The decades-old partnership between ranchers, sportsmen, and conservationists has recently been rejuvenated with a new sense of purpose. After years of individual investments in conservation and land management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) joined some of the largest wildlife, livestock, and natural resource advocacy organizations in the United States in signing an historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). As leaders of Safari Club International, Ducks Unlimited, the Public Lands Council, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, we came together to develop a more coordinated framework between government agencies and private organizations that will advance the conservation of our country’s natural resources while protecting vital wildlife habitat and biodiversity.

The sustainable use of our country’s natural spaces has long been a cornerstone of U.S. environmental policy, and rightfully so. There are few collections of people with a greater interest in the long-term sustainability of our delicate ecosystems than conservationists and ranchers.

Ranchers raising beef cattle and sheep, for example, are some of the primary protectors of America’s open landscapes and provide infrastructure developments that are quintessential for “preserving important environmental and ecological functions,” according to the EPA. These open landscapes provide a home to not only their livestock, but also to diverse wildlife and plant species that thrive in these carefully managed lands. Sportsmen and women also have enormous incentive to protect the long-term health of wildlife habitats, which is one of the main reasons the Pittman-Robertson Act and the Duck Stamp Act remain enormously popular. Supported by conservationists across the country, both programs provide funds for habitat restoration, land enhancement, educational programs, and much more.

The signing of this MOU builds on past success and creates a new path forward for our nation’s ranchers and conservationists to share the best practices of science-based wildlife habitat conservation and active natural resource management. The agreement will also encourage a collaborative, community-driven implementation of these practices with more private landowning stakeholders than ever before.

Specifically, the MOU will make it easier to engage, educate, and recruit stakeholders to voluntary USFWS conservation programs and partnerships such as the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. This initiative, started in 1987, provides “technical and financial assistance to landowners interested in restoring and enhancing wildlife habitat on their land.” The program designs projects that are tailored to each landowners’ needs and has completed more than 60,000 habitat restoration projects since its inception.

This MOU also expresses USFWS’s desire to expand and improve their land management programs. The agreement provides clarity on how the agency will work with stakeholders to continually develop additional science-based strategies for conservation that acknowledge the rights of private land owners and the value of investment they make, and how those investments provide compounding benefits to the surrounding landscapes. Finally, the USFWS provides a framework to increase the promotion of their successful on-the-ground conservation efforts, with the goal of increasing participation across the country, including voluntary conservation efforts by private landowners.

This agreement has the potential to spur direct action among stakeholders. We thank USFWS for their attention to this issue and engagement in development of the MOU, which prioritizes partnerships with local communities and stakeholders and recognizes the value of cooperative, proactive community engagement. The ranchers, sportsmen, and conservationists who make up our coalition of like-minded organizations have a long history of supporting strategies that are creative, successful, and science based. The formal acknowledgment of this partnership, led by Director Skipwith and the USFWS, represents a brighter future for our shared goal of optimizing land health productivity for all uses for generations to come.

Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam is a hunter, angler, and lifelong advocate for conservation and agriculture. Prior to his role as CEO, Adam was the Commissioner of Agriculture for the state of Florida and served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

W. Laird Hamberlin is the CEO of Safari Club International and Safari Club International Foundation. He is a lifelong hunter and advocate for conservation worldwide.

As Public Lands Council President, Niels Hansen brings his experience to Washington from his ranch in Wyoming, where his family has spent generations improving land and water resources for his livestock and countless species of wildlife. 

Marty Smith is a rancher and an attorney from Wacahoota, Fla. He operates Smith Brothers-Wacahoota, LLC, a cow-calf operation that has been in continuous operation since 1852. In addition to ranching, Smith maintains a law practice with the firm of Bond, Arnett, Phelan, Smith & Carreras in Ocala, Fla. He represents numerous farms and ranches, and specializes in business and environmental litigation.

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