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Izaak Walton League Policy Priorities

Outdoor America 2019 Issue 2
New Orleans post-Katrina. Photo credit: Lieut. Commander Mark Moran, NMAO-AOC

What made you want to join the Izaak Walton League? Maybe you were interested in shooting sports or maybe you wanted to learn about stream monitoring. Maybe you came for a hunter education class and stayed for the wildlife conservation work.

Charged as we are with defending America’s soil, air, woods, waters, and wildlife, League members represent a big tent of diverse policy interests. But no matter what brought you to the League or how your interests have evolved, the League is working on policy that directly affects your interests.

To be effective advocates, we must prioritize our efforts. So while we often voice our support for (or opposition to) a range of national policies, most of  the League’s advocacy work in 2019 and 2020 will focus on:

  • Defending clean water
  • Conserving vital landscapes and waterways
  • Protecting wildlife
  • Addressing climate change

Defending Clean WaterOpal Creek

Protecting clean water remains the League’s highest priority. Think about your first connection with the outdoors. For many of us, that involved water – whether it was watching the bobber on our fishing line or splashing in a neighborhood creek.

The League’s work to protect clean water is varied and diverse, but driving all of our efforts are the inescapable connections between clean water and public health, environmental protection, and outdoor recreation.

Defending the Clean Water Act

What's Happening

Last December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new regulation that would change the definition of “waters of the United States” (also known as WOTUS) – the term used in the Clean Water Act to define which waters and wetlands are protected from pollution and destruction by the Clean Water Act.

The proposal from EPA and the Corps would eliminate Clean Water Act protections for every wetland that does not have a “direct hydrologic surface connection” to a protected water body and for many tributary streams unless they flow continuously all year.

EPA’s proposal ignores the simple science that is the basis of the Clean Water Act: water flows downstream.

Why It Matters

To protect water quality in our rivers and lakes, we first need to protect water quality in the small streams that flow into them.

Picture this: There’s a small creek near your house that doesn’t flow all year. A business owner who had been paying disposal fees to get rid of expired chemicals realizes that this little creek is no longer protected by the Clean Water Act, so he dumps his chemicals there. Even if there is no water in the creek at that time, when it rains, those chemicals will flow downstream, eventually ending up in a river or lake. Maybe it runs into the lake where you take your kids fishing. Or maybe it flows into the river or reservoir where your town gets its drinking water.

Under EPA’s proposal, the Clean Water Act would no longer prevent that business owner from dumping chemicals into your local creek – or up to 70 percent of creeks and streams across America. Some states have laws that would kick in to protect water resources. But in many states, the Clean Water Act is the only thing standing between polluters and local water resources, including drinking water sources.

One in three Americans (that’s 117 million of us) get our drinking water from public water systems fed by streams that could lose pollution protection under EPA’s proposed regulation – small streams that flow only after it rains or snows or flow maybe 10 months out of the year rather than year-round. That’s nearly 70 percent of streams across America. These small streams protect water quality, provide places to fish, and may even flow through your neighborhood.

EPA’s proposed regulation would also remove protec- tions for 20 million acres of wetlands – more than half the wetlands left in the United States – because they do not have a surface connection to a larger body of water such as a river or lake. Many of the wetlands that filter pollution from runoff, provide protection from floods and storms, and are the breeding grounds for half of North America’s ducks would no longer be protected from pollution or from being drained and filled for agriculture and development without a permit.

That’s why it’s important that “waters of the United States” be applied broadly across streams, rivers, lakes, marshes, and wetlands. Because we all live downstream.

What the League Is Doing

The League is taking every step we can to stop EPA and the Corps from adopting this proposed regulation.

  • During the very brief public comment period, we mobilized members and partners to submit comments to EPA rejecting this approach to clean water protections.
  • We are asking Congress to investigate the process that led to this fatally flawed regulation. Congress has a duty to the American people to ensure federal agencies act in accordance with the law when issuing new regulations. The League believes EPA and the Corps ignored their own scientific and economic analyses to reach a predetermined conclusion. Facts clearly show that small streams and wetlands should be protected by the Clean Water Act.
  • We will also work with members of Congress to introduce legislation that would clarify, once and for all, that small streams and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act.

Although the comment period on this proposed regulation is closed, the action is far from over. We will continue to fight for clean water – and we need your help to do it. Visit iwla.org/water for the latest information and steps you can take to protect our most vital natural resource.

Leveraging the Farm Bill To Improve Water QualityStream buffers

What's Happening

Agricultural runoff (including nutrients, soil, chemicals, and animal waste) and wetland losses are  two of the most serious threats to clean water today. Federal agriculture policy, formulated through the Farm Bill, can help address these problems. The Farm Bill authorizes programs that directly affect how farmers  and ranchers manage their lands, and funding for these programs can drive solutions to conservation problems.

Congress passed a new Farm Bill in December 2018. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will use the rest of 2019 to issue regulations needed to implement the directives in the new Farm Bill.

Why It Matters

More than half of all the land in the United States is used for agricultural production (farms, ranches, forestry). So what happens on these lands has a huge impact on water quality – for better or worse.

Non-point-source pollution, which includes runoff from farm fields, is the largest source of water pollution today. That pollution harms fish and wildlife. Communities that rely on rivers and streams for drinking water spend billions of dollars removing these pollutants to make water safe for consumption.

And the wetlands that could filter agricultural pollution before it reaches our drinking water supplies continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Wetlands are being drained and filled for a wide range of uses, from agriculture to housing developments.

What the League Is Doing

Many Farm Bill programs are designed to drive water quality improvements, but only if USDA correctly implements those provisions, honoring both the letter and spirit of the law. League staff carefully analyzed the Farm Bill and developed recommendations for how USDA should implement Farm Bill conservation programs in three specific areas:

  • Wetlands: The Farm Bill prohibits farmers who accept taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance from draining wetlands on their property. However, USDA took steps to make it easier to drain wetlands without jeopardizing these subsidies. We vigorously objected to the change and will continue to press USDA to reverse this decision. We are also urging USDA to continue to protect wetlands via the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, despite pressure to funnel more of that money toward other types of easements.
  • Soil Health: Healthy soil contains a host of organic materials that promote water absorption and reduce runoff. We are working to ensure USDA makes healthy soils the primary goal of the agency’s conservation planning.
    • Crop Insurance Discount: The League developed a “good driver discount” on crop insurance premi- ums for farmers who adopt conservation measures that reduce the risk of crop losses. This program was included in draft versions of the Farm Bill but did not make it into the final law. However, USDA has the flexibility to implement this program. The League is reaching out to conservation, agriculture, and crop insurance groups to promote the idea. We are also encouraging USDA to adopt crop insurance policies that reward farmers for practices that promote soil health, such as cover crops and rotational grazing.
    • Science of Soil Health: Scientists have made great advances in understanding soil health. We are pressing USDA to ensure the soil health plans it develops with farmers and ranchers are based on the most current science of healthy, living soils.
  • Buffer Strips: By planting native vegetation between crops and waterways, farmers can improve water quality by slowing and filtering runoff from their fields before it reaches streams and creeks. We want USDA to restore automatic signups for buffer strip contracts in the Conservation Reserve Program, which would give thousands of farmers the opportunity to establish these critical conservation measures.

You can help ensure USDA makes clean water, healthy soils, and wildlife habitat its top priorities throughout the process of implementing the 2018 Farm Bill. Join the League in sending comments to USDA when the agency proposes rules in the coming months. Visit iwla.org/ag for more details.

Conserving Vital Landscapes and WaterwaysMissouri River

The iconic landscapes and waterways that helped shape America are threatened today with habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and more. Ikes across the country are working on the ground and in the water to conserve and restore these critical resources. At the national level, the League is working to ensure the federal programs and funding necessary to protect multi-state waterways and sprawling landscapes are approved by Congress.

What's Happening

The Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, and Department of Agriculture programs that drive conservation and restoration across the country must be funded by Congress every year. These programs compete for federal dollars with a wide range of other priorities and special interests.

The Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposed by the president – which represents the policy priorities of the administration – would jettison most funding for programs focused on restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, Missouri River, and Everglades. The League is working to ensure Congress prioritizes funding for these large-scale conservation and restoration efforts.

Why It Matters

Each part of the country faces its own unique conservation problems, but there are common factors at the heart of the restoration needs across many of these vital landscapes. Runoff from agriculture and suburban development is degrading water quality, causing harmful algal blooms, threatening drinking water supplies, and devastating fish and wildlife habitat. Invasive species are out-competing native species across the landscape and throughout our waterways. Channelization for navigation has straitjacketed our mightiest rivers, leading to erosion, sedimentation, and destruction of fish and wildlife habitat.

Solving interstate resource challenges requires coordination to ensure state and federal agencies are working toward the same goals. It also requires federal funding to support the intensive work needed to restore many of these landscapes and waterways.

What the League Is Doing

  • Chesapeake Bay: EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program funnels nearly two-thirds of its funding to state and local partners for water quality monitoring, creating best management practices, and watershed restoration projects. This program has been a primary driver of improvements in water quality across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The administration’s budget request included just $7.3 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 – even though the program was funded at $73 million in FY 2019. The League is working with Congress to ensure the Chesapeake Bay Program is adequately funded with an annual appropriation of $74 million.
  • Great Lakes: EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funds wetland restoration, conserves wildlife habitat, reduces flooding, and protects drinking water resources. 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 effort. Without GLRI, most of the funds spent on keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes would disappear. The health of the Great Lakes and surrounding communities has already been severely damaged by invasive species, from zebra mussels that clog water intake pipes to round gobies that out-compete native fish for food. The president requested only $30 million for this vital program for FY 2020. The League is working to maintain full funding for GLRI at $300 million annually.
  • Missouri River: The Corps of Engineers recently updated its recovery plan for the Missouri River and will need significant federal funding to implement it. (The League opposed the recovery plan selected by the Corps in part because it would be heavily reliant on congressional funding.) Investing in restoration is vital to improving habitat not just for endangered species but for all fish and wildlife that rely on the river. Restoration will also help slow the spread of invasive species, reduce flooding in communities along the river, and improve outdoor recreation opportunities. Last year, the Corps’ budget for this program was $30 million. We are asking Congress to increase the appropriation for the Corps’ Missouri River Recovery Program to $45 million for FY 2020, which is the amount needed by the Corps to achieve its stated river recovery goals. The president’s budget request is only $17.75 million.
  • Upper Mississippi River: Balancing navigation and river restoration is the Corps’ mission in managing the upper Mississippi River. Locks and dams have altered the ecosystem, but restoration efforts with state and local partners have been successful, leading to thriving habitat and wildlife populations in some areas. Continuing this success depends on the Corps having the necessary resources to maintain these partnerships and invest in restoring the natural functions of the river. The League is asking Congress to fully fund this critical work at $33 million annually, matching last year’s appropriation and the president’s FY 2020 request.
  • Everglades: In partnership with the state of Florida, the Corps has instituted an aggressive ecosystem restoration plan that would keep pollution-choked water from being funneled into Florida’s estuaries (where it can cause massive fish kills) while also delivering much needed clean water to the Everglades to restore habitat there. For the restoration plan to work, it must be adequately funded. Unfortunately, the administration’s budget request for FY 2020 is only $63.25 million. The League is asking Congress to increase the appropriation for Everglades restoration from the $104.6 million it received in FY 2019 to $200 million for FY 2020 to fully fund critical restoration work.

League members, chapters, divisions, and supporters can help ensure the success of these landscape-scale restoration projects by asking members of Congress to support our funding requests. Sign up to receive our Action Alerts at http://members.iwla.org/news.

Protecting WildlifeMonarch in native landscape

Time spent in a duck blind or stalking trout with a fly rod nearly always leads to a greater appreciation of wildlife. Wildlife-based recreation, from hunting and fishing to wildlife watching, drives a huge percentage of the outdoor recreation enjoyed by millions of Americans – and the $887 billion annual outdoor recreation economy.

But you don’t have to be a hunter or birder to appreciate the importance of protecting wildlife and habitat. Conserving a variety of fish and wildlife habitat benefits everyone, from filtering water pollution to nourishing the foods we eat.

There are several ways the League is working to protect wildlife habitat.

Recovering America's Wildlife Act

What's Happening

State fish and wildlife agencies have jurisdiction over the majority of wildlife within state borders. These agencies are stewards for a wide range of wildlife and other natural resources statewide. Yet the current funding model for wildlife conservation and management relies almost entirely on hunting and fishing license sales as well as excise taxes collected on hunting, fishing, and other sporting equipment. This model of wildlife conservation funding has already led to funding shortfalls as conservation needs increase and hunter numbers decrease.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a potential game changer. It would redirect $1.3 billion per year to state wildlife conservation efforts focused on restoring at-risk wildlife – efforts that will benefit many species of fish and wildlife as well as people who enjoy the outdoors. The funds would come from existing revenues collected from energy extraction and development companies operating on federal lands and waters.

Why It Matters

The old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies to endangered species as well as to our own health.

It is exponentially less expensive in the long term  to prevent species from becoming endangered than it is to try to restore populations once they have become endangered. Costs to recover endangered species can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars –per species – when conservation and habitat restoration expenses are combined with the costs to businesses and private landowners. Yet wildlife recovery also provides exponential benefits to other species, our communities, and the outdoor recreation economy.

According to state wildlife managers, 33 percent of wildlife species across the United States are at risk of becoming endangered. Each state agency has a Wildlife Action Plan that identifies at-risk species and actions necessary to keep them from becoming endangered or threatened. However, available funding is less than 5 percent of what experts say is needed to conserve species “of greatest conservation need.”

For decades, the primary source of funding for wildlife conservation and restoration came from hunters and anglers, which accounts for up to 80 percent of state wildlife agency operations. As fewer Americans take part in hunting each year, that funding has dropped – even as the threats to wildlife grow.

What the League is Doing

The League is a key member of the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife, a coalition of wildlife groups, industry partners, and outdoor recreation equipment manufacturers that are working to create a 21st-century model for funding management of fish and wildlife resources. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will secure the resources needed for comprehensive fish and wildlife management. This Alliance is working to grow support in Congress for this breakthrough in conservation funding.

You can help by urging your members of Congress to cosponsor the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Look for an Action Alert from the League once legislation is introduced and the drive for cosponsors has begun.

Managing Farms for Wildlife

What's Happening

Farms and ranches cover nearly half the land in the United States, so what happens on these lands has an enormous impact on wildlife. Conservation programs in the federal Farm Bill offer a unique opportunity to improve and restore wildlife habitat on private lands across the country.

The latest Farm Bill was signed into law in December 2018. USDA will soon issue the regulations needed to implement the new Farm Bill, and the League will stay on top of these efforts to ensure Farm Bill programs for wildlife are implemented properly.

Why It Matters

As grasslands and wetlands have been plowed up for agricultural uses, the impact on wildlife has been devastating. Grassland birds including prairie chickens, northern bobwhite, and sage grouse are in sharp decline as prairies have disappeared.

Farm Bill conservation programs are vital for maintaining vibrant populations of grassland birds as well as ducks, deer, pheasants, and other wildlife, especially pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Protecting wildlife on the farm benefits outdoor recreation, which pumps $887 billion a year into the nation’s economy. Farm-based conservation also drives outdoor recreation spending in rural communities.

What the League Is Doing

Many of the programs that farmers depend on to protect and restore wildlife habitat underwent changes in the latest Farm Bill, and how USDA interprets and implements those changes could have a big effect on wildlife. It is vital that USDA properly implement Farm Bill conservation programs as directed by Congress.

The League is working with USDA to ensure:

  • Farm Bill programs do more to restore wildlife habitat on farm lands.
  • USDA immediately announces a new Conservation Reserve Program sign-up period so farmers and ranchers can set aside marginal lands as wildlife habitat.
  • Farm Bill conservation programs prioritize use of native vegetation and pollinator-friendly seed mixes.
  • USDA funds tribal and state programs that pay private landowners to open farms and ranches to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation.

With so much land in agricultural production, we cannot have healthy wildlife populations unless we provide a place for wildlife on farms and ranches. You can help by responding to Action Alerts from the League to ensure USDA hears the clear voice of people who love fish and wildlife when it is deciding how to implement Farm Bill conservation programs.

Addressing Climate ChangeNew Orleans after Katrina

What's Happening

In the coming year, Congress is likely to focus on a broad range of policy options to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve carbon storage, and protect people and communities from the impacts of a warming climate and rising seas.

Policy options could range from tax incentives for renewable energy development, limiting emissions from power plants and vehicles, and promoting carbon storage in the soil. However Congress chooses to address climate change, the League must be prepared to engage on this important issue.

Why It Matters

In November 2018, the federal government released a report by scientists from 13 federal agencies summarizing the most up-to-date climate science. (Read the full report: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.)

The report’s conclusions closely track the conclusions of the vast majority of peer-reviewed science regarding human-driven climate change. Four main takeaways from the report are:

  • Climate change is already happening. The impacts of climate change are already being felt across the country. More frequent and intense weather and climate-related events – including droughts, tropical storms, wildfires, and flooding – are affecting communities across the United States today and damaging our infrastructure and natural resources.
  • Climate change is going to get worse. Even with a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the future, many of the effects of climate change and sea-level rise will still occur because of the damage already done to the atmosphere. The number of communities dealing with sea-level rise is going to increase by the middle of this century.
  • Climate change is going to cost Americans dearly. Because climate change will adversely affect our economy, public health, and natural resources, the negative economic impacts will be substantial. Projections for continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions at historic rates (i.e., if we do nothing to curb emissions) forecast economic losses reaching hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of this century – more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of many states. Impacts will be interconnected. For example, damage to energy-related infrastructure in Louisiana and Texas will drive up energy costs. The worst impacts will affect disadvantaged populations that do not have the resources to implement adaptation measures, such as elevating structures to counter increased flooding or sea-level rise.
  • We can still do something about climate change. Many of the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided or mitigated with adaptation and aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Future risks largely depend on decisions we make today. This assessment shows that more substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed now to avoid the most severe consequences in the long term. Adaptation actions that can counter the effects of climate change, such as flood plain restoration, can help mitigate the worst impacts while providing additional benefits such as improved air quality, restored ecosystems, and increased community vitality.

What the League Is Doing

League members have adopted a variety of conservation policies that address climate change. These include reducing greenhouse gas pollution with market-based incentives; promoting a rapid transition to renewable sources of energy; dramatically improving the energy efficiency of vehicles, the power grid, homes and buildings, and consumer products; and developing new technology to more effectively and efficiently store and distribute electricity generated by wind and solar.

The threats to people, communities, natural resources, and outdoor recreation are clear. The League is closely following climate action in this Congress and engaging lawmakers, partners, and our members to implement solutions supported by our member-adopted conservation policies.

This article highlights some of the League’s top policy priorities for this session of Congress, but we don’t have enough space in this article to  cover every issue on which we are engaged. Our commitment to defend America’s soil, air, woods, waters, and wildlife encompasses a broad spectrum of work across many congressional offices, federal agencies, and state legislatures. We are here to protect America’s outdoor heritage and ensure future generations enjoy the same benefits of abundant natural resources as we have.

Take action on conservation issues now

Jared Mott, IWLA Conservation Director