United States Policy Update
Both chambers started the second session of the 116th Congress with new and old challenges. With impeachment proceedings underway (any trial in the Senate will, by mandate, take priority over anything else) and 2020 being a presidential election year, momentum to move legislation will be lacking and heavily politicized. However, packages that bundle recreation, energy and public lands bills are being seriously discussed for potential movement during lame duck, the period of time after elections when the current Congress meets to finish its term after the succeeding Congress has been elected and convenes in early January of 2021.
Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Francis Rooney (R-FL) introduced bipartisan legislation, along with Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) as original cosponsors, that will permanently protect public lands within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed from copper-nickel mining. This is an effort that BHA and the Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters led for hunters and anglers.
Join BHA in asking your representative to cosponsor the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act (H.R. 5598).
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
The Trump administration’s Council on Environmental Quality announced proposed changes to NEPA guidelines. Signed into law by President Nixon, this bedrock conservation law is critical for maintaining transparency in government decision-making processes, analyzing impacts to the environment and natural resources and giving the public opportunities for comment and input, and providing a clear path to challenging decisions the government makes.
According to a draft White House memo, the administration plans to simplify the definition of environmental "effects" and clarify that effects must be reasonably foreseeable and require a reasonably close causal relationship to the proposed action.This would give the administration a great deal of latitude in determining which impacts they will study and analyze for a proposed project in addition to creating ambiguity for environmental reviews. BHA has additional concerns around the following elements of the proposed NEPA rule as well:
- It would create restrictive timelines for environmental impact statements and environmental assessments (2 years for EIS and 1 year for an EA).
- The rule would establish that all reasonable alternatives must be technically and economically feasible, potentially limiting or eliminating the best natural resource management planning policies based on subjective criteria that vacillates with changing circumstances like appropriations processes.
- It would create new direction and ambiguity around the threshold consideration that triggers NEPA and dictates when it applies. It also modifies definitions including major federal actions to potentially eliminate environmental reviews for projects determined to have minimal federal funding or involvement.
- It establishes new requirements that could curtail public commenting opportunity by mandating that public comments be specific and timely submitted.
- Another troubling change proposed in the draft plan would allow companies to conduct their own environmental review under the supervision of an agency, effectively prompting industry to self-regulate with limited oversight.
The administration is expected to fast-track the proposed NEPA rule in order to finalize it by May and avoid the potential use of a draconian measure called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) should Democrats hold control of the White House and Congress following the 2020 elections. The CRA was successfully resurrected by Republicans in President Trump’s first month in office (January 2017) to repeal BLM’s new planning rule (Planning 2.0) and the Obama-era Stream Protection Rule, so the administration is acutely aware of their timeclock for finalizing rules in advance of the 60-legislative days for congressional repeal of administrative rules afforded by the CRA.
Canada Policy Update
Together for Wildlife
Following nearly two years of consultation with the public, stakeholder groups, and First Nations, the Improving Wildlife Management and Habitat Conservation process moved forward with the release of the Together for Wildlife Strategy. The proposed strategy outlines the path forward for the development of clear and measurable objectives for wildlife stewardship. After extensive involvement in the stakeholder consultation portion of this process, the chapter greeted the Together for Wildlife Strategy with cautious optimism and was pleased to see a commitment to making transparent, evidence-based decisions about wildlife stewardship actions through consultation with provincial and regional committees comprised of key stakeholder groups. Concern lingers, however, about the implementation and funding of the aspirational goals within the strategy. BCBHA held bilateral meetings with the government to discuss the strategy and the board submitted a formal letter to the government outlining our position. BCBHA provided resources to members informing them of the Together for Wildlife Strategy and comment period: https://www.backcountryhunters.org/tags/together_for_wildlife_strategy. Despite the importance of this strategy for the long-term management of wildlife and wild spaces, it garnered little press and public attention until BCBHA spearheaded public awareness with opinion pieces and letters in multiple publications throughout the province, including The Province, Vancouver Sun and Rossland Telegraph.
Fall and early winter have been busy for the Alberta chapter. Participation on multiple stakeholder groups including the Sheep Stakeholder Group and Porcupine/Livingstone/Castle Stakeholder Group continues to raise the chapter’s profile at the provincial level. Chapter leadership had the opportunity to sit down with the new Minister of Environment and Parks to introduce him to the organization and our priorities for hunting and angling improvements.
Alberta BHA was successful in advocating for advocating for a detailed environmental impact assessment to be completed prior to a decision for the Castle Ski Resort Expansion and is working on raising public awareness for a proposed gravel pit being constructed on Raven River, which is the location of several protected conservation areas. The Alberta board has also submitted a letter to Alberta Parks on proposed e-bike trails within parks.