The Most Important, Least-Known Conservation News of 2014

You’ll be surprised what happened this year.

As the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership notes, this year numerous major conservation stories failed to gain traction in the media or with the general public. These overlooked stories range from budgetary concerns and misspent funds to inaccessible public lands and questionable legislative practices—but each profoundly affects sportsmen one way or another.

As 2014 draws to a close, take a look at what TRCP has deemed the top ten most-missed conservation stories this year.

 

1. America’s National Forests and Parks for Sale?

The News:

A vocal group of lawmakers and activists is demanding that America’s public lands—including some national parks—be transferred to state ownership. Some are calling for the outright sale of federal public lands to private interests. Utah has threatened to sue the federal government if 31.2 million acres of public lands aren’t transferred to the state by 2015. In August, Senator Ted Cruz filed an amendment to the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 essentially compelling the sale of valuable Western public lands.

What It Means:

If these lands are transferred to the states, they could eventually be sold to private interests because of the enormous management costs that states are simply not able to handle.

 

2. Money Earmarked for Conservation Gets Spent Elsewhere

The News:

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program created to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and increase access and recreation opportunities for sportsmen and the general public, is being treated more like a slush fund. For almost 35 years, Congress has raided the LWCF to plug deficit gaps in completely unrelated programs.

What It Means:

Hundreds of millions of dollars a year are being diverted from important [conservation] projects.

 

3. Budgeting Restrictions for Wildfire Management Burn Up Cash

The News:

Catastrophic wildfires in the United States are growing in severity and frequency, causing suppression costs to increase dramatically. Due to outdated budgeting practices . . . the U.S. Forest Service budget cannot manage these rising costs . . . and is forced to borrow from non-fire accounts such as wildfire prevention, damaging its ability to take a proactive approach to mitigating wildfire risk.

What It Means:

Catastrophic wildfires have devastating impacts for wildlife, habitat and the millions of people who live in the 70,000 wilderness communities throughout the United States. Introduced [by Congress], the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would classify large fires as natural disasters, enabling the use of federal emergency dollars to supplement costs.

 

4. World’s Largest Marine Reserve Embraces Recreational Fishing

The News:

On September 25, President Obama signed a proclamation that expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to six times its current size. [While the proclamation prohibits] commercial fishing, deep-sea mining, and more; [it allows] recreational fishing in these waters.

What It Means:

Inclusion of recreational fishing in the management planning of the world’s largest marine reserve establishes an important distinction between commercial and recreational fishing in federal policy.

 

5. Regulations for Management of 245 Million Acres of Public Land Being Rewritten for the First Time

The News:

For the first time in roughly 40 years, the Bureau of Land Management is updating its national land-use planning handbook.

What It Means:

BLM land-use planners depend on the 163-page handbook to help make decisions regarding 245 million acres of land . . . These lands are critical to sustaining healthy fisheries and abundant wildlife.

 

6. Public Denied Access to 35 Million Acres of Public Lands

The News:

According to a past congressional study, more than 35 million acres of public lands are effectively inaccessible to the public largely because of changing demographic patterns on private lands and the loss of traditional access points.

What It Means:

Loss of access is a primary reason why people stop hunting and fishing . . . [Sportsmen bolster] the nation’s entire conservation system through paying excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment and by purchasing licenses and duck stamps.

 

7. Gulf of Mexico Restoration Offers Once-in-a-Lifetime Conservation Opportunities

The News:

Twenty billion dollars in settlements from the BP oil spill represents an unprecedented opportunity to restore water quality, barrier islands, oyster and sea-grass beds, reefs, and coastal wildlife habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.

What It Means:

Beyond the obvious improvements to the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and the region’s substantial sportfishing-based economy, it ushers in a more positive and optimistic era of Gulf restoration and rebirth.

 

8. Federal Red Snapper Regulations Have Anglers Seeing Red

The News:

An effort by commercial interests and their allies would give half the Gulf’s recreational [red snapper fishing season] to 1,300 “for hire” captains with federal reef-fish permits, meaning the average angler’s season could drop to as little as one day in 2015.

What It Means:

Anglers will be effectively prohibited from fishing for red snapper in the Gulf’s federal waters—unless they can afford to hire a captain to go fishing. It also contributes to a growing divide between a constituency, recreational anglers and those who are economically reliant on them, and the federal government.

 

9. ‘Not Dead Yet’: Alaska’s Proposed Pebble Mine Still a Threat

The News:

Powerful international mining interests want to develop the world’s largest open-pit mine, Pebble Mine, in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. A diverse coalition of sportsmen, Alaska natives, and industry members have urged the EPA to leverage its authority . . . to prevent the development of large-scale mines like Pebble in Bristol Bay. Yet a temporary injunction has put the brakes [on the EPA’s efforts to do so].

What It Means:

The Bristol Bay region encompasses irreplaceable populations of fish (including this Chinook salmon from the Naknek River) and wildlife, including brown bears, wolves, caribou, moose, and the largest sockeye salmon run in the world.

 

10. While California Fights, Western Sportsmen and Ranchers Collaborate—and Win

The News:

While interests in California battle over dwindling water supplies in a record drought . . . sportsmen [have partnered] with farmers and ranchers to improve irrigation efficiency and devote the saved water to instream flow for fish and wildlife.

 What It Means:

These disparate interests help ensure that working lands remain productive during prolonged droughts—and improve access to hunting and fishing [oppurtunies].

 

Read the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s full story here.

 

Excerpts via the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Cover image: Caleb George