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Congress cements the future of important programs and funding sources that benefit deer, fish, waterfowl, and watershed restoration efforts
In a flurry of votes under suspension of the rules today, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that will help improve fish habitat, restore wetlands, boost chronic wasting disease research, invest in clean water solutions, and prevent bycatch fatalities of important sportfish species.
The America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (S. 3051) reauthorizes and establishes important conservation programs and funding sources that would benefit deer, waterfowl, fish, and all species in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“Passage of the ACE Act will not only benefit deer, ducks, fish, and our water quality, but it will also create jobs in conservation and help to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities for millions of Americans just when we need it most,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and women are grateful to both Democratic and Republican leadership in the Senate and House for their support of and commitment to the passage of this critical legislation. It secures the future of essential conservation programs and funding sources that hunters and anglers have prioritized for years.”
The Senate passed companion legislation earlier this month, and the bill will go directly to the president’s desk now that it has cleared the House. The TRCP asked sportsmen and women to contact lawmakers in support of the following provisions and swift passage:
These provisions help to create conservation jobs that put Americans back to work during this COVID-related economic downturn, which is a top priority of the TRCP this year and looking ahead.
In a separate vote, the House also advanced the Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices, or DESCEND, Act. This legislation requires anyone fishing for reef fish—commercially or recreationally—in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico to possess a descending device or venting tool to prevent the effects of barotrauma on released fish and reduce the mortality rate of prized species such as snapper and grouper.
“Support for the DESCEND Act is a no-brainer, because the tools it would require provide one of the best ways to ensure the survival of reef fish that are caught and released, helping keep stocks healthy and improving fish conservation,” says Chris Macaluso, director of marine fisheries for the TRCP. “We applaud Congressmen Garrett Graves, Steven Palazzo, Jared Huffman, and their colleagues in the House for moving this bill forward to improve fisheries management, resource conservation, and the outdoor recreation economy.”
The DESCEND Act has been championed by the American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, National Marine Manufacturers Association, and the TRCP. Learn more here.
TRCP engages to protect interests of hunters and anglers
From Alaska to California and Minnesota to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Forest Service administers 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. These landscapes ensure that all Americans have access to clean water, abundant fish and wildlife populations, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
National forest lands are also managed for multiple use, meaning that commercial and industrial activities, like logging and energy development, for example, must be balanced with the land’s value to conservation and outdoor recreation.
But a recent proposal would change the way that oil and gas resources are leased and developed within our national forests, potentially upsetting the balance between multiple uses and affecting our hunting and fishing opportunities.
Here’s why sportsmen and women need to speak up to ensure that our public lands are managed in a balanced way.
It’s no secret that Americans depend on oil and natural gas to drive our cars and heat our houses. Sportsmen and women recognize that we need energy development, but most want to see it done responsibly. There are certain places on our public lands that are incompatible with development, where we must enact safeguards for sensitive habitats and protect special landscapes.
For example, decades of research have shown that energy development has the potential to fragment seasonal habitats for big game. In Wyoming, long-term research on the Pinedale Anticline demonstrated a 36 percent decline in the number of mule deer because of unbalanced development on winter range.
The current process for oil and gas leasing on Forest Service lands is based on a set of rules and procedures developed in 1990, and this framework—which was updated slightly in 2007—has been effective at ensuring our national forests are managed in a balanced way.
First, it’s important to know that even though these are national forest lands, the Bureau of Land Management controls the leasing of subsurface resources. One of the strengths of the existing process is a provision that requires the BLM to consult with the Forest Service and get its consent before leasing a particular parcel.
There have been several recent instances in which energy leases proposed by private interests were halted by the Forest Service’s determination that development would not be compatible with the existing conservation value of these lands. Some noteworthy examples are the Ruby Mountains in Nevada, one of the West’s premier mule deer hunting locations where the TRCP is currently trying to secure permanent protection from development, and the Thompson Divide in Colorado, a world-class elk hunting and trout fishing destination.
But the newly proposed rule would change this consultation requirement and eliminate the need for the BLM to get the Forest Service’s consent before leasing national forest lands. If this change is enacted, important habitat could get tied up for development even if it is widely recognized as incompatible with these activities.
Additionally, under the existing rules, the Forest Service is allowed to apply protective measures called stipulations to guide how energy development must take place in order to protect sensitive resources. Currently, the agency is allowed to apply the stipulations it deems most effective, but the proposed change would require the Forest Service to apply only the “least restrictive” stipulations necessary. This would likely result in fewer precautions and more fragmented habitats on our valuable public lands.
Increased fragmentation could lead to declining fish and wildlife populations and reduced hunting and fishing opportunities.
The TRCP fully recognizes that oil and gas leasing and development on public lands is a complicated business, especially on national forest lands where the land is managed by the Forest Service while the BLM is responsible for energy leasing. Even so, federal policies must ensure that our best fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation destinations are conserved for current and future generations.
To that end, the TRCP encourages the Forest Service to make changes to the final rule that would:
1) Maintain the requirement for the BLM to receive consent from the Forest Service prior to leasing national forest lands; and
2) Maintain flexibility for the Forest Service to apply protective stipulations that are most effective for protecting resources and achieving intended management outcomes.
The new oil and gas leasing rule is not a done deal yet, and you can make your voice heard during the public comment period through November 2, 2020. If you care about fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation on your public lands, we encourage you to speak up.
Photo by Tom Hilton via flickr.
Dramatic policy shift for the Tongass National Forest would open 9.2 million acres of roadless public lands in Alaska to development
Today the U.S. Forest Service moved one step closer to eliminating conservation safeguards in the Tongass National Forest, despite strong objections from many Alaskans and sportsmen and sportswomen across the nation.
For two decades, the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule has successfully conserved vital wildlife habitat in undeveloped swaths of the Tongass, the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Yet today’s release of a Final Environmental Impact Statement that includes a proposal to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule indicates that the Trump Administration will soon reverse that conservation legacy and put these public lands and habitats at risk.
“Hunters and anglers support a lasting solution for the Tongass. Today’s final proposal is not a reasonable long term plan,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Local communities depend on balanced uses of these public resources. The decision to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule will only lead to more contention and uncertainty over the future of these lands.”
The Forest Service issued its proposed plan for the Tongass last fall, after the White House instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to roll back a 19-year-old management plan that safeguards habitat for important fish and wildlife species. That directive closely followed an off-the-record meeting between President Trump and Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy. These actions effectively foreclosed any opportunity for a compromise solution and forced a majority of stakeholders—locally and nationally—to oppose the agency’s proposal.
The Tongass National Forest encompasses nearly 90 percent of the southeastern panhandle of Alaska. Some of the state’s most productive watersheds for salmon rearing and fishing are located within roadless areas of the forest. Eliminating the Roadless Rule in the Tongass will open 9.2 million acres of undeveloped forests to development, potentially undermining the region’s world-class fisheries and impacting vital habitat for Sitka black-tailed deer, black and brown bears, moose, and even Roosevelt elk. These fish and wildlife resources are an important food source for thousands of local families, hold significant cultural value, and provide outstanding opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing that fuel Southeast Alaska’s vibrant tourism industry.
“Eliminating conservation safeguards for millions of acres of productive salmon and Sitka black-tailed deer habitat does not reflect the values of Alaskans and it disregards feedback from nearly a quarter-million Americans who took time to participate in this process,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska Field Representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Unilateral actions like this rarely stand the test of time; nor should they. The TRCP remains committed to working with our hunting and fishing partners, local communities, business leaders, and decision makers to help establish a durable solution for the Tongass that conserves our public lands and supports sustainable economic growth.”
The Forest Service is expected to issue its final decision as early as October.
Credit: Howie Garber Photography
MeatEater’s Steven Rinella and TRCP’s Whit Fosburgh co-hosted the annual awards event in an all-digital format on Wednesday evening
Last night at the organization’s virtual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was proud to honor Representative Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Representative Garret Graves (R-La.), and business leader William J. Michaelcheck for their commitment to bipartisan conservation solutions. MeatEater’s Steven Rinella co-emceed the online event with TRCP’s president and CEO, Whit Fosburgh.
“This year’s honorees share a dedication to commonsense conservation solutions that unite not only decision-makers on both sides of the aisle but also the various factions of the outdoor recreation community,” says Fosburgh. “Whether it’s finding common ground to make federal investments in the health of our wild deer herds, responding to the habitat impacts of sea-level rise and climate change, or rethinking a defunct approach to fisheries management, these champions of conservation have worked for many years to clinch conservation victories and they deserve our thanks as hunters and anglers.”
Michaelcheck, who won the TRCP’s Conservation Achievement Award, is founder and co-chief investment officer of Mariner Investment Group and has been instrumental in the effort to modernize the management of menhaden, a critical bait fish that supports some of the most popular and economically important marine predators.
Congressmen Veasey and Graves were awarded the James D. Range Conservation Award, named after TRCP’s founder.
As House co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus and member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Veasey has advocated for strong investments in outdoor recreation infrastructure, clean water, and wildlife resources—particularly research and testing for chronic wasting disease in deer.
Rep. Graves serves on both the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, where he champions critical conservation issues related to transportation, infrastructure, fisheries, and coastal restoration. He also managed the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority under Governor Bobby Jindal, helping to oversee Louisiana’s recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
It was the 12th annual dinner but the first-ever all-digital presentation held over YouTube Live. More than 1,200 TRCP supporters viewed the presentation, which featured live remarks and Q&A sessions with the honorees as well as pre-recorded videos from VIPs, including sports stars (and avid outdoorsmen) Bo Jackson and Pete Alonso and Minority Outdoor Alliance Founder Durrell Smith.
The event, which included a silent auction and grand-prize sweepstakes featuring a Michigan turkey hunt with Rinella, raised more than $700,000 to support the TRCP’s mission of guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.
Pre-COVID, the in-person gala has drawn crowds of up to 500 people—including decision-makers, outdoor recreation business leaders, and other champions of conservation—and is known as a can’t-miss conservation event in D.C. Past awardees Sen. Martin Heinrich, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Mike Simpson, Rep. Rob Wittman, philanthropist Liz Storer, and Bass Pro Shops’ Johnny Morris were also featured via video last night.
The Capital Conservation Awards Dinner was made possible with the support of the following generous sponsors: Coca-Cola, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Shell Oil, Schlumberger, Walton Family Foundation, Yamaha, American Sportfishing Association, Bass Pro Shops, Boone and Crockett Club, L.L. Bean, Matt Cook, FSI, Outdoor Industry Association, Pure Fishing, Range Resources, Tod Sedgwick, Sitka Gear, Vista Outdoor, AFL-CIO, Archery Trade Association, The Baird Group, Browning, Coastal Conservation Association, Everglades Foundation, Costa, Elliotsville Foundation, First Lite, Leupold, Mossy Oak, Natural Resource Results, The Nature Conservancy, Next Era Energy, Outdoor Research, Outtech, Peak Design, Pheasants Forever, PotlatchDeltic, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, RV Industry Association, REI Co-Op, RMS, Shimano, Simms Fishing Products, The Trust for Public Land, Weyerhaeuser, YETI, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, Captains for Clean Water, The Conservation Fund, Contender, Fly Fishers International, Forbes-Tate Partners, Land Trust Alliance, , Mystery Ranch, North American Falconers Association, Power-Pole, Ruffed Grouse Society, Stone Glacier, Property and Environment Research Center, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers, Vortex, The Cypress Group, Filson, National Park Foundation, National Wildlife Refuge Association, onX, Sage, The Turner Foundation, Brown-Forman, and New Belgium Brewing.
Next year’s CCAD will be held on April 28, 2021, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More