Geoff Mullins

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posted in: General

November 4, 2013

Fishing and Fun Mix with Forums at the TRCP Saltwater Media Summit in Islamorada

“To capture the fish is not all of the fishing.” – Zane Grey, Tales of Fishes

Fishing is so much more than just catching fish.

It’s also about the experience – the adventure, the thinking and the thrill of the chase that is all wrapped up into a great time on the water. Therefore, it is no accident the TRCP has held our Saltwater Media Summit in Florida for the past three years.

If you want to talk about saltwater fishing and the importance of conservation, then Florida is a perfect backdrop.  If you also want experience great fishing and get folks out on the water seeing these issues first-hand, then the “Fishing Capital of the World” is the perfect playground.

In fact, the Sunshine State is the center of the universe when it comes to saltwater recreational fishing.  According to statistics from the American Sportfishing Association, Florida sees nearly 2.4 million saltwater anglers per year. This activity injects approximately $6.8 billion into the economy and accounts for more than 65,000 jobs.

The TRCP hosts these gatherings of media members each year for three main reasons: (1) to identify and discuss pressing conservation issues, (2) develop and strengthen key relationships and (3) ultimately tell the story about the importance of conservation and the link it has to our ability to enjoy the thrill of fishing.

While all are important, developing the relationships and forming bonds through a shared experience has the most lasting impact. To bring folks down to Islamorada, put them in a boat with rod in hand and have them experience the great, well-managed resources Florida has to offer is irreplaceable. The folks at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Visit Florida, and the Florida Keys & Key West recognize this and rolled out the red carpet to the TRCP and our summit attendees. Nothing stays with you more than good memories, and those were abundant on Florida Bay last month.

Which brings me to my own fishing memories forged at the media summit: I had the good fortune of fishing with Dave Mezz, deputy editor of Garden & Gun magazine. That morning, we made a long run past numerous flats and mangrove islands to find a most spectacular display of tarpon busting pilchards on the surface.

Mullins with snook
The author with his first snook in Islamorada, Fla.

As we anchored, a Spanish mackerel jumped into the boat and landed in our live well. It took only one toss of the cast net for bait and we were in business.

On his very first cast, Dave was hooked into his first-ever tarpon. The fish put on quite a show…we had never experienced anything like it. After a few more pilchards, I too had the joy of feeling that great jolt of electricity on the end of the line – my first tarpon as well! Never had I felt such speed as the line ran off the reel. The acrobatics of the fish are pure joy and only make you want to catch another one.

After a few more hookups but unsuccessful fights, we moved farther into the creeks as the tide continued to drop. We cast our baits into the mouths of the emptying creeks and let them swing out into the main channel. Pretty soon, we both felt the subtle thump of the snook. This fish was an equally delightful fighter and had his own unique tactics for evasion. Once near the boat, he too put on an aerial display and tail walk trying desperately to throw the hook. To our good fortune, both Dave and I landed our first snook ever this morning as well.

The TRCP Saltwater Media Summit was a rewarding event for many reasons. We made new relationships, discussed some critical issues and furthered the message of conservation for these important fisheries. But when I tell the story years from now, it will begin as the day I caught my first tarpon and snook. Now that’s fishing!

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Whit Fosburgh

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posted in: General

After Shutdown, the Stakes are High for Hunters and Anglers

October was hardly Washington’s finest month. A government shutdown that served no purpose and cost Americans more than $20 billion. Hunters and anglers denied access to national wildlife refuges and parks. The spectacle of lawmakers who caused the shutdown, once they were certain the cameras were rolling, berating park rangers who were simply doing their jobs.

It’s no wonder Americans hold our elected officials in such low regard.

But today the government is open; Congress has an opportunity to actually legislate. And the stakes for conservation are high.

The next two months will be dominated by two topics that directly impact conservation and hunting and fishing: The Farm Bill and the federal budget.

The Farm Bill: ‘Must-pass’ Legislation

The Farm Bill, which includes the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Open Fields public access program, among others, is the single most important piece of legislation for conservation on private lands. The current version of the bill expired on Sept. 30 after the House of Representatives and the Senate failed to (“never tried to” is more accurate) resolve the differences between their two bills.  The main point of disagreement is over funding for the bill’s nutrition title, which includes food stamps and school lunches.

Assuming lawmakers can agree on nutrition funding, which is not a given, the debate over the conservation title of the bill will center on two issues: re-linking conservation compliance with crop insurance and the Sodsaver program. Together these programs help ensure that the federal government is not creating incentives to drain wetlands and convert native prairie and highly erodible lands to row crops.

The Farm Bill and its conservation title have the potential to dramatically impact the fish and wildlife populations and outdoor opportunities relied upon by millions of Americans. The bill is “must-pass” legislation, and all sportsmen should make sure that Congress understands this.

The Federal Budget: The Stakes for Conservation Have Never Been Higher

The budget debate has implications for literally every conservation program in the country, from how our public lands are managed to funding that supports state management of our fish and wildlife and even the grant programs that drive the work of Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and so many other conservation groups.

While entitlements and defense-security spending have steadily increased, conservation funding has plummeted. From about 2.5 percent of the federal budget in the 1970s, conservation funding now represents only about 1 percent of the budget. The House budget would accelerate this trend by zeroing out funding for key conservation programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act while further gutting the already underfunded federal lands management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under the agreement that reopened the government, Congress has until Jan. 15 to come to a budget agreement, which not only will fund the government through Sept. 2014; it also will become the starting point for fiscal year 2015 budget negotiations.

If the government shutdown has a silver lining, it is that the crucial importance of our nation’s parks and refuges became impossible to ignore. These places are not expendable luxuries; they are a fundamental part of the American economy and the American identity. People care about them – and rely upon them. Theodore Roosevelt understood this more than a century ago. Perhaps today’s politicians now do, as well.

Look to the TRCP to keep you informed and involved as these key initiatives require attention in Congress. Sign up for our weekly emails to stay up to date on the latest news and policy important to sportsmen.

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Everglades National Park Back in Business

Everglades mangrove snapper
With the government shutdown over, fishing guides and their clients have returned to Everglades National Park. Photo by Mac Stone.

The end of the federal government shutdown was especially good news for guides who fish in Everglades National Park.

For the first time in more than two weeks, they were allowed to legally fish in park waters.

“People don’t realize the effects of the shutdown on guides,” said Capt. Jason Sullivan, who lost several trips because of the park closure.

That anglers were not allowed to fish in the park, even though many of them access the waters in Florida Bay and along the Gulf of Mexico coastline by boat, was bureaucratic pettiness at its worst.

It was one thing not to allow anglers to drive their tow vehicles into the park and launch their boats at Flamingo. But what did it matter if guides drove their boats across park boundaries from the Florida Keys?

That was the same spiteful mentality behind the National Park Service putting up barricades at the open-air World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., although federal bureaucrats said they had no choice but to close the park.

At least Everglades National Park’s rangers didn’t hassle boaters who ended up in park waters, some of whom didn’t realize they were not allowed in the park and some of whom didn’t care. The rangers told boaters and anglers they could not stop in park waters and sent them on their way without issuing any citations.

Capt. Brian Sanders was one of the lucky ones. He fishes out of Chokoloskee Island on the northwest side of the park and typically goes after snook and redfish in park waters along Gulf beaches and islands.

With the park shut down, Sanders headed 30-plus miles into the Gulf so his clients could fish for snapper and grouper. Fortunately, he had good weather that allowed him to make the long run in his 24-foot bay boat. Even better, the fish were biting – so good, in fact, that after park waters reopened, he still made the trek into the Gulf.

Sanders said that some guides still fished in the park during the closure because of economic necessity.

“I talked to a few of them,” he said. “They said, ‘The park’s not going to pay my mortgage for me, and the park’s not going to pay my bills for me,’ so they went fishing. This was not a lot of days, it was a few days. Those days they never saw anybody.”

Sullivan said he, too, was fortunate. He said he lost about four trips. He could have lost more, but he was able to talk his clients into fishing at night for tarpon and snook in Biscayne Bay in Miami.

Guides in the Keys either had to cancel trips for snook, redfish and tarpon in the park or, like Sanders, make a long run into the Gulf of Mexico or fish shallow reefs in the Atlantic Ocean for Spanish mackerel, snapper and grouper.

As soon as they were allowed back in the park, guides out of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada reported great fishing for snook and tarpon, according to marina owner Richard Stanczyk.

Stanczyk did note that the timing of the shutdown was good because early October is a slow time of year for business.

“Out of our 24 guides, only six were fishing,” said Stanczyk, who added that all of his marina’s guides obeyed the rules and stayed out of the park. “None of them lost any trips, but there were people who didn’t book trips because of the closure.”

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Join the TRCP in Shaping a Future for Conservation

Every day, hunters and anglers see wetlands drained and buffer strips bulldozed – and valuable acres once enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program plowed into corn fields. Guides cancel hunts with their clients because there are so few birds – and the habitat needed to support them is quickly disappearing. 

Click here to see how you can help.

Read John’s story and support the TRCP’s efforts to mobilize leaders and get a full Farm Bill through Congress.

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posted in: General

October 30, 2013

TAKE ACTION! Tell the EPA to Protect Aquatic Habitat Based on the Best Science

The Clean Water Act is undoubtedly one of our nation’s most successful and important environmental laws. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Many sportsmen may not realize it, but we are on the cusp of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore protections to our most cherished hunting and fishing areas.

That is because the federal government is taking steps now that will decide which bodies of water will be protected by standards set by the Clean Water Act.

But the waters most important to sportsmen won’t benefit from this effort unless you take action and speak up now.

The Clean Water Act is undoubtedly one of our nation’s most successful and important environmental laws. In the 41 years the modern Clean Water Act has been in existence, it has transformed many of our lakes and rivers from toxic dumping grounds into vibrant fish and wildlife habitat, sources of drinking water and commercial and recreational hotspots.

However, there has long been a debate about which bodies of water Congress intended to cover with the Clean Water Act. Was it everything that is wet in America or only the largest interstate rivers? (Most reasonable people agree it’s somewhere in the middle, but where exactly do you draw the line?) A couple of Supreme Court decisions in the 2000s confused rather than clarified this debate, but the most recent decision pointed to a solution.

In a 2006 Supreme Court decision, Justice Kennedy established the significant nexus test for determining which waters should receive Clean Water Act protections. He said that waters deserve federal protection if they “either alone or in combination with similarly situated lands in the region, significantly affect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of the larger bodies of water that everyone agrees should be covered by the Clean Water Act. To figure out the answer to this test, however, you first have to know how wetlands, headwater streams and other small water bodies are connected chemically, physically and biologically to larger, downstream water bodies.

So the Environmental Protection Agency brought together their best scientists, and they compiled and reviewed more than 1,000 of the best peer-reviewed scientific papers on hydrologic connectivity. The draft report summarizing their results, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, will inform future decisions the federal government makes about Clean Water Act jurisdiction. An independent panel of scientists is currently reviewing the draft report, and that’s where you come in.

The EPA is taking comments related to the report from the public now. Comments received by Nov. 6 will be considered by the independent review panel when it meets in December. Once the independent review is complete and public comments are incorporated, the EPA will finalize the report and use it to decide how to apply the Clean Water Act. Those decisions will be open for public input and scrutiny starting in early 2014 and will shape Clean Water Act protections for a long time to come.

It’s critical that sportsmen make their voices heard, because hunters and anglers understand the value of these resources like no one else.

Tell the EPA you support actions that protect wetlands and headwater streams based on the best available science.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

SCRAPE TOGETHER A FEW BUCKS FOR CONSERVATION

Without the efforts of hunters and anglers, whitetails wouldn’t be a part of the modern American landscape. But we can’t stop there. Support our work to represent all sportsmen in Washington.

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