Kristyn Brady

March 30, 2017

Everything Bass Anglers Need to Know About Water Quality

A panel of experts gathers at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic to illustrate the direct connection between clean water, stronger fisheries, and more action in your boat

The future of our fishing access and opportunity is directly tied to clean water and healthy habitat. But there are increasing concerns for bass anglers as water quality issues, like toxic algal blooms, arise across the U.S. This threatens not only our recreational fishing opportunities, but also the local economies that depend on sportsmen dollars.

That’s why we gathered reporters, fisheries experts, and policy leaders over the weekend at the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, hosted on Lake Conroe in Houston. Conroe itself is a recovered fishery—a public-private partnership allowed local volunteers to restore hundreds of acres of shoreline habitat that was critical to rebuilding stocks over the years. The fact that we were sitting ringside at one of the most exciting events of the bass tournament circuit, discussing collaborative conservation solutions like this, was fitting.

‘Algae Thick Enough for Critters to Walk On’

When it comes to water quality, explained panelist Bill Frazier, the conservation director for North Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation, many of our lakes and reservoirs have a “nebulous management problem” caused by a thing you can’t see with the naked eye. But in large quantities it manifests in a very serious way. “I’ve seen algae thick enough for critters to walk on,” said Frazier. Toxic algae gets a boost from nutrient input, and controlling nutrients depends on what’s upstream—so each case of rampant algae needs a customized solution.

Frazier understands this from his day job, testing and treating a municipal water supply, but it’s fairly complicated for the average angler. In the short term, algal blooms may shut down an entire fishery or only close a few access points. Fishermen may still see trophy-size bass come out of affected bodies of water and think the water quality issues don’t pose a serious threat.

TRCP’s Geoff Mullins leads the conservation panel at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.
Quality and Quantity Matter

Craig Bonds, the inland fisheries division director for Texas Parks & Wildlife, urged sportsmen not to ignore the problem. “Water quality and water quantity go hand in hand,” said Bonds. “If you combine water withdrawals with toxic algae conditions, that’s where you’ll see fisheries wither and die. Our way of life and the local economy will suffer.”

Bonds witnessed this when Texas experienced a major drought in 2011—a quarter of the lakes in the state had no fishing access at all and other water bodies had reduced access. Low water levels were not the only thing to blame. “Evaporation salts get concentrated and provide the perfect breeding conditions for toxic algae. This is exactly what led to a very memorable shutdown of Lake Texoma. Meanwhile, poor land-use practices are reducing the connectivity of rivers and important backwaters that lead to our reservoirs. That impacts fish production and access, too,” explained Bonds.

Reservoir Health and Wealth

Luckily, Bonds said management agencies across the country are shifting away from traditional approaches, like simply restocking the fishery after catastrophic events, and actually addressing the underlying habitat problems. Meanwhile, departments like his are increasingly focused on public-private partnerships. As executive director and habitat partnership coordinator for the Friends of Reservoirs Foundation, Jeff Boxrucker is one of the guys Bonds calls to collaborate on reservoir fisheries issues. “We are never going to stock our way out of habitat problems,” said Boxrucker, “and if we’re going to continue to have quality fishing, we have to focus on existing habitat in reservoirs—there are fewer and fewer new reservoirs being created.” That means no reset button.

The problem with aging reservoirs is that high quality habitat typically starts to degrade after just ten years, and many are past this point. Reservoirs weren’t built with fisheries as their primary purpose, either—this is critical infrastructure for flood control and drinking water supplies—but recreation has a huge economic impact in these communities.

Boxrucker cited an example in Texas, where public-private planning and $55 million in funding will go toward restoring the Wichita Reservoir, a move that is projected to increase the area’s GDP by 20 percent. That’s a strong argument with a decision-maker, he said.

2017 Bassmaster Classic convention floor
The latest and greatest gear on display at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.
Bass and Farm Bill Bucks

The TRCP is a big believer in spotlighting the economic clout of sportsmen and outdoor recreation with lawmakers in order to get conservation done, and there’s a big opportunity coming up as lawmakers craft the 2018 Farm Bill. Conservation programs overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, like those in the Farm Bill, represent the largest federal investment in conservation on private lands and the best opportunity for largescale collaborative efforts, explained Chris Adamo, former Chief of Staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Adamo was in the room for much of the debate on the 2014 Farm Bill, and though it’s a new day in Washington, there are some lessons to take into the next round. “Generally speaking, healthy soil and good conservation practices are good for business on the 300 million acres of agricultural land in the U.S.,” he said. “Most farmers are in line to do what’s best for water quality downstream, but there may be financial barriers to doing that.” And, in a political climate where regulatory approaches are out of favor and actively being rolled back, it is all the more important that voluntary and incentive-based conservation efforts be supported, funded, and allowed to work. The interest is there.

Growing Awareness and Action

But farmers can’t be the only ones pulling for conservation support on private lands that comprise 70 percent of our country. Watershed issues are multi-jurisdictional, covering both public and private sectors, so collaboration and partnerships are key. Funding is limited, and it is outside the ability of any single agency to cover all the costs for any comprehensive restoration effort. This is where sportsmen, especially freshwater anglers who care about the future of their fishing access, come in.

As a new Farm Bill is crafted in the next two years, we have a great opportunity to improve programs and establish better coordination between the federal government and local partners. But we need all the support we can get, because there will likely be fewer dollars for conservation, and more demand than ever from farmers looking for more certainty in their business plans.

A good first step is to support one Farm Bill program that helps improve water quality and wildlife habitat in rural America. Click here to tell lawmakers that the Conservation Reserve Program works for farmers, sportsmen, and fish and wildlife. Then stay tuned for monthly updates on the Farm Bill debate from Ariel Wiegard, our director of agriculture and private lands. We’ll let you know where it’s important to engage and why it’s important to our hunting and fishing traditions.

 

2 Responses to “Everything Bass Anglers Need to Know About Water Quality”

  1. Our local Izaak Walton chapter (Central New York) and New York State Division are strong supporters of clean water programs. We monitor area streams for water quality parameters. The Izaak Walton League also has a Great Lakes Committee representing all of the states located adjacent to the Great Lakes.

  2. Hello I am an avid angler here in Washington State. I have lived here all my life and I have been fishing since the age of 4 and I am almost 65 and I really enjoy my outdoor activities like fishing, camping and boating. I really don’t like the idea that I may not be able to because of political interests. I really don’t like to get into politics but I just wish that our newly elected president would pull his head out of his ass. Sorry for the bad language.

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Backcountry Guzzlers and What They Mean for Bighorn Sheep Conservation

Raising a drink to better active management and improved odds for Nevada’s big game

As I turned off the pavement by the old Santa Fe gold mine and wound down the canyon, my mind filled with memories from past hunts in this area. There was the notch in the knife-back ridgeline where we spotted a friend’s ram bedded. Off to the left was the narrow canyon with the little seep where my son and I hunted chukars. Looming straight ahead of me in the distance stood the big shale-covered mountain where my wife missed a shot at a good ram on Thanksgiving Day almost 15 years ago. The shot haunts both of us to this day.

This part of the Gabbs Valley Range in Mineral County, Nev., is one of several areas recommended to be managed as Backcountry Conservation Areas in the Carson City BLM District Resource Management Plan. Sportsmen and other public lands stakeholders have been calling for this for years, and the final version of that management plan is now expected to be out in late 2017.

 

Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist Jason Salisbury, who was involved in developing the original RMP proposal, says that the beauty of backcountry conservation areas is the active management component. In other words, implementing this tool adds a layer of protection for habitat, while maintaining the BLM’s ability to build guzzlers, protect springs, remove pinyon pine and juniper, and implement other habitat improvements. This allows a good biologist, like Jason, to achieve his management goals more easily.

Thanks to @NBU, @NvDOW & @thetrcp, a backcountry guzzler now sustains a growing herd of bighorns. Click To Tweet

And on this particular day, he had more than 30 volunteers to help him. I was there with other members of Nevada Bighorns Unlimited to reconstruct a water catchment—or guzzler—built ten years ago. The guzzler was still fully functional, but the original design didn’t have the capacity to serve the number of bighorns that depend on it now. In Nevada’s arid climate, water is often the limiting factor for populations of desert bighorn and other wildlife. This area has very few natural springs, so several guzzlers have been built by sportsmen’s groups like NBU to provide adequate drinking water and better distribute sheep throughout the range.

Representatives from the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Nevada Bighorns Unlimited, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership all chipped in to see the project to completion.

NDOW employees had worked during the previous week dismantling the existing guzzler and setting storage tanks in the ground. The guzzler we rebuilt that day will store about double what the previous one held, or nearly 12,000 gallons of water collected on a 50-by-90-foot apron—the largest one I have ever worked on. This presented us with some definite construction challenges. Finding a big enough area to make a level system required moving a lot of rocky material. Moving the rocks and digging the many holes for posts was made much easier by NDOW’s skilled backhoe operator. By 5 p.m., our work was nearly done.

We only had to haul several thousand gallons of water to the site the next morning.

“Knowing that more than 80 bighorns we’d observed at the old guzzler would now have enough water to get them through the hot summer months made the effort worthwhile. “

Even with that labor ahead of us, I couldn’t help but feel proud of the real, tangible conservation work we’d accomplished as I drove home. Knowing that more than 80 bighorns we’d observed at the old guzzler would now have enough water to get them through the hot summer months made the effort worthwhile.

So often, the connection between the conservation policies and practices we talk about and the results we’re trying to achieve can seem less than tangible. Here’s what’s clear: The importance of well-coordinated management for wildlife habitat cannot be understated, especially since it is linked to the future of our hunting traditions. And as sportsmen, it’s our responsibility to get involved in the ways we can, whether that’s volunteering for a project like this one, getting involved with a conservation organization, or writing a letter to a policymaker. Jason—or any biologist—will tell you that all of these are crucial to conservation.

Rob Thornberry

March 23, 2017

Once Again, Hunters and Anglers Are Willing to Spend More for the Benefit of Fish and Wildlife

As national-level funding is being cut, Idaho sportsmen buck the trend and take a collaborative stand to fund fish and wildlife management

As hunters and anglers across the country attempt to contemplate the cuts that may be coming for programs that benefit sportsmen and healthy habitat, it is easy for us to become discouraged and angry.

The 12 percent cut at the Department of Interior, for example, would trim $1.5 billion in funding to the agencies largely responsible for public lands. The U.S. Department of Agriculture budget would be cut by 21 percent, or $4.7 billion, and the Environmental Protection Agency budget would be cut by 31 percent, or $2.6 billion.

The numbers are straightforward, but the long-term damages to our shared pastime are hard to cogitate, especially for sportsmen, a user group that takes pride in helping pay the bills for the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

The cost of an Idaho hunting and fishing license is a small price to pay for a meal like this. This and the top image courtesy of Nan Palmero-Flickr.

It is particularly hard to stomach here in Idaho, where sportsmen have voluntarily stepped up to the plate to increase fees on themselves for the greater benefit of our wildlife.

On March 17, the Idaho Senate unanimously approved a fee increase on hunters and anglers, the first undivided vote of its kind. If the bill is signed by Gov. Butch Otter, as expected, the fee increase will include a $5 fee on all licenses which will be used to pay for crop losses that come with healthy game herds. It will also mean that occasional license buyers, those who don’t buy a license or tag annually—would be charged 20 percent more. Die-hard hunters would be rewarded by being spared the additional cost.#Idaho's #originalconservationists willing to spend more to benefit fish & wildlife Click To Tweet

Also in the mix, there is a new account created by Fish and Game to help buy access for hunters and anglers. Basically, unspent depredation funds will benefit hunters and anglers in the end.

Twelve years in the making, the fee bill seemed dead on arrival in February, when Rep. Marcus Gibbs said he wouldn’t address a fee increase unless the bill made concessions to ranchers who were suffering heavy damage from extreme winter weather. Officials with Idaho Department of Fish and Game used his argument to craft a compromise with the Farm Bureau: help addressing depredation in exchange for the fee increase.

Hunter glassing an Idaho drainage in Custer County, Idaho. Image courtesy of BLM Idaho-Flickr.

The work on the fee bill is less visible than the show of sportsmen might at a Public Lands Rally in Boise earlier this month, but it is more earth-shattering. The Idaho Farm Bureau and hunters and anglers of every stripe joined together to bring much needed financial relief to the wildlife department, which hadn’t had a resident fee increase since 2005. And, overcoming decades of animosity, the Idaho legislature finally gave cash-strapped wildlife managers a dose of critical revenue, while also addressing the complaints of ranchers who suffer when hungry elk, deer, and pronghorns raid their crops or haystacks.

The win represents seismic shifts in Idaho politics, and we will all benefit for decades to come.

Now sportsmen nationwide need to jump into the fray. President Trump’s budget outline is more mission statement than fiscal policy. We need to be heard as Congress, the true holders of the purse strings, contemplates Trump’s vision. Habitat and wildlife funding is crucial—so important that sportsmen are consistently willing to tax themselves to contribute more. We can only hope that Congress looks at the most recent example in Idaho as constituents again show their support and willingness to fund things that matter, not take funding away.

Ariel Wiegard

March 22, 2017

Where Regulation Leaves Off, Other Improvements for Lakes and Streams Can Begin

In Iowa, farmers aren’t legally required to reduce pollution that is harmful to fish and wildlife—but voluntary clean water practices can go a long way and deserve our support

Last week, a federal judge dismissed a potentially revolutionary lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works, the utility that provides drinking water to the most populous city in the state, against drainage districts in three upstream counties in northwest Iowa. The lawsuit, which has been a hot topic among farmers and other concerned citizens for the last two years, also has big implications for sportsmen: The nutrient run-off that is bad for Des Moines’s water supply is also a problem for waterways and fish.

If the judge had allowed the Water Works lawsuit to progress, it could have completely upended the regulatory regime around water pollution nationwide by effectively bringing farm fields under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, from which they are currently exempted. Instead, the dismissal puts a laser-like focus on the need for farmers to voluntarily reduce the nutrients leaving their fields and entering our waterways.

Impacts to Fish

We’ve written before about how nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous can seriously impair our lakes, rivers, and off-shore waters. They’re like high-octane food sources for algae, causing the microscopic stuff to grow unchecked. Some of the algae are quite toxic on their own, but they also starve waterways of much-needed oxygen and block sunlight from reaching underwater vegetation. The presence of too much algae, deoxygenation, and reduction or total loss of plant life creates a recipe for disaster for fish and wildlife, and therefore sportsmen.A lawsuit puts focus on farmers’ need to voluntarily reduce the nutrients leaving their fields. Click To Tweet

Health Hazards

But the run-off problem doesn’t end in our lakes, streams, and oceans. That water can eventually make its way to our sinks, creating major health risks. High levels of nitrates in drinking water can cause suffocation in infants by limiting the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, and have been linked to cancer in people of all ages. It’s critically important that we keep as many nutrients as possible out of the water in the first place, but, failing that, it’s essential that we clean up the water before we consume it.

Which brings us to the lawsuit. The complaint from Des Moines Water Works was that excessive nitrates were flowing from farm fields upstream via the Raccoon River, one of the city’s main sources of drinking water. This required the utility to treat the city’s water to an unprecedented—and very expensive—degree.

In their view, someone upstream needed to be held accountable, and the Water Works pursued a novel strategy under the Clean Water Act: Farmers and farm fields are largely exempt from Clean Water Act permitting requirements, so Des Moines Water Works argued that the drainage districts, which maintain the infrastructure responsible for the flow of on-farm waters into the state’s larger waterways, should be considered “point sources,” which are regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Had Des Moines Water Works prevailed, this new point source definition could have allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to require thousands of drainage districts across the U.S. to get pollution permits, just like large livestock operations or factory pipes that pump sewage into our rivers, launching a new era of farm-focused clean water regulations. However, the court’s dismissal of the suit preserves the status quo, and there remains no federal regulatory reason for farmers to manage the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous from their lands.

Other Incentives

There are still many voluntary reasons for farmers to manage their nutrients. For one thing, they’re expensive assets that farmers would rather keep on their fields than watch disappear downstream. More importantly, farmers want the best water quality possible, but conservation and restoration practices can be very expensive for a small business to implement, especially when many of the practices that would have the greatest downstream impact have little to no on-farm benefits.

That’s one of the major reasons the TRCP works on federal legislation like the farm bill. We agree that the government can help farmers protect private waterways for the public’s benefit by offsetting costs. For instance, federal funding can help farmers implement innovative types of infrastructure, like “denitrifying bioreactors,” which force farm run-off through carbon filters like a giant Brita filter, and “saturated buffers,” which function like wetlands by filtering the flow of farm run-off through plant roots and wet soils.

Photo: USDA/Flickr.

Conserving and restoring actual wetlands improves water quality, too. Our friends at Ducks Unlimited have referred to wetlands as “nature’s kidneys” for their water filtration abilities, and of course, they have the added benefit of providing waterfowl habitat that sportsmen love. Through Congressional investments in farm bill programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help landowners with all of these practices and more.

While we tracked the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit and its many would-be impacts closely, the TRCP and our partners share a long-term dedication to the voluntary, incentive-based conservation on private lands that is key for clean water and healthy fish and wildlife habitat. In the wake of the judge’s decision, it’s even more important that we focus on getting conservation tools to the people and places that want and need them most.

Kristyn Brady

March 7, 2017

Congress Rolls Back Your Say in BLM Land Management

Sportsmen now look to Secretary Zinke to restore the public’s voice in the BLM land-use planning process that affects habitat, access, and rural economies

Today, U.S. Senators voted to nullify the Bureau of Land Management’s revised land-use planning rule, commonly known as Planning 2.0, which gives the public more chances to weigh in on land management decisions for 245 million acres of BLM public lands. The House passed a similar resolution of disapproval using the Congressional Review Act on February 7.

President Trump’s signature on this action will revert BLM planning to a decades-old process and may prevent the agency from creating a new rule that has the same benefits for habitat and public involvement. Planning 2.0 was the product of more than two years of collaboration between the agency, state and local governments, and the public.

“Hunters and anglers are puzzled by the fact that Congress would choose to destroy a refined and more inclusive public lands management process,” says Joel Webster, director of Western lands with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Perhaps some additional fine-tuning could have further improved BLM planning, but this CRA action is the equivalent of burning down the house simply because some window trim needed replacing. It’s an overreaction with real-world consequences for fish, wildlife, and the American people.”

Wyoming’s North Platte River. Image courtesy of Brady Owen/BLM.

Nineteen sportsmen’s groups wrote Congress in support of Planning 2.0 revisions that created three additional opportunities for the public and key collaborators—like state and local governments—to be involved at the front-end of the land-use planning process. These additional steps were designed to increase agency transparency and public involvement, and these benefits are still sorely needed to boost overall satisfaction with the management of BLM public lands across the country.

“It is tragic to see so much hard work and public input go to waste, only to be replaced with uncertainty,” says Steven Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute. “Meanwhile, the agency will continue to struggle in using an outdated, ineffective planning process to deal with modern-day challenges on public lands.”

Consideration for big game migration corridors and other planning tools that account for the most recent scientific data are not written into the previous land-use planning rule, established in 1983. Hunters and anglers are looking to the newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior to find other ways of securing these benefits.

“Sportsmen and women are incredibly savvy about public lands management and how planning efforts affect the places we hunt and fish—these are our lands and we deserve a fair shake,” says Corey Fisher, senior policy director for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen Conservation Project. “We stand ready and willing to work with Secretary Zinke to restore the public’s voice in BLM public land management and see to it that important fish and wildlife habitat isn’t overlooked.”




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