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posted in: Farm Bill

August 9, 2023

Much-Needed Forest Conservation Program Introduced in the Senate    

Lawmakers have introduced a bill to advance private forest conservation that will complement other successful Farm Bill Title II programs. 

The Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP) Act has been introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)  to advance private lands forest conservation and complement other successful Farm Bill programs. Paired with the House version of the bill, sponsored by Representatives Trent Kelly (R-Miss) and Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), this much needed private-lands conservation option continues to gain steam ahead of the 2023 Farm Bill

“Hunters and anglers know that forests are essential for wildlife habitat, local economies, and climate resilience,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Senators Gillibrand and Wicker for their leadership on the Forest Conservation Easement Program. It is a much-needed program that will advance forest conservation and complement other successful Farm Bill Title II programs.” 

Healthy, working forests are a crucial part of our ecosystems, economy, and sporting traditions. The FCEP Act will complement the existing Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and help ensure that America’s forests remain forests by permanently providing the wildlife habitat, water filtration, carbon sequestration, and forest products they deliver today. 

Conservation easements provide a voluntary, incentive-based mechanism for permanently ensuring private land remains undeveloped. The FCEP Act would provide two options to landowners: 

  •  Through Forest Land Easements (FLE), state, local and tribal agencies, and NGOs/land trusts will be able to purchase working forest conservation easements from willing private and tribal landowners, filling a critical void among federal programs. 
  • Through Forest Reserve Easements (FRE), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will purchase forest conservation easements directly from willing private and tribal landowners and provide financial assistance for the management and restoration of the lands to restore, maintain, and enhance habitat for threatened and endangered and other at-risk species. FRE is the successor to and expansion of the existing Healthy Forests Reserve Program. 

The FCEP Act has been championed by The TRCP, The Conservation Fund, Wildlife Mississippi, Land Trust Alliance, National Alliance of Forest Owners, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, and more.  

“Conservation easements are our most durable tool for voluntary, incentive-based conservation on private land,” said Aaron Field, director of private lands conservation at the TRCP. “The FCEP Act applies that tool to working forests, ensuring that they will continue to be an economic driver while providing habitat, clean water, carbon sequestration, and more.”  

TRCP works to maintain and strengthen the future of hunting and fishing by uniting and amplifying our partners’ voices in conserving and restoring wildlife populations and their habitat as challenges continue to evolve.

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posted in: Farm Bill

April 3, 2023

New Legislation Would Help Increase Walk-In Access Program Acres

Lawmakers have introduced the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act to boost an important Farm Bill program that creates public hunting and fishing opportunities on private land

The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 has been introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) to strengthen one of the most critical Farm Bill programs for America’s sportsmen and sportswomen: the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. It is the only federal initiative that helps to create public hunting and fishing opportunities on private land, and this new legislation calls for tripling the program’s impact.

“Lack of access is the largest barrier to hunter and angler participation, and the USDA’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program is the single best federal tool to increase recreational access on private lands,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Senators Daines, Bennet, and Marshall for their leadership on the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act and look forward to working with Congress to expand hunting and fishing opportunities for all Americans.”

The legislation would invest $150 million over the next five years in the VPA-HIP, which provides grants to states and Tribes to be implemented at the local level. This increased investment was among the recommendations made by TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group in its “Hunter and Angler Priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill” released earlier this year.

The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act is supported by more than 30 hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations.

“VPA-HIP is an incredibly important program for hunters, opening nearly one million private acres to public hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation over its lifetime,” says Torin Miller, senior director of policy for the National Deer Association. “Not surprisingly, interest and enrollment in the program is growing. The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 recognizes the growing interest in the program and the importance of maintaining quality hunting access across the country. The bill’s $150-million authorization will ensure expanded and continued enrollment in VPA-HIP, benefiting hunters, landowners, and local communities. The National Deer Association is proud to endorse this legislation.”

“The introduction of the Voluntary Access Improvement Act is very welcome news for duck hunters as VPA-HIP has accomplished significant increases in access for waterfowl hunters,” says John Devney, chief policy officer at Delta Waterfowl. “From the WRICE program in Arkansas to the PLOTS program in North Dakota and WIA and COOP in South Dakota, VPA-HIP is providing important access for hunters across the country. We sincerely appreciate Senators Daines, Bennett and Marshall for advancing this key priority in the 2023 Farm Bill.”

“Since 2008, the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program has opened millions of acres of private lands and waters to America’s anglers,” says Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “We thank Senators Daines, Bennet, and Marshall for their support of this program, which will expand sportfishing opportunities for generations to come.”

The VPA-HIP, once commonly known as “open fields,” has a very special place in the hearts of TRCP’s staff and supporters, as it was championed by our inspirational co-founder, Jim Range, before his untimely death. The program was established and funded through the 2008, 2014, and 2018 Farm Bills—most recently at $50 million over five years—with its impacts felt across the country.

Apart from creating more outdoor recreation access, VPA-HIP funding is also utilized to provide technical and financial assistance to landowners for wildlife habitat improvement and enhancement projects. It is often layered with other Farm Bill programs that have habitat benefits, such as Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Easements. And the program allows states to address liability, alleviating a roadblock for many landowners to open their lands to the public.

Recent studies have shown that the VPA-HIP has a more than eight-to-one return on investment in the form of outdoor recreation spending in rural communities.

Click here to watch a video about some of the many benefits of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program.

 

Photo by USDA

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posted in: Farm Bill

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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posted in: Farm Bill

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.

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posted in: Farm Bill

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.

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.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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