Cited as one of the most pressing environmental challenges facing this generation, climate change represents an opportunity for sportsmen and women, the original conservationists, to reassert their role as leaders in supporting healthy ecosystems. By viewing a changing climate as a conservation challenge, the sportsmen’s community can continue to utilize management practices that have worked for generations to ensure that our ecosystems remain healthy and able to adapt to current and forthcoming challenges.
Using many of the concepts and practices that are already supported and implemented by wildlife managers, there exists opportunities to both address the concerns related to climate change and protect and advance opportunities for sportsmen and women. To accomplish this, it is critical that the sportsmen’s community engage in conversations about climate change by communicating the positive impacts that active conservation and land management efforts can have on both addressing the effects of climate change and improving outdoor recreation opportunities. Because of the broad and complex ramifications of climate change, it is crucial to combat the impacts of climate change with strategies that target identified conservation needs with measurable outcomes. Focusing conservation efforts on specific issues will create tangible results and encourage future investment in our natural resources.
While climate change discussions can include a myriad of topics, the topics most relevant to the sportsmen’s communities are those that overlap with existing conservation priorities. By highlighting the benefits of many existing conservation programs and practices as they relate to efforts to address the impacts of climate change, sportsmen and women have the opportunity to effect positive conservation actions that benefits fish and wildlife, and in turn, opportunities for the sportsmen’s community.
Active Management Opportunities
Both state and federal forest management practices will play an important role in addressing the impacts of climate change due to the well-recognized ability of forests to sequester and store significant amounts of atmospheric carbon. However, effective carbon sequestration and storage efforts require a healthy forest with a diversity of both compositions and age structures, objectives best achieved through active forest management, which includes opportunities to sustainably harvest timber. Likewise, management activities like prescribed fire can be used in forests, grasslands, and other appropriate ecosystems to reduce fuel loading – which has been shown to limit the severity of wildfires – while promoting the desired plant community composition. These activities present an opportunity to combat the effects of climate change while promoting critical wildlife habitat.
In 2021, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced efforts to utilize existing voluntary private lands conservation programs supported through the Farm Bill to address issues related to climate change. By relying on existing programs with well-documented benefits for wildlife, including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), private landowners have the opportunity to benefit efforts related to both climate change and wildlife conservation. Similar opportunities have been discussed in conversations about other existing conservation programs, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). Given the increased interest in voluntary private lands conservation programs, opportunities such as these should be evaluated.
Carbon credits, another private sector opportunity gaining interest in Congress and state legislatures, provide industries and large organizations with an opportunity to purchase “credits” from private landowners or other land managers who have implemented practices specifically designed to sequester carbon. If done thoughtfully, carbon credit systems, such as in Michigan’s Pigeon River Area, can sequester significant amounts of atmospheric carbon, provide quality wildlife habitat, and generate revenue for landowners. In late 2022, Congress passed the Growing Climate Solutions Act which provide USDA with greater oversight of carbon markets while removing potential participation barriers for farmers, rancher, and forest landowners.
In addition to addressing the consequences of climate change, the conservation community must also explore opportunities to assist wildlife communities as they adapt to changing ecosystems. Fortunately, members of the sporting conservation community have long advocated for policies designed to promote biodiversity conservation, support habitat connectivity for both terrestrial and aquatic fish and wildlife and enhance ecosystem resiliency. Fortunately, priority legislation like the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act (authorized as part of the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act of 2020), and others provide opportunity to address these objectives.
Points of Interest
- Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) seeks to address habitat loss and declining biodiversity by providing nearly $1.4 billion annually to state agencies to accomplish objectives identified in State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs). Many RAWA-supported efforts identified within SWAPs will provide quality habitat for wildlife and contribute to carbon sequestration.
- In addition to RAWA, CSF has supported legislation and regulations that would address the red tape and litigation that limits forest management on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, including the USFS’s proposed National Environmental Policy Act revisions, the Resilient Federal Forests Act, and the Forest Information Reform Act.
- With support from CSF, Missouri (HB 369) and New Mexico (HB 57) enacted laws that define liability standards for the use of prescribed fire, easing liability concerns among landowners.
- CSF engaged on proposed carbon farming legislation in Indiana. Specifically, CSF asked for a feasibility study to be conducted to identify interest among key stakeholders while supporting allowances for active management on public lands.
- The America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act, pass by Congress in 2020, reauthorized the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and allocated $60 million annually for five years. NAWCA and the associated North American Waterfowl Management Plan provide the framework by which continental wetland conservation goals can be met using stakeholder-driven approaches at the regional level. Given NAWCA’s success, legislators should consider similar regional-level programs focused on other ecosystems (e.g., Grasslands).
- Messages associated with the Thirty by Thirty (30×30) Initiative often attribute challenges associated with biodiversity conservation to the effects of climate change. While 30×30 is a developing concept, CSF and partners are actively working to help define the initiative’s objectives in a manner that supports conservation and opportunities for sportsmen and women.
While historically viewed as a partisan issue, our growing understanding of the effects of climate change have necessitated increased conversations about opportunities to combat this conservation challenge. Fortunately, viewing climate change in this manner provides an opportunity for elected officials to turn to the sporting conservation community for their leadership. Legislators should consider working with conservation professionals, including their state fish and wildlife agencies and the sporting conservation community, to identify methods to address the effects of climate change while increasing opportunities to connect their constituents with our outdoor heritage. Due to the complex nature of climate change, a one size fits all approach will not be effective. States and regions should be empowered to use the most appropriate strategies for their circumstances.
For more information on Climate Change, visit the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s “Outdoorsmen’s Guide to Climate Change” at csfclimateguide.org.