After years of collaboration, we have just a few weeks to keep sage grouse conservation from collapsing.
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.
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.
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.
Q&A: Outdoors Allie on Artemis and the Modern-Day Huntress
Part One 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
Long before Theodore Roosevelt hunted the badlands and remade himself from a sickly child into an American conservation hero, there were tales of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. She is the modern-day inspiration for Artemis Sportswomen, a group that’s ready to change the face of conservation.
We caught up with one of their founding members, Allie D’Andrea—you may know her by her social media handle, Outdoors Allie—to hear what inspires her outdoor pursuits and how she thinks women can help advocate for America’s quality places to hunt and fish.
TRCP: How did you first get involved in hunting and fishing?
D’ANDREA: I grew up very much in the outdoors, but I did not start hunting and fishing until my college years. My boyfriend Nick played baseball, but after a serious elbow injury he needed to find a new way to fill his time in the fall. He began hunting, heading into the woods almost every chance he could. We had been together since I was 16, so this sudden change was noticeable, and naturally I wanted to see what the draw was!
I started out just observing him on hunts and ended up throwing myself into solo hunting, falling more and more in love with the pursuit. Now, I hunt for meat, for adventure, and to feel a deeper connection to our natural world.
TRCP: What inspires you as a sportswoman in conservation?
D’ANDREA: I absolutely love exploring Western landscapes—they are truly awe-inspiring. The more I see, the more I’m inspired to safeguard wildlife, wild places, and my right to explore.
TRCP: Can you share a recent epiphany you’ve had about conservation and your role as a sportswoman?
D’ANDREA: I’ve come to realize that there are people from all walks of life who care about conservation. Whether you are a hunter, climber, urbanite, or all three, it doesn’t matter. If we all care about the same issues, then it’s only natural that we should all work together. Of course, there will be areas where we won’t see eye to eye, and that is OK. It’s more about joining together where there is common ground for the greater good of wildlife and habitat.
As sportswomen, we are a piece of that puzzle. It’s our responsibility to not only join that conversation, but contribute to it.
TRCP: Why do you think it’s so important for women to speak out?
D’ANDREA: Because anyone who cares about conservation and has something powerful to contribute deserves to be heard. And with the creation of niche conservation groups like Artemis, it becomes easier to amplify those voices.
TRCP: What do you see as the biggest impediment for women who want to get into hunting, fishing, and conservation?
D’ANDREA: As the social norms have started to shift, the biggest challenge might be finding mentors. Personally, I was surrounded by such a welcoming group of men willing to help me learn. I would have been lost without them.
TRCP: How are you using your platform to promote R3 and make sure a new generation of sportswomen are introduced into this community?
D’ANDREA: On social media, I’m trying to create a safe place for anyone to be part of the conversation, from folks who are brand new to hunting to those with decades of experience. You can never stop learning, and I try to highlight the joy of learning in my own journey, hoping to inspire others to do the same!
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.
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.