Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership brings on former consultant Kassen and Interior staffer Jensen to spearhead initiatives from the Colorado River Basin and D.C.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has brought on two new hires to continue the organization’s work to improve freshwater habitat, drought resiliency, and fishing access. Melinda Kassen, who previously served as a consultant to the TRCP on water efforts, will serve as interim director of the center for water resources, and former Department of Interior staffer Kim Jensen will serve as water resources coordinator.
“We are thrilled to have Melinda and Kim join our team and redouble our efforts to safeguard clean water, fish habitat, and access for the next generation of hunters and anglers,” says Christy Plumer, TRCP’s chief conservation officer. “Melinda’s deep expertise in federal and state water law and Colorado River issues, and Kim’s background in campaign work and federal agency policies, will be critical assets as we underscore the importance of clean, abundant water as the backbone of a robust outdoor recreation economy.”
Kassen steps up as interim director of the water center after serving as a consultant to the TRCP. She will work from Boulder, Colorado, also the base of operations for her legal and policy consulting firm Waterjamin, which she founded in 2010. Previously, Kassen directed Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project, working with landowners, communities, and government agencies to protect and improve stream flows in six Western states. She has also lectured at University of Denver’s College of Law and served as environmental counsel to the House Armed Services Committee. Kassen is an Ohio native, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Stanford Law School, and an avid outdoorswoman.
Jensen will support Kassen in boosting the TRCP’s policy efforts at a critical time for water quality and fish habitat. Previously, she worked in the Secretary of the Interior’s office, where she contributed to outreach strategy about department and policy announcements. She coordinated with many stakeholders, including the White House, Governors’ offices, local and county elected officials, key staff across federal environmental agencies, and many of the TRCP’s 52 partner groups. Jensen also worked on the 2012 presidential campaign and spent three years at a political consulting firm, where she won awards for her ability to engage with and mobilize advocates and voters. She will work out of TRCP’s new headquarters in the National Press Building.
First steps for the new water center staff will be continuing to engage Western hunters and anglers around policies to restore and enhance clean, flowing waterways in the Colorado River Basin, expanding the TRCP’s reach in southeastern U.S. watersheds, and defending bedrock conservation priorities during the Trump Administration review of the Clean Water Rule.
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.
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.
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 our updates on the Farm Bill debate as it progresses. We’ll let you know when it’s important to engage and why it impacts our hunting and fishing traditions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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