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March 16, 2023

Video: Where Private Land Creates Public Hunting Opportunities

If you use state walk-in access programs to hunt or fish on private land, you’ve already benefited from a key Farm Bill program

Join TRCP’s Aaron Field and Ian Nakayama as they hunt private farm lands in Minnesota thanks to the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. This one-of-a-kind access program complements the full suite of habitat improvement programs that invest federal Farm Bill dollars at the local level. In the case of the VPA-HIP, there is a nine-to-one return on this investment in the form of outdoor recreation spending in rural communities.

In the video, Greg Hoch with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Craig Lingen with the Wilkin Soil and Water Conservation District share information about the importance and success of the VPA-HIP program in their state.

You can support strengthening this important public access program in the next Farm Bill right now.

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March 7, 2023

Why We Care About BLM’s Plan to Expand Solar Development on Public Lands

What hunters and anglers need to know about implications of expanding utility-scale solar on public lands

The TRCP has long worked to defend a balance of the many demands on our public lands, which sustain so many of our hunting and fishing opportunities in the U.S. The push for increased renewable energy production on public lands is creating new challenges that we are doing our best to address with public land managers.

There is an undeniable need to transition as quickly as possible to low-carbon sources of energy to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. I was encouraged by the Bureau of Land Management’s recent announcement detailing its intentions to revise and potentially expand its 2012 Western Solar Plan to all 11 Western states. Expanding the geographic scope of this planning document and updating it to incorporate the best available science, like new data on recently mapped big game migration corridors, is the most responsible way to expeditiously meet the administration’s goal of deploying 25 GW of renewable energy development on public lands by 2025, while minimizing adverse impacts to wildlife and other public land resources.

There are, however, trade-offs that the BLM must consider when updating its Western Solar Plan. After touring several utility-scale solar facilities myself, I hesitate to enthusiastically endorse the widespread deployment of this type of development on our public lands. My unease comes from the fact that unlike other forms of energy development—such as wind, or even oil and gas—utility-scale solar generating facilities are usually high-fenced and allow for no other uses of the land within their boundaries. This exclusive use of the land can span thousands of acres for a single solar facility and will cover hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands to meet the administration’s goals. The magnitude of habitat removal and loss of public access from the BLM’s proposed expansion of utility-scale solar development on public lands is unprecedented.

Even with the most careful planning, the expansive size of utility-scale solar developments may have unintended consequences for habitat connectivity and migratory wildlife like big game. A poorly sited solar development in Wyoming that blocked a migration route and forced more than 1,000 pronghorn into a nearby highway right-of-way is a recent reminder of the potential for unintended consequences from solar development. The bitter irony is that these same species that migrate to access critical resources for survival will need large, connected landscapes more than ever to adapt to a changing climate.

I am reminded of a recent quote from Dan Ashe, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who said that addressing climate change will not, by itself, reverse the trend of increasingly widespread habitat fragmentation and the loss of wildlands and wildlife. “The lie is that if we address the climate crisis, we will also solve the biodiversity crisis,” said Ashe.

There are also implications for public access to public lands. A friend of mine recently showed up at his favorite spot to hunt pronghorn and found it fenced and covered with solar panels. Similarly, I was devastated to find out that my best dove hunting location has been approved for utility-scale solar development. I’m left wondering if the biological and social costs of developing large solar facilities on intact, otherwise undisturbed public lands might outweigh the incremental benefits they will provide in our fight to save the climate.

Public Opposition

I was somewhat relieved to find out that I am not alone in thinking that utility-scale solar development might not be the highest and best use of our precious public lands. The public comments during the BLM’s scoping meetings on its Western Solar Plan revision were almost universally opposed to expanding utility-scale solar development on public lands.

These comments come in the context of explosive year-over-year increases in recreational demand on our public lands, and an article in High Country News revealing that if solar panels were put on top of big box stores in the 11 Western states targeted by the BLM, they would generate more than 31 million megawatt-hours of electricity—vastly exceeding the administration’s goals. While there are significant logistical and regulatory constraints to increasing distributed solar generation on big box stores and other existing developments, the public is asking why we aren’t tackling these problems head-on before we further compromise our public lands with additional utility-scale solar development.

Final Thoughts and How to Get Involved

The TRCP and our partners came together during the BLM’s public scoping comment period to provide detailed recommendations on how to minimize the impacts of utility-scale solar development on public lands while increasing generating capacity. Specifically, we urged officials to focus development on previously disturbed lands and exclude areas with high habitat or recreational value. You can still join us by commenting when the BLM releases a draft programmatic environmental impact statement—likely late this summer or early next fall. Look for future communications here at trcp.org and on our social media for how to get involved when the draft is released.

February 22, 2023

Five Ways Lawmakers Can Write a Better Farm Bill for Conservation

PLUS: Nine direct benefits for hunters and anglers

One of the most impressive things about TRCP’s work with 63 organizational partners is that it allows us to bring together the best minds in conservation to influence specific hunting and fishing legislation—and the Farm Bill is one of the most impactful examples.

Farm Bill conservation programs, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, conserve and restore fish and wildlife habitat, expand hunting access, and build resilient farms and ranches. The Farm Bill is also the single-largest source of private lands conservation funding, providing roughly $6 billion annually through voluntary, incentive-based programs that benefit landowners, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.

The 2018 Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, 2023, and Congress is currently developing its next five-year bill. To make sure your voice is heard during the 2023 Farm Bill debate, the 27 member organizations of TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group created a roadmap to improving the Farm Bill’s most important programs, and we’re sharing it with decision-makers right now.

Here’s what you need to know about this list of top priorities, how it was made, and what benefits hunters and anglers can expect if our recommendations are included in a final bill.

Aligned and On Time

Going into a Farm Bill debate, it is critical to have our community pulling in the same direction. This platform was carefully built to reflect the priorities of a huge swath of the hunting, fishing, and conservation community. Because the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are now soliciting input on the next Farm Bill, the TRCP was able to raise these priorities during a recent listening session hosted by the House committee chair, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.)

We look forward to the Senate Committee’s first hearing on the conservation title on March 1, when we can do the same thing for decision-makers in that chamber. Having the hunt-fish community clearly aligned on our priorities ahead of this hearing strengthens our voice.

Bringing Together the Best

Each of the Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group’s member organizations brings expertise on some subset of the Farm Bill, whether it’s the particulars of forest management for wild turkeys, wetland easements to protect waterfowl habitat, or agricultural practices that improve water quality for trout. In this platform, every recommendation has been proposed and justified by an AWWG member and vetted by the group. For example, if an AWWG member proposes a change to CRP to benefit pheasants, the rest of the group reviews that change to make sure that it doesn’t have unexpected downsides to species like deer or ducks. Every recommendation on the list has made it through this process—which takes multiple meetings over many months—meaning it has been vetted by some of the best conservation minds in the country.

Key Recommendations and Outcomes

Every item in this platform would benefit hunters and anglers. If adopted, these provisions would help:

  • Stabilize streamflow in trout waters
  • Reduce algal blooms and winter kill in walleye lakes
  • Increase pheasant and quail populations
  • Create and enhance waterfowl nesting habitat
  • Protect forests and farmland from urban encroachment
  • Reduce wildfire risk while building habitat for deer, turkeys, and grouse
  • Expand hunting and fishing access
  • Restore native grasslands
  • Benefit non-game species, drinking water, air quality, climate mitigation, and more

There’s plenty to like in there. Here are just some of the overarching recommendations that would help to get these things done.

 

Maintain Conservation Funding

Title II, or the Conservation Title, of the Farm Bill is where a huge chunk of wildlife-related work gets done. Even though these programs have great ecological outcomes, massive landowner demand, and are strictly voluntary, they can be targeted for cuts when lawmakers want to tighten budgets. If we’re not careful, debates can also break out over the allocation of funding between the various conservation programs. This is particularly important in this farm bill because recently passed legislation has given many of our favorite programs more funding than they have ever seen. Fortunately, the hunting and fishing community remains broadly united in support of maintaining Farm Bill conservation program funding. Sportsmen and sportswomen pushed for these conservation wins for years, and we must stay the course.

 

Boost CRP

In recent Farm Bills, incentives to enroll land in the Conservation Reserve Program have been reduced or eliminated altogether. These cuts, coupled with high crop prices, have led to reduced landowner interest and low CRP enrollment, resulting in a loss of wildlife habitat. Our community is aligned on restoring incentives and building commonsense management flexibility into CRP, which would put it on a trajectory back toward historical acreage levels – which means more pheasant, quail, and waterfowl habitat . One bill that would do this, supported by the TRCP, is the CRP Improvement Act from Senators Thune and Klobuchar.

 

Invest in Access

There is no other Farm Bill program that affects hunters and anglers more directly than the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, which assists states who provide incentives to landowners for walk-in access to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation on their lands. Current funding levels are far from meeting demand , and economic analyses of the programs show a huge return on investment while expanding hunting opportunities. To meet state demand for this program, we’re recommending the VPA-HIP be funded at no less than $150 million, tripling the current level of support for this program.

 

Ensure Conservation Incentives Lead to Measurable Fish and Wildlife Benefits

We’ve also proposed that lawmakers maintain an important requirement of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that carves out at least 10 percent of program funding for wildlife habitat practices. EQIP provides planning assistance and cost share to landowners who want to be better stewards of their farms, ranches, and forests. The Natural Resources Conservation Service reserves a certain percentage of the funds it receives for livestock producers, new farmers and ranchers, and wildlife. We need to make sure that wildlife continues to receive its fair share and that these dollars produce measurable benefits.

 

Provide Adequate Landowner Support

None of these programs can get habitat on the ground without staff to meet with landowners, evaluate conservation opportunities, create a conservation plan, and enroll them in programs to fit that plan. The USDA is doing more work with fewer staff than at any other time in history. The 2023 Farm Bill needs to help the USDA staff up internally and simplify processes for partnerships with local governments and nonprofit organizations with shared conservation goals.

 

How You Can Help

The Farm Bill is the largest conservation legislation that will come before the 118th Congress, and it’s critical that hunters and anglers are at the table to ensure that habitat and wildlife remain central to sensible farm policy in the United States. If you support and want to share this platform with your elected officials, take action now.

 

Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs and how they affect you at trcp.org/farmbill.

February 9, 2023

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.”

This alignment will be critical as Congress debates ways to cut back on non-defense spending and the hunting, fishing, and conservation community braces to defend private land conservation funding secured by the Inflation Reduction Act.

“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.”

View “Hunter and Angler Priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill” and the full roster of contributors here.

Learn more about the benefits of farm bill conservation programs here.

January 24, 2023

Has Congress Put Public Land Sales Back on the Table?

House rules could make it easier to sell or transfer federal public lands to the states, an idea broadly opposed by hunters and anglers

As of January 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives “rules” package, which determines how the chamber will operate this session, includes a change that makes it easier for the federal government to sell off or give away your public lands.

The new rule removes the Congressional Budget Office’s requirement to consider the financial value of public lands if selling or transferring those lands to other entities. American sportsmen and sportswomen handily beat back similar efforts to devalue and shift ownership of public lands nearly a decade ago—and we are ready and willing to do it again.

America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands—including lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—provide irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and public hunting and fishing opportunities for millions of Americans. These lands are so important for access in the West that nearly three-quarters of Western hunters depend on them for access, and they support the $689-billion outdoor recreation economy.

Quite simply, hunting and fishing would not exist as we know them if it weren’t for the public lands that provide all Americans with outdoor opportunities, free of charge.

The idea that our public lands should be sold off and given away seems to resurface every decade or three. It usually goes like this: A group of ill-informed decision-makers come to the conclusion that public lands are frivolous and unnecessary and should be sold off or transferred to some other authority. The idea sprung up in the 1970s and early 1980s with the Sagebrush Rebellion and then resurfaced in the 2010s.

From 2014 through early 2017, this idea was pushed hard in state legislatures and in Congress by a group of misguided lawmakers. In 2015 alone, a total of 37 individual bills were proposed in 11 Western states, all aimed at selling or transferring your public lands. But things really came to a head in early 2017, when former Congressman Jason Chaffetz introduced H.B. 621, which would have sold off 3.3 million federal acres.

Hunters and anglers recognized these bills as a threat and mobilized in force to stop them. For our part, the TRCP launched its Sportsmen’s Access campaign, which enabled more than 66,000 individuals to send letters to their lawmakers, encouraging them to oppose any effort to undermine public lands. The TRCP further joined with 114 national and local Western hunt-fish organizations and worked with 23 counties in six Western states to oppose this misguided idea.

In the end, the vast majority of state bills failed and most state and federal lawmakers—getting the message that the idea was deeply unpopular—quickly distanced themselves from the position that our public lands should be sold or transferred. On the campaign trail that year, Donald Trump stated his clear opposition to the concept of selling public lands, essentially ending the debate—until now.

Unfortunately, some lawmakers are again aiming for your public lands, and they’ve started their efforts with the recent House rules change. The good news is that we’ve never seen an issue resonate more clearly with hunters and anglers than the threat of public land disposal.

The TRCP will continue its important work of collaborating on real-world solutions to habitat and access challenges in this Congress. But if lawmakers want to pick this fight again, we are also ready and willing to take them on.

 

Photo by Josh Metten (@joshmettenphoto)

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.

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