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May 7, 2021

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May 6, 2021

Interior Moves to Strengthen Bedrock Conservation Law Protecting Migratory Birds

This announcement is a positive step forward for maintaining the integrity of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

UPDATE: The Biden Administration finalized this proposed rule on September 29, 2021, restoring important protections for migratory bird species. The following is our original post about the proposal announced in May 2021.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership applauds Interior Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for actions announced today to restore the integrity of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Since 1918, the MBTA has been the foundation to conserving the nation’s migratory birds, from warblers to waterfowl. It has provided clarity to industry, including the oil and gas and wind sectors, about allowable activities and provided reasonable exceptions for “incidental take”—the accidental death of birds.

Yet the previous administration severely weakened the law, eliminating any incentive for the regulated community to take prudent actions to avoid killing birds. Moving forward, sportsmen and sportswomen look forward to working with the administration and industry to continue America’s remarkable track record of migratory bird conservation.

“At a time when migratory birds are in serious decline, we see this as a positive step forward for not only maintaining the integrity of this bedrock conservation law, but also removing additional threats to species facing the impacts of climate change and other habitat stressors,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “To effectively halt and reverse declines of migratory birds and reduce the risk of future endangered species act listings, we believe it is critical that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act remain an effective tool for addressing foreseeable and avoidable threats to birds.”

Top photo by Dennis Buchner on Unsplash 

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TRCP Releases Report on Restoration Economy

Data analysis shows 17.4 jobs created for every $1 million invested

(Washington D.C.)— The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is releasing an economic report that showcases the importance of investing in habitat, conservation, and sustainable water systems. The collection of economic studies compiles the best available data to paint a picture of the value of environmentally beneficial investments.

The analysis shows that for every $1 million invested by the federal government, 17.4 jobs are created.

“The data backs it up. Investing in conservation creates jobs, propels our economy forward from the past year, and strengthens habitat,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As policymakers draft infrastructure legislation, they should keep these conservation priorities top of mind. We can build more resilient communities, combat climate change, and create hunting and fishing opportunities for more Americans.”

The report shows that the restoration economy creates more jobs than health care, energy, and military sectors per every $1 million invested. The report specifically looks at job creation for the following activities:

  • Investing in watershed restoration and management, including rivers and riparian habitat
  • Upgrading aging agricultural irrigation infrastructure to improve reliability while also increasing water use efficiency and improving flow regimes or fish and wildlife habitat
  • Restoring coastal and marine habitat
  • Investing in urban water, sewer, and stormwater systems
  • Expanding urban water efficiency and conservation
  • Restoring watersheds with a focus on floodplain restoration in the Mississippi River System
  • Encouraging modified agricultural practices such as cover crops and fallowing
  • Restoring native species, with an emphasis on wetland and riparian restoration

To read the report, click here.

To read more about the Conservation Works for America campaign, click here.

 

 

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May 5, 2021

Checking in on the Conservation To-Do List We Set for Biden’s First 100 Days

Here’s what got done and which issues still need urgent attention this year

In January, we outlined the TRCP’s top ten conservation priorities for the Biden Administration to influence in the first 100 days after inauguration. Here’s a status check on these top-tier issues and what we’ll be pushing for beyond this first critical and indicative period of the president’s term.

 

Priority: Put Americans Back to Work Through Conservation
Status: Some Success with More to Come

In the wake of COVID restrictions that drove unemployment rates up while also inspiring more Americans to get outdoors, we pushed the new administration to make smart and robust conservation investments that would put people back to work while improving habitat, combatting climate change, and supporting public lands at risk of being loved to death.

Biden’s $1.8-trillion American Jobs Plan, unveiled in March, has broad themes around creating jobs through investments in infrastructure and resilience. It specifically mentions restoring the Everglades and Great Lakes as a part of this push. It’s too early to take a few of our other suggestions, like doubling conservation funding in the 2023 Farm Bill, and many of our priorities related to funding hinge on the president’s budget request, which may not be ready until late May (though it was expected earlier this spring.)

The administration has supported recent congressional efforts to invest in clean water infrastructure. Just this week, in a nearly unanimous vote, the Senate passed a bill that would increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, which has put Americans to work conserving habitat and protecting water quality for more than three decades. The House still needs to pass its version of the bill to take this first important step for infrastructure and jobs.

To read more about how investments in conservation can create jobs, rebuild our economy, and improve the health of our communities, click here.

 

Priority: Use Habitat Improvements to Address Climate Change
Status: Strong Momentum

The administration’s intense focus on climate is a bright spot for conservation, especially because many of the land- and water-based tools for combatting climate change are habitat improvements that hunters and anglers want anyway. The same week we outlined our priorities for the first 100 days, President Biden issued an Executive Order on climate change and later created a climate task force run out of the White House, which will consider input collected from across federal agencies. Those stakeholders were required to get their recommendations to the task force by April 28, and many of the agency staff who are responsible for conservation in America were willing to listen to sportsmen and sportswomen when it came to crafting those comments.

 

Priority: Invest in a Coordinated Response to Chronic Wasting Disease
Status: Nothing So Far

Unfortunately, as news has been coming out of the states about CWD test results from this past hunting season, the administration hasn’t done anything headline-worthy to stop the spread of the fatal deer disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture did gather stakeholders for input on how funding already appropriated for this fiscal year should be spent. States still need to make their requests for the portion of this funding that should go toward the local response where CWD needs careful management.

The TRCP continues to push for a study and overhaul of the USDA’s voluntary Herd Certification Program, which is supposed to keep captive deer herds at “low-risk” of contracting and spreading CWD, and a moratorium on the interstate movement of live deer until this program is updated. And Congress may still choose to act on its ability to fund or inquire into disease management.

 

Priority: Max Out Conservation Reserve Program Acres
Status: Important Changes Made

We’re happy to report a solid win in this category that will support the rural economy and our hunting and fishing opportunities. In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would extend the ongoing Conservation Reserve Program sign-up period while it looked at ways to improve program administration. Thankfully, the department followed up with specific and much-needed changes to the incentives offered to boost CRP acreage. This is critical to digging out of a historic enrollment slump, and it is what sportsmen and sportswomen have been calling for since spring of 2020.

 

Priority: Restore Roadless Area Protections in the Tongass National Forest
Status: Backcountry Habitat Still at Risk

After roadless area safeguards were lifted in the Tongass in 2020, the TRCP urged the Biden Administration to halt any pending projects that could undermine the habitat value of 9.2 million acres of undeveloped forest, world-class fisheries, and vital habitat for Sitka blacktail deer, bears, moose, and Roosevelt elk. There have been no immediate steps taken to restore roadless area protections, and the threat still stands.

 

Priority: Ensure That Savings from the “Fire Fix” Go Toward Forest Health
Status: Hinges on Budget Talks

Now that we treat—and pay for—catastrophic wildfires the same way we do other natural disasters, the U.S. Forest Service should be able to spend more on forest health and maintenance, including $400 million that was promised but never made available in the fiscal year 2020 budget. Whether the Biden Administration will reinvest in the Forest Service in FY2022 hinges on official budget request, which should be delivered to Congress this month, and ultimately the congressional budget deal that must get done by the end of September.

 

Priority: Rebuild the Bedrock Conservation Law That Protects Our Streams and Wetlands
Status: It’s Complicated

While it seems that the administration would like to take on the job of clarifying which waters and wetlands can receive Clean Water Act protections—as the fourth administration to do so since a series of Supreme Court decisions created confusion in the early 2000s—it may not get the chance before the courts influence this debate yet again.

Further, the Trump Administration rulemaking can’t just be undone. A new rule would have to be substantially different than past iterations, including the one from 2015 that was widely celebrated by hunters and anglers. This process will be difficult to get it done in a four-year term. What may ultimately be needed is legislation to see that headwaters and wetlands are subject to Clean Water Act protection and for sportsmen and sportswomen to fend off legislation that codifies the current rule, which leaves important clean water resources at risk.

 

Priority: Commit to Modernizing Fisheries Management
Status: Agencies Need to Staff Up

On the administration side, there’s not much to report and likely won’t be until two key positions are filled: National Marine Fisheries Service Director and NOAA Assistant Administrator of Fisheries. However, legislation has been introduced in the Senate to update the management of forage fish species that our favorite sportfish rely on for food.

 

Priority: Restore Strong Conservation Plans for the Greater Sage Grouse
Status: No Change for Conservation, More Grouse Habitat Lost

The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have not opened their plans for yet another round of changes, but a court injunction issued in October 2109 still stands and requires implementation of the original 2015 conservation plans—for now. Meanwhile, we know that the long-term decline in grouse populations has deepened slightly. Learn why the loss of habitat is directly tied to fewer male grouse being counted on mating grounds, or take a deep dive on the history of sage grouse conservation since the first seasons and bag limits were set for hunters.

 

Priority: Reverse Mining Decision in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters
Status: Not Addressed

The TRCP and partners urged the Biden Administration to not only withdraw mining leases reinstated on the merits of a cursory environmental study but to quickly develop and implement a strategy to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from a massive copper mine. The Forest Service has yet to act on this in the first 100 days. Meanwhile, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act was reintroduced in the House last month.

 

Top Photo: Maven/Craig Okraska

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May 4, 2021

The Case for Better Access Data

When it comes to public lands mapping data, sportsmen and sportswomen deserve a higher standard

Most recreational access opportunities on public lands are identified in agency management plans and may appear on agency-produced paper maps that show, for instance, roads and trails open to different types of motorized and non-motorized vehicles. Sometimes alongside a national forest road you’ll see a sign marking a zone where hunting or shooting is restricted, such as near a campground or forest service ranger station. Other times you’ll pull up to a mountain lake parking lot and a sign is posted that specifies horsepower restrictions for boats.

While some of this information might, in certain places, be available in a GPS-compatible format, in many places it is not. As a result, it is difficult for the public to find specific information about available recreation opportunities on public lands or even follow the rules that the agencies have spent millions of dollars creating. Sometimes, a person might avoid hunting in an area altogether simply because they can’t tell by looking at a sign where the no-shooting boundary starts and ends. Many members of the public might also avoid driving on an open road because the existing sign long ago went missing and they don’t want to inadvertently break the rules.

Where geospatial data layers have been made available by the agencies, they are not all designed to benefit recreational access to the extent that they could and should. For example, in 2015 the BLM created a national transportation layer called the Ground Transportation Linear Feature data standard, or GTLF, which is a digital mapping layer that delineates BLM-administered travel routes. The GTLF, however, doesn’t provide enough information for the public to understand access opportunities and restrictions because it does not require attributes for allowed vehicle type and seasonal restrictions. As a result, the investment that went into this dataset is ultimately lost on hunters, anglers, and most other recreationists.

A case in point can be found in the BLM Butte Field Office in southwest Montana where the agency completed a travel management plan (TMP) for the Upper Big Hole area in 2009, which established comprehensive rules for vehicle travel on specific routes and during specific times of the year. In this place, the local BLM field office did a good job with their travel plan in that it provides adequate public access while conserving important deer and elk habitat. However, because the national GTLF is lacking in important attributes, detailed transportation information for the Upper Big Hole area can only be found by those with the skills to locate and review an environmental impact statement. Under these circumstances, an elk hunter in the area wanting to understand and follow agency transportation rules must rely on good signage on the ground—a difficult thing for the BLM to maintain with limited budgets and considerable miles of roads and trails.

This challenge is not limited to Montana. The BLM has completed travel management planning on approximately 20 percent of the 245 million acres administered by the agency, yet useful geospatial transportation data is not publicly available for most areas. In fact, the only places where helpful geospatial transportation information has been made available is where local BLM offices have taken it upon themselves to develop more thorough transportation layers than required by the agency.

The MAPLand Act would fix this information shortfall by requiring the BLM to add access specific attributes to the GTLF and make them publicly available within three years. GPS mapping companies could then add these data to their smart phone applications and make detailed access information available to the public in real time.

While each agency can point to some accomplishment of the mapping requirements proposed in the MAPLand Act, their data are generally inconsistent from one agency to the next and none of the agencies have completed all of these proposed requirements. For example, the USFS has done a really good job with its transportation layers, while other agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation have considerable work left to do. Without consistent and comprehensive data provided by each agency, hunters and anglers can’t be confident that GPS mapping devices will provide them with the information they need to stay safe and legal while recreating on public lands.

There are also useful data layers that MAPLand would require the agencies to produce that are currently not being pursued. For instance, there is no comprehensive digital information being developed for areas with shooting restrictions, nor is there standardized digital information on watercraft rules. While management decisions regarding these recreational opportunities have been made in agency land use plans, the creation of digital resources for the public has been overlooked.

Agency personnel and a variety of stakeholders invest considerable time in the public processes used to create these management decisions and frameworks, which ultimately aim to conserve the values and resources held in trust for all public landowners. But unless the resulting plans are easily accessible to everyone—which in the twenty-first century means available with a glance at a smartphone—we aren’t seeing the full benefits of the hard work and collaboration that went into creating them.

It’s time that our federal land management agencies have the guidance and funding to bring public land mapping systems into the modern era. Public land users of all types should be able to use digital mapping systems and smartphone applications to identify new opportunities for access and recreation, and to better understand the rules to help reduce conflicts with private landowners and prevent inadvertent violations of agency regulations.

Take action today for improved public land mapping systems designed to help hunters and anglers enjoy better days in the field and on the water.

 

Top Photo: Maven/Craig Okraska

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

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.

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