A Confirmed Decline in Hunter Participation Should Be a Call to Action for Sportsmen
It’s time for our community and decision makers to get serious about R3 efforts, adequate conservation funding, and smart policies that enhance hunters’ opportunities afield
A new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that 101.6 million Americans participated in wildlife-related outdoor recreation last year. Unfortunately, while the number of people participating in fishing and wildlife-watching is up, participation in hunting dropped by about 2 million people to a total of 11.5 million hunters. Total expenditures by hunters also declined 29 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion.
This has significant ripple effects on not only the key federal funding models that support conservation of fish and wildlife, but also the base of support for our public lands and thoughtful natural resources policy.
“It is time for our community and our decision makers to get serious about R3, or recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters, because the implications for conservation are dire if this trend continues,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
The report indicates that participation in fishing increased 8 percent since 2011, from 33.1 million anglers to 35.8 million in 2016, and total nationwide spending by anglers was up 2 percent. R3 efforts geared toward fishing and boating have been successful thanks to a funding provision in the Dingell-Johnson Act, also called the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, that allows a small percentage of these excise tax revenues to be used for recruitment and retention programs.
The Pittman-Robertson Act, which created the excise tax on guns, ammunition, and archery equipment, does not permit using the funds for R3 activities.
“We must modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act so we can promote hunting the same way we promote fishing and boating, bring the hunter education and licensing systems into the 21st century, and immediately address serious threats to hunting, like chronic wasting disease in deer,” says Fosburgh. “We must also focus on expanding access and improving the quality of the hunting experience—better habitat means more animals and more opportunities for success.”
Decision makers should further support the future of America’s hunting traditions by passing a fiscal year 2018 budget deal with robust funding for conservation and crafting a 2018 Farm Bill that not only enhances conservation tools for private lands but also incentivizes private landowners to enroll acres in voluntary public access programs. It is more critical than ever that sportsmen and women continue to be engaged in the public process of planning for management on America’s multiple-use public lands, as well.
It appears the USFWS will update this page with preliminary findings on the latest five-year report.
Top photo by Tim Donovan at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission via Flickr
Hunters and Anglers Want More Than Thin Details on Monument Recommendations
TRCP calls for a public report of findings on 27 national monuments that are overwhelmingly supported by American sportsmen and women
Today, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted a report to President Trump that outlined recommended actions for 27 national monuments, including 11.3 million acres of public land. A summary of the report released by the Department of the Interior is heavy on process and thin on the subject of the actual recommendations, including the number of monuments that might be cut back in size.
“These are our public lands, and the public deserves to know what the administration plans to do with them,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These recommendations have the potential to impact the future of world-class hunting and fishing on some of America’s finest public lands and set a precedent for the future status of all national monuments, even those created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906—but we won’t know until the results of this public process are made public.”
Although the report summary states that residents local to some monuments expressed concern over hunting and fishing restrictions, 22 of the 27 monuments reviewed are open to hunting and fishing and a number were created with the active support of sportsmen and women. Of the more than 1.3 million people who commented during the review period, more than 99 percent were in favor of keeping national monuments intact.
Similarly, a recent poll commissioned by the TRCP found that 77 percent of Republican and 80 percent of Democratic sportsmen and women support keeping the existing number and size of national monuments available for hunting and fishing.
Now that Zinke’s recommendations have gone to President Trump, sportsmen are anxiously awaiting further detail on the acres affected. Hunters and anglers will also be watching the White House. No president has ever attempted to eliminate a monument through executive action, and no president of the modern era has attempted to drastically reduce the size of a monument.
“We ask that President Trump support the legacy of sixteen past presidents from both sides of the aisle—eight Republicans and eight Democrats—by rejecting any proposal to shrink or undo any national monument through executive action,” says Fosburgh. “The future of some of America’s finest landscapes is directly tied to the health of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy, and with a major focus on jobs, the White House would do well to recognize how these public lands serve local communities as they are currently managed.”
This Dysfunctional Wildfire Funding Model All But Ensures More Public Lands Will Burn
The need for a ‘fire borrowing’ fix grows as the West burns
With elk and deer seasons right around the corner, I’ve been running, biking, and hiking as often as I can on the public lands near the TRCP’s Western office in Missoula, Mont. You’d think that my main challenge would be climbing a particularly steep mountain trail, but lately the real hurdle has been simply trying to breathe—the smell of smoke from the many active wildfires in western Montana clings to my clothing long after I’ve returned to my desk.
To make matters worse, many of our nearby public and private lands have been evacuated and remain closed because of the wildfires bearing down on our community. At worst, these wildfires are terrifying. At best, they’re a major inconvenience for those of us who are living for fall.
When the rains finally come and the smoke clears, we’ll look back at 2017 as being a nasty fire year in Montana and other areas of the West. It should also be the year when Congress finally fixes the wildfire funding crisis that has made it difficult for the U.S. Forest Service to do its job and has left our public lands even more susceptible to fire. It’s a cycle that’s fueling the flames.
How We’re All Getting Burned
Like all federal agencies, the Forest Service has an annual budget. It’s meant to underwrite maintenance of roads, trails, and campgrounds, and active management of our forests—projects like thinning trees and improving habitat through prescribed burns or other tactics. They also depend on that budget to pay for firefighting on public lands. The problem is that wildfire seasons are getting longer and more intense in the West, and when wildfire season is particularly intense, the Forest Service is required to pull money from other accounts to pay for fire suppression.
When this happens, forest management and maintenance projects get put on hold, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the agency to do its job. Since 2002, this cycle has been an ongoing issue for the Forest Service. In turn, other land-management programs have been neglected, resulting in unsatisfactory national forest management and increased frustration all around.
To put the current budget crisis in perspective, wildfire suppression costs made up 16 percent of the Forest Service’s budget in 1995. In 2015, wildfires cost the agency 50 percent of its budget for the whole year. According to the Forest Service, if left unchecked, “the share of the budget devoted to fire in 2025 could exceed 67 percent,” further exacerbating the problem.
Without a fix for fire borrowing, there’s no doubt that the shortfall in funding will continue to fail us, leaving our forests vulnerable, poorly managed, or completely torched.
How Do We Fix This?
Fortunately, two widely supported bipartisan solutions are on the table, both of which would take steps to ensure that the most extreme wildfires would be granted suppression funding from the Disaster Relief Fund—the pool of money that is used in the case of catastrophic weather events like floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. In other words, the proposed legislation would ensure that large, dangerous, and expensive forest fires are treated like all other weather-related national disasters, which seems like common sense.
The first bill is the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which has strong support in Congress and from a diverse coalition of interests ranging from sportsmen to the timber industry and environmental community. A second bipartisan solution has been proposed by Senators Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The newest National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act includes a provision that would prohibit transferring funding away from non-fire programs and, at the same time, establishes a new source of funding for wildfire suppression through the Disaster Relief Fund.
Either of these much needed fixes directly addresses the continued erosion of agency budgets from the increased cost of wildfire fighting. This is the support we need for thoughtful, active management of our public lands—especially right now.
A Hazy Outlook
It is concerning that Congress has been unable to get a funding fix across the finish line in the last several years. It seems that the problem is forgotten as soon as fire season ends, but out-of-sight-out-of-mind conservation won’t take us far in maintaining the public lands legacy that Theodore Roosevelt helped create and that makes our country so unique.
My hope is that this year’s smoky summer will linger in lawmakers’ minds as much as the scent of it lingers on my pack. But it’s up to sportsmen and women to convince our elected officials that it’s time to extinguish the problem once and for all. With more than 75 active fires burning nearly 1,000,000 acres across the U.S. right now, these solutions couldn’t come at a more pivotal time.
Five Things Your Fishing License Does for Conservation While You Catch Fish
These are your license dollars at work for fish habitat, water quality, and the next generation of anglers
When you’re buying or renewing your fishing license, you’re probably only thinking about the possibility of the new season or exploring a promising new stretch of river. But are you aware of just how hard your fishing license is working on your behalf of your future days on the water?
Here are five examples of how the dollars spent on your fishing licenses, boat registrations, and excise taxes on fishing gear and boat fuel purchases go back to conservation and public access. And at $1.1 billion that’s a sizeable down payment on the next generation of anglers in America.
Improving Fishing and Boating Access
First, funds from license sales go toward fishing and boating access projects. One example is the Ramps & Pier Program in Mississippi, which helps pay for repairs to existing access points and the construction of four to six new boat ramps each year. The state of Oregon also has an excellent model of involving state and federal agencies in adding and upgrading new boating facilities.
Enhancing Water Quality
Boat registration funds help implement clean water projects that benefit fish habitat and improve the experience of anglers and boaters. The Clean Vessel Act program in Hawaii, for example, helped use these funds to construct a new sewage pump-out station and three new floating restrooms at the Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor—all in an effort to protect the sparkling turquoise waters of Hawaii for future generations.
Maintaining Fish Habitat
The excise taxes on your fishing gear go toward fisheries maintenance projects that help manage our state sport fisheries. For example, in New York State, biologists collect data through creel surveys and work to restore fish habitat for native brookies, American shad, river herring, and striped bass largely thanks to the taxes paid by the manufacturers of your fishing rods, reels, lures, baits, and flies. In Massachusetts, these funds are used to map fish habitat with GPS technology, sonar, and underwater vehicles through the state’s Fisheries Habitat Program. The more these experts learn, the better prepared they are to spot habitat issues and plan for improvements.
Teaching and Recruiting New Anglers
Fishing license funds also go to work for educational and recruitment programs that introduce new anglers to the sport. As more people take up fishing, there is a greater need for education on topics like species identification, conservation, regulations, and proper catch-and-release techniques. The state of Texas offers free workshops for first-timers or anyone who wants a refresher on the basics, and the saltwater angler education programs hosted by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have been so successful that they hope to extend courses to all coastal areas of the state.
Planning for Long-Term Conservation
With an eye toward investing in our marine and freshwaters resources, as well as the next generation of anglers, fishing license fees support long-term conservation plans for our rivers and streams. This robust funding, which has nothing to do with the federal balance sheet, is critical to ensuring an adequate quantity and quality of water to maintain the natural balance of aquatic ecosystems. Texas has used this money to fund its River Studies Program that addresses long-term water development, water planning, and water quality issues.
Whether state agencies are studying rainbow trout populations or repairing boat ramps, your license fees are put to excellent use. Want to get started on your next fishing trip and give back to conservation? Buy or renew your license here.
TakeMeFishing.org contributor Debbie Hanson is an outdoor writer and avid angler who has written articles on fishing and boating for publications such as USA Today Hunt & Fish and Game & Fish Magazine. She is a member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Read her blogs at takemefishing.org/blog and visit her personal blog at shefishes2.com.
A Flood-Prone County in N.Y. Needed a Healthier River, Not Just Road Repairs
One example of how natural infrastructure—beyond the bridges and highways we tend to picture—helped improve public safety for future floods and give a boost to a legendary trout fishery
Situated along the Pennsylvania border in the western foothills of the Catskills, Sands Creek is one of the most critical trout spawning tributaries in the Upper Delaware River watershed. The creek feeds into the West Branch of the Upper Delaware in the village of Hancock, where the downtown overlooks the confluence of East and West branches. This is also one of the most frequently flooded counties in the nation. Anglers are drawn to the Upper Delaware because of its feisty population of wild brown and rainbow trout and legendary mayfly and caddis hatches.
This is a place where sportsmen and women have been a part of achieving a mindset shift around infrastructure: Beyond roads, bridges, and airports, natural infrastructure—as simple and cost-effective as strategically placed boulders—has re-shaped the Upper Delaware so that it’s safer and more flood-resilient, while enhancing fish habitat and sportsmen’s access.
Here’s how the community came together and why lawmakers should broaden the scope of what they consider to be critical infrastructure.
When It Rains, It Floods
New York’s Delaware County, home to Sands Creek, is no stranger to rising waters: The county has had more federal flood emergency declarations than any other in the state, and it is among the most frequently flooded counties in the nation. A devastating flood in 2006, the third in as many years, actually washed away much of the basic infrastructure in the region. In 2011, the one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee spurred conservation groups and local government officials into action, not just to rebuild washed out roads, but to revamp the river so that future floods wouldn’t have the same negative impacts.
“Those storms really changed the way people think about floods,” says Jeff Skelding, executive director of the Friends of the Upper Delaware River. “As a fisherman who grew up on the Delaware, I knew we had to get creative in preparing for floods if we wanted to preserve the river for future generations.”
Enter FUDR and a host of collaborative conservation partners and government officials.
Along with Trout Unlimited, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and officials from Hancock and Delaware County, as well as outdoor recreation businesses like Orvis and Patagonia, FUDR worked to set the Sands Creek restoration project in motion. Beginning in 2012 and completed last year, the project has returned roughly one-tenth of the creek to a near-natural state with the help of local engineers and contractors.
Building Blocks: Boulder Clusters and Log Toes
The crew installed several natural infrastructure components to restore flood plains, fortify stream banks, and enhance fish habitat.
Carefully placed boulder clusters now help prevent river-altering gravel and sediment erosion and boost water quality for downstream communities, while the rocky surfaces have become prime areas for trout to spawn. In a love story for the ages, these boulders were coupled with nearby clusters of logs that provided instream cover and organic material for spawning fish. Together, these log and boulder clusters dramatically improve river health and make for great fishing holes.
Another structure called a roughened log toe, formed by placing multiple logs with their roots intact in a bend in the creek, has helped protect the banks from high-speed floodwaters. By absorbing the impact of rushing high water, roughened log toes prevent mass erosion, which is critically important along roadsides. Over time, the water churning against the root wads will also create cool, shady areas for fish to congregate.
“These guys were used to taking logs out of the water, and here we are asking them to put these logs in the water,” Skelding laughs. “It really is a new way of thinking about mitigating flood damages and protecting fish habitat.”
The next time Delaware County has a flood emergency, residents along Sands Creek can rest assured that their community is more resilient than in previous years while local anglers might even be able to wet a line much sooner. Not bad for pushing some boulders and logs around. And with an all-in project cost of about $300,000, these benefits came at a steep discount compared to many traditional infrastructure options.
Today, Sands Creek—Tomorrow, the Mississippi
The success of the Sands Creek restoration project highlights the importance of collaboration in conservation, and sportsmen and women played a crucial role in this case. We think this is an important story because, as policymakers consider upgrading our nation’s infrastructure, it is imperative that natural infrastructure solutions, extending from erosion control to wildlife crossing structures, are part of the discussion.
Incorporating these ideas early on can help save money that would have been spent cleaning up a disastrous flood, plus the benefits to wildlife habitat and river access mean anglers can keep doing what we love – all of which boosts local economies.
When conservationists engage with government officials and local businesses to build better rivers, not just new bridges and roads, the benefits can flow far, far downstream.