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Policy News 2.30


Top stories for July 27, 2010
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DU leader named chairman of national council on hunting, conservation

John TomkeU.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have announced that John Tomke, former Ducks Unlimited president and current president of Ducks Unlimited de Mexico, will be chairman of the new Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council.

The 18-member WHHCC will help promote and preserve America's hunting heritage for future generations and will also provide a forum for sportsmen and women to advise the federal government on policies related to wildlife and habitat conservation. The WHHCC is an official advisory group under the Federal Advisory Committee Act and will be an official advisory board to the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture.

"As a lifelong sportsman, I'm honored and privileged to serve on this council and look forward to working with its members to conserve our wildlife and preserve our hunting heritage," Tomke said. "Hunters have long been at the forefront of conservation in America, and this council will play an important role in advancing that proud tradition."

"Ducks Unlimited is pleased that John Tomke, one of our organization's most active and dedicated leaders, has been appointed to chair this vitally important conservation council, and we applaud the administration for it efforts to recognize sportsmen's contributions to conservation and to safeguard our nation's hunting heritage," Dale Hall, DU CEO said. "John has been involved with Ducks Unlimited for nearly 40 years, and we look forward to working closely with him and the other members of the WHHCC to help promote wildlife and wetlands habitat conservation and America's hunting heritage."

In making the appointment, Secretary Salazar said, "Dating back to President Theodore Roosevelt, our nation's hunters have taken the lead in conservation of wildlife and its habitat. They have contributed billions of dollars to conservation programs through licenses, permits and excise taxes, and they have been among the most ardent volunteers through a wide variety of sportsmen's organizations. Conservation in America, frankly, would be a shadow of what it is today, were it not for the hunters of this country, and it is vitally important that we keep America's hunting heritage strong."

Speaking from Washington, D.C., Secretary Vilsack said, "Members of this council are going to play a crucial role in our ongoing efforts to improve the health and management of both our public and private lands. Today's announcement expands and formalizes a long-standing tradition of a partnership and collaboration between sportsmen and sportswomen, conservation groups, public and private entities and resource managers.

"Hunting is not only important for conservation and jobs in rural America, it is in my belief a very important part of the social fabric of rural America," Vilsack said.

Tomke also serves as a member of the Ducks Unlimited Board of Directors and a member of the conservation organization's Wetlands America Trust Board. He was president of DU from 2002-2005.

House appropriations subcommittee approves flat funding, some cuts for conservation programs

The U.S. House of Representatives Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee has approved a $32.2 billion spending bill for environmental agencies for the coming fiscal year. This amount is equal to the amount spent last year. The majority of the programs that support waterfowl populations and habitat will receive decreased funding, while funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System will remain flat.

A few specific programs of interest to waterfowl supporters include:

  • Funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act could be cut from last year's level of $47.6 million. Exact numbers have yet to be released.
  • The National Wildlife Refuge System is being recommended to receive funding of $502 million in the bill, matching the funding received last year. DU had advocated for increased funding for caring for the refuge system, given the huge impacts on the Gulf Coast refuges in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.
  • The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was recommended to receive $300 million, a decrease of $175 million from last year. Funding for this program goes towards addressing the most significant problems facing the Great Lakes Region, including invasive aquatic species, non-point source pollution and contaminated sediment.

DU habitat restoration in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
DU project area at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge,
in southwestern Washington – photo by Tom Reichner

The next step for the legislation is consideration by the full House Appropriations Committee.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announces dates for CRP sign-up

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that a general sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program will run from Aug. 2-27. During this time, farmers and ranchers may report to their county Farm Service Agency offices and offer eligible land for CRP. The 2008 Farm bill authorized the USDA to keep enrollment in CRP at 32 million acres. Nearly 4.5 million acres are scheduled to expire on Sept. 30. The sign-up will enroll 4.4 million acres, ensuring that total enrollment remains near 32 million. Get additional details about the general sign-up.

CRP acreage being converted back to cropland
Photo by Scott Stephens, DU

CRP encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to resource-conserving vegetative cover, such as tame or native grasses, wildlife plantings, trees, filter strips or riparian buffers. CRP improves water quality, prevents soil erosion and provides vital nesting cover for ducks and other wildlife.

Currently, there are 6.7 million acres enrolled in the Prairie Pothole Region, which ranks first on DU's high-priority habitat list. The USDA makes annual rental payments based on the agriculture rental value of the land, and provides cost-share assistance for up to 50 percent of the participant's costs in establishing approved conservation practices. Participants compete nationally through a process that utilizes an Environmental Benefits Index to enroll in CRP contracts and receive an annual rental payment for 10 to 15 years.

Ducks Unlimited supports Asian Carp Ecological Separation Study bills introduced in Congress

Recently, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's Water and Power Subcommittee held a "carp crisis" hearing on the heels of the introduction of the Permanent Provision of Asian Carp Act. The "Carp Act" was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (MI) and Richard Durbin (IL), and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Dave Camp (MI).

The legislation will require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an expedited study to determine the best way to permanently separate the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins. The watersheds are being threatened by the introduction of invasive Asian carp, including silver, bighead, grass and black carp, which could disrupt fish and wildlife habitats in the Great Lakes forever.

Ducks Unlimited supports the introduction of the legislation because Asian carp have great potential to disrupt aquatic vegetation and wetlands important to waterfowl and other wildlife, which would negatively impact fish and wildlife populations and recreational use by citizens throughout the United States. Hunting, fishing and wildlife observation generates approximately $18 billion in annual revenues to the Great Lakes region.

Asian carp jumping out of the water
Asian carp jumping out of Great Lakes waters

The legislation will examine engineering solutions to separate the two watersheds, taking into consideration a wide range of factors including flooding, wastewater and storm water infrastructure, waterway safety and commercial and recreational boat traffic. Generated recommendations from the committee will be communicated to Congress and the president no later than 18 months after study initiation, with a draft report due in six months.

"DU is pleased to see Congress initiate quick action on ways to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes," said Gildo Tori, director of public policy at DU's Great Lakes/Atlantic Regional Office. "We are very grateful for the leadership of Sens. Stabenow and Durbin and Congressman Camp that will expedite the ecological separation of these two major watersheds, which many Great Lakes organizations support."

DU represented at first-annual Governors Sportsmen's Caucus

State chief executives who are members of the Governors Sportsmen's Caucus came together to discuss the future of hunting and fishing in America and the impact sportsmen have on the national economy. Ray Whittemore, director of conservation at DU's Great Lakes/Atlantic Regional Office, represented DU at the first-annual caucus meeting, held in Boston, Mass.

The GSC, which was launched last July, is a bi-partisan caucus of governors united by a desire to protect the interest of America's hunters and anglers and to promote sound wildlife management policy.

DU's Ray Whittemore and Gov. Jim Douglas (VT)
DU's Ray Whittemore discusses New England's annual conservation report with Gov. Jim Douglas (VT)
at the GSC.

The governors present at the meeting—Gov. Joe Manchin III (WV), Gov. Jim Douglas (VT), Gov. Chet Culver (IA) and Gov. Brian Schweitzer (MT)—spoke in regard to the downward trend in the amount of hunters and anglers in America. More than 40 million sportsmen and women generate revenue for the American system of conservation funding and spend more than $76 billion dollars a year on hunting and fishing.

Whittemore took the chance to speak to caucus co-chair Gov. Douglas (VT) since the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources' Clean and Clear program has been a valuable partner, along with the federal Wetlands Reserve Program, in facilitating Ducks Unlimited's conservation goals in the Lake Champlain Basin. The area is widely recognized as a historically significant wetland complex for waterfowl and other migratory birds. More than 30 species of ducks, geese and swans depend on this important ecosystem each fall and spring during migration and, to a lesser degree, for breeding grounds in the spring and summer.

Whittemore presented Gov. Douglas with a copy of DU's New England annual conservation report, which featured a grant given to DU through Vermont's Clean and Clear program. Douglas initiated the program to improve the water quality of Lake Champlain. Whittemore said he informed the governor that because of this program and DU's involvement with other state and federal partners, strides are being made to improve water quality and fish and wildlife habitat in critical watersheds of Vermont.

"Gov. Douglas pointed out the immense positive economic impact hunting and fishing have on local, regional and national economies," said Whittemore. "It is extremely important that organizations such as DU, who are and always have been supported in large part by hunters, were present at the caucus to thank its members for their support of legislation and public policy that supports and encourages the long-term sustainability of our hunting and fishing heritage."


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