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August 13, 2014

Water Conservation Funding is Going Down. But It Could Be Worse.

There’s an old saying that “water flows uphill towards money.” This means that those with the most money usually end up getting the water, even if it means pumping water uphill and over mountain ranges to do it. The saying reflects a frustration many people feel when they lose out to more well-heeled water users, especially in times of drought.

Now, based on an initial review of data in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget, there might be a new corollary that also is especially frustrating in this current drought: “Money for water is going downhill.”

In case you missed the initial launch and description, the “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” tracks federal programs that impact water resources conservation[1] at seven federal agencies: the Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Each agency has programs that can enhance freshwater resources. They vary widely in goals, focus and size. For example, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at EPA capitalizes state revolving loans that finance public wastewater system infrastructure improvements. It receives between $1.5 billion and $2 billion each year but only a small portion of that goes to enhancing the freshwater resources hunters and anglers enjoy.

At another end of the spectrum, the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund at FWS is the most important funding mechanism for the conservation of waterfowl habitat across North America. It receives about $35 million each year – nearly 60 times smaller than the CWSRF – but nearly all of that money goes to improving the health and integrity of wetlands.

Such wide discrepancies between programs included in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget means that a top-level analysis of water conservation funding will gloss over important distinctions between agencies and programs.[2] Nevertheless, the aggregate federal investment in water conservation programs can give us a sense of the relative priority water conservation has in federal budget decisions.

Total water conservation spending at seven federal agencies from fiscal year 2010 (FY10) to fiscal year 2014 (FY14) in real dollars.

Here, I look at the baseline years 2010-2014 where we have nearly final spending data, and only consider the total funding for all programs over the five-year period.

Over this period, total water conservation spending has averaged about $6.6 billion per year, with a high of $7.0 billion (2011) and a low of $6.3 billion (2013). Year-to-year fluctuations are dramatic – up 5 percent one year then down 6.5 percent the next – but over the whole period funding is down 1 percent, or $66 million.

A decrease in spending over the last five years isn’t surprising. This follows the trend in overall federal spending. After the economic collapse of 2008-09, Congress instituted austere budget restrictions designed to reel in deficits. Fortunately, the drop in water conservation spending is less severe than the corresponding drop in overall spending. According to data from the Office of Management and Budget, non-defense discretionary spending, the broad budget category to which water conservation belongs, has gone down 5 percent over the same time period (2010-2014). That water conservation spending hasn’t suffered as much indicates that these programs have been a relative priority for lawmakers determined to cut spending.

Figure 2. Total water conservation spending at seven federal agencies from fiscal year 2010 (FY10) to fiscal year 2014 (FY14) in constant 2010 dollars.

A one percent drop in water conservation spending may not sound that bad but the picture gets bleaker after adjusting for inflation. In constant 2010 dollars, water conservation funding in 2014 is roughly $6.0 billion, down 9 percent from 2010. Again, this compares favorably to overall non-defense discretionary spending, which has declined 13 percent over the last five years after adjusting for inflation. Nevertheless, at a time of historic drought across the West, this means we have lost $625 million in purchasing power over five years for efforts to make the most out of every drop of water we have. That kind of decline could be sowing the seeds of trouble as climate change and population growth exacerbate current water supply problems.

There is reason to be hopeful about the future. Several years of slow but steady economic recovery are finally easing some of the fiscal constraints of the Great Recession; for example, water conservation spending was up 5 percent in 2014 over the previous year. And after seemingly endless omnibus spending bills, continuing resolutions and other budgetary standoffs that culminated in a shutdown of the federal government, Congress was able to complete a budget and appropriations process for fiscal year 2014. However, this year’s election is complicating the chances for a repeat for fiscal year 2015.

 

[1] 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.

[2] For example, while 60 percent of water conservation programs had their budgets cut by an average of $43 million from 2010-2014, one program – the Conservation Stewardship Program at NRCS – had its budget increase $689 million over the same period, masking significant decreases in CWSRF and EPA’s geographic programs like Great Lakes Restoration.

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August 12, 2014

Spearheading shark conservation

Guy Harvey with mako shark
Guy Harvey swims with a mako shark. Photo courtesy of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.

As an artist, scientist and fisherman, Guy Harvey is combining his three loves these days to help sharks.

One of the country’s most popular wildlife artists, Harvey’s work appears on everything from murals and posters to T-shirts and towels. With a doctorate in marine zoology, Harvey and his Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation have taken on the challenge of protecting sharks by tagging them with transmitters so scientists can track their travels.

“It’s about being responsible and taking the lead and trying to make a difference,” Harvey said. “[Sharks] have been so extensively killed, mainly through commercial long-lining, that their populations have been significantly reduced. They’re slow-growing, long-lived animals.”

Harvey said some states, like Florida, and some countries, such as the Bahamas, have protected sharks by reducing or prohibiting commercial fishing for them. He hopes the data provided by the tags will lead to restrictions on the slaughter of sharks in other parts of the world.

“You’ve got to get the research,” said Harvey during a daytime swordfishing trip out of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. (He and three other anglers each caught and released a swordfish on Catch 22 with Capt. Scott Stanczyk.) “You have to approach management not on a country-by-country basis but on a regional basis.”

Harvey, who lives in the Cayman Islands and who grew up offshore fishing in Jamaica, has helped catch and then tag sharks such as makos and tigers. He was part of a tagging effort for oceanic whitetip sharks in conjunction with a dolphin tournament in Grand Cayman. A $1,500 reward was offered to the first couple of tournament anglers who caught a shark and held it for tagging. Six sharks were held and tagged, and Harvey and his crew caught and tagged four others.

“What was cool was the guys who caught the first two sharks gave the money back so we could buy more tags,” Harvey said. “All of a sudden, we turned around the Caymanians’ attitude toward sharks. Usually they kill sharks and use them for bait.”

The shark tags cost $1,800 each, plus the cost of satellite time to retrieve the data from them. The tags are bolted to a shark’s dorsal fin, then the shark is released. Harvey jumps in the water to swim with the shark until it takes off. The experiences often result in new paintings of sharks.

Guy Harvey swordfishing
Guy Harvey fights a swordfish. Photo by Steve Waters.

“He loves it. It’s a combination of fishing, diving and his science background,” said Dr. Mahmood Shivji, the director of Nova Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute and Save Our Seas Shark Research Center in Hollywood, Fla. The university has a website –nova.edu/ocean/ghri/tracking – that displays the sharks’ travels. Some of the findings have been enlightening.

“Some are staying around and some are moving,” Harvey said, adding that one shark, a mako nicknamed Bad Guy, traveled from Mexico to Grand Cayman to Jamaica, through the Windward Passage and up the eastern coast of the United States to Maryland, where he joined other makos that were tagged in that area.

Shivji said that Harvey’s efforts have had an impact on shark research. Most scientists are funded through government grants, which have greatly declined. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which receives private donations as well as proceeds from sales of Harvey goods and lottery tickets bearing his artwork, has helped keep the shark research going.

Shivji added that the importance of the research gets extra attention because of Harvey’s “celebrity status.” And as Harvey said, once you have the research, it becomes easier to make the case for conservation-minded countries to persuade countries that “plunder” shark populations to change their ways.

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August 5, 2014

How and why TruckVault Cares

Every once in a (long) while I have a pretty good idea. Because they are so infrequent, when I do have one, I act on it. That’s how “TruckVault Cares … for conservation, canines & kids … presented by PawPrint Genetics” started.

I wondered how I could use my bully pulpit as creator/host of America’s most-watched bird hunting TV show to help groups that deserve more exposure, members, support and funds.

Courtesy of TruckVault Cares

I’ve watched the TRCP from its infancy, gotten to know Jim Range and Rollie Sparrow a bit, and shared the TRCP vision from the get-go. I’m glad this year the TRCP is one of the beneficiary groups. But it’s up to you, dear reader, to make this pay off for your favorite group.

It’s fun, not to mention a good excuse to share your beliefs with others who also will support the TRCP and spend someone else’s money in support of your favorite group. Here’s how it works:

Groups receive on-air marketing exposure on Wingshooting USA TV plus online and social media marketing, print advertising in each others’ publications, and cross-promotion with partner groups. Each group will receive a share of the funding pool I provide based on total votes tallied.

Along with the TRCP, the campaign spotlight will be shared by USA Shooting, the training and sanctioning organization for U.S. Olympic and Paralympic shooting sports; Quail and Upland Wildlife Foundation, which provides funding and manpower for on-the-ground projects; Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, which funds processing and facilitates hunter donations of meat to needy families; German Shorthair Club of America’s dog rescue, an effort to find new homes for lost and abandoned hunting dogs; and the National Police Dog Foundation, which buys, trains and cares for active and retired law enforcement canines.

Anyone can vote daily at the TruckVault website and the TruckVault Facebook page. Voters are eligible for prizes throughout the campaign, which ends Dec. 31, 2014, when a $5,000 prize package is awarded at random to one voter.

And please, if you are buying any new gear or services, consider supporting the sponsors who support “TruckVault Cares”: TruckVault, Happy Jack dog care products, Filson apparel, Fiocchi ammunition, Pursuit Channel, Scott Linden’s Signature Series of dog gear, SportDOG and O.F. Mossberg & Sons.

(Scott Linden is executive producer and host of Wingshooting USA, airing on eight TV networks and the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.)

 

 

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July 29, 2014

More bad news about lionfish

Image courtesy of NOAA.

Lionfish populations continue to expand in coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, stretching from New England to Mexico.

The exotic invader from the South Pacific and Indian Ocean was first documented off South Florida in 1985 after someone dumped his or her aquarium in the ocean rather than disposing of the lionfish.

Nothing was done about those fish by state or federal agencies. By the 1990s, lionfish had spread along Florida’s Atlantic coast. In 2000, they showed up off North Carolina. In 2009, lionfish had expanded throughout the Florida Keys. From there they stretched along the Gulf coast to Mexico.

In addition to the United States, the fish, which gobble up native reef species, have spread throughout the Caribbean to Central and South America. The Keys-based Reef Environmental Education Foundation has excellent information about lionfish on its website at www.reef.org/lionfish.

Now, thanks to a science fair project conducted by a 12-year-old girl from Jupiter, Fla., there is new information. It’s not good.

Scientists say that lionfish can also spread into estuaries with extremely low salinity rates. That means lionfish, which have no predators in their new range, could establish a stronghold in bays, lagoons and rivers with just a hint of saltwater.

In Florida, the fish already have been documented in the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter and the Indian River in Sebastian. The thinking was that the fish couldn’t stray too far from the inlets connected to those rivers, but Lauren Arrington discovered otherwise.

Arrington’s sixth-grade project demonstrated that lionfish can survive in water that is almost fresh. Scientists who heard about her project replicated her work and confirmed just how tolerant of low salinity levels lionfish can be.

“Her project was the impetus for us to follow up on the finding and do a more in-depth study,” said Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, who was researching lionfish in the Loxahatchee River with graduate students from Florida International University.

“We were the first paper that published the salinity of the lionfish, and it was all because of what she had done with her science project.”

For her project, Arrington gradually lowered the salinity in five aquariums with lionfish that she and her father caught in the Indian River. They kept another aquarium at normal ocean salinity level of 35 parts per thousand as a control. Arrington brought down the salinity levels to 6 parts per thousand and the lionfish were fine. She didn’t go any lower for fear of killing the fish, which would have disqualified her project from the science fair.

Layman and his graduate students found that lionfish can tolerate a salinity of 5 parts per thousand, as well as pulses of fresh water. Their findings were published in “Environmental Biology of Fishes.” Arrington received a mention in the research paper’s acknowledgments section.

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July 27, 2014

Firefighting and sportsmen: Why we support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act – and why you should, too

There is nothing like summer in Montana for a young man with a truck and a fly rod.  Incredible fishing in any number of rivers, streams and lakes starts in the early spring and continues through the fall, especially if you’re willing to hike, wade and paddle your way into waters where the trout haven’t seen the same $1.99 foam hoppers swing by every day since June.

Norman Maclean could write a book about Montana summers today and not stray too far from the original text of A River Runs Through It. One can imagine, however, the shocked look on his face upon awakening to a Missoula valley drowned by smoke each July and August, so much so that the sun rises bright orange over Hellgate Canyon each morning. Homes burn, habitat is destroyed, and the constant thud of helicopters ferrying water to the blazes can be heard everywhere.

Image courtesy of NASA.

Catastrophic wildfires are threatening communities across the West. Now, however, Congress has the opportunity to do something about it.

Ordinary wildfires are constant in Western summers. We devour the morel mushrooms that spring up in burned areas each spring; we praise the brave men and women who dedicate their summers to cutting breaks, clearing brush and jumping out of rickety airplanes; and we bear the routine evacuations and air quality concerns without too much complaint. They are a part of life; indeed, Smokey Bear is as much of a cultural icon for us as Rosie the Riveter. Let us not forget that this is a vital ecological process. We know that fires are integral to healthy forest ecosystems. Typical wildfires eliminate weaker trees and saplings from the understory, push back the underbrush and clear the way for new plant life to emerge. This process is necessary – not only to the health of the forest but also to the game populations we prize, like mule deer, elk and ruffed grouse.

Catastrophic wildfires, which consume hundreds of thousands of acres and ravage communities, are an entirely different animal. These fires are a distinctly unnatural process resulting from climate change, insects and poor forestry management. Sen. John McCain referenced their origins recently while testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, labeling them “manmade disasters” and calling for immediate reforms to the Forest Service’s suppression and prevention strategies.

One hundred and thirty-one other members of Congress also have expressed support for commonsense reforms like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (S. 1875 and H.R. 3992) because they realize the severe ramifications of doing nothing. Indeed, the cost of wildfires today would be considerably lower if the Forest Service was able to effectively engage in its congressionally mandated activities. Legislation like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would put an end   to the practice of borrowing funds from vital programs integral to land management and fire prevention across the United States to pay for fire suppression costs.

Conservation is about doing what you can, when you can. Otherwise, the land suffers, and we who hunt and fish suffer with it. We have a responsibility to support efforts to advance sound, results-oriented conservation measures, and we cannot continue to allow the individuals we elect to play games with the lands we know and love. Check and see if your senator or representative supports a change for wildfire funding. If they don’t, make sure they know you do.

Urge Congress to take action on wildfire funding today.

 

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