Dani Dagan

November 9, 2017

Farm Runoff and Why It Stinks for Sportsmen and Fish

Does it seem like you’re reading more and more headlines about algal blooms, dead zones, and water crises across our country? Here’s why

Water is always moving. The Lake Erie waters dripping off a just-landed walleye contain billions upon billions of molecules that traveled untold miles over time, picking up all kinds of chemical hitchhikers, which include nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus—from farm fertilizer. The word “nutrient” is often associated with positive effects on human health, but they can become dangerous pollutants in our watersheds.

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency released a memo renewing a single call to action: reduce nutrient pollution. Why? Because it “remains one of the greatest challenges to our nation’s water quality and presents a growing threat to public health and local economies.” In other words, nutrient pollution makes our water toxic to drink and costs communities millions of dollars to treat.

Nutrient pollution comes from many sources, including storm runoff from cities, but a lot of it drains into our water via poorly managed agricultural land. Nutrients in fertilizers make farms more productive, but when rain washes over those fields, nutrients can pollute entire watersheds. The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, which was perhaps the biggest legal action on water quality in decades, specifically addressed pollution caused by nitrogen, one of the major components of fertilizer. The downstream impacts are bad for human health, sportfish, waterfowl, and even your Labrador retriever.

While the nutrients themselves can be toxic, the effects of added nitrogen and phosphorus can ripple out with devastating effects. Nutrient pollution leads to algal blooms, which decimate fish and wildlife populations not only near the agricultural lands where nutrients are sourced, but also downstream at some of the best freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, and hunting spots—on both private and public lands and waters.

That’s why sportsmen and women should care deeply about this problem and work with landowners to support solutions.

What’s Feeding the Beast

Nutrients facilitate algae growth, just like fertilizer on a farm facilitates crop growth, and the algae need little else to survive. While there is typically more than enough light and water to keep algae reproducing, the presence, or lack, of nutrients in water is the limiting factor keeping algae populations in check. Reduce nutrients and growth stops. Add them, and growth explodes uninhibited.

The critters that we love—fish, ducks, and more—thrive in conditions with low levels of algae. When we add fertilizer to the equation, everything gets out of whack, and resulting algal blooms become a big, big problem. Here’s why:

Graphic
How nutrient pollution impacts fish and waterfowl. Up arrows indicate an increase in amount or population, and down arrows indicate a decrease.

 

First, and most simply, some types of algae are toxic if consumed by fish, wildlife, and humans. When these toxic algae bloom, they can create dire scenarios for public health. This has led to states of emergency in cities and towns across the country, including parts of Florida, the Great Lakes, and Utah. In 2014, half a million residents of Toledo, Ohio, were banned from drinking the city’s water, or using it to cook or brush their teeth, for three days. Similarly, algal blooms are also toxic for fish, wildlife, and pets (including your bird dog) and can cause massive die-offs.

Second, algal blooms lead to a depletion of oxygen. As algae dies it decomposes, and the business of decomposition requires a lot of oxygen. All that oxygen consumption leads to hypoxia, the absence of dissolved oxygen in water, which causes sportfish such as trout and salmon to literally suffocate. This is what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay dead zones.

Third, mats of algae block sunlight from entering the water, harming aquatic plants by limiting their ability to convert sunlight into energy. This causes vegetation to disappear from wetland and coastal areas, removing an important food source for fish and waterfowl and a source of oxygen that is urgently needed in water where algae are decomposing.

All of this is to say that when you read or hear about clean water initiatives, you should be as concerned as you would about a threat to your public access, because toxic water means losing opportunities to hunt and fish. And when you think about conservation, remember that watersheds often start on private lands and that landowner conservation practices—like restoring wetlands, maintaining stream buffers, and planting cover crops—are critical to maintaining healthy fish and wildlife habitat.

Farm Bill Solutions

The Farm Bill already supports some of the most successful programs for improving water quality and reducing harmful nutrient runoff from private lands, but the 2018 bill provides an opportunity to bolster water quality efforts where they’re needed most. For example, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program was introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill partly to allow landowners to partner with organizations to improve soil, water, and wildlife habitat conditions, but enrollment has been cumbersome so far. The TRCP and our partners are urging decision makers to clarify this funding arrangement in the next farm bill and create more flexibility to promote conservation innovations at the landscape scale.

Learn more about our vision for the 2018 Farm Bill here. And visit CRPworks.org to take action for one of the most successful programs for conservation on private lands.

 

This was originally posted October 12, 2016, and has been updated.

7 Responses to “Farm Runoff and Why It Stinks for Sportsmen and Fish”

  1. Stuyve Pierrepont

    As to Algae Blooms in Brackish / Salt Water, we need to increase the population of filter feeders , Menhaden, to digest these blooms. Algae ( Phytoplankton ) is the key food source of Menhaden. Menhaden have been purse seined to the lowest historical levels in the Chesapeake. They are our natural combatants. We need to bring them back! Fighting run off is key, but we also need to figure out how to increase the natural environments ability to fight back.

  2. john frie

    While there are those concerned about either banning hunting altogether or believing the silly notion that the lead that hunters use in their ammunition is killing wildlife and the people who eat it; They should try and focus more of their attention to an issue like this that’s severely far more reaching into the devastation of wildlife.

  3. That’s all very general but there’s no proposed solution or efforts.
    Shall we plead with our neighbor farmers for only having a 50-ft. wooded buffer strip instead of 100-ft. And if pleading doesn’t work, publicly shame?
    Shall we plead with our governors to purchase a 100-ft. strip along the edges of all farms? Pass a law to prohibit farming within 100-ft of streams and rivers?
    I appreciate that TRCP is not like Sierra Club screaming at their subscribers to make change, but some organized letter campaign, or Potluck with NRCS and hunters, would be better than reciting the problem again without efforts to change.

  4. Tim W. Kizer

    The algae blooms off the coast of Louisiana have been growing every year for a long time now and lots has been done to study and promote awareness on the root cause of its growth–volumes of “N and P” beyond that known to exist organically does it…no question…and it comes mostly from agricultural runoff in the world’s 4th largest watershed. The problem seems to be that the deoxygenation of the water happens slowly (though grossly oversimplified for me, not you) and does not create large flotillas of dead fish and sea life. Simply put, it never presents the dramatic photo-op seemingly necessary to fire folks up. Further complicating the issue is that sportsmen continue to catch loads of specks and redfish despite the large dead zone–and sportsmen don’t complain when they’re killin’ or catchin’. It is conceivable that a combination of existing practices could reduce the source significantly without negatively effecting bottom-line balance sheet issues for farmers—that is, a combination of conservation practices and precision farming. At some point my hope is that a surrogate issue comes along to help solve this problem at it’s upstream source—perhaps downstream communities will take legal action to hold the sources of these runoffs financially responsible for the condition of their water and motivate the ag community to embrace a proactive reduction of these runoffs.

  5. Very Good Points covered in both the article and the comments. The major polluters in the US are corn and soy farmers. This being said, reducing their protective zones affecting in many cases their make break point of profit needed to stay in business. Corn and soy farmers have not had alternative choices for cash crops, Universities are supported by grants provided by corporations to substantiate “Best Practices” justifying the ongoing business of selling more seed, fertilizers, weed control and herbicides which also pollute watersheds. An alternative cash crop is being grown and tested as an alternative to corn and soy called Whitten Kenaf. Research done by Purdue University found that adding nitrogen and other fertilizers did not increase enough yield to consider using for profit. Whitten Kenaf not only has the properties of remediating soil, it also removes toxins from the soil and helps to manage water runoff. This amazing plant is drought tolerant and its fiber and wood core have the potential saving valuable trees and boosting local economics through the creative uses it can provide i.e. over 25,000 uses.

  6. Bill Crumrine

    It sure happened at Bear Creek Lake in Lakewood, Jefferson County, Colorado and Canyon Lake, northwest of New Braunfels, Comal County, Texas. While often blamed and in a sense rightly so, much of this blue-green algae is caused by suburban/urban residents with these damn ornamental lawns and the demand that they be fertilized twice a year and then constantly watered. Eliminate with new home building non-native grasses and the problem will be greatly reduced.

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Kristyn Brady

November 7, 2017

Lindsey Elliott Wants Everyone to Tell More Complex, Emotional Hunting Stories

Part Two in our series of conversations with women who are helping to shine a spotlight on habitat, access, and funding issues that impact hunting and fishing

Perhaps one of the best things to come out of recent threats to public lands has been a new kind of alliance between hunters, anglers, and other people who enjoy the outdoors, like skiers, hikers, bikers, climbers, and paddlers. Lindsey Elliott considers herself originally from this second group, but as an enthusiastic newcomer to hunting—she went on her first big game hunt last year—she’s become a very willing ambassador for our sports, especially with devotees of her business Wylder Goods, a built-by-women-for-women outdoor gear retailer she co-founded with her friend Jainee Dial in April 2016.

We talked to Lindsey about how she got interested in hunting—it involves her collecting roadkill, more on that later—and why she believes in weaving conservation stories into the marketing of a business that relies on the outdoors.

Photo by Jainee Dial.

TRCP: We first got to know you at the Outdoor Retailer show this summer, where you were on a panel about hunting and public lands with our president and CEO Whit Fosburgh. He said you had a really unique journey to discovering your love of hunting—can you share it with us?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, I was sort of the token beginner hunter on that panel, which was great because it’s such an interesting time to be joining the hunting community—there’s this bipartisan wave of support for public lands, and meanwhile women are increasingly getting into hunting as the overall number of hunters is declining. It’s part of why I’m motivated to share my story.

I don’t come from a hook-and-bullet background. I mean, I fished as a kid and I’ve gotten into flyfishing as an adult, but I don’t have any family members who hunt. I’d really never fired a high-powered rifle until last year.

I used to work in environmental education, and we’d show the kids things like primitive skills and basic firemaking. One day I found a dead fox on the side of the road—it had this really beautiful coat and it wasn’t mangled or anything, so I had an expert help me use it for a skinning demonstration. She did about half the job and talked me through the rest, and it ended up being this really incredible experience for me where I sort of felt like I was out of my body watching my hands move as if they knew where to go. I realized it didn’t matter whether I thought I could or couldn’t do it—it was biologically engrained in me.

That sort of lit a spark, and for the next eight years or so I just wanted more and more experiences like that. I got a collection permit to use other critters to teach my students, whether it was about feather design or what scavengers eat. I learned how to tan hides (not very well, because it’s super hard), and I just became the person everyone called when they had dead animals! I was like the roadkill queen of my community, which was pretty funny.

Photo by Jainee Dial.

Then I moved to Utah, and one of my friends here has been hunting for 25 years. His walls are covered in beautiful taxidermy mounts and skulls, and we’d eat these wonderful meals with wild game and I’d ask him about the stories behind all of it. He finally asked if I wanted to come along on a hunt and see for myself, so I got an apprentice hunter license.

I thought I’d just shadow him for the season, but then I got a tag and started training with a rifle, and since I wasn’t half bad it seemed like I could really go for it. Everything just kept lining up. By early fall, I’d spent about eight months reading a lot about hunting and sort of testing the conversation in my peer group, just exploring the idea. But now I really wanted to do this! I sincerely hoped I’d get the opportunity to shoot a deer—and I did.

It was a beautiful process, and one that I immediately felt aligned with. Since then, cooking that meat for friends has even deepened the spirituality of the experience. I was sure I’d know in an instant if hunting was going to be for me, and every part of my first hunt just confirmed that this is something I’m going to pursue for the rest of my life.

Photo by Abbi Hearne.

TRCP: You made a great point about this being a very big moment for public lands and maybe an opportunity for some non-traditional partnerships around conservation. But do you think that women who hunt are accepted by your customers who are adventure athletes? Is that a dated stereotype that there is mistrust between the two groups?

ELLIOTT: Coming from the climbing and biking side, I’ll say that it felt like a big risk a year ago to step out and start talking about hunting on the Wylder platform, because it can be such a divisive topic. But I have been so surprised at how interested outdoorswomen have been in my process and the stories that I’m sharing. Every time that I bring it up on social media, I get responses from a handful of women who say Thank you for sharing this, or I really want to get into this someday, or I just asked my dad if he would take me hunting for the first time. So, I do notice that there’s more genuine interest than I thought there was in a group where I was pretty concerned about broaching the conversation. That’s exciting.

Photo by Jainee Dial.

TRCP: You created Wylder because you saw a need to better serve women interested in outdoor gear made for them. Do you think the industry is evolving, and where do you think other women have an opportunity to help make a change?

ELLIOTT: The hunting industry does seem to be turning a corner, even in the short amount of time I’ve been paying attention, especially with Sitka’s women’s line coming out and there being more of an accurate representation of women in hunting magazines and videos.

Where I’m personally motivated is changing the style of storytelling, and I think that women should be a part of that: Let’s tell more complex, emotional stories about hunting, because there’s so much more to it than what a grip-and-grin photo shows you. You have this incredible moment of fear and anguish—I mean, I was buckling at the knees just watching from afar as my deer collapsed to the ground—and of course there’s a moment of relief that you finally got there, and you can eventually smile at some point for a photo. But I think a lot of that gets left out, and it could shift the public perception of what it means to be a hunter.

Photo by Abbi Hearne.

TRCP: Wylder is a certified B Corp, a for-profit company that uses the power of business as a force for good. Why is that important to you?

ELLIOTT: For us, it was part of the original conception of Wylder and really the only way we saw ourselves getting involved in business in the first place. We partner with four non-profits, donate two percent of our sales profit to them, and dedicate a quarter of our marketing to their calls to action and campaigns. Part of our goal is infusing learning and advocacy into the narrative of our online community so people feel less like visitors to wild places and more like part of the ecosystem. When I first learned about B Corps, it just struck me that we could start a business in a place where we are personally connected, where there’s a need in the market, and we can use it as the engine for driving attention toward the good work that we want to see happen in the world. It has been the biggest surprise in my career to end up doing what I’m doing.

Follow Lindsey at @lindenroams, @wyldergoods, and on the Wylder blog. If you know an amazing, inspiring sportswoman with a passion for conservation, tag us on social media and share her story. We’d love to feature more fierce females like this.

Rob Thornberry

November 2, 2017

Could Restoration Work Revive Habitat and Job Prospects in the Rural West?

Outdoor writer and hunter’s hunter Hal Herring leads a planting crew in Idaho after a series of rangeland fires—the work will help restore wildlife habitat, but the job is a boost for locals

Hal Herring is planting sagebrush on a bluebird day in the Bennett Hills of south-central Idaho, and he is in high spirits. It is the first morning of a 10-day project to restore healthy sagebrush habitat on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The area was once critical winter range for more than 10,000 mule deer until a series of rangeland fires burned much of the habitat to ash. What once was chest-high sagebrush, bitterbrush, and native grasses is now a sea of invasive species, including cheatgrass, medusahead, and rush skeleton weed.

Herring is an awarding-winning writer for Field & Stream and High Country News and a contributor to national magazines such as The Atlantic and The Economist. He’s also a hunter’s hunter and a respected voice on public lands issues. Today, however, he is crew boss for 14 tree planters.

 Arthur Martin swings a hoedad and plants an antelope bitterbrush seedling every 10 paces. It is back-breaking work that he completely enjoys.

 

The crew is on the ground to plant more than 100,000 seedlings as part of a cooperative effort between the BLM, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Mule Deer Foundation, Idaho Department of Lands, and North American Grouse Partnership.

“We are trying to restore the carrying capacity of the land,” Herring says. “We are trying to give each sagebrush plant a chance to catch hold and spread seeds. It sets the stage for the area to return to sagebrush steppe, and sagebrush holds water better than invasive species. That gives the native grasses a chance to succeed, which is a benefit to wildlife and grazing livestock.”

Nearby, Herring’s crew is all smiles as they efficiently plant eight-inch sage seedlings. The process is physically demanding, yet it requires a deft touch, too. Using a hoedad—a hand-tool that’s a cousin of the more well-known Pulaski—each planter takes ten strides, scrapes away the tops of the invasive species and then drives the hoedad into the ground. If it sticks, there is enough soil to plant the seedling. If it bounces off the broken basalt flat, the planter moves to another spot and starts over.

The seedling must be planted perfectly straight up and down and without any air around the roots. If more than 50 percent of the seedlings take hold, the effort is a success. Rain or snow right after the planting is critical, but it takes several years to see the results.

The sagebrush “plug”

 

There are other hunters on the crew. Some have worked almost year-round on restoration projects from seed gathering to planting. Others are graduate students, trail maintenance crew bosses, and backcountry rangers. They are drawn by good wages and the opportunity to work outdoors. Plus, they know they are making a difference.

“Deer food equals big bucks,” says Jeremy O’Day. “It’s a pretty simple equation.”

While returning the ground to a more productive state after the fires is the primary goal of the work, Herring believes it’s just as critical to highlight that restoration work creates jobs across the West. As huge fires become more repetitive, he believes restoration projects can help the wildlife and the economy.

“We all recognize that there is an enormous amount of restoration to be done,” he says. “This is an incredible opportunity to both reignite some rural Western economies and build ecological resilience for the future.”

Herring talks fast all the time, but he drops into fifth gear now to explain. He believes Western resentment of the federal government is fostered by a Congress that won’t give the federal land agencies enough money to adequately manage public lands. That fuels the feeling that nothing is getting done to benefit local economies.

He believes developing a West-wide restoration industry could break down the old argument that environmental regulations kill jobs, while providing habitat and graze for deer, elk, antelope, sage grouse, domestic sheep, and cattle.

“It is a myth that nothing gets done on federal ground, and restoration is the way of the future. It is something that helps everybody,” he says.

Danelle Nance, a natural resource specialist with the BLM, is the federal government’s point person on the sagebrush restoration in south-central Idaho. She says that roughly 125,000 acres burns each year of the 4 million acres the district office oversees. But partnerships with the Mule Deer Foundation, Idaho Fish and Game, National Grouse Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Idaho Department of Lands help to grow restoration efforts from thousands of acres to tens of thousands of acres.

“It is incredibly important to have these partnerships. They foster interest in local communities and take on a life of their own,” she says. “Success breeds success. And Hal is right—where restoration is needed across the West, it could be a model to follow.”

Herring enjoys plugging the idea of a restoration economy, but there is much work to be done. Planters stock their bags with seedlings and head off to the horizon, “dropping trees” every 10 yards.

“Can you picture it?” Herring says, pointing to the scorched soil. “In time, this will be a functioning winter range, which benefits everybody. I can see it.”

He sees mule deer enduring winter in chest-high sage. He sees healthy sage grouse populations. And he see a healthy economy in rural communities.

Steve Kline

October 27, 2017

A Toast to the Patron Saint of Conservation on His 159th Birthday

If you’ve looked at the state of our country lately and thought, ‘What would Theodore Roosevelt do?’ this might be your answer 

Hunting and the American outdoors were fundamental to who Theodore Roosevelt was—without them, he would be unrecognizable. There have been other sportsmen in the White House (Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight Eisenhower were all passionate flyfishermen), but T.R.’s greatness cannot be separated from his passion for the outdoors, which is what makes him the patron saint of conservation in America.

So, it’s no wonder we’re thinking of him today, as his 159th birthday coincides with a pivotal time for our nation and the conservation priorities he helped to set in motion.

Theodore Roosevelt led with a clarity of purpose, and he would have seen clearly the task facing modern-day hunters and anglers—it is no less than the survival of our outdoor traditions. The future of hunting and fishing, not to mention our fish and wildlife resources, is in the hands of decision-makers who are often uninformed or downright hostile. But it is also in our hands. We must move fish and wildlife conservation up the hierarchy of our own political decision-making and vote accordingly.

If, like Roosevelt, hunting and angling are foundational to your very being, something you want to pass down to your children, then you can’t afford to be passive about policies that will affect your access or the responsible management of fish and wildlife habitat.

A generation ago, many elected leaders learned the language of the land as kids, knew the culture of opening day, and shared stories of blaze orange and bird dogs at the Formica counters of small town diners. But today, the lawmakers who understand our culture beyond its value at the voting booth are few and far between. This reality reflects broader trends: an increasingly urban population that’s more and more profoundly disconnected from wildlife and wild places.

Still there is no more important issue in this country than conservation, and to celebrate T.R. is to celebrate his famous maxim.

Subsequently we must hold our elected officials accountable when they make decisions that threaten habitat and access. We must inform others, and be informed ourselves, on the importance of the North American model of wildlife management, and explain how hunters and anglers play an absolutely essential role in the funding of conservation work. After all, following in T.R.’s footsteps, we are the prime authors of some of the greatest fish and wildlife conservation success stories in the history of the world.

To be a hunter or an angler in 2017 is to be a steward for the future. It is no less an essential call than the one that motivated Theodore Roosevelt and a generation of American conservationists, to whom we owe a profound debt of gratitude. The hunters of the next century need us to carry that mantle forward with our words and actions.

Get started right now by pledging to do more for America’s public lands. If we only rally around keeping them public and ignore the more complex issue of responsible land management, it’s possible for decision makers to make access promises while voting to undermine everything we want access to. Click here to learn more.

 

This post was originally published on October 27, 2016 and has been updated.

Ed Tamson

October 26, 2017

An Everglades Restoration Project Could Help Florida Recover from Hurricane Irma

Moving water south from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades has been a goal for decades, but securing funding for and breaking ground on the project could end up helping hurricane-ravaged South Florida recover just as much as the fish habitat

While parts of Florida are steadily recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Irma’s vicious winds and storm surge, rural communities like Everglades City and Chokoloskee—home to fishing guides, marina owners, and others who make a living from the popularity of sportfishing—have a tougher road ahead. For these towns to recover, become more resilient, and continue to welcome countless anglers, there are a number of immediate and long-term challenges to overcome.

 

Home and Habitat Damage

Initial damage assessments concluded that more than half the houses in Everglades City were destroyed and 95 percent of area businesses were closed. Running water and electricity wasn’t available for weeks, and area sewage treatment failed, with sewage backing up into the streets. While basic utilities have been restored in the last month, many of the areas where vacationing anglers would stay and the homes where locals and guides live are still in disrepair.

Wetlands and waterways suffered, as well. Storm surge brought saltwater deep into brackish and freshwater wetlands, and streams became clogged with debris, like tree branches, sunken boats, siding, and appliances. Sewage spilled into waterways, and samples of receding floodwaters one week after the hurricane indicated the presence of more human or animal waste than the test could quantify.

All of this illustrates the need for basic infrastructure improvements to ensure that the Everglades can remain a pristine and safe place to fish, even after the next hurricane.

 

Restoration Must Continue

Fortunately, many experts on the ecology of the Everglades believe the system will heal itself in time, boosted by ongoing efforts to move freshwater back into the area from Lake Okeechobee. But these projects must proceed into the engineering and construction phases without delay.

Moving clean water south from the lake will help alleviate the lingering effects of this year’s tropical storm season. Heavy rains from Irma and other storms have filled Lake Okeechobee to an unsafe level, potentially stressing the dike that surrounds the lake and protects local communities. Too much freshwater in coastal estuaries, a condition that caused crippling algae blooms in the summer of 2016, is hurting fall fishing for redfish, speckled trout, and snook.

This is why the TRCP and a host of other sportfishing and conservation groups are working with Congress to expedite construction on projects to restore and protect critical habitat for fish and wildlife in South Florida.

In a letter to Senate and House leaders on October 10, a dozen groups—including the TRCP, Everglades Foundation, Snook and Gamefish Foundation, B.A.S.S., Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and International Gamefish Association—asked for funding to complete a water control structure that is critical to allowing water to move into affected areas. We also requested their long-term commitment to funding other approved Everglades projects.

Our hearts go out to fellow anglers and all Floridians who are rebuilding after the storm. The angling community in South Florida and beyond has responded by raising thousands of dollars to help those affected. This will help in the short term, but the long-term health of the area’s economy will depend on anglers returning to hire guides, buy ice and tackle, stay in area hotels, and eat at local restaurants. It is worth investing in infrastructure and habitat improvements to make sure that happens.

 

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