Guest blogger Whitney Flanagan

April 20, 2017

The Dream Team Restoring Elk to the Appalachian Region

To reintroduce and sustain an elk herd lost since the Civil War, it took a diverse partnership that is representative of 21st century conservation efforts—no one group can do it alone

As the TRCP’s newest formal partner, we’re in really good company with 51 other groups that are working toward a brighter future for America’s fish, wildlife, and natural resources. And we’re thrilled to work with passionate sportsmen and women bringing conservation priorities to the attention of D.C. decision-makers.

Partnerships can be multifaceted and powerful, aligning people and organizations to do more together than they could ever do alone. In essence, this describes The Conservation Fund’s core approach to everything we do. And in this day and age, collaboration isn’t just a nice-to-have—it’s necessary to craft conservation solutions that support fish and wildlife habitat, public access to the outdoors, and local economies.

A crowd gathered to witness the reintroduction of elk to the area. Key project partners, including The Conservation Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Walmart, WV Division of Natural Resources, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, shared in the celebration. Top image: Elk are a wide-ranging species that will benefit from the more than 32,000 acres of publicly accessible land acquired to establish this wildlife management area in West Virginia. More than 20 elk were reintroduced in December 2016. Images courtesy of Frank Ceravalo.

That’s why we were founded more than 30 years ago with a unique dual-charter mission to not only protect America’s land, water, and wildlife, but to do so with a clear focus on generating economic returns for surrounding communities. By working in partnership with others who share our conservation goals—including federal and state agencies, land trusts, local community organizations, businesses, foundations, and other nonprofits—we do just that. The Conservation Fund has conserved nearly 8 million acres and counting.

For example, in southern West Virginia, coal fueled the state’s economy for generations. But in recent years, the industry has slowed, and local communities are struggling economically. By working directly with community members and local, state, and federal partners across the Appalachian region, we’re helping these communities transition by demonstrating how conservation can also support economic development.

Through our Working Forest Fund, a dedicated source of bridge capital, we purchased more than 32,000 acres of privately owned forestland that was vulnerable to fragmentation and development in the southern part of the state. We are now working with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources to co-manage the property as a sustainable working forest, safeguarding the timber economy and forestry-based jobs while providing habitat for reintroduced elk—which had not been seen in the region for almost 150 years. This property is now the state’s largest conserved block of prime elk habitat, and it’s open to the public as a wildlife management area.

West Virginia wildlife management area Appalachian elk
Previously industrially owned, this rough, rugged territory will be open to the public as a wildlife management area, helping people to reengage with land they are culturally connected to. Image courtesy of Frank Ceravalo.

The prospect of bringing elk back to West Virginia for both wildlife viewing and hunting purposes has triggered excitement across the region, not least for the tourism opportunities that could drive spending in the rural communities that need it most. It’s no secret that sportsmen and other public land users help support $646 billion in annual consumer spending and 6.1 million jobs—numbers impossible to ignore. Read more about this partnership effort in West Virginia in an interview with WV DNR and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

It’s clear that making conservation work for America will take more than one group or individual. But we’re confident that as partnerships grow, so do the possibilities for fish, wildlife, and vibrant communities.

Whitney Flanagan is the creative director of The Conservation Fund, TRCP’s newest partner group. See all 52 partners here

3 Responses to “The Dream Team Restoring Elk to the Appalachian Region”

  1. Paul M

    Incredibly forward thinking initiative. Standing ovation. I wish I had been paying closer attention, as I would have relished the chance to work in support of this effort.
    Next up: free ranging bison, anyone?

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posted in: Outdoor Economy

April 19, 2017

After Speaking With Anglers and Guides, Florida Lawmakers Voted for Everglades Restoration

It’s hard to ignore the urgent need for solutions when small business owners and voters who love to fish are standing in your office

Water flow problems in the Everglades are complex, and Florida’s $7.6-billion recreational saltwater fisheries depend on fixing them. Science points us to clear solutions—simply move water south—but politics are hardly ever that easy.

We can’t move mountains alone, and redirecting hundreds of billions of gallons of water demands support from lawmakers. Florida’s fisheries are being destroyed and politicians have failed to enact solutions—but anglers are mobilizing like never before. We’re willing to do anything to save our precious water.

Science has told us what we need to know. Now it’s our turn to do the talking.

That’s why I was honored to help convene more than 500 sportsmen and women in Tallahassee, Florida, last week for the Now Or Neverglades Sportfishing Day. Their passionate voices, sharing personal stories and asking legislators for help, were an instrumental force for change. In fact, Florida’s Senate took a major step towards moving water south by passing S.B. 10 the very next day.

Everglades restoration

On the whole, anglers and other stakeholders met with more than 50 representatives, working the halls of Florida’s Senate and House of Representatives. We spoke with, not at, lawmakers about what Florida’s water means for our way of life, our businesses, our state, and our people. Alongside the Everglades Foundation and other key groups, we broke up into lobbying teams, and my group of eight became a tight operating unit as we shared our perspectives and listened to legislators in turn.

Our voices, stories, and passion have the power to sway politics—and save a treasured fishery. Click To Tweet

For me, and I think for many of those with whom we met, the most powerful voices were the youngest among us. A brother-sister duo, eleven and nine years old respectively, spoke with a purity that punched through the politics. In one meeting, the nine-year-old daughter of a small boat parts business owner moved everyone—including the legislator—to tears when she talked about how much she loves her daddy and doesn’t want him to lose his business.

Our Florida legislators and their aides listened to our stories and proposed solutions. Mutual respect and empathy grew as the day went on.

Everglades restoration
To me, Everglades restoration means more days like these.

On April 12, one day after our meetings, the Florida Senate made the right decision by passing S.B. 10, which begins the process of sending Lake Okeechobee waters south. We won by a landslide, 36-3, and now the companion bill must pass in the Florida House of Representatives. We are confident knowing that our faces and stories will be in their minds when that time comes.

While final passage of the bill would be a huge win for Florida’s recreational saltwater anglers, this is only the first step toward blocking toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee and restoring the flow of clean fresh water to the Everglades and Florida Bay. There’s more work to be done.

We can have all the science and gather all the numbers, but at the end of the day, this is what matters: Our voices, our stories, and our heartfelt passion have the power to sway politics, move mountains, and, yes, save one of the most treasured fisheries in the world.

You don’t have to travel to the Capitol Building to make your voice heard. If you live in Florida, write or call your state representatives and tell them your story. And if you haven’t already, sign the Now or Neverglades Declaration to urge decision makers to fix Florida’s recreational fisheries.

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.

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.

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