Chris Macaluso

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posted in: General

August 27, 2015

Ten Years After Katrina: Are We Still Waiting to Safeguard Our Coastline?

My dad and I spent the morning of August 28, 2005, tacking up plywood to cover the windows of his house in Baton Rouge. It’s a routine part of preparing for any hurricane, the same way you look for anything the wind can turn into a missile and take it inside.

Image courtesy of NOAA.

Dad lived through Hurricanes Betsy and Camille in New Orleans in the 1960s, and we both watched Hurricane Andrew churn and chew through central Louisiana in 1992. We both suspected Katrina would be worse.

All that work readying the house seemed a waste the next day, when Katrina’s winds pushed an 80-foot-tall oak tree right across the roof, allowing torrents of rain to pour in. The feelings of grief, disgust, and helplessness at the sight of that destruction were nothing compared to what my dad felt when he stepped out of a boat onto the roof of my grandmother’s house in New Orleans four days later.

Thankfully my grandmother was safe. Far too many were not. She never returned to the house my grandfather built. It was just a mile or so from Lake Pontchartrain and a couple blocks from the London Avenue Canal. Like other homes on Pasteur Boulevard and all across New Orleans, her house remains empty a decade later, still wearing the watermarks imprinted upon the bricks and stucco, a reminder of the failed federal levee system that turned the city into Lake Pontchartrain’s backwater.

Nearly everyone in south Louisiana and Mississippi has a Katrina story. If they don’t, they have a story about Rita, the oft forgotten storm that brought wind and surge equal to Katrina’s into southwest Louisiana just a month later. I didn’t lose my house. Many of my family members lost their homes, and the memories and possessions that went with them, but they didn’t lose their lives. The struggles of living in Baton Rouge, where the population swelled by 100,000 overnight, even without electricity, paled in comparison to what was unfolding in New Orleans, Lafitte, St. Bernard Parish, Slidell, and Biloxi.

The very least that my roommate and I could do to help was to welcome strangers into our home for a couple of nights. So, we hosted a father and young son who had nowhere else to go. We delivered food and clothes to shelters and helped elderly neighbors clean debris from their yards. We did anything we could to help in a time of such overwhelming helplessness.

Fishing is never far from my mind, but it was hard to even envision the pleasure of heading to the coast amid such chaos. The reality was that places I had fished just days before the storm made landfall, like Grand Isle, Shell Beach, Slidell and Lafitte, were flattened. Roads were broken to pieces, covered in boats, houses, trees, and anything else the storm shook loose. No tackle shops were open. No marinas. Camps and houses were ripped apart. Grocery stores and gas stations had been pushed off their foundations. Bridges were completely washed out.

Friends who made their living as fishing guides lost their businesses overnight. Other friends who sold live bait and owned boat launches had nothing left but the slabs their bait tanks once rested on. Bayous and canals were choked with debris and sediment, making many impassable.

My first post-Katrina fishing trip was in mid-October to Lake Pontchartrain. The fishing was pretty good, despite fears that floodwaters draining and being pumped into the lake would suck the oxygen from the water. The fishing was unremarkable compared to how awestruck I was by the destruction of literally every camp and house along the lake’s northern and eastern shorelines. It was living embodiment of the cliché term—“war zone”—that reporters used to describe everything, almost casually and nauseatingly, in the weeks since the storm. It was absolute destruction on a scale I had never seen. A dozen or more sailboat masts broke the lake’s surface, while the boats themselves rested 14 feet below, and root balls of a half-dozen pine trees were driven top-down, like nails, into the Pontchartrain’s sand and mud bottom.

Image courtesy of NOAA.

In the 10 years since Katrina and Rita, communities have been rebuilt, some smaller but smarter, with homes elevated and constructed to better weather the next big storm. Marinas, boat launches, tackle shops, and gas stations—some of which had to be rebuilt again after Gastav, Ike, and Isaac pounded and swamped our coast over the last seven years—are back and bustling.

Those who rebuilt their homes, communities, and businesses in Katrina’s wake generally aren’t interested in the press conferences, commemorative speeches, and hour-long TV retrospectives on the 10 years that have passed. Those spectacles help only if they come with a renewed and unyielding commitment to continue to fix the failures that occurred at every level and led to Katrina and Rita’s destruction.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was rightly ashamed in admitting that its levees failed. Lawmakers had no choice but to commit the funds needed to fix those mistakes, because many of them shared in that shame. But culpability and urgency is still lacking in addressing the policies that have led to the loss of nearly 2,000 acres of wetlands which once helped to shield Louisiana’s communities from devastating storm surges. Chief among those policies is one that does not permit the lower Mississippi’s waters and sediment to feed and sustain its delta’s swamps and marshes.

Louisiana has developed a coastal restoration and hurricane protection master plan since Katrina and Rita, and there is an agency to ensure the plan’s implementation. The state has eliminated many of the divisive bureaucratic processes that often had levee-building and coastal restoration agencies at odds, competing for the same small pools of funding. With those impediments put aside, the state has admirably advanced science-based projects and initiatives that recognize the value of multiple lines of defense, including the vital role of wetlands, barrier islands, and natural ridges, in ensuring the integrity of levee systems and the safety of our citizens. But, the diversion of sediment back into a delta that’s wasting away from sediment starvation, a large-scale restoration of the delta’s ecosystem, has yet to be addressed. Some politicians have even suggested diversions not be built at all, bowing to pressure from constituents who insist the move will cripple fisheries and that compromises can be made.

As painful as it is for Gulf residents to be reminded of Katrina’s toll this August, hopefully those reminders reinforce our resolve. Hurricanes don’t take pity on us for poor policies and bureaucratic morass. They don’t stop threatening while politicians sort through their priorities. And, as Louisianans have seen three times since Katrina and Rita, storms continue to bring devastation while we wait to protect our communities and restore our wetlands.

There is no such thing as compromise when it comes to restoring our coast, unless we’re ready to accept that the next Katrina could take this coast from us completely.

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Geoff Mullins

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posted in: General

August 26, 2015

Why Fisheries Management Needs an Upgrade to Serve the Modern Angler

“Hope burns always in the heart of a fisherman.” —Zane Grey

While the hearts of fishermen may not have changed much since 1919, when Grey wrote that, a lot about saltwater recreational fishing certainly has changed over the years. Today, saltwater anglers can go farther and faster in bigger boats with more advanced engines. Sophisticated electronics and navigation help put us on fish quicker and more reliably.

With these changes comes the need to modernize our federal fisheries management laws, especially considering that the hope of catching “the big one”—a timeless ambition—drives 11 million recreational anglers to get out on salt waters and contribute $70 billion in economic activity each year.

Participants in the Kenai Classic Roundtable with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Image courtesy of Fitzgerald Photography.

That’s why I was proud to participate in the Kenai River Classic Roundtable in Soldotna, Alaska, last week. Organized by Yamaha and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, the roundtable convened the who’s who of conservation leaders in saltwater recreational fishing—including the American Sportfishing Association, Center for Coastal Conservation, Coastal Conservation Association, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association—to talk about the long-term future of our sport, our economy, and the marine fisheries resources that support them.

We talked about where things stand today, including the real conservation and management challenges that saltwater anglers face, and presented our positive unified vision for where we need to go as a community in order to address these challenges.

Image courtesy of Fitzgerald Photography.

First and foremost, we need a new Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) reauthorization—one that reflects and respects the true economic and conservation values of saltwater recreational fishing—to modernize our fisheries laws. Over the years, MSA has been successful at doing what it was designed to do best:  manage commercial fisheries, Americanize our commercial fleets, and end overfishing. Given the far greater economic impact now provided by recreational anglers, changes must be made in order to manage fisheries effectively and fairly. To ensure a bright future for our marine fisheries and natural resources, we must encourage a management system that provides access and opportunity to more recreational anglers.

American sportsmen are the original stewards and financiers of good conservation: As a group, we contribute $1.5 billion annually through excise taxes, fishing license sales, and direct donations. That is a tradition that we should all take pride in, and it’s also a tradition that will be critical to the future of sportfishing.

We want more anglers on the water for economic reasons, but we actually need more anglers on the water for conservation reasons.

Click here for full-length video of the Classic Roundtable.

To read more about our community’s vision for the future of saltwater recreational fishing, click here.

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posted in: General

August 19, 2015

Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access: Upper St. Joe and North Fork of Clearwater River

In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds. This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.

A big game hunter’s bucket list might include a trip to the slopes of Alaska’s Brooks Range for Dall sheep or an excursion deep into the southwestern desert for beautiful little Coues deer. But, one thing is certain: That list will hold a hunt for big bull elk, and there is no better place to do that than on high-country public lands in Colorado.

In Part Five of our series, we head to north-central Idaho.

The narrow trail unfolds before you, cut into a steep side of a hill descending to the creek-bottom, where you can see cutthroats rising in the long green pools. The trail goes on and on, and there’s still a trace of last winter’s snow on the ridge far above you.

This is Kelly Creek, in north-central Idaho, above the North Fork of the Clearwater River. Here, you’ll find backcountry bear, wolf, and elk hunting, fishing for big West-slope cutthroat trout, and freedom—to make camp where night finds you and wake in the morning to wander again.

Image courtesy of Joel Webster.

If you want to car camp and fish, head for the St. Joe River above Avery or the North Fork of the Clearwater out of Pierce. There are dozens of campgrounds and a maze of logging roads to take you up high, where the huckleberries grow in thickets. You could spend a lifetime hunting and fishing here and not see it all, and many people do just that. Every tumbling tributary has wild trout, forest grouse, and game trails leading to other worlds of shadowed glens and big timber.

Nothing cuts this reverie short like the knowledge that the Idaho legislature has been front and center in demanding the transfer of these, and the rest of the 34 million acres of federal public lands in Idaho, from the federal government to the state. The issue has been hotly debated by Idaho residents, because state management of these lands could result in their sale to private interests, just as it did when timber companies began selling off their lands in this area a decade ago. Private ownership of what is now federal land would impact access to lakes and hunting country on which locals – and visitors – have depended for generations.

Image courtesy of Joel Webster.

With its lush forests and excellent, accessible hunting and fishing, the Upper St. Joe contains some of the most desirable real estate in the West. For long-term and big picture investors, the value lies in the area’s water resources—including Kelly Creek, the waterway makes up more than a quarter of the Clearwater River watershed. Those with interests in this area and others were particularly active during the 2015 Idaho legislative session, and four different bills were proposed that would rob Americans of their outdoor heritage. Fortunately, sportsmen worked even harder than the land grabbers, rallying at the Capitol and generating countless newspaper articles and meeting with legislators. Because of their actions, all proposed land transfer bills died in the 2015 Idaho legislature. But sportsmen must remain diligent as it is almost certain that land seizure advocates will make another run at taking your public lands.

When President Theodore Roosevelt created the Clearwater National Forest in July of 1908, he knew exactly what he was doing. The only question now is whether Americans have the will to carry on one of the world’s great legacies of publicly-accessible hunting, fishing, and camping, or whether we will let it disappear in a haze of bad ideas and short-term greed.

Here are three ways you can support sportsmen’s access on public lands. 

Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.

Ed Arnett

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posted in: General

August 18, 2015

On a Texas Crane Hunt with MeatEater’s Steven Rinella

Image courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Last December, I had the opportunity to join Steven Rinella, the host of the popular Sportsman Channel show MeatEater, for a sandhill crane hunt in Texas. I’d connected with Rinella at a few TRCP events and learned that he’d never hunted or eaten cranes, so I invited him to join me and biologist Mike Panasci, a Texas Tech University Ph.D. student I got to know as an adjunct professor. Rinella’s longtime friend Ronnie Boehme rounded out our group. Rinella’s been a great supporter of the TRCP and conservation, but besides that, he is my kind of hunter.  I knew he’d appreciate the experience of hunting and tasting cranes for the first time.

Panasci did all the nitty gritty work of lining up lands to hunt on and making our “stuffer” decoys – skinned birds filled with wood and Styrofoam that draw other cranes toward our positions. He and another friend, Jon McRoberts, were responsible for exposing me to crane hunting after I joined the faculty at Texas Tech in 2009, and we’ve hunted together every year since. Hunting cranes is a lot like hunting geese: It’s all about scouting and patterning the birds, setting up the decoys just right, then hiding well in blinds and natural cover, and letting the birds work into the spread—when they cooperate, of course.

Image courtesy of Ed Arnett.

We had a few struggles on the front end of the hunt, as we quickly learned that hiding a couple of guys from wary cranes is pretty easy, but hiding three cameramen and four hunters is a bit more challenging. After testing a couple of setups and finding a prime location with better cover, we actually had a really successful hunt, as you’ll see in the resulting episode of MeatEater. We even bagged a rare banded bird—you’ll have to tune in to learn more about where that bird has been.

The Texas crane hunt airs on MeatEater this Thursday, August 20 at 8 p.m. on the Sportsman Channel.

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posted in: General

August 17, 2015

USDA’s Big (Ahem, $20M) Investment in Wildlife Habitat and Public Access

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started the week on a high note by announcing its $20-million dollar investment in giving you better access to hunting and fishing. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack shared the 15 projects that will receive funding under the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) “to enhance wildlife habitat, protect wildlife species, and encourage new opportunities for local businesses.”

Created in the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized in 2014, VPA-HIP awards money to states to expand or create public access for hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent outdoor recreation. The program offers financial incentives and reduces liability concerns for landowners who allow sportsmen to access their property, while also providing technical support for wildlife habitat improvement. Among the VPA projects selected this year are first-time awardees Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Oklahoma. These four new states bring the total impact of this program to three-fifths of the country, where deer, turkeys, ducks, and other wildlife will benefit.

Image courtesy of Cyrus Baird.

This will be the last round of VPA-HIP funding under the 2014 Farm Bill, under which $40 million was authorized for this program through 2018. That’s just a drop in the $956-billion Farm-Bill-bucket, but VPA is the only federal program aimed at enhancing public access to private lands for hunting and angling, making this $40 million extremely important.

Especially since more and more sportsmen and women are faced with fences, no-trespassing signs, or hefty access fees rather than publicly-accessible woods and waters. Lack of access is the greatest barrier to hunter and angler participation, recruitment, and retention, so access to privately-owned farms, ranches, and forests has become even more vital to the future of our uniquely American outdoor traditions. By helping landowners open new access, this program is breathing life into the hunting and angling community.

And our community shows up with our wallets: We spend $646 billion each year on our outdoor pursuits and support 6.1 million jobs directly related to publicly-accessible waters, prairies, forests, and mountains. And thanks to the sportsmen and women who buy hunting and fishing licenses and pay excise taxes on guns and ammo, our state fish and wildlife agencies receive dedicated conservation funding that improves habitat for game and non-game species alike.

Those are some serious dividends.

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.

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