From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance. They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.
In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them. The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.
Here is lesson five from Copiah County, Mississippi:
Private Landowners Protecting a Threatened Species: The Bayoe Pierre River Restoration Project
Mississippi’s Bayou Pierre River is the only place on earth where you’ll find the threatened Bayou darter, a fish no bigger than your little finger, zipping through shallow water along a fragile, gravelly riverbed. But history has taken its toll on the Bayou darter.
The Bayou darter was listed as threatened in 1975 because mining operations and poor agricultural practices were hurting the species.
Through a robust education campaign and federal investment from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, conservationists and landowners are rebuilding healthy habitats.
Erosion along the Bayou Pierre River and high water create headcuts and steep riverbanks which collapse and crumble into the water, covering fragile darter spawning beds with suffocating topsoil and silt. The problem is compounded by decades of poor management decisions related to gravel mining and livestock raising along the river.
“Federal investment in boots-on-the-ground work goes a long way in a project like this,” says Robert Harris, a private landowner in Copiah County who is partnering with FWS to complete this project. “We are stewards of the land and water and we have a responsibility to the species that for too long have been overlooked. We’re making good progress now and we will continue to rely on responsible federal investment.”
A recent grant from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program will allow for the installation of water control structures, fencing to keep cattle away from spawning grounds, and even the planting of cottonwood trees along the riverbank—which help stabilize the fragile riparian habitat.
This work is paying off. The latest review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggests populations of the Bayou darter appear to be stable in the lower part of the Bayou Pierre River. But biologists are still concerned about populations in the river’s upper and middle stretches.
Thanks to the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the American Sportfishing Association and cooperative landowners, conservation work will be completed in the summer of 2015. Stakeholders will continue to monitor success.
Five Years Later: What You May Not Know About the Post-Spill Gulf Coast
In anticipation of the five-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on April 20, as well as the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership invited a small group of local outdoor writers to Buras, Louisiana, in late March, to discuss the ongoing and lasting effects of both disasters on habitat. Buras, located near the mouth of the Mississippi River, took a direct hit from Katrina, which flooded the small town with more than 20 feet of storm surge and washed away thousands of acres of wetlands on both the east and west sides of the river. Five years later, oil coated many of the samebays, barrierislands and marshes, worsening habitat loss and jeopardizing the health and sustainability of the area’s fisheries.
The group met with Chris Macaluso, the director of TRCP’s Center for Marine Fisheries and a lifelong Gulf Coast angler, as well as fisheries experts and local guides, to get a firsthand view of the post-spill state of Louisiana’s marine fishery. While all who attended are life-long Louisiana outdoorsmen, seeing the power of Mississippi River waters and sediment to heal and sustain coastal marshes seemed to be aneye opening experience for all. You may be surprised by what they learned.
“The presentation by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority on current and proposed projects, the potential for “buckets” of money to go into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, and what those dollars might be used for, really was an eye-opening experience for me. These are things that most of the general public is probably not aware of right now.
The tour on the east side of the river was incredible. To see firsthand the stark difference between the two habitats, and get the opportunity to ride by the terraces and see actual land that has been created—despite what opponents might argue—was a powerful testament to what role diversions could play in the state’s coastal restoration plan.
It really gave me hope that something might actually work in the long term to get the coast back on the right track.”
“I cannot state in strong enough terms how valuable the TRCP media event held out of Buras the last week of March was. Although my job has me in the Louisiana marsh regularly, it was enlightening to examine our state’s wetlands with experts, who could point out examples of both marsh growth and degradation, and the reasons for each. I left with a new appreciation for the value of sediment diversions and, actually, a lot of hope for the future of the Bayou State.”
—Todd Masson, Outdoors Editor, New Orleans Times Picayune and NOLA.com
“So much has happened here in our lifetime. No one seeing southern Louisiana for the first time can understand the amount of land loss, changes in habitat, or siltation that has occurred here since the 1930s. It is my desire to keep this in everyone’s mind. I have been filming in the areas around Buras for seven years. In the beginning, we would film redfish and speckled trout shows on the west side of the river, but we haven’t done that in the last 5 years. Why? There isn’t a large enough concentration of fish on that side of the river to make it worth our while. Now, it’s almost all open water and very little habitat.
On the other hand, filming on the east side of the river is a piece of cake. We caught and filmed largemouth bass, speckled trout and redfish in an area that’s exposed to Mississippi river water, pouring through gaps in the levee, full of silt and nutrients. When the river is high in the springtime it is hard to see how much land has been built in recent years. In the fall and winter, when we film the duck hunting season, the river is low and the tides are even lower. That’s when the new land can be seen for miles. Two weeks ago I jumped out of the boat and walked on hard ground, to film some wild iris growing in the marsh. If I remember, about 5 or 6 years ago, that spot was nothing but water and mud.
What we do today is going to be for our children and grandchildren. To save or rebuild our coastal areas could take hundreds of years, but if we do nothing we should all be prepared to move north.”
“The important part of this excursion to the east and west sides of the Mississippi River near Buras was to show the extent of the subsidence on the Mississippi River delta and the lack of sediment flow into the marshes. The east side is flourishing due to natural diversions. The west side of the Mississippi River is starved of sediment by levee projects during the last 100 years. This starvation process has also allowed the effects of the April 2010 BP-Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to linger, if only because there’s no freshwater sources to cleanse this area, from the Yellow Cotton Bay throughout the Barataria estuary.
I’ve interviewed charter boat operators from the Mississippi River delta area and the Lafitte, Leeville, and Grand Isle areas, and there has been a noticeable decline in speckled trout catches during the last three years and a decided decline in the catches of minnows for live-bait use in the Barataria estuary.”
—Joe Macaluso, Outdoors Editor, The Advocate in Baton Rouge
Five Years Later: Oil Spill Penalties Are No Anniversary Gift—But They Can Have Benefits
A Gulf Coast angler and fisheries conservationist reflects on the days following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—and the ongoing recovery efforts.
A longtime charter captain and friend, Darryl Carpenter, called me from Grand Isle at about noon on Tuesday, April 21, 2010. I was sitting at my desk at the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. It’s a conversation I will never forget.
“That rig explosion last night is very, very bad,” he said. “I heard they can’t find some of the crew and the rest have been brought back to Fourchon. The rig is still on fire and there’s oil all over the water. What have you guys heard?”
The truth was, despite my office’s firm grasp on the happenings along Louisiana’s coast, we didn’t know much at that point about the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform about 50 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico. I only knew what I’d read on some oil and gas trade websites and the little information that had trickled in from some local news reports and the Associated Press.
“I can say now that I had absolutely no idea of the scale of the accident or the amount of oil bellowing out of an unchecked drill pipe a mile below the Gulf’s surface—none of us did.”
The phone rang steadily all that day. Some calls were from charter captains and fellow fishermen, wanting to know if I had any “inside” information. A handful were from reporters, asking what our agency was prepared to do. I was the media relations director, so I should have known, but how could I? Our agency built wetlands and levees; we didn’t fight oil rig fires. We didn’t contain oil spills. The oil spill coordinator’s office should have those answers, I thought. I truly hoped it did.
By Thursday, the trickle of calls from reporters had become a flood. The next day, I reported to the state’s emergency operations headquarters, along with media relations staff from agencies for environmental quality, natural resources, wildlife and fisheries, and health and hospitals. It was like a family reunion when all of us trudged into a windowless 12-by-12-foot room, sparsely appointed with folding tables and chairs, a couple of TVsets, and about two dozen telephones. We had all worked shoulder-to-shoulder in similar quarters just 18 months before, when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike bared down on Louisiana’s coast, flooding towns from one end of the state to the other. Sadly, Louisiana had become well-seasoned in dealing with extreme weather, having endured and already started to recover from Katrina’s and Rita’s destruction in 2005.
The oil spill was much different. There was no end in sight. No way of predicting when the end would come or when the recovery would begin.
“We had no idea how long we’d be in that room. I suspected it would be more than a week, maybe more than a month.”
For 97 of the next 100 days, I sat there, sometimes 18 hours a day, answering the phone, writing situation reports, and poring over thousands of photographs to try and determine what we were seeing. On my three days off, I went fishing. I thought about how much I wanted to be fishing on every single one of the other 97 days and wondered where I would even be able to go. I wished I could do something on the water to combat the spill. Even if there was nothing I could do, I wanted to be anywhere but that room.
Innumerable calls came in from reporters around the world. They wanted to know howmuch marsh would die, how many fish were being killed, and what Louisiana was doing to stop the threat. Charter captains, desperate for information or looking to work on the cleanup effort, asked if I could help. Friends who were unable to access their favorite waters called to ask where they could go. I could answer some of these questions, but on some days I was ordered not to.
Having fished many of the areas the spill was threatening, I could identify each of the islands and shorelines in the volumes of photographs coming in. Three weeks after the rig exploded, the first tar balls, looking like melted candy bars, arrived on Louisiana’s beaches. A week later, images of oil-covered birds on Grand Terre Island, including Louisiana’s iconic brown pelican, were sent to me. I had fished that very same beach less than a year before. I was sick at the sight of it, and many other beaches, coated in thick, black or rust-colored crude.
At the time, I also hosted a weekly hunting and fishing radio show. On a Thursday night in early June, I passionately conveyed my disgust to my listeners. I told them that our communities didn’t deserve this. I said that the Gulf of Mexico, its fish, fishermen, beaches, and birds didn’t deserve this either. Oil and gas has played a vital economic role in my state for the better part of a century, and the industry provides jobs for our people. Louisianans have also taken a lot of pride in supplying the nation with domestic energy. Oil and gas has given a lot in revenue and job security, but taken a lot as well, by carving up coastal wetlands with canals. Still, we had a level of trust with that industry that was shattered by BP’s negligence. It took 11 workers from their families, cost Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf access to its precious waters, worsened what was already tremendous coastal habitat loss, and jeopardized the future of the region’s fisheries and wildlife.
This was not fair. It should not have happened, and we must insist that it never happens again.
The future of the Gulf’s habitat and fish is still uncertain exactly five years later. Since 2010, we’ve had fat and lean years. In 2011 and 2012, the speckled trout fishing was incredible. In 2013 and 2014, it was not. We had an abnormally cold winter in 2013. Absent the spill, that could have easily been the culprit. Because of the spill, there’s an ever-present suspicion that it’s not weather’s fault alone.
Beaches are still oiled. More than 10 tons of tar was removed from East Grand Terre Island just a few weeks ago. Contrary to BP’s assertion that the Gulf is returning to normal, 10 tons of tar on a beach that I fish is not normal.
It’s hard to draw a positive from the nation’s largest ecological disaster. But, the Gulf was far from a pristine ecosystem before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, and the spill attracted attention to that fact. Sportsmen and the environmental community, often at odds, were united around the common goal of making sure habitat, science, wildlife, fish, and anglers would be priorities in the recovery effort. That unity helped motivate Congress to pass the Restore Act in June 2012—a landmark bill that directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties to the Gulf, to help restore ecosystems and economies. In all, more than $15 billion could be available from Restore and other recovery funds.
It’s a good first step, but the reality is that the process of recovery has only just begun. It is imperative for sportsmen to remain highly involved and engaged in ensuring fish habitat and fishing are a priority for those deciding how to spend the money.
“If we can do that, we should see achievements—rather than wish lists—for improved habitat, better science, and more sustainable fishing, by the tenth anniversary of the spill.”
Ultimately, the penalties against BP for its gross negligence must be painful enough to ensure that my state and my fellow Gulf anglers never have to experience another spill like the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Though nothing will ever fully compensate the Gulf’s fishermen—or its fish and wildlife—for what the spill took away, it is possible to make a good down payment on a productive and healthy fishery using the penalties.
The danger now is in complacency. I try to remind myself of the uncertainty—and my disgust—in the days following the spill, and of the hope I found in fishing. This was not fair. It should not have happened, and we must insist that it never happens again.
“We’re calling on lawmakers to end this conversation now,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO, whose recent blog post addressed the Senate amendment, which passed 51-49 on March 26. “Nothing galvanizes sportsmen like the loss of access for hunting and fishing, and continuing to indulge this controversial idea is keeping us from the real task of managing our public lands.”
America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands—including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands—provide hunting and fishing opportunities to millions of sportsmen and women. Since late last year, efforts to wrest public lands from the federal government and put them under state ownership have been matched by the unanimous outcry of sportsmen across the country. “Decision-makers need to know what they are stepping into,” says Joel Webster, director of western public lands for the TRCP. “Over 72% of western hunters depend on public lands for access, and sportsmen are not going to stand idly by as they’re sold away.”
Sportsmen from across the West are speaking out on this pivotal issue:
In Arizona: “Can you imagine driving up to the Kaibab National Forest, home to world-class elk and mule deer habitat, only to be greeted by ‘road closed’ signs, indicating that the new uranium company owners have prohibited entry?” asks Tom Mackin, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation. “Such a scenario absolutely could occur if the transfer of public lands gives Arizona the opportunity to sell or lease this former National Forest to the highest bidder.”
In Colorado: “Desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep rely almost exclusively on federally managed public lands for habitat,” says Terry Meyers, president of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society. “It’s hard to imagine any good coming from the sale or transfer of these lands, especially for a sensitive species like bighorns.”
In Idaho: “Almost every Idaho hunter and fisherman relies on public lands for their recreation, whether they’re pursuing elk in the Lemhis, mule deer near Bear Lake, chukars in the Owyhees, or steelhead on the Clearwater,” says Tad Sherman, president of the Idaho State Bowhunters, which, with its affiliated clubs, represents more than 5,000 Idaho sportsmen. “Idaho without public lands is not the Idaho that should be passed on to future generations. It’s time to end the discussion of transferring or selling America’s public lands legacy.
In Montana: “Decision makers are toying with our Western way of life,” says Tony Jones, president of Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association. “Sportsmen see those who want to take away our public lands no differently than those who want to take away our guns. This bad idea will not be tolerated.”
In Nevada: “I choose to live in Nevada specifically to enjoy access to its vast unspoiled public lands that are at the very heart of our Western heritage and way of life,” says Larry Johnson, president of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife. “If transferred to the state, Nevada would go bankrupt trying to manage these lands without selling off the best. This would seriously impact all of us who thrive on outdoor recreation.” •
In Oregon: “The loss of access to public lands has a negative effect on Oregon’s $2.5-billion outdoor industry, one that is a leader in Oregon’s economy,” says Ty Stubblefield, field administrator for Oregon Hunters Association. “We simply cannot afford to lose our public lands.”
In Utah: “Here and throughout the western states, federal public lands are the lifeblood of our American sporting traditions,” says Ernie Perkins with the Utah Chukar and Wildlife Foundation. “The proposal to transfer or sell these lands has to be one of the worst ideas to surface in America in my lifetime.”
In Wyoming: “The move by some of our decision makers to transfer or sell off federal public lands is an insult to the birthright of all Americans,” says Josh Coursey, president and CEO of the Muley Fanatics Foundation. “Not only do Wyoming’s public lands, like the Shoshone National Forest, provide suitable habitat for fish and wildlife and critical access for sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts, but these places also provide economic balance to local communities, where visitors pour in to spend time hunting for elk, fishing our blue-ribbon trout streams, or simply enjoying wildlife in these splendid places.”
A New Affront to Clean Water Protections Brewing in the House
Tomorrow, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will vote on recently-introduced legislation from Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) that will harm our ability to protect coldwater fisheries, indispensable waterfowl habitat, and drinking water for one in three Americans. If this legislation becomes law, it will derail a deliberative rulemaking effort that’s been nearly 15 years in the making.
Hunters and anglers everywhere are counting on this rule to clarify Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and headwater streams. Over 200 hunting, fishing, and sporting groups from across the country have said that the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers need to take action to better protect America’s wetlands and headwater streams.
Efforts to derail the rulemaking at this point will do a major disservice to the hunters, anglers, farmers, and business owners who have submitted more than one million comments in order to improve a version of the rule proposed in March 2014. The EPA and Army Corps have said that these comments have made a definite impact on their clearer and more predictable final rule, and Congress should reserve their judgment until we can evaluate this impact.
Delays caused by Rep. Shuster’s bill are unnecessary. Confusion around jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act can be traced back 15 years but, since then, legal issues have been hashed out, the science has been analyzed, peer-reviewed, and compiled, and the public and key stakeholders have weighed in. Simply put, the agencies have all the information they need to make an informed decision. Let’s not kick the can down the road any further.
This is the best chance we have to clarify the Clean Water Act, and sportsmen should urge their legislators to vote against this bill.
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.