Author Archives: rsisson

Lame Duck Soup

Two very important bills that impact conservation are languishing in the lame duck Congress.

The first is the Farm Bill.  Generally, Congress authors a new farm bill every five years. The current bill expired in September. If Congress doesn’t renew or rewrite the law, it will revert at year end to the “permanent law” written before WWII. That won’t be fun for anyone except the Amish[1].

In recent decades, the Farm Bill has contained modern conservation provisions like the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Wildlife Incentives Program. These programs and others are instrumental in protecting and maintaining diverse wildlife populations across our country. Just one planting season without the programs in place will set land and wildlife conservation back 25 years.

The Farm Bill is critical to many bird species including the Greater Sage Grouse, the Sandhill Crane, and migratory waterfowl.

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, the second bill, would continue critical habitat investment in programs like NAWCA and the Neo-tropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The Act is a compilation of 19 bipartisan bills important to conservation of habitat and wildlife.

Although the bills enjoy broad, bi-partisan support, a few cantankerous members are holding them up to make partisan points.  Congress, heralding a new era of cooperation, can send holiday greetings across the land by passing both of these bills before they call it a long winter’s night!



1-The author lives in Michiana’s Amish Country and counts several Amish families as friends.


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Russell Train: A Personal Memorial

During the wee hours one cold winter night back in the ‘70s, a ringing telephone awakened the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. An irate driver was calling from Minnesota, a thousand miles away.

Unlike many other high-ranking government officials, the head of the EPA kept a listed home telephone number, which was how the angry man had tracked him down.

With the clock nearing 3 a.m., the head of EPA agreed to listen to the man’s story of frustration with EPA regulations: his car had run out of gas, and he had walked four miles through snow to fill up a gas can, only to find the nozzle wouldn’t fit the opening of the car’s gas tank, “all because of your (expletive) stupid EPA regulations!”

The head of EPA calmly told the man he didn’t blame him for being upset. Having vented, the Minnesota driver ended the call by quietly saying that he just wanted Mr. Train to know.

That’s the kind of man Mr. Train was. A man of integrity with a powerful dedication to public service, Russell Train was the ideal choice to lead EPA during the turbulent years of the Nixon and Ford administrations. I was privileged to know in person what many of my fellow Americans knew from afar, because Mr. Train was my father-in-law.

Mr. Train’s passing last month reminded Americans of his accomplishments in enforcing our new environmental laws at a time of economic tumult. During EPA’s early years, Mr. Train led the agency with a tactful but firm hand that was instrumental in the progress we have made reducing air pollution, cleaning up lakes and rivers, and limiting unhealthful chemical exposures.

Mr. Train did more than carry out the law. He educated Americans about the broader context of our country’s environmental problems. At a time America was reeling from oil price shocks, Mr. Train spoke publicly about the connections between our energy choices and consequences, including environmental impacts.

He spoke out about the tangible benefits of energy efficiency and finding new ways to produce energy, even though there were times during high-level meetings that his stance made him feel, in his words, like “the proverbial bastard at a family reunion.”

A secret to Russell Train’s successful tenure at EPA was that he stuck to the facts, treated all parties respectfully, and did his best to shield environmental policy from partisan political considerations. His service holds powerful lessons for today, as we face a different but equally compelling array of environmental risks at a time of economic tumult.

Too often in today’s world, short-term thinking and partisan agendas interfere with rational decision-making on matters that affect all of us, regardless of our political affiliations. Clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment are not luxuries but necessities. Our country is stronger and more prosperous because of, not in spite of, our setting and keeping of environmental standards.

These are not new insights. My father-in-law understood the imperatives of environmental stewardship and acted on them with fair dealings and good sense. The best way we can honor Russell Train’s memory is to follow the example that he set.


James A. Rowan
Chevy Chase, MD





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Polling Shows Unity Among Americans for Conservation

Conventional wisdom holds that environmental stewardship is one of those bright lines separating Republicans and Democrats.

Conventional wisdom in this case is wrong. Many polls demonstrate that people across the spectrum are united around clear conservation values: keeping air and water clean, protecting our parks, forests, and other open spaces for public benefit, and taking a balanced approach to energy development.

Earlier this year, two polling firms—one Republican, the other Democratic—queried a sample of nearly 2,400 voters in six Western states about their attitudes towards conservation. The sample was almost evenly split among Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Nearly two-thirds of the voters identified themselves as conservationists. Strong majorities across the spectrum agreed with the statement: “We can protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time, without having to choose one over the other.” Majorities who agreed: 75 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of independents, and 84 percent of Democrats.

Last year, the Republican polling firm North Star Opinion Research surveyed Floridians about beaches and cleaning up after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A total of 97 percent agreed Florida’s beaches and near-shore waters are important to the state’s economy. By margins of 6 to 1 or more, Florida voters across the spectrum agreed penalty money collected for the spill should be dedicated to restoring the Gulf Coast. “Regardless of political party or region of the state, this is an issue that unites Florida voters,” a memo from North Star concluded.

Whether you’re talking about estuaries in Florida or backcountry hunting grounds in Montana, Americans, regardless of their political affiliations, value natural assets that bring tangible benefits to their communities and are part of local and regional culture.

Our shared conservation values are essential to what it means to be an American.

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Today is National Public Lands Day

Moulton Barn on Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Rob Sisson.

America’s Best Idea isn’t limited to our national parks. Public lands from coast-to-coast offer all Americans the opportunity to view birds, hike, fish, photograph, hunt, boat, and rejuvenate their body, mind, and soul.  Our public lands enjoy strong support across every political and socio-economic spectrum.  Show your support for our public lands by signing and sharing the American Eagle Compact!

Then, take a moment to tell us what public land is your favorite and why!

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Good Stewardship is All American

Stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon and look into the awesome depths of that ancient chasm.

Yosemite Falls. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Look up from your Yosemite Valley campsite and be astonished at the overpowering sights and sounds of thundering waterfalls.

Hike through the Everglades and marvel at the amazing variety of wildlife found in the “river of grass.”

Whenever you enjoy America’s spectacular natural heritage, partisan politics is probably the furthest thing from your mind. That is as it should be. Protecting our nation’s wonderful natural treasures shouldn’t be caught up in partisan disagreements.

At ConservAmerica, we believe good stewardship of our American heritage is at the heart of our traditional conservative values of respect for the past and responsibility for the future. We conservatives can be proud of the stewardship achievements of our past leaders, from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan.

That’s why we’re excited to partner with the National Audubon Society in asking our fellow citizens to sign the American Eagle Compact—a declaration to our leaders that conservation is essential to what unites us as Americans.

This simple declaration will send a strong message to our leaders: do not play politics with protecting our nation’s great natural treasures. Remember the wise words of President Reagan, who said: “Preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense.”

We agree.

Rob Sisson, President

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