Julia Peebles

April 25, 2017

Reversing Land Loss and Improving Fish Habitat in the Bayou

TRCP hosted reporters in Louisiana to showcase the benefits of sediment diversion projects (and to catch our limit of keeper redfish!)

More than 25 years ago, Captain Ryan Lambert navigated a winding maze of bayous and bays to bring clients from the lodge at Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras, Louisiana, to prime saltwater fishing and duck hunting areas. Today, he can point the bow of his boat south and barely turn the steering wheel at all.

To prove just how quickly land is being lost in Louisiana’s hunting and fishing paradise, Lambert pulled out his phone and showed me a photo he snapped of his GPS screen on a recent trip to productive redfish waters. It showed his boat sitting on land, but he certainly hadn’t run ashore. His electronics just can’t keep up as land is eroding and being swallowed by sea level rise all at once.

Image courtesy of Captain Ryan Lambert.

Solutions are in the works, and I was visiting my colleague Chris Macaluso to view one of them, a sediment diversion project planned for the Barataria Basin before doing a little fishing on the east side of the Mississippi River. Outdoor and environmental writers and TV hosts from across Louisiana were also there to witness the drastic consequences of cutting off the sediment supplies to the marshes of the Mississippi, the primary culprit in the loss of nearly 2,000 square miles of coastal wetlands.

The brown, murky water blocked us from seeing the floor of Barataria Basin, which is covered by loose soils made of rotting vegetation, rather than the layers of sediment once deposited by annual spring flooding of the Mississippi. The resulting land loss threatens species like pintails, teal, redfish, and speckled trout, which has implications for our days afield and on the water.

This diversion project aims to reverse this land loss and improve habitat for the species we love.… Click To Tweet

The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project aims to reverse this land loss and improve habitat for the species we love. It was approved in 2012 by the Louisiana state legislature as part of a comprehensive plan to restore Louisiana’s wetlands and protect coastal communities. With 75,000 cubic feet of water and sediment diverted every second during high-river periods, the benefits from this diversion would be swift—reinstituting fish and waterfowl diversity, especially for game species like largemouth bass, redfish, speckled trout, teal, and gadwalls, and providing a buffer from catastrophic storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

But the environmental review process is delaying construction, just as the Louisiana coast is more vulnerable than ever. So, the need to expedite the environmental permitting procedures is essential to reversing land loss and improving fish habitat.

fish habitat Louisiana redfish

Several reporters and I stuck around long enough to experience what could be the future of Barataria Basin for recreational fishermen. On the east side of the Mississippi, I was hauling fish after fish into the boat after only one or two casts. Where it was tough to imagine (never mind see) fish in the basin’s straight, murky corridors between the barges, these marshes and inlets were hiding all sizes of specks and redfish. Within a few hours, I’d caught my limit—15 redfish over 16 inches, with one over 27 inches, and 25 speckled trout.

But days like this are at stake where marshes are critical to the coastal ecosystem and yet disappearing at an alarming rate. It’s critical that projects like the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion move forward.

VIDEO: Catch the segment of our tour from the Paradise Louisiana television show here. 

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Kristyn Brady

April 24, 2017

Sportsmen Look to Secretary Perdue to Champion Conservation That Works for Rural America

The Georgia quail hunter will oversee $5 billion in conservation funding on private lands, which benefits farmers, ranchers, wildlife, clean water, and sportsmen

In an 87-11 vote, the U.S. Senate has officially confirmed Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia and an avid sportsman, to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he’ll oversee land and water conservation on private lands and operation of the U.S. Forest Service. Hunters and anglers are optimistic that Perdue is up to the task of serving our rural communities and our natural resources well.

“As a hunter and angler, Secretary Perdue understands the importance of wildlife conservation,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “He has a record of working in a bipartisan fashion to advance innovative land conservation programs, increase water conservation, and restore longleaf pine forests. We look forward to working with Perdue on critical issues facing USDA, including protecting America’s grasslands, expanding successful farm bill conservation programs and wildlife initiatives, and reducing nutrient runoff to improve water quality.”

Perhaps most importantly, Perdue will contribute to the debate around the 2018 Farm Bill, the legislative vehicle that drives approximately $5 billion in annual conservation spending on private lands. Voluntary, incentive-based programs authorized by past farm bills have been widely successful, helping to prevent the Endangered Species Act listing of the greater sage grouse and contributing to cleaner waters in the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are eager to begin working with Secretary Perdue to implement good conservation programs on working farms and ranches,” says Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist at Delta Waterfowl. “The next farm bill will provide great opportunities to come up with solutions that work well for our nation’s producers, sportsmen, waterfowl, and other wildlife.”

Besides the Forest Service, Perdue will direct many of the other federal agencies with a major role in conservation, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency. Almost immediately, Perdue will need to defend his department’s budget and staff against cuts from congressional appropriators.

“With record demand from agricultural producers for the technical assistance and financial certainty that USDA programs offer, Secretary Perdue already has his work cut out for him, but sportsmen and women are also depending on his leadership in rural counties that are economically reliant on outdoor recreation, like hunting and fishing, that gets a boost from habitat improvements on private lands,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which came out in support of Perdue early on.

“These programs cannot survive proposed budget cuts, especially when critical functions at the USDA, including wildfire suppression in national forests and conservation planning assistance for landowners, are already chronically short on funding,” says Fosburgh. “Sportsmen and women call on Secretary Perdue to strongly defend the USDA against budget cuts and support long-term, practical investments in natural resources management on public and private lands.”

Joel Webster

April 20, 2017

Public Lands Are Managed to Balance Many Uses, But That May Change

New under-the-radar administration policies would alter public land management, and this has major implications for hunting and fishing

Efforts to dispose of public lands may grab headlines, but a subtle shift in the management of public lands could present an even greater risk to the future of hunting and fishing. With the spotlight shining brightly on recent proposals to sell off our public lands, the White House and the Department of the Interior quietly set policies in motion last month that have the potential to change the way our public lands are managed.

In tandem, Executive Order 13873 and Secretarial Order 3349 would initiate a few specific processes that could change the way public lands wildlife habitat is valued and managed, especially when it’s at odds with energy development. All Americans—including sportsmen—depend on energy resources, but we want to see development carried out in a balanced way, not at the expense of fish and wildlife habitat or our best hunting and fishing areas.

There are absolutely ways to ensure all of the above, but these orders have the potential to put at risk the critical balancing act carried out by the BLM and other federal agencies. Here’s how.

“Would balanced land management as we know it be altered so that developers can do as they please without being ‘burdened’? Only time will tell.” Image courtesy of Cameron Davidson. Top image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.
Diluting Pro-Habitat Policies

Mitigation has long been used to accommodate development in ways that avoid or minimize impacts on important resources like wildlife habitat, and then compensate for unavoidable impacts. Mitigation has been used to avoid or minimize the fragmentation of mule deer winter range from energy development, for example.  In some cases, if habitat suffers while accommodating energy development, funds from resource extraction are then put back into conservation of habitat, there or elsewhere.

These executive and secretarial orders eliminated the existing department-wide policy for mitigating impacts to wildlife from development on public lands. They also set a process for evaluating, replacing, or eliminating agency actions taken to implement mitigation. Without good mitigation policies, assurances for fish and wildlife get thrown out the window and accountability for maintaining habitat becomes an afterthought, rather than a requirement.

Energy development should be balanced & not at the expense of fish & wildlife habitat... Click To Tweet
Vaguely Referencing ‘Burdens’

Second, these two orders establish a process for all federal agencies—including the BLM—to review all existing policies to identify potential “burdens” on energy development. The agencies have been ordered to make recommendations for changing or rescinding policies to remove those burdens, though what exactly constitutes a burden is subject to interpretation. Could it be that managing world-class big-game habitat or outstanding wild-trout streams are perceived as a burden to an energy developer? And, if so, would balanced land management as we know it be altered so that developers can do as they please without being ‘burdened’? Only time will tell.

Reviewing policies in an attempt to eliminate unnecessary regulations and increase efficiencies is one thing, but sportsmen and women will not support actions that undo the fish and wildlife conservation achievements our community has worked for decades to achieve. We are hopeful that a balance can be found.

“Would balanced land management as we know it be altered so that developers can do as they please without being ‘burdened’? Only time will tell.”
Keeping Public Lands Public is Not Enough

At TRCP, we’re on the front lines to sound the alarm on sweeping threats to public lands, like H.R. 621 and other legislative attacks. But it’s not enough to keep public lands in public hands if wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation do not rank with energy development or other uses of the land. Executive Order 13873 and Secretarial Order 3349 were introduced with little fanfare, and with so much of the sportsmen’s community focused only on the most outrageous and obvious public land issues, low-profile actions like these are more likely to fly under the radar and become foundational policies.

Don’t let that happen. Not every threat will come with a catchy hashtag or fit nicely on a bumper sticker, but your voice will be just as critical in the fight against these subtle policy moves. And TRCP will be there to let sportsmen and women know when there’s a chance to take action.

Nick Payne

April 13, 2017

You Have a Say in Balancing Energy Development and Wildlife Habitat on Public Lands

How hunters and anglers are helping to shape the future of more than 600,000 acres—including gold-medal trout streams and some of the best of the backcountry—in Colorado, and why these public lands are so critical

Public lands in Colorado’s lower Arkansas River drainage are where you’ll find healthy and huntable populations of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, turkeys, pronghorn antelope, and many other iconic Western game animals. As a lifelong sportsman and the TRCP staffer working most closely with the BLM in the region, I’ve personally witnessed the critical balance required to manage these public lands for all of their many values. BLM-managed lands near La Veta Pass and the Southern Sangre de Cristo Range are about as wild and remote as Colorado gets. And more than a thousand elk congregate each winter around the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area in South Park, where interest in oil and gas development has also increased.

The South Platte provides umatched fly fishing opportunities. Image courtesy of jmonkeyq/Flickr. Header image courtesy of Christopher Rosenberger/Flickr.

Balancing energy development with the needs of fish and wildlife is personal to local sportsmen, because these places and critters are entwined with our memories in the outdoors. I’ve pulled rainbow and brown trout from nearly every section of the Arkansas River, from Pueblo Reservoir all the way up to the Hayden Flats and tributaries fed by high-elevation runoff. Trout and walleye from the South Platte drainage have landed on my plate more often than any meat from my local grocer. I’ve ice fished in South Park, pulled walleyes from Front Range reservoirs, and chased cutthroats from within the Pike National Forest. This week I’m heading down to Huerfano County, and if I’m lucky, I’ll take a gobbler.

These public lands mean a hell of a lot to me, but their future actually depends on you.

The value of lands managed by the BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office cannot be understated, and right now they need your help. Sportsmen have a once-in-a-few-decades chance to be part of the public process that determines how 668,000 acres of these lands will be used for the next 20 years.

This plan covers nearly all of eastern Colorado’s public lands. All BLM lands east of the Sangre de Cristo’s coming out of New Mexico, north through central Colorado, and all the way up to Wyoming are included. So, it is a big deal.

Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Range. Image courtesy of Michael Foley/Flickr.

Initial discussions on these plans began as early as eight years ago, but right now is the first chance for  the public to comment on the BLM’s proposed alternatives. Since the very first conversations about how best to balance all the demands on these lands, a lot has changed, but the objective to keep them open to a backcountry turkey hunter or a herd of elk trying to make it through the tough winter months has, and must, remain. The BLM has done a good job so far on this plan, and we need to make sure positive elements of the proposal continue moving forward, while addressing parts of the plan that need attention.

Balancing energy development w/ the needs of fish & #wildlife is personal to local #sportsmen in CO. Click To Tweet

The biggest benefit of the proposal may be a focus on the future management of BLM lands that provide world-class recreation opportunities and habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, pronghorn sheep, wild trout, and a multitude of other critters. Some specific areas have been recommended by sportsmen for management as Backcountry Conservation Areas and are proposed for consideration in the BLM preliminary draft management plan. Altogether, these comprise about 120,000 acres of BLM public lands that would continue to provide hunters and anglers with high-quality, year-round recreation opportunities and provide wildlife managers with the flexibility needed to sustain top notch habitat. If we stay the course and these proposals are adopted, we’d be guaranteed responsible and balanced land management in the best of the backcountry—a very positive outcome for hunters and anglers.

Our goal is within reach, but first, the BLM needs to hear from you. Whether you see yourself fishing on the Arkansas River, calling in turkeys on crisp spring or fall mornings, or hunting elk, deer, or antelope in the fall, these lands and the opportunities they provide us are worth fighting for.

Take action now. (We promise, it’s really easy!)


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.



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