Hunting and Fishing Partners Unite Around 2023 Farm Bill Priorities
More than two dozen groups worked together to build the detailed list of recommendations on conservation funding levels and maximizing habitat and access benefits
As debate heats up in Congress, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has announced its “Hunter and Angler Priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill,” developed over months of consensus-building discussions with the 26 organizational members of the TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group.
These priorities will serve as a rallying point for the community of hunters, anglers, and conservationists whose outdoor experiences depend on the policies and funding provided through the five-year Farm Bill. The platform has already been shared with Senate and House leadership and ranking members of the agriculture committees in both chambers.
“The recommendations generated by this diverse coalition should be a roadmap for how to design a conservation title that will boost rural communities, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation access, and landscape resilience,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Hunters and anglers have long recognized the need to work with our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and foresters to ensure productive habitat and clean water. And we must be united in our messages to lawmakers early on in these debates to secure adequate funding and policy tools that will support voluntary conservation of private lands, which are so essential to sportsmen and sportswomen nationwide. TRCP is honored to have been a convener for this community to build out our shared goals over the last four Farm Bills.”
“The Farm Bill, and its conservation title, specifically, is one of the most important and successful habitat conservation tools in existence,” says Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of the National Deer Association. “The habitat created and conserved by Farm Bill programs makes for incredibly productive deer habitat, and the NDA is proud to have collaborated with such a diverse group of conservationists to establish a strong 2023 Farm Bill priorities platform. Aligning goals and sharing ideas is valuable in ensuring that wildlife and lands receive as great a benefit as possible from this next Farm Bill.”
“The Farm Bill is not only the single largest federal investment for conservation on private lands in the nation, it gives farmers and ranchers the tools to support wildlife in their operations and across the landscape and is critical to state fish and wildlife agencies for conserving and improving millions of acres of habitat through voluntary efforts that can also provide opportunities for hunting and angling,” says Curt Melcher, director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “This new AWWG platform will strengthen the conservation voice and allow for great discussions and collaboration on how best to advocate for fish and wildlife in such a significant piece of legislation.”
Momentous Clean Water Safeguards Secured for Bristol Bay
TRCP cheers decision to protect the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery
Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue final Clean Water Act safeguards for the headwaters of Bristol Bay. This decision restricts and prohibits the discharge of mine waste in Bristol Bay, adding another layer of durable protection against the formerly proposed Pebble Mine.
Bristol Bay is home to the most prolific sockeye salmon run on the planet. In 2022, nearly 80 million sockeye returned to Bristol Bay, smashing the region’s previous record of 66 million fish in 2021. More than 14,000 jobs are directly supported by this sustainable fishery. In addition to the region’s abundant salmon, hunters and anglers from around the world are drawn to Bristol Bay in search of its famed brown bears and trophy trout.
“Today’s decision is a hard-earned victory for Bristol Bay residents, the majority of Alaskans, and the four million Americans who have repeatedly requested conservation safeguards for this special place,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska program manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The hunt-fish community is thrilled to know that another layer of safeguards now exists for the headwaters of Bristol Bay.”
Today’s decision by the EPA restricts mine waste in the rivers, streams, and wetlands of the North and South Fork of the Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek in Bristol Bay’s headwaters. This action is supported by strong science and overwhelming public support. In the most recent public comment period, more than half a million people supported Clean Water Act safeguards for Bristol Bay.
“Bristol Bay is one of the world’s great fishing and hunting destinations,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The TRCP commends the administration’s decision to safeguard the headwaters of Bristol Bay, and we remain committed to securing permanent protections for this world-class fishery.”
Historic Protections Announced for Boundary Waters
Department of the Interior orders 20-year mineral withdrawal in the Rainy River Watershed of Northeast Minnesota
Today, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland cemented historic protections for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness by signing an order to withdraw approximately 225,504 acres of public land in the Rainy River Watershed of Northeast Minnesota from federal mineral leasing for a period of 20 years. The mineral withdrawal order will ban federal hard rock mineral leasing upstream of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park.
This monumental decision ensures that future generations of hunters, anglers, and paddlers will be able to fish for lake trout, chase grouse, and share a campfire under the stars in America’s most visited wilderness for decades to come.
Across the country, this significant decision is being celebrated. Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters would like to express our deepest gratitude to this administration for its leadership in protecting the BWCA from sulfide-ore copper mining.
Not only is this announcement a milestone in the history of the BWCA, but it also affirms the immeasurable value of the Boundary Waters to Minnesota’s outdoor economy, its unparalleled recreational opportunities, and its contribution to the legacy of our nation’s public lands and waters. Thank you to all who have stood shoulder to shoulder with us for years in defense of the Boundary Waters.
The Boundary Waters provides world-class opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to hunt, fish, and camp in a true backcountry Wilderness landscape. Today’s decision guarantees that the Boundary Waters is a place where Minnesota’s hunting and fishing heritage will be protected for future generations.
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters would like to thank every hunter, angler, and BWCA advocate who spoke up to preserve the integrity of this wild and truly special place. The ongoing work to conserve the Boundary Waters watershed would not be possible without our partner organizations and enthusiastic supporters, and we are forever grateful for the ongoing support from our community.
Conservation leaders across the country are applauding today’s decision:
“The TRCP applauds the administration’s decision to safeguard the Rainy River watershed from mining for the coming two decades, and we will continue to work to conserve the Boundary Waters permanently,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This world-class fishing, hunting, and canoeing destination has provided generations of Americans with important outdoor experiences, and today’s decision will support future opportunities.”
“The time I’ve spent in the Boundary Waters, especially with my family by my side, are memories I deeply cherish,” said Land Tawney, CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Today’s decision by this administration to protect these unique public lands and waters will not only conserve an irreplaceable landscape; it will also ensure that experiences like mine will be possible for all Americans and their families to enjoy forever.”
“The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of the most magnificent landscapes in America and provides outstanding habitat for moose, bears, otters, lynx, wolves, and hundreds of species of birds,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Allowing sulfide-ore mining in the ‘crown jewel of Up North’ would be devastating to the hundreds of wildlife species that make their home in the pristine watershed and would have threatened a billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy that supports 17,000 jobs. Secretary Deb Haaland’s decision is one that future generations will look back upon with gratitude.”
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.
Top photo by Aaron James.
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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.