April 13, 2017

You Have a Say in Balancing Energy Development and Wildlife Habitat on Public Lands

How hunters and anglers are helping to shape the future of more than 600,000 acres—including gold-medal trout streams and some of the best of the backcountry—in Colorado, and why these public lands are so critical

Public lands in Colorado’s lower Arkansas River drainage are where you’ll find healthy and huntable populations of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, turkeys, pronghorn antelope, and many other iconic Western game animals. As a lifelong sportsman and the TRCP staffer working most closely with the BLM in the region, I’ve personally witnessed the critical balance required to manage these public lands for all of their many values. BLM-managed lands near La Veta Pass and the Southern Sangre de Cristo Range are about as wild and remote as Colorado gets. And more than a thousand elk congregate each winter around the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area in South Park, where interest in oil and gas development has also increased.

The South Platte provides umatched fly fishing opportunities. Image courtesy of jmonkeyq/Flickr. Header image courtesy of Christopher Rosenberger/Flickr.

Balancing energy development with the needs of fish and wildlife is personal to local sportsmen, because these places and critters are entwined with our memories in the outdoors. I’ve pulled rainbow and brown trout from nearly every section of the Arkansas River, from Pueblo Reservoir all the way up to the Hayden Flats and tributaries fed by high-elevation runoff. Trout and walleye from the South Platte drainage have landed on my plate more often than any meat from my local grocer. I’ve ice fished in South Park, pulled walleyes from Front Range reservoirs, and chased cutthroats from within the Pike National Forest. This week I’m heading down to Huerfano County, and if I’m lucky, I’ll take a gobbler.

These public lands mean a hell of a lot to me, but their future actually depends on you.

The value of lands managed by the BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office cannot be understated, and right now they need your help. Sportsmen have a once-in-a-few-decades chance to be part of the public process that determines how 668,000 acres of these lands will be used for the next 20 years.

This plan covers nearly all of eastern Colorado’s public lands. All BLM lands east of the Sangre de Cristo’s coming out of New Mexico, north through central Colorado, and all the way up to Wyoming are included. So, it is a big deal.

Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Range. Image courtesy of Michael Foley/Flickr.

Initial discussions on these plans began as early as eight years ago, but right now is the first chance for  the public to comment on the BLM’s proposed alternatives. Since the very first conversations about how best to balance all the demands on these lands, a lot has changed, but the objective to keep them open to a backcountry turkey hunter or a herd of elk trying to make it through the tough winter months has, and must, remain. The BLM has done a good job so far on this plan, and we need to make sure positive elements of the proposal continue moving forward, while addressing parts of the plan that need attention.

Balancing energy development w/ the needs of fish & #wildlife is personal to local #sportsmen in CO. Share on X

The biggest benefit of the proposal may be a focus on the future management of BLM lands that provide world-class recreation opportunities and habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, pronghorn sheep, wild trout, and a multitude of other critters. Some specific areas have been recommended by sportsmen for management as Backcountry Conservation Areas and are proposed for consideration in the BLM preliminary draft management plan. Altogether, these comprise about 120,000 acres of BLM public lands that would continue to provide hunters and anglers with high-quality, year-round recreation opportunities and provide wildlife managers with the flexibility needed to sustain top notch habitat. If we stay the course and these proposals are adopted, we’d be guaranteed responsible and balanced land management in the best of the backcountry—a very positive outcome for hunters and anglers.

Our goal is within reach, but first, the BLM needs to hear from you. Whether you see yourself fishing on the Arkansas River, calling in turkeys on crisp spring or fall mornings, or hunting elk, deer, or antelope in the fall, these lands and the opportunities they provide us are worth fighting for.

Take action now. (We promise, it’s really easy!)


4 Responses to “You Have a Say in Balancing Energy Development and Wildlife Habitat on Public Lands”

  1. Jack Keller

    I seriously question the rationale for allowing energy interests unfettered access to public lands. Comparatively speaking the jobs are fewer than those provided by tourism, as well as, hunting and fishing. The lands belong to the American people and they haver been saved for a purpose. That purpose is NOT energy development.

  2. Wild land is a deeply held American value. Our wild land needs to be preserved for future generations and to help provide clean air and water. These lands are also valuable wildlife habitat. Energy development has it’s place, but these lands need to be protected for all Americans. As our population grows and there is more pressure from development, these lands will become even more valuable. I support any plan that preserves our wild land over more development.

  3. Kathy Saint

    I seriously question the rationale for allowing energy interests unfettered access to public lands. Comparatively speaking the jobs are fewer than those provided by tourism, as well as, hunting and fishing. The lands belong to the American people and they haver been saved for a purpose. That purpose is NOT energy development.

Do you have any thoughts on this post?

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Comments must be under 1000 characters.

Three Ways You Can Help Fix Florida Fisheries

Sportfishing groups pushing for Everglades restoration projects are on the edge of a breakthrough—here’s why captains, guides, and anglers are in Florida lawmaker offices this week, instead of on the water

Right now, representatives from TRCP, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and other conservation groups are in Tallahassee meeting with legislators from all parts of Florida to rally support for much-needed solutions for Everglades fisheries. Captains, fishing guides, and anglers have come together to remind lawmakers how important Florida’s waters and estuaries are to our small businesses and quality of life.

After years of effort from many partners in the Now or Neverglades coalition, Everglades restoration and a revamped system of water management could finally become a reality. In fact, the important question of water storage south of Lake Okeechobee will be decided in the Florida Legislature over the next eight to ten weeks—a major milestone was reached just yesterday, when the State Senate passed a bill that calls for the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. Next, a companion bill will be considered by the House of Representatives.

The issue is as complex as the Everglades ecosystem, but there’s a reason our coalition’s name represents urgency­—we need to expedite a fix for Florida’s water management practices to help save the state’s recreational saltwater fisheries, worth $7.6 billion annually. Here’s what you need to know and what you can do to help.

Fixing Flows and Fish Habitat

BTT launched the Fix Our Water initiative in 2016 to raise awareness and engage anglers and the fishing industry around efforts to reverse Florida’s ongoing water crisis. “Water defines our state, from the longest coastline in the contiguous U.S. to some of the country’s most unique freshwater systems,” says Jim McDuffie, president of BTT. “Ensuring clean, abundant, natural flows is the only way we can sustain balance in our ecosystems, ensure the health of our communities, and keep Florida among the top fishing destinations in the country.”

Although water mismanagement is causing problems throughout the state, the region suffering the greatest damage to its recreational fisheries is South Florida. Historically, freshwater from Lake Okeechobee flowed south through the Everglades via the River of Grass. This natural “sheet flow” ensured that Florida Bay received the optimum amount of freshwater, supporting healthy habitats and fisheries.

Image courtesy of Dr. Zach Jud. Top image courtesy of Rick DePaiva.

But, today, the Herbert Hoover Dike, which was constructed on Okeechobee to prevent flooding and allow for agricultural development in the region, impedes these southerly freshwater flows, choking the Everglades and making the waters of Florida Bay too salty. This salinity imbalance, combined with too many nutrients from runoff, has resulted in expansive algal blooms, large-scale seagrass die-offs, and numerous fish kills.

The water that should be flowing south from Okeechobee is instead diverted west and east into the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie River and estuaries. The surge of excess freshwater lowers salinity levels, causing similar problems for water quality and plant life.

To make matters worse, the massive discharges of water that took place last summer destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of restoration work in the affected areas. Altered freshwater flows in other parts of the state decimated oyster reefs in the Apalachicola area and contributed to algae blooms and fish kills in the northern Indian River Lagoon. The juvenile snook in the mangrove creeks of Charlotte Harbor were also affected when abundance of the fish’s main food source crashed.

It doesn’t end there. Lake Okeechobee has become contaminated with nitrates and phosphorous leftover from decades of farming and development. The pollution has slowly ruined many of Florida’s prime fishing areas and reduced water quality, putting the public at risk. Earlier this year, warnings were posted for the St. Lucie Estuary due to high bacteria levels. A similar story played out in the Indian River Lagoon, where a brown tide killed a considerable amount of the lagoon’s remaining seagrass.

St. Lucie River discharge Florida
Billions of gallons of water being discharged into the St. Lucie River. Image courtesy of Dr. Zach Jud.

With so much riding on possible solutions, there’s no time to lose, says Dr. Aaron Adams, BTT’s director of science and conservation. “Anglers have to understand that unless we change the way water is managed in Florida, our fisheries could very well disappear.”

A Possible Breakthrough

So what needs to happen? Natural freshwater flows must be restored immediately. Yesterday’s passage of S.B. 10, introduced by Florida Senators Joe Negron and Rob Bradley, is just one step toward providing 120 billion gallons of storage south of Lake Okeechobee. This would dramatically increase the flow of water to the Everglades, while simultaneously decreasing harmful discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries by nearly 50 percent.

Support and authorization from the Florida Senate represents a significant breakthrough in efforts to restore the Everglades and save our fisheries. But now is not the time to let up; we must keep making our voices heard in order to bring about meaningful change. Ultimately, the fate of our fisheries—and our future days on the water in the sportfishing capital of the world—depends on how well we manage our water going forward.

“It’s pretty simple,” says Adams. “If we don’t fix our water soon, habitat will disappear and fish populations will follow.”

Here’s how you can support solutions for South Florida’s fisheries, even if you don’t live in the Sunshine State:

  • Sign the Now or Neverglades Declaration, supported by nearly 60,000 groups and individuals—and counting.
  • Florida residents should contact their elected officials to urge passage of support for H.B. 761. You can find an easy way to generate a message via email on BTT’s Fix Our Water page.
  • We know many of you visit Florida just for the fishing, and you can help, too. Join the effort by texting WATER to 52886.

Learn more about BTT’s Fix Our Water initiative.

Nick Roberts is the membership and communications manager for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, one of TRCP’s 52 partner organizations and a leading voice for Everglades restoration.

The Long, Complicated Road to the Biggest Driver of Conservation on Private Land

The current federal law that governs conservation on private lands won’t expire for another year and a half, so why are we talking about rewriting the farm bill now?

Much of what we work on here at TRCP is based on the idea that there are shared spaces that all of us, as Americans and as sportsmen and women, have a right to enjoy.

But around 70 percent of the lower 48 states isn’t our land—it’s yours, or hers, or that other guy’s—as any hunter or angler east of the Mississippi can easily tell you. Even though you might not be able to hunt them, what happens on private lands has profound implications for the habitat and critters that make access to public lands worthwhile. Fish, wildlife, and clean water don’t know, or care, where private property ends and public lands begin.

All Americans can benefit if even a single landowner or agricultural producer maintains wildlife habitat or ensures that the water running off his or her land is as clean as possible. And farmers, ranchers, and foresters want to do the right thing—they are some of our nation’s most avid sportsmen, after all—but conservation can be prohibitively expensive.

This is where the farm bill comes in.

Top and above images courtesy of USDA/Flickr.
Farm Bill 101

Roughly every five years, Congress is responsible for rewriting the massive legislative package known as the farm bill. The current farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed into law by President Obama on February 7, 2014, and will expire on September 30, 2018. It covers what you’d expect for on-farm impacts, like conservation and crop insurance, but it also deals with rural economic growth, nutrition programs (formerly known as “food stamps”), international trade, and more.

It’s a huge undertaking that requires legislators from all corners of the country to negotiate and compromise, and they have a powerful incentive to work together: If the farm bill expires, our country would revert to a permanent version of the law passed back in 1949, when, suffice it to say, U.S. economics and demographics looked very different. Not all farm bill programs would be impacted, but we don’t really want to find out what would happen to the programs that would.

Getting the Pieces in Place

Many sectors of the farm economy are struggling right now, and there’s an appetite in Congress to show that lawmakers are doing something to fix what’s ailing rural America. A farm bill could help, but legislators already have plenty to work on, including health care, tax reform, infrastructure spending, and confirming at least 549 political nominees for agency positions. We don’t have a crystal ball, but Congress will likely turn its full attention to the farm bill early next spring.

That doesn’t mean senators and representatives aren’t thinking now about what the farm bill will look like. In the early stages, they do this in the form of “marker bills.” Members of Congress introduce these, not to pass into law any time soon, but to potentially incorporate into the full farm bill when the time comes. For instance, just this week, Senator Thune (R-SD) introduced legislation to raise the acreage cap for the Conservation Reserve Program.

These marker bills will be based on thousands of conversations that will take place among and between lawmakers and stakeholders (including TRCP and our partners), in order to ensure that Congress passes a farm bill on time, and that the final legislation benefits the most people in the most places.

You can also expect President Trump and his Agriculture Secretary-in-waiting Sonny Perdue to play an outsized role in guiding the discussion. Even though it’s Congress’s job to write each farm bill, rural constituents who overwhelmingly voted for Trump have a lot to gain if the 2018 farm bill is successful, so it will likely be good politics for the Administration to get involved.

pheasant hunting Farm Bill 2018
Image courtesy of YoTut/Flickr.
The Cost of Doing Business Late

When it comes to the farm bill, the price of procrastination is steep.

For instance, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, just one agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that invests in conservation and clean water, spends somewhere around $4 billion each year in farm bill funds to conserve and restore wetlands, grasslands, and forests on private lands and to make farming friendlier to fish and wildlife. (To put that in perspective, for fiscal year 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested only $3 billion for its entire budget—which includes things like implementing the Endangered Species Act and managing the National Wildlife Refuge System, the world’s largest network of lands dedicated to wildlife habitat.)

The sheer amount of money authorized by the farm bill, and the 70 percent of America’s acreage that could benefit from those dollars, means that it is among the most important drivers of conservation in this country. It also governs the only federal program that opens up hunting and fishing access on private lands, the Voluntary Public Access program.

By helping to cover conservation costs, the farm bill supports public goods on private lands, like healthy habitat and water. This means better days afield for sportsmen, on private and public lands and waterways, propping up an entire sector of the economy devoted to outdoor recreation. Hunting guides, tackle shops, mom-and-pop diners, and gear manufacturers all benefit when we take care of our private lands.

What Comes Next?

Because of the complexity and costs of getting this legislation done on time, the farm bill process is well underway. That’s why you see TRCP writing and posting about #farmbill all the time. We need to be ready to work with Congress to write a new farm bill, and we need you to be ready to advocate for what sportsmen, farmers, and fish and wildlife need from this critical legislation, too. (Here’s a preview of the things we’d like to see.)

To stay involved, follow us here on the blog and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We’ll continue to provide updates as the discussion evolves and guide you past the alphabet soup of conservation program acronyms (such as CRP, CSP, RCPP) to the real benefits for habitat and access. We’ll also share ways our partners are leading on the farm bill and help you to take action that is meaningful for conservation.

One small step you can take right now is to sign our petition at CRPworks.org—help us tell Congress that the farm bill’s Conservation Reserve Program, America’s greatest private lands conservation program, works for you. Sportsmen and critters everywhere will thank you for it.

April 5, 2017

Meet TRCP’s New Water Resources Staff

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership brings on former consultant Kassen and Interior staffer Jensen to spearhead initiatives from the Colorado River Basin and D.C.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has brought on two new hires to continue the organization’s work to improve freshwater habitat, drought resiliency, and fishing access. Melinda Kassen, who previously served as a consultant to the TRCP on water efforts, will serve as interim director of the center for water resources, and former Department of Interior staffer Kim Jensen will serve as water resources coordinator.

“We are thrilled to have Melinda and Kim join our team and redouble our efforts to safeguard clean water, fish habitat, and access for the next generation of hunters and anglers,” says Christy Plumer, TRCP’s chief conservation officer. “Melinda’s deep expertise in federal and state water law and Colorado River issues, and Kim’s background in campaign work and federal agency policies, will be critical assets as we underscore the importance of clean, abundant water as the backbone of a robust outdoor recreation economy.”

Kassen steps up as interim director of the water center after serving as a consultant to the TRCP. She will work from Boulder, Colorado, also the base of operations for her legal and policy consulting firm Waterjamin, which she founded in 2010. Previously, Kassen directed Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project, working with landowners, communities, and government agencies to protect and improve stream flows in six Western states. She has also lectured at University of Denver’s College of Law and served as environmental counsel to the House Armed Services Committee. Kassen is an Ohio native, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Stanford Law School, and an avid outdoorswoman.

Jensen will support Kassen in boosting the TRCP’s policy efforts at a critical time for water quality and fish habitat. Previously, she worked in the Secretary of the Interior’s office, where she contributed to outreach strategy about department and policy announcements. She coordinated with many stakeholders, including the White House, Governors’ offices, local and county elected officials, key staff across federal environmental agencies, and many of the TRCP’s 52 partner groups. Jensen also worked on the 2012 presidential campaign and spent three years at a political consulting firm, where she won awards for her ability to engage with and mobilize advocates and voters. She will work out of TRCP’s new headquarters in the National Press Building.

First steps for the new water center staff will be continuing to engage Western hunters and anglers around policies to restore and enhance clean, flowing waterways in the Colorado River Basin, expanding the TRCP’s reach in southeastern U.S. watersheds, and defending bedrock conservation priorities during the Trump Administration review of the Clean Water Rule.

Learn more about these issues here.

March 30, 2017

Everything Bass Anglers Need to Know About Water Quality

A panel of experts gathers at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic to illustrate the direct connection between clean water, stronger fisheries, and more action in your boat

The future of our fishing access and opportunity is directly tied to clean water and healthy habitat. But there are increasing concerns for bass anglers as water quality issues, like toxic algal blooms, arise across the U.S. This threatens not only our recreational fishing opportunities, but also the local economies that depend on sportsmen dollars.

That’s why we gathered reporters, fisheries experts, and policy leaders over the weekend at the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, hosted on Lake Conroe in Houston. Conroe itself is a recovered fishery—a public-private partnership allowed local volunteers to restore hundreds of acres of shoreline habitat that was critical to rebuilding stocks over the years. The fact that we were sitting ringside at one of the most exciting events of the bass tournament circuit, discussing collaborative conservation solutions like this, was fitting.

‘Algae Thick Enough for Critters to Walk On’

When it comes to water quality, explained panelist Bill Frazier, the conservation director for North Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation, many of our lakes and reservoirs have a “nebulous management problem” caused by a thing you can’t see with the naked eye. But in large quantities it manifests in a very serious way. “I’ve seen algae thick enough for critters to walk on,” said Frazier. Toxic algae gets a boost from nutrient input, and controlling nutrients depends on what’s upstream—so each case of rampant algae needs a customized solution.

Frazier understands this from his day job, testing and treating a municipal water supply, but it’s fairly complicated for the average angler. In the short term, algal blooms may shut down an entire fishery or only close a few access points. Fishermen may still see trophy-size bass come out of affected bodies of water and think the water quality issues don’t pose a serious threat.

TRCP’s Geoff Mullins leads the conservation panel at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.
Quality and Quantity Matter

Craig Bonds, the inland fisheries division director for Texas Parks & Wildlife, urged sportsmen not to ignore the problem. “Water quality and water quantity go hand in hand,” said Bonds. “If you combine water withdrawals with toxic algae conditions, that’s where you’ll see fisheries wither and die. Our way of life and the local economy will suffer.”

Bonds witnessed this when Texas experienced a major drought in 2011—a quarter of the lakes in the state had no fishing access at all and other water bodies had reduced access. Low water levels were not the only thing to blame. “Evaporation salts get concentrated and provide the perfect breeding conditions for toxic algae. This is exactly what led to a very memorable shutdown of Lake Texoma. Meanwhile, poor land-use practices are reducing the connectivity of rivers and important backwaters that lead to our reservoirs. That impacts fish production and access, too,” explained Bonds.

Reservoir Health and Wealth

Luckily, Bonds said management agencies across the country are shifting away from traditional approaches, like simply restocking the fishery after catastrophic events, and actually addressing the underlying habitat problems. Meanwhile, departments like his are increasingly focused on public-private partnerships. As executive director and habitat partnership coordinator for the Friends of Reservoirs Foundation, Jeff Boxrucker is one of the guys Bonds calls to collaborate on reservoir fisheries issues. “We are never going to stock our way out of habitat problems,” said Boxrucker, “and if we’re going to continue to have quality fishing, we have to focus on existing habitat in reservoirs—there are fewer and fewer new reservoirs being created.” That means no reset button.

The problem with aging reservoirs is that high quality habitat typically starts to degrade after just ten years, and many are past this point. Reservoirs weren’t built with fisheries as their primary purpose, either—this is critical infrastructure for flood control and drinking water supplies—but recreation has a huge economic impact in these communities.

Boxrucker cited an example in Texas, where public-private planning and $55 million in funding will go toward restoring the Wichita Reservoir, a move that is projected to increase the area’s GDP by 20 percent. That’s a strong argument with a decision-maker, he said.

2017 Bassmaster Classic convention floor
The latest and greatest gear on display at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.
Bass and Farm Bill Bucks

The TRCP is a big believer in spotlighting the economic clout of sportsmen and outdoor recreation with lawmakers in order to get conservation done, and there’s a big opportunity coming up as lawmakers craft the 2018 Farm Bill. Conservation programs overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, like those in the Farm Bill, represent the largest federal investment in conservation on private lands and the best opportunity for largescale collaborative efforts, explained Chris Adamo, former Chief of Staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Adamo was in the room for much of the debate on the 2014 Farm Bill, and though it’s a new day in Washington, there are some lessons to take into the next round. “Generally speaking, healthy soil and good conservation practices are good for business on the 300 million acres of agricultural land in the U.S.,” he said. “Most farmers are in line to do what’s best for water quality downstream, but there may be financial barriers to doing that.” And, in a political climate where regulatory approaches are out of favor and actively being rolled back, it is all the more important that voluntary and incentive-based conservation efforts be supported, funded, and allowed to work. The interest is there.

Growing Awareness and Action

But farmers can’t be the only ones pulling for conservation support on private lands that comprise 70 percent of our country. Watershed issues are multi-jurisdictional, covering both public and private sectors, so collaboration and partnerships are key. Funding is limited, and it is outside the ability of any single agency to cover all the costs for any comprehensive restoration effort. This is where sportsmen, especially freshwater anglers who care about the future of their fishing access, come in.

As a new Farm Bill is crafted in the next two years, we have a great opportunity to improve programs and establish better coordination between the federal government and local partners. But we need all the support we can get, because there will likely be fewer dollars for conservation, and more demand than ever from farmers looking for more certainty in their business plans.

A good first step is to support one Farm Bill program that helps improve water quality and wildlife habitat in rural America. Click here to tell lawmakers that the Conservation Reserve Program works for farmers, sportsmen, and fish and wildlife. Then stay tuned for our updates on the Farm Bill debate as it progresses. We’ll let you know when it’s important to engage and why it impacts our hunting and fishing traditions.




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.

Learn More

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!