Improving Public Policy
Largest U.S. national forest regains protections
In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) restored long-standing protections to over 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. USDA’s decision to reinstate the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule in the Tongass reverses a policy implemented by the Trump administration that opened roadless areas to development in roughly half of the Tongass—the largest forest in the U.S. and the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world. Members of Alaska Tribes, commercial fishers, outdoor recreation and tourism business owners, and other Alaskans advocated for these safeguards. Pew has worked to protect national forests since its 1998 creation of the Heritage Forest Campaign, which successfully advocated for the 2001 Roadless Rule.
U.S. fishing fleets must end use of drift gillnets
President Joe Biden signed into law the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act in late December. The law contained provisions to phase out, within five years, the use of large-mesh drift gillnets in all U.S. waters. Since 2013, Pew has worked to end the use of this destructive and wasteful gear in the California-based swordfish fishery. Although the fishery has fewer than 20 active participants, it catches as many as 70 other species as bycatch, including protected marine mammals and sea turtles. Passage of the measure is the culmination of years of work by Pew and its partners—including recreational fishers, fishing businesses, seafood restaurants and chefs, marine wildlife advocates, and fellow conservation groups—to improve the way swordfish are caught off the West Coast.
Bipartisan deal safeguards more than 580,000 acres in Nevada
In December, President Joe Biden signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which included protections for more than 580,000 acres of public land in northern Nevada. The bipartisan effort establishes several wilderness and national conservation areas that will permanently protect habitat for desert bighorn sheep, greater sage-grouse, golden eagles, and many other desert species, as well as the newly minted 217,845-acre Numu Newe Special Management Area that will protect, conserve, and enhance Indigenous communities’ traditional homeland. Pew has worked closely with Tribes, counties, conservation groups, and members of Nevada’s congressional delegation for several years to conserve this rugged landscape.
Pew recommendations reflected in Department of Education’s proposed student loan rules
In January, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking incorporating a number of Pew’s recommendations to make income-driven repayment (IDR) plans work better for student loan borrowers who are most at risk of delinquency and default. The department’s proposal reflects findings from research done by Pew’s project on student borrower success, released early last year, and features more affordable payments for low-income borrowers, limited balance growth, simplified enrollment, automatic IDR enrollment for severely delinquent borrowers, and default prevention. In a more recently released report, Pew builds on its prior recommendations pertaining to IDR and default and proposes a framework for reform of the current default system.
New law to address addiction treatment
President Joe Biden signed a multipart end-of-year appropriations bill in December that includes the bipartisan Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act. The measure will make buprenorphine—a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medication for opioid use disorder—more readily accessible to people seeking treatment. Buprenorphine has been proved to reduce overdose deaths and help people stay in treatment, but outdated federal regulations and pervasive stigma around addiction have kept this lifesaving medication from patients in need. Over the past several years, Pew’s substance use prevention and treatment initiative has worked with health care and behavioral health providers, public health experts, and families affected by the overdose crisis to shore up support for this legislation.
New national monument is established in Colorado
President Joe Biden designated the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in October, a move that will conserve more than 50,000 acres of Colorado’s White River National Forest and honor the legacy of the U.S. Army’s famed 10th Mountain Division that trained in the rugged Rocky Mountain alpine landscape during World War II. The Biden administration also initiated a process for a 20-year mineral withdrawal on 225,000 acres in western Colorado known as the Thompson Divide that provide critical wildlife habitat and outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities. The new protections represent the culmination of long-standing efforts by Pew and multiple partners to conserve these special places and protect ecologically valuable landscapes across the West.
Pew presents findings on human cost of global fishing to International Maritime Organization
Pew staff presented key findings from the Pew-commissioned report “Triggering Death: Quantifying the True Human Cost of Global Fishing” at an event in November during the annual meeting of the International Maritime Organization in London. According to the research, which was conducted by the New Zealand-based Fish Safety Foundation, more than 100,000 fishing-related deaths occur each year—three to four times previous estimates—with serious injuries and abuses, including child labor and decompression sickness, that are well documented throughout the sector. The study pointed to a convergence of factors that have contributed to loss of life, including insufficient and unenforced safety regulations and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing that operates without oversight of labor practices and is a major contributor to overfishing. The report’s findings will inform efforts by Pew’s international fisheries project to bring into force the 2012 Cape Town Agreement, an international treaty on minimum safety requirements for fishing vessels, which is five countries shy of the 22 nations needed to ratify the pact.
Invigorating Civic Life
Pew Center for Arts & Heritage-funded project fosters connections with local waterways
From August through October, the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University offered a series of artistic installations to deepen Philadelphia residents’ understanding of and connection to the Lower Schuylkill River watershed. Supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, “Watershed Moment” included a 1.5-mile walk that led participants from the academy to the Schuylkill as they experienced poetry, sound, music, and interactive elements that considered the importance of the watershed for healthy communities. Inside the academy, visitors experienced an immersive sound installation of recordings made along 135 miles of the Schuylkill.
Pew report explores debt collection in Philadelphia
Pew released a report in October, “How Debt Collection Works in Philadelphia’s Municipal Court,” examining the relationships among service of process in the Philadelphia Municipal Court, low participation rates with the court among defendants, and case outcomes for individual debt collection litigants. Individuals sued in a debt collection case learn about the suit through service of process—a legal procedure that begins with attempted delivery of court-mandated forms notifying individuals that there is a lawsuit against them. Although the court has recorded many small claims cases as having been effectively served, survey results and interviews, as well as case outcomes, suggest that current service of process rules and practices are not effectively engaging all defendants in their debt collection cases. The report is informing court judges and administrators who, in partnership with Pew and the National Center for State Courts, are seeking to update the rules and regulations of the Philadelphia Municipal Court to simplify processes, increase accountability, and strengthen litigant engagement with the court.
Informing the Public
How religion intersects with Americans’ views on the environment
In November, the Pew Research Center released a report examining how people with different levels of religious commitment and religious backgrounds express a sense of duty toward the environment. The research found that highly religious Americans overwhelmingly say God gave humans a duty to protect and care for the Earth—but they are far less likely than other U.S. adults to express concern about warming temperatures around the globe. The survey also finds that among religious groups, evangelical Protestants are the least likely to view global climate change as an extremely or very serious problem (34%). Meanwhile, most members of non-Christian religions (72%) and religious “nones” (70%) view global climate change as an extremely or very serious problem.
Social media seen as mostly good for democracy across many nations, but U.S. is a major outlier
The Pew Research Center published a report in December examining attitudes in 19 advanced economies toward technology and civic engagement. The report found that a median of 57% of adults throughout the 19 countries say social media has been more of a good thing for their democracy, while 35% say it has been a bad thing. Americans are the most negative about the impact of social media on democracy: 64% say it has been bad. Among the publics surveyed, most say social media informs and raises awareness. However, respondents also think social media has made it easier to manipulate and divide people.