Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

January 14, 2016

Private Land Conservation Keeps Turkey Habitat from Getting Gobbled Up

Why CRP works for wild turkeys, farmers, and sportsmen

Image courtesy of Pheasants Forever.

The national Conservation Reserve Program is 30! The CRP was signed into law by President Reagan as part of the Farm Bill on December 23, 1985, to help agricultural producers to voluntarily conserve soil, water, and wildlife. The TRCP and our partners are celebrating the 30th anniversary of CRP throughout 2016, by highlighting the successes of this popular bipartisan program—regarded by many as the greatest private lands conservation initiative in U.S. history. Here on our blog, we’re devoting a series of posts to the critters that have seen tremendous habitat benefits: upland birds, wild turkeys, waterfowl, and freshwater fish. CRP works for wildlife, and it works for sportsmen.

Many readers will be familiar with the phenomenal comeback of the wild turkey in America, but considering how prevalent these big birds are in some parts of the country today, some may be shocked to learn that turkeys were widely extirpated by the beginning of the 20th century. While no one conservation innovation is responsible for the wild turkey’s rebound, the Conservation Reserve Program continues to ensure that a profound amount of turkey habitat is not lost or converted to crops.

Talking Turkey Restoration

According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, wild turkey populations began to shrink not long after the first Europeans arrived in North America. Native wild turkeys (of which there are five distinct subspecies) were an important source of food for a growing population of settlers, who hunted the birds year-round without regulation. Meanwhile, vast northern forests were being cleared for agriculture, industry, and other societal needs. As a result, by 1920 the wild turkey had all but disappeared from 18 of the 39 states in its historic range, and by the 1930s the continental population was estimated at fewer than 30,000 birds—found only in the most rugged and inaccessible environments.

Want more info? Watch Steven Rinella discuss the History of the American Wild Turkey.

Thankfully, early conservation laws—such as the 1905 Lacey Act and the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act—and the creation of our National Forest System resulted in the slow restoration of the landscape, and wild turkey populations increased substantially as a result. Successful trap-and-transplant programs were launched mid-century to help accelerate population growth, which reached a high of nearly 7 million wild turkeys across North America. Today, wild turkeys are found in every U.S. state except Alaska and, including populations in Canada and Mexico, the game bird now occupies more miles of habitat than any other in North America.

Still, Threats Exist

NWTF estimates that 6,000 acres of wild turkey habitat is lost each day to the development of roads, homes, and industrial agriculture, and the overall population has shrunk from 7 million to about 6.2 million birds in recent years. While there are other downward pressures on wild turkey populations (lack of rainfall in the West, severe winters up north, and even the widespread presence of feral hogs in the South), loss of turkey habitat, often due to poor farm and forest management, is the biggest threat to the gobbler’s success.

As we’ve explained before, rising prices for commodity crops, like corn, have motivated landowners to farm their old Conservation Reserve Program acreage and other marginal lands, in order to increase production. These marginal farmlands frequently include prime turkey habitat full of brushy cover and a variety of food sources. Once converted, a heavily-managed soybean field is no place to raise a brood.

Whereas today’s farmland is overly managed for production, forested land tends to be under managed for a turkey’s habitat needs: The amount of logging and thinning in many forests has decreased, which can result in a too-thick understory of young trees and invasive plants—once again, unsuitable habitat for turkey nesting, brooding, and roosting.

Wild turkey habitat is at risk not just because it’s disappearing by the acre—the acreage that does exist is frequently a victim of neglect.

CRP Can Help!

The home range of a wild turkey flock varies from 350 acres to more than 60,000 acres. Flocks need space to roam and a mixture of habitat components like fresh water, food, and diverse cover. In some areas of the country, it may seem impossible for one property to offer this much habitat, but landowners enrolling as few as 10 acres in CRP can provide crucial habitat support to wild turkeys. Just one component—like a CRP food plot—needs to be present on the land, as long as adjacent lands can address the others—water and cover. Even a few acres of CRP here and there, along stream beds, utility rights-of-way, or farm fields bordering forests, can help support habitat connectivity in fragmented rural areas.

In other parts of the country, where landowners are able to enroll vast parcels of land in the program, CRP has helped to convert large fields of production agriculture, like cotton in the Southeast, into bottomland timber forests or permanent native grasslands. These CRP areas make for excellent hunting grounds (with landowner permission, of course), especially when properly managed as part of a business plan. For instance, today, the commercial harvesting of southeastern CRP pine stands planted 20 years ago is increasing the value of those forests to wild turkeys.

Additionally, the slow-but-steady return of fire to CRP is a boon to turkeys and other wildlife. It has long been taboo to intentionally set fire to the landscape, even as part of a conservation management plan, but prescribed and rotational burning can clear downed trees from the forest understory, open the forest floor to promote new growth, control for invasive species, and help to diversify the number of native grasses, forbs, legumes, and shrubs on the ground. In many cases, landowners in CRP can receive cost-share funding to implement prescribed burns and other invaluable management practices.

As untouched native savannahs and forests give way to working landscapes, the importance of CRP to the wild turkey will continue to grow in importance. By enrolling in the program, landowners can help add habitat to the landscape and better manage their own private lands for wild turkeys, deer, and other game species.

‘Dead Turkeys Don’t Lie’

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find comprehensive, quantifiable data on the impacts of CRP for wild turkeys, but one wildlife biologist put it succinctly when he said, “I’m like the old fellow from East Texas, in that ‘I ain’t got no data, but I know what I’ve seen,’ and dead turkeys do not lie.” Here’s hoping that CRP continues to work for wild turkeys and wild turkey hunters, far into the future.

To read the other blogs in our series click here and here.

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Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

January 13, 2016

Another Vote, Another Veto: Congress Moves to Derail Protection for Smaller Streams and Wetlands (Again)

The latest attempt to strike down the Clean Water Rule would prevent protection of headwater streams and wetlands

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives took advantage of a rarely-used legislative process known as the Congressional Review Act to attempt to kill the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Rule, which clarifies Clean Water Act jurisdiction over headwater streams and wetlands. The Senate used the same expedited process to pass this joint resolution (S.J.Res.22) back in November 2015, so the bill now goes to the President, who has threatened to veto it. Sportsmen urge him to follow through on that threat.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Stumpf.

“Once again, Congress has proven that they’re way out of touch with sportsmen on clean water,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Rather than sending trout and salmon spawning areas and waterfowl nesting habitat back into regulatory confusion, hunters and anglers want to see the Clean Water Rule implemented, so we can leave a legacy of healthy waterways for the next generation of sportsmen and women, while preserving existing assurances for farmers, ranchers, and foresters.”

By passing this resolution, lawmakers are disregarding the views of nearly 900,000 Americans, who were vocal in their support of the Clean Water Rule during the public comment period, and 83 percent of hunters and anglers polled, who said they want the Clean Water Act to protect smaller streams and wetlands.

Earlier this week, the TRCP sent Congress a letter opposing S.J. Res. 22 on behalf of eight hunting and fishing groups. The letter says “the Clean Water Rule will translate directly to an improved bottom line for America’s outdoor industry,” which, in the sportfishing sector alone, accounts for 828,000 jobs, nearly $50 billion in annual retail sales, and an economic impact of about $115 billion a year.

Learn more about the Clean Water Rule here.

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posted in: General

Take Our Water Wheel of Fortune for a Spin

Interactive tool shows what is possible for water conservation with increased funding in 2016

In December, we wrote that Congress struck a spending deal that makes significant investments in conservation. While it doesn’t exactly amount to a big Powerball jackpot for sportsmen, this bill does begin to reverse a decades-long decline for funding that impacts fish and wildlife habitat.

We’ve updated this interactive water budget tool on our website, so you can get a full picture of how Congress plans to pay for water conservation, in particular, this year. But, if pie charts (even incredibly cool ones) aren’t your thing, here’s a breakdown of how spending on freshwater species, from public lands to private lands, will shape up in 2016—making your days on the water even better.

This Smart Water Program

The end-of-year spending bill extends the WaterSMART Grant Program, administered by the Bureau of Reclamation, and invests 15 percent more in the program than last year. That means more critical grants can go to locally-driven water conservation projects. Sportsmen have been asking for a bigger spend on WaterSMART and assurances that this successful program would not expire—and we got both.

A chunk of money that you won’t see reflected in our Sportsmen’s Water Budget has been earmarked for a response to Western drought, construction of fish passages, and other supplemental water conservation work. Congress has supplied this kind of funding to the Bureau of Reclamation every year since 2014, and this year $166 million—$100 million of which is for Western drought response—has been allocated. Reclamation must come up with a plan for how to spend this money by February 2016. If history is any guide, a significant chunk of the additional funds will go towards sportsmen’s needs: Last year, it was used to boost WaterSMART grant spending by 25 percent.

These Farm Bill Fundamentals

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s conservation funding was already set by the 2014 Farm Bill and depends on how many farmers sign up for conservation programs, Congress still had the power to cut these programs back. Thankfully, it did not cut the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), meaning it will still receive about $1.3 billion, which could go toward enrolling farm acres in efforts to increase irrigation efficiency or select crops right for local moisture conditions.

Unfortunately, Congress did cap funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) at $1.329 billion—that’s a loss of about $321 million that could have gone toward improving wetlands and other wildlife habitat. This has a domino effect on the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which helps award funds to projects that improve soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat, efficient use of water resources, and activities that otherwise support natural resources on private lands. It receives $100 million per year in base funding plus seven percent of the amounts made available for CSP, EQIP, and two other conservation programs. Therefore, the cut to EQIP will translate into a $22.5 million cut to RCPP.

But, overall, the combined effects of these funding changes at the Bureau of Reclamation and USDA mean there will be more money available this year for projects that restore fish and wildlife habitat, support agriculture, keep water in our rivers, and generally make water resources more resilient to drought, climate change, and increasing demand from a growing nation. That is all good news for sportsmen who need healthy waterways, which support the places where we love to hunt and fish.

No Dis-Chord on Clean Water

As any great jazz musician will tell you, sometimes the notes you don’t play matter as much as the ones that you do. Despite a strong push from lobbyists, Congress did not include a policy rider to block the Obama Administration’s clean water rule, which clarifies that Clean Water Act protections do indeed apply to 200,000 miles of headwater streams and certain wetlands to the benefit of trout, salmon, ducks, and other waterfowl.

The clean water rule is not out of the woods yet, so to speak (more on that later), but it appears that freshwater anglers and waterfowl hunters are starting out 2016 with some extra help from Congress.

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posted in: General

January 11, 2016

Glassing the Hill: January 11 – 15

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Both the Senate and the House will be in session this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

One takedown, one takeover, and (big surprise) another delay. On Wednesday, the House will vote on a resolution to invalidate the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, which, as you all know by now, will help improve protections for headwater streams and wetlands across the country. The House is expected to pass the resolution easily, but back in November a Senate vote on this resolution fell short of the majority needed to actually overturn the rulemaking. The rule has been temporarily blocked by the courts in the meantime.

Meanwhile, the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon, home to critical waterfowl habitat for much of the Pacific flyway, continues. In a press release last week, TRCP denounced the protest as “a profoundly un-American course of action” through which extremists are keeping us from our public lands. If you want to take legitimate action toward improving land management decisions, sign our petition against the wholesale transfer of federal public lands—a distraction that’s holding sportsmen back from our conservation goals.

And, once again, further discussion of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act has been postponed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as negotiations continue between EPW Republicans and Democrats. Ideally this package of important conservation provisions can (finally) move forward with bipartisan support before the end of this Congress.

On Tuesday at 9:00pm, tune in to President Obama’s final State of the Union address, where he’ll reportedly discuss goals for the country that go beyond his presidency. Also expected to make a cameo: a push for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a mention of his recent executive action on gun control.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

January 7, 2016

T.R.’s Greatest Quotes and More—Right in Your Pocket

Did you know that the TRCP is on Instagram? In fact, Wired to Hunt called us one of the 70 Instagram accounts all hunters should follow. And we’re bringing plenty of feathers, fins, and fur to your feed in 2016. Need your weekly dose of inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt? We’ll be posting great quotes about conservation, hunting, wildlife, and civic duty from T.R. and other thought leaders. We’ll also share images from the field and behind-the-scenes glimpses of our staffers making an impact on the Hill and on the ground in your state. And, of course, we’ll continue to repost your fantastic #publiclandsproud images and news from our partners.

Start following us @theTRCP.

Last day to wow @fishbitemedia with your big-game #PublicLandsProud pics!

A photo posted by TRCP (@thetrcp) on

 

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