Trump, Congress work together for landmark conservation funding bill

By JIM MATTHEWS www.OutdoorNewsService.com

The most significant funding legislation to conserve and restore the nation’s parks and natural resources in at least 65 years was passed by Congress this week, championed by members of both parties and President Trump.

The landmark conservation bill will permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to the tune of $900 million annually and create a new fund for the next five years that will address the backlog of maintenance on crumbling infrastructure on public lands – National Parks, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – to the tune of $1.9 billion per year.

The bipartisan bill was called the Great American Outdoor Act (GAOA) and passed Congress on July 22 and President Trump is expected to sign the bill. Trump has been lobbying for the bill’s passage since early March when he tweeted, “I am calling on Congress to send me a bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks. When I sign it into law, it will be historic for our beautiful public lands.”

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of representatives in both houses of Congress, issued a press release saying the legislation “represents the single greatest financial commitment to increasing public land access and opportunities for sportsmen and women in a lifetime.”

“[President Trump] accomplished what previous Presidents have failed to do for decades, despite their lip service commitment to funding public land improvements,” said David L. Barhardt, the U.S. Secretary of Interior on Wednesday after the bill’s passage.

Passage of the bill was met with cheers from a wide range of environmental and conservation groups, many who patted themselves on the back for the passage.

Land Tawney, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers president and CEO, said his group’s “amazing grassroots leaders, dedicated volunteers, and rank-and-file hunters and anglers can lay claim to this victory.”

Others were more pragmatic. Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, said “the importance of the funding [for the LWCF and the park maintenance backlog] can’t be overstated. This upkeep, while not flashy, is a critical part of the stewardship of our public lands.”

The bill has two significant parts. The first is the permanent annual funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, established in 1965 to invest in community, historical preservation, and natural resources. The primary funding for the fund comes from fees and royalties paid by oil and gas companies drilling offshore in federal waters, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. The conservation fund could receive up to $900 million annually from these monies in its annual allocations, but the LWCF has only been fully funded twice since its creation. Congress appropriated $495 million for it in fiscal 2020, the most money allocated for the program in 15 years. The money has routinely been diverted. This legislation permanently funds the LWCF at the full $900 million annually.

Second, the legislation creates a new fund that will receive $1.9 billion per year over the next five years, a total of $9.5 billion, to address the backlog of deferred maintenance in the nation’s national parks and monuments and other public lands. The National Park Service will be the biggest recipient of these funds, garnering $6.5 billion over the five years. The remaining $3 billion will go to projects on Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands and facilities. The funding for this part of the bill will also come from royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling.

The National Park Service has an estimated backlog of maintenance of nearly $12 billion, but when the legislation’s funding is matched with other monies from vendors, conservation and sporting groups, and states, it is expected most of the backlog can finally be addressed. The work will include everything from crumbling road repairs, to campground and trail maintenance, to duck blind maintenance. It is expected that many campgrounds that have been closed for years and roads that have been gated because there were not funds to repair dangerous conditions will finally be repaired and reopened to the public.

The Department of Interior said the legislation will ensure that Americans have the ability to access critically important hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities. Over 246 million acres, or 99 percent of BLM lands are open to hunting and fishing. The USFS reports that 99 percent of the 193 million acres it administers are open to hunting and at least 99 percent of U.S. Forest Service administered rivers, streams, and lakes are open to fishing.

Collectively, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service support more than 25 million hunting days and nearly 45 million fishing days annually.

Over 3 million bacteria-infected trout

will be destroyed at three DFW hatcheries

Over 3 million trout will be destroyed after treatment for a deadly bacteria has failed at three Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries in the eastern Sierra Nevada and Southern California.

The affected facilities – Mojave River Hatchery in Hesperia, Black Rock Hatchery in Independence and Fish Springs Hatchery in Big Pine – usually provide fish for stocking waterways in Southern California and the Eastern Sierra, and plants in these regions will be negatively impacted for at least the next year.

Even after two rounds of treatment with medicated fee, the 3.2 million trout in these three hatchery showed no signs of improving and the die-off increased. This past week, after consultation with fish pathology experts and exhausting all avenues of treatment, the agency decided the trout at all three affected facilities must be euthanized in order to stop the spread of the outbreak.

“Euthanizing our hatchery stocks was not a decision we came to lightly, but it had to be done,” said Jay Rowan, environmental program manager for CDFW hatcheries. “This bacterium is resistant to all the treatment options we have available for fish. The fish losses were getting worse despite our treatments. The best option we have available that will get us back to planting fish from these hatcheries in the shortest timeline is to clear the raceways, thoroughly disinfect the facilities, and start over.”

CDFW has had the three facilities under quarantine for more than a month, while pathologists and hatchery staff treated the affected fish and researched potential options. The outbreak of Lactococcus garvieae, which is similar to streptococcus, has been reported in cattle and poultry farms as well as fresh and salt water fish and shellfish hatcheries around the world, but had never before been detected in fish in California. Research of treatment options employed at trout farms in Europe and other parts of the world show there is almost no chance for successfully eliminating the bacteria from a facility without depopulation and disinfection.

Fish that are infected with this bacterium can show symptoms including bulging eyes, lethargic or erratic swimming, and increased mortality, or be asymptomatic and show no signs of infection depending on a several factors including water temperature and stress. Fish-to-human transmission of this bacterium is rare and unlikely, but there are several documented instances associated with immunocompromised people consuming infected raw fish and unpasteurized milk products.

Hot Creek Hatchery in the Eastern Sierra and the Fillmore Hatchery have both tested negative for the bacteria. Hot Creek trout are still being planted in eight waters in Inyo and Mono counties, and the Fillmore Hatchery is just coming back on line after being shut down for maintenance. It should be planted trout in some Southern California waters late this fall and winter.

The DFW is in the process of developing a modified stocking plan to reallocate fish from central and northern California hatcheries to a small number of high angler-use, easily accessible waters in geographically distinct parts of the eastern Sierra and Southern California.

END

Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at odwriter@verizon.net or by phone at 909-887-3444.

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