Kim Jensen

August 3, 2017

To Have Great Fishing Anywhere, We Need Clean Water Everywhere

The basic needs of America’s world-class trout and waterfowl populations—healthy headwaters and wetlands—are about to be undermined, so sportsmen and women need to act now

We’ve written before about how water is connected, and how pollution from small, diffuse sources can accumulate and create big problems downstream. Scientists and conservationists understand that this is a serious issue, but sportsmen and women are also well-informed—after all, we see the effects directly in our trout streams and from our duck blinds. Perhaps that’s why 83 percent of hunters and anglers, and overwhelmingly across party lines, support the application of Clean Water Act protections for smaller streams and wetlands.

However, the current administration has started the process to repeal a rule that helps the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers do exactly that.

Finalized in 2015, the Clean Water Rule clarifies Clean Water Act protections for 20 million acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of headwater streams—that’s 60 percent of the country’s flowing waters. If we can’t ensure that waters and wetlands are protected at the source, this endangers the future of beloved downstream land and waters.

But for some reason, there’s been some serious misunderstanding as to what this rule does and does not do. With less than 30 days for hunters and anglers to tell the EPA and Army Corps that headwaters and wetlands matter to us, we want to set the facts straight.

By keeping smaller headwaters and wetlands clean, this rule protects:

Early mornings that are worth the extra cup of coffee

Photo credit: USFWS Midwest

 

Your story about that first catch

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain Prairie

 

Photo credit: USFWS Fish and Aquatic Conservation

 

A good reason to buy just a few more decoys because you’ll definitely use them this season

Photo credit: Rebecca Chatfield

 

That Day Away from the Office

Photo credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

 

But the rule IS NOT regulating these things:

Puddles

Photo credit: Nick Amoscato

 

Regular farming practices

Photo credit: Tumbling Run

 

What the Rule Does

Without the Clean Water Rule, we risk seeing streams polluted and wetlands destroyed because of confusion as to which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. This ambiguity started with two Supreme Court decisions, which chipped away protections for headwater streams and wetlands that had been protected until that point. After the 2006 Rapanos v. United States case, Chief Justice Roberts urged the agencies to write a rule that would clarify which waters were covered. This kicked off a transparent public process that eventually led to the final Clean Water Rule, which was celebrated by sportsmen in 2015.

Rather than operating with clarity and consistency, federal and state water quality personnel will need to determine which waters qualify for protection on a case-by-case basis—throwing tremendous uncertainty back into the decision-making process and burdening water quality managers.

This ambiguity also hurts sportsmen and our efforts to restore clean water resources.

The bottom line is that without Clean Water Act protections, wetlands that serve as key habitat for waterfowl can be drained and smaller headwater streams that are crucial spawning areas for trout and other fish can be polluted. Pollution doesn’t simply stay put in headwaters; it flows into larger water bodies downstream, damaging more fish and wildlife habitat along the way.

 

There’s Less Time Than Before

Any time the federal government creates or repeals a rule that government agencies and American citizens have to follow, they’re required to have a public comment period. When the Clean Water Rule was created in 2015, sportsmen and women had more than 200 days to comment on the proposed rule. This time around there are only 30 days to make our voices heard.

This rule could impact our access and traditions for the foreseeable future, but we’ve been given very little time to speak up about it.

Don’t let the opportunity slip by. Click HERE to tell the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that headwater streams and wetlands matter to sportsmen and women. And share your stories to make it personal—because it is. If we want to preserve our way of life and ensure that the next generation has quality opportunities to hunt and fish, we need to watch out for all of our streams and wetlands.

 

 

7 Responses to “To Have Great Fishing Anywhere, We Need Clean Water Everywhere”

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To Have Great Fishing Anywhere, We Need Clean Water Everywhere

The basic needs of America’s world-class trout and waterfowl populations—healthy headwaters and wetlands—are about to be undermined, so sportsmen and women need to act now

We’ve written before about how water is connected, and how pollution from small, diffuse sources can accumulate and create big problems downstream. Scientists and conservationists understand that this is a serious issue, but sportsmen and women are also well-informed—after all, we see the effects directly in our trout streams and from our duck blinds. Perhaps that’s why 83 percent of hunters and anglers, and overwhelmingly across party lines, support the application of Clean Water Act protections for smaller streams and wetlands.

However, the current administration has started the process to repeal a rule that helps the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers do exactly that.

Finalized in 2015, the Clean Water Rule clarifies Clean Water Act protections for 20 million acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of headwater streams—that’s 60 percent of the country’s flowing waters. If we can’t ensure that waters and wetlands are protected at the source, this endangers the future of beloved downstream land and waters.

But for some reason, there’s been some serious misunderstanding as to what this rule does and does not do. With less than 30 days for hunters and anglers to tell the EPA and Army Corps that headwaters and wetlands matter to us, we want to set the facts straight.

By keeping smaller headwaters and wetlands clean, this rule protects:

Early mornings that are worth the extra cup of coffee

Photo credit: USFWS Midwest

 

Your story about that first catch

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain Prairie

 

Photo credit: USFWS Fish and Aquatic Conservation

 

A good reason to buy just a few more decoys because you’ll definitely use them this season

Photo credit: Rebecca Chatfield

 

That Day Away from the Office

Photo credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

 

But the rule IS NOT regulating these things:

Puddles

Photo credit: Nick Amoscato

 

Regular farming practices

Photo credit: Tumbling Run

 

What the Rule Does

Without the Clean Water Rule, we risk seeing streams polluted and wetlands destroyed because of confusion as to which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. This ambiguity started with two Supreme Court decisions, which chipped away protections for headwater streams and wetlands that had been protected until that point. After the 2006 Rapanos v. United States case, Chief Justice Roberts urged the agencies to write a rule that would clarify which waters were covered. This kicked off a transparent public process that eventually led to the final Clean Water Rule, which was celebrated by sportsmen in 2015.

Rather than operating with clarity and consistency, federal and state water quality personnel will need to determine which waters qualify for protection on a case-by-case basis—throwing tremendous uncertainty back into the decision-making process and burdening water quality managers.

This ambiguity also hurts sportsmen and our efforts to restore clean water resources.

The bottom line is that without Clean Water Act protections, wetlands that serve as key habitat for waterfowl can be drained and smaller headwater streams that are crucial spawning areas for trout and other fish can be polluted. Pollution doesn’t simply stay put in headwaters; it flows into larger water bodies downstream, damaging more fish and wildlife habitat along the way.

 

There’s Less Time Than Before

Any time the federal government creates or repeals a rule that government agencies and American citizens have to follow, they’re required to have a public comment period. When the Clean Water Rule was created in 2015, sportsmen and women had more than 200 days to comment on the proposed rule. This time around there are only 30 days to make our voices heard.

This rule could impact our access and traditions for the foreseeable future, but we’ve been given very little time to speak up about it.

Don’t let the opportunity slip by. Click HERE to tell the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that headwater streams and wetlands matter to sportsmen and women. And share your stories to make it personal—because it is. If we want to preserve our way of life and ensure that the next generation has quality opportunities to hunt and fish, we need to watch out for all of our streams and wetlands.

 

 

Steve Kline

July 27, 2017

Why This Sportsmen’s Bill is About More Than Just Wolves

Let’s not allow the strongest legislative package of conservation priorities in years to be overshadowed by controversy

Yesterday, for the second time in as many years, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to advance a package of conservation provisions that have long been a priority for the sportsmen’s community. The legislation would reauthorize programs to benefit fish, waterfowl, wetlands, big game habitat, and sportsmen’s access across the country.

Since 2012, sportsmen have been trying to get these provisions across the legislative finish line, and each time, we’ve failed. Good legislation has been mired in generally unrelated partisanship and political games, with good ideas held hostage by process and bickering.

Where a few years ago sportsmen-advocates in Washington looked to our Sportsmen’s Act lobbying with fairly enthusiastic promise, I will admit that it has been hard to get excited about yet another run in the 115th Congress, especially as the window of opportunity has seemed even narrower than usual. But Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have assembled the “HELP for Wildlife Act” (S.1514), which has breathed new life into this effort.

We called it the strongest package of sportsmen’s priorities in years, because right from the outset, it deals with meaningful conservation measures for fish and wildlife populations, habitat, and access. The bill would reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to enable strong partnerships and funding for conservation. The bill also includes what would be the first ever statutory authorization for the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, a program that funds on-the-ground fish habitat restoration projects across the country.

It also addresses the needs of the Chesapeake Bay Program, which provides grants to the six states in the bay watershed, not only improving water quality on the main-stem Chesapeake (and my own home waters) but also the health of small streams and rivers throughout the watershed.

Free from the controversial and distracting provisions of past iterations, this is a legislative package unfettered by poison pills, and sportsmen should be eager to see it move to the Senate floor. But, in these days of often blistering partisan warfare, it seems nothing is completely free of controversy. In the case of HELP, provisions meant to delist the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Great Lakes from Endangered Species Act protection seems to be overshadowing the very real conservation benefits of the bill.

Photo by Herbert Lange c/o Wisconsin DNR/Flickr

Just the mention of endangered species usually sends folks running for cover, but in this case, the TRCP supports the gray wolf provision as grounded in sound science. This is an idea whose time has come. Generally we don’t support legislative meddling in species-level management, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that it is time for wolf management to be returned to the state fish and wildlife agencies, and we have full confidence in USFWS science and the state agencies’ ability to manage the wolf population.

This package is about way more than wolves. Unfortunately, the bipartisan passage of this bill out of the EPW Committee this week—which should be celebrated—is just the start of a long process before the package can be presented to President Trump for his signature. There is currently no companion version of this legislation in the House of Representatives and no clear path for consideration by the full Senate.

So sportsmen simply must engage; hunters and anglers must make their voices heard now. In the absence of that outreach, sportsmen, and our legislative priorities, might once again wind up on the cutting room floor at the end of the 115th Congress next December.

It has happened before, and it can happen again.

Ariel Wiegard

July 20, 2017

Ten Maps That Show Farm Bill Conservation at Work Across the U.S.

Think the Farm Bill doesn’t affect habitat or clean water where you live? Check out these maps

Recently, we highlighted on the blog how the Farm Bill, which may be most familiar to agriculture-minded folks in the Midwest, helps the greater sage grouse, one of our most iconic and imperiled Western game species. It drew attention to the fact that some people might not be aware that the Farm Bill touches down in all corners of the country.

But if we’re going to get Congress to pass a new Farm Bill that helps to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish, we’ll need every hunter and angler to engage with their elected officials about the programs that matter in the places where they live and spend time outdoors.

One of our goals at TRCP is to educate sportsmen and women on the key conservation provisions of the 1,000-page, trillion-dollar Farm Bill, so we put together a primer on where Farm Bill conservation touches down. Think your area isn’t affected by Farm Bill conservation, because there isn’t eye-high corn in view? Think again.

Congress must write a new #farmbill that helps guarantee Americans quality places to hunt and fish… Click To Tweet
Conservation Reserve Program

Over the last three decades, it has been proven that the Conservation Reserve Program works for wildlife, water quality, agricultural producers, and sportsmen. You may not be in a major CRP state like Iowa, Kansas, or the Dakotas, but check out whitetail country in Pennsylvania and the major clutch of CRP acres around eastern Washington’s lakes. Your hunting and fishing is benefiting from conservation improvements on private lands wherever you see a dot of blue on this map.

Unfortunately, the current breadth of CRP is far less than we used to have. Is your town on this map, but not the one above? Then you’ve lost CRP’s benefits. Around 2007, crop prices started to rise dramatically, and landowners began to choose crops over habitat—now, nearly 13 million acres of CRP grasslands, wetlands, and forests have disappeared from the landscape, the vast majority of which were lost in hunting strongholds like Montana, North Dakota, and Colorado. If you have a minute, go to our petition at CRPworks.org and tell Congress that you want to see these acres restored to the land.

Easements

Long-term easement agreements under the Farm Bill’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program support the voluntary restoration, protection, and enhancement of wetlands and forests, while protecting working agricultural lands from subdivision and development. If your region is on this map, you’re lucky to have easement acres in the mix to benefit critters, water quality, and rural areas. For instance, states like Texas, Wyoming, and Montana are leading the drive for private ranchland protection on an acre-by-acre basis.

But the states getting the most dollars include Iowa and Louisiana, where farmland and wetlands in expensive, highly-developed areas are in great need of protection. Landowners in those regions need more money to conserve even very small areas, and the Farm Bill is critical to making this happen.

Regional Partnerships

Public-private partnerships that work through the Farm Bill’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program coordinate conservation projects across landscapes, rather than incentivize a thousand random acts of conservation here and there around the country. RCPP was designed in part to focus on eight Critical Conservation Areas, which line up with areas TRCP and our partners care deeply about, including the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Prairie Grasslands Region, and Colorado River Basin.

These focus landscapes encompass more of the country than you think—for example, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed stretches far outside of Maryland. (In fact, the health of the Bay’s rockfish fishery partly depends on farms in rural Pennsylvania.) RCPP helps incorporate the farthest reaches of these CCAs into more cohesive conservation plans.

Conservation on Working Lands

Working lands programs in the Farm Bill, like the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program, provide financial assistance to landowners to improve habitat, reduce erosion, and prevent nutrient pollution on lands that are in active crop production, grazing, and forestry. CSP and EQIP were two of the best-funded conservation programs in the 2014 Farm Bill—combined they put more than $2.5 billion in projects on the ground in 2016.

CSP funding is highly targeted to the Midwest and Plains states. In fact, the pheasant capital of the U.S. in South Dakota—also home of the World’s Only Corn Palace—comes out on top at $93 million.

But EQIP dollars have a much more balanced distribution across the country. California and Texas take the prize for top dollar thanks to sheer size, but other sportsmen-friendly states like New Mexico and Arkansas also rank very high for number of contracts and acres. If your state is in deep green on the map, it’s a good bet that agricultural producers are working to make your waterways just as vibrant as their farms.

Public Access on Private Lands

Through 2015 (the last time USDA offered up these program funds) 29 states have received grants through the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program to open private lands for public recreation. States like Minnesota, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and even Connecticut use VPA funds to support walk-in access in a number of ways: by paying landowners to open their lands (many open their CRP habitat to hunters), posting signs on the property and publishing the location of access points in brochures and online, improving habitat, repairing roads and fences, patrolling access points for poachers and other bad actors, and even covering the costs of liability insurance for landowners, in case a sportsman gets hurt on their property. East of the Mississippi, where some states are 99 percent privately owned, this is an essential way to ensure quality days afield.

We See You, Nevada

Let’s talk about Nevada for a second. You may have noticed that Nevada comes up blank or nearly blank on many of these maps. And no wonder—when we talk about Farm Bill we’re talking about the conservation of private lands. About 85 percent of Nevada is comprised of public land. This doesn’t mean there’s zero opportunity for Nevadans to benefit from the Farm Bill. In fact, with a big chunk of sage grouse core habitat in the northeast of the state, ranchers can make a real difference by marking livestock fences or participating in habitat improvements through the Sage Grouse Initiative.

Recreation in Rural America

According to the USDA, 229 counties (in blue on this map)—ranging from Lake and Peninsula Borough, Alaska, to Monroe County, Florida—are economically dependent on recreation. That’s no surprise to sportsmen and women who have seen firsthand how hotels, gas stations, bars, and diners in rural and coastal areas empty out when the season’s over. This map shows a country where hunting and fishing support more jobs than the oil and gas industry. And the Farm Bill contributes to the complex conservation picture that supports this important $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.

We already know that hunters and anglers, regardless of political party, support conservation funding: 75 percent agree we should provide financial incentives to farmers and ranchers to implement habitat conservation on private lands, and 87 percent do not want to see cuts to conservation programs, in the Farm Bill or anywhere else.

These maps further show that support for Farm Bill conservation shouldn’t break along party lines or state lines. If you agree, follow us on social media as we enter the 2018 Farm Bill debate—because if Congress crosses the line and tries to cut these programs, we’re going to need your help.

 

 

Scott Laird

July 12, 2017

In an Area Once Resembling a Checkerboard, It’s Sportsmen’s Move

The consolidation of public lands in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley has led to a golden opportunity for restoration and conservation

Western Montana’s Blackfoot Valley lies along the southern edge of the Crown of the Continent, a vast complex of land comprised primarily of the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas and Glacier National Park. A popular destination for hunting and fishing, the outdoor appeal of the Blackfoot Valley is a critical component to the local economy. Healthy populations of deer and elk inhabit the valley year round, and the Blackfoot River flowing down the middle of the valley supports critical populations of Westslope cutthroat and bull trout. This area also provides important habitat linkage from the Crown of the Continent ecosystem to the Garnet Mountain Range, which runs along the southern edge of the valley.

Today, the BLM’s Missoula Field Office is responsible for the management of 156,000 surface acres in the Blackfoot Valley and the adjacent Garnet Range. The Missoula BLM is currently in the process of updating their Resource Management Plan: a document that will provide goals, objectives, and direction for the management of these lands for the next 20 to 30 years. But before we look at recommendations for the future, it’s important to understand how we got to where we are today.

A Fragmented Past

The area has an interesting past and a long history of conservation efforts. As early as the 1860s, many of these lands were owned by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads. A hundred years later, these lands belonged to corporate timber companies. As a result, vast acreages resembled a checkerboard pattern of public and private land. This fragmented layout made land management more costly and made access challenging.

Starting in the late 1970s, public and private landowners and stakeholders in the valley came together to guide conservation decisions on the future of this extraordinary place. Since that time, hundreds of millions of conservation dollars, from both public and private sources, have been poured into the valley to restore sensible ownership patterns and shore up large tracts of vital wildlife habitat.

The results point to one of the most effective community-based conservation efforts in the country—anchored by the 40,000-acre Blackfoot Clearwater Game Range, one of the oldest state-owned game ranges in Montana. The first conservation easement ever placed on private land in Montana occurred in this valley, and now more than 100,000 acres of private lands are in permanent protection for the benefit of fish and wildlife.

Another example of the Blackfoot’s conservation efforts can be seen in the areas around Marcum and Chamberlain mountains. Much of these lands were corporate timber land, but as these logging companies moved out of the area, these parcels were offered for sale. Local and national conservation organizations acquired these lands, eventually transferring ownership to the BLM, guaranteeing long-term, conservation-minded, multiple-use management.

The Blackfoot Today

To build on the last 40 years of conservation achievements wrought by sportsmen and women, federal and state agencies, and private landowners, we need to continue to sustain traditional uses of the land, but do so in a way that conserves this important fish and wildlife habitat from the impacts of surface disturbance and development. We need to maintain public access, but in a way that balances road access and habitat needs. And we need to focus land management on the conservation, restoration, and enhancement of key habitats that also support our economy. These lands provide unique opportunities for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other healthy and enjoyable outdoor activities. It is important that these lands are restored and kept intact.

To achieve all of these goals and still allow traditional uses, such as timber management and livestock grazing, to continue, sportsmen are asking the BLM to consider backcountry conservation management for certain areas as the agency revisits its Resource Management Plan. This land management tool exists to help conserve, restore, and enhance large areas of generally intact and undeveloped BLM-managed lands that foster recreationally important fish and wildlife species.

The aforementioned Marcum and Chamberlain mountains fit this bill perfectly. According to the BLM, more than half of the hunter-harvested whitetail deer in the entire district come from these two hunting areas. Also being recommended for backcountry conservation management are portions of the Hoodoo and Ram Mountains, home to healthy populations of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and cutthroat trout—two of Montana’s most sought-after game species. Collectively, these four areas offer important big game habitat and are heavily utilized by sportsmen during hunting season.

With your help, we’ve let the BLM know that by managing these areas for backcountry conservation management, the agency would be ensuring that this sort of sustained use continues well into the future. Of all the letters submitted during the 60-day comment period, 63 percent were from TRCP members in favor of backcountry conservation management.

Encouraging backcountry conservation, Montana TRCP members sent the BLM 63% of all comments. Here's why Click To Tweet
What’s Next?

BLM-managed lands in the Blackfoot Valley are a significant part of one of the most successful landscape-level conservation efforts in the county. As the BLM spends the next few months drafting their planning proposals for the area, we ask that you stay tuned for opportunities to weigh in by becoming a member of TRCP today (it’s free).

In the future, we’ll keep you posted on this and any other issues that affect your hunting and fishing heritage, specifically regarding places that are too valuable to risk, like Montana’s Blackfoot Valley and the surrounding Marcum, Chamberlain, Hoodoo, and Ram mountains.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION ISN’T
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But a little green never hurt anyone. Support our work to ensure that all hunters and anglers are represented in Washington.

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