Conservation Safeguards Restored in Southeast Alaska
TRCP commends the reinstatement of conservation measures on the Tongass, America’s largest national forest
Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated the return of conservation safeguards to more than 9 million acres of quality fish and wildlife habitat in Southeast Alaska.
The Tongass National Forest is home to some of the most productive hunting and fishing grounds in Alaska. By reinstating the Roadless Rule across the Tongass, the U.S. Forest Service will limit industrial development activities—such as new road building and large-scale logging—across 9.37 million acres of undeveloped public lands. The agency will continue to offer reasonable allowances for restoration activities and community development projects that serve the public interest, such as local hydropower installations. The decision will not affect previously roaded and logged forests.
“The TRCP applauds today’s decision to restore common sense conservation measures to the Tongass,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska program manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sitka black-tailed deer, brown bear, salmon, and many other species in the Tongass depend on mature, intact forests and watersheds to thrive. Our public forests sustain our communities, and we should be managing them for today’s needs and for generations to come.”
As the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, the Tongass National Forest plays an important role in buffering the effects of climate change in Alaska and beyond. These hardworking, mature forests can’t provide climate or habitat benefits if they are opened to industrial development. The Roadless Rule ensures that intact habitat within roadless areas in the Tongass will remain that way.
Reinstating the Roadless Rule on the Tongass is one component of the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, unveiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July 2021. The sustainability strategy aligns the management of the Tongass with local values and the region’s biggest economic engines: tourism, recreation, and fishing.
Pairing the restoration of conservation safeguards with new, robust investments in Southeast Alaska’s economy, the USDA’s framework was developed in partnership with local communities, Alaska Native leaders, and various stakeholders as a balanced solution that promises a sustainable future for a vibrant region. The strategy also ensures that the Tongass National Forest will remain an iconic hunting and fishing destination.
“Tongass National Forest safeguards have long been a TRCP priority because of the benefits they provide to continued hunting and fishing opportunities in the region,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate USDA prioritizing sustainable forest management practices that will result in productive habitats, improved recreational opportunities, and more resilient communities.”
Leading up to the recent announcement, more than 250,000 Americans asked the administration to restore roadless area conservation measures on the Tongass National Forest, including a broad spectrum of hunters, anglers, recreation business owners, Tribal leaders, and other conservationists.
The 118th Congress is now underway, with narrow majorities in both the House and Senate and a considerable workload in the coming year. Fortunately, conservation issues have a way of garnering bipartisan agreement—a necessity as Congress takes up landmark legislation like the 2023 Farm Bill. The TRCP and our partners look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to advance conservation solutions in the coming months.
Here’s what’s at the top of our list for habitat and access in 2023.
Investing in Landowner-Led Conservation
Providing over $6 billion each year for voluntary, incentive-based conservation, the Farm Bill is the biggest piece of legislation impacting fish and wildlife in the U.S. Congress crafts a new Farm Bill every five years, and with the last bill expiring in September, 2023 is when decisions will be made that shape habitat on private lands for half a decade.
That is why the TRCP and our partner groups have been hard at work over the past several months to develop a comprehensive platform for what hunters and anglers would like to see in the 2023 bill.
This includes tripling investment in the popular Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, which provides dollars directly to state agencies to expand local walk-in hunting access opportunities by working with willing landowners. VPA-HIP provides a significant return on investment, with $5.20 in economic activity for every dollar invested in the program. That supports not just the landowners that choose to enroll, but also local businesses like game processors, diners, motels, gas stations, and more. The access, of course, is a boon for sportsmen and sportswomen, particularly in states where there are few public lands. In fact, when polled, nearly 60 percent of hunters in Illinois said that the land made available through the Illinois Recreational Access Program was the only huntable acreage accessible to them.
Beyond VPA-HIP, hunters and anglers are looking to lawmakers to improve the Conservation Reserve Program to ensure it remains a premier tool for habitat conservation, prioritize the enrollment of conservation easements to keep working lands and their habitats in place, and ensure that wildlife remain a co-equal focus of USDA conservation programs as climate mitigation becomes a growing priority in agriculture.
Improving Recreation Opportunities on Public Lands
As lawmakers negotiated an end-of-year funding deal in late 2022, a proposed package of recreation and public lands bills wound up on the cutting room floor and should receive top billing in 2023.
This starts with the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, a bipartisan package of bills developed by Senators Manchin and Barrasso to enhance recreation opportunities on public lands. Included are bills directing the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to expand access to shooting ranges and complete road-use planning on their lands. Other bills would streamline permitting processes for guides and outfitters, limit the spread of invasive species, support gateway communities, and make it easier for outdoorsmen and women to experience our vast public lands.
Providing Necessary Resources for State Wildlife Management
For more than a century, sportsmen and sportswomen have led the charge on new ways to invest in fish and wildlife habitat. That leadership role continues in 2023 as we look for a way to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, landmark legislation that would provide $1.4 billion annually in dedicated funding to state wildlife agencies to conserve species of greatest concern. Not only would this new funding restore habitat and benefit hunters and anglers, it would also keep those species from being listed under the Endangered Species Act, minimizing untold costs to the energy industry, developers, and small businesses.
The RAWA was widely celebrated, enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and nearly made it to the finish line in 2022. Now, its base of support is greater than ever before. Hunters, anglers, conservationists, recreators, landowners, and business owners agree on the importance of passing RAWA. While the path is never easy, the TRCP and our partners will be working to expand congressional support, secure approval in the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and send RAWA to the president’s desk in the 118th Congress.
Accelerating Conservation and Restoration Projects
We’re expecting Congress to consider legislation to improve project approvals—especially for energy development, mining, and other infrastructure projects—early in 2023. It may be a surprise to some that challenges with permitting and approvals don’t only slow down development projects, but also the stream and wetland restoration, forest health, and other environmentally beneficial projects. Costly and often redundant planning processes discourage local partners from participating and result in wasted time and energy while federal funds remained locked up with the agencies, rather than benefitting fish and wildlife.
Additionally, when it comes to improving mining and renewable energy development on public lands, hunters and anglers have long fought for bipartisan solutions like the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act and Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act. PLREDA, for example, would balance renewable energy development and habitat needs, while funding for fish and wildlife conservation projects. The Good Samaritan legislation would reduce existing barriers to abandoned hard rock mine cleanup, making it easier for local partners to help improve water quality and habitat.
Accelerating conservation and restoration projects will ensure that the funds made available by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other recent legislative successes touch down on the landscape. In the year ahead, the TRCP will be engaged on both sides of the aisle, bringing conservation and habitat restoration priorities to the permitting conversation taking place in Congress.
For more information, and to take action in support of these critical conservation priorities in the year ahead, visit the TRCP Action Center. To follow important conservation legislation as it makes its way through Congress, follow @theTRCP on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Outdoorswoman and director of SITKA’s ecosystem grants program shares her most memorable hunt, the toughest conservation challenges facing Utah’s Wasatch Front, and how climate change has affected her experience of hunting, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors
Lindsey Davis is an entrepreneur, conservation advocate, writer, and ecologist based in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she has been exploring public lands with a rod, gun, or bow for more than eight years. She currently runs SITKA Gear’s ecosystem grants and conservation partnerships program and serves on the board of directors for the Outdoor Alliance and Utah Wildlife Federation. Previously, she spent three years shaping the work of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations representing over 110,000 American businesses.
Today, she shares her thoughts on some of the toughest conservation challenges we face.
TRCP: How and with whom do you prefer to spend your time outdoors?
LINDSEY DAVIS: I seek out ways to interact with the landscape around me through hunting, fishing, and foraging for wild food and observing wildlife. No matter where I am, finding wild edible plants and cooking my catch are my favorite ways to build memories in a new place. I love experiencing this on the home front with my friends and family here in Utah, and while exploring new places with friends and knowledgeable locals. Those with literacy in the landscape tend to be the people I enjoy being outdoors with most!
TRCP: Describe your most successful/rewarding day afield or on the water. When was this and what were you doing?
DAVIS: One of my most memorable days in the field was my first successful archery hunt. I had backpacked into the Uinta National Forest for the opening weekend of mule deer season. That year, we’d had a wet spring, so the gooseberries were ripe and full. As I stalked around the woods, I ate fistfuls of berries and looked for deer. I ended up being in the right place at the right time to find a bachelor herd of mule deer, and I put a successful stalk on one of them.
On that hunt, the days were long, the skies were clear, rain was regularly refreshing the landscape, and we were the only hunters around. It was perfect.
TRCP: What is the biggest habitat challenge in your area?
DAVIS: There are many challenges facing wildlife and its habitats here in Utah, but the most glaring in my opinion is the rapid pace of development and population growth in this state. Along the Wasatch front, we have four of the fastest growing cities in the nation and a ton of new housing developments. Advocates are working diligently to map key habitat areas and propose smarter development, but every year I see more wintering grounds and sagebrush habitat ripped out and replaced with condos. I fear that we are putting too much pressure on our wildlife in this urban interface with little understanding of the impacts.
TRCP: How has climate change affected your hunting and fishing experiences in recent years? (Example: Altered seasons or migrations, species decline due to drought or wildfire, invasive species pushing out native forage, etc.)
DAVIS: You have to pay attention to snow, rain, and wildfire like never before. The strength and severity of winter storms has affected the ability of elk, deer, and pronghorn to make it through the winter. The amount of precipitation determines whether there will be enough green-up in the spring for calving females and what elevations the herds will need to be at in the late-summer and early-fall to find food. These same factors impact where ranchers will be grazing their sheep and cattle on public land. It all matters so much and determines how and where I hunt in the fall.
Variability in these factors has changed where it is productive for me to hunt in recent years. Wildfires have made it necessary to pack an inhaler and an N95 mask. It has also made it near impossible, at times, to see wildlife more than a few hundred yards away. Warmer water temperatures have made flyfishing closures imperative for the health of fish, limiting recreational fishing hours to just a handful a day before noon.
In short, it feels like there are just too many pressures on wildlife.
TRCP: How has this affected outdoor recreation businesses and/or hunting and fishing participation where you live?
DAVIS: Here in Utah, hunting and fishing participation is growing for the first time in decades. This makes for even more pressure on delicate resources at a challenging time. Limited hours for flyfishing inhibits a guide’s ability to book full days, which is having a huge impact on the guiding and outfitting components of outdoor recreation. With population increasing, hunting tag allotments are growing more limited and permits are harder to acquire, frustrating residents who would like to hunt every year.
TRCP: Why do you feel responsible for engaging in conservation and efforts to build climate resilience?
DAVIS: I see humans as a part of, not the center of, the ecosystem at large. We have an outsized impact on our natural habitats and also have the means and resources to do things differently. Because I am aware of my impact on the natural world around me, I feel responsible for being a steward and working to ensure generations that follow mine have the opportunity to experience wildlife and its habitats.
TRCP: What is one thing you wish every hunter and angler knew about the impacts of climate change?
DAVIS: While our individual experiences of climate change feel isolated and unique, it is a global issue we are all experiencing. I wish we had more of a shared sense of responsibility around it—more than the priority species we care about or the one region where we live.
TRCP: Do you think the hunting and fishing community is getting serious about fighting for climate change solutions? What would you like to see more of?
DAVIS: I appreciate the growing interest that the hunting and fishing community is showing toward climate change solutions. I think there is still more proving ground for our community at large before we are known as unified and serious, but we are getting there.
A Hunter and Angler’s Guide to the Omnibus Funding Deal
Hits, misses, and other highlights for conservation in the end-of-year package that keeps government funding flowing
Just before the Christmas holiday, Congress quickly took up and passed a funding agreement that keeps the gears of government moving through September 30, 2023. Importantly, the package carried several conservation priorities across the finish line and boosted funding for key programs that are perennially stretched thin. On the downside, long-sought transformational solutions, like the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, and major public lands legislation failed to make it across the finish line.
Here’s a breakdown of what the omnibus deal included for hunters and anglers:
The Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act authorizes $70 million annually to boost data on and curb the spread of the disease. The bill also directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to carry out a review of its Herd Certification Program for captive deer operations. Read more about this victory here.
The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act does away with the use of harmful mesh gillnets in federal waters, which has had devastating impacts on marine species and ecosystems.
The Charitable Conservation Easement Integrity Act eliminates a harmful exploitation of the charitable conservation easement tax deduction, ensuring Americans can continue to voluntary conserve private acreage.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act will improve farmers’, ranchers’, and foresters’ access to carbon markets, creating additional revenue streams and keeping lands intact in the process.
Beyond these highlights, the package included modest funding increases for critical conservation initiatives, like the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, and others. Unfortunately, given inflation, many of these adjustments amount to flat funding from the year prior.
Included a rider that continues to tie the hands of Fish and Wildlife Service experts when it comes to making decisions aimed at keeping the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list.
Overlooked funding for the implementation of the MAPLand Act, which the TRCP and hunters and anglers everywhere fought so hard to get across the finish line earlier this year.
Failed to include a suite of public lands or recreation bills that would have boosted access and opportunities for sportsmen and sportswomen on our nation’s vast public lands.
2022 was a rollercoaster year in Congress, and many expected the late-December flurry of post-election dealmaking that resulted in this funding agreement. Drafting and passing a package of twelve appropriations bills is no easy task, particularly during a midterm election year. The TRCP, our partners, and the entire hunting and fishing community have been actively engaged in the process from the start, and we look forward to building off these successes—and circling back to missed opportunities—in 2023.
EPA Restores Clean Water Act Protections for Streams and Wetlands
New clean water rule again safeguards habitats that are important to hunters and anglers
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a new rule that formally restores federal Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands that sustain fish and wildlife and hunting and fishing opportunities.
This most recent clean water rule includes several provisions that reflect comments submitted by the TRCP and partners on behalf of hunters and anglers requesting stronger federal protections for headwater streams and wetlands. A 2018 national poll carried out by TRCP confirmed that a significant majority of sportsmen and sportswomen support both the Clean Water Act and strong protections for streams and wetlands.
The benefits of clean, productive wetlands and headwater streams are clear to hunters and anglers. Wetlands—including non-floodplain wetlands like prairie potholes and mountain wet meadow complexes—provide critical migratory and nesting habitats for waterfowl while filtering pollutants, enhancing natural water retention, and promoting resilience to drought. Headwater streams provide nursery habitats for salmon and regulate stream temperatures for coldwater trout fisheries.
The new rule reflects the importance of these aquatic ecosystems by reinstating federal protections for headwater streams and non-floodplain wetlands that significantly affect downstream waters.
It also strikes a positive balance between previous efforts to define the scope of federal protections by both the Obama and Trump administrations. The new rule does away with Obama-era bright-line distance requirements to determine whether adjacent wetlands are federally protected. Many stakeholders found these distance requirements complicated, as they often did not reflect more site-specific and regional factors that should be considered in assessing whether certain wetlands are covered under the Clean Water Act. Instead, the new rule provides categorical protections for wetlands adjacent to larger and interstate river and lake systems, while employing a more fact-specific analysis for other wetlands.
Meanwhile, this new rule also restores federal protections that were narrowed under the Trump Administration, specifically for intermittent and ephemeral stream systems that sustain healthy watersheds, particularly in the arid Southwest. The final rule also maintains several longstanding exemptions for normal agricultural operations and more specific guidance for landowners to help provide clearer information on when mitigation actions are necessary.
This is a final rule, but the EPA continues to meet with landowners, farmers, businesses, and conservation organizations to achieve the original goals of the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, the agency and stakeholders continue to wait for a ruling this year from the U.S. Supreme Court in Sackett v. EPA, in which the court heard arguments regarding the scope of federal protections for wetlands. The TRCP, along with Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation, joined an amicus brief in the Sackett case, advocating for the defense of federal protections for headwater streams and non-floodplain wetlands. This position was based on both federal court decisions and an extensive scientific record indicating that these aquatic ecosystems play important functions in sustaining healthy watersheds.
The EPA may need to change even this most recent clean water rule, or adopt a new one, depending on the majority ruling in this case.
For more backstory on the Clean Water Act and how its jurisdiction has changed over the years, check out this timeline.
Top photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.