In late 2019, the U.S. Congress took action on key federal conservation funding bills, which the NWTF has actively been working with members of Congress to advance. These bills will provide funding for land protection and access, wetland restoration, and conservation and management of wildlife. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the Restore Our Parks Act (SB 500) and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (SB 1081) out of committee. The House of Representatives also passed the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act (HR 925). Each of these bills, and their counterparts in the other legislative chamber, have far-reaching bipartisan support.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund dedicates $900 million annually to acquire important conservation lands for wildlife and recreation, as well as providing access to landlocked federal lands. Reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act will continue a highly successful conservation program, which protects wetlands and improves their quality. Since its inception, the NAWCA has granted billions of dollars to complete nearly 3,000 projects on 30 million acres of habitat nationwide.
ROPA establishes a fund by directing 50% of all energy revenues developed on federal land (up to $1.3 billion annually) to address the $20 billon maintenance backlog on federal lands. The Senate plan only addresses the needs of The National Park Service. The House version of the legislation includes funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. Unfortunately, neither allocates funds to the USDA Forest Service, which has the second greatest maintenance backlog (behind the Park Service) of the federal land management agencies. The NWTF is pleased with the advancement of this critical legislation; however, we are concerned that the bill does not include other agencies, in particular the Forest Service. The NWTF will continue to advocate for other agencies inclusion in the bill and for a minimum of 10% of any funding to be dedicated to the Forest Service. All of the aforementioned agencies have an immense maintenance and infrastructure backlog that needs addressing, not solely the NPS.
In mid-November, Greensboro, Georgia, welcomed the 16th Annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses Sportsman-Legislator Summit. Around 50 bipartisan legislators and leaders from state fish and wildlife agencies, representing more than 25 states, met with industry partners and NGO representatives to discuss the best way forward in advancing sportsmen and women opportunities, and how to enact science-based conservation policies.
Joel Pedersen, the NWTF’s director of government affairs, delivered a presentation discussing how federal highway transportation and other funding affects access to federal lands for recreational opportunities, conservation efforts and wildfire management. The NWTF actively supports legislation that is poised to address some of the nearly $20 billon maintenance backlog on these lands. He shared how America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (SB 2302) increases funding for road repair and maintenance on federal lands. He also discussed the aforementioned Restore Our Parks Act (SB 500, HR 1225). Pedersen encouraged legislators to back these bills, but to also support including the Forest Service at a higher level based on the additional benefits to local communities and hunters that these roads provide.
USDA Undersecretary Visits Montana
In early November, Jim Hubbard, USDA undersecretary for natural resources and environment, participated in the 2019 Montana Forest Collaboration Network Workshop in Missoula, Montana. Hubbard also met with representatives from Lolo National Forest, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and David Nikonow, the NWTF’s western Montana wildlife biologist, to tour the Frenchtown Face forest restoration project.
This collaborative project has been a great success. The NWTF and our partners have provided financial and technical support for this project since 2014.
The tour exhibited how the stewardship timber harvest, followed by prescribed burning, reduced the encroaching Douglas fir in a historic ponderosa pine savanna. The treatments enhanced wildlife habitat, reduced the threat of uncharacteristic wildfires and provided valuable timber for the community. This tour highlighted how collaborative partnerships were key in making this project successful, and can be implemented at a scale larger than if we were to do the work alone. The NWTF embraces this collaboration model to further our conservation footprint because of its proven success.
California Partners Meeting
The California Hunting and Conservation Coalition held its quarterly partners meeting — sponsored by the NWTF — in November. The Coalition is a collection of state and national NGOs concerned with California hunting, angling and conservation topics. As the sponsor of the fall meeting, NWTF District Biologist Kevin Vella chaired the meeting and set the agenda. The primary topic of the meeting was, “What is the best way to keep fish and wildlife issues within the California Fish and Game Commission, and out of the legislature?”
This issue was central because in 2019 the California State Legislature passed, for the first time in the state’s history, an outright ban on the hunting of a game species. AB 1254 — a bobcat hunting prohibition — sets a troublesome precedent for hunters, anglers and conservationists alike. The Commission has the power to regulate the taking or possession of wildlife. They weigh scientific data collected from professional wildlife biologists with social tolerance and public comment in their decisions on how best to regulate and balance wildlife for the people and enhancement of the habitat or species in general. This law sets regulations without basing them on science and circumvents this public process. It does not allow management of bobcats in accordance with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, the backbone of our nation’s wildlife management, which has helped countless species to recover from near extinction and now flourish.