Archive for the ‘Habitat’ Category

Field Report: Pheasant Nesting Habitat Conditions

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

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Nesting conditions were favorable across much of the Midwest this spring, and drought-stricken regions across the Great Plains and the western reaches of pheasant country finally received a respite. Summer brood surveys conducted in July and August will be the best indicator of what upland hunters can expect afield, but in areas with available habitat, overall conditions appear more promising than last season in many states. Pheasants Forever’s annual Pheasants Hunting Forecast will be released in September. To receive it, sign up here.

Quail Forever’s Quail Nesting Habitat Conditions report will be released in early August.

Colorado - While spring call counts were down 44 percent from last year, drought conditions have moderated across much of the state’s core pheasant range, according to Ed Gorman, small game manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “Overall nesting conditions are good, but the spring breeding population is much lower in 2014 than in previous years,” Gorman says, “Conditions range from significantly better to slightly better depending on the specific area.

Idaho – Like many states in the west, a mild winter with subsequent spring rains left Idaho’s upland habitat in excellent shape for nesting upland birds, according to Jeff Knetter, gamebird biologist with the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

Illinois – Mild weather conditions persisted across much of the Illinois pheasant range, but despite the window Mother Nature provided, poor upland habitat conditions continue to plague the state’s pheasant population. “Nesting cover is limited and many areas have too much aesthetic mowing during critical nesting periods,” says Stan McTaggart, Illinois Department of Natural Resources program manager for agriculture and grasslands, “Many of the available grassy areas (i.e. waterways, buffer strips and older CRP plantings) are too thick to provide good nesting cover. Areas that are properly managed have had decent weather to support successful nesting.”

Indiana - Results from Indiana’s spring crow count had just been concluded at publish time and will be included in Pheasants Forever’s annual Pheasant Hunting Forecast in early Sept.

Iowa - Iowa’s unseasonably cold and snowy winter and wet spring is not likely to boost its pheasant population. Pheasants typically show population increases following mild winters with spring that are warmer and dryer than normal. Based on that weather model, the western third of Iowa has the best chance to see an uptick in pheasants due to below average snowfall and less than eight inches of spring rain. The weather model predicts the rest of the state to see either no population increase or fewer birds than last year.

Kansas – Kansas’ 2014 pheasant crowing survey indicated a 7 percent decrease statewide, or very similar numbers to last year, according to Jeff Prendergast, small game biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. And while drought led to poor upland habitat conditions early in the spring, precipitation in May began greatly improving nesting and brood-rearing conditions. “Summer rains delayed wheat harvest and created excellent conditions for re-nesting,” Prendergast notes.

Minnesota - For the second consecutive year, Minnesota experienced late-season snowstorms and a wet spring. This was followed by extremely heavy rainfall amounts during June, especially during the first three weeks of the month during which the peak pheasant hatch typically occurs, according Nicole Davros, upland game project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

June 2014 was Minnesota’s wettest June (and wettest month) of modern record, with most areas of the state’s pheasant range receiving more than 8” of rainfall – and some receiving 10”-14”. “Extreme cold paired with heavy rains can significantly reduce chick survival, but it is worth noting that average monthly temperatures were close to normal during June. The near-normal temperatures may have helped reduce the number of young chicks lost due to weather exposure,” Davros said.

Reports of pheasant broods being sighted have trickled in slower than usual. “Young broods were observed even after heavy rainfall events in June which is good news indicating that some young chicks survived the rains. Although hens that successfully hatched chicks and later lost them will not re-nest, any hens that lost their eggs to the heavy rains will have time to re-nest. Overall reports so far indicate that the peak pheasant hatch may be slightly delayed this year. Sportsmen and women might expect to see some fairly young birds in the fields again this fall.”

Montana - Montana pheasants came through winter mostly unscathed thanks to mild weather, and nesting conditions were promising during the prime production period. In fact, last year’s favorable weather generated some of the best habitat conditions in Montana in a long time.

Nebraska - Will be updated soon.

North Dakota - North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, according to the State Game and Fish Department’s 2014 spring crowing count survey. Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from 2 percent in the northwest to 9 percent in the southeast.

Last year, the fall population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter pheasant mortality, particularly in the southern one-third of the state, helped boost this year’s spring count.

Another positive is that abundant moisture has provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period.  “Spring weather has been pretty good for nesting/early brood rearing,” Kohn said, “The only possible impact might be heavy rains (2”-6”) in the southwest part of state, the heart of the pheasant range.  We’re not sure yet what impacts may have resulted from these heavy that came when chicks were hatching to 10 days old.” Overall, Kohn expected nesting success to be average to above average.

Oklahoma – Scott Cox, upland game biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, says a few more pheasants are being seen this year compared to this time last year, thanks to decent moisture that broke more than two years of drought. Coming off a season in which hunters harvested nearly 35,000 ringnecks, the improved conditions – forbs and grass height have rebounded – have Cox cautiously optimistic about nesting this year.

Oregon - Coming off a season in which hunters harvested their lowest number of pheasants in the past two decades (19,930 birds), Oregon looks poised for a slight rebound. Winter/spring precipitation during 2014 was still below average but improved over 2013,” says Dave Budeau, upland game bird coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, “Production is expected to improve over last year.”

South Dakota - Weather conditions were favorable for pheasant production over most of the primary pheasant range from late April through June, reports Travis Runia, South Dakota Game, Fish and Park’s lead pheasant biologist. “Below normal winter snowfall likely resulted in above average overwinter survival of pheasants,” Runia said, “With more hens available for nesting, the potential for an increase in population exists, given favorable nesting conditions.”

Runia says adequate spring moisture and normal temperatures have allowed grasses and forbs to flourish. “Reproductive success should be good in areas where large blocks of nesting habitat remain,” he adds. The major exception was record flooding in extreme southeastern South Dakota.  “Areas around Sioux Falls shattered all time June rainfall records, which almost certainly resulted in destroyed nests and reduced survival of pheasant chicks,” Runia says.

Washington - Pheasant hunters here are optimistic about nesting success, as adequate April moisture had cover looking lush, according to Joey McCanna, upland game bird specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Wisconsin - The winter of 2013-14 provided some challenges for pheasants across Wisconsin, and conditions in localized areas may have been severe enough to impact survival or bird numbers. “This was a more severe winter than usual across much of Wisconsin’s pheasant range, with bitterly cold temperatures and persistent snow cover,” said Scott Walter, Wisconsin DNR upland wildlife ecologist. Snow persisted into April across much of Wisconsin’s pheasant range, and persistent rain into June may have dampened production. “Whether or not spring weather conditions impacted pheasant production levels will be determined when we see the results of our summer brood surveys, and will really depend upon the timing of heavy rains relative to the peak hatch period. We did have weeks of relatively dry weather in June, and hopefully these provided a window of good survival for pheasant chicks,” added Walter.

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s online editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Action Alert: Pheasants Forever Urges Support of Sportsmen’s Act of 2014

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

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Yesterday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly advanced the bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 (S. 2363), moving the legislation one step closer to passage. The Sportsmen’s Act, which boasts the support of many national conservation and sportsmen organizations – including Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever – representing millions of outdoorsmen and women, contains a host of provisions that stand to benefit hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreationists.

The Sportsmen’s Act will enact a variety of measures to facilitate the use of and access to federal public lands and waters for hunting, fishing, and shooting. Provisions in the bill will also help increase revenue for wildlife conservation, hunter education and shooting programs.

We urge Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members to contact their Senators and ask them to support the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 (the House has passed a similar piece of legislation). Ask your Senator to:

  • Recognize conservation, wildlife and sportsmen and women by supporting the Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 (S. 2363)
  • Oppose amendments not related to Sportsmen’s Act legislation

Contact your U.S. Senator

We need your help in this final push for the Sportsmen’s Act of 2014. Thanks for your time and consideration, and for supporting Pheasants Forever and wildlife habitat conservation.

The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Vice President of Government Relations.

North Dakota Spring Pheasant Count Tops Last Year

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

TimEisele(CR2007)

Photo credit: Tim Eisele 

North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, according to the State Game and Fish Department’s 2014 spring crowing count survey.

Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from about 2 to 9 percent depending on the region.

While the spring number is a positive indicator, Kohn said it does not predict what North Dakota’s fall population will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population.

Last year, the fall population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter pheasant mortality, particularly in the southern one-third of the state, helped boost this year’s spring count.

Another positive is that abundant moisture has provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period. However, Kohn noted that since 2008, North Dakota has lost more than 2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, much of it in the pheasant range. That means total nesting habitat in the state is significantly reduced from where it was when the spring crowing count index peaked in 2008.

The 2014 index is down about one-third from that peak. “Loss of CRP acres continue to reduce the amount of nesting and brood-rearing habitat on the landscape,” Kohn emphasized. “This and other grassland conversion is going to negatively affect our pheasant population in the future.”

Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop.

The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Field Report: Despite Heavy Rains, Hopes for Repeat Late Hatch in Southwest Minnesota

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

MnDNR

Heavy rains have fallen in recent weeks in the Marshall, Minn. area. A pheasant destination for resident and nonresident hunters alike, many are wondering how excessive rain totals – more than 20 inches in some areas of southwest Minnesota, and more than 10 in the Marshall area in the month of June – could be affecting the pheasant hatch.

Nick Simonson, president of the Lyon County Pheasants Forever chapter, posed these questions to Nicole Davros, upland game project leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:

Q: In what condition was the pheasant population coming out of the winter months?

A: Our pheasant population made it through winter better than expected, and we had very few reports of winter losses. Although winter 2013-14 brought severe cold and some deep snow, it helped that the cold and snow didn’t come at the same time in the core of our pheasant range (west, southwest, and south-central portions of the state).

The central and east-central portions of our state had it worse as they experienced extreme cold and deep snow for a good portion of the winter. I’ve been hearing roosters crowing off of every corner of every Wildlife Management Area that I’ve visited this spring and summer.

Many of our wildlife managers have reported the same. I’ve taken this as a good indication that our pheasant population made it through winter just fine.

 

Q: What impact do you anticipate this rainy spring to have had on nesting attempts up to this point for pheasant hens in southwestern Minnesota?

A: We typically start getting reports of broods in late May, but that hasn’t happened this year and we’re instead only now beginning to get a few reports of young broods. Our brood observations to date could be indicative of a delayed hatch, or they could be indicative of reduced chick survival due to the recent rains. If enough hens have been delayed or forced into re-nesting, such that hatching has been delayed, this could end up being a positive as it would mean the peak hatch was offset from the onslaught of rain we had last week. Too much rain in a short period of time, especially when paired with colder temperatures, can lead to reduced chick survival, especially during the first few weeks of growth.

 

Q: Do you expect mostly eggs to have been destroyed by recent rains, or was there a period where some broods hatched, but were then taken out by spring weather events?

A: It is really hard for us to know the answer to that question. Again – we didn’t have reports of broods in May like usual so this could indicate that the hatch was delayed compared to a “typical” year.

Further, roosters are still crowing like crazy! And we’re not seeing that many hens, which serves as an indication that they are still incubating their clutches or are in deeper cover with their young broods. So I’m willing to speculate the hatch has been delayed based on weather conditions in early spring and based on what we are currently seeing now. Overall, I worry more about the rain affecting young chicks than eggs. Hens are very faithful to their nests. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that they only take one 20-30 minute break throughout the day during incubation, and they most certainly will stay on their eggs to keep them warm and dry during a rainstorm.

The one caveat to my concerns about rain affecting chicks more than eggs is that much of our remaining habitat is on low ground, so the major rainstorms we’ve had may be wiping out those nests on lower ground. And if there is one positive to all this rain, it’s that it hasn’t been paired with too cold of temperatures such that eggs or chicks would’ve gotten too cold.

 

Q: Last season’s pheasant hunting was saved by a very late hatch. What is the timeframe of the drop-dead latest hatch we can expect in southwestern Minnesota in a given year?

A: I wouldn’t put a date on a “drop-dead latest hatch.” Nothing would surprise me. Hens are known to be persistent re-nesters in that a hen will keep laying a fresh (albeit slightly smaller) clutch if her previous eggs are lost. However, if she successfully hatches a clutch and loses her chicks, she won’t re-nest.

In fact, last fall we had a report of birds that were generously estimated to be 3 weeks old at the start of the early duck season. Backdating with that information, those eggs would have been laid at the very end of July and the chicks would have hatched at the end of August or early September! However, late-hatched birds may have lower survival rates through winter. For example, they may not have enough time to put on fat reserves before an early-season snowstorm hits. They may also have less time to learn their environment than birds hatched earlier in the year, which may also give them a survival disadvantage once the snow hits.

 

Q: Without a solid hatch, what is your prognosis for the 2014 pheasant hunting season in southwestern Minnesota, based on the variables we have experienced in the past year, up to this point?

A: I’m not yet ready to speculate on how our population will look going into the fall. We’ll just have to wait and see what August brings! I’m less concerned about the timing of the hatch than I am about our habitat conditions. The simple fact is that we’ve lost a lot of CRP. We need to figure out a way to make conservation economically viable for private landowners.

 

Q: At what point should people be concerned that most hatches failed?

A: A late hatch is better than no hatch!

Even though we saw fewer birds in August during our roadside surveys last year, we speculated that hens were still on nests or under heavier cover with their young broods. And that turned out to be the case as many people were pleasantly surprised at how many birds were available come the pheasant season. Despite a rough opening weekend due to weather conditions, I received many reports that pheasant hunters who kept at it for the entire season were able to get their limits. They worked hard for the birds they got, but the birds were out there!

Overall, I think we need to be more concerned about the loss of habitat that has occurred over the past several years. In 2007, our pheasant harvest peaked at 655,000 roosters – the highest total harvest since 1963! Although this has been partially offset by gains in other cropland retirement acres (CREP, RIM, and WRP) and state- and federally-owned acquisitions, our pheasant harvest has been steadily declining nonetheless. And the worst CRP losses are yet to come. That’s the scary part.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologists Ready to Help Landowners Enroll in CRP

Monday, June 9th, 2014

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Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that today, Monday, June 9th, the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) would re-open to landowners. CRP had been closed since October 2013. The new Farm Bill signed in February set the stage for the continuation of the program and today’s re-opening.

From the USDA’s Press Release:

CRP consists of a “continuous” and “general” sign-up period. Continuous sign up for the voluntary program starts June 9. Under continuous sign-up authority, eligible land can be enrolled in CRP at any time with contracts of up to 10 to 15 years in duration. In lieu of a general sign-up this year, USDA will allow producers with general CRP contracts expiring this September to have the option of a one-year contract extension.

This is big news for hunters. For nearly three decades, CRP has been the gold-standard of habitat across pheasant country. During the “good ole days” of 2007 and 2008, 32 million CRP acres were responsible for producing pheasant populations not seen since the 1960’s in many core pheasant states. We all know what’s happened in the handful of years since. Commodity prices skyrocketed and land values followed. In turn, CRP acres crashed and pheasant number tumbled.

Today, there are signs the pendulum is swinging back toward a less volatile market with commodity prices leveling off and conservation programs offering a viable alternative for many farmers and ranchers. Indeed, every farm in America could be more profitable and financially secure with a mix of conservation practices – buffers, wetlands, field borders, etc. – in harmony with row crop production. As the saying goes, “farm the best, conserve the rest.” Additionally, USDA has updated soil rental rates for Continuous CRP practices, which should help make these programs increasingly more competitive with alternative land use options.

The key to finding a successful conservation recipe for success on your land is receiving expert advice from a trusted professional. Pheasants Forever, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s NRCS and FSA, along with state natural resource agencies across the pheasant range, is proud to employ more than 100 Farm Bill Biologists. These trained experts are skilled at figuring out the variety of conservation practices your land qualifies for, while also being aware of the myriad of ways to find cost-share options to make enrolling an attractive financial and ethical opportunity.  In fact, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologists have helped landowners enroll more than 4 million acres into conservation programs since 2003.

Find the Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist in your area by following this link. If there doesn’t happen to be a PF Farm Bill Biologist near you, the folks at your local USDA Service Center should also be able to help answer your questions about CRP.

The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Vice President of Government Relations

Sportsmen’s Act Would Create Millions of Acres of Public Hunting Lands

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

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While the farm bill is the most important piece of federal legislation to Pheasants Forever, it’s far from the only conservation tool created in Washington, D.C. This spring, Pheasants Forever is urging Congressional leaders to consider the bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act. Included in this bill are a variety of measures influencing the creation and management of lands open to public hunting.

The Sportsman’s Act includes the following titles:

  • Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2013 (S.738) authorizes the Fish and Wildlife Service to allow any state to provide federal duck stamps electronically. This measure should make it simpler to sell stamps, in turn leading to a greater pot of money for Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) acquisitions.
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (S.741) provides matching grants to organizations, state and local governments, and private landowners for the acquisition, restoration, and enhancement of wetlands critical to the habitat of migratory birds. Pheasants Forever has been a grant recipient in many states leading to thousands of acres of protected critical grassland and wetland habitat.
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization (S.51); a non-profit that preserves and restores native wildlife species and habitats.
  • Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage Opportunities Act (S.170); the bill also requires the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to keep their lands open to hunting, recreational fishing, and shooting.
  • Making Public Lands Public requires 1.5% of annual Land and Water Conservation Fund for securing fishing, hunting, and recreational shooting access on federal public lands.
  • Farmer and Hunter Protection Act; authorizes USDA extension offices to determine normal agricultural practices rather than the Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act (S.1505) exempts lead fishing tackle from being regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
  • Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act (S.1212) enables states to allocate a greater proportion of federal funding to create and maintain shooting ranges on federal and non-federal lands.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have joined a group of 40 organizations representing more than 40 million hunters and anglers asking the United States Senate to consider the Sportsmen’s Act following Memorial weekend recess.

You can help too. Contact your U.S. Senator and ask them to bring the Sportsmen’s Act to the Senate floor.

The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Vice President of Government Relations.

New USDA Program Focused on “Bullseye Benefits” for Pheasants & Wildlife

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Male ring-necked pheasant rooster 4

Photo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Herbert Lange

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the launch of the USDA’s new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) on Tuesday. Through RCPP, the USDA is empowered to seek partners to leverage a variety of financial resources for the protection of eight critical conservation areas – many of which are also priority regions for pheasants and quail – including:

  • Chesapeake Bay Watershed
  • Mississippi River Basin
  • Great Lakes Region
  • California Bay Delta
  • Prairie Grasslands
  • Colorado River Basin
  • Columbia River Basin
  • Longleaf Pine Range

Over the last 30 years, Pheasants Forever has taken the federal and state tools available to us and completed “random acts of conservation.” Don’t get me wrong, our projects have created millions of acres of wildlife habitat, improved water quality and protected soil resources. Those projects, however, have largely been completed as a result of an opportunity generated by willing private landowners  volunteering to enroll conservation practices on their land, whenever and wherever it presented itself. Times are a-changing.

The pressures on our lands and wildlife have never been so intense, while funding has become increasingly scarce. Conversely, our scientific understanding of the impact our land management decisions have on our natural resources has never been so deep. It is also clear that no single agency or organization can do it alone.  Partnerships are how habitat happens in 2014. We know that conservation programs that buffer streams, protect wetlands, create borders around fields, and maintain contiguous blocks of grasslands can protect water resources while also establishing habitat for pheasants, quail, and all sorts of wildlife species.  The key is finding the balance between meeting our nation’s food, fuel and fiber needs, while protecting America’s invaluable natural resources.

The USDA’s new Regional Conservation Partnership Program is the evolutionary leap forward from random acts of conservation to bullseye benefits. A great example of this concept in practice was the development of Pheasants Forever’s Farm Bill Biologist program in 2003; a partnership started between NRCS, South Dakota Game Fish & Parks and Pheasants Forever.  Our Farm Bill Biologist program, as a result of numerous partners, places an employee on the ground in an area of particular focus for the achievement of a specific result. Today, the Farm Bill Biologist model has expanded to 19 different states with unique conservation objectives in each locale.

More recently, we employed the NRCS partnership model with the Sage Grouse and Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiatives. These efforts bridge partnerships with multiple government agencies (state wildlife agencies, Joint Ventures, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NRCS, and BLM) and fellow non-profit conservation organizations. In both initiatives, a group of stakeholders are able to bring a larger pool of resources to bear toward a common goal. This is the essence of the USDA’s new Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

While your first reaction may be to yawn at the creation of another member of conservation’s acronym soup, RCPP represents the future of highly targeted efforts to leverage partnerships for bigger wildlife and water benefits.

The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s vice president of government relations

Help Make Conservation Easement Tax Incentives Permanent

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

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Conservation easements a valuable tool for protecting upland habitat. Photo credit: Krista Lundgren/USFWS 

Everyone knows there are two inevitable things in life, and one of them is taxes. And taxes can, in fact, do great things for wildlife habitat conservation. This can be the form of the Pittman-Robertson or Dingle –Johnson Acts in which excise taxes on guns, ammo and fishing equipment are directed to the betterment of fish and wildlife.

Then there are tax incentives to do great things for wildlife and our natural resources through donations of value. One of these tax incentives, which expired at the end of 2013, was available to farmers, ranchers and landowners that wished to place conservation easements on their properties, allowing them to deduct all or a portion of that value (aka tax write-offs). So, a landowner gets a financial reward for doing something that benefits society in the way of permanently protecting lands and conserving wildlife habitat, reducing erosion and improving water quality. The tax provision is an added incentive available to farmers and landowners that helps out when it comes time to look at the bottom line on the financial balance sheet – they can write off a portion of the value they donated for the cause.

There are new efforts underway to make these conservation easement tax incentives permanent (as opposed to reauthorizing/extending in each Congress), something the conservation community has been trying to do for several years. Currently there is legislation in Congress to permanently enact this provision and can be found in H.R. 2807 and S. 526; there are over 225 co-sponsors in the House and Senate. This bill and more information can be found through the Land Trust Alliance. There is also a list of current sponsors and members of Congress that have supported this tax measure in the past, but have not yet signed back on.

Pheasants Forever encourages you to contact your representatives and ask them to support H.R.  2807 and also contact your senators for their support on S. 526.

For more information on Pheasants Forever’s permanent habitat conservation efforts, visit www.pheasantsforever.org/legacy.

The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Vice President of Government Relations.

The Fight for the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

LWCF

By Rob Drieslein

The standard canon in retracing America’s conservation legacy begins with Civil War veterans in Congress who, at the turn of the 20th Century, passed landmark legislation like the Lacey Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It culminates with Teddy Roosevelt mugging with John Muir, then bullying through legislation for national parks and monuments, the U.S. Forest Service, and the beginning of America’s national wildlife refuge system.

All were pivotal moments in establishing the nation’s credentials as a leader in global conservation efforts. They’ve also provided a remarkable amount of wildlife and hunter habitat in North America that Pheasants Forever members enjoy every fall. But those efforts didn’t end in 1909.

The Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act became law in 1937, and the 1960s and ’70s saw presidents Johnson and Nixon sign legislation like the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Another, perhaps lesser known though equally important bipartisan act of Congress occurred in 1964: the creation of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

One of America’s great ideas, the Land and Water Conservation Fund rests on a simple, logical premise. It takes a portion of the revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing and reinvests them in onshore conservation. In other words, companies using public resources for profit must pay a small portion of their revenues back to the American people. The LWCF then uses its proceeds to provide funds and matching grants to federal, state and local governments for land and water acquisition and easements to benefit all citizens.

Incredible benefits

The billions of LWCF dollars invested since 1965 have created a wide swath of public facilities, from urban youth baseball diamonds to national parks and monuments across all 50 states. The list of national forests, wildlife refuges and recreation areas that have received LWCF monies would amaze even the most strident public lands advocate.

Joe Duggan, vice president of corporate affairs for Pheasants Forever, believes anyone interested in upland game birds, waterfowl, big game, or simply access to the outdoors should have a healthy respect for the LWCF. Critical habitat nationwide has received permanent protection via LWCF funds or a combination of LWCF, state and private investments.

“Our economy requires fuel, but at same time, society recognizes that there are consequences when and where energy development occurs. So it’s appropriate that an account like LWCF was established,” Duggan said. “It makes sense to reinvest proceeds from our natural resources if we want to ensure our outdoor heritage.”

From the Northern Tallgrass Prairie project of Iowa and Minnesota, to Bighorn Canyon National Recreational Area of Montana to the Cimarron National Grassland of Kansas, LWCF dollars have funded upland bird habitat across the pheasant range. Hunter access via federal waterfowl production areas, grassland easements on the Rocky Mountain Front and national wildlife refuge system acreage has expanded thanks to the LWCF.

The state assistance branch of LWCF provides matching grants to help states and local communities protect parks and recreation resources. The Washington, D.C.-based LWCF Coalition (which includes over 1,000 organizations, including Pheasants Forever) says that more than $3 billion in LWCF grants to states over the life of the program has leveraged $7 billion-plus in nonfederal matching funds.

A sad legacy of underfunding

When Congress created the LWCF, it authorized the fund with a budget cap of $900 million per year. Shockingly, while oil and gas revenues have gone up, dollars to the LWCF have gone down. Why? Because the politicians Americans have elected to Congress since 1965 have fully funded LWCF a grand total of two times.

During the latest Interior budget negotiations for Fiscal Year 2014, conservation advocates gave a huge, collective sigh of relief when budget negotiators included $300 million for LWCF. That’s right, a whole one-third of full funding. That was a victory for conservationists who have seen LWCF funding drop significantly lower in recent years – to just over $100 million in 2007, for example.

Where’s the rest of the $900 million? Congress regularly diverts that money to other priorities with bigger teams of lobbyists representing their interests in Washington. That wholesale robbery of dollars clearly earmarked for conservation accelerated in the early 1980s and has fluctuated the past 25 years. Groups like the Trust for Public Land say congressional shenanigans have shortchanged the program by $18 billion over the past 46 years.

Steve Kline, director of government relations for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, an umbrella organization of the nation’s top conservation groups, including Pheasants Forever, noted that the U.S. House zeroed out LWCF funding in its initial 2014 appropriations markup.

“That’s not helpful,” Kline said. “We have to make sure politicians recognize the importance of this program, and need it to be as close to full funding as possible.”

Sportsmen foot the bill for a disproportionate amount of conservation work, Kline noted, and with a backlog in public lands easement and acquisition opportunities, sportsmen should be first in line insisting that Congress keep its LWCF funding promises.

Looking ahead: a good fight

On the positive side, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget recommends nearly full funding for LWCF. Here’s the first simple message sportsmen and women can convey to their political leaders in Washington: Support the president’s LWCF 2015 budget proposal.

Longer term, an intelligent bill in the U.S. Senate, would end the wholesale theft that occurs annually with LWCF. The bill, S. 338, which had 40 bipartisan co-sponsors as of early this year, would mandate dedicated annual funding of $900 million to the fund. Kline considers the bill a no-brainer.

“We need to take LWCF off budget, per the original spirit of the act and make funding mandatory, so it’s not subject to these annual appropriations that fluctuate so wildly,” he said.

The LWCF has an even bigger issue looming in 2015: reauthorization. President John F. Kennedy first proposed the LWCF, and next year will mark 50 years since the landmark legislation became law. It will cease to exist without reauthorization by September 2015. Members of the U.S. House and Senate need to hear from their constituents that reauthorization is an important priority.

Public land advocates can feel like lonely voices in the U.S. Capitol during these belt-tightening budgetary days, but the LWCF has an edge that gets the attention of U.S. congressmen: It delivers money back to their districts.

Late last year, 28 Republican members of Congress signed a letter to the chairman of the House committee that oversees Interior appropriations. The letter urged LWCF reauthorization and noted that the lands funded by the LWCF support an outdoor recreation and tourism sector that contributes a total of $1.06 trillion annually to the American economy, including 9.4 million jobs.

“Recent polling has found that fully 85 percent of the American people say that Congress should honor its commitment to LWCF,” the letter stated. “Accordingly, we urge you to take advantage of any opportunity that arises… to reauthorize the program and realize the promise of the LWCF into the future.”

During an era when Congress has a historically poor approval rating, the LWCF represents an opportunity for cooperation and reclaiming public goodwill, Kline says.

“We need to reauthorize the program, and we have bipartisan support for doing so,” Kline said. “Congress just needs to get this done.”

A final point: Even if Congress does reauthorize the LWCF, some state congressional delegations do a poor job of bringing those dollars back home. Next time your congressman or woman visits your local habitat banquet, ask if LWCF dollars are funding habitat in your state.

For Jim Leach, refuge supervisor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Bloomington, Minnesota, LWCF is one of two primary funding sources his agency relies on to acquire lands for national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas. In Minnesota, LWCF has been used to acquire lands for Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Minnesota Valley NWR and the Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

“Just looking at our Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, there currently is a backlog of willing sellers interested in selling significant acreage of native prairie to the FWS in both Minnesota and Iowa. Unfortunately our fiscal year 2014 budget did not include any LWCF dollars to protect this critical habitat. Annually, the FWS could easily spend between $2-3 million on the protection of native prairie in these two states.”

Those are landowners who want to sell, if only Congress would appropriate the dollars it promised back in 1965.

Bottom line, America’s sportsmen need to begin demanding full funding and reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“(LWCF) is really nothing more than a savings account to ensure the qualities of a landscape that we cherish exists for the next generation,” Duggan said. “These are our dollars, and our natural heritage will pay the consequences if we continue to allow Congress to not keep its promises.”

For more information, visit lwcfcoalition.org.

Advocating for LWCF

How can you support the Land and Water Conservation Fund? Remember these five bullet points.

•The Obama administration’s Department of Interior appears committed to strong LWCF funding. Tell your political representatives you support the administration on strong Fiscal Year 2015 funding for LWCF.

• Does your U.S. Senator support S338, which would mandate full, permanent funding ($900 million annually) of the LWCF? If not, urge him or her to co-sponsor the bill.

• As of press time, no U.S. House version of S338 exists, but you can still urge your representative to push for full funding.

•Support 2015 reauthorization of the LWCF.

• Press your representative to bring LWCF dollars back your district. That will drive demand for funding the entire program and reauthorization.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons photo / License

Upland Conservation Efforts & Sportsmen’s Access Expand with Strong Farm Bill Implementation

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program helped Minnesota launch its Walk-In Access program. Photo courtesy the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program funding helped Minnesota launch its Walk-In Access program. Photo courtesy the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have joined conservation partners in praising an announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that a Farm Bill conservation program enhancing sportsmen’s access to privately owned lands will open for enrollment.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced applications are now being accepted for new, landmark conservation initiatives created by the 2014 Farm Bill. The programs – Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) – will provide up to $386 million to help farmers restore wetlands, protect working agriculture lands, support outdoor recreation activities, and boost the economy.

VPA-HIP, popularly known as “Open Fields,” offers incentives to owners and managers of private lands to open areas to public recreation, including hunting and angling. “In short, when VPA-HIP is implemented properly, it delivers!” says Dave Nomsen, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “Millions of acres of private lands have been made accessible for outdoor recreation thanks to VPA-HIP. In the past, its biggest constraint has been funding.  Up to $20 million is available this year for VPA-HIP.

“At the end of the day, sportsmen are conservationists,” stated Nomsen. “Access programs like VPA-HIP enable the recruitment of new sportsmen and the retention of existing sportsmen. This is good news for conservation. Access programs keep hunting and angling available to everyone.”

Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program

VPA-HIP is a competitive grant program that enables state and tribal governments to increase opportunities for owners and managers of private lands who want to make their land available for public recreation. Recipients can use the grant funding to create new or expand existing public access programs. These programs provide financial incentives or technical assistance, such as rental payments or wildlife habitat planning services, to owners and managers who allow public access.

Funding priority will be given to applications that propose to:

  • Maximize private lands acreage available to the public;
  • Ensure that land enrolled in the program has appropriate wildlife habitat;
  • Strengthen wildlife habitat improvement efforts;
  • Supplement funding and services from other federal or state agencies, tribes or private resources; and
  • Provide information to the public about the location of public access land.

Applications for VPA-HIP are due by June 16 and should be completed by state and tribal governments at Grants.gov. For more information, view the notice on Grants.gov or the VPA-HIP program’s website.

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.