After a public process, the EPA under President Biden finalized a new rule that formally restores federal Clean Water Act protections for intermittent headwater streams and non-floodplain wetlands, like prairie potholes, and replaces the previous administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The new rule also largely restored Clean Water Act protections that had been in place since 1986, but with important changes to reflect recent federal court decisions, an extensive scientific record, and a robust public stakeholder engagement process. Meanwhile, the agency and stakeholders continued to wait for a ruling the U.S. Supreme Court in Sackett v. EPA, in which the court heard arguments regarding the scope of federal protections for wetlands.
A Hunter and Angler’s Guide to the Omnibus Funding Deal
Hits, misses, and other highlights for conservation in the end-of-year package that keeps government funding flowing
Just before the Christmas holiday, Congress quickly took up and passed a funding agreement that keeps the gears of government moving through September 30, 2023. Importantly, the package carried several conservation priorities across the finish line and boosted funding for key programs that are perennially stretched thin. On the downside, long-sought transformational solutions, like the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, and major public lands legislation failed to make it across the finish line.
Here’s a breakdown of what the omnibus deal included for hunters and anglers:
- The Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act authorizes $70 million annually to boost data on and curb the spread of the disease. The bill also directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to carry out a review of its Herd Certification Program for captive deer operations. Read more about this victory here.
- The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act does away with the use of harmful mesh gillnets in federal waters, which has had devastating impacts on marine species and ecosystems.
- The Charitable Conservation Easement Integrity Act eliminates a harmful exploitation of the charitable conservation easement tax deduction, ensuring Americans can continue to voluntary conserve private acreage.
- The Growing Climate Solutions Act will improve farmers’, ranchers’, and foresters’ access to carbon markets, creating additional revenue streams and keeping lands intact in the process.
Beyond these highlights, the package included modest funding increases for critical conservation initiatives, like the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, and others. Unfortunately, given inflation, many of these adjustments amount to flat funding from the year prior.
On the downside, the deal also:
- Failed to include the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, bipartisan legislation that would have provided $1.4 billion annually for state agencies to manage and address species of greatest concern.
- Included a rider that continues to tie the hands of Fish and Wildlife Service experts when it comes to making decisions aimed at keeping the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list.
- Overlooked funding for the implementation of the MAPLand Act, which the TRCP and hunters and anglers everywhere fought so hard to get across the finish line earlier this year.
- Failed to include a suite of public lands or recreation bills that would have boosted access and opportunities for sportsmen and sportswomen on our nation’s vast public lands.
2022 was a rollercoaster year in Congress, and many expected the late-December flurry of post-election dealmaking that resulted in this funding agreement. Drafting and passing a package of twelve appropriations bills is no easy task, particularly during a midterm election year. The TRCP, our partners, and the entire hunting and fishing community have been actively engaged in the process from the start, and we look forward to building off these successes—and circling back to missed opportunities—in 2023.
EPA Restores Clean Water Act Protections for Streams and Wetlands
New clean water rule again safeguards habitats that are important to hunters and anglers
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a new rule that formally restores federal Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands that sustain fish and wildlife and hunting and fishing opportunities.
The new rule will replace the previous administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which significantly narrowed Clean Water Act protections for intermittent headwater streams and non-floodplain wetlands like prairie potholes. The new rule also largely restores Clean Water Act protections that had been in place since 1986, but with important changes to reflect recent federal court decisions, an extensive scientific record, and a robust public stakeholder engagement process.
This most recent clean water rule includes several provisions that reflect comments submitted by the TRCP and partners on behalf of hunters and anglers requesting stronger federal protections for headwater streams and wetlands. A 2018 national poll carried out by TRCP confirmed that a significant majority of sportsmen and sportswomen support both the Clean Water Act and strong protections for streams and wetlands.
The benefits of clean, productive wetlands and headwater streams are clear to hunters and anglers. Wetlands—including non-floodplain wetlands like prairie potholes and mountain wet meadow complexes—provide critical migratory and nesting habitats for waterfowl while filtering pollutants, enhancing natural water retention, and promoting resilience to drought. Headwater streams provide nursery habitats for salmon and regulate stream temperatures for coldwater trout fisheries.
The new rule reflects the importance of these aquatic ecosystems by reinstating federal protections for headwater streams and non-floodplain wetlands that significantly affect downstream waters.
It also strikes a positive balance between previous efforts to define the scope of federal protections by both the Obama and Trump administrations. The new rule does away with Obama-era bright-line distance requirements to determine whether adjacent wetlands are federally protected. Many stakeholders found these distance requirements complicated, as they often did not reflect more site-specific and regional factors that should be considered in assessing whether certain wetlands are covered under the Clean Water Act. Instead, the new rule provides categorical protections for wetlands adjacent to larger and interstate river and lake systems, while employing a more fact-specific analysis for other wetlands.
Meanwhile, this new rule also restores federal protections that were narrowed under the Trump Administration, specifically for intermittent and ephemeral stream systems that sustain healthy watersheds, particularly in the arid Southwest. The final rule also maintains several longstanding exemptions for normal agricultural operations and more specific guidance for landowners to help provide clearer information on when mitigation actions are necessary.
This is a final rule, but the EPA continues to meet with landowners, farmers, businesses, and conservation organizations to achieve the original goals of the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, the agency and stakeholders continue to wait for a ruling this year from the U.S. Supreme Court in Sackett v. EPA, in which the court heard arguments regarding the scope of federal protections for wetlands. The TRCP, along with Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation, joined an amicus brief in the Sackett case, advocating for the defense of federal protections for headwater streams and non-floodplain wetlands. This position was based on both federal court decisions and an extensive scientific record indicating that these aquatic ecosystems play important functions in sustaining healthy watersheds.
The EPA may need to change even this most recent clean water rule, or adopt a new one, depending on the majority ruling in this case.
For more backstory on the Clean Water Act and how its jurisdiction has changed over the years, check out this timeline.
Top photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Congress Passes Important Chronic Wasting Disease Legislation
Bipartisan support for the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act reflects the dire need to support state efforts to control the disease and ensure the health of wild deer herds with the best possible science
Today, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act was approved by Congress, advancing much-needed solutions for curbing the spread of this 100-percent fatal wildlife disease. The legislation now awaits only the president’s signature, having been included in the Fiscal Year 2023 government funding deal. The bill was previously passed by the House late last year.
“As hunters, we celebrate this decisive action by our lawmakers to infuse state and Tribal agencies with the resources needed to control CWD, while investing in targeted research to create stronger disease solutions,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Both efforts are necessary to ensure the future of our wild deer herds, our continued hunting opportunities, and the strong impacts of hunter-driven conservation funding.”
A peer-reviewed report published this month found that wildlife agencies in 16 CWD-positive states spent an average of $773,000 on disease management in 2021. Currently, the federal government invests just $10 million per year in these efforts through cooperative agreements between state and Tribal agencies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In a 2022 poll, 88 percent of American voters said they support additional federal investment in CWD management at the state level.
“The National Deer Association has been working tirelessly to increase federal support for the research and management of CWD,” says Torin Miller, senior director of policy for the NDA. “We’re celebrating the passage of the CWD Research and Management Act, and we’re incredibly grateful to Representatives Kind and Thompson and Senators Hoeven and Heinrich for their dedication and leadership on this issue. We’re looking forward to efficient and effective implementation and finding additional ways to increase federal engagement and support to combat this devastating disease.”
The CWD Research and Management Act would split $70 million annually through fiscal year 2028 on management and research priorities. This includes $35 million per year for research that would focus on:
- Methods to effectively detect CWD in live and harvested deer and the surrounding environment
- Best practices for reducing CWD occurrence through sustainable harvest of deer and other cervids
- Factors contributing to spread of the disease locally, such as animal movement and scavenging
Another $35 million per year for management, including surveillance and testing, would prioritize:
- Areas with the highest incidence of CWD
- Areas responding to new outbreaks of CWD
- Areas without CWD that show the greatest risk of CWD emerging
- Jurisdictions demonstrating the greatest financial commitment to managing, monitoring, surveying, and researching CWD
- Efforts to develop comprehensive policies and programs focused on CWD management
The bill also includes authorization for federal, state, and Tribal agencies to develop educational materials to inform the public on CWD and directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review its Herd Certification Program, which accredits captive deer operations as “low-risk” for CWD contamination but has proven inadequate to stem the spread of the disease.
“The captive Herd Certification Program represents an area where we still have much work to do,” says Andrew Earl, TRCP’s director of government relations. “By passing this legislation today, Congress has set us up for the next phase, in which the USDA must hold the captive deer industry accountable for its role in the rampant spread of CWD. Hunters will be pushing for the department to take a hard look at the persistent failures of the Herd Certification Program and identify specific ways to strengthen it.”
Top 10 Conservation Issues of 2022 (According to You!)
TRCP members showed the most support for these legislative solutions and conservation priorities in 2022
Since our founding in 2002, the TRCP has existed to unite hunters and anglers around common goals and then bring the strong, unified voice of our community directly to decision-makers, who can implement pragmatic solutions that benefit fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation access.
Our best metric of success is whether we’ve compelled you—our members, readers, and social followers—to act in support of conservation, whether that’s by signing a petition, sending a message to your lawmakers, attending a public hearing or rally, or donating to keep our work going.
In looking back on this year—our 20th anniversary—we saw a pattern of strong support for many issues, both national and regional in scope. More than 30,000 of you took action at least once in 2022. Here are the issues that convinced the most sportsmen and sportswomen to speak up.
Menhaden and Forage Fish Management
Generating an overwhelming wave of support from anglers and residents of the Virginia coast, the TRCP petition urging Governor Glenn Youngkin to move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay became our most viral action alert of the year.
Sportsmen and sportswomen from the Gulf of Mexico to Maine have been primed to act on the menhaden issue since we began sharing the impact of reduction fishing on sportfishing opportunities years ago, but multiple net spills and fish kills this past summer brought even more attention to Omega Protein’s bad behavior.
The majority support of our community makes the inadequate response from some decision-makers all the more frustrating. While anglers successfully pushed for stronger menhaden management in the Atlantic as recently as 2020, this most recent call for regulation in the Bay was met with disappointing results. Similarly, in Louisiana, legislation that would have established buffer zones and more accountability for industrial menhaden harvesters was roundly supported by anglers but ultimately failed.
Our work for menhaden, and the need for your support, continues.
Public Land Access and Management
Unsurprisingly, public land issues came in next on the list, with many opportunities for sportsmen and sportswomen to weigh in on national and local proposals and protect against threats to habitat and access. TRCP supporters have long defended public hunting and fishing opportunities, and some had reason this year to remind decision-makers that our community strongly opposes the sale or transfer of national public lands to the states.
You also spoke out about the need for federal agencies to digitize their paper maps and access records and make this information publicly available. Thanks to your support, this is a requirement made by the MAPLand Act, which was signed into law this year.
Finally, hunters and anglers stepped up to advocate for enhanced hunting and fishing opportunities and balanced, science-based management of national forests, refuges, and BLM public lands in Oregon, Montana, Nevada, and Alaska. Support for hunting and fishing opportunities in the Last Frontier was especially apparent: Across four different campaigns, TRCP members in Alaska and across the country supported re-establishing conservation safeguards for roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest, maintaining 28 million acres of prime habitat known as D-1 lands, preventing degradation of remote caribou and grizzly hunting areas in the Brooks Range, and creating commonsense protections against mine waste in Bristol Bay.
Grasslands and Sagebrush Conservation
Talk about grassroots advocacy! The TRCP and a diverse coalition of groups first appealed to hunters and anglers in 2021 to support a solution for restoring and conserving disappearing grasslands and sagebrush habitat. At the time, our groups offered a proposal: Pattern a program for native grasslands off the successful North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which empowers private landowners to conserve and improve waterfowl habitat.
The response from conservationists was so overwhelming that lawmakers introduced legislation to create just such a program this fall. The action alert is still live, pushing for support of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act, which is unlikely to pass this Congress but has many champions who will make another run at securing this solution in the next session.
Chronic Wasting Disease Solutions
In the past two years, hunters in this community have gotten us closer than ever before to sending more adequate federal resources to state and Tribal wildlife agencies that are struggling to respond to the rapid spread of CWD among wild deer and elk. As a result, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act sailed through the House in 2021. This year, thousands of you have pushed senators to pick up the baton and lock down these investments in better surveillance and testing and next-level science. We hope to have good news to share on this any day now.
You also called on the USDA to hold captive deer operations accountable for their role in spreading CWD between farm-raised and wild deer. This will be the major focus of our work once legislation is passed, so stay tuned.
Defending Pittman-Robertson Dollars
One bill that we’ll be glad to see on the cutting room floor at the end of this Congress generated outrage (and action) among hunters and anglers who are proud of our essential role in conservation. The RETURN Act, introduced in July of this year, would have obliterated Pittman-Robertson funding, which is collected via excise taxes on our licenses, firearms, and other gear to underwrite habitat improvements, enhanced hunting and fishing access, hunter’s education programs, and new public shooting ranges across the country.
We’re always hesitant to bring too much attention to legislation that appears to have no path forward, but in this case, with the bill co-sponsored by so many decision-makers upon introduction, education and advocacy was necessary. You rose to the occasion, firing off this message and leading some lawmakers to quickly pull their support for the bill.
Water Conservation and Drought Planning
While public lands and looming threats took top spots on this list, a diverse array of water resource issues also attracted your attention in a meaningful way this year. The biennial Water Resources Development Act was a surprising rallying point for hunters and anglers—while the TRCP always advocates for habitat and outdoor recreation in this process, it has rarely been met with so much support from sportsmen and sportswomen. Thanks, in part, to you, WRDA just passed out of the Senate and heads to the president’s desk with important provisions for Mississippi River conservation efforts, natural infrastructure, and Everglades restoration. The Everglades also got a boost in early 2022, but hunters and anglers continue to advocate for completion of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir with federal support.
On a local level, hunters, anglers, and conservationists in Colorado stepped up to ensure that many diverse perspectives were included in the Colorado Water Plan as it was updated this year. And, in Pennsylvania, anglers were increasingly vocal about the need for the highest possible conservation safeguards to be applied swiftly on qualifying wild trout streams. This work will continue in 2023, if you want to be involved.
Farm Bill Conservation Programs
We also saw strong support for private land conservation programs in one of the most significant, yet commonly overlooked, pieces of legislation for improving habitat and access: the Farm Bill. For the thousands of you who spoke out in support of greater overall investments in private land conservation, a stronger Conservation Reserve Program, and giving a boost to the only federal program aimed at enhancing outdoor recreation access on private land, your timing couldn’t have been better. The most recent five-year Farm Bill expires next fall, and lawmakers will be working in earnest to craft a new package this spring. It is clear that hunters and anglers will be paying attention.
Conservation Funding Proposals
The limitations on our good ideas and strongest conservation policies are nearly always related to how much funding is available. While a balance on federal spending must be maintained, it is worth noting that conservation dollars, as a percentage of all congressional spending, had been cut in half in recent decades. Gains have been made in many existing programs, but new funding sources need to be identified to keep conservation moving forward.
This may be why so many of you were compelled to take action in support of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would proactively fund conservation of the most at-risk species. RAWA would provide dedicated funding to restore habitat, recover wildlife populations, and rebuild the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities—and it could still pass this Congress as an omnibus spending deal comes together.
Wildlife Crossings and Migration Corridors
We can always expect a positive response when we post about wildlife crossings and big game migrations, and it’s easy to see why these are popular topics with sportspeople: Crossings reverse habitat fragmentation, save lives, and keep herds healthy, while trail cam footage of their use—particularly during migrations—is just incredibly cool to see.
Following a big win for habitat connectivity in 2021, we worked to make this community aware of a new federal grant program that would make it possible for more wildlife crossing structures to be built across the country. And there was strong support when we gave you the opportunity to vie for these dollars to be spent in your state. With your help, decision-makers are becoming aware of the need to apply for these resources and get construction underway.
Hunters and anglers also stepped up this year to support conservation of big game seasonal habitats, including wildlife corridors and stopover areas, across the West. Sportsmen and sportswomen in Colorado and Oregon spoke out about proposed land-use plans and legislation affecting these habitats and the possibility of installing wildlife crossings. This work is likely to be important again in the 2023 state legislative sessions.
Nature-Based Climate Solutions
It is easy to feel overwhelmed at the scope of the climate change crisis and how habitat and species are already being affected. But healthier landscapes and waters are powerful solutions, as well. For this reason, we launched a new online educational resource this year to engage hunters and anglers in this conversation and push decision-makers to embrace habitat-powered solutions to climate change. Many of you downloaded our guide to climate change impacts on hunting and fishing and then took the next step to demand action from Congress and federal agencies. The next major opportunity to secure some of these nature-based solutions is in the upcoming Farm Bill debate, so check back here for more in 2023.
A word about advertising:
I want to acknowledge that hunters and anglers can’t take action on these or other conservation priorities if they are not aware of the opportunity to do so. This is why—in addition to reaching out to our email subscribers and social followers—the TRCP uses advertising, particularly on social media, to expose as many potential advocates as possible to a given issue.
The budget to do this varies from campaign to campaign, so there definitely could be an indication of more support for campaigns that can afford more advertising. Still, even with an unlimited budget, we can’t sell anyone on a weak call to action. So, enthusiasm for the above issues is clearly there.
Thank You for Your Commitment
Perhaps you, yourself, were compelled to take action through a Facebook ad or other sponsored post before knowing much about the TRCP. If so, we’re glad you’re here. If you’ve been subscribed to our emails for a while and filled out your first action alert this year, we thank you. It really does make a difference when we can show lawmakers that their constituents care about an issue.
If you would have liked to support one of these issues, but you’re just learning about it now, please consider signing up for TRCP’s emails. Our weekly Roosevelt Report gives a good overview of what’s going on in conservation across the country, while more regionally specific and issue-based emails go out to smaller groups as opportunities to take action arise. And we will never sell your information or spam you.
Signing up is also a great way to get ahead of any new year’s resolutions to get more involved in or informed about conservation. Let us do most of the work and deliver that information directly to your inbox! Expect your first Roosevelt Report to be sent on January 6, 2023.
In closing, we are extremely grateful for your support of TRCP and overall commitment to conservation, habitat, and access this year. Happy holidays, and we hope you have excellent hunting and fishing in 2023.
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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