GAITHERSBURG, MD ---- Releasing its blueprint for common-sense conservation for the 117th Congress and the new administration, the Izaak Walton League notes there will be opportunities for progress in the months and years ahead.
“Land, water and wildlife conservation enjoy broad support across the political spectrum, so there will be many opportunities for Congress and the new administration to adopt common-sense policies in 2021,” said Scott Kovarovics, executive director at the Izaak Walton League of America.
First 100 Days, Biden Administration
Protect Clean Water
Immediately propose a rule that repeals the current regulatory definition of “Waters of the United States” as it pertains to the Clean Water Act. Repealing this regulation is vital to America’s water quality. More than 117 million Americans get drinking water that is supplied, at least in part, by waters like those no longer protected by the Clean Water Act.
Propose a rule that repeals the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. The current rule limits longstanding state and tribal authority to ensure that projects move forward with protective conditions to limit damage to fisheries, water quality, wetlands, and access to cultural and recreational resources.
Reactivate the Advisory Committee for Water Information (AQWI). Citizen scientists are crucial to gathering information that government agencies do not have the capacity to obtain themselves. In 2019, the Department Interior and U.S. Geological Survey were ordered to cease all activities of the Advisory Committee for Water Information, which included the National Water Quality Monitoring Council.
Announce a “No Net-Loss” wetlands policy that includes expanding existing wetlands protections at the Department of Agriculture. The U.S. continues to lose wetlands at an alarming pace. To stem the tide, a no-net-loss policy must be put into place across the federal government, with special attention given to conservation compliance enforcement at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Restore soil health
Healthy soils are critical to America’s future food supply and to mitigating catastrophic effects of climate change. The U.S. has lost half of its topsoil, and cropland soil is eroding ten times faster than it can be replenished. Healthy soils store atmospheric carbon, protect water quality, reduce flooding, grow healthy food, increase drought resilience and reduce input costs for farmers.
Begin a National Soil Health Initiative using existing authority under USDA conservation programs. Through the Conservation Stewardship, Environmental Quality Incentives, and Regional Conservation Partnership programs, USDA can help farmers and ranchers develop and implement soil health plans for their land.
Launch a pilot program to test a “good farmer discount” on crop insurance through the USDA Risk Management Agency for farmers who adopt soil health practices. The discount on crop insurance premiums would recognize that these practices (e.g. planting cover crops, eliminating tillage, diversifying crop rotations, integrated pest management or rotational grazing) reduce the risk of a crop loss and insurance payouts.
Affirm U.S. Commitment to Tackling Climate Change
Immediately re-enter the United States into the Paris Climate Agreement to demonstrate to Americans and citizens of the world that we will no longer shirk our climate responsibilities.
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by shifting federal energy procurement standards to focus on clean energy and new energy efficiency standards in federal buildings. The General Services Administration manages 354 million square feet of office space that should model energy efficiency.
Mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by restoring soil health and protecting wetlands to sequester carbon. Because of the amount of carbon that can be sequestered in healthy soils and the amount of agricultural lands in the U.S., there is vast potential to help mitigate climate change by instituting soil health practices across the landscape.
Protect Iconic Ecosystems
Missouri River Restoration
Fully fund the Missouri River Recovery Program and Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Program. Repeated, catastrophic flood events dramatically demonstrate that changes must be made on the Missouri River. The MRRP authorizes the Corps of Engineers to conduct recovery projects along the Missouri needed to restore a portion of more than 522,000 acres of aquatic and terrestrial habitat lost or destroyed from the construction and ongoing maintenance of the Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project.
Great Lakes Restoration
Fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $320 million for FY 2022. 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.
Chesapeake Bay Restoration
Fully fund the Chesapeake Bay Program at $90.5 million for FY 2022. The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program funnels nearly two-thirds of its funding to state and local partners to conduct water quality monitoring, hydrographic modeling, establish best management practices, and conduct watershed restoration projects.
Protect the Boundary Waters
Immediately pause all leasing and permitting activity in the watershed.
America’s most-visited Wilderness, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), is currently threatened by a planned copper sulfide mine upstream of its pristine waters.
Priorities for the 117th Congress and Beyond
Protect ephemeral streams and wetlands by clarifying that the Clean Water Act applies to all tributary streams and natural wetlands. Since 2001, the limits of Clean Water Act protections have been unclear. The goals of the Act, protecting public health and restoring waters vital to our economy, can be achieved by properly defining waters so that these streams and wetlands are protected. The first step is revising the regulatory definition of “waters of the United States” adopted in January 2020.
Advance in the next Farm Bill crop insurance premium discounts to farmers who adopt practices that build soil health. Measures that build soil health increase the carbon content of the soil and grow the soil’s water-holding capacity. These practices, to be rewarded by a “good farmer discount,” reduce the likelihood that farmers will suffer a large crop loss in a very dry or very wet year.
Champion the creation of a State and Tribal Soil Health Grant Program. Congress should encourage states to take a more active role in promoting soil health and developing creative solutions. This is modeled after the successful State & Tribal Wildlife Grant Program (created in 2000).
Continue to advance the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). Passed by the House in 2020, RAWA addresses the needs of wildlife management in the 21st century by providing a proactive funding model for conservation. It will expedite conservation efforts to recover species currently listed as endangered or threatened and help at-risk species before they need the drastic interventions called for in the Endangered Species Act.
Put the U.S. on a path to net zero emissions by 2050. Investments in energy efficiency, clean energy infrastructure and greenhouse gas mitigation are imperative to achieving the emissions goals scientists have said we must attain. The League believes that the pathway to net zero must also include land and water-based solutions that harness the power of the natural systems found on our public lands, agricultural areas, wetlands and oceans to sequester carbon and build climate resiliency.
This strategy must advance environmental justice by increasing the capacity of all communities to participate in the policymaking process, especially the low-income and communities of color that have disproportionally borne the worst impacts of pollution.
The 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.
The Izaak Walton League of America is a national, nonprofit founded in 1922 to protect the outdoors for future generations. Our members are committed to common sense policies that safeguard fish and wildlife habitat, support community-based conservation and address pressing environmental issues. www.iwla.org
Michael Reinemer, Communications Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 703-966-9574.
Jared Mott, Conservation Director, email@example.com.