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 POLICIES FOR BEAR CONSERVATION
Fiscal Year-End Report (July 1, 2020- June 30, 2021)
By James Cummins and Linda Demmer
Bear Trust International (BTI) has completed its work for the fiscal year in its conservation policy area. While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many obstacles, below is an update of our policy efforts for the fiscal year 2021.
BTI is very pleased that the U.S. Congress passed S. 3051, the ACE Act, and President Trump signed the bill into law. ACE stands for America’s Conservation Enhancement Act. This legislation promotes conservation and creates opportunities for outdoor recreation by reauthorizing the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which is a critical source of funding for wetland and bottomland hardwood conservation and restoration on lands important to the Louisiana black bear. The NAWCA has conserved over 30 million acres since it was authorized in 1989. The ACE Act also reauthorizes the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, an organization that has a tremendous impact on conservation.
The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) passed the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and on August 4th, President Trump signed it into law. 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.
BTI, the Boone and Crockett Club, Wildlife Mississippi, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation recently led an effort in requesting that the suspension of H-2B guest workers for conservation and forest-related jobs be exempted. Presidential Proclamation 10014 and its subsequent amendment bans non-immigrant H-2B guest workers from entering the United States through December 31, 2020. Work performed by H-2B workers is critical to long-term forest sustainability, collecting seeds for tree nurseries, invasive species control, forest thinning, fuel reduction treatments to prevent catastrophic wildfire, and forest restoration, all-important to North American bear species. American workers do not typically apply for these jobs; labor for these jobs is extremely scarce or non-existent without the H-2B option. In early August, approximately 30 sporting conservation organizations of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners asked the Administration to provide an exemption from the H-2B visas suspension for H-2B guest workers that perform conservation and forest-related work. On August 12, the Trump Administration granted this exemption.
On July 1st, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a surface transportation bill titled Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act to reauthorize the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which expired on September 30, 2020. The Transportation Bill includes nearly $300 million for the construction of highway wildlife crossings to reduce wildlife/vehicle collisions. The U.S. Senate’s infrastructure bill, also being considered, includes $250 million for wildlife crossings. BTI is involved to ensure that conservation measures like wildlife crossings are part of the bills.
Also on July 1st, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) passed in the U.S. House of Representatives as an amendment to a much larger, and previously mentioned, transportation bill. RAWA provides $1.3 billion in dedicated funding annually (for 5 years) for the implementation of state fish and wildlife agencies’ wildlife action plans and will provide greater regulatory certainty for industry and private partners by conserving species and avoiding the need to list them under the Endangered Species Act. This will support future economic growth in the outdoor recreation industry through infrastructure improvements, increases in resiliency, and recovery of imperiled species and their habitats. RAWA did NOT pass the Congress this year.
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 Louisiana black bear habitat along the Lower Mississippi River. Specifically, BTI is requesting: 1) NRCS provide a minimum of $30 million in funding annually 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 earlier this year. 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.
BTI remains engaged in 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 a policy that creates incentives for private landowners to conserve listed species.
We represented BTI at the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP) summer in August 2020.
BTI also worked with AWCP in helping write part of the latest volume of "W21", entitled Wildlife for the 21st Century. W21 is the 4-year agenda of AWCP. This edition is also the 20th anniversary of AWCP’s founding at the Boone and Crockett Club’s headquarters in Missoula. The previous edition became the playbook for the U.S. Department of the Interior over the last 4 years, which is why we have had such great success promoting better access to public lands. This edition of W21 is the most professional effort by AWCP in its 20-year history. W21 presents 10 recommendations covering aspects of public and private lands, funding, recreational shooting, and hunting heritage.
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 is also working with the Forest Service and the nominees to oversee the agency. Randy Moore, originally from Louisiana, has been named Chief of the Forest Service and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak has stated his intent to nominate Dr. Homer Wilkes as Undersecretary of Agriculture over the Forest Service. Dr. Wilkes is Director of the Gulf of Mexico Program for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and is based out of Mississippi. The Forest Service’s International Program can greatly benefit bear conservation worldwide.
These are just the highlights from this past year. However, none of this would have been possible without the help from not only 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, but the many members of the U.S. Congress and officials in the Trump Administration.