Poll: Majority of Hunters and Anglers Support Nature-Based Climate Solutions
Across party lines, sportsmen and sportswomen believe climate change is happening and that habitat-driven solutions can help
A majority of American hunters and anglers polled earlier this year said they embrace habitat conservation strategies as a way to address the impacts of climate change on fish and wildlife. The poll, conducted by New Bridge Strategy on behalf of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, also showed that more hunters and anglers—across party lines—say that climate change is happening than not.
“These findings are significant, because they paint a clearer picture of support for climate change solutions among conservative sportsmen and sportswomen, who some might assume are agnostic or even aggressively opposed to climate legislation,” says Tiffany Turner, the TRCP’s director of climate solutions. “This is particularly meaningful for Republican lawmakers who have maybe hedged on supporting legislation, when they actually have the constituent support in the hunting and fishing community to become wholehearted champions of habitat restoration and protection that improves carbon storage and sequestration.”
Here are some key findings from the poll:
72 percent of sportsmen and sportswomen said that climate change is happening
86 percent said they’d support restoring wetlands and coastal areas which help store carbon, while also acting as natural defenses to absorb rain during storms, provide wildlife habitat, and help filter pollutants from rivers and streams
84 percent said they’d support restoring forests, prairies, and grasslands, which help store carbon, while also providing wildlife habitat and helping to filter pollutants from rivers and streams
76 percent would support setting a national goal of conserving and restoring 30 percent of land and inland waters in America and 30 percent of its ocean areas by the year 2030
76 percent support providing financial incentives for farmers to adopt regenerative practices and verifying that they are taking those actions, such as no-till farming or planting cover crops
Nearly half of those polled reported seeing an increase in certain climate change impacts, including “weird” weather and declining populations of fish or wildlife
More than half believe that climate change will affect their ability to hunt or fish in the next 20 years
The results show that climate change is still a much more partisan issue than other threats to fish and wildlife. The sportsmen and sportswomen polled were more concerned about habitat being broken up by development, pollution, disease, and roads and highways across habitat and migration routes.
Healthy habitats absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere, where it would otherwise contribute to global warming. Specific examples of natural climate solutions can be found on the TRCP’s new interactive map. Many of the projects also lessen the impacts of climate change by reducing erosion, preventing wildfires, enhancing soil health, protecting against drought and flooding, cooling stream temperatures, strengthening coastlines, or improving the quality and availability of clean water.
Five Things Hunters and Anglers Should Know About the Inflation Reduction Act
How would the most recent reconciliation agreement benefit hunters and anglers?
Editor’s note: Since we published this story, the Inflation Reduction Act passed Congress and was signed into law by President Biden on August 16, 2022. Unfortunately, the final bill did not include the updates to federal oil and gas bonding rates outlined below. The Senate Parliamentarian ultimately ruled that the provision could not be included in budget reconciliation legislation. In addition to what is described here, the final bill also included an additional $4 billion to address drought by investing in water conservation and habitat restoration across the West, with a particular focus on the Colorado River Basin.
Senator Joe Manchin and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer shocked most of D.C. last week when they announced that they had struck a deal on a reconciliation bill—known as the Inflation Reduction Act—that includes $369 billion in energy and natural resource investments aimed at tackling climate change, in addition to other healthcare and tax related provisions.
The TRCP has been tracking budget reconciliation discussions over the past year and offered lawmakers a host of recommendations that would benefit fish, wildlife, and the hunt-fish community. Thousands of sportsmen and sportswomen also contacted their lawmakers in support of investing in conservation through the reconciliation process.
Here are specific elements of the agreement that will impact hunters and anglers and what we’ll continue to push for as Congress begins to debate the bill in the days ahead.
A Boost for Private Lands Conservation
The agreement makes a major investment in conservation programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, providing $20 billion over the next four years. The current Farm Bill contributes around $6 billion annually to private land conservation programs, so this legislation would nearly double funding for popular and proven conservation efforts that boost resilience to natural hazards, such as drought, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.
This investment could not come at a better time. Right now, roughly 40 percent of applicants for USDA conservation programs are denied each year, primarily due to a lack of funding, leaving tens of millions of acres of habitat conservation on the table. The new funding in this bill will begin to meet the outstanding demand for conservation from farmers, ranchers, and landowners.
What this means for hunters and anglers: More quality habitat and huntable acreage, cleaner water, and more abundant fish and wildlife populations, thanks to new funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and other initiatives.
Improvements to Energy Leasing and Development
The agreement includes several reforms to energy leasing that balance responsible development on our public lands with other values, like habitat and access, and align with both the Department of the Interior’s Leasing Report and many of the TRCP’s previous recommendations.
For example, the bill increases minimum bids and rental rates for oil and gas leases to ensure that the American public receives a fair return on the use of shared resources, while eliminating the practice of non-competitive leasing that often wastes valuable BLM staff time and resources. Perhaps most notably, the legislation would increase federal bonding rates, which haven’t been updated in decades, to ensure funds are available to restore fish and wildlife habitat if an operator abandons an oil and gas well site.
What this means for hunters and anglers: Together, these provisions ensure responsible energy development can move forward where it’s appropriate, while also recognizing other uses of our public lands like hunting, fishing, and other forms of outdoor recreation.
Investments in Forests, Coasts, and Public Lands
The agreement recognizes the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change and puts major resources behind efforts to protect coastal and marine habitats, maintain healthy forests, and restore watersheds. For example, the draft legislation provides $2.6 billion to support coastal resilience projects and nearly $5 billion for forest management across public and private land, including support for partnerships with downstream water users to improve forest and watershed health. It also includes $500 million for habitat conservation and ecosystem restoration projects on Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service Lands, and $100 million to rebuild and restore units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
What this means for hunters and anglers: More wetland and reef restoration projects along the coasts, riparian and wet meadow restoration in forested watersheds, active forest management near communities, and invasive species removal and access improvements across our public lands. These efforts would expand hunting and fishing opportunities, all while protecting communities from natural hazards like wildfire and sea-level rise.
Capacity to Get More Work Done Faster
Much of the funding in the Inflation Reduction Act is intended to build on existing work and expand partnerships, whether that’s with farmers and ranchers, water users, or other local stakeholders. To do so, federal agencies will need the staff and resources to review and approve projects and make local connections. Fortunately, the draft bill provides millions of dollars to supercharge environmental reviews, authorizations, planning, and permitting across the various federal agencies. The agreement also provides $1 billion for conservation technical assistance to ensure that well-trained staff are available locally to meet with producers and process applications for private lands conservation programs.
What this means for hunters and anglers: In the end, these under-the-radar—but very important—funding streams will get more money out the door faster. That should mean more habitat conservation, restoration, and recreational access across the board.
But Isn’t This a Partisan Bill?
Admittedly, the budget reconciliation process can leave a lot to be desired. To begin with, reconciliation legislation only requires the support of a majority, or 50 votes, to pass the Senate, which means it is not often a bipartisan process or bill. Further, while the process has been used by both parties to advance priorities, by rule, the final bill is limited to spending and revenue measures, with little room for extraneous policy. As a result, federal agencies often have wide leeway to determine how and where the reconciliation funding they receive is distributed.
If the Inflation Reduction Act is passed, hunters and anglers have a lot riding on these decisions, and the TRCP will be working alongside decision-makers to drive outcomes that increase hunting and fishing opportunities and sustain fish and wildlife habitat for decades to come.
Three Ways Congress Can Respond to Drought Through Habitat Enhancement
As hotter, drier conditions challenge water resources in the West, lawmakers have opportunities to invest in resilience
As Congress marches toward a hotly contested 2022 midterm election, with the potential for a new political landscape in 2023, much of the American West is experiencing a historic multi-year drought. Lawmakers have taken notice, and recent hearings in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Agriculture committees have highlighted the serious drought-related challenges to fish and wildlife habitat. While D.C. remains gridlocked on a host of issues, Congress also has some immediate opportunities to deliver on water and conservation policies that invest in habitat, access, forest health, and drought resilience.
Here’s what the TRCP and our partner groups are prioritizing on Capitol Hill in the next six months.
Investments in Agricultural Conservation and Forest Management
The House-passed Build Back Better reconciliation package, which included $27.1 billion for climate-smart agricultural practices and an additional $27.1 billion for forest management and watershed restoration, has been on the back burner since last year. Over the past month, some reports suggest Senate Democrats may consider a slimmed down version of the package.
Even a skinny version of the original proposal, should it include funding for conservation and forestry, would provide a significant boost to the existing suite of farm bill conservation programs that are perennially oversubscribed and build on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s investments in forest management and habitat restoration. The TRCP is pushing for investments that would improve habitat and resilience to drought and wildfire at a landscape level. These efforts are not only climate-smart but would also pay dividends by avoiding the cost of species recovery and disaster response down the road.
Advancing Water Conservation and Drought Resilience Legislation in Committee
Over the past several weeks, Congress has held multiple hearings on short- and long-term solutions to addressing drought in Western watersheds. At one of those hearings, on June 14, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton made a groundbreaking announcement: To mitigate the impacts of drought on the Colorado River Basin, states must develop a plan by mid-August to conserve 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water on an annual basis—or collectively more Colorado River water than what is currently allocated for the entire state of Arizona.
The scale of this challenge is immense and will require that Congress support immediate investments to assist states, Tribes, and other water users in reducing overall demand, while prioritizing multi-purpose conservation approaches that benefit the fish and wildlife habitat that is important to hunters and anglers. TRCP, for its part, is working with key members of the House and Senate as they consider advancing a package of Western water measures with a particular focus on legislation that can help achieve this scale of water conservation, prioritizes long-term resilience, and restores riparian areas and wetlands that provide natural water storage and fish and wildlife habitat.
Sending the Water Resources Development Act to the President’s Desk
The Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes and advances U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water projects, is typically considered and passed by Congress every two years. The TRCP and many of our partner organizations keep an eye on this legislation, because it has real implications for fish and wildlife habitat and aquatic ecosystem restoration. The House of Representatives passed its version of the 2022 WRDA bill earlier this year and, while the full Senate has yet to consider WRDA, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved its version of WRDA in early May.
Although the House and Senate versions are slightly different, both include a provision developed by TRCP staff that directs the Corps to study the benefits of natural infrastructure for enhancing the resilience of the agency’s reservoir operations to drought and wildfire, while benefiting fish and wildlife. Once the Senate acts on WRDA, it will be important for both sides to resolve their differences and send a final bill to the president’s desk, so that important ecosystem restoration projects continue or, in the case of the new natural infrastructure study, get underway.
USDA Announcement Stands to Enhance Habitat Connectivity and Restoration
Hunters and anglers call for continued emphasis on migration and watersheds
Sportsmen and sportswomen today applauded a USDA announcement regarding new guidance for the Forest Service’s management of public lands across the country. Secretarial Memorandum 1077-044, signed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, directs the agency to prioritize actions that will build climate resilience and enhance carbon stewardship on national forests and grasslands.
“We appreciate the Secretary’s direction on wildlife connectivity and migration corridor conservation, as well as the renewed focus on watershed health and restoration—this begins to address longstanding challenges facing our national forests and grasslands,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen look forward to working with the Forest Service to implement this memo and to see wildlife migration corridor conservation fully integrated into forest management planning and collaborative efforts with other agencies and landowners.”
Among other things, the memo directs the USFS to:
Develop a decision support tool to identify climate change vulnerabilities and management opportunities.
Develop recommendations to strengthen cross-boundary watershed restoration and protection through programs such as the Watershed Condition Framework and Water Source Protection Program.
Update the fireshed risk map included in the Confronting the Wildfire Crisis Strategy and Implementation Plan to include risks to watersheds and habitat and ecological connectivity for important wildlife and at-risk species.
Develop policy recommendations on several fronts, including for wildlife migration, watershed restoration, and carbon optimization on national forest lands.
Incentivize wood product innovation.
Integrate access and recreation opportunities into wildfire risk reduction and restoration projects.
Increase climate-informed forestry practices and develop guidance for the safe use of prescribed fire.
The TRCP plans to engage with our partners and USDA to expand and implement the SO’s directives that are aligned with our mission and relevant to the future of hunting and fishing.
Changes to migration patterns and permafrost in Alaska create uncertainty for one hunter who relies on the land for food, in this first installment of a new series about the real-life impacts of climate change on hunting and fishing
It’s gray, foggy, and cold—the third day of a mid-May snowstorm that makes it feel like October in Northwest Alaska. Patches of tundra that recently melted are turning white again, and wet snowflakes slide down my windows.
As of last night, I’m out of caribou meat and anxious to hunt. Instead, I’m in my sod house working on another necessary task: supporting my walls. With the melting of the permafrost in recent years, the hill under my home has been shifting.
Outside, the wind gusts, while in here I feel like a beaver, impatient for the spring thaw, with woodchips and dirt littering my floor, but also with axes, auger bits, chisels, and trowels heaped on my kitchen counter. Mice rustle in the moss-insulated walls, a kettle sings on the woodstove, and boots and gloves hang drying. My dad’s old .270 is on a peg by the door and other guns lean against the workbench in the corner.
Every few minutes, I step out to scan the river ice for caribou. I’d like one for meals and to dry. But it’s hard to predict the migration anymore; this land has changed so much. Migratory waterfowl are slow to show this spring, and there are fewer songbirds each year. The ice is still solid, 600 yards wide and stretching miles upriver and down. My nearest neighbors are in the village of Ambler, 25 miles east.
From this ridge, I can see across a quarter-million acres of rolling tundra, river valleys, and timber—north into the Brooks Range, south to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, and beyond. I’ve hunted and trapped here all my life, on foot, and by kayak, dog team, and snowmobile. As a kid, we wore furs, slept on caribou hides, and ate some of nearly everything that moved—moose, bears, ducks, loons, muskrats, beavers, porcupines, otters, and all the rest.
A lot has changed rapidly in the intervening decades—the weather, vegetation, ice, and especially the movement of animals. I like to think I know this land like family, but each year it is harder to recognize.
In the afternoon, I make coffee and sit on my bearskin couch to mull over my progress. I need scrap angle iron and to peel more logs. Suddenly, I hear an animal sound, distinct and linked to a lifetime of meals and memories.
Geese are flying overhead. Calling! I lunge for my shotgun.
Outside, I peer into the snow-filled sky. From the north come their fading cries: Luck, luck. Luck-a-luck. The call of white-fronted geese electrifies my blood. It carries me back 50 years to childhood.
The air is foggy, but I think, or hope, the birds will land at a nearby beaver pond. It’s hard to be sure—lakes and swamps have altered as the climate has warmed. Everywhere, there are new trees, grasslands, and brush. Sloughs don’t drain the way they used to, the ice is unsafe in new places, and the tundra disappears beneath intimidating thickets of dwarf birch, willows, and alders.
Quickly, I check the stove and rummage for ammo. I pull on snowpants, boots, a white windbreaker, hat, and gloves and strap on a machete, binoculars, and two guns—my grandpa’s double-barrel and an old scoped .22. Out behind the woodpile, I encounter deep holes, where a moose attempted to use my trail. I grin down into the depths, listen, and lace on snowshoes.
Dropping off the hill, I pass my family’s first tiny sod igloo, where I was born. It’s falling in as the soil slumps. It was always part of the hill, built low in the ground for warmth, originally with only a tunnel entrance.
I move fast across the tundra, panting as I sink into drifts and weave around new masses of tall alders. I spot the fresh tracks of two wolves. Spruces tower over me. Not long ago this was windswept tundra, and my brother Kole and best friend Alvin would snowshoe straight north after geese. Now, I navigate through thickets, and I have to jog east to avoid a lake of slush held back by mud that was released when a ravine caved in—all effects of the permafrost melting.
As I top a birch knoll, I hear Canadas honking. Tense and excited, I stop to listen. Suddenly I realize my ears hear one thing, while my eyes are watching something else: A line of caribou is crossing the ice on the pond below me.
I turn toward the geese, smiling, and thinking of Alvin. As kids we loved nothing more than hunting together. I miss him. Three years ago in May he drowned in open current where the river used to freeze, and he was swept under the ice.
My binos are wet, but the snow and wind has lessened. I spot two white-fronts and five Canadas. I only have eyes for the white-fronts. They will be fatter, easier to pluck, with lighter meat and better flavor. I slide a stained game bag over my guns, hunch over, and become a caribou.
There are trust issues, of course. The geese are suspicious and holler and walk onto snow. I keep my gaze down. Behind a spruce tree, I slip off my snowshoes, shoulder out of my guns, and peer through a shockingly large clump of Labrador tea.
My shotgun safety jams and won’t slide forward to fire. This has happened before. But I can’t recall how I fixed it. I lower the gun, raise my .22. It’s actually fine, I prefer attempting a headshot over the risk of wounding birds, anyway.
The glass of the ancient little scope is foggy and gray. I smile, watching a Canada stumble as it sinks in the snow. I judge the distance at 60 yards. The geese honk louder and get ready to fly. I aim behind a white forehead and squeeze. The goose pitches forward, flops, and then lies still. The snow absorbs the crack of the little rifle, and the birds give me time to reload and drop its mate.
I can’t believe my luck, as I plunge through soft snow, racing across grass and pocked black ice. The birds lie a few yards apart, beautiful and familiar, yet so foreign after a long winter. A long year, actually—white-fronts no longer pass through in the fall. The freeze-up comes a month late now, rainy and messy, and the birds have changed flyways.
I pluck the female first. It’s heavy and fat. The male has a bent leg—obviously shot and re-healed—and along the outer wing, I spot a black pellet under the skin. In past years, I’ve noted geese are more wary, less likely to come to my old homemade plywood decoys, and one in five carry wounds, pellets, or both. It makes me wonder about the struggles these traveling birds experience.
For a moment, I imagine a dark future where there are no annual migrations of wild geese, songbirds, or caribou. I can’t help worrying about my food.
At home, I singe and gut the birds. I save everything except the shot heads: hearts, gizzards, necks, wings, and feet, and go put the perfect female in my cold storage in the ground, to give to an elder in the village. The male goes directly into the Dutch oven, where it sizzles on the stove as I wash up and turn back to propping up my shifting home.
The harvest method and spring hunting season described in this story are in accordance with the 2022 federal regulations for the subsistence harvest of migratory waterfowl in the Northwest Arctic Region of Alaska. Click here to learn more about subsistence hunting in rural Alaska and the unique federal law that ensures the continuation of this unique way of life.
Seth Kantner is a commercial fisherman, wildlife photographer, wilderness guide, and author of the bestselling novel, “Ordinary Wolves,” and other books. His writing and photographs have appeared in national newspapers, anthologies, and magazines, including Smithsonian, the New York Times, Alaska, and Outside. His most recent nonfiction book, “A Thousand Trails Home: Living With Caribou,” was released in October 2021. He lives in Northwest Alaska. Learn more at sethkantner.com or follow Seth on Facebook.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
CHEERS TO CONSERVATION
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.