In a strict sense, infrastructure is bridges, roads, and tunnels. However, past infrastructure bills, and hopefully an upcoming one, have had long and lasting impacts ranging far from crumbling roads. The Biden administration is now turning its attention to infrastructure with a recently unveiled $2 trillion infrastructure proposal: The American Jobs Plan. The ambitious and expensive plan aims “to create jobs, rebuild infrastructure, and out-compete China,” according to the White House text. And while the bulk of the bill does deal with the more traditional conception of infrastructure, it will provide a tremendous vehicle for conservation and outdoor recreation priorities. Follow along to learn about how Biden’s proposed infrastructure package and future iterations can improve fishing and time spent outdoors–hypothetically, of course.

What is in the Current White House Proposal

It’s important to note that President Biden’s American Jobs Plan is just a proposal at this point; it will undoubtedly go through a series of revisions and negotiations, especially as politicians and advocacy groups lobby the White House for specific projects and priorities. Additionally, it’s worth highlighting that this plan is not the all-encompassing plan that many within the environmental community had hoped for and that Biden campaigned on. The plan at this stage has already taken the expected partisan turn. The Biden plan does, in fact, include many provisions that would have a positive effect on fly fishing and the outdoors as whole. However, through negotiations, an infrastructure plan could be bipartisan and contain important environmental provisions–or the Biden administration and Democrats can push it through with the reconciliation process, but that’s getting deep in the weeds.

Some may ask: how are public lands, fly fishing, and the outdoors related to infrastructure? Improving watersheds can have natural flood prevention benefits on top of improving essential fish habitat. There are 370,000 miles of roads and 13,000 bridges in just the National Forest System, Yet there is currently a roughly $5.2 billion maintenance backlog in the National Forest System. In testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, former Associate Chief Lenise Lago said: “Infrastructure is the physical link between Americans and their public lands—without it, we cannot fulfill our mission or effectively uphold our core value of conservation.” Infrastructure is key to our Nation’s economy, and outdoor recreation is too.

These harmful discharges at Lake Okeechobee have devastating effects on South Florida’s ecosystems. Everglades restoration is included in the proposal. @CaptainsforCleanWater

“With the release of this long-awaited plan, the Biden administration is taking an important, bold step toward making needed investments in the nation’s infrastructure,” said Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ Conservation Director John Gale. “The president’s proposal can put Americans back to work while prioritizing the conservation and restoration of our public lands and waters, including efforts that make these landscapes more resilient and accessible to hunters and anglers.” The Biden proposal includes provisions that would:

  • Maximize the resilience of land and water resources to protect communities and the environment. This includes restoring and protecting nature-based infrastructure, investing in wildfire protection, coastal resilience, and the western drought crisis, and restoring major land and water resources.
  • Prioritize the protection and restoration of the Florida Everglades, which has suffered for decades from chronic water mismanagement, and the Great Lakes. “Right now, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fully fund Everglades restoration and save a national treasure. Restoring the Everglades is truly a mom-and-apple-pie situation,” said Captains for Clean Water Executive Director Daniel Andrews. “It’s a unifying effort because the benefits to everyone are undeniable. It improves water infrastructure, creates thousands of jobs, restores habitat, protects public health and safeguards recreational opportunities for generations to come. After decades of delays, there’s finally a historic opportunity on the horizon for the Federal Government to recognize the will of the people by fully funding all of the authorized projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan through the infrastructure package. Once complete, these projects will alleviate over 60% of the harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and provide the desperately needed clean water to the Everglades and Florida Bay.”

    You can tell your representatives to support Everglades restoration though this LINK courtesy of Captains for Clean Water.

  • Formalize the administration’s support of the Outdoor Restoration Force Act, which would fund state and local governments, tribes, and others to plan and execute restoration and resilience projects, preventing catastrophic wildfires and restoring watersheds.
  • Invest $16 billion in jobs that restore and reclaim the hundreds of thousands of abandoned coal, hardrock, and uranium mines, reducing pollution contamination in our Nation’s waterways. An estimated 23,000 abandoned mines exist in Colorado alone. Pollution from these sites can have devastating effects on our watersheds and vulnerable fish species. Abandoned mines threaten human health, the environment, and our economy. They contaminate groundwater, discharge acid into waterways, and harm the water quality that trout and other aquatic species need to survive. However, current federal laws prohibit groups that are not directly connected to an abandoned mine from engaging in reclamation efforts. Trout Unlimited hopes that Good Samaritan legislation, which “provides bona fide Good Samaritans carefully tailored liability protections” and is a necessary component of any effective abandoned mine project, will be included in a final package.
  • Invest $10 billion to create the Civilian Climate Corps, a program that will employ thousands of Americans and at the same time conserve public lands and waters and improve ecosystem resilience. This program will bolster the “outdoor economy, which was fueling some of the fastest job growth in rural communities before the onset of the pandemic. The new CCC members can also make vital contributions to restore the health of American landscapes and improve our resilience to climate impacts like more extreme wildfires and floods,” said NM Senator, Martin Heinrich.
An abandoned mine site in New Mexico, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

Other Priorities that Might Find Their Way into a Package

Snake River Recovery

Representative Simpson’s groundbreaking plan to remove the four lower Snake River dams and recover wild salmon and steelhead was, unfortunately, not a part of the President’s infrastructure proposal. Rep. Simpson’s plan is the culmination of years of work that seeks to end the seemingly endless fighting and actually make progress on recovering the imperiled anadromous fish–all the while making stakeholders whole. The Energy and Salmon Concept is expensive, $33.5 billion, but we’re talking about a $2 trillion package. Simpson’s concept is our best chance to recover Snake River salmon and steelhead, and folding it into an infrastructure package is the best opportunity to make the plan a reality.

The plan has not garnered the effect that many had hoped for. Generally, both Democrats and Republicans in the PNW have been lukewarm on the topic. “It is extremely disappointing that we have not seen anyone from across the aisle support his good work,” said Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood. “I think the administration would be well-advised to take Congressman Simpson’s vision under consideration and play a role in helping the Pacific North West to both recover salmon and steelhead and revitalize its energy and agriculture infrastructure.”

Reconnecting Watersheds

While there was mention of restoring watersheds, greater efforts and allocations to reconnect watersheds should be discussed further. Reconnecting watersheds is an example of nature-infrastructure and has positive effects for humans and communities–as well as ecosystems. Reconnecting watersheds to their historic floodplains can mitigate the destructive impacts of floods and significantly improve a watershed’s resilience to our changing climate.

Gulf Restoration

The Gulf of Mexico is a cornerstone when it comes to outdoor recreation. Whether it’s offshore fishing, waterfowl hunting, or chasing bull reds deep in the bayou, the Gulf has it all. But between oil spills and large scale wetland loss, this ecosystem needs help. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is hoping that Gulf restoration can be achieved through an infrastructure package. “If Congress can put aside partisanship, we believe an infusion of cash into the Gulf can put people back to work, create habitat for fish and wildlife, increase coastal resiliency, combat climate change, and build more equitable communities,” according to a TRCP article. The story highlighted several priorities: Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities and fully funding the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Coastal Resilience Fund.

Climate Change and Conservation

The topic is certainly a contentious point in Congress, but climate change will need to be addressed at some point. There is strong evidence that a proactive approach to dealing with the impacts has substantial upside–economically speaking. As such, common-sense climate measures that make our infrastructure more resilient to our changing climate and improve our lands and waters seems like a no brainer. Whether it’s restoring wetlands and mangrove forests, decommissioning unused roads on public lands, or investing more in public lands and outdoor recreation, the infrastructure package is a great opportunity to improve our lands and waters for today and years down the road.

Now, remember, this is just a plan, and lawmakers have indicated that real movement on a final package may not come until early July. Until then, however, as fly fishermen and women and advocates of the great outdoors, we have a great opportunity to help guide this vehicle. Be sure to keep an eye out for developments on this package on our channels and the dozens of great sporting and conservation advocacy organizations that are working for our passions.

AFFTA: “Climate Change Threatening Recreational Fishing”

American Rivers: “69 dams Removed in 2020, Reconnecting 624 Miles of Rivers”

Catching Up With Trout Unlimited: 2021

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