Will Shafroth, Executive Director, America’s Conservation PAC
Even though the new 114th Congress is only 3 months old, conservation issues have already been heard, debated, and pushed to the forefront of the congressional agenda. Bills have been introduced, hearings have been conducted, and votes have been taken. Here is a rundown of some of what has happened, and some of what conservation advocates can anticipate in the coming months.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is the primary federal program that dedicates funds derived from offshore drilling and appropriates it towards outdoor recreation and conservation projects all over the country. LWCF is authorized at $900 million per year, but has only reached that level twice since 1965. Having just celebrated its 50th anniversary, the Program will expire at the end of 2015 unless Congress passes legislation extending this critical funding source for protecting public lands, enhancing state and local parks and other outdoor recreation projects, conserving private forest lands, and preserving wildlife habitat. Over the years, LWCF has been broadly embraced by both Republicans and Democrats.
At the end of January, the Senate voted on an amendment — introduced by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) — that would permanently reauthorize LWCF. While it fell short of the 60 votes required for passage, the amendment received 59 votes from Democratic and Republican Senators from all over the country. The debate and vote count also indicated a real appetite to reauthorize LWCF in this session of Congress.
Federal Lands Sell Off
During a wide-ranging debate over the fiscal year 2016 budget resolution, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sponsored an amendment to the budget that would authorize money from federal lands being sold to states to pay down the budget deficit. This amendment was the first foray for the federal government to debate an issue that has been rumbling in Western states over the last few years. The idea is one of great concern to conservationists, sportsmen and citizens all over the West who value public lands for recreation and conservation purposes.
The amendment passed with three Republicans — Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) joining all Democrats in opposing this amendment. A similar amendment had already passed the House. And while this amendment doesn’t mean that federal lands will begin to be sold, it also sends a strong message that a majority in Congress support the idea. AC PAC will continue to watch this issue and encourage candidates to make sure it doesn’t get implemented.
Will Rogers, President of the Trust for Public Land, authored an op-ed in the New York Times recently that speaks well to this matter.
The never-ending saga of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Bill begins anew this Congress. This bill has been introduced during the last two Congresses with significant bipartisan support, only to be brought down by disagreements over unrelated issues. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) recently reintroduced the bill along with a bipartisan group of 17 other Senators. This legislation would reaffirm the rights for hunters and anglers on federal land and enhance hunting and fishing opportunities where they do not conflict with existing federal law. This Bill will provide an opportunity for Senators and House members to show the importance of conserving federal land for recreational opportunities across the United States.
Enhanced Conservation Easement Tax Incentive
In 2006, Congress enacted a law to provide landowners with an enhanced tax incentive for donating a conservation easement on their land. In the ensuing years, the pace of conservation has increased dramatically, demonstrating that federal tax incentives are a strong driver of conservation activity. At the end of 2014, this tax incentive expired. The House has taken the lead in introducing legislation to make this tax incentive permanent with Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Mike Kelly (R-PA) serving as co-sponsors and Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) leading the charge in the Senate. No hearings are set yet, but we will be keeping an eye on this effort.
While conservation, outdoor recreation and historic preservation issues don’t always capture the top headlines and features on the nightly news, 2015 is shaping up to be an important year for these causes and their allies. Sportsmen, campers, hikers, climbers, and anyone who depends on our public lands for recreation as well as people who care about close to home places to access the outdoors are looking to their representatives in Washington to work across the aisle and advance the issues described above.
America’s Conservation PAC will spend its energy in 2015 to educate and engage members of both parties on these and other issues. We need strong leadership from Republicans and Democrats to realize progress on conservation and outdoor recreation and we intend to support and endorse candidates that show leadership on these issues.
AMERICA’S CONSERVATION PAC
SUPPORTS FOUR REPUBLICANS AND FOUR DEMOCRATS,
MAKING A SLATE OF 22 ENDORSED CANDIDATES FOR SENATE AND HOUSE
WASHINGTON — America’s Conservation PAC (AC PAC), the national bipartisan group backing pro-conservation candidates for Congress, today endorsed eight more hopefuls, bringing the total of endorsed candidates for 2014 to 22 (11 Democrats, 11 Republicans).
The candidates endorsed in Washington today are:
Ken Salazar, former Secretary of the Interior and Co-chair of AC PAC‘s Founders Committee, said: “These individuals are working in the very best tradition of bipartisan support for the conservation of America’s lands, wildlife, and cultural resources. We need champions for conservation, recreation, and preservation — from both parties.”
Steve LaTourette, Co-chair of AC PAC’s Founders Committee and a former Republican Member of Congress, remarked: “These candidates understand the intrinsic and economic values of our lands, waters, and wildlife. America’s Conservation PAC is pleased to donate $5,000 to each of their campaigns.”
Will Shafroth, Executive Director of AC PAC, said: “These candidates have all been strong advocates of conservation, recreation and preservation on the national level as well as in their home states and districts. They have also reached across the aisle to get things done on these issues.”
AC PAC has now contributed more than $150,000 to the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats in the 2014 election cycle.
Additional information about each of the candidates’ conservation achievements.
Rep. Braley, (D-IA) who has represented Iowa’s First District since 2007, is a member of Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, a supporter of the Conservation Easement Tax Incentive, a leader on the conservation title in the Farm Bill and on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and an advocate for the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge.
State Senator Cain (D), a candidate in Maine’s Second District, is a strong supporter of Land for Maine’s Future, a statewide land conservation initiative.
Rep. Garcia (D-FL-26), a Member of the House Natural Resources Committee and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, is a supporter of funding for Everglades National Park and Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge.
Rep. Gibson (R-NY-19) is a backer of LWCF funding (including the Mount Lebanon Forest Legacy project), the Conservation Easement Tax Incentive, and the Saugerties Lighthouse preservation project.
Rep. Joyce (R-OH-14) is a strong supporter of LWCF funding (including Lake Erie Bluffs and the Ashtabula Riverfront projects), a leading supporter of funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and a backer of both the Conservation Easement Tax Incentive and the Conservation Title in the Farm Bill.
Rep. Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-01) is a strong supporter of LWCF (including expansion of the Petrified Forest National Park) and a co-sponsor of bills to expand the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument and the Saguaro National Park.
Rep. Paulsen (R-MN-3), a former Ranger at Yellowstone National Park, is a supporter of the Conservation Easement Tax Incentive, a “Friend of National Parks” of the National Parks Conservation Association, and a member of Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus
Rep. Reichert (R-WA-8) is the lead sponsor of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness bill, a strong supporter of the Mountains to Sound National Heritage Act, and an advocate of local LWCF projects (including Covington Community Park and the Upper Yakima Basin).
The 14 candidates endorsed earlier this year by AC PAC are:
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC)
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)
Rep. Mike Fitzgerald (R-PA)
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY)
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA)
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)