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posted in: General

May 15, 2024

How the Farm Bill Can Support Wildlife Migration on Private Land

The bipartisan, bicameral Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act would allow USDA to leverage Farm Bill conservation programs to benefit wildlife habitat connectivity and migration corridors in partnership with farmers, ranchers, and landowners.

In the Western U.S., where public lands regularly intermix with privately owned parcels, the ability to extend conservation efforts beyond fence lines is critical to conserving big game migration corridors and wildlife habitat connectivity. To access critical food sources throughout the year, animals like mule deer, antelope, and elk must be able to travel freely across the landscape utilizing historic migration corridors.  When these routes lose functionality or habitat, wildlife faces great risks.  Expanding voluntary efforts to improve wildlife habitat on private and working lands is crucial to ensuring that the next generation of sportsmen and sportswomen can experience the wonder of the outdoors.

Farm Bill conservation programs can play a pivotal role in corridor conservation, yet for many landowners and agricultural producers, inflexible program policies, bundles of red tape tied to conservation practices, and prohibitive restrictions on farm and ranch operations limit both the appeal and conservation outcomes of these programs.

“The farms and ranches of the West provide much of the essential habitat that wildlife need to survive. Most landowners care deeply about wildlife and yet the costs associated with supporting wildlife can jeopardize their ability to stay in business,” said Lesli Allison, CEO of the Western Landowners Alliance. “As more and more land is developed, the pressure is increasing on the remaining intact private lands to provide food and shelter for many different species. The bipartisan Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act ensures ranchers and farmers have access to the full suite of tools and resources to conserve and steward these lands for the benefit of people and wildlife.”

For example, producers enrolling in the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (GRCP) currently forfeit eligibility to receive cost-share and assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to address other resource concerns like invasive species, erosion, plant diversity, and wildlife habitat. That is a significant barrier to western farmers and ranchers who look to the Farm Bill for help in their efforts to create and enhance habitat for wildlife, while improving the economic viability of their operation.

Recognizing this, the USDA launched its Migratory Big Game Initiative (MBGI) in 2022 through a partnership with the state of Wyoming. Under the partnership, the USDA tested an innovative application of Farm Bill conservation programs to support farmers and ranchers stewarding key habitat for migratory big game species in Wyoming. Through the partnership, producers in WY are eligible to receive cost-share and technical assistance through EQIP to improve habitat and remove barriers to migrating wildlife in tandem with annual rental payments through GCRP that relieve development and conversion pressure on working lands in priority migration areas in exchange for improved livestock management.   

This partnership has proven as successful as it is innovative. In Wyoming, conservation program enrollments in priority corridors jumped 264% compared to pre-partnership levels. Despite that, USDA is unable to expand this model nationwide under the MBGI without a change to the 2018 Farm Bill. That is where the bipartisan Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act introduced by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Representatives Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) comes in.   

“Western ranchers work daily to combat ecological challenges, improve water access, and `conserve millions of acres of healthy habitat for their herds and for native wildlife species. This bipartisan bill makes practical updates to successful, existing conservation programs to maximize the benefits of working lands for our native wildlife,” said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of the Public Lands Council. “We appreciate Congressman Zinke and Congressman Vasquez’s work to incentivize and leverage ranchers’ investment in wildlife conservation.”  

The Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act codifies the MBGI model and would allow USDA to leverage the unique benefits GRCP and EQIP together nationwide. It also spurs USDA research on virtual fencing technologies, includes conservation and restoration of wildlife habitat connectivity as a critical conservation area under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and provides greater incentives through EQIP for the adoption of conservation practices that conserve or restore wildlife habitat connectivity.     

This bill builds on the MBGI program model popular with farmers and ranchers, allowing them to better tailor Farm Bill conservation programs to their operation’s specific needs. And it is good for wildlife, as Farm Bill conservation programs can be more precisely targeted for specific benefits, like improving habitat connectivity.   

“Farmers and ranchers have an immense opportunity to help wildlife endure and thrive for future generations,” said Aviva Glaser, senior director for agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “This common-sense, bipartisan legislation will help farmers, ranchers, and landowners support the wildlife that migrate through their fields, pastures, and forests — and the hunters, anglers, birders, and outdoor recreationists that enjoy them. Congress should include this common sense, no-cost proposal in the 2024 Farm Bill and strengthen U.S. Department of Agriculture voluntary conservation programs.”  

TRCP is excited about the Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act because it helps complement successful public land corridor conservation efforts with the long track-record of voluntary, incentive-based conservation on private land promoted through the Farm Bill. We appreciate the leadership of Senator Heinrich and Congressmen Zinke and Vasquez in introducing this legislation and hope to see this common-sense bill included in the Farm Bill as a clear win-win for agricultural producers and wildlife.  

Working lands provide key habitat for migratory fish and wildlife, including big game like elk and mule deer. USDA’s voluntary conservation programs need to work together to support farmers and ranchers who create and enhance this habitat, and the next Farm Bill is our opportunity to make that happen.” said Becky Humphries, CEO at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act removes unnecessary barriers to working lands stewardship. The TRCP thanks Senator Heinrich and Congressmen Zinke and Vasquez for their leadership on this bill and urges its inclusion in the Farm Bill.”

Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs here

Photo: Josh Metten


You can help. Conservation is, and should be, a shared priority regardless of party affiliation or ideology. Congress needs to hear that this is important to you. Take action here.

One Response to “How the Farm Bill Can Support Wildlife Migration on Private Land”

  1. Dear TRCP-, I found this Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act to be essential to the Restoration of wild Antelope migrations. I live in Idaho and Central Idaho is a large migration corridor for Western Antelope, whom travel far and wide in herds. I am proud to be an avid Outdoorsman and Wildlife Conservationist at heart, and I know, Antelope in Idaho and Wyoming are a spectacular natural wonder that need our works for habitat Connectivity to remain stable and thrive importantly.
    Thank You.

    Mr. Kent Salisbury
    Moscow, Idaho
    83843

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posted in: General

May 13, 2024

Hunters and Anglers Applaud Senate Passage of the Bipartisan ACE Reauthorization Act  

The ACE Reauthorization Act aims to boost funding and provide vital enhancements to conservation programs benefiting fish and wildlife. 

The America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Reauthorization Act of 2024 passed the Senate on Wednesday May 8, 2024, by unanimous consent. The ACE Reauthorization Act was sponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and would reauthorize multiple programs that benefit hunting and angling including, the National Fish Habitat Partnership, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Chesapeake Bay Program, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It also helps address threats like chronic wasting disease. This reauthorization provides technical improvements, administrative streamlining, and increased authorized funds to improve these programs. 

“The America’s Conservation Enhancement Reauthorization Act will benefit fish and wildlife while enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities for millions of hunters and anglers,” said Becky Humphries, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “TRCP applauds the Senate’s passage of this important bipartisan legislation and looks forwards to building on the success of these crucial programs.” 

The original ACE Act was passed in 2020 and sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Many of its authorizations expire next year, necessitating the passage of the ACE Reauthorization act to ensure these programs can continue to operate in good legal standing.  

The ACE Act is co-sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Angus King (I-ME) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). 

The legislation is endorsed by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Ducks Unlimited, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation, American Sportfishing Association, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the National Audubon Society. 

The TRCP looks forward to working with the House of Representatives to ensure this essential legislation for hunters and anglers becomes law.  

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.   

Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to healthy habitat and clean water here. 

Photo: Josh Metten

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May 8, 2024

New Legislation Would Support Wildlife Habitat on Private Lands 

The Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act is aimed at expanding voluntary efforts to enhance wildlife habitat connectivity on private and working lands. 

Today, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Congressmen Ryan Zinke (R-Mont) and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) introduced the Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act. This bill would support and expand voluntary efforts to improve wildlife habitat, including big game habitat, on private and working lands.  

Building on the success of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Migratory Big Game Initiative in Wyoming, the bill would allow the USDA to leverage unique cost-share, technical assistance, and payments provided under the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (GCRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for the benefit of wildlife and agricultural producers. These common-sense improvements remove administrative barriers that limit both the conservation outcomes and relevance to producers working to conserve important fish and wildlife habitat on private land.  

“Working lands provide key habitat for migratory fish and wildlife, including big game like elk and mule deer. USDA’s voluntary conservation programs need to work together to support farmers and ranchers who create and enhance this habitat, and the next Farm Bill is our opportunity to make that happen.” said Becky Humphries, CEO at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act removes unnecessary barriers to working lands stewardship. The TRCP thanks Senator Heinrich and Congressmen Zinke and Vasquez for their leadership on this bill and urges its inclusion in the Farm Bill.” 

The bill also spurs UDSA research on virtual fencing technologies, which allow for greater wildlife movement and animal safety on livestock operations and provides greater incentive through EQIP for the adoption of conservation practices that conserve or restore wildlife habitat connectivity.   


Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs here

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posted in: General

April 26, 2024

TRCP Breaks Down Updates to BLM’s Oil and Gas Leasing Policies  

The Bureau of Land Management has modernized its rules regarding oil and gas leasing on public land to reduce conflict between oil and gas development and fish, wildlife resources  

Sportsmen and sportswomen have been promoting responsible land use and energy development for decades. Our community spends a lot of time exploring public lands, and at some point we all experience how energy development can impact our favorite time-honored traditions, recreational pursuits, and the fish and wildlife populations we love. 

This is why we’re pleased that the Bureau of Land Management has modernized national onshore oil and gas leasing regulations to help reduce the conflict between oil and gas development and other important multiple uses, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife habitat. Some of these updated rules come directly from the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress in 2022 and are required to allow BLM staff to implement that new law. Many of BLM’s rules governing oil and gas leasing on public lands were over fifty years old; these new rules are more up to speed with modern day science and technological advancements, resource needs, and state and federal guidance. That is just good policy.  

Below are a few specific provisions from the updated rules that will help conserve your hunting and fishing opportunities and cultural resources where oil and gas development occurs: 

Updated bonding requirements. When for-profit entities develop public lands, the government should ensure that those entities can cover associated clean-up costs in the future to protect public land users and landscapes. One way to do this is to require bond money at the beginning of a project lifecycle. Oil and gas infrastructure, operations, ongoing maintenance, and reclamation have all become more costly since the existing bond rate was set in 1960, therefore the updated rule increases the minimum lease bond amount for developers/operators from $10,000 to $150,000, and the minimum statewide bond to $500,000. This will reduce the number of abandoned wells that taxpayers must foot the bill to clean up, which helps public land that’s no longer in production go back to providing us all with room to roam. 

Prioritization for leasing outside of important wildlife and cultural areas. The updated rule will help steer oil and gas leasing and development away from important wildlife habitats, such as migration corridors, and cultural sites, and toward lands with existing infrastructure or high production potential. 

Increased royalty rates. Because BLM’s leasing and development regulations allow for-profit entities to generate revenue from producing public assets (including oil, gas, and other hydrocarbons and minerals) on federal public land, a small portion of that revenue is paid back to the public agency through royalty payments. Under the new rules, royalty rates for leases will increase.  For leases issued during the 10 years after the effective date of the Inflation Reduction Act the royalty rate will be 16.67 percent (up from 12.5 percent), and after August 16, 2032, the rate of 16.67 percent will become the minimum. 

Increased minimum bid requirements. BLM oil and gas lease auctions have a minimum bid amount established to ensure that public lands and minerals maintain a minimum base value across the country. The BLM’s updated rules, per the Inflation Reduction Act, will increase the national minimum bid from $2 per acre to $10 per acre. A higher minimum bid rate will help ensure that only lands with high development potential are leased at auction and that the public lands we all value so much aren’t sold for pennies. 

Minimum rental rates per acre. Normally, lessees can hold on to federal onshore oil and gas leases for ten-year terms. The BLM’s new rules, per the Inflation Reduction Act, include a rental fee of $3 per acre per year during the first 2-year period of the lease term; a $5 per acre per year for the following 6 years; and then $15 per acre per year thereafter. After August 16, 2032, those rental rates will become minimums and could be increased. This creates a financial incentive for developers to release leases if they have no intention of developing them.   

Expression of interest fee. BLM staff assess all parcels for which there are ‘expressions of interest’ in leasing, and companies or individuals can propose lists of parcels whether they fully intend to bid on them during lease auctions or not. By adding a fee of $5 per acre, or a fraction thereof, for filing expressions of interest, the BLM will encourage speculators to submit expressions of interest for parcels for which there is genuine interest and value, which will likely reduce administrative burden on BLM staff as well. 

The case for updating BLM oil and gas leasing policies 

We all use significant amounts of energy to power our day-to-day activities and to get us to our favorite hunting and fishing spots, so ensuring that energy is developed responsibly is critical to maintaining our way of life.  

The 2024 Colorado College Conservation in the West Poll found that ninety percent of Western voters believe that oil and gas companies should pay to clean up their messes – a burden taxpayers have shouldered for too long. Also, sixty-three percent of Western voters believe drilling should only occur on land with the highest likelihood of producing oil and gas. The new oil and gas rule addresses both of these concerns by steering leasing away from land with little potential for drilling, and raising bonding rates to limit future abandoned and orphaned wells.  

The TRCP supports updating federal rules to facilitate low-impact and high-return energy development (including but not limited to oil and gas development) when and where it is appropriate according to the best data, science, and policy.  

These updates are not anticipated to impact domestic energy production but will ensure taxpayers receive a better rate of return on that development, and fewer impacts and disruptions to our public land pursuits and traditions. 

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April 19, 2024

BLM Announces Big Wins for Wildlife, Hunters, and Anglers on 13 Million Acres of Public Lands in Northern Alaska

The Central Yukon Resource Management Plan includes measures to safeguard important habitat and world-class recreation opportunities

Today, after more than a decade of engagement with local residents, Alaska Native Tribes, hunters and anglers, and conservation and development interests, the Bureau of Land Management released a revised resource management plan for 13.3 million acres of BLM-managed public lands in northern Alaska.

The Central Yukon planning area features some of the most valued big game species in Alaska—including Dall sheep, moose, and caribou—and 25 species of fish. The area is perhaps best recognized for the Dalton Highway Corridor, also known as the Haul Road. This unique recreation destination allows for some of the most remote—yet road accessible—hike-in and float trips in Alaska. BLM-managed lands within the 56-million-acre planning area provide important habitat connectivity between several conservation units that are prized by hunters and anglers, including five national wildlife refuges.

“The BLM’s revised Central Yukon plan is great news for Alaskans and visiting hunters and anglers who know and treasure these wild public lands, and for everyone who dreams of an iconic Haul Road hunting or fishing trip,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska senior program manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The hunting and fishing community has been involved in this plan revision for many years. We thank the BLM for adopting several habitat-focused measures in the final plan, which, as a whole, appropriately balances conservation and development interests.”

The plan contains measures that avoid or minimize impacts to fish, wildlife, and important habitats; outlines steps to prepare for the growing recreational demand along the Dalton Corridor that is expected to increase over the next two decades; and maintains existing conservation safeguards that were already in place to uphold the quality hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities of the region. To manage for continued hunting and fishing opportunities in the Dalton Corridor, the BLM is proposing to adopt a Backcountry Conservation Area, a land use allocation focused on habitat conservation and wildlife dependent recreation that allows for other traditional uses to continue. The plan additionally includes provisions to conserve habitat for caribou and Dall sheep. 

Following a 60-day review period, the BLM will issue an approved RMP and Record of Decision. Once final, the RMP will guide landscape-level management and the various uses allowed on BLM lands in this region for the next 20 or more years.

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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