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In the course of our efforts to educate the hunting and fishing public about the significance of private land conservation and advocate for strong Farm Bill conservation programs, we have been introduced to some inspirational and hardworking groups making a big difference for fish and wildlife habitat. One of those groups is The KKAC Organization, based near the Arkansas-Mississippi border.
Founded by the Peers—a multi-generational farming family—The KKAC Organization began with a purpose of educating minority youth about agricultural production and business. But it quickly expanded to help farmers, ranchers, and landowners with estate planning, land management, and opportunities to take advantage of Farm Bill programs operated out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
KKAC saw a serious need in local communities, and their work has quickly made a difference for Black landowners, young people, and the hunters and anglers who are enjoying better habitat in two states that are primarily made up of private land. Here is their story. —Andrew Earl, TRCP Director of Government Relations
Our research indicates that around 1915, African Americans owned between 20 million and 30 million acres of land, or about 14 percent of the farmland in the country. Today, African Americans own around 1.5 percent of the production agricultural land in this country.
Many acres were lost due to discriminatory practices, and just bad public policy. Black landowners historically had limited access to loans and other resources at the USDA, where their applications were given less consideration. A Black producer could apply at the beginning of the year and not get the application funded until May or June. In the case that a Black producer’s loan was approved, they were required to have supervised credit—a joint accountholder or co-signer to OK anything purchased. In summary, the USDA refused to approve the loan in most cases, and the process was hostile for those Black agricultural producers who did receive a loan.
But approximately 30 percent of our land was lost due to our community’s failure to make wills and trusts to pass the land to the next generation.
In 2015, The KKAC Organization was initially founded to assist with agricultural production education for minority youth who did not understand the basic principles of growing crops. Still, we quickly expanded to address land retention and wealth-building issues for Black farmers.
Understanding the value of the land and agricultural production is essential to keeping these businesses going—this is why we want to educate as many young people as possible. We want our kids to understand the exciting dynamics of farming. They need to know that if you are a farmer, you are a business manager and need to know the basics of chemistry. If you own livestock, you need to know the basics of biology and the marketing process. If you own several acres of land, you might be considered “well-off.”
Eventually, we saw that as minority agricultural producers grew older, they felt that selling the land was the only option for financial benefit. But there are other options.
The Farm Bill’s Agriculture Conservation Easement Program allows landowners to receive near fair market value for land accepted into the program and still pass their land on to heirs, allowing land ownership to stay in the Black community. Many of these ACEP landowners also lease land to duck hunters, creating outdoor recreation access, or request permission from NRCS to sell trees once they mature. This also allows landowners to receive financial benefits from carbon credits.
Unfortunately, many landowners in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi still need to be educated about ACEP, woodland management, or other conservation efforts that could be financially beneficial. A large portion of the minority community does not understand that proper woodland management is as profitable as row crop production, if the wooded acres are properly managed. And these practices also help us conserve natural resources. That’s why we work hard to educate minority farmers on practices such as cover cropping, nutrient management, and land leveling. We believe that if farmers know their options, their farms can be more profitable and create wildlife habitat.
Progress can be slow, even for those landowners who understand the program benefits. In Arkansas, we helped more than 25 landowners apply for ACEP projects over three years, and unfortunately not a single one got funded. We recently secured Regional Conservation Partnership Program funding as an organization, so now we can be certain that at least 80 percent of the applicants will be funded through KKAC. We did not track all of our applicants in Mississippi, but we do believe that it is significantly more than our Arkansas count. Our organization is currently in the process of going back to obtain the number of Mississippi applicants that were driven by our outreach efforts over the past two to three years.
Over the next 50 years, KKAC hopes to have convinced the majority of our communities of the crucial importance of proper estate planning. We want The KKAC Organization and the new Heirs’ Property Clearinghouse—what we hope will become known as a reliable tool for clearing up issues with inherited property—to stop the loss of Black-owned land and ensure that the land that we own is being managed wisely.
Learn more about The KKAC Organization and follow their progress at kkac.org. Top photo by USDA/Lance Cheung.
Secretary Haaland announces new actions to conserve and enhance wildlife migration corridors in partnership with states and Tribes
Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated a U.S. Department of the Interior event announcing a suite of developments and commitments centered on wildlife migration and connectivity.
Secretary Deb Haaland participated in a live-streamed panel discussion on wildlife movement corridors and habitat connectivity, highlighting steps that the Biden Administration is taking to continue implementation of Secretarial Order 3362—signed in 2018 by then-Secretary Ryan Zinke—as well as plans to expand this work to include additional species and geographies.
“Migration corridors and other seasonal habitats are critical to maintaining wildlife abundance and public hunting opportunities in the West,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate Secretary Haaland’s leadership on this issue, and today’s announcement further demonstrates that wildlife migration conservation is an issue that spans political boundaries and is something that all Americans can agree on.”
In addition to the panel discussion, several announcements from the event promise a continuing commitment and further progress on the issue of wildlife migration, including:
Wildlife migration corridor conservation was highlighted in the May 2021 report, Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful. In August of that year, the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, and state of Wyoming announced new cooperative efforts to partner in the conservation and enhancement of wildlife migration corridors, which marked the Biden Administration’s first agency efforts to address the issue.
“As landscapes across the West green up with the arrival of spring weather, the seasonal movements of elk, mule deer, and pronghorns are on full display, which brings into focus the very significant challenges these animals face in reaching the habitats they need to survive,” continued Fosburgh. “Hunters and conservationists recognize both the importance of Interior’s leadership on this issue as well as the need for continued cooperation by the administration, states, Tribes, and private landowners, all of whom have critical roles to play in conservation.”
Photo: Bill Sincavage (@jakeysforkphoto)
Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in a bipartisan vote of 15-5. This brings us one step closer to securing a solution that has been championed by the hunting and fishing community since 2016.
“Passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would be a defining victory for wildlife, habitat, outdoor recreation, and our economy,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for this step today and urge lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill to take up and pass this bill without delay.”
It may not be a household name quite yet, but the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is the next victory-in-the-making for sportsmen and sportswomen, on the scale of 2020’s Great American Outdoors Act. And we think you’re going to be hearing about it from every corner of the hunting, fishing, and conservation space over the next few months.
Here are five reasons why.
A lack of federal conservation dollars, a changing climate, and declining habitat have all contributed to putting thousands of species at risk of being listed as threatened or endangered. Once a species reaches this point, recovery becomes significantly more uncertain, difficult, and expensive. Proactive efforts made at the early signs of decline are better for wildlife, cost less money, and are less restrictive to hunters and anglers. Plus, many habitat projects funded by the bill could improve natural infrastructure systems that prevent costly damage from extreme weather and other emergencies, like catastrophic wildfire.
State fish and wildlife agencies have identified more than 12,000 species in need of conservation action that would benefit from the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. These include popular sportfish and game like the ruffed grouse, sage grouse, coho salmon, and sockeye salmon. If these sportfish and game were to end up threatened or endangered, it could lead to stricter bag limits or hunting and fishing moratoriums to save these species.
Currently, 80 percent of the funding for state fish and wildlife agencies comes from state hunting and fishing licenses and permits as well as federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear. While this funding model has worked for decades, more investment is needed. 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.
The legislation has strong support on both sides of the aisle, with 32 co-sponsors in the Senate—evenly divided between parties—and hundreds of co-sponsors in the House.
This legislation 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.
Take a few minutes to send your lawmakers a direct message urging them to support and pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act without delay.
Top photo by Roger Tabor/USFWS
The Senate has passed the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act, which would enhance recreational opportunities on public land by investing in modern mapping systems that allow outdoor enthusiasts to access the information they need using handheld GPS technology commonly found in smartphones.
The MAPLand Act has been a top priority for sportsmen and sportswomen across the country. It is sponsored by Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and co-sponsored by Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.Mex.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-N.H.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.).
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the MAPLand Act on November 18, 2021, with unanimous support. A companion bill (H.R. 3113) cleared the House earlier this month in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. That version, following last night’s passage in the Senate, now only awaits a signature from President Biden before becoming law.
“Hunters and anglers as well as our partners in the outdoor industry have been vocal champions of the MAPLand Act since it was first introduced, because we know that this common-sense investment will empower more people to get outside and discover new recreational opportunities,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Last night’s vote is a huge win in ensuring that our public lands system is accessible to all Americans, and we are grateful to both Democratic and Republican leadership for their support of this legislation.”
The MAPLand Act will direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available recreational access information as geospatial files. Such records include information about:
“We appreciate the leadership shown by members of the Senate in seeing the MAPLand Act through to the finish line,” continued Fosburgh. “Hunters and anglers across the country have good reason to celebrate this moment, which again demonstrates that conservation and our uniquely American public lands system transcend partisanship.”
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