by Jared Mott, Conservation Director
Every two years, the Izaak Walton League reexamines its public policy priorities and prepares for a new term of Congress, which offers a clean slate.
Conservation issues enjoy bipartisan support. Republicans, Democrats and Independents all agree on the fundamental need for clean air, clean water and preserving the places that provide wildlife habitat and enjoyment of outdoor recreation. But success in achieving these priorities in Congress and with federal agencies requires that we all speak up.
The League’s policy agenda for the 118th Congress (2023-24) covers five broad categories.
Transform agriculture to reduce water pollution, safeguard human health, and ensure sustainable food production for future generations.
Put soil health at the center of agriculture policy.
For too long, the Farm Bill has ignored soil and its connection to human health. Healthy soils absorb water and replenish nutrients in plants far more effectively than degraded soils. Instituting policies that drive healthier soils on tens of millions of acres is imperative for securing clean water and healthier food for every American. Implementing soil health practices reduces runoff, helps grow healthier food and stores carbon in the ground instead of the atmosphere. By making the Farm Bill a soil health bill, we can reduce water pollution, grow food that improves human health and fight climate change.
Increase long-term investment in proven conservation practices and programs.
To expand the impact of soil health practices to tens of millions of acres, the League will advocate for investments in the most effective conservation programs. By prioritizing existing programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program, agriculture and wetland easements and the Conservation Reserve Program, we can put soil heath practices on the ground quickly through programs with proven conservation outcomes.
Focus conservation dollars on programs that leverage non-federal funds, like the League’s State & Tribal Soil Health Grant program.
For many grant programs, each federal dollar invested is matched by as many as three dollars of state, local and non-government funds. The League wants to grow the investment in soil health practices and policies across the country, and not just within the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs. By incentivizing non-federal investments, we can double or triple the impact on the ground, meaning cleaner water and healthier food for all Americans.
Strengthen federal rules to protect our drinking water.
Defend a Strong Clean Water Act.
For over 50 years, the Clean Water Act has been a hugely successful bedrock environmental law, drastically lowering industrial pollution in our waterways and slowing the rate of wetlands loss. However, the law’s strengths face constant attacks in Congress and in the federal courts. The League will continue to defend the Clean Water Act and challenge any action that seeks to weaken its protections for streams and wetlands.
Promote congressional legislation to protect human health by modernizing drinking water safety standards for nitrate.
Emerging science reveals alarming trends in the rates of some types of cancers that can be connected to nitrate in drinking water. The research suggests a link between these cancers and prolonged exposure to nitrate in drinking water at lower levels than the current standard for nitrate under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The League will press Congress to consider legislation directing the Environmental Protection Agency to consider the effects of chronic exposure to nitrate in its routine review of drinking water standards.
Conserve and restore wildlife habitat.
Advocate for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA).
This legislation represents the most important investment in habitat conservation and wildlife restoration since the 1930s and the Pittman-Robertson Act. RAWA would dedicate resources to keeping common wildlife common, and restoration efforts to keep imperiled species from becoming threatened or endangered. About 12,000 species in the U.S. are in need of active conservation efforts to keep populations from declining and about a third of U.S. wildlife species are at risk of becoming endangered. Current funding to implement state wildlife action plans, blueprints for restoring these at-risk species, is less than five percent of what experts say is needed to conserve the species most at risk. RAWA is the solution to filling that gap.
Defend the North American model of wildlife management.
We will continue to defend long-standing funding for wildlife conservation and habitat restoration via excise taxes on firearms and ammunition. The League fought to pass that funding in the Pittman-Robertson Act back in 1937. However, during the last Congress, legislation was introduced that would have cut off funding for state wildlife agencies from traditional excise taxes on firearms and ammunition. Since it was created, the Pittman-Robertson Act has provided billions of dollars for wildlife management through this “user pays” system, which is the backbone of the North American model of wildlife management.
Put the U.S. on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050 to address the climate crisis.
Prioritize large-scale storage and transmission of electricity generated by renewable energy sources.
Generation of electrical power by renewable resources is no longer cutting edge, but the U.S. needs to expand the grid that moves and stores all that energy. Last century’s electrical grid won’t suffice for the next generation of renewable energy. In addition to advocating for programs that expand our capacity to move and store renewable energy, the League will push for greater energy efficiency throughout the economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower energy costs for each and every American.
Promote land and water-based solutions that harness the power of natural systems found on public lands, farms, wetlands and oceans to sequester carbon and build climate resiliency.
Wetlands and native grasslands are two of the most incredible carbon sinks that exist on Earth. We must conserve all that remain and restore as much as we can. Besides providing cleaner drinking water and incredible wildlife habitat, wetlands and grasslands can keep carbon from entering our atmosphere and even help pull it out once it’s been released.
Agricultural programs that protect wetlands by securing easements or disincentivize plowing need to be strengthened. New legislation that leverages state and local dollars for grasslands conservation must be introduced and passed. Soil health practices can turn America’s agricultural lands from carbon emitters to carbon sinks but need to be amplified in the next Farm Bill. Programs that build forest health can prevent catastrophic wildfires and improve habitat. These forests on our public lands also sequester carbon, and like wetlands and prairies, are crucial for building resiliency to a warming climate, not just for wildlife, but for people too.
Protect the nation’s iconic ecosystems.
Advance legislation to conserve grasslands, America’s most imperiled ecosystem.
Our grasslands and prairies are one of the fastest-disappearing ecosystems in the world. The loss of these natural wonders is driving declines in wildlife, especially birds, but also affects ranching and farming and America’s ability to feed its population. American agriculture, especially ranchers, depend on the ability to graze on healthy grassland landscapes. The League will work to advance legislation that will help farmers, ranchers, Tribes, and other conservation partners collaboratively conserve and restore native grasslands.
Lead the effort to fully fund badly needed restoration of the Missouri River.
Due to extensive alterations that narrowed the river and eliminated many of its natural features, the Missouri River basin suffers from large-scale flooding, siltation and a massive loss of natural habitat. The Missouri River Recovery Program was created to improve the river’s resiliency and benefit fish and wildlife by restoring a portion of the habitat lost along the lower Missouri River. But these improvements provide a host of other benefits to people, like enhanced outdoor recreation and stronger economies for towns along the Missouri.
Advocate for permanent protections for the Boundary Waters.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota has benefited from the League’s conservation advocacy since the 1920s. It is the most frequently visited wilderness area in the U.S. owing to its million acres of protected wilderness, 237 miles of trails and 1,200 miles of canoe and kayak routes. Sulfide mining on national forest land upstream of the Boundary Waters that would irreparably harm this unique ecosystem has been blocked for the immediate future, but the League will continue to push for federal legislation to permanently protect this incredible place by withdrawing surrounding public lands from mineral leasing.
Advance historic legislation calling for broad restoration of the Mississippi River.
Legislation creating a Mississippi River Resilience and Restoration Initiative was introduced in the previous Congress and remains an urgent priority. The bill is modeled after the hugely successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and it would coordinate conservation and restoration efforts along the entire corridor of the country’s biggest river system. This investment will fight climate change, improve drinking water, conserve fish and wildlife habitat and prevent the spread of invasive species.
For details about policy and action steps to advance these goals, visit iwla.org/advocacy and subscribe to Conservation Currents at iwla.org/subscribe.
League’s Policy Agenda at a Glance
- Transform agriculture to reduce water pollution, safeguard human health and ensure sustainable food production for future generations.
- Strengthen federal rules to protect our drinking water.
- Conserve and restore wildlife habitat.
- Put the U.S. on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050 to address the climate crisis.
- Protect the nation’s iconic ecosystems.
Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League fights for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat and conservation of our natural resources for future generations. The League plays a unique role in supporting community-based science and local conservation and has a long legacy of shaping sound national policy. See www.iwla.org.