Jared Unger 1 (credit Andros Theophanous)
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Washington, D.C. — The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is proud to announce new leadership on its government relations team.
Patrick Donovan—formerly a senior advisor on farm bill, water, and public land issues for Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)—starts today as TRCP’s new chief policy officer, rounding out the organization’s five-person executive team in Washington, D.C. In addition to his six years’ experience in the Senate, Donovan has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in earth and environmental sciences. He grew up hunting and fishing in Michigan. Donovan’s bio and contact information can be found here.
“We’re excited to move into the new year with a reinvigorated government relations team that is more than capable of convincing elected officials to advance sound conservation policies and improve hunting and fishing long into the future,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “Pat’s experience negotiating on important legislation, including the Farm Bill and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will be invaluable to our work of pushing for increased investments in conservation, habitat, and hunting and fishing access.”
Andrew Earl, who has served as TRCP’s lead on private land conservation and chronic wasting disease for more than two years, has been appointed director of government relations under Donovan. Before coming to the TRCP, Earl spent five years in the Senate, advising Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) on agriculture and natural resource issues. His full bio and contact information can be found here.
As conservation’s share of the federal budget has been cut roughly in half over the past 30 years, it has become increasingly important to invest those dollars in efforts that get the best return, with layered benefits for fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation, our economy, and the safety of our communities. Consequently, history has shown that conservation is more successful and less costly when the focus is on preventing species and habitat decline versus restoring far-gone populations or replacing lost habitat.
This is why pushing for passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is one of the TRCP’s top ten legislative priorities this year. The bill would amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to provide an additional $1.4 billion per year—$1.3 billion for state agencies and $97.5 million for tribes—in dedicated funding to restore habitat, recover wildlife populations, and rebuild the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities.
This new funding would go toward implementing state wildlife action plans, which identify at-risk species that would benefit most from “an ounce of prevention,” as the saying goes. And the legislation has strong bipartisan support in both chambers, with 32 co-sponsors in the Senate—evenly divided between parties and led by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)—and 145 co-sponsors in the House—led by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.)
Today, the House Natural Resources Committee debated and voted to advance the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 2773), bringing us one step closer to securing a solution that has been championed by the hunting and fishing community since 2016.
It’s easy to see why. RAWA would not only supplement much-needed conservation investments across the country, but it would also create as many as 33,500 jobs annually and generate an estimated $3.36 billion in economic activity on the ground.
RAWA has had momentum before, but the timing couldn’t be better for lawmakers who are up for re-election to bring a big win home for fish, wildlife, and habitat in a way that benefits not only sportsmen and sportswomen but Americans from all walks of life. The legislation would save taxpayers money and many habitat projects could improve natural infrastructure that prevents damage from extreme weather and other emergencies, like catastrophic wildfire.
We applaud members of the House Natural Resources Committee for this first step today and urge lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill to take up and pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act without delay. It would be a defining victory for wildlife, habitat, outdoor recreation, and our economy.
Top photo by Tom Koerner / USFWS via Flickr.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Go ahead and put Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp on the same shortlist with Alaska’s Bristol Bay, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, and Nevada’s Ruby Mountains—areas that provide unmatched fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities that spur the local economy but have been at risk from development interests. Here’s what you need to know about a pending mine proposal that could degrade this unique habitat and who is standing up for it.
The Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure and angler’s paradise. Among the most visited national wildlife refuges in the country, the Okefenokee is an outdoor recreation engine, hosting some 600,000 visitors annually who help to create more than 750 local jobs and a total annual economic output of $64.7 million in the region.
Covering 680 square miles, the swamp itself is the mysterious domain of black bears and American alligators. But like many untouched habitats, it isn’t easy to get to. Most people like it that way—access to the largest blackwater swamp in North America requires a canoe or john boat and the gutsy spirit of a swamper.
The Okefenokee Wilderness Canoe Trail is visited by those seeking a truly secluded and isolated wilderness experience. The area is so expansive that even if you fished all 120 miles of the refuge’s designated water trails, you would still only have seen 2 percent of its vast beauty. Currently, there are three hunting units in the refuge, which supports abundant game that travel well beyond its borders. It’s an important sportfish nursery, a winter stopover for migratory waterfowl, and one of only three places in Georgia that supports a black bear population. The endless miles of wilderness and massive wetlands deliver clean water downstream, while the swamp is also one of North America’s largest freshwater carbon sinks.
But right now, the Okefenokee’s future hangs in the balance. In the coming months, the state of Georgia will decide whether Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, will be given permission to dig 50-foot-deep pits into the very ridge near the swamp that acts as a geological dam, maintaining water levels in the swamp and feeding the St. Marys and Suwannee rivers. Excavation would extend below the water table, and the company also wants to pump up to 1.44 million gallons of water daily from the swamp’s aquifer.
Sportsmen and sportswomen should not allow this to happen.
Scientists, including experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Georgia, recognize the hydrologic link and have warned that as groundwater is lowered by mining operations, so goes the water level in the swamp. At only 1.5 to 3 feet deep, there is not much wiggle room for water loss that could make access to the swamp impossible as the canoe trails dry up.
Lowering of the water table would also dry up the saturated peat that helps to store carbon and combat climate change. Even worse, lower water levels can induce drought conditions, and as the ecosystem changes from boggy and wet to parched, the peat fuels can easily catch fire and release a CO2 equivalent that would worsen climate effects.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has written that “should impacts occur, they may not be able to be reversed, repaired, or mitigated for,” as destruction of the peat that took thousands of years to accumulate would destroy the swamp.
And the impacts to clean water would be immediate. The proposed mining site includes some 300 acres of wetlands that help ensure the delivery of clean water to the St. Marys River, a sinuous, blackwater beauty that has its origins within the Okefenokee Swamp and harbors endangered species like the Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. These wetlands are likely to be destroyed.
Twin Pines has their mining equipment ready at the doorstep of the Okefenokee Swamp. If they are granted permission, the effects of the mine could be devastating and irreversible—all to retrieve titanium dioxide, a common, widely available mineral that can be found elsewhere. The uncommon Okefenokee, perhaps the wildest place in Georgia, is found nowhere else on Earth.
Visit garivers.org to learn more about the pending mine proposal and how you can stand up for the habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities in the Okefenokee.
Rena Ann Peck is executive director of Georgia River Network, advocating for water trails and science-based conservation to protect special places like the iconic Okefenokee Wilderness.
Photos courtesy of Joe Cook/Georgia River Network.
Following a 2021 that was a rollercoaster in so many ways, the year ahead provides hunters, anglers, and the conservation community with significant opportunity. Lawmakers deep in re-election cycles know that habitat, access, and conservation funding issues are things that most Americans can agree on and are eager to bring home legislative wins to their voters.
Working alongside our partners, here’s what we want to get done this year.
Passed in late 2021, the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides significant federal investment in programs benefiting fish and wildlife on public and private lands, including a first-of-its-kind five-year wildlife crossings grant program. The TRCP will closely follow the implementation of this and other programs to ensure that dollars are both benefiting fish and wildlife and enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities.
Efforts to address our changing climate continue to become less polarizing in Congress. There is significant interest among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in prioritizing carbon sequestration and nature-based solutions that mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events on vulnerable rural communities. Whether in the proposed Build Back Better package, other potential climate legislation, or the 2023 Farm Bill, the conservation community will have an active voice in the discussion.
Led by Representatives Kind of Wisconsin and Thompson of Pennsylvania, this comprehensive legislation would provide state wildlife and agriculture agencies with much needed resources for CWD management and suppression. The bill would also create a CWD research grant program to study the spread of the disease and direct the USDA to collect public feedback on ways to improve oversight of the captive deer industry. The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives in late 2021 and awaits introduction in the Senate.
In late 2021, the Biden Administration once again halted the proposed Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. While this was welcome news, more work is needed to federally protect the world’s most prolific sockeye salmon fishery in statute. The TRCP is working with lawmakers and state and national partners in developing legislation to do just that.
RAWA would provide state wildlife agencies with nearly $1.4 billion annually to implement state wildlife action plans, allowing for more proactive conservation of wildlife and associated habitat to avoid potential endangered species listings. Introduced by Representative Dingell of Michigan and Senator Heinrich of New Mexico, the legislation has bipartisan support in both chambers and would be a generational investment in wildlife conservation.
The MAPLand Act, championed by Senator Risch of Idaho and Representative Moore of Utah, would require that maps and easement records held by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are digitized and publicized for the benefit of all Americans. Doing so would bring recordkeeping into the 21st century and provide hunters and anglers with much greater certainty in planning outings on our public lands.
In the last half-century, the intense conversion of grasslands has precipitated a steep decline in associated bird populations. The TRCP and several partners have worked for the past year on developing an innovative grant program for grass and rangeland conservation that works with ranchers and landowners to improve ecosystem health and ensure that their acreage remains productive and healthy habitat for years to come. Our groups have worked closely with Senator Wyden in developing the legislation and are looking forward to bringing the bill before the House and Senate.
Largescale industrial menhaden fishing in the Gulf accounts for more than one billion pounds of this forage fish harvested each year, making it Louisiana’s largest fishery. Pogie boats often operate near shore, netting thousands of other fish species, including red drum and speckled trout. Anglers have fought to restrict these operations in the surf zone but continue to face opposition from menhaden processors citing economic impacts. In 2022, the TRCP will continue to work with partners and scientists who study the bycatch of such operations and pursue legislation to further reduce the impact of the industrial menhaden fishery on sportfish in the Gulf, with a particular focus on protecting beaches and other shallow-water habitat.
Western watersheds, such as the Colorado River and Rio Grande, face increasing pressure from wildfire and drought. Natural infrastructure approaches—such as the protection and restoration of headwater wetlands and riparian areas—have been shown to effectively reduce natural hazard risks while benefiting water users and watersheds. In 2022, TRCP is working to prioritize the implementation of natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions to address Western water challenges in various federal and state policy initiatives, with a focus on the 2023 Farm Bill and this year’s Water Resources Development Act. We’ll also be pushing for the latter legislation to improve Everglades restoration funding and build on the successful construction of projects to help restore natural waterflows.
Beyond the wildlife crossing pilot program included in recently passed legislation, additional solutions are needed to conserve big game migration corridors across the country. The TRCP and partner groups are continuing to work with state and federal land managers to increase investments in research and corridor mapping, improve interagency coordination, and conserve corridors on public land.
For more information, and to take action in support of these critical conservation priorities in the year ahead, visit the TRCP Action Center.
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More