Here at the onset of the most wonderful time of the year, we, as hunters and anglers, have more to ponder than normal. In addition to checking the maps, wondering how the summer’s weather has favorably or unfavorably impacted our favorite spots, and dreaming of the ridge, holler or swamp where we’ll carry out our fall rituals, we also have to consider how to use our voices to obtain investment in so many neglected locales.
What in the heck is this guy talking about? You were following along with all the fall goodness that we so cherish but then I got to the part about “using our voices to obtain investment…” and then likely you glazed over a bit.
I, like most of us, would much rather be in the woods than considering things like infrastructure and engaging in the politics of Washington, D.C. Problem is, that is selfish, and neither you nor I, nor the other millions of hunters happily heading afield this fall can afford to sit this one out.
For decades our country has failed to adequately maintain things like roads, bridges, waterlines, and the power grid. And…. maybe more importantly to some of us, the forests, grasslands, streams, trails, and access points we use regularly to hunt and fish. All of these things are infrastructure. Not only do they allow for transportation, communication, and a healthy economy but they also determine how well our favorite stream will handle a flood, how much habitat will be lost if a wildfire happens to find our favorite forest, and how clean our air and water is when we step outside or go the tap.
Beyond what you know as traditional infrastructure, there is also what we call “natural infrastructure” – the forests that clean our air and provide pristine drinking water for tens of millions of Americans; the streams and wetlands that slow floodwaters while serving as critical habitat for waterfowl and young fish; the overpasses that allow for migrating ungulates to cross a highway unscathed and without causing wrecks that destroy lives and property.
These are also infrastructure and critical to the health and well being of our country, and the people and wildlife that live within it. Right now Congress is considering two bills that will invest in both traditional and natural infrastructure. Think of that bridge you cross on your way to work or on your way to your favorite forest. Think of a stream or wetlands restoration project that slows millions of gallons of floodwaters and prevents towns and homes from flooding while also restoring a degraded fishery. Think of culvert replacement that allows for fish passage and keeps a road from being blown out during a flash flood. Think of rehabbing of a forest damaged by wildfire that will bring back fish and wildlife with the replanting of trees and the stabilization of stream banks. These are all examples of infrastructure that help humans and wildlife alike.
Currently, Congress is deliberating over which investments will happen, and where, in the bipartisan infrastructure package. The package has already passed through the Senate and is now awaiting consideration in the House. If passed and signed into law, we will see the most substantial investment in infrastructure in a least a generation. We will see things like a $21 billion investment to clean up and reclaim abandoned coal mines, plug orphaned oil and gas well and clean up old toxic waste sites known as” Superfund” sites. These would be huge for people and wildlife and eventually mean more habitat available to the fish and game we pursue. We would get $3 billion for coastal and watershed restoration projects – sorely needed and long overdue projects that will help us better handle hurricanes and flooding all while improving waterfowl habitat and restoring spawning grounds for numerous species of game fish. Also included in the Senate bill is the reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, which every year contributes more than $500 million to fisheries conservation and water recreation investment like boat ramps and other infrastructure that facilitates water-based recreation. And these are just a few of the historical investments being considered that would be absolute game changers for hunting and fishing.
And how about “reconciliation”? Reconciliation is the process by which Congress directs funds from the budget resolution process to specific areas. Each individual committee builds a bill with its priorities and then those bills are all wrapped into the “reconciliation package”. Unlike most bills in the Senate, reconciliation only needs a simple majority and cannot be filibustered (learn more here). This is being called the Build Back Better Act and would come after passage of the infrastructure bill and include several other priorities that we support.
Included in the potential reconciliation package are things like the Clean Energy Payment Program and numerous tax incentives for clean energy, clean manufacturing, and capturing carbon. These will help address climate change and spur innovation in clean energy sectors.
The reconciliation package is also likely to include incredible investment in several other areas that will definitely improve hunting and angling (and save taxpayers down the road money from disaster relief) such as:
• the Army Corps of Engineers’ Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration program. This includes important projects in the Everglades, Great Lakes, Mississippi River Delta, Puerto Rico, California, Upper Mississippi River, and Missouri River;
• $10 billion in funding for coastal restoration and resilience projects that will restore coastal and marine habitats, improve water quality, and protect communities from hurricanes and storms;
• Securing $5 billion for a new program dedicated to cleaning up hardrock and uranium abandoned mines, and creating a new industry-funded account for future cleanup;
• Investing $40 billion in restoration of our forests to capture carbon, improve wildlife habitat and resilience to wildfire, and deliver clean water to downstream communities;
• Investing at least $4.5 billion in restoring our grasslands and rangelands on Bureau of Land Management lands to increase biodiversity and reduce severity of wildfire; and
• Securing at least an additional $4 billion for forest restoration, hazardous fuels management, and reduction of fire risks on Bureau of Land Management lands.
There is simply no doubt that hunters and anglers, and fish and wildlife will benefit immensely from both the bipartisan infrastructure package and the reconciliation package. We have an excellent, generational opportunity to infuse historical investments into our woods and waters.
So back to “using our voices to obtain investment…”
Congress needs to know that hunters and anglers support these investments - and that’s where you come in. Don’t let this moment pass. Pick up the phone or send an email and tell your members of Congress about the places you know that could use some love and care. Be specific, and tell them of how it will improve hunting and fishing. Take this opportunity to help precipitate change we can be proud of and tell our grandkids about in 20, 30, 50 years. It will be all the sweeter this fall when you’re sitting on a ridge awaiting your moment to harvest and fill the freezer knowing that you already helped our nation restock, restore, and reinvigorate with these historic investments.
And rest assured, the critters will thank you for it.
Aaron Kindle is the Director of Sporting Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation.
The Great American Outdoors Act will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund while investing in a backlog of public land maintenance, providing current and future generations the outdoor recreation opportunities like boat launches to access fishable waters, shooting ranges, and public lands to hunt as well as the economic stimulus we need right now.