As lawmakers examine the implications of Sackett v EPA, TRCP and partners highlight how the future of hunting and fishing opportunities depends on protecting and restoring our nations’ wetlands and streams.
On October 18, 2023, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing which further emphasized the risk to America’s hunting and fishing heritage resulting from the Supreme Court’s ruling, Sackett v EPA, and the recent conforming rule issued by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. The hearing coincided with the 51st year of the Clean Water Act and gathered testimony to examine the full implications of these landmark decisions.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, alongside the Wild Salmon Center, Trout Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America, Fly Fishers International, and the American Fisheries Society submitted a letter for the record to the committee calling on Congress to take action to protect and restore our nations’ waters in the wake of Sackett v EPA. The future of hunting and fishing opportunities for our children, and our children’s children, depends on it. Here are three reasons why:
Wetlands and Tributary Streams Are Vital to Hunting and Fishing
The health of our nation’s watersheds is the barometer of our wildlife and fish populations. Aquatic habitat and connectivity in the vital network of small, tributary streams and in their downstream rivers not only provide fish habitat, but also provide essential habitat for upland birds, deer, bears, and many other wildlife species. The vast category of “non-adjacent” wetlands—that no longer benefit from federal protections after the Agencies’ conforming rule—provide essential migratory bird and duck habitat, such as the deservedly famous prairie pothole region. Places that serve as vital nesting grounds for migratory birds are at risk too, such as the groundwater dependent wetlands and springs in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and California’s Central Valley.
Overall, wetlands provide breeding grounds for over half of North American waterfowl. The loss of these protections puts wildlife populations and crucial habitat at risk and, in turn, would mean fewer quality hunting and fishing opportunities for future generations.
Aquatic Resources Are at Risk.
Aquatic resources, vital to maintaining the “. . . physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” are now at risk. A 404 Permit is no longer required prior to their destruction or harm if non-adjacent wetlands are located where a new development, road, bridge, pipeline, or transmission line is proposed. This means that a 404 Permit’s requirement to avoid, minimize, or mitigate harm no longer applies to non-adjacent wetlands. EPA estimates that between 51-63% of wetlands are at risk of loss under its conforming rule. In addition to the loss of wetlands, the conforming rule’s limitation to “relatively permanent, standing, or continuously flowing” tributary streams as coming under Clean Water Act jurisdiction, means that ephemeral streams are at risk.
A recent analysis calculated that 57% of the nation’s total stream miles are ephemeral. These networks of headwater streams not only function as the vital capillaries of the larger arteries in our watersheds, but they also convey pollutants downstream with their seasonal flows. The loss of federal protections for these headwater features means the potential for more pollution downstream in addition to the loss of aquatic function and habitats on which many of the species we as hunters and anglers rely.
Outdoor Recreation is a Sustainable Economic Driver.
Clean water is a lynchpin of an outdoor recreation economy that creates 4.3 million jobs and generates $689 billion in consumer spending annually. What’s more, the entire outdoor recreation industry is built on sustaining and protecting aquatic resources, as opposed to industries that encroach on or pollute these vital, national resources. A national bipartisan poll shows that 92% of hunters and anglers support clean water protections. Healthy habitat and clean water serve as the backbone of the outdoor economy, and this link will help drive future economic opportunities and the chances for future generations of hunters and anglers to enjoy the great outdoors.
Over the past 50 years, the Clean Water Act has been the driving force to protect water quality and enhance the condition of rivers, lakes, wetlands, and other water bodies of the United States. The next 50 years present even greater challenges, from newly discovered toxins in drinking water to extreme weather events super-charged by climate change. High-functioning watersheds are the best bulwark of protection from these threats.
Click here to watch the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing, Examining the Implications of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency for Clean Water Act Protections of Wetlands and Streams.