin

Finally, Congress has the chance to help build resiliency in the Colorado River Basin in two ways. First, Congress should fund the ecosystem and water supply projects needed to comply with our treaty with Mexico, with whom we share the river. Second—not just for the Basin but across the West—Congress must boost funding for the U.S. Geological Survey so that they can continue to provide information on river flows and snowpack levels to do the modeling and scientific analysis that will help us develop more sustainable water-use strategies. The USGS is a critical, and often underfunded, conservation agency. It’s important that Congress supports their mission so that they can, in turn, inform important water, wildlife, and habitat restoration efforts.

Hunters and anglers, particularly in key House districts, can make an impact by sharing these urgent asks directly with target lawmakers. Click here to use our simple advocacy tool now.

Kristyn Brady

July 29, 2021

House Votes to Increase Key Conservation Funds that Benefit Waterfowl, Deer, and Sportfish

The chamber passed a “minibus” package of appropriations bills outlining funding for the federal agriculture, energy, water, environment, and public land agencies, including investments in conservation that will affect hunting and fishing in America

In a 219 – 208 floor vote this afternoon, the House passed a “minibus” package of appropriations bills for fiscal year 2022, including those that fund conservation at the federal agencies overseeing agriculture, energy, water, the environment, and public lands.

Experts at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership have scrutinized these funding levels and identified important increases in several areas, including drought resiliency, wetlands conservation, private land conservation, big game herd health, and habitat restoration in the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, and Upper Mississippi River watershed.

“We’re pleased to see the House supporting robust and increased investment in conservation at a time when public land visitation is up, participation in hunting and fishing is growing, and our natural resources face many challenges, including climate change, drought, development, invasive species, wildfire, and disease,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “We have to create certainty for the federal workers who keep hunters and anglers safe on our public lands and waters and give them the resources to improve habitat and stave off risk—rather than scramble to recover after losses or watch maintenance backlogs grow. This requires investment. We look forward to working with the Senate to secure these funding levels and seize additional opportunities to commit to conservation in fiscal year 2022.”

Some highlights of the appropriations package include:

  • $25 million for the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Drought Response Program, which is $10 million more than FY21
  • $350 million for Army Corps construction projects within the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program—an increase of $100 million over FY21, although less than half of what the TRCP and conservation partners had pushed for to expedite completion of authorized Everglades restoration projects
  • $50 million for North American Wetlands Conservation Act programs, up by $3.5 million
  • A $65-million bump in funding for conservation technical assistance available to private landowners who enhance habitat, bringing total program funding to $894 million
  • A $44-million increase for Bureau of Land Management habitat programs, bringing the total to $233 million
  • $33.5 million for Upper Mississippi River restoration
  • $15 million for Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • $10 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to assist state agencies in CWD containment

While the funding measure takes an important step in growing federal investment in several areas important to wildlife, conservation needs continue to outpace funding. Challenges ranging from chronic wasting disease to drought are affecting hunters, anglers, landowners, and fish and wildlife. The TRCP looks forward to working with lawmakers in the Senate to support these critical funding needs for FY22 and years to come.

 

Photo by RimLight Media

Randall Williams

July 14, 2021

MAPLand Act Moves Closer to Finish Line in the House

Bipartisan public land access bill gets unanimous approval in House committee

The House Natural Resources Committee has passed important legislation to create comprehensive digital mapping records for recreational access opportunities on public land.

The Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act received a markup in the House Natural Resources Committee and passed with unanimous support. With only a few minor technical modifications, the bill will now be referred to the floor for consideration by the full chamber.

“We thank the members of the committee for supporting this legislation, which has become a top-line priority for hunters and anglers across the country,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen are counting on the House to bring this bill to an expeditious vote so that this important work can begin as soon as possible.”
Introduced in the House and Senate earlier this year with bipartisan support, the MAPLand Act would direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available all recreational access information in a format that can be used with computer mapping programs and GPS applications.

These records include information about:
• legal easements and rights-of-way across private land;
• year-round or seasonal closures of roads and trails, as well as restrictions on vehicle-type;
• boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting;
• and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or have horsepower restrictions.

“Without a doubt, the loss of access is one of the most pressing issues facing today’s hunters and anglers,” said Fosburgh. “Our community appreciates the leadership shown by lawmakers from both parties to help move the MAPLand Act. We are encouraged by the bill’s progress, and we will continue to speak in support of this commonsense investment in public land recreational opportunities.”

 

Photo: Craig Okraska/Maven

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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.

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