Sportsmen’s legislative priorities in 2013

This month, the Waterfowl Advocate interviewed Ducks Unlimited’s Director of Government Affairs Gary Taylor about legislative priorities affecting sportsmen in the coming year.

DU: Give us a snapshot of what was accomplished and what was left unfinished in the 112th Congress.

Gary: The RESTORE Act, which was passed as part of the comprehensive transportation bill, will bring vitally needed funding for environmental remediation and restoration of the Gulf Coast. The region is a priority area for DU and the act will assist recovery efforts from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The 112th Congress also did a two-year extension of the federal tax incentive for private landowners who donate conservation easements on their property. Conservation easements are a tool of great significance to DU in meeting our conservation objectives. 

Left unfinished was reauthorization of a comprehensive Farm Bill, although good progress on a bipartisan proposal was reflected in Senate passage of their bill. The nine-month Farm Bill extension that was included as part of the fiscal cliff agreement allows continued enrollment in important conservation programs such as the Wetlands Reserve Program and Conservation Reserve Program, although only up to the existing statutory acreage cap. Similarly, left unfinished was program reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), although funding was appropriated at near Fiscal Year 2012 enacted levels.

DU: Now that the 113th Congress has begun, what are DU’s top legislative priorities for this session and why?

Gary: Reauthorization of a comprehensive Farm Bill must be accomplished in the 113th Congress in order to continue the vital conservation programs that not only provide wildlife habitat on agricultural land, but also are vital to production agriculture by providing affordable food and fiber delivered for our citizens in environmentally sustainable ways. The Farm Bill delivers more on-the-ground conservation on private lands than any other program. DU’s priority remains the achievement of a robust portfolio of conservation programs including re-coupling conservation with crop insurance, and the creation of a national Sodsaver program. There will be less money overall for the Farm Bill in the 113th Congress, so we will be challenged to secure adequate funding for conservation.

Overall funding for conservation will be challenged as Congress seeks to impose fiscal discipline on federal spending. This makes it even more important to reauthorize NAWCA, and secure adequate appropriations for it. For a modest level of federal dollars, NAWCA delivers significant on-the-ground wetlands and associated uplands conservation by leveraging federal dollars with non-federal dollars on at least a $1 federal to $3 non-federal basis. 

It will also be important to raise the price of the federal duck stamp, which has been at $15 since 1991. These user-fee/public benefit dollars, self-imposed by hunters during the Great Depression, have contributed to the conservation of important wetland habitats throughout the country. Once again, hunters are demonstrating their willingness to strengthen conservation efforts by supporting an increase in the federal duck stamp fee.

In general, we expect to be challenged to substantiate the value and merits of all conservation programs as a result of the need for fiscal discipline in federal spending. Hunters and anglers must ally themselves with not only other conservationists, but also with the general public in demonstrating that these programs grow the economy, particularly in rural areas; create for our citizens domestic jobs that cannot be exported; deliver goods and commodities for our citizens; contribute to health and quality of life for our citizens; and sustain our nation’s economic vitality.

DU: What can Ducks Unlimited members do to help see these issues move forward in Washington, D.C.?

Gary: Get to know your elected officials and their staff, and let them know of your interest in and support of these conservation issues. Share with them how these programs benefit you, your family and your community. Schedule visits with members of Congress or staff when they are home in your state, and look for opportunities to get them out to show firsthand the value of these programs to you and your community. You, your friends and your neighbors are in the best position to bring this message to your legislators. And stay tuned to DU’s website, action alerts and social media to stay informed and to learn how your voice can be most effective to assist DU with meeting our conservation objectives. And thank you for your interest and engagement.