September 7, 2017

A Confirmed Decline in Hunter Participation Should Be a Call to Action for Sportsmen

It’s time for our community and decision makers to get serious about R3 efforts, adequate conservation funding, and smart policies that enhance hunters’ opportunities afield

A new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that 101.6 million Americans participated in wildlife-related outdoor recreation last year. Unfortunately, while the number of people participating in fishing and wildlife-watching is up, participation in hunting dropped by about 2 million people to a total of 11.5 million hunters. Total expenditures by hunters also declined 29 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion.

This has significant ripple effects on not only the key federal funding models that support conservation of fish and wildlife, but also the base of support for our public lands and thoughtful natural resources policy.

“It is time for our community and our decision makers to get serious about R3, or recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters, because the implications for conservation are dire if this trend continues,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The report indicates that participation in fishing increased 8 percent since 2011, from 33.1 million anglers to 35.8 million in 2016, and total nationwide spending by anglers was up 2 percent. R3 efforts geared toward fishing and boating have been successful thanks to a funding provision in the Dingell-Johnson Act, also called the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, that allows a small percentage of these excise tax revenues to be used for recruitment and retention programs.

The Pittman-Robertson Act, which created the excise tax on guns, ammunition, and archery equipment, does not permit using the funds for R3 activities.

“We must modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act so we can promote hunting the same way we promote fishing and boating, bring the hunter education and licensing systems into the 21st century, and immediately address serious threats to hunting, like chronic wasting disease in deer,” says Fosburgh. “We must also focus on expanding access and improving the quality of the hunting experience—better habitat means more animals and more opportunities for success.”

Decision makers should further support the future of America’s hunting traditions by passing a fiscal year 2018 budget deal with robust funding for conservation and crafting a 2018 Farm Bill that not only enhances conservation tools for private lands but also incentivizes private landowners to enroll acres in voluntary public access programs. It is more critical than ever that sportsmen and women continue to be engaged in the public process of planning for management on America’s multiple-use public lands, as well.

It appears the USFWS will update this page with preliminary findings on the latest five-year report.

Top photo by Tim Donovan at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission via Flickr

45 Responses to “A Confirmed Decline in Hunter Participation Should Be a Call to Action for Sportsmen”

  1. We must modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act so we can promote hunting the same way we promote fishing and boating, bring the hunter education and licensing systems into the 21st century. Yup, I agree whole heartedly. And while we are at it, spend some money on Chronic Wasting Disease.

  2. Matthew J Van Camp

    Opening up access by providing funds to aid in the policing of public and private lands, investigating infractions of dumping, trespassing, and vandalism of properties through expanded use of camouflaged trail-cams, drone-based surveillance, and road and foot patrols in especially high-use areas, and higher fines and even jail time for lawbreakers would make landowners, especially large timber companies and farmers, allow more access to their lands for game management professionals. hunters and harvesters.
    Education, of not only hunting license holders but also the general public, of the many benefits that hunting and the services that hunting license sales provide through the Pittman-Robertson Act would increase a positive attitude towards hunters and also likely increase recruitment of new people, in addition to an increase in returning hunters, to the field due to better hunting opportunities.
    Lastly, the Pittman-Robertson Act should be modified to replicate a funding provision in the Dingell-Johnson Act, also called the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, that allows a small percentage of these excise tax revenues to be used for recruitment and retention programs for future generations of hunters!


      I am 68 years hunted til 66 gave it up it has become a rich man’s sport.land leases have got out of hand
      Along with poor hunting on what is available UFW is so recristive along with game lands no one wants to use them.fishing an boating is easy for outdoorsman to do (NO POSTED SIGNS no land leases.

      • I totally agree.. i’m 49 and have hunted all my life. Access to hunting land is getting very difficult. Recently asked about 10 land-owners for access with no success. May not get a hunting license next year.. With fishing, I can legally fish any stream I want.. the “public” owns the water. Hunting is as you said mostly for the wealthy who can buy up large tracks of land, pay the taxes in it (no small thing in NY) and post it. In my area, there are several 200+ acre tracks of land that are hunted solely by 1 or 2 people.

        • Ron Gillar

          There are plenty of public lands available to hunt. Not enough hunters for the amount of acres available especially here in PA. Please rethink your thought about quitting. You need to adapt to the situation.

    • The tax needs to be left alone ! If anything it needs to be increased . Once it’s been divided it will never return. In Minnesota the state lottery money was to be used for conservation purposes. The money now goes into the general fund . With out P.R. tax money conservation becomes a thing of the past .

  3. Cissy Grigsby

    We need more wildlife management to insure healthy hunts, more active precipitation in both field and stream to actively replenish our lands and rivers! Our wildlife teams have a hard job, an important job every day, to make quality of life better for each and everyone of us!

  4. Wrong approach TRCP. Rather than focusing on recruitment/retention of hunters (which is unlikely to yield much fruit) we should be focusing on reforming these outdated funding models and broadening the conservation funding base.

  5. My most successful method of turning people on to hunting, is simply by recommending hunters saftey courses for their own knowledge and saftey around firearms, without the foremention of hunting with. The prospect of hunting can be introduced after they feel comfortable around fire arms. Have converted a few this way!

  6. Thomas Doyle

    The greatest issue that I have found is a lack of safe hunting grounds within a reasonable distance from home. The areas that I used to hunt are now surrounded by homes. Even though I use a shotgun I am still afraid of having shot land somewhere it shouldn’t.
    In southern Michigan the only lands available are state lands and even though the state DNR is trying to bring back the pheasant population the hunting usually turns into an unrewarding long walk.
    I believe that a greater effort needs to be made to introduce the youths to hunting if you want to bring hunting back and then there needs to be something to hunt besides deer.

  7. Jonathan (Bud) Snow

    Some years ago, I attended a meeting in Middlebury which was hosted by Vermont’s Department of Fish & Wildlife. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the results of the previous years deer hunting seasons along with the management plan effort proposed for future seasons. There were many ideas discussed, and opinions shared by hunters, landowners, etc. mainly relating to the herd. I had an opportunity to speak and saw a chance to bring attention to a situation I had noticed, that being very few young people hunting for deer after opening weekend. It seemed they had lost interest and were off doing other things. A department representative asked for my suggestion to change the situation. So (while a warden took notes) I suggested giving one day for kids under fifteen years of age to hunt deer. They should be accompanied by an unarmed adult mentor or parent. The day should be a week or two prior to the opening day of the regular deer season. I reasoned that if they could see a deer when it was not on full alert, and could possibly harvest one, they would be apt to get interested in hunting. Taking a deer of either sex would be allowed to accommodate management practices being proposed. My suggestion was well received by the Department and Vermont had its first Youth Deer hunting day the following year. It has since evolved into allowing a full weekend instead of just one day. Eventually, Vermont adopted a similar weekend for hunting turkeys. I have heard mostly positive remarks from parents sharing quality time with their children. Only on rare occasions do I hear any complaints about youth hunting putting deer on guard. At this time, we have too much posted property in Vermont and that alone impacts numbers of hunters purchasing licenses. Any place in need of young hunters should consider implementing a youth weekend. Check with Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department for information.

    • Ron Gillar

      Here in Pa we have many opportunities for youth and adults for recruitment purposes. I can see it working. Although the numbers are not high even a handful of recruits is something. Keep pushing ahead my friend.

  8. It’s a travesty, especially in this era of social media, that so few Americans (especially birders, hikers, “non-hunting outdoor enthusiasts”) are aware of the conservation benefits of the Duck Stamp Act, Pittman-Robertson, etc. For this reason, we started “Flyways Waterfowl Experience”, a 501(C)3 museum designed to educate the public about waterfowl science, conservation history and waterfowl art. Located outside Wisconsin’s most popular state park, our objective is to attract hikers and birders into the museum and educate them! (see http://www.duckmuseum.com). The laws are in place. Call us optimistic; more education can only be helpful.

  9. After hunting since childhood (now retired and having hunt mostly with a traditional bow for the past 20 years) I’ve never been more frustrated with the overall game management and hunting situation in my state (Maine). As a ‘seasoned’ hunter that appreciates the opportunity and tries to obey the law there are two primary reasons why hunting, for me at least may soon be put to bed.

    The first is lack of reasonable access to huntable land. Private land is being posted at an alarming rate and landowners are left with nearly complete ‘access control’ over their property which contains game partially payed for by public taxes. It’s no wonder that hunter success can best be measured by those iether owning their own hunting parcels or those paying owners for the ability to access such lands. Public land does exist but is undermanaged for wildlife and overcontrolled by the state…resulting in lower game populations and fewer opportunities for the average hunter. Add the ever-increasing cost of hunting fees/licenses and it’s a recipe for hanging up the gun and bow in favor of other more reasonable and enjoyable pursuits.

    The second reason is the over-complication of game laws and increased restrictions that make it easy for the unscrupulous to take game illegally while making it hard for the honest hunter to even see game, let alone harvest it. Again, this stems from overposting of private land (honest hunters are shut out, illegal hunting happens anyway) and overly strict hunting regulations.

    Unless state game managers incorporate more fairness into how access and rules are managed and promulgated the sport of hunting will end here except for the larger landowners and redneck law breakers…and it’ll happen sooner than later.

  10. I’m in NJ, this year was the first time in over 40 years I did not purchase a bow license. Do to lack of places to hunt and I was away for most of the season. In order to hunt for just a few days left, I would need to purchase a regular license an extended permit that could only be use for a specific zone and a buck permit . “ Really “ $$$ for a few days. This has turned many hunters off in NJ. Almost cheaper to hunt out of state.

  11. jean publiee

    hunting should be totally banned. the population of the united states are not hunters except in very small numbers – about 1% of the us. population. its time all animal species should be protected and funds to protect them should come from all americans. and people who want to protect animals should be the ones making laws on them, not their killers.

  12. Edward B. Moore

    I concur with the post from NJ” NJ should be a battle ground state. US Fish and Wildlife has acquired thousands of acres of once hunt able land. They only allow limited hunting on selected acres of the refuge and for limited species . Trying to get them to open new land is almost impossible ” I have even went Congressional in order to make them open up new hunting areas with little success . The state of NJ department of fish and game is of no help as well” they even put on the game board the Nature Conservancy president who has limited only deer hunts permitted on there land. I am old and my prime days of hunting are cover” good luck” NJ. You will be the first state in the union that will not have hunting.

  13. Hunting has become a rich mans sport. Thanks to the much commercialized tv shows like Mossy Oak, Realtree, and countless others the cost of guns, bows, and camo is stupid expensive now. These land lease companys have driven the cost to have a piece of hunting ground through the roof. Its the hunting industries own fault that hunting is declining due to the expense most now can not afford. As with anything its all about the all mighty dollar and making money. Don’t let them fool you that they care about conservation and getting people and youth introduced to the outdoors its about their bottom line and profit. Its ashamed our beloved sport and tradition got so commercialized. Let there be no doubt about it I blame the made for TV hunters for the majority of the problems we are now having.

  14. The fish and game departments work for the rich liberals who set the prices on your states tags and licenses. The idiot comment about who should make the rules is complete b.s.. That’s like saying let the inmates in prison set the rules and laws for something they know nothing about. Just because you think it is pretty doesn’t give you the right to set it’s future. The reintroduction of wolves has destroyed the ECO system in several states. You can kiss all that wildlife good bye. The herds have been decimated by the wolf. Wolves eat their prey while it is alive. The animal screams with each piece of flesh being torn from its body. Bears and cats kill their prey before they eat it. The timberlands and farmers are poisoning the herds with their pesticides and fertilizers. A third of my state elk herd has been destroyed from hoof root and the rest are being killed by wolves. The cost of tags and licenses is so much only the rich can hunt and fish.
    The other issues stem from the loss of habitat because of the increase in illegal immigrants. They have no money but use all the resources.

    So lack of land to hunt.
    Cost of tags and licenses, parking permits, boat launch, road access has made it for the rich only.
    Tree huggers making laws that have never seen a tree, planted a tree or grew a tree.
    Political idiots making laws in your state that have never been to your state.
    In a couple more years the wolves will have killed all the herds there will be no more hunting at all.

  15. Thomas D.

    I lived in Oregon and the huge problem there is the States hunting license fee’s, the very short seasons for Deer &Elk, the micro-management through small hunting areas with limited tag availability tied to a lottery draw. To “draw” a quality hunting area, you may need to wait 6-10 years between hunts! It’s great if your a bow &arrow hunter but if you shoot a long gun, you are getting ripped off!

    The non-existent hunters are even further jabbed, having to spend $177.00, non-refundable just to be eligible to purchase a draw tag. If you are lucky enough to draw a tag, then you have to pay another $400+ for the permit. I would say, unless your very rich, there are far better places to hunt than Oregon.

  16. Steve Herbert

    If you want more hunters, invite someone to go with you on your next hunting or scouting trip. We have all likely included, or will include our children on these trips, but ask a buddy at work, a neighbor, or a relative to go along. Hunting is a recreational pursuit that has a high barrier in terms of cost and knowledge, so it is our responsibility to do what each of us can do to turn potential hunters into knowledgable sportsmen and women.

  17. Rob H.

    Access to hunting land. I used to hunt a lot when I was a kid, and tried to take it back up as an adult. Simply no good public land to hunt. Surrounded by homes, and I have to read a gigantic manual to know when I can hunt, what weapons I can use, and what’s legal game. Total waste of my time.

  18. dennis deibert

    Jean Publiee needs to be more informed as to who it is that funds the large majority of conservation dollars. Probably does not even go outdoors, but simply sees the animals on tv. There is more game now than ever in the past . More deer, elk, ducks, turkeys ect. all funded by mostly hunters and fishermen. get informed and look it up

  19. Jerry Burke

    I recognize “recruiting” hunters(and anglers) is complex multifaceted issue and that my comments are focused on only a couple things I believe are part (maybe a substantial part) of the problem.
    Commercialization of hunting, especially apparent in hunting magazines and TV. In the 50s the librarian at our high school maintained subscriptions to magazines, like Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, etc. her two brothers were physicians, who hunted and fished. I read them regularly and wrote a term paper on the history of wildlife management in the US. This exposure encouraged interest in hunting and fishing and fish and wildlife conservation; an important part of my high school education. Barber shops were a great place to read outdoor magazines. Since those days long ago I no longer read these same hunting, fishing magazines because they don’t take me along on a hunting-fishing experience unless its to a lodge with a name, with a guide with access to large amounts of leased land, or is an interview with a “professional” working for a gear vendor, etc. Hunting TV shows are for the most part terrible. A farmed “wildlife” plot easily accessed by P/U of ATV, pre-set hunting blind and big antlered deer showing up on time has no resemblance to the hunting available to most. I’m guessing the non-hunting public is turned off on hunting after seeing a couple of these shows .NWTF and NRA magazines have also devolved in this direction.

    So much emphasis on deer and deer with “trophy” antlers is in my view distracting from, “going deer hunting”.
    Squirrel hunting used to be a big thing. Here in WV opening day weekend was an outdoor event for the family.
    If a young person kills a deer relatively easy, often over bait or from a tree stand, they are susceptible to not learning what hunting is about.

    As a trout fly fisherman, I’m turned off by the notion widely publicized that a guide is essential. I’m not knocking guides but sometimes this idea is over-stated. For 37 years I was an owner of an excellent small spring creek with wild rainbow trout. Free permits were available to those who would adhere to fly fishing , catch-and-release rules.
    Overwhelmingly, permitees were fine men, women, kids who respected our property and which we considered an asset for protecting the resource. WV DNR acquired the property in 2017. Many devotees to the stream hope it will be well taken care in the future. Wisconsin trout stream access program is to be admired. Friends and I have traveled to WI a number of years to enjoy the fishing(and help the economy).

    Access is a big problem recognized by many hunters or potential hunters. I’m now living in a small town and even here it is hard to get permission to hunt. Much land is bought by people moving here for the small town-outdoor life, or just bying land, and not allowing hunting. At breakfast this morning I learned of another parcel gone to that end. A few years ago in a restaurant in Lewistown, MT my wife and I listened to two local men conversing about the loss of their elk hunting locations to interests from far away acquiring the land. Same thing where I fish near Cascade, MT.

    Ignorance of hunters, anglers and the general public is widespread of how conservation is supported thru Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson. Working 34 years in Washington, DC in an organization staffed by well-educated
    scientists and now for 24 years in a small town, I see little difference in what people know about fish and wildlife management.

    I’ve noticed what I think is newspaper outdoor writers not writing enough to educate readers about conservation and the important role of hunters and fishermen paying for and protecting our fish and wildlife resources.

    Don’t know what the answer is but education of both hunters-fishers and the general public must be part of it

  20. William M.

    CWD area’s should be hunted until Eradication level is reached in the affected area for a minimum of 7 years, licensed hunters should be deputized to carry out the order. Following a 7 year period when 0 deer herds remain, there should be a restocking of four (4) tested deer donated by each WMU.

  21. John W.

    These are the experiences I had that turned me away from hunting, more or less in order of importance. I cannot speak for others in terms of what can be done to retain and reactivate hunters:

    1) Lack of public land for hunting. It’s either too far, or so heavily used by non-hunters that the hunter feels uncomfortable, or heavily used by other hunters. (I live in Connecticut).
    2) No programs aimed at retaining and reactivating adult hunters in my state, or connecting new hunters with people who can take them under their wings. For example, the State offers beginner, in the field (which is critical – not in the classroom) classes for youth who want to try pheasant or waterfowl hunting to youth.
    3) Lack of habitat for the wildlife I’d like to pursue. I’d love to go hunting for upland birds – ruffed grouse, pheasants – but Connecticut is either (increasingly) urban/suburban or maturing forest (Bobwhite quails are no longer found in our state). As to pheasants, areas where the birds are released are so heavily hunted that lead pellets from other shooters shower nearby hunters.
    4) The cost of licenses.
    5) Courtesy and hunting ethics among hunters (and hunting candidates) is often too lacking. Little respect for the lives of the animals one hunts (during a class an instructor boasted about how his son had to fight a mortally wounded deer whom he thought dead; another example is people I know who go on canned hunts – a far cry from Jim Pozewitz’s ethics described in his book Beyond Fair Chase.). Also, little consideration for people who are not white and/or Republican.
    6) In the 2000s there was no program in the state to butcher meat for free in order to distribute it to the needy.
    7) Negative judgement/stares/comments from non-hunters. This is particularly difficult to face if one is alone.
    8) Last and least, Hunter Educators are very knowledgeable about hunting but not particularly informed in terms of understanding ecology, biodiversity, predator-prey dynamics, etc., so they occasionally teach incorrect (self-serving?) information even though they are tasked to teach a quite varied curriculum.

  22. I bike, hike, photograph, smell, breathe, and love nature. I am a beekeeper, gardener, homesteader, artist, and caretaker of 7.3 acres in heaven in Texas. If I don’t hunt or fish, but love nature why should I pay for programs that kill things? Is it necessary to catch and kill things to assure nature endures?

  23. Lou Gambale

    We have lost at least a generation of who are now parents of our youth. In order to increase participation I believe we must target the gatekeepers of the family funds and decision making. It can be cost prohibitive to start up as a Hunter. In addition to the core expenses there are also travel expense etc to consider. We can make it more palatable through more creativity from our DNRs and hunters in general giving more time to mentoring. If we lose this great tradition the big loser will be our Wildlife which is entrusted to all.

  24. The current administration in Washington is steadily turning over our public lands to corporations and degrading our natural resources. This loss of land and access will result in fewer hunters, anglers, and outdoor pursuits. Habitat is being degraded daily. People like (coal lobbyist) Andrew Wheeler at the EPA, (oil and gas lobbyist) David Bernhardt at Interior, and William Perry Pendley (who has stated his desire to sell all public lands) at the BLM are no real friends of hunters, wildlife, and habitat. We need to elect people who will stand up and fight for our wildlife heritage like Teddy Roosevelt. The current administration is not made of Teddy Roosevelt types. Beware of politicians who say “I support the second amendment” and then do all they can to degrade our natural resources.

  25. Darrell King

    I live in WV and hunted since I was a teenager,in the mountains of WV, but a few years ago politicians thought they could run the DNR better than the Biologist could, they move bear hunting seasons and put it along with the bow deer season, every time we put up a tree stand her comes the bear hounds running under our tree stands, every time we set up camp here comes the bear hounds by the pack running through our camp while we are cooking or eating we’ve had bear hunters to block the road on us so we couldn’t get to our hunting grounds, so I gave up and quit

  26. Ryan brown

    In my state wildlife management area lands are purchased from revenue generated by sportsmen. These lands are used recreationally by the public for non sporting reasons. These non sporting users pay nothing to acquire more land or manage existing lands. We need to broaden the funding model to include usage fees to anyone wishing to use public lands that are supported by sportsmen. Selling a $5-$10 yearly access sticker to put on your vehicle (one comes with every hunting license) is not too much an ask for the public (dog walkers, hikers, bikers) to contribute to acquiring and maintaining these lands.

  27. Richard Livingston

    deer herds are out of control meaning more vehicle-deer accidents the public will demand changes possibly holding private owners liable will make more hunting available ..out of state licenses are too expensive for most hunters

  28. Doug Smentkowski

    I am a 75 year old Hunter, and I love Scouting, Camping and Hunting. I started in 1955 at the age of 10 with my Dad & Mother, then at 12, got my 1st shotgun & at 14 my 1st Bow. I did not start Bow hunting until I was off active duty in the Army in 1968. By age 45, I started having friends stop hunting & camping because they said it was getting to be work (like walking through fields pheasant hunting) and they were getting to old. They were getting to fat. My Dad Deer Hunted right up to his death at the age 63 and my Mother Deer hunted up to her death at the age 73. I still Deer gun and Deer Bow hunt, Elk bow hunt out west, Duck hunt here in Missouri, Pheasant hunt in N & S Dakota. I have a Dog & she helps get me out walking everyday, rain or shine. Everybody needs a Hunting friend, if my friends & relatives that I hunt with are all younger than me @ 75, by 10 to 55 years, but I am still going and bring local Collage kids with me also.

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August 24, 2017

Hunters and Anglers Want More Than Thin Details on Monument Recommendations

TRCP calls for a public report of findings on 27 national monuments that are overwhelmingly supported by American sportsmen and women

Today, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted a report to President Trump that outlined recommended actions for 27 national monuments, including 11.3 million acres of public land. A summary of the report released by the Department of the Interior is heavy on process and thin on the subject of the actual recommendations, including the number of monuments that might be cut back in size.

“These are our public lands, and the public deserves to know what the administration plans to do with them,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These recommendations have the potential to impact the future of world-class hunting and fishing on some of America’s finest public lands and set a precedent for the future status of all national monuments, even those created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906—but we won’t know until the results of this public process are made public.”

Although the report summary states that residents local to some monuments expressed concern over hunting and fishing restrictions, 22 of the 27 monuments reviewed are open to hunting and fishing and a number were created with the active support of sportsmen and women. Of the more than 1.3 million people who commented during the review period, more than 99 percent were in favor of keeping national monuments intact.

Similarly, a recent poll commissioned by the TRCP found that 77 percent of Republican and 80 percent of Democratic sportsmen and women support keeping the existing number and size of national monuments available for hunting and fishing.

Now that Zinke’s recommendations have gone to President Trump, sportsmen are anxiously awaiting further detail on the acres affected. Hunters and anglers will also be watching the White House. No president has ever attempted to eliminate a monument through executive action, and no president of the modern era has attempted to drastically reduce the size of a monument.

“We ask that President Trump support the legacy of sixteen past presidents from both sides of the aisle—eight Republicans and eight Democrats—by rejecting any proposal to shrink or undo any national monument through executive action,” says Fosburgh. “The future of some of America’s finest landscapes is directly tied to the health of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy, and with a major focus on jobs, the White House would do well to recognize how these public lands serve local communities as they are currently managed.”

August 8, 2017

A Flood-Prone County in N.Y. Needed a Healthier River, Not Just Road Repairs

One example of how natural infrastructure—beyond the bridges and highways we tend to picture—helped improve public safety for future floods and give a boost to a legendary trout fishery

Situated along the Pennsylvania border in the western foothills of the Catskills, Sands Creek is one of the most critical trout spawning tributaries in the Upper Delaware River watershed. The creek feeds into the West Branch of the Upper Delaware in the village of Hancock, where the downtown overlooks the confluence of East and West branches. This is also one of the most frequently flooded counties in the nation. Anglers are drawn to the Upper Delaware because of its feisty population of wild brown and rainbow trout and legendary mayfly and caddis hatches.

This is a place where sportsmen and women have been a part of achieving a mindset shift around infrastructure: Beyond roads, bridges, and airports, natural infrastructure—as simple and cost-effective as strategically placed boulders—has re-shaped the Upper Delaware so that it’s safer and more flood-resilient, while enhancing fish habitat and sportsmen’s access.

Here’s how the community came together and why lawmakers should broaden the scope of what they consider to be critical infrastructure.

A wild brown trout caught in the West Branch of the Upper Delaware, just below Sands Creek. Photo by Friends of the Upper Delaware River.
When It Rains, It Floods

New York’s Delaware County, home to Sands Creek, is no stranger to rising waters: The county has had more federal flood emergency declarations than any other in the state, and it is among the most frequently flooded counties in the nation. A devastating flood in 2006, the third in as many years, actually washed away much of the basic infrastructure in the region. In 2011, the one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee spurred conservation groups and local government officials into action, not just to rebuild washed out roads, but to revamp the river so that future floods wouldn’t have the same negative impacts.

“Those storms really changed the way people think about floods,” says Jeff Skelding, executive director of the Friends of the Upper Delaware River. “As a fisherman who grew up on the Delaware, I knew we had to get creative in preparing for floods if we wanted to preserve the river for future generations.”

Enter FUDR and a host of collaborative conservation partners and government officials.

Along with Trout Unlimited, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and officials from Hancock and Delaware County, as well as outdoor recreation businesses like Orvis and Patagonia, FUDR worked to set the Sands Creek restoration project in motion. Beginning in 2012 and completed last year, the project has returned roughly one-tenth of the creek to a near-natural state with the help of local engineers and contractors.

A restored flood plain (left) after removal of a manmade berm alongside Sands Creek in Delaware County, New York. Photo by Friends of the Upper Delaware River.
Building Blocks: Boulder Clusters and Log Toes

The crew installed several natural infrastructure components to restore flood plains, fortify stream banks, and enhance fish habitat.

Carefully placed boulder clusters now help prevent river-altering gravel and sediment erosion and boost water quality for downstream communities, while the rocky surfaces have become prime areas for trout to spawn. In a love story for the ages, these boulders were coupled with nearby clusters of logs that provided instream cover and organic material for spawning fish. Together, these log and boulder clusters dramatically improve river health and make for great fishing holes.

Another structure called a roughened log toe, formed by placing multiple logs with their roots intact in a bend in the creek, has helped protect the banks from high-speed floodwaters. By absorbing the impact of rushing high water, roughened log toes prevent mass erosion, which is critically important along roadsides. Over time, the water churning against the root wads will also create cool, shady areas for fish to congregate.

“These guys were used to taking logs out of the water, and here we are asking them to put these logs in the water,” Skelding laughs. “It really is a new way of thinking about mitigating flood damages and protecting fish habitat.”

The next time Delaware County has a flood emergency, residents along Sands Creek can rest assured that their community is more resilient than in previous years while local anglers might even be able to wet a line much sooner. Not bad for pushing some boulders and logs around. And with an all-in project cost of about $300,000, these benefits came at a steep discount compared to many traditional infrastructure options.

Toe wood is installed along Sands Creek, which will absorb high-velocity floodwaters and create fish habitat. Photo by Friends of the Upper Delaware River.
Today, Sands Creek—Tomorrow, the Mississippi

The success of the Sands Creek restoration project highlights the importance of collaboration in conservation, and sportsmen and women played a crucial role in this case. We think this is an important story because, as policymakers consider upgrading our nation’s infrastructure, it is imperative that natural infrastructure solutions, extending from erosion control to wildlife crossing structures, are part of the discussion.

Incorporating these ideas early on can help save money that would have been spent cleaning up a disastrous flood, plus the benefits to wildlife habitat and river access mean anglers can keep doing what we love – all of which boosts local economies.

When conservationists engage with government officials and local businesses to build better rivers, not just new bridges and roads, the benefits can flow far, far downstream.

Want to hear more about re-engineering a river? Click here to hear Jeff Skelding discuss FUDR’s work on the Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast with Tom Rosenbauer.

Top photo by Garth Lenz.

August 3, 2017

Congress Wants to Boost Renewables and Fund Conservation

A bill moving through the House could create a rare win-win scenario for energy and wildlife

The Trump administration and Republican leadership in Congress have an aggressive agenda for the next few years: To reform the tax code, balance a federal budget, increase funds to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border, and pass a one-trillion-dollar package that addresses America’s crumbling infrastructure while providing stability for rural communities. The infrastructure package is going to be decorated like a Christmas tree with bills and amendments, but some ornaments will light up more than others.

One of these may be the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act, which unanimously passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee last week. The bill, which was introduced by Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and co-sponsored by 38 representatives from both sides of the aisle, would promote economic growth in the energy development sector while providing for conservation from a portion of the leasing revenues.

Here’s How PLREDA Would Work

The bill would achieve a win-win scenario by thoughtfully balancing renewable energy development and habitat needs through a robust permitting system and creating a consistent stream of revenue to fund essential fish and wildlife management projects in proximity to renewable energy projects.

PLREDA would boost the incentive for local stakeholders to support renewable energy projects, because 25 percent of the leasing revenues would go back to counties and states. Another 25 percent of leasing revenues would be dedicated to a fish and wildlife conservation fund, the Renewable Resource Conservation Fund. These funds could help open up access to public lands, enhance clean water resources, and improve habitat for elk, wild trout, mule deer, sage grouse, and other important game species.

TRCP strongly supports this bipartisan bill, which illustrates a balanced, common-sense approach to energy development on public lands. At a time when lawmakers have many legislative priorities, it’s heartening to see investments in America’s infrastructure and economic health that also create new revenue streams for conservation.

Learn More

Want to hear the latest on PLREDA and other legislation that could affect the places where you hunt and fish? Become a TRCP member (it’s free) and we’ll keep you informed.

Top photo by BLM/Flickr.


posted in: Outdoor Economy

August 2, 2017

Here Are the CliffsNotes on Why Everyone’s Still Talking About Sage Grouse

From signs of decline decades ago to a definitive moment for sagebrush country—catch up and learn what’s at stake for sage grouse and the sportsmen who depend on them.

I had hiked for what seemed like hours and endless miles through the central Wyoming sagebrush, working my dogs in every place I’d ever found sage grouse in years past. I was a bit dumbfounded as these areas usually produced birds in fairly short order, but it seemed that all those honey holes were dry this year. I wondered what happened, as I kneeled down and poured some water into a bowl for the dogs and then took a sip myself.

All of a sudden, my chocolate lab, Deke, perked up his ears, began wagging his tail, and briskly walked toward a line of sage that we had yet to push through about 20 yards away. Apparently, the wind had shifted into our faces, and he was finally on some birds. No sooner had I grabbed my 20-gauge when a half-dozen sage grouse erupted from the brush. I dropped one, fired again and missed, and then hit a second bird with my last round. Just like that, we were done for the day—and the season, as it turned out. There were no birds the next day, no matter how far we wandered.

That hunt took place in 2012, just as I had started working in the complex world of policy and management of the greater sage grouse with the TRCP. It was also during a crippling drought, the likes of which the West hadn’t experienced for several years.

I wasn’t the only hunter to get skunked, either. The second-lowest number of male sage grouse since 1965 were counted on their breeding grounds that year, following decades of sagebrush being degraded or lost to urbanization, crop conversion, energy development, fire, and invasive weeds. In total, the West had lost nearly 50 percent of its sagebrush country by the new millennium, and grouse numbers followed suit, declining about one percent each year on average since the mid-1960s.

A lot has happened since then. Though state agency biologists put forth a range-wide conservation strategy in 2006, it took a petition to list the species—and ultimately a court order mandating that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determine whether the species warranted protections under the Endangered Species Act by September 2015—to send most states and federal agencies into action.

Wyoming led the way in this effort, bringing multiple interest groups together to craft a balanced approach to conservation and knowing full well that a listing would cripple the state and much of the West. As the September 2015 deadline approached, 11 Western states had all developed some sort of conservation plan for greater sage grouse, and the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service finalized their own plans for conservation on public lands just before the USFWS’s final decision was announced.

Private landowners jumped in, too. The Natural Resource Conservation Service, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, created the Sage Grouse Initiative to help landowners get technical advice on tailoring their operations to help grouse and their rangeland and poured hundreds of millions of dollars into habitat improvements, like removing invasive trees to improve grass and forb (sage grouse food) production. It was mutually beneficial for ranchers and the iconic dancing birds—as one rancher from Oregon has famously said, “What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.”

Sage grouse aren’t the only game species that rely on the sagebrush habitat. Image courtesy of Nick Dobric.

When this historic collaborative work paid off, and the Department of Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the range-wide population of greater sage grouse did not warrant protections under the Endangered Species Act, a collective sigh of relief could be felt across the West.

I’ve been a professional wildlife biologist for almost 30 years, and for me and most of my colleagues it is clear that the work to benefit sage grouse over the last several years has been the greatest landscape-scale conservation effort undertaken in modern times. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, has stated that the unprecedented and extraordinary collaboration we’ve seen sets forth a model for the future of conservation in America.

But the work has only just begun. One thing we all need to keep in mind is that the decision to keep sage grouse off a threatened or endangered species list was predicated on the promise of implementing both federal and state conservation plans simultaneously and without interruption, all while conservation efforts on private lands continue. No single effort can stand alone to deliver the necessary conservation benefits or regulatory certainty to avoid a future listing.

But major amendments and lengthy disruptions could drastically alter the course for habitat conservation and undo years of hard work—years that sage grouse don’t have to waste.

There’s simply no denying that long-term conservation measures will benefit everyone in the end.

So why do we think it’s so important for sportsmen and women to understand all of this, even after the not warranted decision for sage grouse was issued? We depend on public lands for quality habitat that allows fish and wildlife populations to thrive. And we know that sagebrush provides habitat for more than 350 species of plants and wildlife, including many beyond sage grouse, like pronghorns, wild trout, mule deer, and elk.

Major disruptions in #sagegrouse plans could drastically alter the course for habitat #conservation. Click To Tweet

These iconic species define the Western landscape and our days afield. Meanwhile, the extraordinary outdoor recreation opportunities in sagebrush country help drive spending in our local communities, supporting the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy and more than 7.5 million jobs. These pursuits mean big business, and the places where we are free to hunt and fish define us as Americans.

This is why we need to keep this historic collaborative conservation effort moving forward, while continuing to work with the states and all stakeholders on thoughtful improvements. It is critical to our outdoor heritage, economy, and Western way of life.



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.

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