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December 14, 2016

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December 8, 2016

Mountain Khakis Gives Sportsmen-Conservationists a Thank-You Deal

If you’re a TRCP supporter, this Western brand wants to help you out with your holiday shopping—we’re glad to be working with yet another company that is #PublicLandsProud

For Mountain Khakis, what started as a casual conversation at the Shady Lady Saloon in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has turned into a top mountain-inspired lifestyle apparel brand. Their duds have become a staple in the wardrobe of sportsmen, golf pros, those who travel by jet, and those who travel by thumb.

Mountain Khaki stands for freedom and rugged adventure as a way of life, but they also stand with us at TRCP. “We must be caretakers of the environment and the communities in which we are present,” says Jen Taylor, brand manager of Mountain Khakis. This means speaking up for the places that make their company culture and the passions of their employees and staff possible.

As a thank you for the hard work and commitment of the conservation community, Mountain Khakis is extending a special offer to TRCP supporters. Now through Dec. 10, take $15 off your order of $75 or more at mountainkhakis.com using promo code MK4TRCP.

Thanks, Mountain Khakis!

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In 24 Hours, the Pending Legislation We Care About is Going to Get Scrapped—Again

When lawmakers leave town, this session of Congress is over, and all pending legislation goes back to square one in January

The last few grains of sand of the 114th Congress will soon fall through the hour glass, and the most important priorities of sportsmen appear poised to fall, as well. Here’s what we know about the status of legislation important to TRCP, as of publication.

Pretty Much Toast
This marked the third consecutive Congress where a slew of critical sportsmen’s priorities dealing with both conservation and access were assembled into a comprehensive legislative package. (Reminder: We urged lawmakers to make passage of this legislation a priority this week.) With just hours left in session, it looks like this will also be the third consecutive Congress that has failed to move this important legislation to the president’s desk.

Image courtesy of Dustin Gaffke/Flickr.

Some Good, Some Bad
For months, TRCP and other sportsmen’s organizations have been enthusiastically supportive of passing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to authorize billions of dollars’ worth of water infrastructure projects across the country—including the Central Everglades Planning Project, a major TRCP priority. However, as negotiations stretched down to the wire, some problematic California drought provisions, which would weaken protection for salmon and target the eradication of economically important sport fish, were hastily added. While we’ll still likely support the bill, these provisions were not originally included in either the House or Senate version of the WRDA bill, and airdropping them in now is no good for fish or anglers.

One Quiet Victory
Sage grouse comprise one of the few bright spots of the last few weeks of the session. TRCP has long viewed the efforts to conserve sage grouse core habitat as a major conservation victory, and likewise has opposed all efforts to undermine the implementation of those plans. The most realistic threat to ongoing sage grouse conservation once again occurred in the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, but thanks to the concerted efforts of sportsmen and other conservationists and our champions on the Hill, for the second year in a row, short-sighted grouse language was left out of the final bill.

We’ll keep tracking these bills (and a short-term funding solution that’s imminent) until lawmakers leave town for the holidays—some of them for good—so follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest developments. Of course, we’ve been here before, and we’re committed to seeing these critical conservation priorities through in the next Congress.

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How Genetic Information from Sage Grouse Feathers Could Help Us Save Them

DNA pulled from more than 3,000 feathers is helping to set the course for the future of sage-grouse conservation

Successful hunters gather data. They climb trees, glass ridgelines, or use trail cameras to consider how critters are moving—the more you can comprehend a landscape, the greater your ability to get a shot.

The same kind of big-picture understanding is essential to conservation that benefits fish and wildlife. In the effort to conserve greater sage grouse habitat and avoid listing the bird, researchers and land managers have been using all the innovative tools at their disposal to fully understand the habitat conditions contributing to the sage grouse’s plight. The trouble is, with a range encompassing such a huge area of western North America—the birds are currently found in 11 states and some parts of Canada—that’s a heck of a lot of ground to monitor.

So, wildlife biologists got creative. They’re unlocking more comprehensive knowledge about habitat connectivity by pulling DNA from sage grouse feathers.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The DNA contained in feathers can paint a broader, more in-depth picture of how the birds interact with the landscape than was possible before this technology was widely understood. Genes, discrete bits of DNA, get passed from parents to chicks and vary from bird to bird like a signature. If you know how to decipher the code, it can reveal how related the birds are—and where the landscape might cut them off from one another.

Todd Cross and Mike Schwartz, wildlife biologists with the U.S. Forest Service, recently published a study that begins to unlock the ties between sage-grouse genetics, the sagebrush sea, and how to best conserve the species that depend on it. By recruiting friends and colleagues to help, scientists collected 3,481 sage grouse feathers from 351 leks across the West. Sportsmen were in on the action too—according to Cross, hunter-harvested wings provide the highest quality DNA samples.

Cross decoding DNA back in the lab. Image courtesy of Todd Cross.

Focusing on feathers from Montana and the Dakotas first, Cross and Schwartz looked at gene flow, which is similar to a game of hot potato: Genetic structure gets passed along until someone drops the potato. In a landscape with habitat connectivity, critters share genetic information across distances far greater than a single bird could travel. However, when some groups of sage grouse are isolated from others by fragmentation, birds in one region have different genetic markers than others down the line.

Cross wanted to identify where the landscape results in barriers for gene flow—the places where potatoes get dropped, so to speak—and he and Schwartz found a significant difference in the genetic structure of sage grouse across various parts of the landscape. They took what they learned from the genetic material and created a map indicating the location of subpopulations, clusters of sage grouse with discrete genetic structures, which is depicted below.

Three main subpopulations of sage grouse are colored in reds, blues, and yellows. Pairs of darker and lighter colors signify subpopulations with similar genetics to one another. Image courtesy of Todd Cross.

This discovery—both in terms of the research method they employed and the map they produced—is significant when it comes to conserving and managing sage grouse on the ground. In the words of Schwartz: “The beauty of this work is that it allows for informed decisions.”

The architects of the federal, state, and local conservation plans to reverse an overall decline in sage grouse populations have determined where management actions should be taken based on established priority areas for conservation (PAC)—habitat parcels that are essential for the species’ success.

Often, discussion surrounding PACs is focused on habitat quality in the specific area in question, which can miss critical ingredients for conservation success. Healthy conditions within one patch of habitat is important, of course, but it must also be connected to other swaths of sagebrush habitat for these birds to thrive. Sage grouse need the ability to move from place to place, and stakeholders must work in cooperation between discrete management areas accordingly—after all, grouse don’t recognize the boundaries between state, federal, and private lands.

“We can use the DNA study and other scientific data to better define landscape boundaries for conservation and mitigation actions, as opposed to drawing arbitrary or politically-based boundaries,” says Ed Arnett, TRCP’s senior scientist. Cross and Schwartz’s work helps map out how sage grouse are actually using the landscape.

Image courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Furthermore, the genetic isolation implied by their results in Montana and the Dakotas can be problematic in and of itself. Schwartz explains that inbreeding—a consequence of isolation—can lead to diminished fitness in the population. In other words, without new genes coming into a population from outside geographic areas, sage grouse might see a reduced ability to survive or breed.

“We know this from domestic stocks,” he says, referring to agriculture. “You see these consequences in things like reduced milk production. To keep the animals healthy, you have to see new blood coming into populations.”

So what does this mean for management? All the stakeholders—including agencies that manage distinct regions—must work together to establish more habitat connectivity to benefit sagebrush species. The good news is that sage grouse have a history of bringing people together.

“We have seen unprecedented coordination and planning efforts across 11 Western states that led to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to list the bird for Endangered Species Act protection in September 2015,” says Arnett. “This type of broad collaboration among the state and federal agencies and diverse stakeholders is a game changer for the future of conservation in America.”

Cross and Schwartz also shared a little about the future of their study: They’ve expanded their work to encompass almost all of the bird’s range, and they’re uncovering some exciting new information about this icon of the West. For example, they found that a sage grouse traveled more than 120 miles in a single season!

Relying on science to determine what’s best for fish and wildlife has always been a key tenet of the North American Model of Conservation. But the innovation it takes to reach informed decisions about land management and habitat restoration is pretty cool on its own.

Learn more about the sage grouse genetics study here. And if you think DNA pulled from a feather is fascinating, check out this mule deer migration study, where big game animals are literally sending their GPS coordinates to researchers’ smartphones.

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December 6, 2016

Glassing the Hill: December 5 – 9

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

The Senate and House are in session this week, and lawmakers are eager to leave D.C. as soon as this Friday, December 9. As the clock ticks, Congressional leadership remains optimistic about passing essential legislation that affects sage grouse conservation, the Everglades, and critical funding. The 115th Congress will convene on Tuesday, January 3.

Sage grouse conservation is safe—for now. On Friday, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report, which the Senate is expected to pass this week. A provision that would have allowed governors to veto sage-grouse conservation plans for federal public lands—effectively freezing the conservation status of the bird for a decade—was omitted from the report after significant push back from conservation and sportsmen’s groups. In fact, more than 3,000 sportsman-advocates responded to a TRCP action alert and sent letters urging lawmakers to allow sage grouse conservation success to continue. The exclusion of this language from the NDAA is a short-term victory though, and we’re prepared for this issue to resurface in the next Congress.

Government funding is on the docket, no strings attached. A new short-term continuing resolution (CR), which must pass before federal funds run out on Friday, will fund the government at 2016 levels through early spring, although the specific end date is not yet public. While these measures sometimes carry riders with implications outside of funding, the new CR is expected to be fairly clean.

Water legislation could bring good tidings for the Everglades. Leading members in the Senate Environment and Public Works and House Transportation and Infrastructure committees have indicated that they have come to an agreement on the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA), and they’re expected to pass it this week. The issue that kept the bill in limbo was a provision that provides emergency funds to combat the lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. Since both the Senate and House versions of WRDA include authorization of funds for the Central Everglades Planning Project and promote the use of nature-based infrastructure, such as wetlands and marshes, the final negotiated bill should include these provisions, too.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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