Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

The Recreational Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Plan

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.

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