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May 20, 2024

Conservation Funding Assists Restoration at Pennsylvania Wildlife Refuge

The Nature Conservancy works with partners to protect a vital mosaic of trout streams and wetlands at Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Pennsylvania

Northeast Pennsylvania’s Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a special place. Stretching from Wind Gap to the Delaware Water Gap and encompassing a wide variety of topography and wildlife, Cherry Valley is flanked by the Kittatinny Ridge, part of a 185-mile intact and forested wildlife superhighway and renowned bird migration flyway that attracts more than 20,000 hawks, eagles, and falcons each year. This vast and mostly rural landscape also boasts fens and bogs, forests and meadows, farms and fields, and a native brook trout stream that flows through Cherry Valley before it empties into the Delaware River.

TNC’s Su Fanok at work in the refuge. Photo credit: Su Fanok/TNC

The Nature Conservancy began acquiring and protecting land in Cherry Valley in the late 1990s. In 2000, TNC began seeking opportunities to work at larger scales within Cherry Valley. This led to exploring, together with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Monroe County Conservation District, the viability of creating a National Wildlife Refuge.

With local and regional interest high, TNC and the partners joined forces with a then newly formed grassroots group—Friends of Cherry Valley—to mobilize a coalition of businesses, local governments, and civic groups around lobbying Congress to authorize a National Wildlife Refuge. In a bipartisan vote, Congress overwhelmingly approved the 22,000-acre Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge Act in 2008.

One of the refuge’s streams in autumn. Photo credit: Gates Rhodes

Today, the refuge boasts a mosaic of streams, wetlands, fields and forests that support vulnerable, threatened or endangered species including bog turtle and American eel along with common species such as black bears, bobcats, and beavers. TNC has focused on reducing erosion and remediating degraded areas of the stream. We also recently facilitated a practitioner training session about returning large woody debris back into streams in order to provide natural shelter, habitat, and temperature regulation for riverine species, including native brook trout.

Backhoes being used during a practitioner training session at Cherry Valley. Photo credit: Su Fanok/TNC

In recent years, the Cherry Valley Refuge has continued to acquire additional acreage to conserve habitat and protect water quality. More than 2,600 acres acquired through the Conservation Fund were recently conveyed to the refuge with funding from Pennsylvania’s Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund (or Keystone Fund) and other sources. And in late 2023, TNC acquired 78 more acres and transferred them to the USFWS to add to the refuge. The purchase was facilitated with funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Open Space Institute. The project was supported by OSI’s Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, which seeks to protect water quality in the Delaware River Basin.

Cherry Valley is a testament to the power of collaboration. Simply put, much of the work here would not be possible without conservation funding from agencies and state funding through programs like the Keystone Fund, or without tireless commitment from our partners like the USFWS; Monroe and Northampton Counties; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; the Conservation Fund; the Pocono Heritage Land Trust; the Friends of Cherry Valley; and many others!

Blakeslee Farm wetlands in Cherry Valley NWR. Photo credit: Su Fanok/TNC

Cherry Valley is a stellar example of creating an environment where people and nature can flourish. Together, TNC and its partners will continue to implement creative strategies and habitat restoration projects that aim to safeguard wildlife and support local livelihoods throughout the region for years to come.

Su Fanok is the director of freshwater conservation for The Nature Conservancy, a TRCP partner, in Pennsylvania and Delaware. She leads a team of freshwater practitioners working in the waters of both states to ensure the health, sustainability, and resilience of freshwater ecosystems.

Click here to tell Pennsylvania lawmakers to keep funding conservation efforts in the state.

Banner photo credit: Gates Rhodes

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May 16, 2024

American Wetlands Month: Celebrating Progress and Addressing Challenges

TRCP is rallying support for policies to protect and restore wetlands and the role they play in sustaining fish and wildlife.

May is American Wetlands Month – a time to celebrate the vital role wetlands play in sustaining fish and wildlife and our hunting and fishing heritage. Wetlands are not just habitats for a wide range of fish and game species, ranging from cutthroat trout to white-tail deer, but they also provide a host of other benefits, including enhancing water quality and storing carbon, which are crucial for our environment’s health. Altogether, the conservation and restoration of wetlands plays a critical role in sustaining fish and wildlife habitat, and in-turn, hunting and fishing opportunities for future generations.    

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

However, while the benefits of healthy wetlands may be clear to hunters and anglers, America’s wetlands are arguably more at risk than ever. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released their national 2009-2019 Wetlands Status and Trends report, the sixth in a series of congressionally mandated reports evaluating current wetland health. The report found that net wetland loss increased over the past decade, with vegetated wetlands, like marshes and swamps, being disproportionately impacted. These wetlands are disappearing so quickly that 670,000 acres were lost between 2009 and 2019, an area about equal to the state of Rhode Island. On top of the report, we’re also quickly approaching the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA, which dealt a significant blow to Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and smaller streams. 

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Fortunately, the TRCP and our partners are working together to build support for federal and state policies designed to mitigate the impacts of the Sackett decision and reverse our nation’s decline in wetland habitat and the mounting risk to fish and wildlife, and our hunting and angling traditions. At the federal level, the TRCP, along with Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited, joined the recent America the Beautiful Freshwater Challenge as inaugural members. The new initiative sets new national goals to reconnect, restore, and protect the nation’s wetlands, rivers, and streams and challenges participants to work collaboratively to sustain these important natural resources. The TRCP is also working with the National Association of Wetland Managers and the National Wildlife Federation to build Congressional support for strengthening the Environmental Protection Agency’s Wetland Program Development Grant Program, which provides funding to states and Tribes to develop wetland protection programs and strategies, which is critical at this moment in time. We’re also working to expand the program’s focus to include implementing these wetland protection efforts, which have been identified as a significant need by the state and Tribal wetland community.  

Photo by Trout Unlimited

At the state level, the TRCP is working with a coalition of groups to pass bipartisan legislation in Colorado that would create a new wetland program to ensure the protection of important wetlands and streams no longer covered by the Clean Water Act. On May 6th, the Colorado General Assembly passed this bipartisan legislation with overwhelming support from the regulated and conservation communities. The bill now heads to Governor Polis’ desk for his signature. The bill, among other things, provides more certainty at the state level regarding protections and permitting for wetlands as the debate of the Clean Water Act’s scope will likely continue. Colorado is now one of the first states in the country to pass legislation to restore protections for wetlands and streams. It can hopefully serve as a model for other states considering similar legislative efforts.  

Overall, despite the challenges facing America’s wetlands, hunters and anglers can play a pivotal role in the conservation of these critical resources. As the TRCP and partners continue to work to address these challenges it will be important for hunters and anglers to share their stories with members of Congress, state legislatures, and federal and state agencies on the important roles wetland play in sustaining fish and wildlife and opportunities for hunting and fishing.  

Top photo by USFWS/Katrina Mueller

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


The TRCP is your resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.

May 14, 2024

Farm Bill Proposals Gain Momentum

Ag Committee leaders continue spelling out their plans for the next Farm Bill 

We’re now over halfway through a one-year extension of the 2018 Farm Bill, and several years of work have already gone into making sure the next Farm Bill is a good one for fish and wildlife, as well as hunters and anglers. Behind the scenes, this work has never stopped, whether we’re talking about Ag Committee Members, Congressional staff, or the conservation community. But from the outside, deadlock, gridlock, and election year politics have made getting a bill done this year look increasingly unlikely. But optimism persists and perseverance endures. 

In the past two weeks, for the first time in a long time, we’ve seen tangible progress. Last Friday in the House, Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-Pa) put forward a summary of the bill he has scheduled for a committee markup on May 23rd. The week prior, Senate Ag Chairwoman Stabenow (D-Mich) released a detailed section-by-section breakdown of her own proposal.  

Before we get into the substance of each proposal, there are a few things to remember: 

Farm Bills must be bipartisan to become law. With Democrats controlling the Senate and a Republican majority in the House, bipartisanship will be essential. Both frameworks were produced by the Ag Committee Chair of their respective chamber, and it is not entirely clear where disagreements exist between parties or among constituencies at this point. However, we can be certain that a final farm bill will look different and contain more points of compromise than these frameworks. Thankfully, Ag Committee leadership from both parties has a long history of navigating the challenges that come with bipartisanship. 

Farm Bills are huge. All twelve titles (topic-based sections) of the Farm Bill impact hunters and anglers in one way or another, but Title II – Conservation and Title VIII – Forestry get most of our attention, and for good reason. Our review of proposals will focus on those two titles.  

More and better details will emerge with time. The information currently available is in a summary form, rather than actual bill text. As expected, we are receiving more details with time. It will be important for the TRCP and our partners to review bill text before fully forming a position. This will help ensure that any changes made will accomplish what they are intended to do. 

Negotiations will continue. Nothing in either of these publicly available proposals is set in stone. The first formal action, barring a quick schedule change in the Senate Ag Committee, will be the House Ag Committee’s markup on May 23rd. In this markup, committee members will have the opportunity to offer amendments to the Chairman’s bill, speak for or against individual provisions, and vote on whether to advance the bill to a Floor vote. Changes can also happen through Floor amendments and during a Conference Committee between the House and Senate. All of this to say, what we’re seeing in these proposals is not necessarily what will become law. 

A lot must be done in a short time. We are in an election year, and a presidential election year at that. While this will motivate some Members of Congress to show efficacy in getting a Farm Bill done, party conferences and campaigning also compress the legislative calendar. The months of May and June will be critical if we’re going to get a bill done. 

Farm Bill programs have a huge impact on hunters and anglers. Engaging in this bill is crucial, as policy and funding changes in this Farm Bill will impact fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing access for the next five years and beyond. You can find explanations about how Farm Bill programs support hunters and anglers here. 

Keeping these dynamics in mind, let’s dig in. What exactly is in the proposals? How might they impact habitat, fish, wildlife, and our sporting traditions? Below, we run through a few of the key elements of the proposals from Chairman Thompson and Chairwoman Stabenow.


Chairman Thompson’s Overview 

Following the release of a broad overview on May 1, Chairman Thompson released a more detailed title by title summary of his bill on Friday, May 10. This summary includes multiple references to marker bills, or bills filed with the intent of later inclusion in the Farm Bill base text, which gives us a glimpse at what base text might look like, although we still can’t make assumptions. There are several items’ hunters and anglers will want to follow in Chairman Thompson’s proposal including:    

Reallocates Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs into the Farm Bill Conservation baseline.

This is a major investment in conservation. Making this funding permanent will increase the Title II-Conservation baseline by close to 25%, the first such increase in decades. The TRCP and our partners have been calling for this throughout the Farm Bill process, and Chairman Thompson and his staff should be commended for resisting calls to repurpose these funds for non-conservation purposes. 

Creates a new Forest Conservation Easement Program. 

Depending on how it’s structured, the Forest Conservation Easement Program would streamline the process by which willing landowners can permanently protect working forests, creating and enhancing wildlife habitat while supporting sustainable timber harvest. We look forward to seeing bill text on this program and are encouraged to see it included in the Chairman’s summary. 

“Modernizes” the Conservation Reserve Program. 

The details will be very important here. The marker bill referenced in this section (H.R.8270) makes multiple positive changes to the Conservation Reserve Program, including increasing rental rates on marginal cropland, providing cost share for mid contract management, and increasing the CRP’s payment limitation. On the negative side, the bill would reduce rental payments for CRP reenrolling at the end of a contract, which could lead to lower enrollment in the long run. We still don’t know what parts of the marker will be included in the Farm Bill’s base text. 

Reauthorizes the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. 

The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program is the only federal program designed to incentivize landowners to allow public hunting and fishing. The TRCP and our partners have been leading the charge to reauthorize and plus-up VPA-HIP, as was proposed in the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act, and we are thrilled to see that Chairman Thompson’s proposal does just that. Beyond that, Chairman Thompson’s proposal states that they will “create continuous funding” for programs like VPA-HIP, which would put us in a much stronger position in future Farm Bills  

Incentivizes active forest management through public-private partnerships.

Expanding existing authorities like the Good Neighbor Authority and Stewardship End Result Contracting enhances flexibility for our partners to increase the pace and scale of forest and watershed health restoration and wildfire risk reduction efforts. These updates are commonsense, widely supported, and will provide benefits to fish and wildlife.    


Chairwoman Stabenow’s Summary

On May 1, Chairwoman Stabenow released a section-by-section summary of her own proposal. There is currently no scheduled markup in the Senate Ag Committee, and it is likely that many of these proposals will not go into bill text exactly as they are written now. Even so, there are many provisions in this summary that hunters and anglers will be glad to see. Key provisions to watch include:  

Reallocates Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs into the Farm Bill Conservation baseline and permanently authorizes those programs.

Chairwoman Stabenow was instrumental in passing the Inflation Reduction Act and making that investment permanent would be another major achievement. Permanently authorizing conservation programs puts us in a stronger position in the next Farm Bill and lessens the impact of any future Farm Bill expiration. 

Provides substantive updates to the Conservation Reserve Program.

The proposal includes multiple positive changes to the CRP, including several components of the bipartisan CRP Improvement Act, which the TRCP and partners have supported for years. The Chairwoman is also proposing to raise the acreage cap by 2 million acres and increase rental rates, improve cost-share, and provide opportunities for longer term conservation in the CRP. 

Codifies key provisions of the USDA Wyoming Big Game Initiative.

This initiative, recently expanded to Montana and Idaho, combines USDA conservation programs to ensure that working lands and public lands provide a seamless route for migrating big game like elk, mule deer, and pronghorn. Codifying these authorities ensures that this model can be applied long term and in new areas. 

Improves and funds the Water Source Protection Program.

The Water Source Protection Program provides the U.S. Forest Service with resources to work with water users to increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration efforts, including the restoration of streams and wetlands, which in turn enhances resilience to drought and wildfire and benefits fish and wildlife that depend on healthy headwaters.      

Furthers investment in nature-based solutions and better on-farm decision making.  

Most of the provisions we’ve noted also serve as nature-based climate solutions, furthering agriculture’s role in sequestering and storing carbon while delivering wildlife habitat and food security. The proposal also enhances agricultural data protection and access to help farmers and researchers know how adopting conservation practices will impact their farm’s resilience and profitability. Additionally, it provides loan guarantees to help rural private forest landowners earn and sell carbon credits on working forests.

Reauthorizes the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program at $50 million over five years.

As discussed above, VPA-HIP reauthorization is a top TRCP priority, and we appreciate the challenge of finding funding for a program without baseline in a Farm Bill. However, given the importance of VPA-HIP to hunters and anglers and bipartisan support in both chambers for increased funding, we were disappointed to see this program held flat. 


There is a long way to go before we see the impact of these proposals on the ground. The TRCP thanks House and Senate Ag Committee leadership for their work toward a bipartisan Farm Bill that supports habitat and access.

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.

April 17, 2024

In the Arena: Ward Burton

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Ward Burton

Hometown: Halifax, Virginia
Occupation: Former NASCAR driver.
Conservation credentials: Founder of the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation.

Ward Burton’s NASCAR driving career stretched across most of two decades. He won five Cup Series races, including the 2002 Daytona 500, 2001 Southern 500, and four Xfinity races before retiring in 2007. 

As an avid sportsman and conservationist, he founded the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation in 1996. A quarter century later, the organization oversees more than 10,000 acres in Virginia and Pennsylvania and has helped landowners in Virginia and Pennsylvania conserve over 45,000 acres of land by developing conservation models aimed at sustainable habitat management, wise forestry management, stream water mitigation practices, and other tools to focus on preserving the integrity of the land and its wildlife.

Here is his story.

Ward Burton, a former NASCAR driver turned conservationist, has a deep-rooted connection to the outdoors that stems from his upbringing in Halifax, Virginia. Introduced to hunting, fishing, and nature by his grandfather, Burton’s childhood experiences instilled a lifelong passion for wildlife and land stewardship. Burton’s work ethic and unwavering persistence in spending time outdoors paved the way for his profound appreciation of nature’s wonders and ultimately led to the founding of the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation in 1996.

The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation has helped landowners in Virginia and Pennsylvania conserve over 45,000 acres of land and owns and manages over 10,000 acres.

“I’ve never felt it was a choice,” said Burton, “I believe strongly that conservation is an inherent responsibility and I hope that my, and my foundation’s, efforts to share that message have helped impart that to our future generations.”

But his passion for the outdoors extends far beyond his home state.

“Being from the east coast, I am enthusiastic about learning what different habitats support different types of wildlife and hunting and fishing opportunities. I’ve spent time in a lot of cool places, British Columbia, Wyoming, Montana, the Florida Everglades, all for fishing and hunting. Hoping to get back to all of those areas soon.

Burton’s journey as a conservationist began amidst his racing career, inspired by conversations with influential figures in wildlife management. In collaboration with like-minded individuals, he founded the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, driven by a shared commitment to conservation.

The mission of the WBWF is to promote the sustainability of our nation’s natural resources through conservation, land management, outdoor outreach, and educational practices.  Since their inception, the foundation has helped landowners in Virginia and Pennsylvania conserve over 45,000 acres of land and owns and manages over 10,000 acres.

The foundation develops and sustains their conservation models by managing habitat for endangered species, practicing wise forestry management, stream water mitigation, and prescribed burns to control non-native growth, and other tools to preserve the integrity of the land. Through partnerships with local, state, and federal organizations, and by working directly with landowners, the WBWF shares and advocates for conservation and land management best practices nationwide. 

Recognizing the critical role of conservation in preserving outdoor pursuits for future generations, Burton emphasizes the importance of habitat protection and wildlife management. He advocates for finding a balance between rural preservation and sustainable development, ensuring the longevity of natural resources.

“Giving land a voice and weaving conservation best practices into my day to day has become second nature,” said Burton, “Being conservation-minded has enhanced my love and appreciation for the outdoors – it’s our responsibility to sustain our natural resources and be stewards of our land and wildlife.”

Through his foundation, Burton actively engages in habitat restoration projects, leveraging programs like the Farm Bill to support his foundation projects as well as fellow landowners in enhancing and restoring wildlife habitats. His hands-on approach, from wetland restoration to prescribed burns, exemplifies his dedication to leaving a positive impact on the land.

Without good conservation practices, the activities we all enjoy outdoors are at risk. Without habitat protection and efforts to maintain and grow healthy wildlife populations, the hunting and fishing opportunities we hope to share with the next generation may not be there.”

Ward Burton

Burton stridently believes that hunters and anglers are the original conservationists, emphasizing the ethical responsibility of stewardship for future generations. He underscores the interconnectedness of habitat conservation, wildlife populations, and outdoor recreation, emphasizing the need for collective action in safeguarding natural resources.

Today, he finds the most joy in sharing these experiences with his children and grandchildren, passing down cherished traditions and values.

With this focus on education and outreach, Burton strives to inspire the next generation of conservationists, urging sportsmen and women to serve as role models and foster a love for the outdoors. He believes that by sharing the joys of nature and instilling a sense of responsibility, future generations will carry forward the legacy of conservation.

“You really need to let them experience the joys, the adventures, and the challenges. It’s through those experiences that they’ll develop a passion for nature and wildlife. I had the great benefit of my grandfather as a very, very strong role model in my life. My mom and dad gave me a lot of freedom as a child. Maybe too much! Once they got used to me not coming in right after dark, they knew I was okay and that I was out in the forest or in the woods. It’s from this that I developed my passion for conservation.”

Looking ahead, Burton remains committed to expanding his conservation efforts, advocating for policy changes, and fostering partnerships to protect natural habitats. His unwavering dedication to conservation serves as a beacon of hope for the future of wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email us at info@trcp.org


The TRCP is your no-B.S. resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.

April 11, 2024

House Passes Bipartisan EXPLORE Act to Improve Access to Outdoor Recreation

House passage is a major step towards improving public land access and fostering outdoor recreational opportunities nationwide.

On Tuesday, TRCP joined America’s hunters and anglers in celebrating the passage of the bipartisan EXPLORE Act in the House of Representatives by a unanimous vote.

The EXPLORE Act is a first of its kind recreation package that would improve access to the outdoors and modernize recreation infrastructure.  

Originally introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) and Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), The EXPLORE Act is a comprehensive legislative package that would expand access opportunities to a variety of public land users, streamline permitting processes for businesses focused on providing recreation opportunities, and modernize outdoor infrastructure.  

“The way Americans recreate is changing at break-neck speeds,” said Becky Humphries, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The EXPLORE Act will ensure that our agencies and the public have the tools they need to keep up with the dynamic recreation patterns of our nation. TRCP applauds the House’s passage of the EXPLORE Act and looks forward to the advancement of this important bipartisan legislation.” 

Along with including provisions of the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act, which would streamline recreational permitting for guides and outfitters, the EXPLORE Act would:  

  • Expand availability of public target shooting ranges on BLM and Forest Land.
  • Allow states, counties, and tribes to conduct recreation infrastructure enhancement or improvements on public lands through Good Neighbor Agreements. 
  • Improve federal coordination and provide assistance to non-federal partners in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. 

The EXPLORE Act now heads to the Senate where the bill will be considered alongside the Senate’s recreation package: the bipartisan America’s Outdoor Recreation Act.


The TRCP is your no-B.S. resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.

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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