Randall Williams

April 24, 2019

Sportsmen Groups Launch Campaign to Safeguard the Ruby Mountains

Citing the outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities, a coalition of influential hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation groups calls for Congress to safeguard public land recreational opportunities in Nevada

 

Sportsmen for the Rubies, a coalition of 14 hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation organizations, today launched a public campaign aimed at convincing federal lawmakers to pass the Ruby Mountains Protection Act.

The proposed legislation, S.258, introduced by Senator Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) would permanently withdraw 450,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service-managed public lands in northern Nevada’s Ruby and East Humboldt Mountains from future oil and gas leasing.

“The Rubies are recognized around the world as a premier hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation destination,” said Carl Erquiaga, Nevada field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “They are also the origin of one of the most important big-game migration corridors in the state, utilized by its largest mule deer herd, and home to many other fish and wildlife species, including the Lahontan cutthroat trout.”

The coalition hopes to raise awareness, both around the state and in Washington, D.C., of the potential threats posed by energy development in the area. Its website, SportsmenfortheRubies.com, will showcase organizational support, provide updates on this conservation opportunity, and enable individual hunters and anglers to take action by contacting their decision makers in support of this world-class hunting and fishing destination.

“The streams that flow out of the Rubies provide some of the best water for Lahontan cutthroat trout in the entire state,” said Pam Harrington, Nevada field coordinator with Trout Unlimited. “The fishing opportunities that abound around the Rubies and the Ruby Marshes need to be protected for future generations.”

The coalition is part of a growing movement to support the Ruby Mountain Protection Act that includes diverse stakeholders, including numerous Tribal governments and other local interests.

“This is the time to make your voice heard, not after you’re upset when the good hunting is no longer there,” said Elko sportsman Justin French. “Sportsmen and women have an opportunity right now to be proactive and do what’s best for our traditions.”

For more information on Sportsmen for the Rubies and other conservation issues, contact Pam Harrington with Trout Unlimited (pharrington@tu.org)  or Carl Erquiaga (cerquiaga@trcp.org) with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

 

Photo by Tom Hilton via flickr.

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Kristyn Brady

April 15, 2019

Hunting and Fishing Groups File Final Comments Opposing Clean Water Rollback

14 national groups and 70 local affiliate chapters oppose the proposed weakening of clean water standards that would threaten fish and wildlife habitat

Today, dozens of national, regional, and local hunting and fishing groups submitted final comments on the EPA’s proposed rollback of Clean Water Act protections for 50 percent of wetlands and 18 percent of stream miles in the U.S. Their comments underscore the potential economic consequences for rural communities and outdoor recreation businesses and the species that stand to lose habitat if clean water standards are weakened.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has also mobilized more than 3,500 individual sportsmen and women to submit comments opposing the rollback during the brief comment period.

“At every step of the EPA’s rule replacement process on what waters qualify for Clean Water Act protections, hunters and anglers have been clear about their support for safeguards on headwaters and wetlands,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The science supports protecting these habitats as interconnected to larger water systems, the economics of defending outdoor recreation opportunities and businesses makes sense, and Americans will continue to stand up for clean water to power their outdoor pursuits.”

The groups write that the proposed rule represents a “wholesale gutting of the Clean Water Act’s 47 years of protection for our nation’s waters,” with habitat that supports trout, salmon, pintails, mallards, teal, and snow geese in the crosshairs.

Read the detailed comments here. Fourteen national groups and 70 state and local affiliate chapters signed in support.

 

Photo by Project Healing Waters via flickr.

Marnee Banks

April 8, 2019

Highway Bill Presents Golden Opportunity to Support Conservation and Outdoor Recreation

44 groups offer input as lawmakers craft infrastructure legislation

“A paradigm shift.” That’s what 44 hunting, fishing, and conservation groups are calling for as lawmakers begin drafting infrastructure legislation.

With the current Highway Bill expiring in 2020, these organizations are asking Congress to invest in natural infrastructure, recreational access, improved permitting, and fish and wildlife habitat connectivity as lawmakers address resilient highway systems and federal roads.

“Improvements to our road systems can benefit wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing access, rather than detract from them,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “And now is the perfect time for Congress to invest in lasting solutions for our fish, wildlife, and outdoor way of life. Hunters and anglers are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with lawmakers to draft legislation that takes a holistic approach to infrastructure.”

“The Association is supportive of this legislation that is offering states the opportunity to increase their conservation efforts of fish and wildlife,” said Ron Regan, executive director for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. “The next Highway Bill will reauthorize funds that are the backbone of great fisheries management and conservation work, as well as access for boating and fishing that is provided by state fish and wildlife agencies across the country.”

“Collisions with vehicles and severed migratory movements are two key issues impacting mule deer and other big game species that need to be addressed in the next transportation bill,” said Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “The states need dedicated funding to ensure wildlife crossings are a priority in the future and not simply a ‘nice to have’ project if extra funds are available.”

“Conservation of our lands, waters, and wildlife is essential to our economy and well-being, so decisions about how to answer challenges like our highway infrastructure should include nature-based solutions,” said Kameran Onley, director of U.S. government relations at The Nature Conservancy. “For example, enlarging culverts to allow for increased flow of water during extreme rain events not only saves money by preventing future road and bridge damage, but also enhances wildlife and fish habitat. Solutions like these are cost-effective investments that generate impressive returns for all Americans, and we urge Congress to make those investments in the upcoming highway bill.”

“Forest roads are essential to get us to the places we like to fish, but if they’re not properly designed and maintained, they can harm fisheries by causing sedimentation and habitat fragmentation,” said Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited. “That’s why the transportation bill and programs like Legacy Roads and Trails are so important to anglers. National forests provide some of our best trout habitat, and Legacy Roads and Trails has provided funds that can be leveraged with other sources to right-size our road system and reconnect hundreds of miles of trout streams.”

“Transportation infrastructure on the National Wildlife Refuge System, including roads, trails, and bridges, is critical to providing the American people with safe access to their public lands and waters,” said Geoffrey Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “The 2020 Transportation Bill’s inclusion of funding for the Refuge System to maintain and improve transportation infrastructure is critical to the 53 million annual refuge visitors and their recreational needs. Creating proper wildlife crossings and signage will also protect people and wildlife from vehicular collisions.”

“We welcome Congress’s steadfast commitment to passing a robust highway reauthorization bill in 2020 and encourage them to seize the opportunity by including a ‘Recreation Title’ in a comprehensive infrastructure package this year,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Outdoor recreation is a significant part of the U.S. economy—contributing 2.2 percent of the U.S. GDP and supporting 4.5 million American jobs—and it behooves lawmakers to put our industry front and center in any infrastructure-related debate.”

“Conservation lands—and the stewards of those lands—are impacted by transportation and public works projects in profound and often overlooked ways,” said Ben Jones, president and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society. “We appreciate the attention of our conservation partners and leaders in Congress to address such issues as promoting nature-based, resilient transportation systems and taking a needs-based assessment to funding road maintenance for our national forests and other lands.”

“As we continue to learn more about big game migration corridors and related barriers, it is imperative that we better integrate infrastructure planning with our wildlife connectivity needs,” said Dan Forster, vice president and chief conservation officer of the Archery Trade Association. “We are very excited to see improved integration efforts manifest themselves through these ongoing efforts.”

“Transportation systems are important in many ways to our human qualities of life, as are the natural landscapes through which these corridors occur,” said Tom Logan, chairman of the Board for Fly Fishers International. “Both values can only be assured, though, if future transportation planning considers the biological function and value of the nation’s land, water, fish, and wildlife. The 2020 transportation bill provides an excellent opportunity to establish smart environmental planning as the standard for protecting our public lands and waters, while maintaining our nation’s transportation systems.”

“Lack of habitat connectivity and water quality are two of the largest problems impacting fish species right now, and this includes popular recreational species and imperiled species alike,” said Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society. “However, small investments in better road design can pay big dividends for both fish and people by providing better flood prevention, reconnected stream habitats, and improved durability for extreme weather events, especially for road-stream crossings.”

The groups’ letter to Senate lawmakers can be found HERE.

 

Top photo by USFWS Midwest Region

Kristyn Brady

April 3, 2019

EPA’s Clean Water Rollback Will Double Down on Water Quality Challenges in the Everglades

Just as federal investments in largescale restoration efforts are being made, the EPA’s proposal would undermine water quality in one of America’s top fishing destinations

It’s bad enough that the EPA has proposed a rule that will leave more than 50 percent of wetlands and 18 percent of stream miles nationwide without Clean Water Act protection, making fish and wildlife habitat more vulnerable. But the rule could also worsen existing conservation crises in places like the Everglades.

In fact, the EPA’s proposed rule could leave at least 4 million acres of wetlands throughout the Everglades without clean water protections. And in Florida’s Panhandle region, an additional 800,000 acres of wetlands lack direct surface connection to other waters and would therefore lose out.

Florida has already lost more wetland acreage than any other state in the lower 48—nearly half of what it had historically. Now, this rule would make it easier to drain, develop, or pollute wetlands

These wetlands not only provide critical waterfowl habitat and flood protection, but they also filter out harmful pollutants. Phosphorus levels in Lake Okeechobee are already more than three times the recommended limit, and if wetlands aren’t filtering the flow of harmful nutrients into the Everglades and surrounding waters, this could mean more toxic algal blooms, red tide, fishkills, and beach closures that negatively affect recreational fishing opportunities.

Further, if landowners are no longer required to protect wetlands on private lands, then they won’t apply for Farm Bill or Fish and Wildlife Service programs that help preserve wetlands at the top of the Everglades watershed. This important marshy area north of Lake Okeechobee acts as a sponge and slowly releases water into the lake, through the Everglades, and eventually out into Florida Bay. Eroding protection for these wetlands could exacerbate existing problems with increased salinity levels and seagrass die-offs.

It’s no time to weaken clean water standards in Florida—the Department of Environmental Protection reports poor water quality for 28 percent of the state’s river and stream miles and 25 percent of total lake acreage.

Decision-makers are finally following through on years of promises and funding restoration work in America’s Everglades. Why would we roll back clean water protections just as this work to improve water quality gets underway?

Take action before April 15 to stand up for clean water and healthy habitat in one of the country’s most beloved fishing destinations.

 

Photo by Vincent Lammin via flickr.

Melinda Kassen

March 27, 2019

In Planning for Future Droughts, There’s Compromise in the Water

Western states take another important step toward stabilizing the Colorado River

The snow is deep this year along the Rocky Mountains, the spine of the American West. Today’s fresh powder will melt in the spring, feeding the headwaters and large desert rivers of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California—the states that comprise the Colorado River Basin.

This region produces most of the nation’s winter vegetables, is home to ten national parks, and boasts millions of acres of wildlife habitat, where deer and antelope play, ducks fly, and fish rise. Healthy snowpack brings relief to the region after 19 years of drought, which drained Lakes Mead and Powell—the big reservoirs in the basin—to less than half full.

So, this wet year is welcome. But it’s not a long-term solution for a river system that is already way over-subscribed. Scientists predict the basin’s future will likely be hotter and, therefore, drier than its past.

The states just signed a drought contingency plan for the next seven years that will almost certainly require real reductions in water use, and this could be painful for those who will have to turn off their spigots.

But, first, here’s how we got to this momentous deal.

Water Wars

Exactly how to share limited water resources in the Colorado River Basin has been a debate for decades, almost since the states signed their original compact in 1922. (Many court cases followed.) In the 1930s, Arizona actually formed its own navy to defend its share of the river from California. In the ‘60s, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in. Meanwhile, as cities and farms in the basin grew and prospered, parts of the natural landscape suffered. By the 1990s the Colorado had stopped flowing all the way to the sea most years.

That same decade, most parties laid down their arms (and their lawyers) and decided to try working together. They extended the table to make room for outdoor recreationists and others, from high country skiers and Grand Canyon rafters to hunters and anglers. This group of diverse stakeholders started to negotiate agreements on how the Colorado’s waters would be used.

Three years in the making, the drought contingency plan signed last week is the most recent of these agreements. Now, Congress will have to pass legislation to implement it.

There’s More Conservation to Come

As big a deal as the plan is, it is not without controversy, and it is not the final chapter. It does not solve all the river’s problems, but it is a bridge to get all parties safely to the year 2026, by which point the basin states must negotiate another round of water-use reductions. The good news is that almost everyone is still sitting at the table, proving wrong (for now) Mark Twain’s old adage that whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting.

As just one small party in these negotiations, the TRCP is working hard to ensure that one of the benefits is better fishing opportunities.

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The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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