Habitat & Conservation  |  04/01/2021

Grasslands and Climate

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The climate policy discussion is an opportunity for Pheasants Forever to advance our upland habitat mission

Part 1 of a 3-Part Series

Bethany Erb and Jim Inglis comprise Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s active and influential government affairs team. Both veterans of Capitol Hill, the duo steers advocacy efforts to create and improve policies that benefit pheasants, quail and other wildlife on behalf of our 125,000 members, especially as they relate to the nation’s conservation programs and state-level conservation measures that impact our mission. For 2021 and beyond, discussions surrounding climate resiliency and carbon sequestration strategies have quickly risen to the forefront of policymakers. Erb and Inglis are helping shape this dialogue with meaningful, grasslands-based solutions. Here’s where things currently stand, and why PF maintains a seat at the table.

  Our mission at Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever is to conserve pheasants, quail and other upland wildlife through habitat improvements, public access, education and conservation advocacy. For nearly 40 years our volunteers and staff have achieved remarkable policy accomplishments for upland birds by thoughtfully navigating a powerful and complicated Washington, D.C.

It is our long-held belief that if we don’t establish our seat at the table, regardless of political leadership in Congress or the White House, then we are left behind. In less diplomatic terms: 

We are either at the table or on the menu.

Through Republican and Democrat administrations and many congressional cycles, we have held true to the PF & QF mission by remaining bipartisan, seizing available opportunities, and fighting back when the course is contrary to our mission.

The last few years have made it clear to our Government Affairs team that climate policy would soon become a national environmental priority. Climate policy was, and is, being discussed on both sides of the aisle and will impact both public and private lands. 

How and why PF & QF chooses to engage in climate policy is what we are addressing here.

Most members acknowledge that extreme weather patterns such as drought, flooding, wildfires and intense climatic events are becoming more frequent and need attention. We don’t all agree on the contributing factors or forces of climate change. PF & QF will remain sensitive to diverse opinions as we work to benefit wildlife and conservation.
Photo credit: Pheasants Forever Member
We are not here to delegate blame or assign cause. However, PF & QF has determined we must be at the table with natural ecosystems-based solutions that help curtail carbon emissions, many of which we have promoted for years and are at the heart of our most cherished upland bird habitat programs.

As an organization, PF & QF knows intuitively and scientifically that the national span of upland habitat captures carbon, reduces soil erosion, and improves water and air quality, in addition to numerous other ecological goods and services. Part 2 of this series will detail the science behind grasslands carbon capture. 

The recent pandemic has also brought a heightened awareness to policymakers of the physical and mental health benefits these recreational lands offer all Americans.

Equally important as what PF & QF is for, is to lay out what we are against.

We will not support national climate policies that make life more difficult for farmers, ranchers or rural America, or that diminish the rights of sportswomen and sportsmen. We believe in voluntary and incentive-based approaches. We are partners in several climate alliances representing the hunting and agriculture industries, including the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance with affiliates ranging from National Corn Growers Association to American Farm Bureau Federation to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Photo credit: Aaron Black-Schmidt.
PF & QF began crafting its position nearly two years ago when we joined more than 40 conservation organizations led by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership when it created the Sportsmen and Women’s Climate Statement. 

We published an op-ed calling for a new grasslands initiative and supported a 50-million-acre CRP marker bill (marker bills make a statement) introduced by then-House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson. The marker bill was intended to direct the new administration and new Congress to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) as a proven carbon sequestration tool.

In the fall 2020 we joined the “Hunt Fish 30x30 Coalition” to ensure that sportsmen’s interests were at the forefront of a national initiative to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land by 2030. When it was first introduced an “Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” PF & QF was already at the table.  
To be clear: Support of a particular conservation policy or initiative is not an overall endorsement of any party or all policies promoted by the same affiliates. 

What do we propose? 

First, we believe that private lands are critical for any climate or 30x30 goal to be achieved, and should include shorter term conservation contracts like CRP and Environmental Quality and Incentives Program (EQIP). Options should also include temporary and longer-term easements and conservation leases with emphasis on lands that provide the greatest quality wildlife habitat and hunter access.

Second, we call for the administration to focus on fully implementing the Conservation Title of the 2018 Farm bill.  We also request bolstered funding for existing programs that provide wildlife habitat on farms and ranches while improving producer profitability and sustainability. 

As mentioned earlier, we have called for an improved, and then expanded, CRP.  Filling the seven-million-acre program shortfall by the end of 2021 should be a priority. Then the administration and Congress should consider expanding the enrollment cap to 50 million acres to help advance 30x30 goals in the short term.

Third, regarding the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) that was passed in 2020 and now permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million every year. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever will seek every available opportunity to partner with federal, state and local governments to help channel LWCF dollars toward expansion and enhancement of upland habitat and access. 
Photo credit: Tom Carpenter.
Fourth, as referenced previously, we have established an initiative to create a new grasslands program. Enacting this policy will take time, and could also include sagebrush country, pine and oak savannas, and benefits to tribal nations. More is to come on the political process to enact such an initiative in part 3 of this series. 

PF & QF is cautiously optimistic that we have a window of opportunity ahead of us, as we advocate for our stake in national climate policy, to pursue our goals within the Call of the Uplands mission. 

Please join us in this effort to advance the uplands! Maintain your membership. Be a voice for America's grasslands. We promise to keep you updated along the way, and to provide more educational content in this space. 
READ PART 2: Brightest Sunlight to Darkest Soil
READ PART 3: Grasslands, Climate Policy and the Road Ahead

This story originally appeared in the 2021 Spring Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!