Christy Plumer

October 23, 2017

Four Ways the Next Farm Bill Can Help the Colorado River

After nearly two decades of drought, the Colorado River Basin needs this boost to private land conservation to support agriculture, outdoor recreation businesses, and a growing population

Even as the Colorado River enters a 17th year of drought conditions, 35 million people and hundreds of thousands of businesses across seven U.S. states are creating an unsustainable level of demand on this stressed waterway. The mighty Colorado, of such strength that it continues to carve out the Grand Canyon, no longer reaches the sea. And future projections for the river system—based on population growth, increasing temperatures, and changing weather patterns—are troublesome to say the least.

But the 2018 Farm Bill could provide some relief for the overtaxed Colorado. Here are four ways that the conservation programs we already know are good for wildlife and water quality can also support innovation and the long-term health of the river.

Farm Bill Benefits By the Numbers

Recent figures indicate the Colorado River supports an estimated 16 million jobs with a $1.4 trillion economic impact. Along with agriculture, outdoor recreation is a significant economic driver in the region. By one estimate, outdoor recreation in the Colorado River Basin contributes more than $27 billion annually to the region’s economy. The seven states within the river basin—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming—attract 1.37 million hunters and 4.2 million anglers annually.

All of this economic activity relies upon the Colorado River system’s ability to sustain fish and wildlife.

But roughly 90 percent of agricultural land in the Colorado River Basin is irrigated by off-farm water-delivery systems, which are not eligible for most Farm Bill conservation program assistance. Many Farm Bill programs are also currently limited when it comes to deficit irrigation, a practice that helps farmers in the Colorado River Basin save water while maintaining important land in production and could help plants “learn” to adapt to drought.

Photo by Doug Greenberg via flickr
Four Ways to a Better Farm Bill for the Colorado

In the next Farm Bill, it may be possible to enhance the flexibility of conservation provisions for the Colorado River and Western farmers and ranchers. Here are four things we’d like to see:

Use the Environmental Quality Incentives program to improve the infrastructure that supports off-farm irrigation. Landowners already use EQIP projects to improve their on-farm water efficiency and, often, because the farmer can divert less water from the stream, they improve stream habitat at the same time. Allowing the Natural Resources Conservation Service to work directly with irrigation districts and the companies that oversee and maintain reservoirs and irrigation ditches would improve the effectiveness of water use on private lands across the West.

Address drought and water conservation practices within the Conservation Reserve Program. For more than 30 years, this popular program has incentivized farmers and ranchers to selectively take land out of production to achieve conservation outcomes, like improving soil and water quality, reducing erosion and nutrient runoff, and enhancing wildlife habitat. Expand it to acres where it might improve water conservation efforts, and give landowners even more options for a successful business plan.

Waive some acreage limits within the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program for projects that address regional drought concerns. Because watersheds in the West are typically larger than in the eastern half of the country, the acreage limits in the program make it difficult for Western irrigators to access these funds. Removing those caps would allow landowners to use Farm Bill dollars to build drought resiliency.

Help innovative partnerships enroll in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Already popular since its introduction in the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP allows landowners to partner with organizations to improve soil, water, and wildlife habitat conditions, but enrollment has been cumbersome so far. The next Farm Bill should clarify this funding arrangement and create the flexibility to promote conservation innovations at the landscape scale.

What You Can Do

The TRCP and our partners will be working to inform decision makers in the Colorado River Basin states and key Farm Bill architects of the benefits these enhancements could make. But as the debate around the next Farm Bill continues and comes to a head in 2018, it’s very likely that there are private lands, waterways, and wildlife habitat at stake where you live. Join the TRCP to be the first to know about ways you can support these ideas and other recommendations that are good for landowners, habitat, outdoor recreation, and rural America.

Top photo by USDA via flickr

One Response to “Four Ways the Next Farm Bill Can Help the Colorado River”

  1. Matthew Van Camp

    The Colorado river is vital to farming life in the western, and especially the southwestern United States. This breadbasket provides food to both America and the World. It requires tons of water that the Colorado river system provides.
    We should protect those farms by either eliminating or severely limiting any other users of that water not essential to farming, exclusively.
    Industry in the watershed should be severely limited regarding its consumption of water.
    Bottled water production’s water sources which are drawn from the Colorado river system must be immediately shut down!
    Also, wastewater treatment plants must be optimized so that any water they reservoir can be used, possibly exclusively, for irrigation on crops.

Do you have any thoughts on this post?

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Kevin Farron

October 12, 2017

This Is One Lucky Dog

Meet the winner of our #PublicLandsPup photo contest and learn what her family loves about hunting and fishing on public lands

We’re excited to announce the winner of our #PublicLandsPup photo contest: Allison Carolan and her Labrador retriever Beau!

With hundreds of photo submissions to choose from, you guys didn’t make it easy for us to pick just one winner. But this lucky pup will receive a new dog bed from Orvis to rest up for her next public-lands adventure.

We talked with the winning #publiclandsproud photographer, Allison Carolan, and asked her to tell us more about the photo, her dog, and what public lands mean to both of them.

TRCP: Congrats on winning the #publiclandspup contest, Alli! Where were you when you took this amazing photo?

CAROLAN: I took this photo in December in the Nemadji River bottoms on public land near Wrenshall, Minnesota. My husband, Andrew, and our 7-year-old Labrador retriever, Beau, and I were looking for grouse at the time, and we had just walked some single tracks for an hour or so before pausing to take in the sunrise over the Nemadji River valley.

It was about three degrees that morning, and everything was covered with hoarfrost in the valley. The frost was so heavy that some of the crystals were blowing off the trees and shimmering in the air in a crazy, otherworldly sort of way. We stopped to stare at the scene and didn’t even care that we hadn’t flushed a single bird yet. It was actually so cold that some of my breath distorted the light just slightly in the photo.

7-year-old Labrador retriever, Beau, will be rewarded for her hard work with a plush dog bed from Orvis. Image courtesy of @alli_ac on Instagram.
TRCP: It made for a truly amazing shot. How does Beau like to enjoy public lands?

CAROLAN: Beau loves to hunt, especially pheasants, Hungarian partridge, and sharptails. She specializes in long, challenging retrieves on the big grasslands of western Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and central Montana. In fact, at this very moment, Beau is with my husband at a base-camp on public land outside of Lewiston, Mont., on the Pheasants Forever Rooster Road Trip. (You can follow along with the adventure here.)

Beau is a wild bird snob, loves an authentic hunting experience, and we really only take her to hunt on public lands. You can tell she loves the challenge of flushing late-season roosters that are holding tight in thick cover, the ones that other dogs might have missed.

TRCP: What about you? What attracts you to our public lands?

CAROLAN: As for me, I just completed my hunter safety course, but haven’t completed my field day training yet. For now, I’m content to walk along, watch Beau work, take photos, and contribute to the wild game dinners afterward. I am, however, an extreme frequenter of public lands. I’m an ultra-marathon runner and wilderness canoeist, so I spend the vast majority of my free time seeking out and training on all kinds of public lands. I’ve run on the backcountry ATV trails of western Montana, in countless national parks and forests, and around portage trails in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. In general, the wilder the place, the more I like it. Since I cover a lot of ground in my training, I’m a decent scout for everything from morel mushrooms to rare plants to birdy-looking areas. I sneak up on a lot of grouse during trail runs and take note of good future hunting locations when I find them.

I also grew up trout fishing in the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa and have spent many hours fishing on public lands in that region and out West.

TRCP: Knowing all this, it seems like Beau truly is a #publiclandspup and well deserving of a new bed from Orvis.

CAROLAN: For sure! Beau will absolutely love the new Orvis bed, and I’ll be putting it in her favorite place in the house—right in front of the fireplace. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it after putting in some hard work this week.

Below are some of our other favorite #PublicLandPup captures shared with us during the campaign.

 

Jake Koehn’s Lab, Milo, is all smiles after a successful pheasant hunt in North Dakota. Image courtesy of @jake_koehn on Instagram.

 

Ryan Cavanaugh’s dog, Daly, stays warm on a chilly duck hunt in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Image courtesy of @ry.cavanaugh on Instagram.

 

Fishing dog, Ginger, knows how to point more than just birds. Image courtesy of @phoebe_s_bean on Instagram.

 

Morgan Brown’s #publiclandspup Lily loves to fish! Image courtesy of @morgan_b_1 on Instagram.

 

Brian Riopelle holding his first Columbian sharp-tailed grouse thanks to the aid of his dog Sadie. Image courtesy of @ab_rio and @b_rio802 on Instagram.

 

Matt Martens’ pointer with his first bird in Idaho! Image courtesy of @matthew_tyler_m on Instagram.

 

Andrew Rappl with a limit of Utah sage grouse thanks to the help of his #publiclandspup, Ozzy. Image courtesy of @rapplandrew on Instagram.

Rob Thornberry

October 11, 2017

Escape to Idaho’s High Divide Right Now

Explore some of the West’s most cherished backcountry landscapes through the lens of outdoor photographer Tony Bynum, and learn how you can take an active role in conserving these areas for future generations of hunters and anglers

In Idaho’s High Divide, there exists 7.4 million acres of wildlife habitat and largely untamed public land. Three times the size of nearby Yellowstone National Park, the High Divide sees just a fraction of the use that the famed park does. Beginning this year, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are undertaking expansive planning efforts to guide the future of these lands, which represent 20 percent of the public ground in Idaho. I recently explored the area with photographer Tony Bynum to document some of the stunning and valuable landscapes at stake in this process. Here’s what we saw.

 

Space

Idaho High Divide Elk

This herd of 24 bull elk summer on BLM land near the Donkey Hills then disperse across Idaho’s High Divide as the fall rut and hunting seasons approach. Thanks to progressive public-lands planning, the Donkey Hills are managed by the BLM as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The ACEC was created to protect the area’s value as an elk calving and seasonal use area. It is the keystone of a thriving elk population that numbers in the thousands. Image courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Space

Idaho High Divide Deer

The day after the large elk herd in the Idaho High Divide was photographed, this four-point buck appeared on the pass between the Little Lost and Pahsimeroi rivers. “I was surprised to see that deer where it was,” Bynum said. “He was on a south-facing slope, bedded in the tall grass. I jumped him and he didn’t wait around.” Image courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Space

Ramsey Antelope

A herd of pronghorn follow the “green wave” of fresh feed on the flanks of Ramsey Mountain in the Beaverhead Mountains, which are the border of Idaho and Montana. Research by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has identified the High Divide as a vast pronghorn winter range that has migration routes that stretch up to 80 miles. Image courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Space

Pahsimeroi

The headwaters of the Pahsimeroi River in eastern and central Idaho make up a vast chunk of undisturbed habitat on BLM ground in eastern Idaho. It produces elk that are coveted by hunters. In the Pahsimeroi Valley, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game offers 135 premier elk tags. More than 800 hunters apply for those tags annually. Image courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Space

Dry Creek Fishing

TRCP Idaho Field Representative Rob Thornberry tries to entice a brook trout on Dry Creek in the Little Lost Valley. Mt. Breitenbach—in the Lost River Range—stands in the background. The headwaters of the Little Lost River—particularly the Sawmill Canyon Drainage—contain some of the highest densities of bull trout in the species’ range, according to Bart Gamett, a fisheries biologist for the USFS in Mackay. “It has been a team effort. Sportsmen, ranchers, federal agencies, state agencies, NGOs, and other landowners have all come together to protect and restore bull trout populations,” he said. “There is work to be done but the effort is in good hands.” Image courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Space

Burnt Creek Scouting

A hunter crosses a ridge in eastern Idaho to glass a new drainage. A large herd of pronghorn summer on the rolling hills the upper Little Lost Valley between the Donkey Hills ACEC and the Burnt Creek Wilderness Study Area and the Upper Pahsimeroi Valley. Image courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Space

Reese Creek Ridge

As the sun sets over the Beaverhead Mountains in eastern Idaho, a draw falls into the afternoon shadows. The area is notable because it is a place where BLM guidance touches the Continental Divide. Image courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Space

Tony’s Favorite Spot

Tony Bynum has traveled the world shooting photographs of fish and wildlife and the men and women who pursue them. He counts this picture from a nameless knob on the divide between the headwaters of the Little Lost and Pahsimeroi rivers as one of his favorites. “It is the solitude and sheer expanse that makes it so majestic,” he said. “What captivated me the most was being so alone in an area so beautiful. Normally, the majestic places are the most overrun. Not there, and not now, thankfully.” Image courtesy of Tony Bynum.

Space

Released Wilderness

The rolling hills of the flanks of Lone Pine Peak in central Idaho are part of an 88,000-acre parcel that was protected by the BLM as a wilderness study area until 2015 when Congress created the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness. The critical elk winter range is a prime place where sportsmen can be an influential voice in the future management of BLM lands. Image courtesy of Tony Bynum.

The High Divide planning area—comprised of both BLM and Forest Service land—is home to mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, moose, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. It is where half of Idaho’s mountain goat hunters and 73 percent of the state’s Rocky Mountain bighorn hunters draw tags. In 2016, more than 18,500 hunters spent 88,842 days within the Salmon-Challis National Forest and public lands overseen by the BLM’s Salmon and Challis field offices.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has recently discovered that the High Divide is also home to vast amounts of pronghorn antelope winter range and migration routes that stretch up to 80 miles. It also features the Sand Creek Desert, which is the wintertime home of more than 10,000 big game animals—elk, deer, moose, and pronghorns.

The BLM is in the first stage of rewriting its Resource Management Plans for 3.14 million acres of this area. The plans will set the direction for ranching, mining, and recreation for decades to come, so this is a critical opportunity for sportsmen and women to rally around the need for these lands to be managed for the benefit of hunting and fishing and the $887-billion outdoor economy we support.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest is also planning for the future of 4.3 million acres of public forest. Over the past nine months, the agency has assessed the health of the forest and explored its issues and future challenges. Forest officials will present alternatives for management over the next 12 months.

This is an important public process, and as citizens of Sportsmen’s Country—the public lands where the majority of hunters and anglers have the unique privilege of pursuing our outdoor traditions—it is critical that we all speak up.

Here’s what you can do.

In addition to commenting on the individual plans (when available), there are a number of ways you can act now to influence the management of our national public lands:

  1. Sign our new Sportsmen’s Country petition. Let decision makers know that it isn’t enough to simply pledge to keep public land public. We need responsible management of our public lands to ensure a positive future for hunting, fishing, and our way of life.
  2. Contact the TRCP’s Idaho Field Representative Rob Thornberry directly at rthornberry@trcp.org. He is tracking the plans closely and will make sure you have the opportunity to engage in the process when the time is right.
  3. Or, simply join the TRCP—it’s free! We’ll keep you posted on this and any other conservation issues affecting your ability to access quality places to hunt and fish.

Need some more public lands to daydream about? Check out other BLM landscapes worthy of conservation here and here.

Melinda Kassen

October 5, 2017

An Underrated Bass Fishery United This Town on the Colorado River

Restoration work on waterfront habitat did almost as much to revive the community as it did to improve conditions for fishing

It was 107 degrees in the September sun in Yuma, Arizona, and yet people were out bass fishing.

Twenty years ago, this would not have been the case. But Yuma’s renewed focus on its river, the mighty Colorado, is an extraordinary story of diplomacy and determination that has resulted in benefits for the local economy, outdoor recreation, and Yuma’s people. I was able to witness this firsthand on a recent canoe trip through the Yuma Heritage Area’s wetlands restoration sites, through the downtown park—now vibrant after struggling in the late 20th century —to below the Ocean to Ocean (“peace”) bridge—rebuilt quite literally to bring together residents of Yuma on the river’s east bank with members of the Quechan Reservation on its west bank, with whom relations had been poor.

Yuma is best known as the nation’s winter lettuce capital. But an almost impassable thicket of non-native vegetation, including salt cedar (also known as tamarisk), had been growing along the Colorado River, masking temporary shelters for the homeless and entry points for drug smugglers coming from Mexico, less than ten miles south. Recognizing the potential for a vibrant waterfront, the city hired a community developer who started meeting with the Quechan tribe, and soon after the two governments enlisted the National Park Service and other federal and state agencies to help tackle community and river restoration.

By 2014, the communities had cleared and revegetated more than 400 acres of riverfront , built parks on both banks, and established a network of hiking and biking trails for enthusiastic use by visitors (including many snowbirds) and locals. The restoration effort has improved riparian and river habitat, including flows, and has made the river a safer destination for people, too. As a result, both fish (bass and flatheads) and anglers now thrive.

As a bass boat passed us, both motoring up and floating back down river, I paddled through many of the restoration sites with Ken Conway, the recreation coordinator for Yuma’s Parks and Wildlife Department and a former Trout Unlimited chapter chair back East. Each year, he and his crew take 40 school and civic groups down the river to see how the habitat has changed and to continue testing the water quality as restoration continues and the vegetation matures. The department also offers fishing classes and holds an annual children’s fishing tournament.

The takeaway is simple: River restoration takes time, money, and lots of negotiation, but it has the potential to refresh the surrounding community as well as the habitat. At Yuma’s Gateway Park, where half a dozen anglers had lines in the water on a weekday morning, long after the thermometer had passed 100 degrees, it would have been hard to feel anything but positive about the transformation.

 

First photo courtesy of J. Jakobson.

Second photo courtesy of senkodontlie.

Third photo courtesy of Bureau of Reclamation.

John Cornell

October 4, 2017

Why the West Should Care as Much as Corn Country About Farm Bill Conservation Programs

You might be surprised just how much impact private land conservation programs and incentives have in a state like New Mexico

We already know that hunters and anglers, regardless of political party, support conservation on private lands: 75 percent agree we should provide financial incentives to farmers and ranchers to implement habitat conservation, and 87 percent do not want to see cuts to conservation programs, in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill or anywhere else. But it may be surprising to sportsmen and women, even those who support private land conservation generally, just how much of an impact these programs have outside the Corn Belt.

New Mexico, for example, isn’t a state that comes to mind as much as Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, or even the Dakotas, when it comes to on-farm conservation needs. You might picture my home state, instead, as a mosaic of different kinds of public lands, but I’m learning that we have plenty at stake in the 2018 Farm Bill debate.

I recently attended a listening session on Farm Bill topics with staffers from the office of New Mexico Representative Lujan Grisham, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee. In that meeting, on behalf of TRCP and the partners in our Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group, I shared some of the recommendations we’ve arrived at as a community and highlighted three ways the next Farm Bill can be beneficial to New Mexico’s agricultural producers, sportsmen, and economy.

Access and Habitat

Nothing will serve sportsmen’s access needs better than boosting the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, which provides competitive block grants to state agencies and tribal governments to fund recreational access and habitat improvement programs on private lands. State and tribal agencies then use this funding to compensate and provide technical and conservation services to landowners who voluntarily open their land to the public for hunting and fishing.

By offering grants to states to create or improve walk-in access programs, VPA-HIP is the only federal program that incentivizes public hunting and fishing access on—or right-of-way access through—private lands. The program has been reauthorized twice now, yet New Mexico—despite having an excellent Open Gate Program—has never received a grant. VPA first needs to be reauthorized and then we’d like to see $150 million allocated to conservation and access programs over the next five years of the Farm Bill, compared to just $40 million in the current Farm Bill.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides assistance to landowners enabling them to replace antiquated and inefficient pivot systems, benefiting both domestic and and wild game species. Image courtesy of USDA/Flickr.

CRP Works Here, Too

The Conservation Reserve Program has helped restore wildlife habitat and improve thousands of waterways nationwide since the program’s inception. CRP acres in the Northern Plains make up a vital share of nesting habitat for more than half of North America’s waterfowl, and CRP is helping landowners to voluntarily restore and supplement sage-grouse habitat across the West, providing much needed aid to a species in decline. Whitetail deer, black bears, pheasants, quail, wild turkeys, and countless other game species have also rebounded thanks to the conservation of millions of acres of grasslands and buffers through CRP.

The impact CRP has on water is especially notable, particularly in parched states like New Mexico. Through smart land-management decisions—like the installation of waterway buffers in riparian areas—CRP protects more than 170,000 stream miles with naturally filtering trees and grasses. These improvements mean cleaner drinking water, more effective groundwater recharge, and better fish habitat in areas where a little water has to go a long way.

In addition, many farmers, ranchers, and forest owners also open CRP acres to hunters and anglers in their communities. There are nearly 450,000 acres of CRP currently enrolled across 1,300 individual New Mexico farms and ranches. CRP enrollment is a win-win for farmers, ranchers, wildlife, clean water, and sportsmen—that’s why we are committed to telling lawmakers that CRP works. However, there is a nationwide cap of 24 million acres for CRP, which is far below the demand and the need, and we’d like to see that increased to 35 million acres enrolled nationwide.

An increase across the country can only help our numbers here in New Mexico.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) helps fund projects to improve everything from livestock fencing (on both public and private lands) and better irrigation systems, to upland bird habitat restoration and invasive species removal. Image courtesy of Larry Lamsa/Flickr. Cover image courtesy of Jim Hickcox.


New Mexico’s Favorite

Used for everything from livestock fencing and better irrigation systems to upland bird habitat restoration and invasive species removal, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program is the Farm Bill tool that gets New Mexicans most excited. While at least five percent of overall EQIP spending has to be used on wildlife practices, we’d like to see that requirement doubled to ten percent. Based on current spending, that modification would boost annual nationwide spending for wildlife practices on private lands from around $70 million to $140 million.

And here’s the kicker: New Mexico received $33 million in EQIP funds in fiscal year 2016, which was almost half of the total funds allocated through the Farm Bill. EQIP encourages farmers and ranchers to promote agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible goals, and it helps landowners meet state and federal environmental regulations.

EQIP’s high funding levels have made the program one of the most important tools for wildlife habitat and water quality, and through special initiatives it has helped keep wildlife—such as the iconic greater sage grouse—from being listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Farm Bill at Home on the Range

As you can see, even in a state not known for its agricultural dominance, strong conservation funding in the Farm Bill is vital for the future of New Mexico’s sporting access and wildlife habitat. To see the conservation impact of the Farm Bill where you live, check out these ten maps that show these programs at work across the country.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION ISN’T
RED OR BLUE

But a little green never hurt anyone. Support our work to ensure that all hunters and anglers are represented in Washington.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

Be The First To Know




  Please leave this field empty

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

Be The First To Know




  Please leave this field empty

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Join the TRCP for free!

Sign up below to help us guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. Become a TRCP Member today.

Be The First To Know




  Please leave this field empty

You have Successfully Subscribed!