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The Aquatic Invasive Species Commission, which includes the TRCP and key partners, has released a new report titled, “Improving the Prevention, Eradication, Control and Mitigation of Aquatic Invasive Species.” In the report, the commission calls on Congress to modernize laws, increase spending, and improve coordination at federal, state, local, and tribal levels to combat harmful aquatic invasive species.
Founded in 2022 by scientists, conservationists, anglers, boaters, business leaders, and policy experts, the AIS Commission has worked to assess existing mitigation efforts and identify more effective eradication solutions for invasive species in our nation’s waters, culminating in this detailed report.
“Aquatic invasive species are a tremendous threat to our nation’s waters, causing billions of dollars in economic harm and unquantifiable—often irreversible—damage to ecosystems,” said Dr. Marc Gaden, communications director at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and associate professor at Michigan State University. “I commend the outdoor industry for taking the threat of aquatic invasive species seriously and for presenting a roadmap for effective policy. I am particularly pleased to see that many of the recommendations focus on the importance of leveraging science to affect policy. I urge Congress to act on these recommendations so that our nation can take immediate action on invasive species prevention and control.”
Many stakeholders consulted by the commission urged Congress to direct agencies to identify regulatory gaps and weak links across all levels of government. Information sharing and the development of data-driven solutions would enable the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, an intergovernmental organization, to spread costs and eradicate invasive species in an increasingly interconnected natural environment, the report states.
Empowering this task force with autonomy, staff, and resources was another focus of the report. AIS eradication efforts can cost up to $100 billion per year, and these changes would reduce the burden on individual agencies.
The report also says that laws should maintain access for boaters and anglers, balancing safe usage with the long-term health of natural resources.
“Access to healthy waters, safe usage, and the long-term health of our natural resources is always on the minds of anglers and boaters while on the water,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mark Menendez. “Ensuring the long-term health of our waterways is crucial in lessening the economic burden that aquatic invasive species unfortunately present to communities impacted by these harmful species. Control, eradication, and beneficial burgeoning industries will play a key part in collaborating to reduce many harmful species from our aquatic systems.”
The American public has a role to play in this effort, as well. The report calls on natural resource managers to maintain and strengthen public engagement over AIS issues. Coordinated, science-based education on AIS prevention is key to effectively stopping the spread of AIS in our waters. The commission recommends securing additional funding for the appropriate agencies to expand signage and work to address language barriers at boat launches and fishing access points to promote angler-led AIS prevention activities, including “Clean, Drain, Dry” decontamination actions.
The TRCP played a key role in a similar process to engage marine fisheries stakeholders in planning for the future. The organization convened and helped to lead the Morris-Deal Commission—name for its two industry champions, Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops and Scott Deal of Maverick Boats—whose 2014 report laid the groundwork for many of the solutions secured by the Modern Fish Act in 2018.
We’re excited to advocate for the many recommendations in this latest report that will help improve recreational fishing in America.
Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 has been introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) to strengthen one of the most critical Farm Bill programs for America’s sportsmen and sportswomen: the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. It is the only federal initiative that helps to create public hunting and fishing opportunities on private land, and this new legislation calls for tripling the program’s impact.
“Lack of access is the largest barrier to hunter and angler participation, and the USDA’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program is the single best federal tool to increase recreational access on private lands,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Senators Daines, Bennet, and Marshall for their leadership on the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act and look forward to working with Congress to expand hunting and fishing opportunities for all Americans.”
The legislation would invest $150 million over the next five years in the VPA-HIP, which provides grants to states and Tribes to be implemented at the local level. This increased investment was among the recommendations made by TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group in its “Hunter and Angler Priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill” released earlier this year.
The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act is supported by more than 30 hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations.
“VPA-HIP is an incredibly important program for hunters, opening nearly one million private acres to public hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation over its lifetime,” says Torin Miller, senior director of policy for the National Deer Association. “Not surprisingly, interest and enrollment in the program is growing. The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 recognizes the growing interest in the program and the importance of maintaining quality hunting access across the country. The bill’s $150-million authorization will ensure expanded and continued enrollment in VPA-HIP, benefiting hunters, landowners, and local communities. The National Deer Association is proud to endorse this legislation.”
“The introduction of the Voluntary Access Improvement Act is very welcome news for duck hunters as VPA-HIP has accomplished significant increases in access for waterfowl hunters,” says John Devney, chief policy officer at Delta Waterfowl. “From the WRICE program in Arkansas to the PLOTS program in North Dakota and WIA and COOP in South Dakota, VPA-HIP is providing important access for hunters across the country. We sincerely appreciate Senators Daines, Bennett and Marshall for advancing this key priority in the 2023 Farm Bill.”
“Since 2008, the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program has opened millions of acres of private lands and waters to America’s anglers,” says Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “We thank Senators Daines, Bennet, and Marshall for their support of this program, which will expand sportfishing opportunities for generations to come.”
The VPA-HIP, once commonly known as “open fields,” has a very special place in the hearts of TRCP’s staff and supporters, as it was championed by our inspirational co-founder, Jim Range, before his untimely death. The program was established and funded through the 2008, 2014, and 2018 Farm Bills—most recently at $50 million over five years—with its impacts felt across the country.
Apart from creating more outdoor recreation access, VPA-HIP funding is also utilized to provide technical and financial assistance to landowners for wildlife habitat improvement and enhancement projects. It is often layered with other Farm Bill programs that have habitat benefits, such as Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Easements. And the program allows states to address liability, alleviating a roadblock for many landowners to open their lands to the public.
Recent studies have shown that the VPA-HIP has a more than eight-to-one return on investment in the form of outdoor recreation spending in rural communities.
Photo by USDA
Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership responded to the Bureau of Land Management’s announcement of a proposed Conservation and Landscape Health Rule. The rule intends to clarify and support the agency’s multiple use and sustained yield authority provided through the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, with a focus on restoration, protection, and balanced development.
“The TRCP supports the restoration and conservation of fish and wildlife habitat on BLM lands as part of the agency’s multiple use and sustained yield mission, and we appreciate the opportunity to engage in this process,” said Joel Webster, VP of western conservation at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “BLM public lands and habitat are under increased pressure from drought, severe wildfires, and invasive species, and the Conservation and Landscape Health Rule has the potential to improve the BLM’s ability to address those challenges.”
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres, primarily in the American West, and the agency is tasked with balancing a multitude of uses, including conservation, recreation, and resource development. The proposed rule is open for a 75-day public comment period.
“We plan to roll up our sleeves to ensure that the BLM’s Conservation and Landscape Health Rule improves management of our public lands to benefit sportsmen and sportswomen,” continued Webster. “TRCP encourages the BLM to engage with a range of stakeholder groups when refining the rule to make sure it is workable, durable, and successfully implemented.”
Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership praised a bill—HB 877—sponsored by Representative Katie Zolnikov of Billings currently under consideration in the Montana legislature. This legislation would establish a Wildlife Accommodations and Crossings Fund of $1 million to match federal dollars for the construction of fencing and crossings on Montana roadways to reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife. The bill passed out of the House Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Committee with a bipartisan 13-6 vote on Tuesday, March 28th. HB 887 is expected to be considered by the full House later this week.
“Montana has one of the highest rates of wildlife-vehicle collisions in the nation, and that’s something we need to change,” said Scott Laird, Montana field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The TRCP greatly appreciates Representative Zolnikov’s leadership to propose and advance legislation that will help reduce vehicle and wildlife accidents on Montana roadways.”
According to a recent report from State Farm Insurance Company, Montana has the second highest number of wildlife-vehicle collisions in the United States, with 17,000 incidents reported annually. These collisions not only threaten public safety—53 people died on Montana roadways because of wildlife-vehicle collisions between 2011 and 2020—but they are expensive, with each collision costing an average of $6,617. Wildlife accommodations on public roadways (fencing and under/over passes) have been shown to reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife, saving lives and helping to prevent costly repairs.
“HB 877 would enable the Montana Department of Transportation to take full advantage of significant federal dollars,” continued Laird. “Doing so would not only reduce vehicle and wildlife accidents in Montana—it would support and conserve the migration of popular big game species valued by hunters.”
In 2021, the U.S. Congress passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes a $350 million Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program, a grant program that requires no less than 60% of funds be used in rural areas. On March 1, 2023, the Montana Department of Transportation announced a Montana Wildlife & Transportation Partnership Planning Tool, which will help the agency plan future projects aimed at reducing vehicle collisions with wildlife on Montana roadways.
“If the Wildlife Accommodations and Crossings Fund is created, MDT will have resources to implement projects that make our roads safer,” concluded Laird. “We encourage the legislature to build on the momentum of the recent committee action and move this bill swiftly forward for the people and wildlife of Montana.”
Photo Credit: CSKT & MDT
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.Learn More