TRCP Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard, a Minox Optics Adventure Team member, recently got the opportunity to chase Merriam’s turkeys in Wyoming in an area where he has arrowed numerous birds. This spring, Neil (along with his wife Catherine behind the camera) experienced cold weather with high winds and snow. On the few days he was able to hunt, he found birds, though he never connected.
However, this opportunity would not have been possible without access to public lands. The cooperation of private landowners and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department through the Access Yes program provides hunters and anglers access to otherwise inaccessible lands. For every dollar donated to the program, nearly 4.6 acres of access is provided to all hunters and anglers who hunt and fish in Wyoming – residents and non-residents alike. Many other states have similar access programs.
Watch a video of Neil’s hunt below. How important is access to you? Let us know on the TRCP Facebook page.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act (S. 2363) is an historic piece of legislation that features some of the most important measures to benefit America’s 40 million sportsmen in years. The bill includes a number of provisions to expand public access and conserve fish and wildlife habitat for generations. S.2363 enjoys the support of many major hunting and angling organizations across the country. That support has been matched by a bipartisan cosponsor list of 45 Senators.
America’s hunters and anglers, who annually contribute $200 billion to the national economy and continue to play a vital role in the promotion of sustainable land use, deserve equal footing with other multiple uses on federal lands.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act includes the following 14 provisions:
Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2013 (S.738), authorizing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow any state to provide federal duck stamps electronically.
Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act (S.1505), exempts lead fishing tackle from being regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act
Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act (S.1212), enabling states to allocate a greater proportion of federal funding to create and maintain shooting ranges on federal and non-federal lands
Duck Stamp Subsistence Waiver, granting the Secretary of the Interior the authority to make limited waivers of Duck Stamp requirements for certain subsistence users
Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act (S.847), permitting the Secretary of the Interior to authorize permits for re-importation of previously legally harvested Polar Bears from approved populations in Canada before the 2008 ban
Farmer and Hunter Protection Act, authorizing USDA extension offices to determine normal agricultural practices rather than the Fish and Wildlife Service
Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage OpportunitiesAct (S.170), requiring federal land managers to consider how management plans affect opportunities to engage in hunting, fishing and recreational shooting and requiring the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to keep BLM lands open to these activities.
Permits for Film Crews of Five People or Less, directing the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to require annual permits and assess annual fees for filming on federal lands
Making Public Lands Public, requires that 1.5 percent of annual Land and Water Conservation Fund monies be made available to secure public access to existing federal lands that have restricted access to hunting, fishing and other recreational activities.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (S.741), provides matching grants to organizations, state and local governments, and private landowners for the acquisition, restoration, and enhancement of wetlands habitat critical to migratory birds.
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization, reauthorizing NFWF, a nonprofit that conserves and restores native wildlife species and habitats.
Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act, enabling states to allocate a greater proportion of federal funding to create and maintain shooting ranges.
Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization, enabling the Bureau of Land Management to disburse public lands to private entities, county governments, and others for the purposes of ranching, public works, and related projects and invest the revenue received to obtain additional conservation lands.
The fourth anniversary of the start of the BP Gulf oil spill passed in April with relatively little fanfare.
Certainly there were some very important reports circulated in the media regarding the detrimental impacts of oil on larval fish, especially tuna, in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And the Coast Guard recently announced it was ending the active cleanup phase of the recovery effort and responding to oiling on a case-by-case basis, despite regular reports of oil showing up on Louisiana’s barrier island beaches. The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that more and more workers are commuting to jobs in coastal parishes in Louisiana rather than living in coastal communities, which are growing increasingly vulnerable to flooding from wetland loss, sea level rise and the fact that the land is sinking, something most in South Louisiana have surely noticed on area roads during rush-hour traffic.
Despite these reports ringing alarms along the Gulf Coast, where post-oil spill and post-hurricane realities are ever present, the national spotlight will likely not focus on the oil spill again until next year when its fifth anniversary coincides with the 10th anniversary of the landfalls of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
While many of the larger national news outlets passed on the in-depth examinations of the health of the Gulf and its residents this year, Smithsonian.com published an article that examined the impacts of the spill, attempting to distill fact from rumor and portray as accurate a picture possible of the Gulf of Mexico in April 2014 versus the Gulf of four years ago.
The article illustrated the impacts of hydrocarbons on larval fish such as bluefin and blackfin tuna, though it did not report that scientists and researchers know for certain that those impacts will have long-term detrimental effects on the populations of those fish. Scientists simply don’t know that yet and will need more time to ascertain that information. The article further explained key forage species, especially menhaden, had gone through enough life cycles for scientists to reasonably conclude that their collapse was unlikely, though not out of the realm of possibilities.
The article also quoted oil-spill experts who attested the oil released into the Gulf was a lighter, more volatile hydrocarbon than what was spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989 – and it was released into a warmer environment with more micro-organisms in it to help dissipate and consume it. However, despite the ability of the Gulf’s warmer, highly-oxygenated climate to consume oil, once it reached the irregular, marshy shorelines of Louisiana’s coast, the oil was trapped in vegetation and mud – and likely will stay there for generations.
All of these findings, for the most part, had been reported before the piece in Smithsonian.com was published, though it was very helpful to have them all summed up in one tidy, well-researched article, especially as news of the spill’s aftermath has been pushed farther to the back of newspapers and magazines and off the home pages of most news websites.
Of all the points made in the article, one that stood out the most is the fact that the spill did not happen in a pristine environment. The Gulf, like many other coastal ecosystems across the world, has experienced more than its share of habitat loss, poor water quality and man-made and natural disasters.
Efforts to contain rivers from flooding and maintain them for navigation have disrupted vital sediment deposits needed to maintain wetlands that serve as fish nursery grounds and filters for nutrients from agriculture and urban runoff. Over-harvest and poor water quality, including nutrient loading and saltwater intrusion, have limited oyster and scallop production.
Poor water quality also can be blamed for the loss of historic sea grass beds, especially in Florida and Texas. Some places are getting too much freshwater and at the wrong times of the year, while others are simply not getting enough freshwater due to upstream diversions. Since scientists did not have a wealth of knowledge about Gulf fisheries before the spill, it’s difficult for them to draw specific conclusions about what the impacts of the spill are and could be.
None of this is intended to suggest that people do not have their place in the Gulf’s ecosystems. Rather, it is meant to point out that policymakers, lawmakers, scientists and Gulf residents must seize the opportunity to address the impacts and make the Gulf a better, more sustainable ecosystem. That opportunity comes in the form of the penalties that have been and will be paid to help repair the damages caused and exacerbated by the spill.
Efforts to restore coastal wetlands, oyster and sea grass beds; repair damages to coral reefs; return sediment flows back into the Mississippi River Delta and improve water quality across the Gulf are not just “feel good” stories. They are essential to making the Gulf’s fisheries and coastal communities sustainable.
More than 3.5 million anglers hold recreational fishing licenses from Florida through Texas. That number swells by as much as a million when those are included who take charter trips out of states that include the license as part of the charter fee. That fishing activity annually generates more than $10 billion throughout the Gulf. Without efforts to make the ecosystems on which the fish depend more sustainable, those recreational fishing dollars gradually go away, as do the fishing opportunities.
As Gulf-area law and policymakers devise ways to spend oil-spill recovery dollars on “economic development” as the money continues to trickle in, it’s important for the recreational fishing community to remind them the wisest investment is in the ecosystems that already make up a huge part of the area’s economy.
OK, OK, I did this before, but it bears repeating: Those of us who like sportfishing have been given an opportunity. So let’s not waste it. Not too long ago, I wrote about the new NOAA administrator, Eileen Sobeck, committing the agency to crafting a national saltwater recreational fishing policy. Will this policy instantly fix all the problems that many see with management of recreational fisheries at the federal or state level? Not likely, but this effort should get into writing those things that anglers think will improve sportfishing in the long run. This will take time, but it should not be the result of a small number of stakeholders influencing the system. It needs to have broad input if it is going to be a real national policy.
As this is being written, NOAA Fisheries is holding the third of its town halls to gather input from the recreational community and industry. This is being held in conjunction with the New England Fishery Management Council meeting in Portland, Maine. The turnout at the council venue is likely to be fairly weak. Recreational interests are not accustomed to coming to NEFMC meetings to input their thoughts on management. The first town hall was held in Florida at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting, where an overwhelming three recreational participants showed up to give input. C’mon, man! We gotta do better than that. At the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the turnout was a little stronger but still pathetic with 15 participants at the meeting. At the NEFMC meeting there were five participants.
While this poor showing makes NOAA Fisheries’ efforts to fulfill this mandate look like a waste of their time, another commercial fishing organization showed up in force in Washington, D.C., during Capitol Hill Ocean Week. Called the Seafood Harvesters of America, one of its main efforts is accountability where fish are landed and where policies are made. I’m all in, but I suspect that accountability will cut across all users. Not a bad thing. Soooo, how is it that the recreational stakeholders and industry have that vast majority of users but cannot even muster more than a few participants at regional meetings, while the commercial industry creates another association to try to influence fishing policies? Answer me that question.
All is not lost yet. NOAA Fisheries, the folks we love to hate, are trying hard to make input into this effort easy. But if you are reading this, you will have to make some effort. Don’t just think the other guy will do it, because he will think the same. Then a small group of Washington insiders will be left to influence the process. Just yesterday at the NEFMC meeting another recreational representative agreed with my thinking that council meetings are not the best place to get recreational input. Recs are just not focused at the council level. So, he indicated that he was not happy that the same old D.C. players would get what they wanted in the policy effort. I couldn’t agree more, so get up off the couch and get into the conversation!
NOAA Fisheries is turning handstands to push this effort along, and by mid summer, you’ll be running out of opportunities to comment. There will be a couple of national webinars to inform folks about the policy and straw man ideas that have been put out there to get the discussion going. There is also the opportunity to comment online at any time that is convenient for you. They want your thoughts and have made it relatively easy for you. But in the end they cannot force you to comment, and that is why I am going to be a nudge on this. It is important. If you belong to a saltwater fishing club, make sure that it is aware of this and that its members are informed.
So, what’s the excuse? Go to the site, check out the discussion guide and the documents to inform the policy development, and make a comment. Once again, let me state that we have been given an opportunity to shape our future. If we fail to take the opportunity, someone else will shape it for us, and we may not like what we get.
American sportsmen have been leading the conservation movement since its beginning, and for more than three quarters of a century, we have been putting our money where our mouths are. We voluntarily instituted fees on guns, ammo, fishing tackle, boats and other sporting equipment on the condition that the money collected would be put back into species restoration, resource protection and access. Sportsmen contribute over $750 million each year to conservation through these self-imposed fees. (This doesn’t include the nearly $1.5 billion sportsmen spend on license and permit sales each year – money that goes to support state fish and wildlife agencies.) The benefits of these conservation efforts are enjoyed far beyond the sportsmen’s community, but hunters and anglers have embraced the “user pays-public benefits” model because it has been so successful at enhancing our sporting traditions.
Likewise, the federal government – because of its responsibility to manage public lands, comply with various statutory requirements and operate federal facilities – invests in a wide variety of conservation efforts that benefit sportsmen. Fiscal austerity in recent years has put these investments in jeopardy, leading many sportsmen to redouble their efforts to advocate for programs that support our enjoyment of the outdoors.
For example, on April 22, 2014, more than 100 prominent sportsmen’s groups urged Congress to strongly fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which directs a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and increase access and recreational opportunities for sportsmen on public lands.
However, in lieu of comprehensive data about federal spending on conservation, our advocacy is limited to a piecemeal approach, often focused on a few high profile programs, like LWCF.
Following in the tradition of the North American model of wildlife conservation that prioritizes scientific, data-driven management of wildlife and habitats, the TRCP Center for Water Resources has produced a database of federal programs – referred to as the “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” – impacting a specific type of conservation – that of our water resources. By knowing where and how much the federal government is investing in water conservation, we can better determine which programs are lacking – or perhaps in excess – and target our advocacy.
(In this context, water conservation refers to federal programs that have improvement of freshwater aquatic habitat, including aquatic species restoration, as a primary goal, or the ability to increase flows or wetland acres. There are other important federal actions that influence water conservation, such as research or data collection, but the “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” focuses on programs that have the ability to directly and immediately enhance freshwater resources.)
This database captures a snapshot of what the federal government is doing to improve aquatic habitat for hunting and fishing. The TRCP Center for Water Resources will update the data at least twice each year: once when the president proposes a budget to Congress, usually in late February or March, and again when Congress completes its annual appropriations process, usually in late fall. The TRCP Center for Water Resources also will add periodic analyses to explain what the data mean for sportsmen.
The “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” comes at an important time. Several years of slow but steady economic recovery are finally easing some of the fiscal constraints of the Great Recession. And after seemingly endless omnibus spending bills, continuing resolutions and other budgetary standoffs driven by hyper-partisanship that ultimately culminated in a shutdown of the federal government, Congress is showing signs of a return to a normal appropriations process. Sportsmen now have a window of opportunity to influence federal spending decisions and make our voices heard above the din. The “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” will help inform and target our efforts.
Also, it is a tool that will help our community hold elected officials accountable. We can see in hard data the priority they place on those programs that support our hunting and fishing traditions and the $200 billion a year economy that goes with them. We embrace the “user pays-public benefits” model because we see a positive return on our investment; the “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” will help us get the same from those we send to Washington, DC, to represent us.
If you have feedback, please share it with us by contacting Jimmy Hague, Director of the Center for Water Resources, at email@example.com.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
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.