Improving Public Policy

  • June 15, 2018

The Pew Charitable Trusts applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life, as these recent accomplishments illustrate.

Pew Co-Hosts Tech Challenge to Fix Our National Parks

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Isolated desert landscapes lure visitors to Big Bend National Park in remote west Texas on the Mexican border. A record 1.5 billion people visited the national parks in the last five years, straining infrastructure needs such as roads, bridges, and campgrounds. In June, Big Bend and 116 other national parks will increase their entrance fees to offset a backlog of repairs.

Innovative tech solutions to fix national parks’ infrastructure

In February, Pew hosted a “Parks and Tech Challenge” to develop innovative technological solutions for the National Park Service’s (NPS) more than $11 billion backlog of repairs at historic buildings, trails, campgrounds, and other aging infrastructure. Out of nine entries, the judges chose a plan that would allow visitors to enter parks more efficiently with a speed pass and a mobile app—reducing staff needed at park entrances, increasing opportunities to collect fees, improving the visitor experience, and enabling visitors to donate easily. The runner-up would make it easier for park employees to enter field data about NPS maintenance issues in a more efficient, timely way, allowing for more strategic decisions regarding how to prioritize resources. The top recommendations will be shared with the park service, the Department of the Interior, and the congressional committees overseeing the NPS.

Canada protects more boreal forests

In September, the Yukon government agreed to protect 15.5 million acres of boreal forestland in the Ross River Dena First Nation’s traditional land in the territory’s southeastern section. The First Nation’s council’s plan sets aside 9.1 million acres to be strictly protected—no development allowed—and an additional 6.4 million acres to be managed under sustainable development guidelines. Comprising approximately 13 percent of Yukon’s total land area, the Ross River community’s land is a regular breeding ground for 134 bird species and home to numerous plants, fish, and wildlife, including beavers, black and grizzly bears, caribou, wolves, and salmon. Pew’s international boreal conservation campaign has supported the effort to protect this land for more than five years.

On the other side of the country, the Quebec provincial government proposed a complex of protected areas called the Caribous-Forestiers-de-Manouane-Manicouagan that includes 2.5 million acres of intact forest. The designation would add approximately 1.7 million acres to already protected areas in the region, and preserve habitat for caribou and many other species. The actions in Yukon and Quebec move Pew closer to the goal of safeguarding 1 billion acres of Canada’s boreal forest by the end of 2022.

Pennsylvania to evaluate tax incentives

In October, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed bipartisan legislation that requires a regular evaluation of the commonwealth’s tax incentives for their impact on economic development. Following the enactment of the legislation in November, Pew staff advised policymakers on how to implement best practices for an evaluation process and also will help the state produce high-quality evaluations.

More U.S. ocean protected

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service gave final approval in June to a plan that safeguards five ocean areas off the U.S. Southeast coast where fish spawn. It was the last step toward putting into effect the protections initiated by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which oversees fishing from North Carolina to east Florida. The council voted in 2016 in line with Pew’s recommendations to prohibit deep-water fishing in the areas to give reef species safe havens for spawning. Pew organized fishermen and chefs to support the effort and provided on-the-water research to verify spawning activity at several locations. The protections mark important progress in the effort to conserve critical ocean habitat and shift U.S. fisheries management toward an ecosystem-based approach.

Sales of antibiotics for use in animal agriculture decline

In December, the Food and Drug Administration released new data on the amount of antibiotics sold for use in food animals. The data showed that sales declined 14 percent between 2015 and 2016, the first decrease since data were initially reported in 2009. The report also marks the first time that animal drug companies have broken down sales estimates by major types of food animals—pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys—setting a baseline for species-specific sales information in the future. Pew has long advocated for gathering better data to understand how antibiotics are used in animal agriculture in order to decrease use of these life-saving drugs.

Mid-Atlantic fisheries managers adopt ecosystem plan, protect forage species

In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service finalized a rule that bans commercial fishing of more than 50 species of forage fish—food for larger fish, seabirds, and other marine species—in federal waters from New York to North Carolina until the ecological impact of any new or expanded fishery is understood. The policy will protect anchovies, silversides, sardines, mollusks—including squids and octopods—and all species measuring less than 1 inch as adults, such as krill. The shift in policy from a single-species approach to one that includes the interdependent nature of ocean life is a significant advancement for Pew’s ecosystem-based fisheries management work.