This destructive practice has go on for far to long. Finally some much needed scrutiny and review is taking place.
Tax incentives as conservation tools
One of the most important tools for conservation is the tax deduction available for land owners who donate the value of conservation easements that permanently protect protect their land under that conservation easement.
The deduction is set to expire at the end of the year.
The Conservation Easement Incentive Act
On March 31, Representatives Thompson (D-CA) and Cantor (R-VA) introduced the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, H.R. 1831, making this valuable conservation tool permanent.
Donating a conservation easement is a big financial decision for many landowners. Under current law conservation easement donors can:
• Deduct up to 50% of their adjusted gross income in any year;
• Deduct up to 100% of their adjusted gross income if the majority of that income came from farming, ranching or forestry; and
• Continue to take deductions for as long as 16 years.
Making the conservation easement incentive permanent will help working lands stay working lands and provide important conservation benefits for everyone.
Two weeks ago, I had a chance to spend some time at the Western Virginia Sports Show. Mark Hanger, the producer and owner of the show impressed me with his commitment to conservation and getting families interested in the great outdoors.
When I caught up with Hanger at the show I asked him how the attendance was. He told me it was better than they expected given the economy, then he made an interesting observation.
“The only thing we can point to is they want to be happy for a while, they don’t want to hear any bad news. They want to be enlightened, entertained and come out and spend some time with their family at a reasonable cost and have some good entertainment,” he said.
In his show brochure Hanger said “on your next trip, take a young person with you and teach them to love, respect and enjoy God’s great outdoors.”
I asked him about getting kids into the outdoors.
“There is no doubt about it that that is the most important because it is our future. If we don’t get children in the outdoors, then our sports are going to diminish and be gone forever,” he said.
Hanger pointed out a number of educational elements at the show including the Bucks, Bows and Does, Outdoor Adventure archery education trailer and the show’s wild game display.
A great example of getting kids engaged in the outdoors was the Orange County High School Anglers Club. They are a 4-H and Junior B.A.S.S. Federation Nation club.
The club is made up of students ages 11 to 19 who love to bass fish competitively.
I spoke with Becky Gore, the club’s advisor. Gore is a teacher and a former coach. She is the power house behind the club and a joy to talk with. If every school in the Valley can find a Becky Gore, then fishing will have a very bright future.
Gore told me how she got the club started.
“In 1999, about ten years after my husband had died, I had just gotten my kids in college. I decided I wanted to start fishing again, so I went to the high school principal and said I would like to start a fishing club and she said ‘sure, go for it,’ ” Gore said. “We have three entities, we were first 4-H and the high school together, and then the B.A.S.S. Federation found out about me and they were trying to implement a youth program in Virginia. They called me up and asked me if would I be interested. I asked what they could do for my kids. They said they could advance to a world level. I said ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ Plus, they mentioned the word scholarship and I jumped on it.”
Gore told me what other high schools could do to get do to get the program started. She ticked these items.
“You’ve got to have someone who loves kids and loves being with kids and is willing to do it without getting compensated,” she said. “You’ve got to have some kids that are interested. Once those kids approach that principal and say ‘We want a bass club,’ then that principal may go out or tell those kids, ‘Well, you find a sponsor and then we will do it.’ ”
Gore told me the kids can receive their high school letter if they meet the criteria. She has developed that criteria and told me that all another coach or teacher needs to do is contact her and she would be happy to share it with them.
“And that is the other cool thing about this, it’s parents and kids working together,” she said. “And the other thing I have tried to do is give the kids an opportunity to be with their parents. Be with their dads or moms out on the water on a Saturday or Sunday.”
Gore credits the parents, students and her volunteers for making the program a success. She considers them all family.
Nothing is more important for the future of hunting and fishing than helping the next generation learn about the sports we love. Let’s all do a little more where we can.
First stop TU’s National Capital Angling Show, Saturday, March 14, from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. at Georgetown Preparatory School, 10900 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD
Next week I will be at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, March 16-21, Marriott Crystal Gateway, Arlington, Virginia.
This is the premier gathering of professionals from the hunting, fishing and natural resources community. Loaded with special sessions, workshops, meetings and great changes to socialize with friends and colleagues.
A few weeks ago some colleagues of mine sent me a final copy of the Recreational Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Plan. The plan provides some great recommendations for conservation in this country.
In the plan, Valley hunters and conservationists can find a number of important policy actions that are important at the federal, state and local level.
It chronicles the efforts and captures the recommendations of the Sporting Conservation Council, a federally charted advisory committee, and others as they worked with the Council on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies to assist in the implementation of Executive Order 13443: Facilitation of Hunting Heritage and Wildlife Conservation.
In August 2007, President Bush issued the order, directing federal agencies “to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and the management of game species and their habitat.”
The plan is the collaborative work product, crafted by members of the Sporting Conservation Council, conservation and hunting organizations, state agency volunteers and others. This final version was released in December.
The chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality was tasked with organizing and holding the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy. In addition, the executive order requires that a ten-year Recreational Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Plan be prepared.
That was just the first step. The Sporting Conservation Council then started working on a framework for implementing it. Working with a variety of hunting and conservation groups, they drafted research papers on the various issues facing hunting and conservation in the United States.
The next step was to hold a conference with all the various groups to hash out those issues. The conference took place in Reno, Nev., in October.
Participants reviewed the council’s research and offered comments and ideas on how to enhance conservation and hunting in the next ten years.
Staff from the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Council on Environmental Quality held meetings and briefings with various stakeholder groups to get more comments and suggestions.
This final plan is the result of many meetings, workshops and discussions with federal, state, local and tribal government officials, members of Congress and their staffs, hunting and conservation organizations and private individuals.
There are seven focus or “topic” areas in the final plan. They are: Increasing Public and Private Funding for Wildlife Conservation; Improving Wildlife Habitat Conservation; Expanding Access to Public and Private Lands; Educating, Recruiting and Retaining Hunters; Coordinating Federal, State, Tribal and International Action; Understanding Climate Change and Wildlife Effects; and Conserving Wildlife and Developing Oil and Gas On Public Land.
All of these are important conservation challenges in their own right. Together, they provide a compelling list of opportunities for the Obama Administration and Congress.
From those seven topics, 58 action items were recommended. Let’s look at a few of these focus areas and actions in more detail.
Funding for fish and wildlife habitat conservation has long been a challenge in our country. Hunters and anglers have helped fund much of the important conservation work of the last century.
Unfortunately, the conservation needs to far exceed the current funding levels. In the future, creative ideas will be needed to fund conservation and outdoor recreation.
The plan recommends looking to climate change legislation and dedicating some of the adaptation funding for wildlife, habitat and conservation education. It also recommends creating incentive-based programs for private landowners to maintain and increase habitat and encourage public access for hunting opportunities.
When it comes to increasing access to private land, the plan offers a key recommendation. To remove uncertainty about liability, create model state legislation so landowners are protected if they provide public access to their property.
For public land the plan recommends establishing a “one-stop-shop” Web site with information on hunting opportunities on federal land. By the way, here in Virginia we already have that for state land.
Hunter recruitment and retention is essential for conservation and outdoor recreation. The plan recommends some important actions.
Taking a page from the fishing and boating community, the plan recommends creating a Hunting and Shooting Heritage Foundation patterned after the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.
These days it is essential to connect with young people through the medium they use most. Social marketing offers a great opportunity. Action steps in the plan include using tools like YouTube and Facebook to reach the next generation of hunters and anglers.
Another excellent suggestion is waiving or discounting any entrance fees to federal land for veterans and active duty military personnel. The plan recommends this for hunting on federal land. Extending that for all recreation and on state lands, as well also makes a lot of sense.
This plan is full of lots more great suggestions for hunting and conservation. It is well worth your time to read it. Being better informed on what can be done to protect and promote our hunting heritage and protect and conserve fish and wildlife habitat is essential.
For more information on the Executive Order on Facilitation of Hunting Heritage and Wildlife Conservation or the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy go to http://wildlifeconservation.gov/
You can get a copy of The Recreational Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Plan at: http://wildlifeconservation.gov/documents/RecHuntingActionPlan11009dp.pdf
You can read more of my columns in the News Virginian.
Valley hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists of all forms need to take some time and pay attention to the George Washington National Forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan revision process. As the schedule now stands, the draft plan may be ready in late spring 2009.
According to their Web site, “The purpose of this land management plan is to provide broad guidance and information for project and activity decision making needed to manage the George Washington National Forest [GW].”
The forest’s planning staff has been holding public workshops on various aspects of the plan revisions since early 2007. Two more workshops are coming up with the subject: Forest Plan Components, fitting the workshops and other information together toward a Draft Plan.
There is a workshop today from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Rockbridge Co. High School in Lexington and another on Feb. 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock.
The U.S. Forest Service held seven public meetings last March to introduce people to the Forest Plan revision process. In July, five meetings were held to continue the discussions on changes needed and what to concentrate on in the Forest Plan revision process.
This fall workshops were held to discuss three different subjects, Vegetation Management, Road and Trail Access and Wilderness, Roadless and Potential Wilderness Areas.
These workshops are the most important ones for recreational users. The challenges surrounding access, timber harvesting, wilderness designations and off road vehicle use can really get people’s blood boiling.
Of special interest is the amount of Potential Wilderness Area and the impact that could have on hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.
Let me be clear from the outset. Because land is included in a Potential Wilderness Area doesn’t change the way it is managed today. Only Congress has the authority to designate wilderness.
Today, 37 areas totaling 370,000 acres are identified as Potential Wilderness Areas in the George Washington National Forest. An additional 42,000 acres are designated Wilderness Area and 7,700 acres are National Scenic Areas. That represents just over 40 percent of the forest.
Don’t get me wrong Wilderness Areas are great. They provide a number of very important ecological and recreational benefits. They are some of my favorite places to fish and hunt.
Having more in the George Washington National Forest is a good idea. Where they are is going to be the challenge.
Most types of recreational uses are allowed in Wilderness Areas except those involving motorized equipment.
Wilderness Areas by federal law have significant restrictions, however. Timber harvesting, road building, clearing and waterhole development, and other wildlife management techniques cannot be performed in Wilderness Areas.
These activities, if done correctly, are important tools for enhancing recreational activities. If the land base available for wildlife habitat management is significantly reduced then hunting could suffer.
Over the years, the U.S. Forest Service, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries along with the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Ruffed Grouse Society have invested manpower and money developing and maintaining wildlife habitats.
Some of the lands identified for Potential Wilderness Area include many existing wildlife habitat developments, including clearings and waterholes. These wildlife clearings provide much-needed habitat. Designating all these areas as Wilderness could eliminate these clearings as natural succession returns them over time to a forested state.
Much of this area is popular with wildlife recreational users who depend on the George Washington National Forest for access to wildlife populations. Fishing for native Brook Trout takes place in some of these areas. Bear, deer, turkey, ruffed grouse, raccoon, rabbit, squirrel and other species are hunted in these areas. The wildlife habitat value of these lands has been enhanced by previous timber harvesting and wildlife habitat work.
So there needs to be a balance.
There is a lot of good information on the George Washington National Forest Plan Revision Web site at http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/forestplan/revision/index.shtml.
There you will find documents, schedules and how to make your views known.
I won’t kid you. This can be hard stuff to wade through. It takes time and effort to read all the information and comments. But our ability to enjoy our public lands requires engagement on our part.
Take some time to offer your thoughts to the Forest Service. Your ideas are just as important and count as much as the next guy’s, but only if you share them.
On a more personal note, thank you for the kind words about my friends Jim Range and Jean Ince. They were warmly appreciated.
Jim’s memorial service took place on Tuesday January 27, along the banks of the Potomac River at Fletchers Cove in Washington. More than 200 of his friends and colleagues joined with his family in celebrating his life and many accomplishments.
Mixed in with the copious tears were many moments of hearty laughter as those in attendance responded to tales and reflections of Range. His life was magic for all us and in celebrating his life we relived that magic.
You can go to JimRange.com to capture a glimpse of his remarkable life. The Web site, created to honor and memorialize his life, has a wonderful collection of stories, pictures and tributes to Range.