Bear Trust International Conservation Policy Report
I n t e r n a t i o n a l
REGION: Washington D.C.
PROJECT DURATION: Ongoing
LATEST PROJECT REPORT:
BEAR TRUST HELPS MOVE IMPORTANT POLICIES FOR BEAR CONSERVATION
By Linda Demmer and James Cummins
Bear Trust International (BTI) has completed its first quarter of work for 2020 in its conservation policy area. While the COVID-19 pandemic have presented many obstacles, below is an update of our policy efforts so far this year.
The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) continues to gain momentum in Congress after the U.S. Senate passed it on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 73 to 25. Earlier on June 4, a House companion of GAOA was introduced. Prior to bill introduction, BTI partners, including the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation and the Boone and Crockett Club, led the effort to secure the inclusion of funding to restore the crumbling infrastructure on public lands and waters that are most important to sportsmen and women in the GAOA. As a result of these efforts, GAOA will provide $9.5 billion over 5 years to address the deferred maintenance backlog on federal public lands and waters with roughly $3 billion set aside to restore the infrastructure on hundreds of millions of acres that provide access and opportunity for America's sportsmen and women. In total, our federal public land management agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), face nearly $20 billion in deferred maintenance backlog that will be addressed by GAOA. Furthermore, the Great American Outdoors Act will provide permanent and dedicated funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually, building on the success of S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which permanently authorized LWCF, but did not provide any funding. GAOA will also ensure that $15 million of LWCF funding is set aside for the purpose of increasing access for hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and other forms of outdoor recreation on public lands and waters. This legislation comes at a time that is most critical for sportsmen and women, and when more people are realizing the value of the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is currently pending before the U.S. House of Representatives.
BTI is continuing to working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). The Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) is a component of ACEP that is largely responsible for restoring bottomland hardwood and wetland habitat. For example, WRE helped the delisting of the Louisiana black bear. BTI is currently working in partnership with the Mississippi River Trust to restore bear habitat along the Lower Mississippi River. Specifically, BTI is requesting: 1) NRCS provide a minimum of $30 million in funding annually, beginning in FY19, for wetland reserve enhancement partnership (WREP) opportunities; 2) Funding allocations between the Agricultural Land Easement and WRE follow historic allocations of legacy programs, and; 3) In determining criteria for environmentally sensitive land of special significance for waiving the Adjusted Gross Income limitation for ACEP, that NRCS give the most consideration to lands that can demonstrate significant linkages with the conservation objectives of migratory corridors, wetlands conservation, and water quality programs, plans, or initiatives.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Aurelia Skipwith as director of the USFWS. President Donald J. Trump nominated Skipwith for the Administration post in July. BTI works with the USFWS to benefit the various bear species in the United States, as well as internationally. Skipwith previously served as deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks of the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in biology from Howard University, a Master of Science Degree in molecular genetics from Purdue University, and a Juris Doctor degree in law from the University of Kentucky. BTI is very pleased with her confirmation.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is developing a highway bill that will have important wildlife conservation implications. BTI is involved to ensure that conservation measures like wildlife crossings are part of the bill.
BTI remains engaged on helping to advance meaningful reforms to the Endangered Species Act that would fix the listing and delisting process and create more opportunities for state management of predator species such as bears. BTI is proposing policy that creates incentives for private landowners to conserve listed species.
We represented BTI at the American Wildlife Conservation Partners meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, on March 10, 2020.
BTI is monitoring the legislation introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-DL) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to end the sale of high-risk wildlife species in live animal markets for human consumption, a practice that has been tied to previous outbreaks of novel human diseases, including COVID-19. The Global Wildlife Health and Pandemic Prevention Act requires the U.S. government to identify and shut down live wildlife markets around the world that pose risks to public health and to increase global capacity for zoonotic disease prevention, surveillance, and response.
BTI is pleased with the efforts of Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Richard Shelby (R-AL.), who introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for action to quell the fires and stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. The resolution, co-sponsored by U.S. Senators John Kennedy (R-LA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), recognizes the critical role the Amazon plays in the Earth’s climate system and calls on the Brazilian government to strengthen environmental enforcement and end illegal deforestation. BTI will be monitoring any legislation that results from this resolution.
These are just the highlights from this past year. However, none of this would have been possible without the help from BTI’s board members and key partner organizations, especially the Boone and Crockett Club, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the American Wildlife Conservation Partners.