Last week I wrote about a fascinating new river mapping tool from the U.S. Geological Survey called Streamer. Over at the National Geographic blog, Jennifer Pitt of the Environmental Defense Fund points out one problem with the tool – it doesn’t recognize that rivers cross country borders. Case in point: Streamer cuts off the Colorado River at the border with Mexico. Thinking that the border is the limit of a country’s responsibility, she argues, leads to poor management of the river.
Seven Major Sportsmen’s Groups Call on Congress to End Shutdown
Seven major sportsmen’s groups from across the country hosted a teleconference calling on Congress to end the shutdown that has closed hundreds of wildlife refuges, Forest Service and BLM areas at the start of hunting seasons across the nation. Leaders from the sportsman-conservation community urged Congress and the administration to make habitat conservation efforts a priority.
The shutdown is limiting hunting opportunities and is hurting the country’s wildlife-related recreation economy, which in 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated at more than $144 billion. For instance, the shutdown closed more than 329 federal wildlife refuges for hunting, and more than 271 are shut to fishing, affecting local economies.
These closures compound the cuts proposed by Congress to programs that conserve wildlife habitat, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and others. The shutdown also undermines efforts to reauthorize the Farm Bill, which includes critical elements of national conservation policy.
“Here they come!” Randal hissed in my ear. “Get ready to shoot!”
The doves flew in a wild circle past the hay bale where we stood, their silhouettes fast moving against the North Dakota sky. I shouldered the Remington 20-gauge and fired once, twice.
The doves kept flying, heading south. In the distance, shots rang out, and two of the birds dropped. I heard laughter from the next hay bale and looked over in time to see my companions share a high five.
“I think the birds flew closer to them this time around,” Randal said diplomatically.
No matter. While my pride would have liked to down a bird, I was just happy to be afield on a gloriously unfolding September morning, with fine guns, old friends and new, and the wide-open Northern Plains before me.
I was east of Bismarck, N.D., at the TRCP’s Western Media Summit, an annual event that brings together some of the best and brightest in outdoors and natural resources journalism along with policy experts, conservationists and other influential names in the sportsmen’s community. For three days, we’d be talking about the most critical issues currently facing hunters, anglers and others who appreciate and enjoy our nation’s unique outdoor opportunities – and trying to figure out how to make decision-makers in Washington, D.C., heed the growing voice that is sportsmen as they set policy that affects our fish, wildlife and natural resources.
Our partner for the 2013 Western summit was Ducks Unlimited, which hosted our policy sessions at DU’s Great Plains Regional Office. DU staff members also graciously guided summit attendees during our field outings: early season dove hunting near Bismarck and walleye, pike and perch fishing on lakes fed by the Mighty Mo.
With me that morning were DU’s Randal Dell and Matt Shappell; Matt Miller, senior science writer for The Nature Conservancy and freelancer for publications ranging from Sports Afield to National Geographic Online; and Bill Klyn, international business development manager for Patagonia.
We were fortunate to be able to access excellent bird habitat that day. North Dakota, like so many other Great Plains states, has experienced a rapid loss of grassland ecosystems due to economic factors that incentivize the conversion of land to intense row-crop production. Rural landscapes have changed profoundly as a result.
Agricultural practices have changed, too. Converting from grass pasture to row crops has never been so potentially lucrative. Yet it still is possible – and speakers at the TRCP summit confirmed this – to minimize grassland loss and make a living off the intact prairie. In Bismarck, we heard from landowners who practice conscientious management strategies and invest in their land’s health – resulting in an economically sound operation that allows bird populations to thrive.
Our dove hunt that day brought these details into sharp focus. We were hunting on lands managed to sustain wildlife while still being economically viable. The growing pile of doves at our feet testified to the success of these management practices. But we also drove past a seemingly endless cornfield that until a year ago had been native prairie. The difference was palpable.
That’s why the TRCP media summits are important: They expose writers to ideas, places and practices that clearly illustrate the impacts of federal resource policy and the land management practices that result. When groups like DU and the TRCP advocate for stronger conservation programs in the Farm Bill, places like the fields and grasslands near Bismarck, N.D. – and the hunters who frequent them – all stand to gain.
A tip from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Marshall:
As participants in the ecosystem rather than armchair observers, sportsmen have been among the first groups in America to conclude from first-hand observations that climate change is real – and poses a very real threat.
Armed with these conclusions, sportsmen gave birth to groups and efforts such as Seasons’ End and Conservation Hawks. Of course, that doesn’t mean sportsmen don’t meet skeptics and deniers at the deer camp or in the duck marsh.
The Feds Map Where U.S. Water Goes … and It’s Fascinating
The National Atlas of the United States is a periodic publication of a federal partnership led by the U.S. Geological Survey. It contains a wealth of data and maps to “capture and depict the patterns, conditions, and trends of American life.” Earlier this summer, this partnership released a tool that may change the way you think about the movement of water in America.
Streamer is an interactive mapping tool that lets you follow any major river or stream in America upstream to its headwaters or downstream to the ocean. With it you can see, starting from any point in America, where the water in your stream is coming from and going to. It’s like a Google map for rivers.
Take, for example, the Mississippi River. By clicking on the mouth of the Mississippi River where it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, you can get a map, like the one below, that shows every stream and river that drains into the Mississippi River. If you’re one of the 85 million people living in this area that touches 31 states, you live in one of the top five largest draining basins in the world, covering about one-third of the U.S. land mass.
With maps like this, you can start to appreciate the interconnectedness of water. You can see that what happens to water in western Pennsylvania or eastern Colorado matters to what the water will be like in Louisiana. Keep this map in mind during upcoming debates about the Clean Water Act. Water doesn’t care about state boundaries. It simply flows inexorably, inevitably downhill. Therefore, sportsmen and women need effective federal protections to safeguard the fish, wildlife and habitat that sustain our proud sporting traditions.
This map also shows that what gets put into the water upstream in South Dakota eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
That’s why the TRCP launched the Barnyard to Boatyard Conservation Exchange. In it, we brought South Dakota farmers and ranchers together with Louisiana Gulf fishermen to see firsthand the challenges each faces making a living on the Mississippi River that connects them – and to seek solutions to conserve America’s great native prairies and coastal waters.
Currently, pollution in the Mississippi River – large amounts of it coming from farming and ranching activities in the upper reaches of the river – enters the Gulf, killing aquatic life in an area the size of Connecticut. There have been positive developments. Minnesota just proposed a plan to reduce its pollution contribution by 20-35 percent. But there’s still a long way to go to protect this resource and preserve the recreational fishing and agricultural economies at either end of the river.
In the meantime, go play around with Streamer and see where your favorite stream leads.
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.