fbpx

by:

posted in:

June 4, 2024

Screenshot-2024-05-08-at-10.45.35-AM

Do you have any thoughts on this post?

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Comments must be under 1000 characters.

by:

posted in:

May 24, 2024

Legislation Update: Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 

House Committee advances Farm Bill with benefits for habitat and access.

After a busy few weeks of Farm Bill proposals, House Ag Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson released a discussion draft on May 17th and formally introduced his bill on May 21st. Titled the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024, Chairman Thompson’s bill represents several years of work. The Chairman and his staff, as well as Ranking Member David Scott (D-Ga.) and the rest of the Ag Committee Members, have traveled the country hearing from stakeholders, reviewed and discussed thousands of individual and coalition priorities, considered dozens of marker bills, and held several formal Committee hearings. On Thursday, May 23rd, the Committee debated this bill, proposed amendments, and ultimately advanced it to the House floor. Given the importance of the Farm Bill to hunters and anglers, and the difficulty of the task, we are excited to have a bill to review and formal committee action toward passing it. 

Before we summarize some key provisions of Chairman Thompson’s bill, there are a few important points 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. The details of this bill were chosen by Chairman Thompson and his staff, and although there are clearly bipartisan priorities reflected in it, it will take considerable support from outside the Chairman’s party for this bill to pass. Major sticking points include changes within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, limitations to the Secretary of Agriculture’s authority within the Commodity Credit Corporation, and how Inflation Reduction Act conservation funding would be incorporated.  

Negotiations will continue.  Work on this Farm Bill began as soon as, or even before, the 2018 bill was signed. Although five years seems likely plenty of time to resolve differences, there is a lot of negotiation to go. The May 23rd markup was a big step, but further debate will happen as the bill moves forward to the House floor. Beyond that, Senate Ag Chairwoman Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Boozman (R-Ark.) are working on their own bill in the Senate. Taken together, this means that any individual provision in Chairman Thompson’s bill has a long way to go before it becomes law, and many are likely to change.  

Time’s getting short. 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. Floor time is already becoming difficult to find, especially for large and complex bills. 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 this bill? Below, we run through a few of the key elements of the proposal from Chairman Thompson. Remember here that Farm Bills cover topics as varied as nutrition support, agricultural research, trade, risk reduction, livestock disease, and more, so a comprehensive analysis of the entire bill (over 950 pages) is beyond the scope of the TRCP. We focus below on a few of the pieces we believe would have the biggest impact on habitat and access for hunters and anglers. 

The Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 would: 

Reallocate Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs into the Farm Bill Conservation baseline. This piece of the bill alone would be a huge win for hunters and anglers, and it has both bipartisan and bicameral support. It is also urgent, with the amount of funding available decreasing with time. There is still considerable disagreement about how this should be done, including to what extent climate mitigation remains a focus of these funds and which programs receive the bulk of the funding, but we remain hopeful that these disagreements will be resolved, and we can see the first meaningful increase to the Conservation Title in years. 

Increase funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program to $150 million and provide program continuity. 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. This proposal provides for the continuity of VPA-HIP, which means that in future Farm Bills we would begin in a much stronger negotiating position thanks to the program having mandatory, dedicated funding. 

Make multiple changes to the Conservation Reserve Program. The Chairman’s bill appears to include changes proposed in several CRP marker bills, including the CRP Improvement Act. On the positive side, these changes would increase rental payment rates on marginal cropland, restore cost-share for mid-contract management activities, increase incentive payments, and increase payment limitations. These taken together are significant improvements. On the negative side, this bill would reduce rental rates for CRP reenrollments, allow early cancellation of contracts, and remove some of the wildlife focus of Grassland CRP, which could be detrimental to initiatives like Working Lands for Wildlife or the Migratory Big Game Initiative.  

Support voluntary conservation easement programs. Conservation easements provide the most durable habitat protection of any Farm Bill program, and landowner demand for them has long exceeded funding by a huge margin. Chairman Thompson’s bill makes multiple positive changes to easement programs, including increased funding across the board, creating a new Forest Conservation Easement Program with mandatory funding, improving management opportunities on existing wetland easements, and increasing cost-share for Agricultural Land Easements. One drawback of this bill is the removal of Buy-Protect-Sell authority, which would hinder the ability of some of our partners to permanently protect habitat. 

Encourage a focus on wildlife migration corridors. This bill includes several sections relevant to western wildlife (including big game) migration corridor enhancement, including allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to “support the development, restoration, and maintenance of habitat connectivity and wildlife corridors” in all USDA conservation programs. It would also add language specifically including the “restoration and enhancement of wildlife habitat connectivity and wildlife migration corridors” as a priority resource concern under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and add rangeland research, including virtual fencing, as a High Priority Research and Extension Area. These priorities reflect the intent of the Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act that the TRCP and partners worked with Congressman Vasquez (D-N.M.) and Congressman Zinke (R-Mont.) to develop. As noted above, shifting the focus of Grassland CRP away from corridors would run counter to these goals, and the bill would not codify the USDA’s authority leverage benefits of different programs to support farmers, ranchers, and wildlife as proposed in the Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act. 

There are many other pieces of this bill we will be following, and there is a long way to go before we see its impact on the ground. The TRCP thanks both House and Senate Ag Committee leadership for their work toward a bipartisan Farm Bill that supports habitat and access. 

Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs here

Top photo by Nicholas Putz


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.

by:

posted in:

May 22, 2024

125 Pennsylvania Trout Streams That Deserve a Conservation Status Update

Anglers are again campaigning to update the designations of top Pennsylvania waterways to reflect the exceptional status of their wild trout populations and water quality

Four times each year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission proposes streams to be added to the Class A Wild Trout and Wild Trout lists. Right now, there are 125 Class A and Wild Trout streams that represent the best of our best waters up for designation. Among those eligible for protection during this comment period include Beaver Creek and Deep Run in Monroe County and tributaries of the Delaware River and Shohola Creek in Pike County. These outstanding waters positively affect surrounding communities through increased economic activity and improve the natural, scenic, and aesthetic values of the state.

Pennsylvania sportsmen and sportswomen have a chance to influence this process and seal the deal for our best trout streams—here’s why you should take action today.

The Economic Power of Trout Waters

With 86,000 miles of streams and around 4,000 inland lakes, Pennsylvania is home to some of the best publicly accessible fishing that the East Coast has to offer, including phenomenal trout and bass fishing. With opportunities like these, it’s no wonder that 1.2 million Pennsylvanians fished their local waterways in 2020, helping contribute to the state’s $58-billion outdoor recreation economy.

Since 2010, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has worked with sportsmen and local universities to distinguish our best waters through the Unassessed Waters Program. Based on the UWP’s evaluation, stream sections that meet a set of criteria are eligible for certain protections. For example, streams that have abundant populations of wild rainbow, brown, and brook trout can be eligible for Wild Trout Stream or Class A Stream designations. Protecting these streams ensures that the outdoor recreation industry continues to thrive and that future generations can enjoy the same (or better) fishing opportunities.

Tackle shops and fishing guides are among the businesses that make up an important part of the robust outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania. And giving special consideration to the best wild trout streams supports these small businesses. “When I worked in the local fly shop, the Class A list provided a great reference to point people in the right direction to find trout water,” says Matthew Marran, a flyfishing guide and former fly shop worker in the Delaware River Basin. “As a guide, I depend on Class A waters to put clients on wild trout with consistency and confidence. And I’m seeing more and more people ask when booking to fish exclusively for wild trout.”

Why Does a Designation Matter?

In these cases, what’s in a name really matters: Wild Trout and Class A streams qualify for additional protections from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, including the limitation of activities around these streams that would degrade water quality. The Wild Trout Stream title designates a water as a Coldwater Fishery and protects surrounding wetlands from development. Similarly, streams that qualify for the Class A designation get additional recognition as high-quality waters, which restricts in-stream discharges and guards against habitat degradation.

These designations from the PFBC are critical to helping the state manage and protect fish populations, especially as demands on Pennsylvania’s water resources continue to increase. When you consider that roughly 40 percent of streams across the state are NOT suitable for fishing, swimming, and/or drinking water, according to the DEP, it makes sense to safeguard the exceptional waterways that already meet top standards and support outdoor recreation that drives our economy.

Fortunately, sportsmen and sportswomen understand the importance of this process. A TRCP survey found that 92 percent of Pennsylvania sportsmen and women support designating streams when they meet the right criteria.

What You Can Do to Help

Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers have an important opportunity to conserve more critical streams. If we don’t speak up, these exceptional waterways could easily be degraded and eventually lost to pollution.

Take action now and tell the PA Fish and Boat Commission that you value these protections for clean water and fish habitat.

This blog was originally posted in November 2019 and has been updated for each quarterly public comment period. The current comment period ends on June 14, 2024.

Banner photo credit Noah Davis; other photos by Derek Eberly.

by:

posted in:

May 21, 2024

In the Arena: Sam Maher

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

Sam Maher

Hometown: Houston, TX
Occupation: Wildlife Biology Ph.D. Candidate
Conservation credentials: Maher is currently spearheading the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Antler Study to better understand the interest and influences shed antler hunting has on wildlife behavior in the GYE.

Since childhood, Sam Maher has spent time in wild places among wild creatures. This fascination and immersion in the wild has led her to pursue a doctorate in wildlife biology at the University of California at Berkley. From the American West to Botswana, Maher is interested in how wildlife agencies make measured decisions when it comes to managing land and wildlife.

Here is her story.

I was raised by two geologists who spent time in the backcountry doing research and mapping projects in Alaska, Svalbard, and the Sierra Nevada. I remember them taking us hiking and camping in the most amazing places as a kid, and I would just complain about having to walk uphill. Looking back, I am grateful for the time they spent with me outside because it’s made me more comfortable in the field and attentive to the land around me.  

I’ve never been much of a hunter or angler because those weren’t activities that were passed down in my family, and there’s a pretty steep learning curve there. But more recently, I’ve gotten to know a lot of sportsmen and women and have grown to admire the amount of skill and knowledge involved in these pursuits. Sometimes I feel like hiking and sightseeing is a passive way of moving through a landscape, but when you hunt, fish, and track, you engage with your surroundings in a such a meaningful way. Photography for me has filled that role for me in some ways. 

Participate in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Shed Study HERE!

I spent a field season in rural Botswana doing some vegetation monitoring, and at the end of the project my advisors took us to Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta.  I was fast asleep on our first night there when I was awoken by the commotion around my tent and a high-pitched yapping sound. I was curious about what was going on, but we had been instructed not to leave during the night, so I eventually fell back asleep. In the morning, I emerged from my tent to see blood dripping from the tree above our kitchen site. It turns out that a leopard had killed an impala outside our tent, only to be accosted by a pack of hyenas, then dragged its kill into the tree above us. It was incredible to think I had been just a few yards away from all of this, snug in my sleeping bag! 

I have a running list of places that I’m just sort of fascinated by and where I’d want to spend time exploring and taking photos. Alaska is one of three states I’ve yet to visit, so that one is up there. I watched an episode of River Monsters where the Jeremy Wade fishes in Mongolia, which looks incredible. I really like the idea taking an extended pack trip out there with those hardy little Mongolian horses and hunting with golden eagles. I think what appeals to me the most is the continuity in the way communities in these extreme, isolated environments make their living and are still participating in a way of being that’s been practiced for hundreds, or even a thousand years. On the other hand, I struggle with the idea that my participation in those practices as a tourist is what would destroy that authenticity. 

“Conservation doesn’t enhance my outdoor life so much as it IS my outdoor life.”

Conservation is about making decisions on how to steward land and wildlife in such a way that the public can benefit. This seems simple but it’s really this massive objective setting endeavor where we make collective decisions about who the public is, which groups of the public we should prioritize, and which uses for the land are most important. That is extremely challenging when those objectives are at odds with another.  I’d probably say that on a personal level, conservation is about cultivating a relationship between myself and the land and its creatures and being a good steward. Conservation doesn’t enhance my outdoor life so much as it IS my outdoor life. 

An example of the complexities of conservation: elk in my study area in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem use private and working lands as habitat for much of the winter but spend summers on public land. So, do we manage for high elk populations on working lands because they can be hunted and viewed by the public, or do we need to control populations to reduce costs for producers who deal with disease risk and competition with cattle for forage? How do you even do this if there is limited private lands hunting access? I imagine a lot of people reading this have a strong opinion on that, and being involved in decision-making is the only way we can get closer to managing wildlands so that everyone’s needs are met.  

I’m doing my Ph.D. in the Bay Area, where fire, drought, and development are three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  I would say the fourth is a more existential question about identity and how we relate to nature as people, as well as how we relate to other people about nature. Specifically, I’m thinking about the rural-urban divide, and how a lot of urban people are in love with an idea of nature as this gentle, pristine thing that maybe doesn’t really exist. There’s a great study led by Robert Bonnie, now the Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation at USDA, that shows how conservation is this one last bipartisan issue, that urban and rural people and conservatives and liberals care about the environment equally, but that they disagree on the government’s role in stewarding it. I think recognizing that conservation is a shared priority would take us a long way.  

We live in this thrilling and terrifying time in history where everything around us is changing at breakneck speed and there’s so much uncertainty about what life is going to look like in just a decade.  Being involved in conservation and connected to the natural world feels grounding and comforting, like no matter what craziness is going on around me with AI and social media, I still have somewhere to go that is peaceful, that exists outside of the rat race. 

All photos courtesy of Sam Maher.

Support TRCP’s nature based solutions conservation efforts that use habitat to reverse climate change.


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.

by:

posted in:

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

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.

Learn More

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!