Policy Corner Brief: AUGUST 2021
Conservation Reserve Programs Provides Farmers and Ranchers with a Sense of Resiliency in the Face of Severe Drought
- The Conservation Reserve Program’s (CRP) emergency haying and grazing provisions provide farmers and ranchers with an additional source of forage during times of severe drought or other natural disaster.
- CRP participants in eligible counties are permitted to hay or graze CRP-enrolled acres outside of the primary nesting season when their county is classified as “D2 Drought – Severe” by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
- Currently, nearly 36% of U.S. Counties are eligible for emergency haying and grazing on CRP acres due to existing drought conditions across much of the country.
Why it matters: Often mistakenly and trivially referred to as a land retirement program, CRP can be a beneficial part of a working agricultural system. Perhaps no situation highlights this better than the program’s emergency haying and grazing provisions. During times of severe drought or after other natural disasters, enrolled landowners may be permitted to harvest hay or graze enrolled acres as a supplemental forage source for their livestock. These provisions represent added resiliency for enrolled landowners who might otherwise be facing limited forage options due to adverse conditions. While emergency haying and grazing might temporarily lower habitat quality for species inhabiting a tract of CRP, the safety net provided by these provisions represent another reason that landowners should consider participating in a program that can provide critical wildlife habitat, thereby improving opportunities for sportsmen and women, on private lands throughout the nation.
While many Americans naturally view severe droughts as a major problem, there is perhaps no demographic more impacted than our nation’s agricultural producers. Unfortunately, those impacts are currently looming large over many producers across the country, particularly in most of our nation’s western states. With little reprieve in sight, farmers and ranchers are beginning to turn to alternative sources of forage for their livestock. While problematic, this gives one of the nation’s largest and most successful private lands conservation programs another chance to shine.
The voluntary Conservation Reserve Program is often referred to by some as a “land retirement” program, a perspective that stems from the transition of lands enrolled in the program from commodity crop production to alternative, conservation-focused services. While warmly regarded by many in the sporting conservation community for the benefits the program provides for our nation’s wildlife resources, the current situation across much of the United States serves as a reminder that CRP can act as an emergency safety net for working farms and ranches as well.
Right now, more than 1,100 counties (nearly 36% of counties in the U.S.) are eligible for CRP’s emergency haying and grazing provisions. For landowners enrolled in the program, this means that they can use their enrolled CRP acres as a source of additional forage for their livestock. Likewise, those with a surplus of forage are permitted to sell hay and grant grazing access to other farmers and ranchers in need of quality forage options. It is also worth noting that, if these practices are performed outside of the primary nesting season for grassland birds in the state, eligible CRP acres can be hayed or grazed with no payment penalty to the landowner.
Conservation programs such as CRP provide an invaluable opportunity for private landowners to voluntarily incorporate conservation considerations into their overall land management portfolio. In many cases, CRP provides an opportunity to diversify land use practices and promote increased resiliency in the face of challenges such as drought while, among other benefits, providing quality habitat for wildlife populations. For more information on CRP, contact your local Farm Services Agency (FSA) office, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Farm Bill Biologist, or other local contacts.
Debate over Lead Ammunition and Tackle Bans Takes Center Stage for Third Webinar Installment
- On August 11, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) held its third Summer Educational Series webinar, bringing together a panel of industry experts and state and federal fish and wildlife agency leaders for a candid discussion on lead ammunition and tackle bans.
- CSF Northeast staff facilitated the panel discussion titled “Science, Emotion, and Politics: The Perennial Debate on Lead Ammunition and Fishing Tackle” followed by a moderated Q&A session.
- As was emphasized throughout the event, fish and wildlife management decisions must be left under the sound, science-based discretion of the state fish and wildlife agencies.
- The fourth and final webinar session, titled “Sportsmen and Women as the Original Conservationists: Opportunities to Lead the Future of Conservation,” will be hosted by CSF on August 25.
Why it matters: Often, the tragic loss of a raptor, such as a bald eagle, due to the ingestion of lead, results in the introduction of legislation that seeks to limit or outright ban the use of lead ammunition and tackle. These efforts often ignore many of the existing variables that must be weighed and considered when looking to restrict such uses. First, authority over the management of fish and wildlife must be left within the jurisdiction of the state’s respective agency. Additionally, non-lead ammunition and tackle options are often cost-prohibitive and not widely available, and as the markets have shown (primarily for ammunition), supply is still struggling to meet demand. Lastly, the inability to locate non-lead options, especially those that are reasonably affordable, has the potential to stave-off participation, which in-turn may result in a loss of revenue for state fish and wildlife agencies through the American System of Conservation Funding.
Kicking off the third installment of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) summer series webinar, Jake McGuigan, Managing Director, Government Relations-State Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) provided a history on lead bans in the U.S., from their origins on the west coast driven by impacts to California condors (beginning with a narrow focus that has since broadened to state-wide) and taking attendees up to recently defeated attempts to ban the use of lead in the northeast. Jake also spoke to the state of the industry from an economics standpoint and some of NSSF’s efforts on behalf of the sporting community.
Following Jake was Mike Leonard, Vice President, Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), who provided an equally informational presentation on the state of the industry and market conditions but from an angling perspective. Mike spoke to the use of lead tackle by America’s anglers and the shortcomings of non-traditional weights, such as the exorbitant price differential between tungsten (non-traditional) and lead (traditional).
Up next was Tom Decker, a Certified Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR) who works nationally on a collaborative initiative entitled “Partner With A Payer.” Tom provided an insightful talk on the Wildlife Restoration apportionments over the past decade, as well as the potential for state fish and wildlife agencies to fund human dimensions surveys on the use of lead which could be funded through WSFR.
The next presenter was Nate Webb, Wildlife Division Director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW). Nate provided a state agency’s perspective on the balancing act that must be considered when weighing in on lead ammunition bans. Nate spoke to the benefits of a voluntary and educational approach to encourage sportsmen and women to switch to lead alternatives and also discussed a recent bill in Maine that would have banned the use of lead ammunition while hunting.
Wrapping up the webinar was Commissioner Louis Porter from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. Commissioner Porter provided an invaluable look at the topic of lead ammunition and tackle bans from the lens of a state fish and wildlife agency leader, remarking on the weight that’s given to the state’s biologists and those working on the ground to collect data, and reaffirming the voluntary and educational approach being preferable to statutory bans.
Senate Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing to Consider CSF-Supported USDA Nominee Dr. Homer Wilkes
- On Thursday, August 5, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a confirmation hearing for Dr. Homer Wilkes, who was nominated in June to serve as the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.
- If confirmed, Dr. Wilkes will oversee the daily operations of the United States Forest Service which is charged with the management of millions of acres of public lands across the country.
- CSF and many partners have voiced support for Dr. Wilkes’ nomination, citing his history of experience as an effective leader within the USDA.
Why it matters: As Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Dr. Wilkes will lead the efforts of USDA’s Forest Service, an agency charged with the management of millions of acres of public lands across the United States. In addition to the Forest Service’s crucial role in providing a sustainable source of forest products, our National Forests and Grasslands provide an abundance of benefits, including quality opportunities for sportsmen and women who access these lands to participate in their outdoor pursuits.
On Thursday, August 5, members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee (Committee) held a confirmation hearing for Dr. Homer Wilkes, President Biden’s nominee for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.
In support of Dr. Wilkes’ nomination, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) joined 26 other sporting conservation organizations in submitting a letter to members of the Committee. The letter highlights Dr. Wilkes’ 41 years of experience within the USDA. During his career, Dr. Wilkes has collaborated with a variety of stakeholders in support of large-scale solutions. This experience will be invaluable as he leads a Forest Service that serves a variety of purposes through collaboration with diverse stakeholders.
Dr. Wilkes is currently serving as the Director of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration, a position that he has held since 2013. In this position, Dr. Wilkes played a critical role in the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Prior to this, Dr. Wilkes served as the Mississippi State Conservationist where his leadership saw Mississippi’s forests rise to the top in terms of both carbon sequestration and timber products harvested. CSF, and many others, are confident in Dr. Wilkes’ ability as the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.
Dr. Wilkes nomination now requires a simple majority vote from the Senate Agriculture Committee before being considered by the full Senate for confirmation.
CSF Joins Wyoming Coalition Asking Governor to Support Improving Publicly Available Data on Legal Land and Water Access Points
Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Rocky Mountain States Senior Coordinator
- Cited as the top reason for decreasing hunter participation trends nationwide, lack of access to public lands is a pervasive issue in need of fixing.
- Building from the successful enactment of HB 122, CSF alongside TRCP and 15 other organizations submitted a letter to Governor Gordon encouraging Wyoming to develop a comprehensive geospatial layer for new access easement agreements that can be integrated into modern smartphone applications and GPS devices to help the public discover legal access routes and waters.
- If such data were made publicly accessible, it would not only help the public find places to hunt and fish, but it would also make it easier for law enforcement officers to enforce the state’s trespass laws and help state and federal land managers more effectively oversee their holdings.
Why it matters: Our nation’s abundant public lands are a source of pride for all Americans. Unfortunately, despite being owned by the American public, much of those public lands are inaccessible due to the patchwork of public and private land holding patterns. With almost 16 million acres of combined state and federal land inaccessible in the West, lack of public access to public lands is a pervasive issue in need of fixing. Specific to Wyoming, more than 4 million acres have been identified as landlocked without legal public access. As HB 122 takes effect, providing additional funding for Wyoming Game and Fish Department to work cooperatively with landowners to develop voluntary agreements to provide public access to private, state, and federal lands, it is critical that these agreements are easily and readily available to the public for use.
Public land access issues have been the focal point of many headlines in recent history. Cited as the top reason for decreasing hunter participation trends nationwide, lack of public access to public lands is a pervasive issue in need of fixing. To put into perspective, according to a 2019 OnX published study, there is a total of 6.35 million acres of western state land and 9.52 million acres of western federal land that are entirely landlocked by private lands. With nearly ¾’s of western hunter’s dependent on public lands for some or all of their access and opportunity, it’s clear that the sustainability of our shared outdoor sporting heritage is inextricably linked to public land access and opportunity.
Common to the region, there is a patchwork of public and private land holdings, some accessible, many not. Specifically, Wyoming has 4.16 million acres of combined state and federal land that is inaccessible, the highest of all western states. House Bill 122 – Hunting and Fishing Access Reliable Funding (HB 122), sponsored by Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Representative Western and enacted by Governor’s Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Gordon earlier this year, takes a proactive approach in addressing public land access issues. By providing increased funding to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), the implementation of HB 122 will improve wildlife conservation efforts while also expanding public land access and opportunities by aiding in the purchasing properties or entering into easements and other agreements with willing property owners by the Game and Fish Commission.
Alongside the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) and 15 other organizations, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a letter to Governor Gordon encouraging Wyoming to develop a comprehensive geospatial layer for new access easement agreements that can be integrated into modern smartphone applications and GPS devices to help the public discover legal access routes and waters. Doing so would not only help the public find places to hunt and fish, but it would also make it easier for law enforcement officers to enforce the state’s trespass laws and help state and federal land managers more effectively oversee their holdings.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources to Review the Definition of Muzzleloading Rifles
Contact: Nick Buggia, Upper Midwestern States Manager
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources is planning to review their definition of a “muzzleloader”.
- This change would allow the use of new technologies like the Federal FireStick platform.
- This new technology allows the powder and primer to be loaded from the breech of the gun while still requiring the projectile to be through the barrel.
- Allows for safer transportation and increased reliability without creating an increased advantage over other muzzleloader models.
Why it matters: While CSF maintains that state fish and wildlife agencies are the entities best equipped to make decisions regarding the management of our public trust fish and wildlife resources, these agencies typically host public comment periods to solicit input on proposed regulatory changes. These comment periods provide the public, including sportsmen and women, an opportunity to learn the reasoning behind proposed regulatory changes and provide their input. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) believes that the proposed changes in Illinois regarding muzzleloaders will increase safety while expanding hunting opportunities for sportsmen and women to take advantage of novel technology.
CSF submitted a letter to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) supporting regulatory changes to the definition of a “muzzleloading rifle”. This change would allow for the use of new technologies such as the FireStick platform produced by Federal Ammunition.
The current definition of a muzzleloader requires both the powder (propellent) and bullet (projectile) to be loaded only via the muzzle. The proposed language would only require the bullet to be loaded from the muzzle, thereby legalizing the use of new technology, like the FireStick, which allows both the powder and primer to be safely loaded and unloaded from the breech end while the bullet is loaded from the muzzle. This new technology allows the powder to remain dry in adverse weather conditions, ensuring a consistent and reliable ignition of powder and improved accuracy at standard ranges. The increased reliability and simplicity allows muzzleloaders to be more accessible and user-friendly without creating an unfair advantage. These new designs do not increase the number of shots or effective range when compared to many of the common in-line muzzleloaders that Illinois hunters are already using.
Additionally, because the powder and primer can be removed with ease, muzzleloaders can be transported more safely. Many surrounding states already allow for the use of this technology, including Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, and Kentucky. CSF’s Midwest staff has recently supported regulatory changes to allow hunters the use of this new technology in several states.
The Illinois DNR will review all comments before making a final decision on the change. Please continue to follow The Sportsmen’s Voice for updates.
Signature Gathering Underway on Oregon’s Initiative Petition 13 to End All Hunting and Fishing in Oregon
Contact: Keely Hopkins, Pacific States Assistant Manager
- With the final ballot title language now certified, proponents of Oregon’s Initiative Petition 13 (IP 13) received approval from the Oregon Secretary of State on July 15th to begin gathering signatures to place the initiative on the 2022 ballot.
- If passed, IP 13 would prohibit the injuring or killing of all mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, unless it occurs as an act of self-defense. In addition to prohibiting hunting and fishing, this sweeping initiative would impact common animal breeding practices, research, and education.
- Proponents will have until July of 2022 to gather the 112,020 signatures necessary to qualify the initiative.
Why It Matters: Oregon’s hunters, anglers, and trappers have long played a vital role in funding conservation and wildlife management efforts throughout the state. Under the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF), a unique “user pays–public benefits” structure, Oregon’s sportsmen and women generate tens of millions of dollars each year for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). These funds are generated through fishing and hunting license sales and through an 11% excise tax paid on sporting-related goods via the Pittman-Robertson Act. In addition to IP 13 restricting over 940,000 sportsmen and women from their outdoor pursuits of hunting, fishing, and trapping, the prohibition on these activities would result in a substantial decrease of revenue for Oregon’s critical conservation, habitat restoration, and wildlife management efforts.
“End Animal Cruelty”, an animal rights activist group in Oregon, received approval from the Oregon Secretary of State on July 15 to begin gathering signatures to qualify Initiative Petition 13 for the 2022 ballot. If proponents are successful in gathering the required 112,020 signatures, IP 13 will be placed on the November 2022 ballot, where Oregon voters will decide the fate of hunting and fishing in the state.
If passed, IP 13 would end all hunting, fishing, and trapping, which would immediately impact Oregon’s 940,000 sportsmen and women who participate in the outdoors in support of conservation efforts, food procurement, and tradition. The proposed initiative would also significantly impact the state’s ability to manage and protect its natural resources, wildlife, and public lands. Without sportsmen-generated revenue through license and tag sales, along with excise the tax revenue generated through Pittman-Robertson for sporting-related purchases, ODFW would have their budget drastically cut by almost one half. ODFW, the primary stewards of protecting and enhancing our states wildlife and their habitat, would lose over $50 million dollars annually from hunting and fishing license sales alone.
Hunters, anglers, and conservationists have all united as a coalition in opposition to this egregious initiative, with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) on the frontlines and serving as a member of the Steering Committee. CSF will continue to fight these proposed restrictions throughout each step of the process.
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