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March 22, 2023

It’s Time to Build on Recent Commitments to Addressing Drought in the Colorado River Basin

Once-in-a-generation investments have just been made, but it’s only a down payment on the long-term effort needed to ensure the future of hunting and fishing in this critically important watershed

The Colorado River has the well-deserved nickname of the hardest working river in America. The river’s usage is as diverse as the people and species it serves.

Thirty different Tribes and a third of the U.S. Latino population depend on the Colorado River, which flows through two countries and provides drinking water to 40 million people across seven states. Its waters provide us with power for our homes and businesses, irrigate crops that are sent all over the country, and support critical fish and wildlife habitat that power our hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Currently, the Colorado River Basin is in a 23-year drought—the worst dry period in 1,200 years. With above average snowfall so far this year in portions of the basin, some have indicated that the drought is over. The truth is that we need several years of above average snow across the basin to make a substantial dent in the drought.

The news is not all bleak for the Colorado River. Recently, $4 billion in federal funds were made available to address drought impacts and support habitat restoration in the West, with the vast majority of these funds going to address the Colorado River crisis. The Bureau of Reclamation and seven states, with input from Tribes and other critical stakeholders, are also in the process of developing new strategies to manage the Colorado River system in ways that address the concerns of agricultural producers, sustain drinking water supplies, and benefit the environment.

We commend the Biden-Harris Administration for its leadership and the substantial investments it has made to tackle drought in the West, and specifically the Colorado River Basin. In February of this year, for example, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that $728 million would be spent to address Western drought and improve climate resilience.

This new funding, made possible by legislation passed in the last two years, supplements unprecedented investments to protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River System now and into the future. Additionally, the Department of Interior recently announced an additional $120 million to rebuild and restore units of the National wildlife Refuge system and partnering State wildlife Management Areas.

But there is more to be done. These federal investments are only a down payment on the longer-term need to address the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin. Sustained, durable investments in a broad range of adaptation strategies will be necessary.

The challenges in the Colorado River Basin serve as a reminder that we need to live as part of nature and not separate from it. If you agree, help us advocate for additional long-term solutions that will ensure the future of hunting and fishing in the Colorado River Basin. Tell Congress and Interior Secretary Haaland to build on recent commitments to conservation in the Colorado River Basin.

 

Learn more about what is at stake for the Colorado River here.

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February 14, 2023

USDA Reveals How Nearly $1B in New Conservation Funding Will Be Spent

The hunting and fishing community will work with Secretary Vilsack to ensure that fish and wildlife benefit from once-in-a-generation investments

This week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced how his department would be rolling out $850 million in new conservation funding, the first round of investments made possible by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. The TRCP applauds this move to help fund oversubscribed private land conservation programs at the Natural Resources Conservation Service that benefit fish, wildlife, habitat connectivity, and hunting and fishing opportunities in rural America.

The once-in-a-generation influx of conservation spending will support a diverse range of voluntary activities, such as planting filter strips and grassed waterways, improving grazing management, and restoring wetlands. These practices are being prioritized for their carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reduction benefits, in addition to co-benefits of wildlife habitat and water quality improvements.

“Investing in working lands conservation has huge potential to benefit hunters and anglers,” says Aaron Field, director of private lands conservation for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The TRCP looks forward to working with the NRCS to ensure that fish and wildlife see dividends from climate-smart practices and that staff across the country have the tools and flexibility they need to get conservation on the ground.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also unveiled a Western Water and Working Lands Framework for Conservation Action—a comprehensive, multi-state strategy under the NRCS to address key water and land management needs. This includes supporting conservation practices that protect groundwater and surface availability and enhancing resilience to drought and other natural hazards. The USDA will also provide an additional $25 million in funding to support investments in more resilient water infrastructure in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation.

“Today’s announcement of a Western water framework is a positive first step by the USDA to develop a strategic roadmap for assisting the region’s farmers and ranchers in responding to drought and other natural hazards,” says Alexander Funk, director of water resources and senior counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We look forward to working with the department to direct necessary resources toward helping producers become more resilient to drought and other water resource challenges, maximizing co-benefits for fish and wildlife, and demonstrating the value of nature-based solutions to climate change, such as restoring wetland and riparian ecosystems.”

Many of these investments into the future of our watersheds will also help enhance fish and wildlife habitat. For example, modernizing irrigation infrastructure to improve water availability can help keep more water in streams and rivers during critical summer months, while minimizing other climate change impacts, such as warmer stream temperatures that have recently contributed to fishing closures on popular Western rivers. Farmers and ranchers also benefit from these infrastructure improvements through reduced labor and maintenance costs.

Learn more about nature-based solutions and how healthy habitat can help reverse climate change here.

 

Photo shows micro-irrigation being installed on a drought-stressed pecan tree farm. Image by J.M. Villarreal/USDA. More details on flickr.

December 16, 2022

Top 10 Conservation Issues of 2022 (According to You!)

TRCP members showed the most support for these legislative solutions and conservation priorities in 2022

Since our founding in 2002, the TRCP has existed to unite hunters and anglers around common goals and then bring the strong, unified voice of our community directly to decision-makers, who can implement pragmatic solutions that benefit fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation access.

Our best metric of success is whether we’ve compelled you—our members, readers, and social followers—to act in support of conservation, whether that’s by signing a petition, sending a message to your lawmakers, attending a public hearing or rally, or donating to keep our work going.

In looking back on this year—our 20th anniversary—we saw a pattern of strong support for many issues, both national and regional in scope. More than 30,000 of you took action at least once in 2022. Here are the issues that convinced the most sportsmen and sportswomen to speak up.

Menhaden and Forage Fish Management

Generating an overwhelming wave of support from anglers and residents of the Virginia coast, the TRCP petition urging Governor Glenn Youngkin to move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay became our most viral action alert of the year.

Sportsmen and sportswomen from the Gulf of Mexico to Maine have been primed to act on the menhaden issue since we began sharing the impact of reduction fishing on sportfishing opportunities years ago, but multiple net spills and fish kills this past summer brought even more attention to Omega Protein’s bad behavior.

The majority support of our community makes the inadequate response from some decision-makers all the more frustrating. While anglers successfully pushed for stronger menhaden management in the Atlantic as recently as 2020, this most recent call for regulation in the Bay was met with disappointing results. Similarly, in Louisiana, legislation that would have established buffer zones and more accountability for industrial menhaden harvesters was roundly supported by anglers but ultimately failed.

Our work for menhaden, and the need for your support, continues.

Public Land Access and Management

Unsurprisingly, public land issues came in next on the list, with many opportunities for sportsmen and sportswomen to weigh in on national and local proposals and protect against threats to habitat and access. TRCP supporters have long defended public hunting and fishing opportunities, and some had reason this year to remind decision-makers that our community strongly opposes the sale or transfer of national public lands to the states.

You also spoke out about the need for federal agencies to digitize their paper maps and access records and make this information publicly available. Thanks to your support, this is a requirement made by the MAPLand Act, which was signed into law this year.

Finally, hunters and anglers stepped up to advocate for enhanced hunting and fishing opportunities and balanced, science-based management of national forests, refuges, and BLM public lands in Oregon, Montana, Nevada, and Alaska. Support for hunting and fishing opportunities in the Last Frontier was especially apparent: Across four different campaigns, TRCP members in Alaska and across the country supported re-establishing conservation safeguards for roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest, maintaining 28 million acres of prime habitat known as D-1 lands, preventing degradation of remote caribou and grizzly hunting areas in the Brooks Range, and creating commonsense protections against mine waste in Bristol Bay.

Grasslands and Sagebrush Conservation

Talk about grassroots advocacy! The TRCP and a diverse coalition of groups first appealed to hunters and anglers in 2021 to support a solution for restoring and conserving disappearing grasslands and sagebrush habitat. At the time, our groups offered a proposal: Pattern a program for native grasslands off the successful North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which empowers private landowners to conserve and improve waterfowl habitat.

The response from conservationists was so overwhelming that lawmakers introduced legislation to create just such a program this fall. The action alert is still live, pushing for support of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act, which is unlikely to pass this Congress but has many champions who will make another run at securing this solution in the next session.

Photo by Ken Mattison
Chronic Wasting Disease Solutions

In the past two years, hunters in this community have gotten us closer than ever before to sending more adequate federal resources to state and Tribal wildlife agencies that are struggling to respond to the rapid spread of CWD among wild deer and elk. As a result, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act sailed through the House in 2021. This year, thousands of you have pushed senators to pick up the baton and lock down these investments in better surveillance and testing and next-level science. We hope to have good news to share on this any day now.

You also called on the USDA to hold captive deer operations accountable for their role in spreading CWD between farm-raised and wild deer. This will be the major focus of our work once legislation is passed, so stay tuned.

Defending Pittman-Robertson Dollars

One bill that we’ll be glad to see on the cutting room floor at the end of this Congress generated outrage (and action) among hunters and anglers who are proud of our essential role in conservation. The RETURN Act, introduced in July of this year, would have obliterated Pittman-Robertson funding, which is collected via excise taxes on our licenses, firearms, and other gear to underwrite habitat improvements, enhanced hunting and fishing access, hunter’s education programs, and new public shooting ranges across the country.

We’re always hesitant to bring too much attention to legislation that appears to have no path forward, but in this case, with the bill co-sponsored by so many decision-makers upon introduction, education and advocacy was necessary. You rose to the occasion, firing off this message and leading some lawmakers to quickly pull their support for the bill.

Water Conservation and Drought Planning

While public lands and looming threats took top spots on this list, a diverse array of water resource issues also attracted your attention in a meaningful way this year. The biennial Water Resources Development Act was a surprising rallying point for hunters and anglers—while the TRCP always advocates for habitat and outdoor recreation in this process, it has rarely been met with so much support from sportsmen and sportswomen. Thanks, in part, to you, WRDA just passed out of the Senate and heads to the president’s desk with important provisions for Mississippi River conservation efforts, natural infrastructure, and Everglades restoration. The Everglades also got a boost in early 2022, but hunters and anglers continue to advocate for completion of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir with federal support.

On a local level, hunters, anglers, and conservationists in Colorado stepped up to ensure that many diverse perspectives were included in the Colorado Water Plan as it was updated this year. And, in Pennsylvania, anglers were increasingly vocal about the need for the highest possible conservation safeguards to be applied swiftly on qualifying wild trout streams. This work will continue in 2023, if you want to be involved.

Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS
Farm Bill Conservation Programs

We also saw strong support for private land conservation programs in one of the most significant, yet commonly overlooked, pieces of legislation for improving habitat and access: the Farm Bill. For the thousands of you who spoke out in support of greater overall investments in private land conservation, a stronger Conservation Reserve Program, and giving a boost to the only federal program aimed at enhancing outdoor recreation access on private land, your timing couldn’t have been better. The most recent five-year Farm Bill expires next fall, and lawmakers will be working in earnest to craft a new package this spring. It is clear that hunters and anglers will be paying attention.

Conservation Funding Proposals

The limitations on our good ideas and strongest conservation policies are nearly always related to how much funding is available. While a balance on federal spending must be maintained, it is worth noting that conservation dollars, as a percentage of all congressional spending, had been cut in half in recent decades. Gains have been made in many existing programs, but new funding sources need to be identified to keep conservation moving forward.

This may be why so many of you were compelled to take action in support of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would proactively fund conservation of the most at-risk species. RAWA would provide dedicated funding to restore habitat, recover wildlife populations, and rebuild the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities—and it could still pass this Congress as an omnibus spending deal comes together.

Wildlife Crossings and Migration Corridors

We can always expect a positive response when we post about wildlife crossings and big game migrations, and it’s easy to see why these are popular topics with sportspeople: Crossings reverse habitat fragmentation, save lives, and keep herds healthy, while trail cam footage of their use—particularly during migrations—is just incredibly cool to see.

Following a big win for habitat connectivity in 2021, we worked to make this community aware of a new federal grant program that would make it possible for more wildlife crossing structures to be built across the country. And there was strong support when we gave you the opportunity to vie for these dollars to be spent in your state. With your help, decision-makers are becoming aware of the need to apply for these resources and get construction underway.

Hunters and anglers also stepped up this year to support conservation of big game seasonal habitats, including wildlife corridors and stopover areas, across the West. Sportsmen and sportswomen in Colorado and Oregon spoke out about proposed land-use plans and legislation affecting these habitats and the possibility of installing wildlife crossings. This work is likely to be important again in the 2023 state legislative sessions.

Nature-Based Climate Solutions

It is easy to feel overwhelmed at the scope of the climate change crisis and how habitat and species are already being affected. But healthier landscapes and waters are powerful solutions, as well. For this reason, we launched a new online educational resource this year to engage hunters and anglers in this conversation and push decision-makers to embrace habitat-powered solutions to climate change. Many of you downloaded our guide to climate change impacts on hunting and fishing and then took the next step to demand action from Congress and federal agencies. The next major opportunity to secure some of these nature-based solutions is in the upcoming Farm Bill debate, so check back here for more in 2023.

A word about advertising:

I want to acknowledge that hunters and anglers can’t take action on these or other conservation priorities if they are not aware of the opportunity to do so. This is why—in addition to reaching out to our email subscribers and social followers—the TRCP uses advertising, particularly on social media, to expose as many potential advocates as possible to a given issue.

The budget to do this varies from campaign to campaign, so there definitely could be an indication of more support for campaigns that can afford more advertising. Still, even with an unlimited budget, we can’t sell anyone on a weak call to action. So, enthusiasm for the above issues is clearly there.

Thank You for Your Commitment

Perhaps you, yourself, were compelled to take action through a Facebook ad or other sponsored post before knowing much about the TRCP. If so, we’re glad you’re here. If you’ve been subscribed to our emails for a while and filled out your first action alert this year, we thank you. It really does make a difference when we can show lawmakers that their constituents care about an issue.

If you would have liked to support one of these issues, but you’re just learning about it now, please consider signing up for TRCP’s emails. Our weekly Roosevelt Report gives a good overview of what’s going on in conservation across the country, while more regionally specific and issue-based emails go out to smaller groups as opportunities to take action arise. And we will never sell your information or spam you.

Signing up is also a great way to get ahead of any new year’s resolutions to get more involved in or informed about conservation. Let us do most of the work and deliver that information directly to your inbox! Expect your first Roosevelt Report to be sent on January 6, 2023.

In closing, we are extremely grateful for your support of TRCP and overall commitment to conservation, habitat, and access this year. Happy holidays, and we hope you have excellent hunting and fishing in 2023.

 

 

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.

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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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.

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