Conservation Coalition Releases 2009 Policy Agenda

Partnership announces guideposts in drive to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish

WASHINGTON – The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) today released its 2009 Conservation Policy Agenda, which represents the consensus priorities of its wide-ranging partners. The agenda was developed by a broad coalition that includes national hunting, fishing and conservation organizations, labor unions and grassroots sportsmen. The TRCP will focus sustained and coordinated efforts on these issues in the coming year.
“By bringing together the diverse voices of its partners, all of whom care deeply about our country’s fish and wildlife resources, the TRCP has been able to shape federal policy for the benefit of future generations of American sportsmen,” said TRCP President and CEO George Cooper. “As a new Congress and administration comes to Washington, this year will be full of opportunities to advance the cause of conservation. We plan to pursue them with the vigor for which our namesake was known.”
The TRCP 2009 Conservation Policy Agenda includes the following issues:

• Reforming the energy leasing and development process on Western public lands
• Expanding Farm Bill conservation efforts like the Conservation Reserve Program
• Ensuring a robust “Open Fields” sportsmen’s access program
• Advancing wetlands protection and clean water restoration strategies
• Improving recreational marine fisheries management through the SALT principles
• Promoting sound roadless area forest management
• Addressing the effects of climate change on fish and wildlife
• Solidifying tax incentives for conservation easements
• Updating the outdated General Mining Law of 1872

“Whether they’re talking stimulus or roadless or oceans or energy, our leaders need to be discussing these issues with America’s first conservationists – sportsmen,” said TRCP Chairman James D. Range. “We have an intimate understanding of our lands and waters, and we have a long history of productive policymaking collaboration.”

“The TRCP is an organization that reflects this reality,” Range continued. “We work to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish by focusing on the issue areas where we stand to have the largest contribution to the integrity of the resource.”

• Reforming the energy leasing and development process on Western public lands
In the last decade, more than 26 million acres of public land in the Intermountain West, an area larger than Virginia, have been leased for energy development. Nearly 20 percent of the entire state of Wyoming has been leased in the same period. More troubling than the overall pace of development is the nature of the lands that are being leased. All too often those lands are crucial habitat for species like elk, mule deer, pronghorn, sage grouse and trout – species that hunters and anglers revere. Even more troubling is the reality that the federal agencies that are charged with assessing and monitoring the effects of development on these populations are not getting the job done. While the TRCP supports responsible use of the public’s energy resources, we believe that only through significant reforms to the federal energy leasing process and post-leasing management will our fish and wildlife resources, along with our opportunities as sportsmen, receive the attention they deserve.
• Expanding Farm Bill conservation efforts like the Conservation Reserve Program
The Farm Bill is our country’s single largest investment on fish and wildlife on private lands. Its Conservation Title includes programs that promote clean waters and healthy soils, along with others that stem erosion and grasslands loss. A new Farm Bill passed in May 2008; it included several improvements to conservation programs. But the largest and most important, the Conservation Reserve Program, suffered mightily. Its ceiling was dropped by millions of acres at a time when it has gotten harder for farmers to enroll lands in the program – no general sign-ups have been held in three years. What’s more, record commodity prices and other land uses present huge challenges to CRP, with the profits from keeping lands in production far outpacing average CRP rental rates. The TRCP is working to reverse this trend by promoting a larger overall CRP along with rental rate reform that again makes this essential program competitive -- now and into the future.
• Ensuring a robust “Open Fields” sportsmen’s access program
The reason most active sportsmen become former sportsmen is the loss of places to hunt and fish. National declines in open space and in sportsmen’s opportunities on public lands mean ever-fewer places to enjoy what T.R. affectionately referred to as “life in the open.” Recognizing the detrimental effect of these declines on rural economies and our sporting heritage, several states have initiated programs to promote public hunting and fishing access on private lands. Still other states have expressed interest in creating them, in no small part because these “walk-in” programs have been found to slow or reverse the decline in sportsmen’s numbers. After determined backing by the members of a TRCP-sponsored coalition, a new program called “Open Fields” was included in the Farm Bill last May. It will provide $50 million during the next four years to bolster state-run sportsmen’s access programs and will encourage landowners who enroll their property in the program to employ best management practices for fish and wildlife. The TRCP will continue to press the U.S. Department of AgricultureA to launch and give shape to the Open Fields program expediently, while helping forge clear channels of communication between state and federal program administrators.
• Advancing wetlands protection and clean water restoration strategies
The U.S. loses an average of 80,000 acres of natural wetlands each year. Over time, wetlands losses have mounted to staggering levels: More than half of our nation’s original 221 million acres of wetlands have disappeared. This has profound implications for fish and wildlife, which are integrally linked to wetlands at various points in, and sometimes even throughout, their lives. Recent Supreme Court decisions have rolled back federal wetlands protections to dangerous levels, and subsequent guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers has done little to clarify the murky legal waters that now surround wetlands. Our nation needs new and lasting legislation that unequivocally protects wetlands, including geographically isolated wetlands, intermittent and ephemeral streams, bogs, fens, swamps, prairie potholes, playa lakes and vernal pools. In addition to working in this vein, the TRCP also is working to strengthen and expand the Wetlands Reserve Program, a USDA wetlands restoration initiative.
• Improving recreational marine fisheries management through the SALT principles
In the run-up to the 2007 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, our country’s primary coastal fisheries management law, the TRCP-sponsored Angling 4 Oceans Coalition developed a set of core principles that it hoped would guide fisheries management policy. The ‘SALT’ principles continue to ring true and the TRCP is continuing to work to ensure that NOAA personnel uses them as guideposts during the rulemaking process following the Magnuson-Stevens Act, particularly in the ongoing creation of a national saltwater angler registry.
The TRCP has set the standard for natural resource protection on Western public lands with its FACTS for Fish and Wildlife, a blueprint for federal land agencies that provides them best management practices for oil and gas development. These guidelines promote the idea of keeping off limits to energy development those special places where hunting, angling, and wildlife resources are crucial to the health of the habitat and the local economy. In areas where development is destined to occur, they offer standard practices that protect fish and wildlife resources, including the use of a conservation strategy prior to leasing and effective mitigation of lands at the end of an energy project. In 2009, the TRCP will expand these guidelines to include development in marine environments, working with federal agencies to steer both renewable and non-renewable energy extraction in ways that maintain healthy fish populations and allow continued recreational angling opportunities in our nation’s oceans.
• Promoting sound roadless area forest management
Our nation has almost 60 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in its national forests and grasslands. Defined as landscapes encompassing more than 5,000 contiguous acres without improved roads, these areas provide important habitat for elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer, plus clean water for wild trout. Too many roads can reduce hiding cover for big game, often resulting in shorter hunting seasons and reduced hunter opportunity. Roads also can impair fish habitat, causing less productive angling. The management of roadless areas is under intense debate, with conflicting court decisions challenging the future of the 2001 federal Roadless Rule that was established to protect these last best areas. The TRCP supports administrative and legislative actions resembling the provisions found in the 2001 Roadless Rule to sustain the future of public lands hunting and fishing. Such provisions would prevent most new road building and development within roadless areas and, along with limits on off-road vehicle use, would conserve the important backcountry characteristics and quality fish and wildlife habitat these areas possess.
Addressing the effects of climate change on fish and wildlife
Climate change threatens the vitality of America’s fish and wildlife in myriad ways. Big game animals must adapt to fluctuations in available forage and shift their migration patterns. Changes in water quality, quantity and temperature are affecting our nation’s fisheries. Anticipated wetlands losses in the Prairie Pothole Region, for example, will reduce North America’s waterfowl productivity. Invasive species, parasites and diseases may flourish in warmer temperatures, challenging the survival of upland game birds. These realities mean that our state fish and wildlife personnel will be the first to identify and, if necessary, devise strategies to offset effects of climate change. The TRCP is working to ensure that state and federal agencies develop comprehensive conservation plans to help fish and wildlife adapt to a changing climate. We also are pushing Congress to provide critical funding to implement these actions.
• Solidifying tax incentives for conservation easements
Conservation easements allow landowners to receive fair compensation for development rights without having to sell their farms and ranches. Easements also are valued by the sportsmen’s community because many provide valuable habitat and continued access for hunters and anglers. In the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress extended provisions in the tax code that widened the availability of conservation easements, making them attractive to a far broader swath of the public. But these incentives last only through the end of 2009. If they are not made permanent soon, a powerful tool for conserving the landscapes on which we hunt and fish may be lost forever. The TRCP, in close collaboration with its partner organizations, is working to advance legislation that would make permanent in the tax law the enhanced deduction of conservation easements.
• Updating the outdated General Mining Law of 1872
Too many waters that should hold fish are fouled by polluted runoff from abandoned mines. And too many lands that should be prime habitat for wildlife are despoiled by tailings piles, abandoned buildings, and mines, shafts and adits. Such is the legacy of the 1872 Mining Law, which grants citizens the right to mine and remove hard-rock minerals from federal public lands if they have a valid mining claim. The law does not require the claim owner to pay any royalties, fees or rents to the U.S. Treasury for minerals that are removed and sold. It does not ensure that federal public lands will be reclaimed and restored once mining operations have ceased. And “Good Samaritans” are saddled with complete liability if they even attempt to clean up a polluted site. These and other provisions of the current mining law are antiquated and must be changed if the persistent legacy of pollution from hard rock mining sites in the places we love to hunt and fish is to be addressed. The TRCP is working with a range of partners to see that they are.
Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.