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Aaron Field

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posted in: Farm Bill

September 14, 2022

What Hunters and Anglers Need to Know About the CRP Improvement Act

New legislation could boost the acreage and impact of hunters’ favorite Farm Bill conservation program

The Conservation Reserve Program is one of the most effective and impactful Farm Bill conservation programs ever implemented, and recently introduced legislation has the potential to make it even better. Proposed by Senators Thune (R-S.D.) and Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the bipartisan Conservation Reserve Program Improvement Act would add landowner incentives that have the potential to boost CRP acreage and improve wildlife habitat and water quality, leading directly to more and better opportunities for hunters and anglers.

Unlike other important U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs, the CRP did not get a recent boost in funding.

Legislation that is introduced before the massive Farm Bill, like the CRP Improvement Act, helps hunters and anglers push for the programs that mean the most to us just as debate is heating up. Here’s what you need to know about this bill.

Conservation Reserve Program Basics

Introduced as part of the 1985 Farm Bill, the CRP pays farmers to retire highly erodible farmland from production. Its original goals were to reduce soil erosion and support farm income, but it quickly became clear that the CRP was just as valuable for wildlife and fisheries as it was for farmers. By returning marginal cropland to grasslands, wetlands, and forests, the CRP created millions of acres of wildlife habitat while also filtering water, sequestering carbon, and preserving biodiversity.

Despite this success, reduced rental rates, complicated application processes, and a lack of cost share flexibility has caused some landowners to avoid applying. Conservation-minded groups have worked for years to add commonsense flexibility and improved incentives to the program in ways that don’t compromise its conservation benefits. Now, the CRP Improvement Act could make some of this happen.

What the CRP Improvement Act Does

The new legislation continues the trend of added flexibility, targeted application, and improved outcomes in the CRP. Specifically, the CRP Improvement Act would:

  1. Reinstate cost sharing for mid-contract management. Periodic management of CRP through weed control, prescribed fire, or targeted grazing or mowing is necessary to maintain quality habitat, so landowners in CRP contracts are required to perform management activities near the midpoint of their ten- or 15-year contracts. Unfortunately, federal cost sharing for mid contract management was eliminated in the 2018 Farm Bill, leaving landowners on the hook for these costs and discouraging new enrollment. The CRP Improvement Act reinstates this cost share for all approved practices other than grazing and haying, which will lead to both more enrollment and better management and environmental outcomes.
  2. Add cost sharing for CRP grazing infrastructure. Depending on how and where it is applied, livestock grazing can be beneficial or detrimental to wildlife habitat. The grasslands of the Great Plains evolved with grazing, which supports wildlife by maintaining plant diversity there. The CRP Improvement Act provides cost sharing for grazing infrastructure, like fencing and water development, “if grazing is included in the conservation plan and addresses a resource concern.” Having fencing and water in place makes CRP lands more valuable as emergency livestock forage reserves during drought, adding an incentive to farmers and ranchers. And after grazing infrastructure is set up, landowners are less likely to convert grasslands back into cropland at the end of a CRP contract. In the long term, this seemingly small investment has the potential to support more grass-based agriculture and more diverse farming operations, benefiting both rural economies and wildlife.
  3. Permanently authorize the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancements (SAFE) initiative. SAFE enrolls acreage and encourages management practices that benefit priority wildlife in individual states. These practices are chosen by local biologists and tailored to a specific region. As an example, the states of South Dakota and Minnesota have used SAFE to prioritize enrolling tallgrass prairie acreage for pheasant habitat and water quality. In Georgia, SAFE acreage has been targeted toward native pine savannas, excellent habitat for bobwhite quail. Specific Farm Bill language that prioritizes SAFE ensures that the CRP is much more than a land retirement program and is a win for hunters and anglers nationwide.
  4. Increase the CRP rental payment limitation. Enrollment in the CRP by an individual landowner is currently capped by a $50,000 limitation for rental payments. This limitation has not changed since the original Food Security Act of 1985, and simply doesn’t reflect current farmland rental rates. By raising this limitation to $125,000—still less than if that $50,000 limit had been tied to inflation when created—the CRP Improvement Act would allow conservation-minded landowners to enroll more of their land in the CRP. This has the potential to create more contiguous habitat and remove a barrier to enrolling high-impact acreage.
What to Watch for Next

The CRP Improvement Act is a great example of bipartisan legislation that builds on the success of Farm Bill conservation programs. It is being proposed at an excellent time, just as all parties gear up for the 2023 Farm Bill. There are a couple of things hunters and anglers should keep in mind, both in this bill and in upcoming Farm Bill discussions.

Adding flexibility, production value, and management incentives to the CRP is a great way to gain support from farmers and ranchers, but we have to ensure that it doesn’t reduce the CRP’s conservation value. For this bill to be successful, any haying, livestock grazing, or associated infrastructure needs to be well-planned and targeted toward conservation outcomes. The same must be true for future Farm Bill proposals.

Other tweaks to the CRP—like increased funding, more competitive rental rates, and a better application ranking process—are still needed. But this bill is a clear demonstration that across-the-aisle partnerships on commonsense legislation are still possible. We need to promote this kind of cooperation, and we should keep a close eye on upcoming proposals that would modify the Farm Bill conservation title—for better or worse. Hunters and anglers need to show a united front in support of quality habitat nationwide and supporting the CRP Improvement Act is a good start.

 

Photo by @NickMKE on Flickr.

5 Responses to “What Hunters and Anglers Need to Know About the CRP Improvement Act”

  1. Many of the farms in my area are enrolled in the CRP. However, the plant mix and mowing schedule make the areas less valuable for ground nesting birds. In addition, the adding milkweed to help Monarch populations with a late fall or early spring mowing schedule could add significant benefits for numerous species.

  2. lee Gruber

    If this is carefully balanced by having qualified ecologists to monitor it is great. Always good to have the support of groups like hunters and anglers.And removing unsuitable land from farming is good idea. There must be careful oversight of the amount of money used to keep the unfarmed land “productive’. After all poor land for farming brings a limited amount of farm income, spending too much to “subsidize” farmers would be wrong. Good to see bipartisanship. South Dakota and Minnesota backing might be because of the voter politics there?

  3. Scott Schaeffer

    Great ideas! Yes, CRP has become more like strategic forage reserve for the livestock industry. Given these chronic droughts somewhere in the midwest each year. High input costs, and better rental rates might save some grassland habitat!!!!

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Kristyn Brady

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posted in: Farm Bill

August 12, 2022

Celebrating 20 Years of Conservation Success

In honor of TRCP’s 20th anniversary, here are some of our proudest moments as an organization and the biggest victories our team has helped to advance on behalf of hunters and anglers

The TRCP Is Founded to Fill a Serious Need
2002

After starting the modern conservation movement more than 100 years earlier, hunters and anglers had lost much of our relevance in federal policy by the early 2000s. Our community had so successfully committed to bringing back individual species—like ducks, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, elk, pronghorn antelope, native trout, and more—that we became fractured and lost sight of the broader issues of conservation.

This became apparent to James D. Range, a lifelong sportsman and longtime senior Republican staff member in the Senate, who had played a critical role in advancing some of the nation’s most important natural resources legislation, including the Clean Water Act. He knew that our community—if we banded together—could again be a powerful voice for conservation. And in 2002, he created the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to present a united front to decision-makers on the issues that matter to all hunters and anglers.

TRCP Today: The organization continues to build off Range’s vision, uniting and amplifying a community that has become a powerful force in conservation. As a result, the last decade has been one of the most substantial periods for conservation policy since the 1970s. We have grown to more than 60 organizational partners and 130,000 individual advocates in pursuit of solutions that benefit America’s 60 million hunters and anglers.

 

Hunters look out at a mountainous vista in the Tongass National Forest.
Photo by Ben Matthews.
Roadless Rules Help Conserve Backcountry Habitat
2002-2012

Since the TRCP’s inception, we have advanced policies that conserve large blocks of intact habitat, including roadless areas on our national forests, to maximize hunting and fishing opportunities. Roadless area conservation was one of TRCP’s founding issues, and between 2002 and 2012, the TRCP helped to successfully conserve 58.5 million acres of habitat on public lands in 38 states.

Led by TRCP staff on the ground, sportsmen and sportswomen were a consistent, engaged, and reasonable presence throughout multi-year rulemaking processes in Idaho and Colorado. In 2008, we successfully advocated for strong conservation of backcountry habitat in a final rule for Idaho’s 9.3 million acres of roadless areas. Then, in 2012, recommendations from our community were incorporated into a final Colorado roadless rule that safeguarded 4.2 million acres of backcountry for future generations.

Finally, in October 2012, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the nationwide 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, resolving the issue nationally in a way that conserved these valued habitats and sporting destinations, while providing commonsense flexibility for habitat restoration. These efforts have helped fish and wildlife managers to maximize public hunting and fishing opportunities and safeguard vital habitat for the foreseeable future.

TRCP Today: We continue to advocate for solutions that conserve unfragmented habitat. With a field team that now reaches from New Mexico to Alaska, TRCP is advocating for the establishment of Backcountry Conservation Areas on Bureau of Land Management lands, the first of which was adopted two years ago, and reinstating conservation safeguards across 9.2 million acres of the Tongass National Forest, which the U.S. Forest Service exempted from the roadless rule in 2020.

 

Photo by Greg Shine/BLM.
TRCP Defends Wetlands and the Clean Water Act
2004-2015

On Earth Day in 2004, President George W. Bush laid out a strategy to move beyond the “no net loss” policy for wetlands that his father established in 1989. This commitment to increasing wetlands acreage annually was one of TRCP’s signature issues at the time, but this early victory did not mean we could rest on our laurels.

In fact, just two years later, there was talk of the George W. Bush Administration weakening Clean Water Act protections for wetlands. Given his role in helping to write the nation’s bedrock law on clean water, TRCP’s co-founder Jim Range was understandably moved to act. He led a delegation to Texas and drove around Bush’s ranch with the president, ultimately convincing him to abandon plans to weaken the Clean Water Act.

In the 2010s, the TRCP was a key voice in advocating for Clean Water Act protections for both wetlands and headwater streams, after a series of Supreme Court cases and subsequent federal agency actions made it unclear which bodies of water the Act protects. In 2015, after an extensive public process and based on a massive study of hundreds of scientific articles about water quality, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adopted a rule to clarify federal jurisdiction over the “waters of the United States.” Though it was ultimately reversed, the rule was a major victory for hunters and anglers: It would have helped conserve the roughly 60 percent of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands that were at risk of being polluted or destroyed because of jurisdictional confusion.

TRCP Today: Our water resources team has expanded to support conservation solutions in the Delaware, Colorado, and Rio Grande river basins, and we continue to advocate for headwaters, wetlands, and prairie potholes. In June 2021, the EPA and Corps announced that they would reconsider which waters and wetlands should be protected under the Clean Water Act—again. Sportsmen and sportswomen are important stakeholders in this public process that could secure protections for critical fish and waterfowl habitat.

 

Photo by Doug Duren.
Farm Bill Conservation Expands
2008-present

Since his time on Capitol Hill, Jim Range had envisioned a brighter future for habitat and hunting and fishing access in rural America, where public land opportunities are scarce. Under his leadership, the TRCP championed “open fields,” a farm bill initiative that would incentivize private landowners to offer access to the public for hunting and fishing, ideally in concert with habitat improvements. What became the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program was established in the 2008 Farm Bill and built up in the two farm bills since. It is the only federal program dedicated to creating public access on private lands and a major victory for the TRCP. Unfortunately, Range never got to see “open fields” benefit sportsmen and sportswomen or expand to $49 million in projects across 26 states—he lost his battle with kidney cancer in early 2009 at the age of 63.

Though this loss was heartbreaking, TRCP’s focus on private land conservation never wavered. We pushed for a Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands initiative to help conserve working grasslands and prevent conversion and habitat fragmentation. We championed the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program, another CRP initiative, that has provided habitat for sharptail grouse, sage grouse, woodcock, bobwhite quail, pheasants, a wide variety of waterfowl, black bears, mule deer, elk, salmon, steelhead trout, and many other species across 36 states.

In the 2014 Farm Bill debate, we stood with partners to secure authorization for the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program to fund locally led solutions to regional conservation challenges. That same bill restored the linkage between conservation compliance and crop insurance, to ensure that farm support payments aren’t going to farmers who are doing environmental harm. This was among our top three asks for that legislation and an under-the-radar win that continues to serve fish and wildlife habitat.

TRCP Today: As the most recent Farm Bill nears expiration, we’re already fighting for increased investments in private land conservation programs and enhancement of on-the-ground impacts for fish and wildlife in the next five-year bill. Stay up to date and learn how this will affect your hunting and fishing here.

 

Hunters and Anglers Stop Public Land Grab
2014-2017

Despite the importance of America’s 640 million acres of public land to our hunting and fishing opportunities and our country’s unique outdoor legacy, special interests intensified their efforts to sell off or transfer them to the states in 2015. In response, the TRCP launched sportsmensaccess.org—the home base for hunters and anglers opposed to public land transfer with the latest news on threats to public access. More than 150 sporting groups and businesses joined the coalition and more than 50,000 individual hunters and anglers sent messages to their lawmakers to oppose public land sale and seizure. At the state level, TRCP field representatives across the West helped to beat back all but six of 37 bills advocating for the disposal of federal public lands, driving thousands of hunters and anglers to rally at state capitols and town hall meetings under the slogans #KeepItPublic and #PublicLandsProud.

One congressman, however, was a little slow to get the message. In February 2017, sportsmen and sportswomen flooded the inbox of former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) with letters, tweets, and Facebook messages about his unpopular and dangerous public land sale bill, H.R. 621. In a matter of weeks, more than 10,000 TRCP members contacted their own lawmakers, as well. Shortly after, Chaffetz dropped the legislation, which would have enabled the sale of 3.3 million acres of public lands to pay down the national debt, and he made his mea culpa to hunters and anglers on Instagram under a photo of him wearing a camo coat and holding his dog. Chaffetz retired from Congress that June.

TRCP Today: Presidents Trump and Biden made it clear that this idea would not gain traction on their watch, but the push to sell off public lands hasn’t gone away completely. The tug-of-war between Americans who are proud to have public lands as their birthright and those who seek to undermine these lands for short-term profits has never been tied to one individual bill, state, or lawmaker—it’s a longstanding ideological battle that puts conservation, access, and our hunting and fishing opportunities on the line.

 

Angler casting in mangroves from front of boat.
Photo courtesy of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.
Anglers Demand Better Federal Fisheries Management
2013-2018

After watching federal fisheries management focus almost exclusively on the commercial sector for years, the TRCP embarked on a new effort to improve fish stocks and seasons and urge decision-makers to recognize the value of anglers in this conversation. In 2013, we convened a coalition of groups and industry leaders to lay out a vision for better management of recreational fishing in federal waters. The result was a report outlining six recommendations for conserving marine recreational fisheries, championed by Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops and Scott Deal of Maverick Boats.

What became commonly referred to as the Morris-Deal Report—as well as TRCP-led workshops with fisheries managers, biologists, economists, and conservation groups—laid the groundwork for federal legislation that would bring marine fisheries management into the 21st century. In 2015, NOAA released its first-ever policy recognizing the value of recreational fishing, based on our recommendations, and TRCP staff was invited to testify in support of the Modern Fish Act in 2017. A year later, the bill was signed into law.

TRCP Today: In the years since, we have expanded our marine fisheries focus to advocate for better management of forage fish and, particularly, management models in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico that recognize the value of menhaden to our sportfish populations and the broader marine food web. Anglers have already been successful at convincing the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to include “ecological reference points” in menhaden management, and we’ve pushed for the last two legislative sessions to secure more regulation of pogie boats near shore in Louisiana. Most recently, the TRCP and partners have convened a new Aquatic Invasive Species Commission to brainstorm and offer solutions—in the style of the Morris-Deal commission—for slowing and reversing the spread of aquatic invasive species in the U.S.

 

elk jumping over fence
Photo by Greg Nickerson/Wyoming Migration Initiative.
First Migration Corridor Conservation Policies Are Created
2015-present

The TRCP field team has worked diligently over the years to raise awareness with local decision-makers about the lack of conservation policies for big game migration corridors and seasonal habitats that, thanks to advances in GPS collars and wildlife research, we can now use to help direct habitat restoration and improvement and prevent incompatible development. These efforts made a big leap forward in February 2018, when then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362, which directed agencies to give more attention to habitats where mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and other species migrate, rest, and spend the winter months.

Since that time, the states and federal government have partnered to research big game movements and improve habitat for mule deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope. In addition, the Department and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided more than $15 million to implement the order, funds that were matched by about $30 million in state and private funds. This resulted in on-the-ground projects that range from restoring habitat to improving fencing. The order has inspired Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho to adopt their own migration corridor conservation programs, with additional states working to join them.

TRCP Today: Building off our 2021 report laying out ways to ensure the best-available migration science is incorporated into public land management across the West, the TRCP continues to work with the BLM and Forest Service on land-use plan amendments and revisions that help to conserve wildlife corridors and stopover areas. There is also potential to do more with private landowners and smooth out collaboration between state and federal agencies, Tribal governments, and individuals to restore habitat connectivity. This year, we celebrated a new pilot program between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Wyoming, where a diverse set of Farm Bill programs and dedicated funding will support voluntary conservation of private working lands to safeguard migratory big game populations. The hope is to scale up this program across the West in the future.

 

Bowhunter walks along a fenceline.
Photo by Nick Venture of Become1.
TRCP Unlocks Inaccessible Public Lands
2018-2022

The TRCP continued to differentiate itself in the next great quest for public lands and outdoor recreation access. In 2018, as authorization for the iconic Land and Water Conservation Fund was nearing expiration, other groups created countdown clocks and posted increasingly urgent messages about the need for permanent authorization of this critical resource. While standing with our community to secure the future of the LWCF, we also went to work to quantify a widespread access problem that was tailor-made for LWCF to fix—inaccessible public lands. The TRCP partnered with the digital mapping company onX to identify 9.52 million acres of federal public lands in the West that are “landlocked” by private land with no permanent legal access.

Our first Unlocking Public Lands Report made national headlines just as the conversation around LWCF was heating up, and we were able to offer sound reasoning, based on data, for full funding at $900 million annually, with a minimum of three percent held aside to improve existing public land access, and a plan to take short-term approvals of this critical tool off the congressional to-do list by making authorization permanent. This was accomplished in 2020 through the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act and the Great American Outdoors Act (see below.)

Between 2018 and 2020, we expanded our work with onX to identify a total of 16.43 million acres of inaccessible public lands across 22 states. The company helped us provide land trusts and federal decision-makers with data about the scale and scope of public land access barriers in their area. We also began collaborating with the BLM and Forest Service to modernize their data to reflect existing road easements that provide the public with permanent, legal access across private lands.

It was at this point we discovered that many of the easement records were only kept in paper files at the back of dusty filing cabinets—at the time, the Forest Service and BLM had an estimated 50,000 recorded easements that were not available to the public in geospatial form. The average hunter or angler wouldn’t have known about these public access areas unless they’d walked into a field office to ask, and the agencies would have had trouble prioritizing future easements and land acquisition if this data was not all in one place.

So, in 2020 the TRCP began working with lawmakers to craft and introduce the Modernizing Access to our Public Land (MAPLand) Act, which would require federal agencies to digitize and publicize all their public land access information.

TRCP Today: This year, at the urging of thousands of TRCP members, Congress passed the MAPLand Act—with unanimous support in the Senate—and President Joe Biden signed it into law on April 29. TRCP is presently working with members of Congress to fully fund MAPLand implementation, which includes digitizing and making publicly available information about public access, within a four-year period.

 

Photo by RimLight Media.
Once-In-a-Generation Conservation Funding
2019-present

The last four years have ushered in a seemingly golden era of bipartisan agreement on conservation investments, even with the pendulum swing of politics in Washington, D.C. With Republicans largely in power in 2020, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act—to permanently provide $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a one-time influx of $9.5 billion over five years to address the deferred maintenance backlog on our public lands—and the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, which codified the successful  National Fish Habitat Program and authorized $60 million annually for waterfowl habitat restoration through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Then, with Democrats controlling the Senate and White House in 2021, Congress increased funding to expedite Everglades restoration work and passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act with major wins for wildlife crossings, ecosystem restoration, natural infrastructure, and climate resilience.

These bipartisan victories reflect the efforts of the entire hunting, fishing, and conservation community—no one group can take the credit. Where TRCP played an important role was in convening partners at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to forecast how hunters and anglers could advocate for conservation and outdoor recreation jobs, while improving habitat and public lands that were seeing an uptick in visitation during lockdowns. The result was our Conservation Works for America campaign, which outlined recommendations that were taken up in the IIJA and other major funding vehicles. It’s just the kind of victory Jim Range knew was possible if our community could work together.

TRCP Today: As of publication, the Inflation Reduction Act is poised to pass the House and head to the president’s desk for signature. While imperfect, this bill will unleash billions of dollars’ worth of conservation provisions hunters and anglers fought to include in the culmination of TRCP’s Conservation Works for America campaign. And we continue to advocate for conservation funding bills still on the menu for debate and/or passage this Congress, including the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, North American Grasslands Conservation Act, and Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act.

 

Thank you for being here and supporting the TRCP, whether you discovered us this year or 20 years ago! We cannot do what we do for fish, wildlife, and hunting and fishing opportunities without the efforts of individual sportsmen and sportswomen who are committed to healthy habitats and safeguarding outdoor recreation access for the next generation. YOU are our inspiration.

Patrick Donovan

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posted in: Farm Bill

August 3, 2022

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.

Rachel Biggs, Forest Service Silviculturist surveys the North Mills Area, Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, NC. (Forest Service photo by Cecilio Ricardo)
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.

Photo by USDA NRCS Montana.
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.

Photo by RimLight Media
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.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: Farm Bill

May 20, 2022

Video: Restoring Longleaf Pines with the Conservation Reserve Program

How one farmer uses the Farm Bill’s most popular conservation program to benefit deer, quail, turkeys, and other species across 104 acres in Georgia

Georgia farmer Hal Avery has had 104 acres of his land enrolled in the Farm Bill’s Conservation Reserve Program since 2015, when he began restoring longleaf pine forest and its native understory of warm-season grasses to benefit wildlife and soil and water quality.

Longleaf pine forests are some of the most diverse ecosystems in North America and serve as critical habitat for bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, whitetail deer, and hundreds of other species. They are also naturally resilient to drought, extreme weather, and wildfire, while capable of storing carbon to combat climate change.

Private landowners like Hal have an important role to play in restoration efforts that boost habitat connectivity and climate change defenses one acre at a time. Watch the video to hear his story.

Learn more about the Conservation Reserve Program and other Farm Bill conservation programs here.

 

Top photo by Justin Meissen via flickr

Andrew Earl

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posted in: Farm Bill

April 21, 2022

Six Conservation Priorities Congress Should Tackle Before August Recess

As session days become more limited, lawmakers should seal the deal on these conservation wins 

Spend any time around federal policymaking and you’ll quickly get a sense of the rhythm of legislating. To perhaps oversimplify things, Congress and the administration spar over funding levels in the spring, make the rounds to constituents during August recess, and do last-minute legislating in December.

This tempo, however, is complicated during election years. Incumbent legislators need victories to bring back to constituents in the summer and floor-time in the fall is eaten up by campaigning. If major legislation isn’t passed before August, the next opportunity is often a lame duck session in December.

So, while not the very last chance to act, the next few months will be critical to the future of some conservation solutions. Here’s what we want to see between now and early August.

Floor Action on the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, if enacted, would invest nearly $1.4 billion annually in state and Tribal wildlife agencies for proactive conservation of thousands of species vulnerable to listing under the Endangered Species Act and also provides funding for collaborative partnerships to voluntarily conserve habitat and recover species already listed as threatened or endangered. In short, the bill would make a generational investment in wildlife habitat conservation.

The House Natural Resources Committee passed its version of RAWA earlier this year, followed by the Senate EPW Committee earlier this month. Now, both pieces of legislation await consideration before their respective chambers. While differences between the bills remain, and negotiations over the bill’s ‘pay-for’ are ongoing, RAWA is further along than ever before and primed for floor consideration. The TRCP, our partners, and conservationists nationally continue to work with lawmakers and staff to see this landmark legislation pass.

Passage of the Water Resources Development Act

The Water Resources Development Act authorizes water management and conservation projects at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The two-year bill is critical to water infrastructure maintenance and management in the United States, affecting not just commerce and agriculture, but also fish habitat and aquatic ecosystems.

House and Senate committees began holding hearings on the 2022 WRDA earlier this year and heard feedback on priorities for the bill in March. The TRCP and our partner groups have been working with key lawmakers in both chambers to include provisions that support natural infrastructure projects—those that use the power of habitat to solve infrastructure challenges or even replace gray infrastructure—and build climate resilience.

The House and the Senate are expected to consider and pass their own versions of the 2022 WRDA in the coming months.

With some provisions in the existing 2020 WRDA scheduled to expire in December, lawmakers will look to align the House and Senate versions as soon as possible and send a final bill to the president’s desk. For that reason, it’s vital that the TRCP and our partner groups continue to be engaged and ensure that conservation measures remain in the final bill.

Senate Introduction of the CWD Research and Management Act

In late 2021, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps Ron Kind and Glenn Thompson and was quickly passed by an overwhelming margin (393-33)—but we still need the Senate to act. The TRCP and partner organizations focused on wild deer and deer hunting are actively working with a bipartisan group of senators to bring forth the bill’s introduction in that chamber.

If enacted, the bill would provide $35 million annually to state agencies for CWD suppression and an additional $35 million for research into the disease and management techniques. We look forward to the bill’s introduction and expeditious consideration in the coming months.

Importantly, the bill also directs the USDA to carry out a public review of the Herd Certification Program, which is the federal standard by which states accredit captive cervid operations as “low-risk” for CWD spread. This review is critical now more than ever, as CWD detections originating from HCP-accredited facilities increase in frequency and voluntary participation in the program continues to decline.

Bipartisan Introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act

For the better part of two years, the TRCP and several partner groups—including Pheasants Forever, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and others—have been developing a first-of-its-kind national grassland conservation proposal, to enable partner-led conservation of our nation’s most imperiled habitat. In doing so, we’ve gathered feedback from state and Tribal agencies, conservation groups, land trusts, and, importantly, the broader agricultural community. The biggest threat to our remaining grass and sagebrush ecosystems is development, so ensuring that the program meets the needs of farmers and ranchers is paramount to the success of the bill. Senator Wyden has agreed to lead on the legislation in the Senate, and we’re continuing to work with like-minded Republicans. We look forward to having a bipartisan bill introduced before the August recess.

Committee Action on an Outdoor Recreation Package

Late last year, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Manchin and Ranking Member Barrasso introduced the Outdoor Recreation Act. Among the bill’s provisions is one that would direct federal land managers to consider opening lands for recreation during shoulder seasons, where appropriate. It would also direct managers to consider recreation improvements during management plan revisions and provide financial and technical assistance to “gateway” communities adjacent to federal lands.

Shortly after introduction, the committee held a hearing on the Outdoor Recreation Act along with a number of other bills aimed at improving recreation permitting, access, and infrastructure. The committee is expected to take up and approve a revised package of bills in the coming months. The TRCP, our partners, and many constituents of the broader $778-million outdoor recreation industry are excited about the opportunity to advance bipartisan recreation legislation. We’ll continue to work alongside lawmakers and committee staff to bring about its timely consideration.

Hearings on 2023 Farm Bill Priorities

The 2018 Farm Bill expires in September 2023, which is not quite as far off as it seems. With that in mind, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have started holding hearings to review and gather feedback on the successes (and failures) of the 2018 Farm Bill.

The TRCP, through its Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group and other coalitions, is currently developing a conservation and forestry platform for the 2023 bill. We’re workshopping policy ideas and funding priorities, ground truthing them with state agencies and partners, and working with lawmakers to draft legislation. We look forward to a 2023 Farm Bill that builds on the successes of 2018, invests in conservation and forestry, and benefits fish and wildlife.

This snapshot of legislation in progress provides a glimpse of what the TRCP and our partner groups will be prioritizing on Capitol Hill in the coming months. Congress has some big opportunities ahead in 2022, and amidst it all, conservation continues to drive consensus in Washington. To track these legislative priorities along with us, sign up for TRCP’s weekly Roosevelt Report.

 

Top photo courtesy of the USDA via Flickr.

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