Our Policy Priorities (2021-2022)
Every two years, the Izaak Walton League reexamines our public policy priorities to prepare for a new term of Congress, which always offers a clean slate for advancing our conservation mission. In 2021, both a new Congress (the 117th, which will serve in 2021 and 2022) and a new presidential administration were sworn in, creating even more opportunities for the League to collaborate with national conservation leaders and officials.
Here is an overview of the most vital priorities the League’s staff and dedicated grassroots volunteers will be working to advance in 2021 and 2022.
Safeguarding Clean Water
Since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, water quality across the country has improved dramatically and the rate of wetland loss has slowed significantly. However, the progress and protections provided by the Act are increasingly at risk. In 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency issued rules for administering the Clean Water Act that defy the original intent of Congress, ignore Supreme Court rulings and disregard the science of water pollution. Action taken by these agencies to reduce the number of streams and wetlands protected by the Clean Water Act unnecessarily and inappropriately puts Americans’ drinking water, health and outdoor recreation opportunities at risk.
What the League is Doing
Within the first month of President Biden’s term, League staff began communicating to the administration about the importance of repealing the current rules and replacing them with regulations that protect America’s waters. Additionally, we will work with members of Congress to amend the Clean Water Act with clearer definitions of the types of waters that are protected under the Act – definitions that must include all wetlands and all tributary streams.
Helping Taxpayers and Farmers through Better Soil Health
America has lost half of its topsoil, and cropland soil is eroding 10 times faster than it can be replenished. Since colonial times, our soil has lost half of its organic matter – half its carbon content – requiring increased inputs of agrichemicals. Healthy soils store atmospheric carbon, protect water quality, reduce flooding, grow healthy food, increase drought resilience and reduce input costs for farmers and ranchers. In short, healthy soils are critical to America’s future food and fiber supply and are essential for mitigating some of the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
What the League is Doing
We continue to lead the charge to establish a “Good Farmer Discount” on crop insurance premiums for farmers who adopt agricultural practices that build soil health, including no till, cover crops and managed rotational grazing. Farmers who adopt conservation measures that build soil health, increase the carbon content of the soil and grow the soil’s water-holding capacity reduce the likelihood they will suffer a large crop loss in a very dry or very wet year. Yet these “high conservation / low risk” farmers pay the same premiums for their crop insurance as farmers who have not adopted the conservation measures and who are therefore more likely to have a crop loss that is covered by crop insurance. We are working with Congress to pass legislation creating these vital crop insurance reforms. Additionally, we are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement a pilot project that would demonstrate the value of a Good Farmer Discount to producers and taxpayers across the country.
The League is also working with Congress to pass legislation creating a State & Tribal Soil Health Grant Program. Plans written under this program would identify needs, opportunities, costs, benefits, strategies and practices for restoring and maintaining healthy soils. The plans would be tailored for each state's soils, climate and agricultural systems and would be based on the best available science. Under our proposed legislation, once these plans are in place, states and tribes would be eligible for annual federal funding to help cover the cost of implementing the plans.
Combatting Climate Change
Our elected officials must lead an aggressive strategy to put the U.S. on a path to net zero emissions by 2050. To achieve the emissions goals scientists have said we must attain and avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change, America must invest in energy efficiency, emissions reductions, clean energy infrastructure and greenhouse gas mitigation. The League believes that the pathway to net zero must also include land- and water-based solutions that harness the power of natural systems to sequester carbon and increase climate resiliency.
What the League is Doing
League staff are educating members of Congress and administration officials about the role of natural systems in fighting climate change. Public lands, agricultural lands, oceans and wetlands can all play a part. Many existing programs that conserve public lands – like the Land and Water Conservation Fund – will be critical for mitigating the effects of climate change. Farm Bill programs that secure easements for wetlands, which can store vast amounts of carbon, must be strengthened. League-championed programs such as the Good Farmer Discount and State & Tribal Soil Health Grants can also help meet sequestration goals necessary for addressing climate change.
Additionally, we will work to advance legislation incentivizing a more rapid and responsible transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Carbon emissions must be brought down to combat climate change, but at the same time we must be sure that renewable energy infrastructure does not harm public lands or fish and wildlife populations. Finally, the harmful impacts of climate change on wild lands and wildlife must be mitigated by providing adequate resources for successful climate adaptation techniques and management strategies, such as taking conservation action for climate-vulnerable species and promoting habitat connectivity and integrity.
Protecting America's Wildlife
For nearly a century, most of the funding for the conservation and restoration of our country’s wildlife has come from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, as well as excise taxes on sporting goods, primarily firearms, ammunition and fishing tackle. However, as population growth and urbanization lead to less participation in hunting, the League recognizes that new funding sources for fish and wildlife conservation are needed.
What the League is Doing
The League is engaging with Congress to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. This bill would redirect $1.3 billion in existing revenues to state fish and wildlife agencies for management of a wide array of fish and wildlife, from songbirds to pollinators to amphibians. An additional $97.5 million would go to tribal wildlife managers to conserve species on tribal lands and waters. At the heart of this important legislation is the idea that investing in conservation now will avoid the need for costly actions later: A common species that stays common won’t need expensive protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Preserving the Nation's Vital Landscapes
Finally, landscapes across the country face a number of environmental challenges that can only be resolved through the intense restoration and collaboration that come from federal prioritization. Each region of the country faces its own unique problems, but common factors are at the heart of the restoration needs in many of these vital landscapes. Polluted runoff – whether from agricultural acres without conservation practices in place or from excessive suburban pavement – is degrading water quality, causing toxic algal blooms, threatening drinking water supplies and harming fish and wildlife populations. Invasive species from around the world are gaining footholds and outcompeting native plants and animals. Channelization and management for navigation have straightjacketed our mightiest rivers, damaging habitat and clogging waterways with sediment.
What the League is Doing
Every year, Congress sets funding levels for conservation and restoration programs within the Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture. These vital initiatives compete with many other government programs for federal dollars. The League is working to make sure Congress prioritizes these programs, which are essential for large-scale ecosystem conservation and restoration across the country.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program funnels nearly two-thirds of its funding to state and local partners for water quality monitoring, hydrographic modeling, watershed restoration projects and establishment of best management practices. This program has been a primary driver of improvements in water quality in the Bay and in the rivers that feed it. The League is working with Congress to ensure the program is adequately funded with an annual appropriation of $90.5 million.
By establishing partnerships that bring outside resources to bear, EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funds wetland restoration, conserves wildlife habitat, reduces flooding and protects drinking water. GLRI is also critical to the fight against invasive species, because it directs resources to state and federal agencies on the front lines of the fight to keep invasives out of the Great Lakes. Without GLRI, most of the funds spent on keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes would disappear. The League is working to maintain full funding for GLRI, at $375 million annually.
Investing in restoration is vital to improving habitat for all fish and wildlife that rely on the Missouri River, especially endangered species. Restoration is also crucial for slowing the spread of invasive species. We are asking Congress to increase the funding for the Army Corp’s Missouri River Recovery Program to $45 million annually, which is the amount the Corps reports is necessary for achieving recovery goals.
Lastly, in partnership with the State of Florida, the Corps of Engineers has instituted an aggressive ecosystem restoration plan that would prevent pollution-choked water from flowing into Florida’s estuaries and causing massive fish kills. The new plan would instead direct water towards the Everglades, where it is greatly needed for restoring habitat. However, in order for the restoration to work, it must be adequately funded. The League is asking Congress to increase the funding for this restoration to $725 million.