Thursday, January 3, 2013

Trout, Farming & Cliffs

As a sportsman I don't often think about what the crackpots in Washington are doing. What they do far from my home rarely seeps into my subconscious much less up front with all the shit I normally think about.

Of course all this Fiscal Cliff action and inaction makes the work of Washington crackpots elected officials eminently visible. Sadly nobody seems to be able to convince anyone that doing anything is a good thing. As Speaker Boehner proved with his "Plan B" hi-jinx he can't even convince his own party to do stuff much less the guys on the other side of the aisle.

Another victim of the bi-partisan BS was the Sportsman's Act of 2012. Everybody loved this thing. But the Republicans decided it was more important to foil a law they liked than to show that working together was possible.

Tuesday night, Congress seemed to have solved a small portion of the Fiscal Cliff problem. Of course, they solved it by increasing the deficit and kicking the can down the road a bit. I know several adjectives that describe this sort of solution but I'll keep those to myself. Once again we have proof that our political system is deeply dysfunctional and, perhaps, deeply flawed.

The good news for anglers is that the across the board agency spending cuts that the Cliff would have required have been postponed and likely avoided. This means we won't see random chainsaws hacking at budgets that we all rely upon for federal stewardship of our water and lands. At least any cuts that come in the future will be more thoughtful which is a good thing.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to chat with two of Trout Unlimited's Government Affairs guys, Keith Curley and Brian Zupancic. These guys walk into this viper's nest of Washington politics by choice. Clearly they have large brass ones. Or they're crazy. Or both. They do it on behalf of TU's members and our legislative priorities.

A brown trout from a stream restored with WHIP funding
One of the things that we spoke about was the importance of the Farm Bill to conservation. Through a variety of programs funded in the bill, it is the biggest source of conservation funding in the federal budget. My local TU chapter, the Candlewood Valley Chapter, has received Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) grants for stream bank restoration. WHIP is a part of the Farm Bill funded programs.

As an example of the benefits of Farm Bill funded restoration, Keith cited the work that was completed on a Gribben Creek in the Driftless area of southeast Minnesota. The stream had been highly eroded by agricultural activities during the first half of the 20th century and by the 1970s there were only 47 trout per mile of stream. After Farm Bill supported restoration work was completed in the late 90s, brown trout populations had rebounded to 2,352 per mile.

The Farm Bill is renewed every five years and it expired at the end of the last fiscal year. As part of the last minute Fiscal Cliff talks it was renewed again, but only for another nine months. And there were cuts. Apparently conservation programs associated with the bill were either capped or cut. It's not yet clear to me exactly what got cut but during the next nine months a long-term bill will get negotiated and our voices are going to be needed to ensure that conservation programs have a voice in the discussion.

I'm not Polly-Anna enough to believe that conservation programs should or will be sustained at current levels. But without the voices of anglers and hunters and those who enjoy outdoor sport, land and water conservation is going to take a big hit.

Stay tuned. Prepare to be heard. Action will be required.

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