Guest blogger Nick Roberts

April 13, 2017

Three Ways You Can Help Fix Florida Fisheries

Sportfishing groups pushing for Everglades restoration projects are on the edge of a breakthrough—here’s why captains, guides, and anglers are in Florida lawmaker offices this week, instead of on the water

Right now, representatives from TRCP, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and other conservation groups are in Tallahassee meeting with legislators from all parts of Florida to rally support for much-needed solutions for Everglades fisheries. Captains, fishing guides, and anglers have come together to remind lawmakers how important Florida’s waters and estuaries are to our small businesses and quality of life.

After years of effort from many partners in the Now or Neverglades coalition, Everglades restoration and a revamped system of water management could finally become a reality. In fact, the important question of water storage south of Lake Okeechobee will be decided in the Florida Legislature over the next eight to ten weeks—a major milestone was reached just yesterday, when the State Senate passed a bill that calls for the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. Next, a companion bill will be considered by the House of Representatives.

The issue is as complex as the Everglades ecosystem, but there’s a reason our coalition’s name represents urgency­—we need to expedite a fix for Florida’s water management practices to help save the state’s recreational saltwater fisheries, worth $7.6 billion annually. Here’s what you need to know and what you can do to help.

Fixing Flows and Fish Habitat

BTT launched the Fix Our Water initiative in 2016 to raise awareness and engage anglers and the fishing industry around efforts to reverse Florida’s ongoing water crisis. “Water defines our state, from the longest coastline in the contiguous U.S. to some of the country’s most unique freshwater systems,” says Jim McDuffie, president of BTT. “Ensuring clean, abundant, natural flows is the only way we can sustain balance in our ecosystems, ensure the health of our communities, and keep Florida among the top fishing destinations in the country.”

Although water mismanagement is causing problems throughout the state, the region suffering the greatest damage to its recreational fisheries is South Florida. Historically, freshwater from Lake Okeechobee flowed south through the Everglades via the River of Grass. This natural “sheet flow” ensured that Florida Bay received the optimum amount of freshwater, supporting healthy habitats and fisheries.

Image courtesy of Dr. Zach Jud. Top image courtesy of Rick DePaiva.

But, today, the Herbert Hoover Dike, which was constructed on Okeechobee to prevent flooding and allow for agricultural development in the region, impedes these southerly freshwater flows, choking the Everglades and making the waters of Florida Bay too salty. This salinity imbalance, combined with too many nutrients from runoff, has resulted in expansive algal blooms, large-scale seagrass die-offs, and numerous fish kills.

The water that should be flowing south from Okeechobee is instead diverted west and east into the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie River and estuaries. The surge of excess freshwater lowers salinity levels, causing similar problems for water quality and plant life.

To make matters worse, the massive discharges of water that took place last summer destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of restoration work in the affected areas. Altered freshwater flows in other parts of the state decimated oyster reefs in the Apalachicola area and contributed to algae blooms and fish kills in the northern Indian River Lagoon. The juvenile snook in the mangrove creeks of Charlotte Harbor were also affected when abundance of the fish’s main food source crashed.

It doesn’t end there. Lake Okeechobee has become contaminated with nitrates and phosphorous leftover from decades of farming and development. The pollution has slowly ruined many of Florida’s prime fishing areas and reduced water quality, putting the public at risk. Earlier this year, warnings were posted for the St. Lucie Estuary due to high bacteria levels. A similar story played out in the Indian River Lagoon, where a brown tide killed a considerable amount of the lagoon’s remaining seagrass.

St. Lucie River discharge Florida
Billions of gallons of water being discharged into the St. Lucie River. Image courtesy of Dr. Zach Jud.

With so much riding on possible solutions, there’s no time to lose, says Dr. Aaron Adams, BTT’s director of science and conservation. “Anglers have to understand that unless we change the way water is managed in Florida, our fisheries could very well disappear.”

A Possible Breakthrough

So what needs to happen? Natural freshwater flows must be restored immediately. Yesterday’s passage of S.B. 10, introduced by Florida Senators Joe Negron and Rob Bradley, is just one step toward providing 120 billion gallons of storage south of Lake Okeechobee. This would dramatically increase the flow of water to the Everglades, while simultaneously decreasing harmful discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries by nearly 50 percent.

Support and authorization from the Florida Senate represents a significant breakthrough in efforts to restore the Everglades and save our fisheries. But now is not the time to let up; we must keep making our voices heard in order to bring about meaningful change. Ultimately, the fate of our fisheries—and our future days on the water in the sportfishing capital of the world—depends on how well we manage our water going forward.

“It’s pretty simple,” says Adams. “If we don’t fix our water soon, habitat will disappear and fish populations will follow.”

Here’s how you can support solutions for South Florida’s fisheries, even if you don’t live in the Sunshine State:

  • Sign the Now or Neverglades Declaration, supported by nearly 60,000 groups and individuals—and counting.
  • Florida residents should contact their elected officials to urge passage of support for H.B. 761. You can find an easy way to generate a message via email on BTT’s Fix Our Water page.
  • We know many of you visit Florida just for the fishing, and you can help, too. Join the effort by texting WATER to 52886.

Learn more about BTT’s Fix Our Water initiative.

Nick Roberts is the membership and communications manager for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, one of TRCP’s 52 partner organizations and a leading voice for Everglades restoration.

2 Responses to “Three Ways You Can Help Fix Florida Fisheries”

  1. jack l meredith

    Dumping into the Everglades and the Caloosahatchee River has been going on for years and fish kills have become more frequent and more devastating to the point where if you catch 5 or 6 fish on a charter where you use to catch 40 or 50 is now and they are not being able to rebound in and around Sanibel Captiva. The politicians have caved in to the agricultural businesses and now when damage beyond control has happened, the holier than thou politicians want to make you think they give a s–t and are on top of the problem. The sports fishing industry in South Florida is and will continue to be devastated and it will effect any business that sells related equipment, clothing, charters and lodging. Also, many retiree’s have worked all their productive lives and have dreamed about fishing as natives and homeowners from the north, every day and don’t think that this entire picture will not change the financial reality of South Florida.

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Rob Thornberry

April 5, 2017

A Quiet Country Road Where Public Lands Make All the Difference

A Saturday afternoon finds game species and all manner of public lands enthusiasts in a single spot in Idaho—it’s the outdoor recreation economy in action and it deserves lawmaker support

Vehicles filled the Bureau of Land Management parking lot at the North Menan Butte trailhead, forcing late-starting hikers to park on a quiet, eastern Idaho highway.

Dozens and dozens of people left their cars, strapped on daypacks, and made the short hike up the volcanic tuff cone, one of the largest in the world, to enjoy the view of the Snake River Plain and nearby towns of Idaho Falls, Rigby, and Rexburg. It’s a public lands treasure that is largely overshadowed by other popular public access points nearby, such as the South Fork of the Snake River and St. Anthony Sand Dunes, well-known destinations for anglers and off-road vehicle riders, respectively. But families, fitness fanatics, and photographers in need of a bit of nature this Saturday flocked to North Menan Butte because of its proximity to civilization and its well-marked trails.

Across the highway, dozens of trail riders unloaded their vehicles and set off on a network of public roads that stretch for miles into Idaho’s sagebrush desert. Families and friends slouched on bumpers, their entire bodies telling the story of the day’s ride.

Just to the south of the twin trailheads is Deer Parks Wildlife Management Area, a 2,550-acre wetland complex managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and a key migration stopover for dozens of bird species. It’s also home to moose, turkeys, and the whitetail deer that local hunters hope to find on public lands this fall.

Prickly pear cactus blossoms on North Menan Butte. Image courtesy of the Post Register. Header image of Deer Park WMU, courtesy of Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

It is here, at this non-descript intersection in Idaho, that the importance of America’s public lands is perfectly exemplified. It is where we have the freedom to get outside and explore, no matter our outdoor pursuits. It showcases the balance of different user groups seeking different experiences, yet fueling a thriving, renewable economy. And it is where public ground is also set aside for wildlife, with benefits for migrating birds and resident critters alike.

The intersection’s anonymity, its quiet and even overlooked charm, is the heart of the story that must be told if we want to keep public lands in public hands.

A snapshot from this Saturday in Idaho shows the power of the $646 billion outdoor economy. Click To TweetA snapshot from this Saturday shows the power of the outdoor economy. The bikes, binoculars, and hiking gear are part of a self-sustaining economic engine that generates $646 billion annually. Its foundation is 640 million acres of public land nationwide.

The tracks of many users and wildlife collide on public lands.

With the understanding that public lands help generate commerce in local communities, it is incumbent on all outdoor users to join together and trumpet the outdoors as a viable economic engine. Our voices—and our dollars—give us a political power that outdoor enthusiasts have rarely enjoyed.

Imagine the return on investment on public lands if we urged elected officials to actively fund more projects to benefit access and outdoor recreation. Imagine the benefits to habitat and all species if more money was spent to bolster their infrastructure.

For now, the intersection is quietly working. It welcomes hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, OHV riders, ducks, turkeys, a couple on horses, and family after family looking for a respite in nature.

To protect America’s public lands legacy for them, and for all the outdoorsmen and women parked on quiet country roads across the nation, go to sportsmensaccess.org.

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.

Dani Dagan

by:

posted in: Outdoor Economy

March 22, 2017

Hunting Purchases Become Conservation Dollars Whether You’re a Newbie or an Expert

A first-time pheasant hunter offers this humble defense of millennials just taking up the sport

There’s a lot of bad press out there about millennials like me. I’m a 26-year-old D.C. resident who likes cold-brew coffee, wears lumberjack flannel in the city, and spends way too much time at the rock-climbing gym. And yes, I’ve even been called a hipster once or twice. I’m not exactly the image that the word “hunter” conjures.

I’m from Los Angeles, which isn’t especially known for its backwoods hunting. I can’t think of a single person I knew growing up who had even held a shotgun or rifle, let alone shot at game. But for my entire professional career, I’ve been working in the fields of wildlife science and conservation policy. I’ve spent a whole lot of time roaming remote parts of the country alone in a (shoddy) pickup truck and have learned as an adult about the immense value of sportsmen and women. I have been ready and willing to be recruited as a sportswoman for years.

And, finally, last month I went on my first hunt.

My hen was retrieved by this young, eager pup—another newbie—at a shooting preserve just outside of Chicago.
Finding My Tribe

Without a community of sportsmen to rely on, hunting can be pretty intimidating to the uninitiated. There’s a lot to know about licenses, locations, best practices, and equipment—barriers I’m sure many other prospective outdoorsmen and women face. But more than that, in the past I’ve worried—perhaps unfoundedly—that the community of sportsmen and women would be unwilling to take in someone brand new and so unlike the typical hunter.

But I felt nothing but welcomed when, in late-February, on an unseasonably warm day in Illinois, I took down my very first pheasant with pride. I had just spent a week in an intensive crash-course on everything related to hunting and conservation, from how to hold a firearm to how regulatory decisions influence and are influenced by biology, ethics, public perceptions, and the North American Model of Conservation. It was geared towards potential leaders in the field of conservation, ranging from state agency wildlife biologists to young NGO staffers like me, who don’t come from a hunting a fishing background.

The future of habitat and access may depend on established hunters accepting beginners into their tribe Click To Tweet

That description applies to more of us than you might think. It’s no secret that hunters are diminishing in numbers, and yet sportsmen and women have been responsible for a good chunk of conservation funding ever since we decided to tax ourselves for our licenses and gear long ago (during the Great Depression, no less.) There’s a lot of talk in the hunting and fishing community about the importance of recruiting new cohorts of hunters, and retaining or reactivating others, in order to keep these dollars flowing.

So the future of habitat and access just may depend on established hunters accepting beginners like me into their tribe.

A Dollar is a Dollar

Especially now, when all signs point to major budget cuts on the horizon for the federal agencies that carry out conservation in America, the dollars that hunters provide for habitat—and specifically excise taxes enacted by the Pittman-Robertson Act—will be even more critical. After all, the dollars we spend on guns, ammo, and licenses are just as powerful as the dollars of a seasoned sportsman.

Will it matter in 50 years that non-traditional hunters, including the dreaded “hipster hunters,” got interested in the sport as adults primarily because they cared about organic, local, and ethically sourced meat? As long as we all share in the responsibility to our natural resources and sportsmen’s access, I don’t think so.

Bound by Tradition

I hope that folks like me remain deferential to sportsmen’s traditions that were established way before millennials started listening to podcasts and Instagramming their avocado toast (for the record, I have never, and will never, post my brunch online.) The history and culture of hunting should be revered, not reversed, by those of us who are just starting out.

As for me, since my first hunt I’m completely hooked—and shopping for a firearm of my own. And of course, a portion of that sale will go back into conservation.

So, here’s the crux of my humble defense of millennial hunters, from my tribe to yours: We’re not in competition for a stake in America’s hunting legacy. We’re like you; we’re bonded by the singular rush you get knowing that you’ve become part of the natural world in a very primal way. We want to work together with you to create a sustainable future for fish, wildlife, and our—yes, our—sporting traditions.

Kristyn Brady

March 16, 2017

Trump’s Proposed Budget Could Threaten Hunting and Fishing’s Future

Deep cuts at the agencies responsible for conservation and sportsmen’s access would be felt in every corner of the country

Hunters and anglers would find less healthy habitat and more public access closures under President Trump’s proposed budget, officially released this morning. In fact, the ripple effect of major budget cuts at the agencies that oversee conservation in America would likely be felt most in the rural communities that thrive off outdoor recreation spending related to public lands and other hunting and fishing access.

“With the magnitude of these cutbacks—12 percent at the Department of the Interior alone—the conservation legacy left to us by Theodore Roosevelt and others would be undone very quickly, and the effects would be felt on public and private lands and waters in every corner of the nation,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Several key programs with direct benefits to local communities, such as the Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes program and the USDA’s Farm Bill service centers, would be significantly slashed. Restoration programs for the Chesapeake Bay watershed and invasive species removal efforts in the Great Lakes would be eliminated entirely.”

The 12-percent cut at DOI would trim $1.5 billion in funding to the agencies largely responsible for public lands. Onshore and offshore energy development under DOI’s jurisdiction would get an increase. 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 Land and Water Conservation Fund—the single most important federal program for enhancing habitat and sportsmen’s access with funding from offshore oil and gas receipts—would be cut to pay for basic operations and maintenance, which should be a core budgeting responsibility.

montana red rocks lake national wildlife refuge
The view from Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Montana. Image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.

Undermanned agencies could be faced with the choice to close down access points, stop habitat management, or place heavy financial burdens on the states, which sets a dangerous precedent for the transfer of management authority on America’s public lands. The budget proposal actually indicates that state and local governments will have increased responsibility for the execution of federal programs. Expecting cash-strapped states to pay for natural resources, a critical part of the federal-state partnership, is troublesome and may lead to less management, less enforcement, and stressed fish and wildlife populations.

To compound matters, two key programs providing tax payments to local counties with public lands—Payments in Lieu of Taxes and the National Wildlife Refuge Fund—would get less or no funding at all, perhaps breeding even more unrest in Western states with a large proportion of federal public lands.

President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal does allow agencies to have a great deal of discretion in how to implement cuts. The proposal does not include revenue projections or policy statements, and there is no language addressing mandatory spending. Agencies fear that detailed guidance will reveal even deeper cutbacks on the things that sportsmen care about.

“A much larger hit could still be coming, and with that there would be National Wildlife Refuge closures nationwide,” says Desiree Sorenson-Groves, vice president of government affairs at the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “There simply wouldn’t be enough staff or funding to keep hunting and fishing access open or to run education and volunteer programs. Even if states were able to help a little, they don’t have enough funding to take over every program currently paid for by the federal government.”

Read TRCP’s fact sheet on specific conservation programs called out in Trump’s FY2018 budget request.




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