A few weeks ago one of the most powerful men in America made a statement conservationists should take as the opening shot in the biggest war we will ever fight. And it’s a war we are likely to lose if we are not very, very smart.
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, looked at a drought-stricken landscape in California and said, “How you can favor fish over people is something people in my part of the world would never understand.”
That’s only the start.
As the droughts that climate scientists warned about begin to deepen and spread, we’ll be charged with favoring waterfowl, upland birds, big-game herds, even forests over people.
Anything we try to conserve by protecting its water supply will be – well, fair game.
Those fighting to save Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine operation moved once step closer to victory last week – but mine supporters have vowed to go down swinging.
Opponents of the mine that threatens the priceless fisheries in Bristol Bay, Alaska – and the self-sustaining industries they support - were thrilled by the surprise EPA announcement it will invoke rarely used authority under the Clean Water Act to preemptively limit or stop the mine before the permit is filed because of its potential harmful impacts.
The action came just weeks after the EPA released a study showing the mine would be devastating to fisheries, the industries they support and the native cultures that depend on them.
On Feb. 5 headlines like this ran on news sites across the nation:
From Alaska to Florida, 21 attorneys general join fight to halt Chesapeake Bay cleanup
The story went on to explain the states’ opposition.
“If this [cleanup] is left to stand,” they argued in their joint amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, “other watersheds, including the Mississippi River Basin, could be next.”
But that story had no legs. It was gone from the news cycle almost as quickly has it appeared.
The most powerful and effective anti-hunting movement in the United States is not PETA, or the Humane Society. It is not headquartered in any bustling metropolis; it has no representatives in Hollywood; it needs no beautiful, scantily clad women to promote its dark agenda.
The most powerful anti-hunting movement in the U.S. is the loss of access to places to hunt and shoot. Every Field & Stream reader over the age of 40 is familiar with the problem. Not so long ago, a place to hunt could be had for the price of politely asking a farmer or rancher for permission. Now the question is how much can you afford to pay to lease the hunting rights or be a part of a hunting club.
In an earlier life, when I covered sports that involved balls, a coach once told me “Momentum is a factor because the players think it is.”
You don’t need to be Aristotle to figure that one out. But the observation came to mind because there has certainly been a sudden, positive momentum to sportsmen’s concerns in Washington. And, just maybe, Congress is finally doing right by sportsmen because its members finally think it’s the right thing to do.
Just days after the two-year struggle to get the new Farm Bill enacted finally ended in victory, three more important bills for sportsmen have a stiff wind at their backs.
CC image from Flickr
The new Farm Bill, which includes critical conservation programs supported by sportsmen’s groups, sailed through the full House today by a vote of 251 to 166, clearing what is thought to be its last major hurdle.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it faces little opposition, then on to President Obama for signing.
The nearly $1 trillion measure includes about $60 billion in conservation programs that benefit fish and wildlife, some of which have been in limbo since the previous Farm Bill expired more than a year ago.
For three long years, sportsmen’s groups have been fighting a frustrating battle trying to save key habitat conservation programs from many members of Congress who seemed intent on gutting or killing them.
That frustration may finally be ending.
In what is arguably the best conservation news since the start of the fiscal crisis in 2007, Congressional committees announced agreement on a Farm Bill that includes two features critical to fish and wildlife conservation:
First, farmers once again will be required to comply with conservation programs in order to fully qualify for taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance. The Sod Saver program will now be mandatory in the key duck producing states of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Second, funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Grassland Reserve Program will be restored.
I can’t remember the name of the creek, if I ever knew it. I had crossed Elk Pass the afternoon before, walking west through the monster wall of the Bitterroot Mountains, headed for Hunter Peak and the Selway River far below, in no particular hurry. The creek fell away in a series of cascades, with a pool beneath each drop, and each touch of the elkhair caddis fly brought up a piranha-like swarm of six-inch cutthroats, some of them leaping clear of the water to attack the fly in the air. The trick was to keep it away from them, to dap the fly and let the frenzy build, until from deeper in the pool the bigger trout began to stir and rise. Sometimes, if you timed it just right, the big fish--ten inches, 12 at the most--would slam the fly just as it touched the water, and go rocketing away, thrashing, their brilliant yellows and blacks and reds catching the muted late summer light that fell through the big firs. I brought them to hand, unhooked them and slid them back into the water.
It’s hard to overstate the victory sportsmen and other environmentalists had over the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay last week, when the Environmental Protection Agency released its assessment on the impact that proposed operation would have on the treasured ecosystem. This headline from The Washington Post gives a succinct summary of that assessment: EPA: Mining would destroy fishery, villages, part of watershed in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
Of course that’s what sportsmen, hunting and fishing lodge owners, environmental groups, commercial fishermen, and Native American organizations have been saying in the long struggle to keep this tragedy from happening. One of Earth’s most productive and still pristine ecosystems would be placed in mortal danger if this project ever went forward.
My New Year's resolutions included the following pledges: Never avoid unpleasant subjects, but always suggest solutions.
The following questions-and-answers are offered to honor those aims.
The next time you hear politicians on Capitol Hill calling environmental regulations on the energy industry needless overkill on an industry that poses no serious threat to man or beast, please refer to the following two headlines from this week’s news:
The Deepwater Horizon gusher was capped off the Louisiana coast almost 2.5 years ago, but as the folks in this neck of the marsh say, “The oil may have stopped flowing, but the spill isn’t over.”
(Full disclosure: The wetlands of southeast Louisiana have been my playground, office, and place of worship most of my life.)
No one on this coast is really surprised.
In 2014, many outdoors groups will celebrate passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation ever for America's sportsmen—but I'm guessing most sportsmen won't be able to name it.
It's The Wilderness Act, signed Sept. 3, 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson. The law included a legal definition of what the act set out to preserve:
"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
I am increasingly faced with problems that seem so very far beyond my capacity to solve them. I am almost relieved when some big problem comes flying at me that is real, clearly defined, and imminently solvable. If somebody tells me that we're out of firewood and it's about to get real cold, I've got a truck, gas and oil, an old but solid Husqvarna 262, and a Forest Service permit to cut a few cords of standing dead. I have a clear solution to the problem.
The solution to our wetlands problem is clear as well.
Do you think companies making billions drilling on your land should be required to abide by regulations to protect fish, wildlife, and habitat?
Do you think the billions that sportsmen have invested in protecting and managing these lands and the huge industries and millions of jobs that depend on sensible regulations are important?
Well, the answer from many in the House of Representatives to those two questions this week was a very loud “No!”
It’s hard to believe after events of the last few months (see: government shutdown, sequester, conservation budget cuts) but this is just in: Congress deserves sportsmen’s praise!
Well, maybe that’s a little over the top.
The truth is, only some members of Congress deserve our praise so far--specifically, Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who have packaged some long-overdue ideas to help fish, wildlife and sportsmen.
Hagan is the lead author of the Sportsmen’s and Public Outdoor Recreation Traditions (SPORT) Act introduced this month, which includes some of the important items that were in Murkowski’s Sportsmen’s Act, which was introduced earlier this year.