Conservation Challenges and Opportunities – Focus of CSF’s Midwest Policy Forum
- Congressional Sportsmen Foundation’s (CSF) Midwest Staff and Pheasants Forever’s Government Affairs Director, Jim Inglis, met with legislators from around the Midwest for a policy forum and reception in Rapid City, SD.
- During the reception, speakers discussed current challenges and opportunities related to conservation.
- The discussion focused on the unique challenges and opportunities related to both conservation activities and access for sportsmen and women on private lands.
Why it matters: Efforts designed to achieve conservation successes naturally vary from place to place. Even within the same region, these objectives can vary between properties, specifically between privately owned properties whose owners hold different values and goals for their land. Fortunately for those landowners interested in contributing to conservation efforts, there are a variety of voluntary state and federal programs designed to achieve conservation objectives while maintaining the overall profitability and functionality of their farm or ranch system. These programs may have major implications in the growing national discussions about conservation in the United States.
Successfully enacting conservation programs on private lands can be a challenge due to the variety of needs and goals that exist among landowners. Fortunately, the United States has a strong track record thanks to the success of voluntary programs that encourage landowners to incorporate conservation considerations. This includes the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a long-standing Farm Bill program that pays landowners who voluntary transition lands from crop production to a conservation practice in return for an annual rental payment. CRP and other voluntary federal and state programs will play a critical role in achieving current conservation goals.
During a recent regional policy forum hosted by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, CSF’s Midwest Staff and Jim Inglis, Pheasants Forever’s Government Affairs Director, spoke with legislators from around the Midwest about current conservation challenges and opportunities. Specifically, this discussion centered around the role of private lands in the growing conversations around conservation that are taking place at a national level. With property in many midwestern states held primarily by private landowners, voluntary private land conservation programs are critical to achieving conservation objectives while respecting the property rights of private landowners.
For sportsmen and women, private land conservation efforts are important to our heritage. For example, there is a clear link between acres enrolled in programs like CRP and the success of upland bird hunters. This success is the direct result of increased habitat availability created through these programs. Likewise, many hunters benefit from access to private lands provided through programs like the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentives Program (VPA-HIP) which allows states to provide rental payments and habitat management assistance to landowners who voluntarily agree to provide recreational public access to sportsmen and women. In return, these sportsmen and women often stimulate local economies with their pursuits.
CSF will continue to support voluntary conservation and sportsmen access programs like CRP, VPA-HIP, and others. Further, we will continue to encourage lawmakers to focus on the success of these and other voluntary programs to achieve conservation successes across the United States.
CSF thanks Title Sponsors, Reynolds American and Pheasants Forever Inc. & Quail Forever, and Supporting Sponsors, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and Boone and Crockett Club, for supporting this forum.
Peace of Mind for Missouri Landowners as Governor Parson Signs Prescribed Burn Act
- On Wednesday, July 14th, Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus (GSC) Member Governor Mike Parson signed Missouri House Bill 369 (HB 369) into law.
- HB 369, also known as the “Prescribed Burn Act,” defines liability standards for landowners and certified prescribed burn managers using prescribed fire on private lands.
- Prescribed fire is one of the most efficient and cost-effective tools for managing and restoring wildlife habitat and maximizing biodiversity.
- Liability concerns are a major reason that many landowners are hesitant to use prescribed fire. HB 369 puts many of these concerns to rest by defining liability standards that protect responsible landowners and certified prescribed burn managers.
Why it matters: Throughout much of the United States, fire has historically played an important role in shaping ecosystems, and the wildlife that inhabit them. However, land use changes and fire suppression efforts throughout the 20th century have resulted in the near extirpation of fire from many landscapes. Today, land managers understand that prescribed fire can be used to achieve land management goals in many parts of the country, but concerns among private landowners, including fears related to liability, continue to inhibit the widespread adoption of this critical practice. MO HB 369 defines liability standards in Missouri in a manner that protects landowners who use prescribed fire responsibly, an important step toward normalizing the use of this practice.
After years of being one of but a handful of states – the rest being in New England – that lacked defined liability standards, Missouri landowners interested in using prescribed fire can breathe a sigh of relief. After being a long-standing priority for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and members of the sporting conservation community, Missouri’s Prescribed Burn Act (House Bill 369) was signed into law by Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Mike Parson on July 14.
The Prescribed Burn Act portion of HB 369 protects landowners and certified prescribed burn managers from liability for damages resulting from the use of prescribed fire unless the responsible party is determined to have been negligent. HB 369’s negligence standards, as opposed to strict liability standards that hold the landowner liable for any and all damage, adds a degree of protection against accidents while maintaining a set of guidelines that landowners and managers must follow to burn responsibly. While the use of prescribed fire does carry certain unavoidable risks, the provisions of HB 369 take steps to minimize these risks for the benefit of both the landowner and the general public.
In support of HB 369, its counterpart SB 301, and its predecessors in 2020, CSF highlighted the benefits of prescribed fire and the need for clearly defined liability standards. For sportsmen and women, fire is a critical tool to manage plant communities that provide critical habitat to game species like white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and northern bobwhite (quail). However, these benefits are not limited to game species. Many State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs), largely regarded as state biodiversity conservation roadmaps, even mention increasing the use of prescribed fire as a necessary practice for improving wildlife habitat and increasing biodiversity. Likewise, CSF pointed to the role of prescribed fire in improving forest health and contributing to efforts to reduce the risk of wildfires by decreasing fuel levels on the forest floor.
CSF supports the use of prescribed fire and similar practices that benefit wildlife habitat and overall ecosystem health. Likewise, we encourage states to work with stakeholders to identify and remove barriers to the use of these important practices.
CSF, Partners Join Together to Help Guide the Vision of the National Wildlife Refuge System
- Last week, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), and roughly 30 partners, published a report outlining a vision for the growth of the National Wildlife Refuge System (System).
- The goal of the report is to highlight the long-standing history and importance of hunting and fishing to the National Wildlife Refuge System to ensure that future expansions of the System account for fish and wildlife dependent recreation.
Why it matters: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which manages national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries, annually supports more than 2.5 million hunting days and almost 8 million fishing days, making these lands and waters a critically important place for hunters and anglers. It is important that as the System seeks to grow through acquisition that hunting, and fishing opportunities should help guide these expansions.
The National Wildlife Refuge System currently consists of 567 refuges, including 427 that are open to hunting and 376 that are open to fishing. Since its inception, the System has been a critically important place for America’s sportsmen and women.
In an effort to ensure future expansions for fish and wildlife dependent recreation and to highlight the long-standing history of hunting and fishing with the National Wildlife Refuge System, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and approximately 30 other hunting and fishing conservation organizations and related businesses released a report to help guide the future of the System.
Specifically, the report includes 12 tenets including a request that proposals for new or expanded national wildlife refuges should be developed through a public process that includes hunters, anglers, state fish and wildlife agencies, private landowners, and others, that public access should be established or retained to support hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities, and 10 other strategic recommendations to increase sporting access.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation will continue to work with partners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand hunting and fishing opportunities within the System.
House Natural Resources Committee Seeks to Expand Access for Sportsmen and Women
- Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee (Committee) voted unanimously to pass the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act, as well as the Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act.
- The MAPLand Act was introduced in bipartisan fashion in May by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Member Rep. Blake Moore (UT) and Reps. Russ Fulcher (ID), Joe Neguse (CO), and Kim Schrier (WA) with the goal of providing more certainty to public land users.
- The VIP Act was introduced in early July by Reps. Miller-Meeks (IA) and Gallego (AZ) to reduce barriers to entry for our nation’s Veterans and servicemembers.
Why it matters: The MAPLand Act and the VIP Act would help expand access on our nation’s federal public lands by providing hunters, anglers, and recreational shooters with enhanced digital and GPS technologies, as well as establishing free passes for our nation’s Veterans to access and recreate on these federal public lands.
For many land management agencies much of the public land mapping information is still held in paper format. This is concerning as easements and rights-of-way information could be lost in perpetuity if proper documentation is lost or destroyed. For example, through no fault of their own, it is estimated the U.S. Forest has only digitized roughly 5,000 of their 37,000 recorded easements.
In response to this lack of digitized documentation, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the MAPLand Act, which will provide more certainty to America’s sportsmen and women. Millions of America’s hunters, anglers, and recreational shooters rely on public lands and waters for recreation. Before planning a trip to a new area, any sportsmen and women can attest to the fact they spend countless hours glossing over maps on their computers or their handheld devices to get a better idea of the land or waterscape. However, a lack of clear and publicly available information often deters sportsmen and women from recreating on a given piece of public land.
To fill this void, the MAPLand Act will authorize much needed financial resources over three years for the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and Army to accelerate the modernization and digitization of public land mapping information. The MAPLand Act also requires that public land management agencies make their information publicly available on their respective websites to be easily accessible by the public.
Continuing its support for increasing access for all Americans, the Committee also passed the Veteran’s in Park Act. Outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, plays a critically important role in the lives of many Veterans and servicemembers. By establishing free annual and lifetime America Beautiful Passes to our nation’s current service members, the VIP Act will reduce the barriers to entry for these selfless individuals to participate in various forms outdoor recreation.
Both bills await further action in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Senate Champions Introduce 21st Century Conservation Funding Bill
July 20, 2021 (WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Earlier today, the bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, a historic piece of legislation to proactively fund state-based conservation, was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Co-Chair Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and CSC Member Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has been a driving force behind the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act since its inception as a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. The Blue Ribbon Panel is now represented by the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife – a diverse coalition who is advocating for the passage of Recovering America’s Wildlife. Since the bill was first proposed in 2016, CSF’s President and CEO Jeff Crane has served as legislative co-chair of the Alliance and continues to help navigate this legislation through the halls of Congress.
Building off the House companion bill, led by CSC Co-Chair Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and CSC Member Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a bipartisan piece of legislation that will provide nearly $1.4 billion annually in perpetuity for proactive, state-based conservation projects in every state, territory, and on tribal lands and waters. Through their State Wildlife Action Plans, which serve as a roadmap to each state’s unique conservation needs, state fish and wildlife agencies have collectively identified nearly 12,000 species that are identified as “species of greatest conservation need”. By acting now, Congress can conserve these species before more costly and burdensome measures are necessary.
“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is grateful for the leadership of Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Co-Chair Sen. Martin Heinrich and CSC Member Sen. Roy Blunt for introducing the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act,” said CSF’s president and CEO Jeff Crane. “This 21st century, proactive conservation initiative is critical to turning the corner on fish and wildlife conservation before more costly measures are necessary.”
“Protecting America’s fish and wildlife habitat means conserving the creatures we love before they ever become imperiled,” said Senator Martin Heinrich. “After all, our children deserve to inherit the full breadth of American wildlife, from bumble bees to bison, that we know today. This legislation will make that possible.”
“Missouri is home to some of the best hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation our country has to offer,” said Senator Roy Blunt. “We can better protect our land, waterways, and wildlife by encouraging states, territories, and Tribes to make significant contributions to voluntary conservation efforts. I’m proud to help introduce this bill that will help preserve our nation’s wildlife for future generations.”
“The historic, bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is by far the most important piece of wildlife legislation in the past half century,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “At a time when more than one-third of wildlife species are at heightened risk of extinction, this critical legislation will help recover thousands of at-risk species through proactive, collaborative efforts in every state, territory, and Tribal nation, creating jobs while preventing extinctions.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act now awaits to be considered by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
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