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posted in: General

September 11, 2013

Ballot Box Biology Bad for Sportsmen

At first glance, many of the issues facing hunters and anglers today seem overwhelmingly complex. On topics as diverse as ATV use to public land development, climate change to predator management, emotionally charged debates spring up at every sportsman’s gathering. None of these issues seems to have a simple answer.

I often am confronted by individuals or organizations asking about the TRCP’s position on the issue of the day. My answer is always the same: What does the best available science tell us?

The TRCP’s mission is, and always has been, to guarantee all Americans a quality place to hunt and fish. To do this we need sustainable fish and wildlife populations and habitats to support them. Our professional wildlife managers intimately understand this and implement policies and procedures to ensure it.

Where the process falls off the rails is when we start trying to manage our fish and wildlife through what is sometimes referred to as “ballot box biology” – a process by which fish, wildlife and habitat management decisions are made not by professionals using sound, supportable, peer-reviewed and published science but by public opinion. Unfortunately, public opinion can be deeply divided, fueled not by the facts but by emotional rhetoric and snappy catch phrases that fit neatly onto bumper stickers.

A good example of this can be seen in the ongoing controversy surrounding gray wolf management, an issue that has splintered the sportsman’s community. Specifically, wolves have been single-handedly blamed for dramatically reducing big game numbers to the point where the absurd claim of “the wolves ate them all” is commonly heard in reference to elk, deer, moose and even bighorn sheep.

It’s an easy bandwagon to jump on. The image of a snarling, larger-than-life predator with blood-drenched fangs can haunt even the most reasonable hunter’s dreams when he’s on a long and unsuccessful quest and not finding the animals he is used to seeing in his favorite hunting spots. But the scientific reality behind recent population declines is far more complex, and to attribute it solely to any one factor, including predation, is an unjust over-simplification.  In fact, a study sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation on the elk declines in the Yellowstone area has determined that wolves have had a minimal effect on elk populations.

Another recent study out of Minnesota, where a 69-percent decline in moose populations has put an end to moose hunting in that state, points toward climate change as the major factor. Milder winters are raising the survival rates of blood-sucking ticks that attack moose in the tens of thousands, when the animal already is stressed by a warmer than normal summer. Unfortunately, despite sound scientific support, “the ticks ate them all” just doesn’t have the same ring to it – and likewise would be inaccurate.

Predators such as wolves or ticks don’t exist in a vacuum. Undeniably, they have an impact; however, a host of other, much less glamorous causes exists, such as habitat degradation and fragmentation, fire suppression, irresponsible development, over-grazing, invasive species and disease.

As difficult as it may be, every sportsman is responsible – for the future of our own and our children’s hunting and angling opportunities – to be factual and credible to ensure we identify and address the actual challenges our natural resources are facing.

We must make the effort to look for the facts of each situation and ask ourselves, “What does the best available science and our professional wildlife managers tell us is best for fish, wildlife and their habitats?” Because ultimately, this also will be what is best for sportsmen.

The science behind sustainable fish and wildlife management is complex. But the decision to use it should be very simple.

2 Responses to “Ballot Box Biology Bad for Sportsmen”

  1. Alex Russell

    My grad school thesis was on why republican voting sportsmen vote for candidates that they know will attempt to privatize wildlife and reduce hunting opportunities for their kids and grand kids. The number one threat they felt from democrat candidates was not gun control or regulation but that democrats would turn America socialist. They were all for good schools, bridges, roads, national defense but they felt that programs such as welfare and food stamps were causing our trillion dollar deficits. It’s hard to respond to that except to say that without food stamps in the US, even more unemployed/underemployed Americans would go hungry while the stock market keeps rolling.

  2. dannyb

    the said fact is most of the public is not only uneducated, but would rather remain uneducated and form opinions through thier emotions and fear than actually taking the time to read some research.

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posted in: General

September 6, 2013

Responsible Energy Development

Photo by Mark Weaver.

Energy development, fish and wildlife, and other resource values can coexist. That’s the philosophy underlying the TRCP’s FACTS for Fish and Wildlife – our prescription for responsible energy development. It’s also the goal of a unique partnership between the TRCP and western Colorado’s High Lonesome Ranch. By demonstrating energy development that is balanced with other resource values, we can help improve federal energy policy and provide a model for other private landowners as well.

In short, seeing is believing.

Energy projects often fail to address the needs of fish, wildlife, hunters and anglers. A landscape-level approach is critical to abating negative impacts that are all too common – such as mule deer populations in Wyoming’s Pinedale Anticline that have declined precipitously since extensive development began in the late 1990s. We will persevere in our efforts to advance policy addressing outdated and unbalanced federal leasing and development practices. But we’ll also continue to work with the HLR to develop an on-the-ground example for a landscape-level energy model that can be exported to other areas.

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September 5, 2013

A Victory for Roadless Area Conservation

Photo by Shutterlife Photography.

Sportsmen need two things to be able to hunt and fish: access and opportunity.

Since the TRCP’s inception in 2002, we have advanced policies that conserve large blocks of intact habitat, called roadless areas, on national forests to maximize hunting and fishing opportunities. Roadless area conservation was the TRCP’s founding issue, and between 2002 and 2012, the TRCP helped successfully conserve 58.5 million acres of public lands habitat in 38 states.

In October 2012, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the 2001 rule, concluding a nearly decade-long legal battle over the management of roadless areas. The TRCP’s efforts will help fish and wildlife managers maximize public hunting and fishing opportunities into the foreseeable future – and ensure that millions of American sportsmen have quality places to hunt and fish.

To see more great content check out the TRCP 2012 Annual Report. 

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posted in: General

August 30, 2013

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posted in: General

August 28, 2013

The Colorado River Just Entered a New Paradigm, and It Could Mean Less Water for Sportsmen

Lake Powell as seen in 2013. National Geographic has an interactive graphic where you can compare this with Lake Powell in 1999 and see what it looks like when the second largest reservoir on the Colorado River drops to less than half full. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

Did the Bureau of Reclamation just announce that the first domino had toppled toward water shortages in the southwestern United States? Here’s the seemingly innocuous language only a water engineer could love:

“[I]f the August 24-Month study projects the January 1, 2014, Lake Powell elevation to be less than 3,575.0 feet and at or above 3,525.0 feet and the Lake Mead elevation to be at or above 1,025.0 feet…the water year release volume from Lake Powell will be 7.48 [million acre-feet (maf)]. This August 2013 24-Month study projects that…the January 1, 2014, Lake Powell elevation [will] be 3,573.69 feet and the Lake Mead elevation [will] be 1,107.39 feet. Therefore…the Lake Powell operational tier for water year 2014 is the Mid-Elevation Release Tier with an annual release volume of 7.48 maf.” – August 24-Month Study (emphasis added)

Let’s back up a moment before answering that.

Sitting at either end of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and Lake Mead are the two primary storage reservoirs on the Colorado River. Lake Powell, the upstream reservoir, sits on the border between Arizona and Utah. Lake Mead is in the southeastern corner of Nevada about 35 miles east of Las Vegas and supplies water to Arizona, Nevada and California. The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates both reservoirs, tries to equalize the amount of water in each reservoir to maximize their combined storage capacity. However, this goal becomes difficult to achieve when there simply isn’t much water in the river, which is the case right now.

The southwestern United States is suffering through an extreme drought. The last 14 years have been the driest period in the last 100 years. Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead are less than half full. The elevation of water in Lake Mead is 120 feet below its maximum, leading to the infamous “bathtub ring”.

Receding water levels in Lake Mead reveal a white ring around the reservoir – known as the “bathtub ring” – indicating how high the water used to be. Currently, Lake Mead is about 120 feet below its maximum fill height. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Waycool27.

Fortunately, the seven states in the Colorado River Basin – Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California – and the Bureau of Reclamation saw this coming. They came together in the early 2000s to reach an agreement for how to share the pain during times when water is scarce. Their agreement is known as the 2007 Interim Guidelines. Among other things, it specifies how much water Reclamation will send from Lake Powell to Lake Mead based on the water levels in each reservoir. Historically, this amount is 8.23 million acre-feet.

However, when the water level in Lake Powell gets low enough, Reclamation will send less water downstream. This month – for the first time ever – Lake Powell crossed that threshold.

So in 2014 Reclamation will release 7.48 million acre-feet of water to Lake Mead, a decrease of 750,000 acre-feet from the historical amount and the lowest amount ever released since Lake Powell filled in the 1960s. This doesn’t mean that 6 million fewer people in Arizona, Nevada and California will get water next year. (An acre-foot of water is approximately as much water as two families of four will use in a year.) It does mean there is about a 50 percent chance these states will get less water from the Colorado River by 2016. (Circle of Blue has a good description of how this supply reduction will likely play out in practice.)

What Reclamation’s announcement makes clear is that we have entered a new paradigm in the Colorado River: Water shortages, which never have occurred before on the river, are not something that may happen sometime in the distant future – they are on the doorstep. Population growth and climate change will put more demands on the river and make droughts more frequent and more severe, ensuring that managing water in the face of shortage will only get harder from here.

The Colorado River Basin states and Reclamation are making decisions now about how to live in this new paradigm. There are ways they can keep the southwestern United States vibrant for the next 50 years, but if sportsmen don’t engage in those decisions, making their preference for strong habitat and species protections known, water for fish and wildlife could be the first to go. That’s why the TRCP is working to conserve and improve water resources management for hunting and fishing areas. Sign up to become part of this effort. (Bob Marshall at Field & Stream makes an impassioned case for why sportsmen need to get engaged.)

The goal for sportsmen should be to keep Reclamation’s announcement from becoming the first domino toppling toward a tragic, inevitable conclusion. Rather, we should take it as a call to action to ensure the Colorado River – and other critical waterways – is managed for the 21st century and beyond.

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