Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

April 22, 2015

Big decision for a small gamebird

As 11 Western states anxiously await the end of September, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to list the range-wide population of greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), good news has emerged from Nevada and California. Today, the agency determined that a smaller population of the majestic western gamebird isolated to these two states was not warranted for listing under the ESA, indicating that, with concerted conservation efforts, a federal listing may be avoided.

Image courtesy of Jeannie Stafford/USFWS.

The decision comes after months of proactively planning a combination of regulatory and voluntary measures on federal, state, and private land to assure the birds’ future. “Today’s decision is great news for this population of sage-grouse and all the stakeholders who rolled up their sleeves and demonstrated that the states can work with the federal government to achieve a positive outcome,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We’re poised to get the same result for the remaining populations of sage-grouse, if we stay the course and don’t back away from strong conservation efforts that will benefit allsagebrush-dependent species.”

The Service must decide whether to list the broader, range-wide population by September 30, 2015. Sagebrush ecosystems that support sage-grouse are also critically important to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including mule deer, pronghorns, and elk.

“The same regulatory assurances and proactive voluntary measures that have helped prevent the listing of this bi-state population are exactly what we need in the rest of the sage-grouse’s range,” says Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Ultimately, the decision to list the range-wide population will end up in a federal court, and unless the state and BLM plans and assurances can be defended by the Service, a judge may rule that the sage-grouse must be listed,” Williams adds.

Nearly half of the nation’s remaining sagebrush habitat lies on federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and conservation measures in that agency’s new resource management plans will likely carry a lot of weight in the September 2015 decision. Private and state lands, however, are also vital to the birds’ future, and the ESA listing decision will hinge on strong state conservation plans.

“Governors simply cannot take their foot off the gas now,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “They must finalize solid plans for their states and support federal plans in order to avoid a listing later this fall. We need their leadership to embrace change, conservation, and a newly defined future for sagebrush ecosystems.”

Policy makers in Washington enacted a rider in the recently passed budget bill stating that FWS cannot “write or issue” listing rules for four grouse species, and new bills are being developed to propose delaying a listing decision by 6 to 10 years. “Politicians seeking to drag out the September 2015 deadline for listing greater sage-grouse were sent a strong message today—putting in the hard work now will pay off in the long run,” says Fosburgh. “The necessary assurances for state and federal plans don’t require 6 to 10 years to result in a positive outcome. By buckling down, stakeholders in California and Nevada have shown us a path forward for the rest of the western states.”

2 Responses to “Big decision for a small gamebird”

  1. Glenn Hockett

    The Best Available Science does not support your arguments above. Despite all the money, government-industry collaboration and political grandstanding – How’s the bird doing? Not so good – See Garton et al 2015 – abstract pasted below.

    Greater Sage-Grouse Population Dynamics and Probability of Persistence
    Final Report to Pew Charitable Trusts 18 March 2015
    Edward O. Garton, Adam G. Wells, Jeremy A. Baumgardt and John W. Connelly

    Abstract. We updated our earlier comprehensive analysis of Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) population dynamics and probability of persistence from 1965 to 2007 throughout the species range by accumulating and analyzing additional counts of males from 2008 to 2013. A total of 89,749 counts were conducted by biologists and volunteers at 10,060 leks from 1965 through 2013 in 11 states occupied by Greater Sage-Grouse. In spite of survey effort increasing substantially (12.6%) between 2007 and 2013, the reconstructed estimate for minimum number of breeding males in the population, using standard approximations for missing values from
    Colorado, fell by 56% from109,990 breeding males in 2007 to 48,641 breeding males in 2013. The best model of annual rates of change of populations estimated across the Sage-Grouse Management Zones was a stochastic density dependent Gompertz model with 1-year time lags and declining carrying capacities through time. Weighted mean estimates of carrying capacity for the minimum number of males counted at leks for the entire range-wide distribution, excepting Colorado, were 40,505 (SE 6,444) in 2013 declining to 19,517 (SE 3,269) in 30 years and 8,154 (SE 1,704) in 100 years. Starting with the estimated abundance of males counted at leks in 2007 a simple effort to evaluate the validity of future forecasts of abundance was conducted by forecasting abundance in 2013 from Gompertz density dependent models with 1-year time lag and declining carrying capacity models of 6 of the 7 management zone populations. Estimated mean abundance in 2013 predicted 97.8% of the variation in true abundance in management zones. Concerted efforts across both public and private land ownerships that are intended to benefit Greater Sage-Grouse show little current evidence of success but more will be required to stabilize these declining populations and ensure their continued persistence in the face of ongoing development and habitat modification in the broad sagebrush region of western North America.
    _____________________________________________________________________________
    1
    Emeritus Professor, University of Idaho, Moscow; 2 Washington State University, Vancouver; 3 Texas A&M
    University, Kingsville; 4 Retired Research Scientist, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Blackfoot

  2. Ken Miracle

    I celebrated this decision here in Idaho with a “show me” trip to a sage grouse lek with the endangered species coordinator for the Idaho Department of Lands. Then the next day with a field trip review of juniper control projects past and current and proposed followed by a meeting of the Owyhee County Local Working group made up of State and Federal agency employees, ranchers, hunters, conservation groups etc.. Where we discussed this decision and heard reports of this years sage grouse lek surveys which in general showed numbers up 30% on average. We had good nesting success in 2014. The Garton report cited above used 2013 data which is appearing to be a low point of the cycle in our part of Idaho, N Nevada and E. Oregon where west nile had a significant impact on our Sage Grouse populations. I think that Kristyn’s article is dead on and that the some of the best “current”, 2014, and 2015 not 2013, science does support that our efforts and habitat conservation and restoration is working and we can not stop now. Our most effective efforts on private land and state lands has been to restore and expand wet meadow brood rearing habitat which has been severely impacted by years of fire control that was somewhat wrong minded and let junipers move down out to their rocky high strongholds to invade meadows. The current dry cycle has shown the critical need for these areas for brood rearing during the hot summer and early fall months. Thanks for the update Kristyn.

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Snapshot of Success: Toledo, Ohio

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Here is lesson eight from Toledo, Ohio:

Healthy Water from Healthy Wetlands: Howard Farms Ohio Coastal Restoration Project

It’s ambitious, but we know this is 100% doable and will have fantastic benefits.

Image courtesy of USACE.

Mistakes of the past reached a boiling point in the summer of 2014 in Toledo, Ohio, where residents were warned against drinking and even bathing in local tap water.

Bright green algae bloomed across Lake Erie, fed by phosphorous- and nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff—causing extremely high levels of microcystin (which can damage the liver) in the water supply. Toxins in the water supply were so bad that fish were dying.

The incident highlights the importance of the Howard Farms Coastal Restoration Project, which is transforming nearly 1,000 acres of farmland along Lake Erie back into its original wetland habitat. The efforts will result in restoring a natural filter for polluted water.

The Challenge

More than 75 years ago, in an effort to cultivate new cropland, the Howard Farms property was drained, ditched, and disconnected from Lake Erie by levees.

As a result, twenty-eight species of fish could no longer spawn there, an important creek channel disappeared, and hundreds of acres of wetland habitat vanished along with their natural ability to cleanse water before it reached Lake Erie.

The Solution

To tackle the problem, Ducks Unlimited and local stakeholders turned to grant funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to restore the property back to its former wetland habitat. Metroparks of the Toledo Area (the local parks agency) previously had bought Howard Farms with the idea of restoring habitat and transforming the agricultural land into a world-class metropark.

What Will Restoration Look Like?

Image courtesy of Russ Terry, Ducks Unlimited.

The project will hydrologically reconnect the property to Lake Erie and restore several hundred acres of coastal emergent wetlands and nearly 7,500 feet of the historic Cedar Creek riverbed. The 28 species of fish now suffering from habitat loss will soon benefit from the restoration, which will make it possible for them to once again migrate from Lake Erie into the wetlands for spawning.

A key part of this project will be installing boardwalks around the land, opening up the wetlands to hunting, fishing and birding. The Toledo area is one of the most popular birding spots in the country, and the Howard Farms restoration project will bring back new opportunity for birders across the country.

What’s Next?

The project’s $2.8 million in grants from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will be pooled with $1 million from the Ohio Division of Wildlife and an additional $5 million from Metroparks. The plan is to finish designs and hire contractors in early 2015. Habitat restoration and installation of the recreational use amenities will run into 2016.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

Big decision for a small gamebird

As 11 Western states anxiously await the end of September, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to list the range-wide population of greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), good news has emerged from Nevada and California. Today, the agency determined that a smaller population of the majestic western gamebird isolated to these two states was not warranted for listing under the ESA, indicating that, with concerted conservation efforts, a federal listing may be avoided.

Image courtesy of Jeannie Stafford/USFWS.

The decision comes after months of proactively planning a combination of regulatory and voluntary measures on federal, state, and private land to assure the birds’ future. “Today’s decision is great news for this population of sage-grouse and all the stakeholders who rolled up their sleeves and demonstrated that the states can work with the federal government to achieve a positive outcome,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We’re poised to get the same result for the remaining populations of sage-grouse, if we stay the course and don’t back away from strong conservation efforts that will benefit allsagebrush-dependent species.”

The Service must decide whether to list the broader, range-wide population by September 30, 2015. Sagebrush ecosystems that support sage-grouse are also critically important to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including mule deer, pronghorns, and elk.

“The same regulatory assurances and proactive voluntary measures that have helped prevent the listing of this bi-state population are exactly what we need in the rest of the sage-grouse’s range,” says Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Ultimately, the decision to list the range-wide population will end up in a federal court, and unless the state and BLM plans and assurances can be defended by the Service, a judge may rule that the sage-grouse must be listed,” Williams adds.

Nearly half of the nation’s remaining sagebrush habitat lies on federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and conservation measures in that agency’s new resource management plans will likely carry a lot of weight in the September 2015 decision. Private and state lands, however, are also vital to the birds’ future, and the ESA listing decision will hinge on strong state conservation plans.

“Governors simply cannot take their foot off the gas now,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “They must finalize solid plans for their states and support federal plans in order to avoid a listing later this fall. We need their leadership to embrace change, conservation, and a newly defined future for sagebrush ecosystems.”

Policy makers in Washington enacted a rider in the recently passed budget bill stating that FWS cannot “write or issue” listing rules for four grouse species, and new bills are being developed to propose delaying a listing decision by 6 to 10 years. “Politicians seeking to drag out the September 2015 deadline for listing greater sage-grouse were sent a strong message today—putting in the hard work now will pay off in the long run,” says Fosburgh. “The necessary assurances for state and federal plans don’t require 6 to 10 years to result in a positive outcome. By buckling down, stakeholders in California and Nevada have shown us a path forward for the rest of the western states.”

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posted in: General

April 21, 2015

Snapshot of Success: Syracuse, New York

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Here is lesson seven from Syracuse, New York:

“Freaks” Breathe New Life Into Beartrap Creek: The Beartrap Creek Restoration Project

Image courtesy of Central New York Chapter of Izaak Walton League.

It all started 25 years ago when retired chemist Les Monostory discovered an unusual problem in Syracuse’s Beartrap Creek. While testing water as a volunteer with the Central New York Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, Monostory found extreme levels of chemical glycol in the water. The glycol depleted the water’s oxygen and suffocated fish. In fact, the water quality was so bad only bacteria could survive. After months of regular testing, Monostory traced the glycol contamination to de-icing fluid runoff from the nearby Syracuse Hancock International Airport.

Monostory’s discovery turned into a passion to clean up the filthy Beartrap Creek, a critical tributary to Lake Onondaga that formerly supported a healthy trout population.
“It’s not just a matter of cleaning up an eyesore in our community, it’s a matter of doing our part to clean the river in order for fish to survive and use it,” Monostory says. “That’s our responsibility and we’re proud to live up to it.”
Image courtesy of Central New York Chapter of Izaak Walton League.

Joined by volunteers of self-described “creek freaks” and armed with federal grant funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Izaak Walton League created the Beartrap Creek Restoration Project. Volunteers from the local Izaak Walton Chapter decided to adopt Beartrap Creek as their primary stream restoration project, and cleaned out trash and debris by enlisting support fromlocal town and county officials.

What Happened

Monostory’s discovery forced Hancock International Airport to install a facility to treat de-icing fluid runoff onsite. Still not satisfied with cleanup efforts, Monostory and his fellow Creek Freaks went to work rehabilitating the creek and its water. They stopped local snowplows from their practice of shoving dirty piles of snow into the creek, which littered the area with debris. They got volunteers with heavy equipment to rebuild entire sections of the creek bottom and trout spawning beds. Today, brown trout are migrating to Onondaga Lake through Beartrap Creek for the first time in more than two decades.

What’s Next

The local Izaak Walton League plans to use what’s left of its original federal grant to begin the second phase of the project in the summer of 2015. This phase will add additional habitat improvement structures along the lower Mattydale section of Beartrap Creek.

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April 20, 2015

Snapshot of Success: Cascade County, Montana

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Here is lesson six from Cascade County, Montana:

Building Trust With a Smart Solution in Montana: Improving Fort Shaw Irrigation District Water Efficiency

Image courtesy of Sun River Watershed Group.

The most valuabletreasureinthe famed Treasure State doesn’t come from any mine.

“Water is liquid gold,” says Laura Ziemer of Trout Unlimited in Montana. “It’s a scarce resource we cannot live without, and we overcame our disagreements to protect it.”

Ziemer is referring to a unique partnership that uses federal WaterSMART dollars to rehabilitate irrigation infrastructure and water use along the Sun River.

The Challenge

For years, agricultural pollution and erosion along the Sun River bred animosity and mistrust among local landowners, irrigators and ranchers. As tensions neared a tipping point, stakeholders instead turned their attention away from each other and toward a much more formidable enemy: water scarcity.

Image courtesy of Sun River Watershed Group.

The new partnership to improve water usage along the Sun River began as the Muddy Creek Task Force. Members took on the challenge of restoring the polluted Muddy Creek, which dumped millions of tons of sediment into the Sun River. The Task Force eventually became the Sun River Watershed Group, a group of locals who laid the foundation for dealing with water rights issues, improving fish habitat and restoring water flow. Today, the Sun River Watershed Group provides an open forum to discuss conservation, resources and information about land management and voluntary conservation projects.

With funding from the WaterSMART program and the Coca-Cola Company, Trout Unlimited and local ranchers and landowners worked together to successfully rebuild irrigation systems, increasing water flow and restoring native fish habitat in the Sun River.

How It Worked

Two WaterSMART grants awarded in 2012 and 2013, combined with state, local and private funding and in-kind contributions, funded the program to improve habitat for wild trout and improve irrigation—especially during times of drought. The grants helped pay for:

  • A new bypass canal and pipe for water delivery
  • 2,000 feet of new lined canal and 2,310 feet of PVC pipe
  • Efficient new center-pivot irrigation systems
As a result, almost 10,000 acre-feet of conserved irrigation water will be protected and managed each year to restore flows to the Sun River for the life of the project.

What’s Next

Project leaders hope the Sun River project will serve a model for the restoration of other river basins. The significant size of the project, which involved 177 individual users, will be used as a template for even larger multi-user areas.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

Learn More
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