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When the 2013 pre-season pheasant brood survey for South Dakota showed a 64 percent drop from 2012 and a 76 percent decline from the 10-year average, hunters that are familiar with the traditional world-class pheasant hunting in the state took notice. Many canceled their hunting plans altogether.
The statistics caught the attention of South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who understands what the $750 million pheasant hunting industry means to the state economically as well as recreationally. In response to the crippling drops in pheasant numbers, the governor quickly called together his game and fish, agriculture and tourism departments for a summit to identify the problems responsible for the pheasant decline and to develop a path forward to reverse the negative trend.
The event was held on a bitterly cold December day in Huron, SD. The town is known for displaying the largest pheasant statue in the world as a symbol of the importance of the state bird. Secretary of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Jeff Vonk explained that healthy pheasant populations require food, cover and water across the landscape. While weather is also an important short-term factor, habitat is the long-term driver of pheasant abundance.
He quoted the great wildlife manager Aldo Leopold as having the answer to the challenge, “Game can be restored by the creative use of the same tools that have heretofore destroyed it—the axe, cow, plow, fire and gun. Successful management is the purposeful and continual alignment of those factors to benefit the species.”
So what can be done about this habitat crisis? Summit participants agreed that conservation policy should play a major role and suggested several actions:
It was encouraging to witness Gov. Daugaard’s attentiveness to the needs of the sportsmen but much work remains. Watch a video from the summit below and stay tuned as the TRCP and our partners provide opportunities for sportsmen to speak up on behalf of key conservation initiatives.
Earlier today I spoke to an independent panel of scientists reviewing an EPA report that summarizes our best understanding of how wetlands and streams affect water quality. This report is important because it will inform the rules the federal government comes up with that say which bodies of water in America deserve protection by the landmark Clean Water Act. These rules have been up in the air for over a decade because a couple of Supreme Court decisions in the 2000s put longstanding protections for wetlands and headwater streams – some of the waters most important to sportsmen – in jeopardy.
I told the panel that hunting and fishing are a major part of the American heritage and economy, and they both depend on clean water. Also, I presented the consensus views of the sportsmen’s community: While we’re generally pleased with the report, EPA can improve it by taking a closer look at areas like the Prairie Pothole Region, which is home to as many as 70 percent of all the ducks in North America.
Read on for my full remarks. Also, follow a webcast of the panel’s deliberations over the next two days here.
Statement of Jimmy Hague
Director, Center for Water Resources
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
To the Panel for the Review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Report:
Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence
December 16, 2013
Chairwoman Rodewald and members of the panel, thank you for the opportunity to address you on this issue of utmost importance to the sportsmen’s community and comment on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.
I am Jimmy Hague, Director of the Center for Water Resources at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). The TRCP is a coalition of more than 30 organizations, some of which are represented here today, dedicated to strengthening the laws, policies, and practices affecting fish and wildlife conservation. Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, we work every day to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.
Each year, 47 million Americans head into the field to hunt or fish. The money sportsmen spend in pursuit of their passion supports everything from major manufacturing industries to small businesses in communities across the country. The economic benefits of hunting and angling – which total $200 billion a year – are especially pronounced in rural areas, where money brought in during the hunting season can be enough to keep small businesses operational for the whole year. Through fees and excise taxes on sporting equipment, sportsmen also pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year for wildlife management, habitat conservation, and public access.
The TRCP has been involved in debates over the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act for years because these economic and conservation benefits – plus over a million American jobs – all depend on clean water and productive wetlands.
However, hunting and fishing are not merely an irreplaceable component of our economy. They are a heritage we cherish and want to pass on to our children. As streams are lost to pollution and wetlands drained, fish, wildlife and sporting access are lost along with them. The Clean Water Act is the best tool we have to protect the quality of our water resources, and its jurisdiction needs to be clear to work effectively.
The TRCP was pleased to see the EPA produce the Connectivity report synthesizing more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications of the best available science on wetlands and headwater streams in preparation for a rulemaking on Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Several of TRCP’s partner organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America and The Wildlife Society, submitted detailed comments to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), and I commend those comments to you because these organizations contain some of the foremost wetlands and streams scientists in the world. However, today I will restrict my comments and recommendations to the consensus views contained in a letter to the SAB from 16 of the nation’s leading sportsmen organizations:
Our letter contained two comments and suggested one area for further analysis in the final report.
First, we agree with the draft Connectivity report that the watershed scale is the appropriate context for assessing connectivity. Using this fundamental ecological unit will lead to better management of the resource because it can account for the myriad factors affecting our water quality.
Second, we commend the draft Connectivity report for recognizing the importance of aggregating the effects of small water bodies in a watershed. This approach is critical to determining connectivity of some of the waters most important to sportsmen.
Take, for example, the Prairie Pothole Region of the Dakotas. This area, stretching into Canada, is home to as many as 70 percent of all the ducks in North America. Taken individually, a single pothole may have little impact on downstream waters. But taken as a class, they act as important water sinks and pollutant traps. Therefore, the wholesale draining or filling of the Prairie Pothole Region will impair water quality downstream. It will also irreparably harm waterfowl habitat, America’s duck hunters and part of the $200 billion sportsmen economy I described earlier.
This leads me to our recommendation for the panel. The draft report does not draw general conclusions about the connectivity of unidirectional wetlands but does say that such evaluations could be done on a case-by-case basis. We ask that the final report include additional clarity on the connectivity of unidirectional wetlands. Even if their connectivity cannot be assessed on a categorical basis, there is sufficient evidence to assess it at a regional or watershed level in some cases, such as the Prairie Pothole Region. Such analysis will strengthen the report and make the subsequent rulemaking this report will inform more useful.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment and for your service on this panel. I look forward to reviewing your results.
Here’s a fascinating fish story that’s clearly a case of don’t try this at your home port, but appreciate the skill involved.
Three anglers went about 18 miles offshore out of Pompano Beach, Fla., last week in a 19-foot skiff and came back with a 300-pound swordfish.
Daytime swordfishing, where anglers drop a bait to the bottom in 1,500-2,000 feet of water, is big in South Florida with recreational and commercial anglers.
Capt. Stan Hunt offers swordfish charters, as well as nearshore trips for sailfish, tuna, wahoo, kingfish and dolphin, on his 52-foot sportfisherman Rebound out of Hillsboro Inlet Marina.
With calm seas and no charter, Hunt and his mate Tom Bardes decided to try to catch a daytime swordfish in Hunt’s 19-foot Carolina Skiff, a boat that Hunt typically uses to fish for snook at night in the Intracoastal Waterway. At the last minute they were joined by Ryan Goldman, who works on charter and private boats.
They left Hillsboro Inlet at 5:30 a.m. and ran southeast for about 90 minutes in the 70-horsepower outboard-powered skiff, until they were 17-18 miles offshore and in the midst of the daytime swordfish fleet.
“We knew it was going to be nice,” Hunt said. “There was like a 2-, 3-foot rolling swell. It was beautiful out there.”
The trio made several drops to the bottom in 1,550-1,800 feet using dolphin bellies, snakeheads, squid and ribbonfish for bait. A swordfish whacked the bait on the second drop, but didn’t come back.
After two more drops, Bardes predicted that they’d get a bite at 2 p.m. At 1:45, the swordfish ate a large bonito strip in 1,750 feet.
Hunt and a friend had outfitted his boat for swordfishing by building a rod-holder with extra-strong support into the hatch in the boat’s seat. Goldman fought the fish on an LP electric reel spooled with 80-pound Diamond Braid line.
After the swordfish took off with the bait, it swam almost straight up to the boat. Goldman had the reel going as fast as it could and Hunt had the boat going backwards to keep tension on the line.
In less than 10 minutes, Goldman had about half of the leader on the reel and Hunt was able to remove the 10-pound lead weight from it and get a good look at the fish.
“We knew he was over 200,” Hunt said. “At that point he went down about 1,500 feet and started fighting like no other. It was intense.
“He had us doing 360s around him, following him, trying to get on him. He had us going inshore and offshore. He never jumped. He was a nasty fish.”
After about an hour, Goldman had the fish within 10 feet of the boat and about eight feet down. Bardes harpooned the fish, then the men had to figure out how to get the swordfish, which was bashing the boat with its bill, in the boat without tipping over.
“He was pretty hefty,” Hunt said. “With us three standing on the side of the boat and pulling him over, the rails were touching the water.”
Commercial swordfisherman Matt Gill came over to photograph the catch, then Hunt, Bardes and Goldman, who were then off Fort Lauderdale, made a few more drops, with no bites, before heading home with the fish, which Hunt cut up and gave to a number of his friends.
Fishing on other boats, Hunt had caught a 578-pound swordfish on rod and reel and a 483-pounder on an electric reel, but this fish was every bit as memorable.
“For us guys who have caught hundreds and hundreds of swordfish in bigger boats, it’s fun to catch a 50-pounder [in a boat that size],” said Hunt, who had previously caught swordfish from a small center console that he owned. “That was actually the first fish on that little boat and on my new sword rod.”
Asked if he ever felt that he and Bardes and Goldman were in danger during the trip, Hunt said, “Not one bit. Being in that boat especially, that thing is unsinkable.
“It was flat calm seas and we’re all very experienced. Being in danger never crossed my mind, until that bill was whacking the side of the boat.”
Hunters and anglers all love to tell a good fish tale, whether it’s about the big one that got away or some other cherished outdoor experience. No matter how entertaining the story, it is inevitable that anyone sharing their adventures will sooner or later meet an anti-hunter.
In my experience, the majority of people who categorize themselves as being anti-hunting do not fit the stereotypical image of hemp-shirted vegans waving PETA flags. They are average folks who feel uncomfortable with the idea of hunting, yet can’t define precisely why.
Every sportsman confronted by an anti-hunter has heard some variation of the following misinformed and inaccurate catchphrases. The next time you do, arm yourself with a logical, factual rebuttal and you may just open a mind to the idea that hunting plays an important role in conservation. Don’t expect an anti-hunter to pick up arms and head into the woods to kill his or her next meal – but hopefully they will leave the conversation with a greater respect and understanding of the role of hunting in today’s society.
“Hunting just to hang a head on the wall is wrong.”
We agree, and in every state and province within North America, it’s also illegal. A trophy on the wall is many things – decoration, art, a remembrance of a good hunt, but it is never the only thing a sportsman brings back from the field.
Failing to take every edible part of an animal, bird or fish is called wanton waste. Although the details of wanton waste laws vary from place to place, ethical sportsmen universally denounce the idea of wasting an animal. Being convicted of wanton waste carries not only legal ramifications such as loss of future hunting privileges, mandatory fines and potential jail time, but also social condemnation from fellow sportsmen. What’s more, wanton waste laws have helped inspire sportsmen’s organizations to donate about 2.6 million pound of meat annually to food banks, homeless shelters and needy families.
“You should only shoot wildlife with a camera.”
Users of our public wildlife are either consumptive, like hunters and fishermen, or non-consumptive such as birdwatchers or nature photographers. Watching a strutting sage grouse or taking a photo of magnificent bull elk is free, but the conservation programs that create these opportunities are not. And it is sportsmen’s dollars raised through tag and license sales and excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment – not general taxes – that fund state and federal wildlife agencies.
Hunters and anglers pay for important things such as habitat improvement projects, compensating farmers for crop damage, wildlife biologist salaries, fish hatcheries, migration studies, disease research, winter feed for elk and countless other things that contribute to the sustainability of all our native fish and wildlife, including non-game and endangered species.
Every photographer who snaps a picture of grizzly in Yellowstone National Park, every tourist who takes a sleigh ride to marvel at elk on the refuge in Jackson Hole or the hiker who catches a glimpse of the successfully reintroduced native black-footed ferret can thank a hunter for that experience.
“Hunting upsets the balance of nature.”
In the United States, there are more than 300 million people. We build cities and roads, put ski resorts on the mountains and casinos in the deserts. We develop oil and gas fields as dense as subdivisions that cover entire landscapes. The only balance of nature that currently exists outside of designated wilderness areas is fragile and it is one that must be constantly monitored and managed to ensure it persists in the face of ever-increasing human impacts.
Where natural predators such as wolves or mountain lions have been removed, hunters keep elk, deer and antelope populations in check and prevent damage to crops. When agricultural development paved the way for eastern whitetail deer to move west and push out the less aggressive mule deer, hunters stepped up to help maintain that native species. A well-publicized hunt in Florida aims to eliminate the exploding population of non-native Burmese pythons who are endangering not only wildlife but domestic animals and humans as well. In the southern states where feral hogs have multiplied alarmingly, culling helps to preserve natural flora and fauna. Hunting reduces the number of so-called “problem bears” in the picturesque towns that have replaced the woodlands the bears used to call home. As humans, our simple existence has already upset the balance of nature and hunting is a very important management tool that enables our game and fish agencies to protect, and when necessary, restore that delicate balance.
You may be asking yourself why you should care what anti-hunters think. But before you go putting that sticker on your truck of a cartoon kid whizzing on the word “anti-hunter,” remember this: in America, only about 30 million of us hunt and fish. That leaves approximately 270 million who don’t. In a democracy such as ours they are the majority who will determine the outcome of ballot initiatives that affect your sporting opportunities. As a hunter and conservationist, you need to do your part and help them make an educated decision.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More