Senate Committee Advances Key Public Lands Bills and DOI Nominee
Sportsmen and women can celebrate bipartisan support for mandatory LWCF funding, but a parks maintenance backlog bill doesn’t go far enough to create solutions for public lands
In a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting today, decision-makers voted to advance legislation to invest in public lands access and maintenance. The big win for sportsmen and women was bipartisan support for mandatory funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would provide certainty for the program and no longer require Congress to debate LWCF funding levels every year at appropriations time.
If lawmakers can see this through, it would complete the second half of a major victory for public lands and outdoor recreation, which began with permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in early 2019.
“Securing dedicated funding for the LWCF would represent one of the biggest legislative accomplishments for America’s public lands in recent memory,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As conservation’s share of the federal budget continues to shrink, it is extremely meaningful to see investments in habitat, access, and outdoor recreation uncoupled from a deeply entrenched federal appropriations process. We encourage lawmakers to move this bill swiftly to the Senate floor.”
The LWCF is funded through oil and gas revenues but Congress regularly diverts much of this funding for unrelated purposes.
Among other business, lawmakers on the committee also passed the Restore Our Parks Act, which would establish a fund to pay $1.3 billion per year toward the more than $11-billion deferred maintenance backlog on National Park Service lands over the next five years. Hunters and anglers argue that this does not go far enough to address crumbling infrastructure and facilities on all of America’s public lands, including an additional $5 billion in deferred projects on Forest Service lands.
A House bill would address paying down backlogs at not only the National Park Service, but also the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Without a plan to address these rising costs across the entire public land system, the result will be more closed roads, trails, and campgrounds—and less access for sportsmen and women,” says Fosburgh.
The committee also voted to advance Katharine MacGregor toward confirmation as the next deputy secretary of the Interior. The TRCP is supportive of her nomination, having worked with MacGregor on various DOI initiatives, including implementation of Secretarial Orders on hunting and fishing and the advancement of new policies and funding streams for migration corridors and crossings. Fosburgh wrote the following to committee leadership in October 2019: “We have found her to be accessible and willing to consider the perspectives of sportsmen and women, and we encourage the Senate to move forward with her confirmation as Deputy Secretary.”
Top photo by Bob Wick/BLM via flickr.
Bipartisan Effort Drops a Lifeline to Fish Reeled Up from the Deep
Lawmakers team up to conserve reef fish in the Gulf
UPDATE: U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) introduced a companion bill on November 21, 2019.
A coalition of recreational fishing and boating organizations is lauding the introduction of the DESCEND Act by Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) The DESCEND Act of 2019, or the “Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act of 2019,” would require commercial and recreational fishermen to possess a descending device rigged and ready for use or venting tool when fishing for reef fish in Gulf of Mexico federal waters.
The recreational fishing and boating community has long advocated for the use of descending devices to reduce the mortality rate of prized reef fish such as snapper and grouper. When deep-water fish (more than 30 feet) are brought rapidly to the surface, they experience barotrauma—a condition where a buildup of gas pressure in their bodies makes it difficult or impossible to swim back down. If a fisherman releases the fish due to size, season or bag limit restrictions and the fish does not survive, this is a dead discard or wasted fish.
A descending device is a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that will hold the fish while it is lowered to a sufficient depth to recover from the effects of barotrauma and release the fish. A venting tool is a sharpened, hollow device capable of penetrating the abdomen of a fish in order to release the excess gas pressure in the body cavity when a fish is retrieved from depth.
Possession of descending devices on board is required in other parts of the country, including several West Coast states and, starting next year pending final regulatory approval, in South Atlantic federal waters. However, similar regulatory action in the Gulf of Mexico has been held up due to concerns that such action would make ineligible an impending $30 million project related to barotrauma reduction, funded through the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration program.
The DESCEND Act would break through this bureaucratic roadblock by both allowing the $30 million project to proceed and requiring possession of descending devices or venting tools.
“Given the economic and cultural importance of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, we should be doing all we can to ensure the conservation of these fisheries,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Improving the survival of released fish has long been a sportfishing industry priority. We strongly support the DESCEND Act, and appreciate Reps. Graves and Huffman for their continued leadership on marine conservation policy.”
“The huge economic impact of the Gulf of Mexico reef fish fishery depends on an abundance of fish and fishing opportunities. We commend this bipartisan effort led by Congressmen Graves and Huffman for tackling wanton waste of America’s fishery resources,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “By following simple best practices such as the use of descending devices and venting tools, recreational and commercial fishermen can do a little extra to return alive many more fish to their deep-water homes.”
“Discard mortality and commercial bycatch are significant, hidden drains on our marine resources that must be confronted by all stakeholders and this legislation is a targeted effort that aims to decrease the impact of recreational angling on important species,” said Ted Venker, conservation director for Coastal Conservation Association. “No one likes to throw back a fish, see it float off and know that it’s a wasted fish. Given the availability and effectiveness of descending devices to address one of the main factors impacting the availability of many species, particularly red snapper, this legislation makes sense and hopefully leads to greater awareness of the need to reduce all sources of discard and bycatch mortality.”
“Not only will ensuring that we can return fish to depth and minimize post-release mortality benefit fisheries conservation, it will increase angler access to those fisheries in the long-term,” said Chris Horton, fisheries program director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “Releasing more fish alive today will translate to more fish and more days on the water tomorrow.”
“Expanding the use of descending devices is sound conservation policy that will help ensure the health of fisheries for generations to come,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “The recreational boating and fishing community thanks Representatives Garret Graves and Jared Huffman for their leadership on this issue and we call on all members of Congress to support the bipartisan DESCEND Act.”
“Recreational anglers are the biggest champions of fish conservation in our country. One of the best ways to ensure survival for reef fish and to enhance conservation and grow the resource is by using descending devices to help fish adjust after being caught in deeper waters and avoid being eaten by predators in the process,” said Chris Macaluso, Center for Marine Fisheries director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud the authors and co-sponsors of this bill for their continued work with recreational fishermen to improve fishery management and resource conservation.”
Top photo by FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute via flickr.
Three Ways You Can Help Improve Fishing Opportunities Today
For many of us, winter is closing in and our days on the water are numbered—make the most of the off-season by taking action for fish and clean water
While I’m hiking to my favorite trout stream or trailering to the neighborhood boat ramp, I’m almost always focused on the day ahead—imagining the line pinched between my index finger and thumb, the breathless anticipation of watching a fish trail my rig, and the heart-stopping joy that takes over after a successful hook-set.
The future is full of possibilities on the morning of a fishing trip. It’s easy to lose sight of the challenges facing the broader future of fishing in America, and how much influence we have as anglers.
With some seasons winding down and winter closing in, take the energy you’d normally put into planning your next camping trip or day on the water and put it toward securing the future of our fishing opportunities.
Here are three things you can do to help America’s fisheries right now.
Tell Congress to Fund Fish Habitat Improvements
There are many threats facing many of our fish habitats, including polluted runoff, coastline degradation, invasive species, aging infrastructure that blocks fish passages, and water mismanagement in places like the Everglades. Often, habitat restoration is too big a job for any one agency—whether state or federal—to address. The National Fish Habitat Partnership was created to tackle these issues with a boots-on-the-ground approach.
One of the country’s most successful conservation programs, this partnership has almost 900 completed programs under its belt and is made up of 20 distinct groups that work across America to bring together state, federal, tribal, and private resources. This approach has enabled partners to boost existing fish populations, improve vast swaths of habitat, and restore rivers to their historic flows.
In Shelbyville, Illinois, for example, the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership has succeeded in activating a group of 100 volunteers and professional fisheries and reservoir managers to improve existing habitat, stabilize shorelines, and restore native aquatic vegetation.
Jeff Boxrucker, the partnership’s lead coordinator, praised the success of this project and its forward-thinking approach, but stressed the program’s need for additional funding. “We need to demonstrate the positive return on investment of restoration efforts to not only ensure continued funding but to show that we have moved the needle.” His group is not alone.
The National Fish Habitat Partnership program has no permanent funding, but a piece of legislation could change that. Known as the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act, this bill would secure reliable funding for NFHP through 2023. Your comments could rally lawmakers to move this bill to a vote—show your support now.
Defend Headwater Streams and Wetlands
In September 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its plan to roll back clean water protections for 50 percent of America’s wetlands and 60 percent of our stream miles. This announcement was made despite the thousands of public comments made by sportsmen and women in opposition to the agencies rule and the 92 percent of hunters and anglers who would strengthen or maintain current safeguards for clean water—not relax them.
Clean, productive wetlands and headwater streams are important for everyone, but essential for hunters and anglers and the species we love to pursue. These ecosystems enhance water quality, control erosion, provide fish and wildlife habitat, and maintain ecosystem productivity—and all of this supports a robust outdoor recreation economy worth $887 billion.
Together we can make a difference and hold the EPA accountable for jeopardizing healthy habitat and strong fisheries. Join the TRCP’s fight for clean water today and support our efforts to keep the Clean Water Act working for wetlands and trout streams.
Support the Forage Fish that Keep Sportfishing Fun
Forage fish make up the base of the marine food chain and include species such as menhaden, herring, anchovies, and sardines. A critical food source for predator fish such as tuna and striped bass, these small fish are essential for a healthy ecosystem.
But commercial fishing pressures are sometimes at odds with the needs of our tiniest baitfish and the sportfish that rely on them for food. Fortunately, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to promote more responsible management and conservation of critical forage fish. In the meantime, we need anglers to take action quickly to prevent further declines in one important Atlantic species.
Menhaden—also known as bunker or pogies—are the preferred forage of striped bass that are suffering on the East Coast, according to recent stock assessments. Menhaden also play a vitally important role as food for red drum, bluefish, tarpon, and summer flounder. But hundreds of metric tons of these fish are removed from the region’s waters every year to be turned into pet food, fish meal, and other products.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will soon implement an ecosystem-based management of menhaden, which will take into account the baitfish’s important role in the broader marine food web. They must also hold commercial fishing operations accountable for harvesting more menhaden than they should—this only robs struggling striped bass of their food source.
Sign our open letter and let the ASMFC know that you support healthy sportfish populations, strong marine ecosystems, and the menhaden fishery.
Top photo by Kent Krebeck
Former Crapo Ag Strategist Joins TRCP as Director of Private Lands Conservation
Capitol Hill veteran will work on farm bill conservation policy, chronic wasting disease, forest management, and other rural land issues
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is proud to welcome Andrew Earl to the staff as director of private lands conservation.
Previously, Earl advised U.S. Senator Mike Crapo on agriculture and natural resource-related issues. With his help over a five-year period, their legislative team succeeded in reforming federal budgeting for wildfire suppression, enacted targeted land management reforms, and led several bipartisan efforts to achieve record appropriations for species and habitat conservation programs.
“Andrew joins us at a critical time, as farm bill conservation programs are being implemented after passage of the new five-year bill and rural America faces new challenges that make these incentives even more relevant to farmers and ranchers who already want to do right by wildlife,” says Whit Fosburgh, the TRCP’s president and CEO. “We’re thrilled to have his expertise and Hill knowledge on the team as we work on chronic wasting disease and forest management, as well.”
Earl is a graduate of the American University School of Public Affairs and a native of upstate New York. Outside the office, he enjoys hiking and camping in the Shenandoah Valley as well as trapshooting, fishing, and cooking.
“TRCP has built a reputation as a purpose-driven organization committed to the type of collaborative policymaking becoming increasingly uncommon in DC,” says Earl. “I could not be more excited to join this dynamic team and work to ensure that the goals of wildlife conservation and sportsmen’s access are accounted for within federal agricultural policy.”
Top photo by Larry McGahey via flickr.
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.Learn More