Conservation Update: The Gulf Gets a Win, But the Losses for Sportsmen Keep Coming

There’s good news, and there’s bad news that leads to good news. First, the good news: Sportsman’s groups from Ducks … Continued

There’s good news, and there’s bad news that leads to good news. First, the good news:

Sportsman’s groups from Ducks Unlimited to the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and everywhere in between were celebrating the passage of the RESTORE Act last week. Land Tawney of the National Wildlife Federation said, “The RESTORE Act is the culmination of years of work from hunters and anglers all across the nation, all working to restore the Gulf.”

If the Act had not passed, the estimated $5-$20 billion in fines being collected from British Petroleum and other companies for their role in the oil spill would have gone to the U.S. Treasury, and been placed in a fund to clean up and mitigate future spills. It’s a staggering amount of money, and it is needed, right now, to begin the work to restore a coast that, even before being bathed in oil in 2010, with fisheries shut down for months and still-being-calculated damage to shellfish, water quality and pelagic fisheries, was washing away so fast that it is known to be the world’s fastest disappearing landmass.

“The RESTORE Act will provide desperately needed funding for restoration of the Gulf Coast wetlands,” said Ducks Unlimited’s Bart James. “”Positioned at the terminus of the Mississippi and Central Flyways, these wetlands represent the single most important wintering area for waterfowl in North America.”

What is at stake here has been reported on here at F&S many times before.

Louisiana has long been known as Sportsmen’s Paradise, and the name remains apt. But what is less well known is that the marshes that are washing away so fast, and the coast that was damaged by the spill, are also the economic powerhouse of not just a region but our whole nation. Forty percent of American seafood comes from Louisiana. Ten million waterfowl migrate here to winter. The sportsman’s economy alone is estimated at $70 billion (which will come as no surprise to anyone who fishes and hunts or spends a lot of time here — the redfish and speckled trout fishing attract anglers from all over the world, the offshore yellowfin tuna and mahi-mahi fishing is awesome, the oysters and blue crabs are an economy all their own).

As I wrote here in September of 2011 about the embattled Port of New Orleans: “Goods (including over half of all our grain exports) from 14,500 miles of navigable inland waterways are barged through this port, which handles 6,000 vessels, 50,000 barges, and 62 million short tons of cargo every year. The massive energy infrastructure of Port Fourchon pumps $5 billion worth of royalties into the federal treasury and is the support base for 75 percent of all oil and gas development in the Gulf…Port Fourchon is the host for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), and handled an estimated $63.4 million worth of oil and gas in 2006. Every year, with every storm, the open Gulf of Mexico comes closer and closer to these critical blocks of our economy.”

RESTORE had the support of Democrats and Republicans alike. But as a reporter who has covered this story for more than a few years now, I can tell you that it was the hard work and relentless advocacy of sportsmen that actually made it happen. Hunters and anglers (and commercial fishermen and watermen) are the ones who know the land and waters best, and know what is really happening. To everyone who worked so hard on this, congratulations is in order. And to those who thought that there was no way that this could ever pass, remember the immortal words of Henry IV after his triumph at the Battle of Arques, September of 1589: “Hang yourself, brave Crillon. We fought at Arques, and you were not there!”

But please do not hang yourself. There are plenty of other battles, if you missed this one. The U.S. House of Representatives is doing its best to address the tremendous budget deficit by strangling programs that conflict with some of the members’ ideology, whether or not those programs are important to reducing the deficit, or not. The House budget will cut the Bureau of Land Management budget by $39.6 million, cut the EPA budget by 17 percent and perhaps most sadly, reduce the highly effective Land and Water Conservation fund by 80 percent.

I could go on, ad nauseum, and I will, for a second: the North American Wetlands Conservation Act will be cut by $13 million (here’s DU’s concise report on NAWCA and what it has accomplished). In case there was any doubt about the actual motivation of many of these cuts, the House Budget bill also includes a rider that prohibits using any funds to clarify whether a wetland or tributary creek is protected under the Clean Water Act.

Take that, you water drinkers, fishermen, swimmers and boaters! You will be prohibited from even finding out if the most effective water law on earth protects your local waters. Sound like a good solution? Think that will make a big difference in reducing the federal deficit?

The House added more bills relevant to energy production on public lands that should be of concern to anyone who hunts or fishes the American West, too. Energy development being exempted from most laws meant to protect wildlife, fisheries, hunting, grazing, etc. on public lands is apparently not enough for some lawmakers. The new bills require, among other things, that public land managers are required to lease land for energy development without regard to the other values present there, and they must do so in a fixed amount of time, whether or not the risks to other resources such as hunting and fishing have been evaluated. It’s a package carefully designed to be extreme, and the shouting match has begun already.

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, described the legislation as a sham. “Republicans passed a bill that would cede nearly all of America’s public lands to oil companies within just a few short years, but wouldn’t even allow a debate on wind, solar, and a real ‘all of the above’ energy strategy,” he said in a statement.

There is a path illuminated for sportsmen by all the fire and glare from the success of the RESTORE Act and the toxic plume of terrible bills billowing forth from the House of Representatives. One light on that path is a new study on the economic effects of outdoor recreation by the Outdoor Industry Association finds that “generating $646 billion in direct consumer spending every year, supporting 6.1 million direct jobs, and producing $80 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue every year, outdoor recreation is an industry on par with other important sectors of the American economy.”

On par, but too often ignored by lawmakers bent on serving other, more entrenched interests. So what does a hunting, fishing, conservationist do to make sure we keep what we have, in a nation growing inexorably more populated, where fewer and fewer citizens know what is out there at stake, or what is out there to cherish? First, we know that we cannot always vote for the best environmental candidate. He or she may have other ideas and influences that are too repulsive to us. But what we can do is demand that every candidate and every elected official understand and acknowledge our fierce dedication to protecting the natural resources of our nation. Our elected officials owe their jobs and their allegiance to we the people. We do not elect them to trash our public lands, or sell them off, or allow one of their big campaign contributors to ruin our rivers. And we cannot allow them to believe that they can.

Americans have become too silent. For decades, we have had federal environmental laws that protected our interests. Those laws protected us so well that we forgot they even existed, and we let people tell us we didn’t need them anymore. Now we are losing them. A new way forward is being born. And it involves getting up out of that Barca-Lounger and making some good old fashioned noise. Join sportsman’s groups like the ones that fought for RESTORE and NAWCA and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Write letters. Demand accountability from elected representatives for their votes and for their statements. Follow the news, as much as you can stand it. You’ll find stories like this one, where Texas pecan growers are developing a lawsuit against coal-fired power plants for allegedly destroying a generations-old and very profitable family pecan business (1700 tons of sulfur dioxide spewed into the air annually does tend to have an effect). It worked for pecan growers around Albany, Georgia, in the 1970s. Lawsuits for environmental assault are a very Ron Paul-style libertarian tactic for obtaining justice, but maybe it’s a tactic whose time has come again.

But most of all, go fishing, go hunting, go camping and stay an extra day or three. Buy that youth shotgun for your sons and daughters and pass it down the line like a pair of jeans that never wears out. Take your friends and invite your enemies. Make sure you introduce somebody new to the outdoors this summer. Stand in the water in your river and say, “this is my birthright and the birthright of my children. Nobody, but nobody, is going to take this away from us!”