Here’s how one brand is making it possible to have fun and give back to the places we love to hunt and fish
You have an open week on your upcoming schedule. A friend sketched out a map to a creek that has some secrets to reveal in the form of 18-inch wild trout. It’s deep into public lands, far away from any accommodations, and maybe you want to do a little better than sleeping in your car.
Make the trip this month in a rental vehicle from Campervan North America, and they’ll give a little something back to America’s public lands.
Campervan North America was founded by Bob Swan, a former fly fishing sales representative from Montana, who spent many nights between stops in his territory stashing his camper on America’s public lands and waking up pre-dawn to make his first cast right outside his door. Now, he’s passing that experience along to customers, who can rent five different models of vans that sleep anywhere from two to five adults (yep, you can bring Fido, too) and excel off-grid where sportsmen thrive.
Swan knows how integral public lands are to our sporting heritage, and that’s why he stands by TRCP’s work to keep them public and well-managed. “One thing that is special about America, and what I miss the most when I am abroad, is our wonderful public lands and the wildlife we have,” says Swan. “In other parts of the world, you cannot take off into a field of sagebrush or set off in the woods nearly as easily as we can. Doing anything to jeopardize this privilege would be a tragedy.”
Recognizing the importance of public lands to his business and the outdoor recreation economy, Swan and Campervan North America are donating 10 percent of the cost of your rental to the TRCP from now through the end of May—just mention code TRCP while making a reservation.
Sportsmen Look to Secretary Perdue to Champion Conservation That Works for Rural America
The Georgia quail hunter will oversee $5 billion in conservation funding on private lands, which benefits farmers, ranchers, wildlife, clean water, and sportsmen
In an 87-11 vote, the U.S. Senate has officially confirmed Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia and an avid sportsman, to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he’ll oversee land and water conservation on private lands and operation of the U.S. Forest Service. Hunters and anglers are optimistic that Perdue is up to the task of serving our rural communities and our natural resources well.
“As a hunter and angler, Secretary Perdue understands the importance of wildlife conservation,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “He has a record of working in a bipartisan fashion to advance innovative land conservation programs, increase water conservation, and restore longleaf pine forests. We look forward to working with Perdue on critical issues facing USDA, including protecting America’s grasslands, expanding successful farm bill conservation programs and wildlife initiatives, and reducing nutrient runoff to improve water quality.”
Perhaps most importantly, Perdue will contribute to the debate around the 2018 Farm Bill, the legislative vehicle that drives approximately $5 billion in annual conservation spending on private lands. Voluntary, incentive-based programs authorized by past farm bills have been widely successful, helping to prevent the Endangered Species Act listing of the greater sage grouse and contributing to cleaner waters in the Chesapeake Bay.
“We are eager to begin working with Secretary Perdue to implement good conservation programs on working farms and ranches,” says Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist at Delta Waterfowl. “The next farm bill will provide great opportunities to come up with solutions that work well for our nation’s producers, sportsmen, waterfowl, and other wildlife.”
Besides the Forest Service, Perdue will direct many of the other federal agencies with a major role in conservation, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency. Almost immediately, Perdue will need to defend his department’s budget and staff against cuts from congressional appropriators.
“With record demand from agricultural producers for the technical assistance and financial certainty that USDA programs offer, Secretary Perdue already has his work cut out for him, but sportsmen and women are also depending on his leadership in rural counties that are economically reliant on outdoor recreation, like hunting and fishing, that gets a boost from habitat improvements on private lands,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which came out in support of Perdue early on.
“These programs cannot survive proposed budget cuts, especially when critical functions at the USDA, including wildfire suppression in national forests and conservation planning assistance for landowners, are already chronically short on funding,” says Fosburgh. “Sportsmen and women call on Secretary Perdue to strongly defend the USDA against budget cuts and support long-term, practical investments in natural resources management on public and private lands.”
The Dream Team Restoring Elk to the Appalachian Region
To reintroduce and sustain an elk herd lost since the Civil War, it took a diverse partnership that is representative of 21st century conservation efforts—no one group can do it alone
As the TRCP’s newest formal partner, we’re in really good company with 51 other groups that are working toward a brighter future for America’s fish, wildlife, and natural resources. And we’re thrilled to work with passionate sportsmen and women bringing conservation priorities to the attention of D.C. decision-makers.
Partnerships can be multifaceted and powerful, aligning people and organizations to do more together than they could ever do alone. In essence, this describes The Conservation Fund’s core approach to everything we do. And in this day and age, collaboration isn’t just a nice-to-have—it’s necessary to craft conservation solutions that support fish and wildlife habitat, public access to the outdoors, and local economies.
That’s why we were founded more than 30 years ago with a unique dual-charter mission to not only protect America’s land, water, and wildlife, but to do so with a clear focus on generating economic returns for surrounding communities. By working in partnership with others who share our conservation goals—including federal and state agencies, land trusts, local community organizations, businesses, foundations, and other nonprofits—we do just that. The Conservation Fund has conserved nearly 8 million acres and counting.
For example, in southern West Virginia, coal fueled the state’s economy for generations. But in recent years, the industry has slowed, and local communities are struggling economically. By working directly with community members and local, state, and federal partners across the Appalachian region, we’re helping these communities transition by demonstrating how conservation can also support economic development.
Through our Working Forest Fund, a dedicated source of bridge capital, we purchased more than 32,000 acres of privately owned forestland that was vulnerable to fragmentation and development in the southern part of the state. We are now working with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources to co-manage the property as a sustainable working forest, safeguarding the timber economy and forestry-based jobs while providing habitat for reintroduced elk—which had not been seen in the region for almost 150 years. This property is now the state’s largest conserved block of prime elk habitat, and it’s open to the public as a wildlife management area.
The prospect of bringing elk back to West Virginia for both wildlife viewing and hunting purposes has triggered excitement across the region, not least for the tourism opportunities that could drive spending in the rural communities that need it most. It’s no secret that sportsmen and other public land users help support $646 billion in annual consumer spending and 6.1 million jobs—numbers impossible to ignore. Read more about this partnership effort in West Virginia in an interview with WV DNR and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
It’s clear that making conservation work for America will take more than one group or individual. But we’re confident that as partnerships grow, so do the possibilities for fish, wildlife, and vibrant communities.
Whitney Flanagan is the creative director of The Conservation Fund, TRCP’s newest partner group. See all 52 partners here.
After Speaking With Anglers and Guides, Florida Lawmakers Voted for Everglades Restoration
It’s hard to ignore the urgent need for solutions when small business owners and voters who love to fish are standing in your office
Water flow problems in the Everglades are complex, and Florida’s $7.6-billion recreational saltwater fisheries depend on fixing them. Science points us to clear solutions—simply move water south—but politics are hardly ever that easy.
We can’t move mountains alone, and redirecting hundreds of billions of gallons of water demands support from lawmakers. Florida’s fisheries are being destroyed and politicians have failed to enact solutions—but anglers are mobilizing like never before. We’re willing to do anything to save our precious water.
Science has told us what we need to know. Now it’s our turn to do the talking.
That’s why I was honored to help convene more than 500 sportsmen and women in Tallahassee, Florida, last week for the Now Or Neverglades Sportfishing Day. Their passionate voices, sharing personal stories and asking legislators for help, were an instrumental force for change. In fact, Florida’s Senate took a major step towards moving water south by passing S.B. 10 the very next day.
On the whole, anglers and other stakeholders met with more than 50 representatives, working the halls of Florida’s Senate and House of Representatives. We spoke with, not at, lawmakers about what Florida’s water means for our way of life, our businesses, our state, and our people. Alongside the Everglades Foundation and other key groups, we broke up into lobbying teams, and my group of eight became a tight operating unit as we shared our perspectives and listened to legislators in turn.
For me, and I think for many of those with whom we met, the most powerful voices were the youngest among us. A brother-sister duo, eleven and nine years old respectively, spoke with a purity that punched through the politics. In one meeting, the nine-year-old daughter of a small boat parts business owner moved everyone—including the legislator—to tears when she talked about how much she loves her daddy and doesn’t want him to lose his business.
Our Florida legislators and their aides listened to our stories and proposed solutions. Mutual respect and empathy grew as the day went on.
On April 12, one day after our meetings, the Florida Senate made the right decision by passing S.B. 10, which begins the process of sending Lake Okeechobee waters south. We won by a landslide, 36-3, and now the companion bill must pass in the Florida House of Representatives. We are confident knowing that our faces and stories will be in their minds when that time comes.
While final passage of the bill would be a huge win for Florida’s recreational saltwater anglers, this is only the first step toward blocking toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee and restoring the flow of clean fresh water to the Everglades and Florida Bay. There’s more work to be done.
We can have all the science and gather all the numbers, but at the end of the day, this is what matters: Our voices, our stories, and our heartfelt passion have the power to sway politics, move mountains, and, yes, save one of the most treasured fisheries in the world.
You don’t have to travel to the Capitol Building to make your voice heard. If you live in Florida, write or call your state representatives and tell them your story. And if you haven’t already, sign the Now or Neverglades Declaration to urge decision makers to fix Florida’s recreational 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.
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.
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:
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.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.