Chris Macaluso

July 23, 2019

Bringing Back Florida’s Essential Seagrass and Coral Will Take a Team Effort

These marine resources have taken a major hit, but firm commitments from the state, feds, and researchers could help bring back lost fish habitat

Seagrass beds and coral reefs are two vitally important habitats for a variety of popular sportfish—including tarpon, redfish, snook, speckled trout, bonefish, permit, cobia, snapper, and groupers—as well as the forage fish and crustaceans these predators eat.

Increased salinity levels in Florida Bay, due to a lack of freshwater moving through the Everglades, has combined with poor water quality, hurricanes, and coral diseases to take a significant toll on these critical habitats over the last three decades. In fact, hyper-saline conditions in 2015 led to historic seagrass loss in Florida Bay, and it’s estimated that Florida’s natural coral reefs have experienced as much as a 90-percent loss in some areas.

But with funding and support from sportfishing conservation organizations, proactive steps have been taken at the local, state, and federal level to address the root causes of both seagrass and coral mortality. Here’s how.

National Commitment to the Everglades

Beginning with the authorization of the Central Everglades Planning Project in the 2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), and continuing with the authorization of a southern storage reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area, key projects will allow for more clean water to move south into the Everglades and eventually Florida Bay, reducing the need for discharges that damage coastal estuaries.

State Steps Up

In June 2019, the state of Florida and U.S. Department of Transportation announced a combined $100-million commitment to elevating more than six miles of the Tamiami Trail highway (US 41) to allow for water to pass under the road and into Everglades National Park. The announcement was made just as an earlier phase of the project was completed—a $90-million effort that elevated more than three miles of the highway to allow for increased water flow.

In This Together

Commitments to coral restoration have been made, as well. Federal-state partnerships—including the Water Quality Protection Program, administered by the U.S. EPA and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Program—have aimed to better control wastewater discharges. Scientists with NOAA and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary have worked closely with Florida’s DEP and FWC to identify the causes of coral disease, develop effective responses, and determine how to best restore affected areas.

Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory has also been studying coral diseases, investing more than $6 million in combined state and federal funds to plant nearly 100,000 corals in affected areas over the last five years.

Image courtesy of Amanda Nalley/Florida Fish and Wildlife.
Florida’s Fishing Future

The Everglades Foundation, American Sportfishing Association, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Captains for Clean Water, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, and a host of other conservation and sportfishing organizations have pushed for a federal commitment of $200 million each year for the next 10 years to complete vital Everglades restoration and water quality improvement projects across South Florida.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have allocated more than $400 million to Everglades restoration and water quality improvements.

These combined efforts to address habitat restoration in South Florida will ensure the future of sportfishing in this destination fishery.

This topic was featured at TRCP’s annual Saltwater Media Summit at ICAST on July 11, 2019.

Thank you to our expert panelists: Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation; Sarah Fangman, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; Eric Sutton, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

And our sincerest gratitude to our generous sponsors: American Sportfishing Association, Bass Pro Shops, Costa, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, National Marine Manufacturers Association, NOAA, Peak Design, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, takemefishing.com, and Yamaha.

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Kristyn Brady

July 18, 2019

TRCP Pitches Congress on Creating Better Drought Solutions While Improving Habitat

TRCP’s senior counsel and Colorado River expert speaks at a Senate hearing in support of legislation that would prioritize collaboration and natural solutions to water storage challenges

Melinda Kassen, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s senior counsel, testified this morning before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power and offered the organization’s support for legislation that would help build drought resilience in the West.

“Hunters and anglers need water in the landscape,” said Kassen. “Outdoor recreation infuses $887 billion into the U.S. economy and is especially important for rural America. Fish swim in clean, flowing rivers and streams. Migratory birds feed and rest along the wetlands of our major flyways. Local bird populations nest along riparian corridors. But the TRCP, its partners, and other NGOs recognize that many interests compete for the West’s limited water supplies. Our experience shows that cooperation among diverse interests is the only path leading to durable solutions.”

Kassen testified on the Drought Resiliency and Water Supply Infrastructure Act (S. 1932), a bill that would strengthen the nation’s water supply and improve systems that help us respond to drought. She suggested several modifications to the proposed bill, including changes that would encourage better cooperation with Western state governments and allow more projects to improve natural water-storage systems, such as wetlands and riparian aquifers.

“Natural infrastructure allows the landscape to retain water and then release it for other uses,” said Kassen. “Like built water storage, natural storage makes wet season precipitation or runoff available during the next drier season with high water demand.”

She also called for funding to improve water conservation and efficiency efforts, including bold new programs to reduce water demand or boost voluntary conservation activities that will be critical in the Colorado River Basin and across the West.

Kassen is the third expert witness from the TRCP to testify in congressional hearings this year. In March 2019, Chief Conservation Officer Christy Plumer highlighted ways that Congress can support fish and wildlife this session, and President and CEO Whit Fosburgh offered solutions for tackling America’s public land access challenges.

Watch a video of Kassen’s testimony here:

Randall Williams

July 15, 2019

Sportsmen Respond to New Effort to Lease and Drill the Ruby Mountains

New proposal for oil and gas leasing highlights the need for congressional action

Sportsmen and women are vocally opposing a new effort to open up the Ruby Mountains to oil and gas development concerns over impacts ot habitat and wildlife.

Days after the U.S. Forest Service denied authorization for leasing 54,000 acres in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains, energy developers submitted two new requests to open this prized landscape to oil and gas drilling. A private entity filed new Expressions of Interest (EOIs) to lease 88,000 acres for oil and gas development in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Many of the parcels would affect the same areas previously rejected for leasing.

“Sportsmen and women see this new threat to the Rubies as further proof that lawmakers must act to conserve this special place for future generations,” said Carl Erquiaga, Nevada field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Ruby Mountains, known as Nevada’s Swiss Alps, are home to Nevada’s largest mule deer herd, critical populations of the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout, and numerous other fish and wildlife species.”

In January 2019 Senator Cortez Masto introduced the Ruby Mountain Protection Act (S258) which would permanently withdraw from oil and gas exploration 450,000 acres in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s Ruby Mountain Ranger District. A coalition of 14 influential hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation groups, Sportsmen for the Rubies, has called for lawmakers to pass the legislation.

“The Ruby Mountains, one of the most rugged and beautiful landscapes in the west, supports Nevada’s largest mule deer herd and offers untold hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities. This latest attempt to lease the Rubies underscores the need to pass S258 quickly,” said Pam Harrington, Nevada field coordinator with Trout Unlimited.

By law, federal agencies must respond to these EOIs through a formal process, representing a considerable demand on budgets and human resources. The previous round of leasing requests required more than a year and a half of work before the “no leasing” decision could be made. Now the agency must go through the process again with no certainty that the outcome will be the same.

“It’s clear that the threat to the Rubies won’t go away unless Congress takes action,” continued Erquiaga. “Hunters and anglers in Nevada are counting on lawmakers to do the right thing for this one-of-a-kind landscape.”

Learn more and take action at SportsmenfortheRubies.com.

 

Photo: USFS

Marnee Banks

July 12, 2019

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Creates 21st Century Conservation Model 

Legislation will invest in on-the-ground fish and wildlife management 

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is hailing landmark legislation that will transform fish and wildlife management across the nation.  U.S. Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-Mich) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to invest meaningful resources into proactive conservation. 

Right now, 12,000 species in America need conservation action and 40 percent of the nation’s freshwater fish species are at risk. This legislation will help prevent those species from becoming threatened or endangered by creating a 21st century funding model.  

“This legislation will invest in critical habitat, stronger wildlife populations, and a more robust outdoor recreation economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This bill empowers on-the-ground wildlife experts to implement science-based conservation plans that will preserve these species into the future.”  

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will invest roughly $1.4 billion to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program for proactive, voluntary efforts led by the states, territories and tribal nations to prevent vulnerable wildlife from becoming endangered. 

A national survey determined that each state needs an average of $26 million in new funding annually to effectively implement their State Wildlife Action Plans to prevent species from becoming threatened or endangered. Current funding levels are less than 5 percent of what is needed. 

 

Video: Hunters and Anglers Talk About the Importance of the Colorado River

Did you know that the WaterSMART program makes critical investments in local and regional efforts to conserve water and improve fish habitat? We need more of that on the Colorado River.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

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.

Learn More
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