Alex Maggos

February 26, 2018

Five Places Where Nutrient Pollution Could Prevent You from Fishing

Largescale algal blooms lead to fish kills, beach closures, and loss of your fishing access, but Congress has a chance to do something about them right now

Last week in D.C., we caught just a glimpse of spring, with 80-degree weather punctuating the February doldrums. Soon thoughts of bass and trout fishing were creeping into my head during the mid-morning meeting.

I’d like to think that there will be a certain payoff for all my anticipation, but nutrient pollution and—the pea-soup-colored water that is often the cause of large fish kills, beach closures, and shortened seasons—are increasingly problematic for anglers across the country.

The primary cause of algal blooms—as well as the record-sized dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, for that matter­— is an excess of nutrients in the water that feed rapidly reproducing algae. In turn, the algae sucks vital oxygen out of the water, killing fish and plant life. (Here’s more on how that works.) In other instances, the algae can also be toxic to humans and pets.

The good news is there are conservation programs and funding meant to create solutions to our water quality and fish habitat issues—and many of them are up for debate right now as Congress works to draft the 2018 Farm Bill. Programs like the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provide financial and technical assistance to landowners to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands, while ground enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) can serve as a natural filter for runoff before it washes downstream. On a much larger scale, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) tackles landscape- or watershed-sized challenges through creative partnerships and requires one-to-one matching of federal funds to double the impact of Farm Bill dollars.

While Congress decides the fate of the Farm Bill and its effective conservation programs, it’s important that sportsmen and lawmakers consider what’s at stake. Here are five fishing destinations across the United States where recent algal blooms have thrown a wrench in anglers’ plans.

Photo courtesy of USGS
Ohio River

The Ohio River is home to more than 160 species of freshwater fish, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish, pike, and trout. In the summer of 2015, the Ohio River suffered a 650-mile-long algal bloom—with affected waters running through six states. As a result, fishing and other recreational activities were shut down in order to limit human exposure to the toxic algae.

Photo courtesy of Chris Zoeller, Globe Gazette
Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake, home to the world’s largest Bullhead, is a one of Northern Iowa’s top fishing destinations. In July 2015, the shorelines of Crystal Lake were covered with thousands of fish- killed off by a large algal bloom.

Photo courtesy of Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Utah Lake

A 2017 algal bloom covered 90 percent of Utah Lake and made more than 100 people ill. This particular bloom was a blow to the local economy as it hit just before the July 4 weekend, reducing tourism traffic by 60 percent.


Photo courtesy of the Vermont Department of Health
Lake Carmi

Lake Carmi is the fourth largest natural lake in Vermont and a hotspot for northern pike and walleye fishing. Last year, the lake’s recreational season was cut short by three weeks due to an algal bloom.

Red Cedar Watershed

Home to Lake Menomin and Tainter Lake, the city of Menomonie, Wisconsin, loses out on an estimated $36.1 million in tourism revenue due to the frequency of lake closures and recreation restrictions caused by algal blooms.


Are you on algae watch where you live and fish? Let us know in the comments section so we can represent your water quality concerns in Washington, D.C.

5 Responses to “Five Places Where Nutrient Pollution Could Prevent You from Fishing”

  1. Glenn Reynolds

    The photos look like they have been modified, especially the river photo. Sides of the river are to straight. Makes it look like the hole article is fake.

    • Alex Maggos
      Alex Maggos

      Hey Glenn- the photos were collected from local news articles that covered the respective algal blooms. I encourage you to do a quick google image search on algal blooms to see that this is what they look like. Alternatively, you can keep an eye out for one near you this summer- there will certainly be more.

  2. We should be asking ourselves: how does this happen, and not doctored photographs — seems like a “red herring” ploy. What is happening and what can we do to help prevent these from occurring again should be the main topic/focus of our discussion? If we do not do anything about these possible irreversible occurrences, they will, in fact, touch all of us sooner or later with devastating affects, and then we will be saying, “Why didn’t we do something about it when we had the chance?”

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Anna Grubb

February 21, 2018

Q&A: Meet Two Inspiring Women Leading Wildlife Management

In the newest installment of our Women Conservationist Wednesday series, we get to know two outdoorswomen on the front lines of wildlife management in Georgia

When we first started the #WCW series, we wanted to highlight some of the women who we noticed were helping to shine a spotlight on habitat, access, and funding issues that impact hunting and fishing. And the response has been fantastic. One commenter said, “This is so inspiring! It is amazing to see strong women leading the way in conservation!” Another reader mentioned feeling empowered as a mom to keep weaving outdoor adventures into family life.

We also received many emails offering up more inspiring women for us to feature, which is how we met Jess McGuire, the private lands program manager for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and Tina Johannsen, the program operations manager for game management in the department’s Wildlife Resources Divison. We loved hearing how they support each other in a male-dominated field, and how they are making women in game management look good.

Here’s what they had to say about everything from R3 (recruitment, retention, and reactivation) to finding a mentor and serving the people of Georgia.

TRCP: A study recently found that about half of all current biology majors are women. Do you feel that women are still underrepresented in the wildlife conservation community, and how can we get more recent graduates involved?

JESS MCGUIRE: When I took this job, luckily I was really welcomed, and I’ve had great mentors. But, when you go to these wildlife professional conferences, you’re right, we’re still not seeing women represented as much. I think the biggest thing is showing that there is support for women. There’s this whole idea that women have to choose—that we can’t have it all. So wildlife agencies need to show support for women with families who work in this field.

TINA JOHANNSEN: As an example, I worked as the deer coordinator in Kentucky a few years ago, and I was the only female deer coordinator in the country. Every state has the position.

Johannsen collaring coyotes for a research project.


TRCP: You mentioned having great mentors, and in the R3 community there’s a big focus on mentorship in terms of teaching someone to hunt or fish. Why is it important to have female mentors in this kind of career, too?

MCGUIRE: I’ve been lucky to have some really great mentors along the way. You really need that person to guide you through everyday scenarios and maybe prepare you for dealing with people who are not used to seeing women in a wildlife management role.

JOHANNSEN: What’s been enormously helpful for me is finding women who are my age, and at a similar spot in their career, who are trying to find their way, too. Right now, there’s no one above me really that I can look up to as a mentor, so it’s more about peer-to-peer support.


TRCP: Right now, what are the biggest threats to some of the species you manage?

MCGUIRE: For both game and non-game species, the declining number of hunters is a huge threat. The hunting community is really interested in conservation and they are a huge source of conservation dollars. That’s what I worry about on a daily basis.

I think to get a lot of the work done that needs to be done, especially given the current climate, sportsmen and other conservationists need to work together more, and both sides need to see the importance of what each brings to the table. You may not want to hunt yourself, but being supportive of what those groups can do for conservation is essential. That decline in hunting dollars impacts what we can do on our state lands and our federal lands, and that affects all species.


TRCP: What are some of the cool projects you are working on that might not get accomplished without this critical funding?

JOHANNSEN: I wouldn’t have a job! My salary comes straight from hunting license revenue and matching [Pittman-Robertson] dollars, so it’s deeply personal to me. I can’t overemphasize the role that funding plays.

Every research project we have right now in game management is funded by hunting and fishing dollars and matching P-R funds. For example, we’re trying to figure out why deer herds in north Georgia aren’t responding to reduced harvests. Maybe it’s a perfect storm of predators and habitat, but right now we don’t know and we need funding to be able to support that project with technology, which isn’t cheap.

MCGUIRE: To add to that, I work with Farm Bill programs, which I don’t think get enough credit. Millions of dollars’ worth of habitat improvements are made possible by employing biologists who help landowners implement conservation measures on their property. We help to maintain a balance between landowners needing to make money and facilitating their desire to help wildlife at the same time. If the Farm Bill went away, that’s a huge chunk of conservation projects that would come to a standstill, and at that point, we’d be relying on NGOs and private entities to pull the weight.


TRCP: Do you think we’re doing a good job maintaining that balance of people trying to make a living, while also trying to protect and manage critters?

JOHANNSEN: I think there are a lot of wildlife biologists who really focus on the critters and make the science happen for the critters, but they lose sight of the fact that we serve the people of our state and our country, too. We’re here to put the action on the ground, and I have to balance a private landowner’s needs to grow crops or harvest timber with the needs of a guy who runs a fishing guide service to support his family. Yeah, I care about wildlife, but we ultimately work for the people.

Jess McGuire doing bat research.


TRCP: When did you take up hunting and fishing, and how do you typically like to spend your time outdoors, outside of work?

JOHANNSEN: I’m referred to in the R3 community as an “adult onset” hunter. I didn’t grow up hunting or fishing, but when I went to college, I had a roommate who did. So, she and her family took me under their wings, and now, 20 years later, I’m a pretty avid hunter. I’ll hunt whatever is in season.

MCGUIRE: I was also a late bloomer in terms of hunting. I started hunting when I was working in Massachusetts, volunteering with some deer hunts. So, I got a crash course that way, and then I started turkey hunting, too. At first, my dad was pretty against it, but now he’s coming around because of all of the tasty meals I make him.


TRCP: Do either of you feel like you’ve seen a change in the demographics of who is hunting, in your professional work or your personal experience?

JOHANNSEN: Again, I got involved in hunting a little late, but still I’ve been doing it now for a little over 20 years. It seems to me that just when I got started there was a big shift, and since then, I’ve seen steady increases in the number of women hunting.

What’s really changing in terms of demographics and diversity on all fronts is that we have finally gotten past the threshold of getting all of the different agencies, industries, and NGOs that care about conservation, particularly related to hunting and fishing, to understand that the tide has turned. I think a lot of it has to do with the information available now online, and that people can really see how white male hunters are aging out.

If we don’t bring in these other constituencies, we’re going to lose this heritage. We’re going to lose this management tool. We’re going to lose this funding mechanism. So, the desire for diversity, I think, is driven by a very pragmatic concern on its face. But whatever is driving it, it’s wonderful to see this tidal wave curling over, and now folks are saying, alright we need to get on board and make this a priority.


Coby Tigert

February 20, 2018

Putting These Public Lands Planning Tools on the Backburner Creates More BLM Backlogs

While new habitat challenges arise every year, land managers are stuck following management plans created in the 1970s and 80s—with no updates in sight

Conditions on Western landscapes are always changing, and sportsmen and women are often the first to experience the difference. We see intense wildfires burn large sagebrush landscapes, leaving invasive cheatgrass in their wake. The varying cycles of precipitation and drought have become more extreme, affecting wildlife habitats and sending wildlife into a roller coaster of population variation. And so the success of each hunting and fishing season ebbs and flows, as well.

While some of these unforeseen challenges have only emerged or escalated in recent years, many of the Bureau of Land Management offices tasked with facing them remain beholden to plans that haven’t changed in decades.

Like many of us who recall feeling a little less winded a few seasons ago, these resource management plans, or RMPs, aren’t getting any younger. And the ramifications are being felt in many of the places where we love to hunt and fish.

Stuck in the Past

With hundreds of plans in place to manage the BLM’s 245 million acres, ten or more revisions need to be completed each year to keep up with changing conditions on the ground and balance diverse demands on these lands. Exactly zero RMP updates were completed in 2017, largely due to a shift in administrative focus. Meanwhile, the old plans fail to address new problems and rely on science that may be decades old.

Delays in the revision process can often result in massive backlogs. In east Idaho, for example, five RMPs covering more than 5 million acres were expected to be in the planning process or completed by 2018. Of those, none have been completed and only one is in the planning process. And that plan—the Upper Snake RMP that will replace a plan from the 1980s—has been given a lower priority because it lacks oil and gas potential. Meanwhile, the importance of this habitat to tens of thousands of big game animals continues to go unaddressed.

Gradual Demise of Public Input

Updated plans not only reflect current resource conditions, but also public priorities. Based on legal requirements developed decades ago, the planning process provides the public with multiple opportunities to weigh-in on how they would like their public lands to be managed, either in writing or at in-person meetings. The BLM is tasked with providing information on any changes and other ways to engage on RMPs in progress.

We’re already contending with the absence of resource advisory councils—which have been shut down for nearly a year to be “reviewed”—and other cuts to public input. Neglecting RMPs is yet another way we are prevented from voicing our opinions on how public lands should be managed. These incremental changes add up to a big overall shift in how much say Americans have a say in the management of our public lands. These lands are important to all of us, and what seems to be unnecessary and never ending delays, has increased public dissatisfaction with the process and resulted in animosity and distrust.

Only by getting the planning process back on track can the BLM ensure that the interests of all Americans are incorporated into how our lands are managed for years to come. Our public land heritage is too important to put on the back burner.

The Buck Stops Here

Addressing the many clogs in the system that are contributing to the slowdown of RMPs means ensuring that the BLM is fully staffed and appropriately funded. The president, Secretary of the Interior, and Congress need to move quickly to fill important positons in the agency and budget for the future of public lands—because conservation shouldn’t be cut to offset new costs or pay for infrastructure.

We also need agencies to refocus on balanced multiple uses of public land, which includes managing for quality fish and wildlife habitat and our outdoor traditions. Let decision makers know that public land is sportsmen’s country by signing our petition to support responsible management of public land and wildlife habitat.



Kristyn Brady

February 13, 2018

Trump Budget and Infrastructure Proposals Suggest Hunters and Anglers Must Be More Vocal Than Ever

Though Congress can choose to ignore the president’s recommendations, two documents released Monday indicate that major cuts to conservation could be part of offsetting new costs

If the president’s priorities for the federal budget or a critical infrastructure overhaul are any indication, sportsmen and women will need to speak out against major cuts and dramatic reprioritizations for the agencies that carry out conservation in America and the programs that ensure our ability to find quality places to hunt and fish.

Officially made public yesterday, President Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget request included $3.7 billion in cuts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $1.7 billion in cuts at Interior, and a 23-percent reduction at the Environmental Protection Agency. Many line item reductions seem to be at odds with the administration’s priorities, like enhancing hunting and fishing access. It also suggests slashing multiple programs that help support state efforts to conserve fish and wildlife or match federal grants for projects.

“As it is, federal funding for conservation represents barely one percent of the budget, having been slashed in half over the past 30 years, and it would be impossible to balance the budget on the back of conservation,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Unfortunately, this proposal seems to indicate that cash-strapped conservation agencies deserve these cuts, while public land facilities, forests, waterways, wetlands, and millions of acres of sagebrush continue to fall by the wayside. The $887-billion outdoor recreation economy relies on healthy fish and wildlife populations, quality habitat, and the upkeep of public land infrastructure, and we will continue working with Congress and the administration to ensure these basic tenets of conservation are upheld.”

It is important to note that the president’s budget is only a set of recommendations, and Congress did not follow through on cuts suggested in last year’s proposal. Here’s how the president’s budget would impact fish, wildlife, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy.

U.S. Forest Service

The budget fails to address the fiscally catastrophic effects of ‘fire borrowing’ and the ever-climbing cost of fire suppression. The Forest Service estimates that by 2021, wildland fire costs will consume 67 percent of the Forest Service budget, which would be cut by 9 percent overall per the president’s proposal.

Two Forest Service programs were zeroed out entirely: The Forest Legacy Program, which supports state efforts to conserve environmentally sensitive forest lands, and the Legacy Roads and Trails Program, which supports urgently needed road and trail repair and maintenance, road decommissioning, and removal of barriers to fish passage.

One bad idea that could catch on is tapping into the Land and Water Conservation Fund for routine maintenance of public lands. Particularly, a 98-percent reduction in land acquisition funds at the Forest Service would hamper the administration’s ability to open and expand access to public lands. Further, if inholdings are more susceptible to development, this would also increase public access challenges and the costs of public lands management.

Bureau of Land Management

The BLM is charged with managing 240 million acres—more than any other federal agency—and yet its FY18 budget of $1.3 billion was just 43 percent of the National Park Service’s budget of $2.9 billion. For FY19, the agency is slated for an additional 17.5-percent cut, which would only make it more difficult for the BLM to do its job. We also noticed a 14-percent reduction for management of lands and resources, including 32 percent less funding for “management of rangeland and forest resources; riparian areas; soil, water, and air activities; wild horses and burros; and cultural resources.”

“Further cuts to the BLM’s budget would only lead to increased public frustration with the agency—it will inevitably be seen as the BLM’s inability to do its job as expected by the American people,” says Joel Webster, TRCP’s director of Western lands. “This is what led to the need for sportsmen and women to fight for public ownership of public lands in the first place.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The agency that manages national wildlife refuges, protects endangered species, manages migratory birds (including waterfowl), and enforces federal wildlife laws would see an 18-percent overall budget cut. State and Tribal Wildlife Grants would be slashed in half, and Competitive State and Tribal Grants would be eliminated completely.

The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program gives money directly to state fish and wildlife agencies to fund conservation projects targeted at species of greatest conservation need, but also to improve habitat for countless species important to hunters and anglers. Dramatically cutting funds for projects that help keep species from becoming threatened and endangered ensures higher conservation costs for reduced habitat gains in the future.

In addition, a $7.6-million reduction for the National Wildlife Refuge System would zero out accounts for conservation planning activities, leaving the refuge system flat-footed and unable to address tomorrow’s resource challenges.

There was also a suggested 11-percent cut to North American Wetlands Conservation Act funds, which go toward wetland restoration projects around the nation with every federal dollar matched as many as three times over by non-federal dollars. Deep cuts to matching grant programs like NAWCA have an outsized negative impact to on-the-ground conservation projects.

Water Quality Programs

Beyond a 16-percent cut to USDA’s overall budget, the president’s budget proposes an elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program and Regional Conservation Partnership Program—both of which help to improve water quality and soil health on private lands. Both programs enjoy tremendous bipartisan support and demand from landowners, and their loss would be felt from the Mississippi River Basin to the Delaware River Watershed.

Trump’s proposal also included a 76-percent cut to WaterSMART, the Bureau of Reclamation’s premier program for conserving and recycling water in the West in ways that also benefit fish and wildlife habitat. Additional cuts, such as the proposed elimination of the EPA program funding local watershed-level clean water projects, or a 90-percent reduction in the Chesapeake Bay Program, further jeopardize clean water and quality fish habitat at the local, state, and regional levels.


Meanwhile, the president’s infrastructure plan—also released on Monday—contains some strong provisions for the systems that ensure we have clean water, including $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program, which leverages federal investment with private and non-federal dollars to build new clean water infrastructure.

Possible cuts to agency budgets and programs that help facilitate access to outdoor recreation experiences on public land seem to be at odds with an appetite for investing in the infrastructure of our national parks and drastically reducing the maintenance backlog on public lands. It remains to be seen where the $200 billion needed for the president’s infrastructure plan will be cut elsewhere in the budget, but one line in the plan suggests that public lands could be sold to offset costs.

There is ongoing concern that a forthcoming bill might include provisions to limit public input and environmental review on infrastructure projects, as well.

“Make no mistake, we are paying attention to the clear shift away from budgeting for public land acquisition and questioning whether the infrastructure plan is really implying that we should sell off public lands to make improvements to roads, bridges, and airports,” says Fosburgh. “An infrastructure bill should present a major opportunity to enhance natural solutions for modern infrastructure challenges. Restoring wetlands and creating wildlife-friendly roadway passages, for example, not only boosts fish and wildlife habitat, it also helps mitigate flooding that threatens American communities during more and more frequent catastrophic storms. These natural solutions are often more cost-effective and worthy of American taxpayer dollars than gray infrastructure, which only begins to deteriorate after day one.”

The TRCP will continue working to amplify the voices of sportsmen and women, who want decision makers to stop chipping away at conservation policies that have made America’s natural resources the envy of the world.

Guest blogger Spencer Shaver

February 12, 2018

Sportsmen and Women Call for More Extensive Study of a Proposed Mine Near the Boundary Waters

When it comes to the untouched habitat and superior water quality of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a cursory review isn’t enough—we need your help to demand more for the fish and wildlife and regional economy of Northeastern Minnesota

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is made up of 1.1 million acres of the most visited wilderness area in the country—it is, by all measures, a public land success story here in the northeastern corner of Minnesota.

There are world-class fishing opportunities all over the BWCA, in no small part because of the water quality and abundant habitat. In fact, 20 percent of the freshwater in the entire 193-million-acre national forest system is found in the Superior National Forest, which surrounds the Boundary Waters. The two biggest walleye ever caught in Minnesota were landed off the Gunflint Trail on the eastern edge of the BWCA—one of which, a 17-pound, 8-ounce behemoth, has held the state record for over thirty years.

Unfortunately, all of this is threatened by a proposed sulfide-ore copper mine on the southern edge of the Boundary Waters. A Chilean mining company is working to acquire leases a quarter mile from the edge of the wilderness area. These leases would give the company the right to develop a sulfide-ore copper mine, complete with new roads and mining infrastructure, alongside Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River. The proposed mine site sits at the headwaters of the Rainy River watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters, Voyageur’s National Park, and most of the Superior National Forest.

This proposed mine is incredibly contentious, and recent changes to complex land management and leasing policies have given hunters and anglers new cause for concern.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Keeton.
What Happened?

In 2016, the Department of the Interior announced that the Bureau of Land Management had the discretion whether or not to renew these leases, but the U.S. Forest Service had to consent first. When asked, the Forest Service withheld consent to renewal, leading the BLM to reject the mining company’s application. The Forest Service also proposed making 234,000 acres of public land at the edge of the Boundary Waters off limits to federal mineral leasing for 20 years, which triggered a two-year segregation on mining while the agency crafted an Environmental Impact Statement.

In late December 2017, the new administration at DOI reversed the 2016 decision, declaring that the mining leases were entitled to automatic renewal and no longer needed the discretion of the Forest Service to determine if these areas were suitable for development.

Then, on January 26, the Forest Service took a step back from their ongoing efforts to craft an Environmental Impact Statement on their own proposal. Instead of a thorough analysis of how this mine will affect nearby habitat, which an EIS would have provided, they will proceed with an Environmental Assessment typically used for simple, non-controversial projects.The EA will take the agency less than a year, beginning with a comment period that we now have less than a month to engage in.

In comparison, the EIS required to withdraw controversial mineral leases outside the Grand Canyon was given careful consideration, and the agency took the two years it needed to complete the two-volume report and provide multiple opportunities for public input before and after the study was completed. While the potential for serious impact was considered to be low, the risk was too high in such an important a place.

Simply put, the Boundary Waters watershed is Minnesota’s Grand Canyon. It is much an icon of the Midwest as Yellowstone is of the West, especially considering it is the largest continuous tract of public land east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades.

Courtesy of Lukas Leaf.
Stop and Study

Leasing this area is anything but simple and non-controversial, and there should be no shortcuts to the assessment or public review process. Hunters and anglers should not only have the right to comment, but also the right to review this controversial proposal after the completion of the environmental assessment. The Boundary Waters, and all Americans who have a stake in their management, deserve the most robust review possible for such a risky mine at the headwaters of some of the best public land to hunt and fish on in Minnesota.

These public lands and waters belong to all of us, and Minnesotans are overwhelmingly in favor of a “stop and study” approach to assessing the effects of sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. A 2017 poll showed that 79 percent of Minnesotans favor the most thorough review possible, and an overwhelming majority agree that the Boundary Waters, as well as the hunting and fishing habitat they encompass, are a unique place that deserves special attention.

We’re making the strongest case we can for our public lands and waters, but we can’t do it alone. The comment period is open RIGHT NOW through the month of February, and you can take action to protect our public lands and waters by taking action on the TRCP site and signing the Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters petition. It’s up to all of us to defend our public lands, waters, and sporting heritage.


Spencer Shaver is the conservation policy director for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and a Minnesota native. He is lifelong hunter and fisherman, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s environmental science, policy, and management program, and has guided Boundary Waters trips since 2014.


Top photo courtesy of Brian O’Keefe.



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