Why it matters: To survive various seasonal conditions, big game species of utmost importance to America’s sportsmen and women, such as elk, deer, sheep, and moose, migrate to new areas in search of food, habitat, and more suitable temperatures throughout the year. Thanks to technological advances in global positioning systems, researchers have been able to better document and understand the importance of migration, and associated migration routes, for big game species in recent years. This innovative step forward marks one of the most significant efforts undertaken by the Department of Agriculture to conserve big game populations.
On Friday, May 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the establishment of a new partnership with the state of Wyoming to conserve big game migration corridors by leveraging existing resources made available through the Farm Bill. For the last few years, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and partners have been coordinating with the Department of Agriculture, encouraging the agency to take proactive steps to conserving big migration corridors. Through this pilot program, USDA is taking an unprecedented step forward in establishing a creative way to conserve these critical migratory routes for big game populations.
USDA’s pilot program is designed to help willing landowners conserve their private lands in a voluntary fashion while simultaneously promoting the health and sustainability of big game populations across the state of Wyoming. Specifically, the program will take a unique approach to promote voluntary conservation by drawing on several programs administered by the USDA, including the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (Grassland CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP). Collectively, the USDA is providing an initial investment of $15 million to ACEP and EQIP for the state of Wyoming, in addition to the rental payments under grasslands CRP.
The program will focus on three different primary areas: agricultural land protection to ensure that private working lands are not converted to alternative uses that are incompatible with migratory big game populations, the restoration, enhancement, and management of lands to provide habitats for several species of big game and other migrating animals, and conservation leases that provide financial incentives to landowners that helps secure long-term conservation of big game migration corridors.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation applauds USDA and Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie for prioritizing the conservation of big game species through voluntary opportunities on private lands. This announcement is an innovative step that will promote sound public-private conservation efforts while recognizing and respecting the rights of private property owners.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?