posted in: General

December 4, 2015

The Benefits and Limitations of WaterSMART Solutions from the Bureau of Reclamation

As the drought in the West continues, we are all being forced to reckon with unsustainable water use of the past. If nothing changes in the Colorado River basin, for example, demand for water is projected to exceed supply by 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060. That deficit is more than the annual share of Colorado River water earmarked for Arizona and Nevada combined. Decision makers are looking for proactive solutions to future water crises, and sportsmen can help, especially by calling on decision makers to prioritize and refine effective water conservation programs that benefit fish and wildlife. Here’s what you need to know.

Better Use Costs Less

Simply conserving water—in other words, using what we have more efficiently—is the quickest, cheapest, and easiest solution to our water supply problems. A 2012 study of the Colorado River basin found that proposed conservation measures would cost one-quarter of what would need to be spent on other possible solutions, like desalination, reuse, or new, large water diversions, and the region would see comparable water savings in half the time.

A Smart Program Exists

Since 2010, the Bureau of Reclamation has been seeding local water-efficiency solutions and encouraging collaborative watershed partnerships through grants from the WaterSMART Program. In the past five years, the bureau has awarded 240 of these grants totaling $113 million for local water-efficiency projects, like irrigation districts lining canals to cut down on water loss or municipalities installing more efficient water control technology. And because recipients of these grants have to bring their own matching funds to the table, WaterSMART grants have cumulatively leveraged an additional $331 million in non-federal funds for water efficiency.

Bonus: Fish and Wildlife Benefit

It’s not all bad news.

In our recent Snapshots of Success report, the TRCP profiled a prime example of a successful WaterSMART-funded project: Montana’s Fort Shaw Irrigation District used two WaterSMART grants to rebuild irrigation systems and send 10,000 acre-feet of conserved irrigation water to improve stream flows for wild trout in the Sun River.

The Catch

The Sun River example is a positive one for sportsmen, but it is important to recognize that most applicants for WaterSMART grants never receive funding: Historically, less than 20 percent of applicants received a grant (Table 1), and unfunded projects represent a significant amount of unmet water savings potential.

The high success rate in 2011 is due to leftover funds from 2009’s stimulus program, which gave Reclamation money to fund an unusually large number of projects. The success rate jumped again in 2015, but only time will tell whether this is another anomaly or the new normal.

The Montana example is also extraordinary because of the project sponsors’ commitment to using conserved water to improve instream flows, helping trout on the chronically dewatered Sun River. Even though nearly all WaterSMART projects conserve water, very few of them produce habitat benefits. So, where does the saved water go? Frequently to firming up existing water supplies, so users can more regularly get their full allocation of existing water rights. It rarely stays in the river to benefit fish, wildlife, or habitat.

The reason for the lack of habitat benefits from WaterSMART projects is not obvious. One of the explicit purposes of the program is to protect endangered species, and the 2016 evaluation criteria allow for applicants to earn up to 12 percent of their overall score by demonstrating that a project will benefit endangered species (Figure 1). And the law that created the grants allows them to be used for any water supply project that “increases ecological resiliency to the impacts of climate change” or is used “to prevent any water-related crisis or conflict.” Surely combatting threats to fish and wildlife from lack of water fits the bill.

Room for Improvement

It may be that irrigation districts working with sportsmen or watershed groups to create conservation benefits are not rewarded appropriately for their efforts in the grant application.  We’re calling for the Bureau of Reclamation to give higher rankings to projects that demonstrate dual benefits: a more secure water supply and instream flows with habitat benefits for fish and wildlife. This would help guarantee that limited WaterSMART dollars create the most benefit possible.

WaterSMART grants could also produce more conservation benefits if sportsmen’s organizations and watershed groups were eligible to apply, but currently the grants are restricted to entities “with water or power delivery authority” and, therefore, go primarily to irrigation districts or municipal governments. Sportsmen can partner with eligible applicants on a project, as Trout Unlimited did on the Sun River, but the eligibility restriction may be weeding out strong projects that can help fish, wildlife, and watersheds.

What You Can Do

Sportsmen’s groups have made supporting and refining WaterSMART Grants a priority, but it will require action from Congress and the Bureau of Reclamation for the program to reach its full potential for fish and wildlife. Here’s where you can help: Tell the Bureau of Reclamation that you support its WaterSMART efforts—but you want to see water conservation benefit fish and wildlife, too. 

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posted in: General

December 3, 2015

The Big-Game Moments That Make Us #PublicLandsProud

You guys are amazing. We just wrapped up the final segment of our #PublicLandsProud photo contest and have been floored by the amazing photos you’ve captured of big game on public lands.

Our guest judge Bryan Huskey on the submissions:

First off, thanks to all the folks who have shown their support for the efforts of TRCP by sharing the #PublicLandsProud message in their photos. As I scrolled through pages and pages of public-land images I had the chance to see adventures of all kinds that we as sportsmen and -women experience and share with others. It’s inspiring to see all the different ways that we value public lands, and important to let others see why. Thanks to all of you, and to TRCP for this opportunity to guest judge!

Here are the three shots that Huskey chose from weeks’ worth of fantastic big-game moments:

First Place: Twitter @RMOTV

“With all the great photos found under the tag #PublicLandsProud, no matter how objective I try to be the kiddo’s in this image just make me laugh and smile each time I see it,” says Huskey. “That is a quality in any image that is impossible to fake and simply priceless. It’s tough to compete with a scene like this and the great vibe it shares!” 

First Runner-Up: Instagrammer @chasing_epic

A photo posted by Jacob Goff (@chasing_epics) on

“‘The closer you look the more you see’ is a phrase I keep in mind when out in the field,” says Huskey. “It requires slowing down and taking a moment to pause, inspect and admire finer details of an object and the same for the entire experience as a whole.” Second Runner-Up: Twitter user @wyosage10

“An elk hind quarter in each hand? My hands and forearms feel pumped and numb just looking at this! With a stunning backdrop to boot,” says Huskey, “this is the kind of experience that I’m sure he’ll never forget and the photo captures for all of us to share with him.”

Thanks everyone for participating in the photo contest. We’ll have a grand prize winner next week. But in the meantime, keep showing us what makes you #PublicLandsProud, and we’ll continue to protect your access to quality fish and wildlife habitat.


posted in: General

December 1, 2015

Glassing the Hill: November 30 – December 4

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Both the House and Senate have action scheduled for Monday through Thursday of this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Coming back to work after a long weekend is never easy. Upon their return from Thanksgiving break, members of Congress are facing a December 11 deadline for addressing a lot of legislative business. That list includes avoiding a government shutdown—again. Passage of an omnibus spending deal is becoming more and more tenuous, due to disagreements over policy riders dealing with Syrian refugee resettlement, healthcare funding extensions for 9/11 first-responders and victims, and the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan.

These policy rider debates are threatening to undo very good bipartisan work from late October, when Congress passed a bipartisan budget that would allow for reinvestment in discretionary programs (ahem, like conservation.) If Republicans and Democrats fail to reach an agreement, fiscal year 2016 spending may be forced onto a full-year continuing resolution (CR). This extended use of what was created to be a stopgap funding measure is viewed by many as just plain bad government. Either way, an omnibus or CR would likely fund the government through September 30, 2016.

A two-week stopgap highway bill extension also expires this Friday. Since the temporary measure was passed, House and Senate transportation leaders have been negotiating a long-term reauthorization, and the relevant Committee chairs have stated that no additional short-term extensions will be needed, implying that a final long-term Highway Bill will be on the House and Senate floor this week. Need a refresher on how this impacts hunting and fishing? The Highway Bill includes funding for Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service roads, which impact your access to public lands, as well as funding for transportation projects that improve fish and wildlife habitat.

Congress will also concentrate this month on renewing tax extenders before a January 1deadline. The proposed tax-break legislation would continue to benefit multinational banks, corporation research, and development programs and to subsidize wind energy production for two years. While the Senate continues consideration of healthcare legislation, the House will debate and vote on Representative Upton’s (R-MI) North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, and two joint resolutions (S.J.Res. 23 and S.J.Res. 24) of congressional disapproval of the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission rules. These votes on energy and climate will occur while President Obama attends the international climate summit in Paris.

What We’re Tracking

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Offshore oil and gas production, as discussed in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Well Control Rule and other energy policies

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Impacts of 35-year-old legislation to create and expand public lands in Alaska, to be reviewed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a hearing on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980


posted in: General

November 24, 2015

Winner Alert! Capturing a Child’s First Hunt and a #PublicLandsProud Introduction

Thanks to everyone that keeps showing us why you’re #PublicLandsProud!

A big congratulations to Pat Fitzpatrick of Texas who is taking home a new pair of Costa Sunglasses and a copy of Steven Rinella’s new book for this winning shot of his son on his first quail hunt.

TRCP: You’ve shown us a favorite #publiclandsproud moment, now tell us the story behind the picture.

Pat Fitzpatrick: The photo was taken at Chaparral Wildlife Management Area on a youth hunt two weeks prior to the opening of the general quail season.  We usually don’t start hunting quail until Thanksgiving when temperatures have cooled enough for the dogs and rattlesnake encounters are unlikely but this season is shaping up to be one of the best in recent years and we couldn’t pass on the chance to see for ourselves.  As we geared up and prepped the dogs in the predawn light, we could hear covey calls in every direction from the truck.  Within minutes we had found our first covey and a few coveys later I snapped the photo of my son Sean walking in on a covey pointed by my setter Khaki.  We only hunted a few hours that morning, by lunch time the temperature had reached 90 degrees.  We moved several coveys that morning and fortunately no snakes, to top it off Sean and I had the chance to fire the opening shots on what should be a stellar quail season.

Image courtesy of Pat Fitzpatrick.

TRCP: How often do you visit public lands and why are they so special to you?

PF: Nearly all of my upland hunting takes place on public land and living in Texas, a place that is well known for its lack of public hunting opportunities, it can be a challenge.  Quail hunting on private land here is too expensive and it is cheaper to load up the truck and travel to public lands elsewhere.  Most of our hunts take place over the holidays when Sean is out of school.  Some of our favorite holiday memories are centered around quail camp and Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners cooked on a Coleman two burner stove resting on an open tailgate.  Looking forward to future seasons, Sean and I have talked about attempting to take each of the six quail species starting with the three we have here on public lands in Texas and working our way out west, hitting western public land for the remaining three species.

TRCP: If these public lands are lost, what do you and your fellow sportsmen stand to lose?

PF: We tend to think of the public land seizure issue as a Western states issue because most of these lands are located out West.  This is not a Western states issue, this is a National issue, these federal public lands belong to all of us as citizens of the United States.  My home state of Texas has a unique history among states that left Texas full control over its public domain.  Between the outright sale of state land or the sale of natural resources on state lands, Texas has evolved into what it is today, a vast amount of land with very little accessible to the public.  The transfer of federal lands to the states would result in the same thing, locked gates and pay to play access for hunters and other land users.

TRCP: When not out on public lands, where can we find you?

PF: When not chasing after bird dogs and quail, I live in The Woodlands, Texas and work in commercial construction.  I am married to my beautiful wife, Sharon, and have three kids Patrick, Madison and Sean.  Weekends during the off season consist of many youth baseball tournaments, football games and a little fly fishing in the Texas hill country or gulf coast.

Have a proud public lands picture to share? Tag with #PublicLandsProud and join the community!


posted in: General

The Importance of Migration Corridors to Healthy Big Game Populations

Conservation can’t just happen at point A or point B, because travel conditions impact the health of species like mule deer

As the great Thanksgiving migration commences on Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss these intrepid travelers—the mule deer herd that makes one of the longest known annual migrations of their entire species in the Western U.S. Last year, research using global positioning system collars revealed that the deer travel about 150 miles from the Red Desert in south-central Wyoming to the high mountains near Jackson Hole.

Mule deer need to travel between seasonal ranges to capture greening vegetation in the spring and to reach their winter range in the fall. Image courtesy of Joe Riis.

This month, the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute and the Wyoming Migration Initiative convened more than 160 scientists, wildlife managers, landowners, industry groups, and conservation professionals in Laramie, Wyo., to share more cutting edge science on big-game migrations in the West. I was among the participants gathered to discuss the next chapter for conserving and maintaining these critical migration corridors. Here’s what I learned:

Travel Conditions Matter

If you’re a waterfowl hunter or an avid birder, you know all too well how important migration is for these creatures. You would also know the importance of what are known as “stopover” habitats—places where animals can rest and refuel during their migrations before continuing on their journey from point A to point B. Recent advances in technology have allowed scientists to gather information on the exact location of migration corridors and stopover habitats with far greater accuracy. Researcher Hall Sawyer found that radio-collared mule deer traveling from the Red Desert to Hoback Junction in Wyoming spend up to 95 percent of their migration period in stopover habitat. Without these places, deer might not make it to their winter range in a healthy enough condition to survive the harsh winter. Sawyer summed it up best by asking us to imagine driving a long distance between two cities with no hotels, gas stations, or grocery stores in between.

This just illustrates that you can make every effort in the world to protect and enhance winter range, but it won’t mean much if the animals simply can’t get there, or if they arrive in poor condition.

It doesn’t take too much effort to see why sportsmen should care about the lengths that mule deer go to reach summer and wintering habitat, and the conditions they’re met with in between. I suspect the giant muley buck that my friend Steven Rinella shot this fall moved a good distance between summer and winter ranges and undoubtedly stopped many times along the way. Would he have even seen a buck like this if that migration corridor had been severed by a highway or other barrier five years earlier? Many migration routes have been lost in this way over the past several decades, which could be a key factor in long-term declines for mule deer populations across the West. And of course we know that decreased hunter opportunity translates into loss of income for many businesses in rural communities that are so dependent on sportsmen’s dollars.

Steven Rinella, author and host of the MeatEater, with his public lands mule deer buck taken along a migration corridor. Conservation of these habitats yields greater opportunity and results for sportsmen. Image courtesy of Janis Putelis.

Wanted: Better Data, More Support

More research on migration corridors and stopover habitats is necessary for us to more holistically conserve big-game populations across the West. Most of the information currently available comes from years of observations by biologists, game wardens, and sportsmen, but it’s often anecdotal, at best. Very few migrations have been identified using the latest in GPS technology, which pinpoints animal movements and plots maps with incredible accuracy.

But beyond getting more data, we also need greater understanding and engagement from the people who manage, own, or otherwise impact these lands. The science is helping us understand what we need to do, but landowners, industry officials, and sportsmen will have to champion the effort, like we do for so many habitat challenges. Building trust, clarifying expectations, quelling fears, will pave the path toward finding solutions for protecting these habitats.

Along Comes Policy

Public awareness and good science becomes even more critical when you consider that there are currently no specific policy or management requirements for migration corridors or stopover habitats on federal or state lands open to the public. State wildlife agencies often make recommendations to protect migration corridors and stopovers, but there are no policy guarantees to back them up or hold anyone accountable, including those who negatively impact this habitat. We need greater assurances for the future. At this month’s conference, Under Secretary of Agriculture Robert Bonnie and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Jim Lyons shared their support for the conservation of migration corridors. Their agencies are exactly who we need to work with to develop a management strategy for migration corridors with policy assurances for the long-term commitment to improving conditions for big game and many other species.

Aldo Leopold noted that “to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” We’re long overdue for an intelligent plan that does more than just tinker with our big game populations. It’s time to get the wheels turning toward a solid future for the West’s extraordinary big game populations and our uniquely American hunting heritage.

Watch a video of the mule deer migrations:



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.

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