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Moving water south from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades has been a goal for decades, but securing funding for and breaking ground on the project could end up helping hurricane-ravaged South Florida recover just as much as the fish habitat
While parts of Florida are steadily recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Irma’s vicious winds and storm surge, rural communities like Everglades City and Chokoloskee—home to fishing guides, marina owners, and others who make a living from the popularity of sportfishing—have a tougher road ahead. For these towns to recover, become more resilient, and continue to welcome countless anglers, there are a number of immediate and long-term challenges to overcome.
Initial damage assessments concluded that more than half the houses in Everglades City were destroyed and 95 percent of area businesses were closed. Running water and electricity wasn’t available for weeks, and area sewage treatment failed, with sewage backing up into the streets. While basic utilities have been restored in the last month, many of the areas where vacationing anglers would stay and the homes where locals and guides live are still in disrepair.
Wetlands and waterways suffered, as well. Storm surge brought saltwater deep into brackish and freshwater wetlands, and streams became clogged with debris, like tree branches, sunken boats, siding, and appliances. Sewage spilled into waterways, and samples of receding floodwaters one week after the hurricane indicated the presence of more human or animal waste than the test could quantify.
All of this illustrates the need for basic infrastructure improvements to ensure that the Everglades can remain a pristine and safe place to fish, even after the next hurricane.
Fortunately, many experts on the ecology of the Everglades believe the system will heal itself in time, boosted by ongoing efforts to move freshwater back into the area from Lake Okeechobee. But these projects must proceed into the engineering and construction phases without delay.
Moving clean water south from the lake will help alleviate the lingering effects of this year’s tropical storm season. Heavy rains from Irma and other storms have filled Lake Okeechobee to an unsafe level, potentially stressing the dike that surrounds the lake and protects local communities. Too much freshwater in coastal estuaries, a condition that caused crippling algae blooms in the summer of 2016, is hurting fall fishing for redfish, speckled trout, and snook.
This is why the TRCP and a host of other sportfishing and conservation groups are working with Congress to expedite construction on projects to restore and protect critical habitat for fish and wildlife in South Florida.
In a letter to Senate and House leaders on October 10, a dozen groups—including the TRCP, Everglades Foundation, Snook and Gamefish Foundation, B.A.S.S., Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and International Gamefish Association—asked for funding to complete a water control structure that is critical to allowing water to move into affected areas. We also requested their long-term commitment to funding other approved Everglades projects.
Our hearts go out to fellow anglers and all Floridians who are rebuilding after the storm. The angling community in South Florida and beyond has responded by raising thousands of dollars to help those affected. This will help in the short term, but the long-term health of the area’s economy will depend on anglers returning to hire guides, buy ice and tackle, stay in area hotels, and eat at local restaurants. It is worth investing in infrastructure and habitat improvements to make sure that happens.
Hunting and angling groups joined members of the Iowa delegation to highlight opportunities to enhance conservation programs in the 2018 Farm Bill
On Friday, congressional staff representing Sen. Joni Ernst, Sen. Chuck Grassley, and Rep. David Young toured four southwest Iowa farm operations that have implemented conservation practices using funding and technical support from the federal Farm Bill. The tour was sponsored by a unique coalition of state and federal natural resource agencies and agriculture, conservation, and hunting and fishing groups working to enhance conservation provisions in the next five-year Farm Bill.
“We appreciate the Iowa delegation’s interest in seeing firsthand the practical application of conservation on private lands, and we hope to see these decision makers go on to lead the conversation about the many benefits of the Farm Bill Title II programs that enhance wildlife habitat, water quality, public access to hunting and fishing, and diverse rural economies,” says Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
The tour highlighted Farm Bill projects that have led to the recovery of pheasant and bobwhite quail habitat, wetlands restoration, nutrient loss and soil erosion prevention, improvements to water quality, enhancement of voluntary public access for hunting and fishing, and efforts to incentivize putting marginal lands into conservation instead of agriculture. The conservation discussion continued after lunch at the Winterset Gun Club with representatives from the TRCP, Iowa Soybean Association, National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, National Association of Conservation Districts, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s easy to appreciate the appeal of or need for Farm Bill conservation cornerstones like the Conservation Reserve Program or Environmental Quality Incentives Program when you see quail, pheasants, and pollinators restored with native vegetation on the landscape,” says Tom Franklin, agriculture liaison for the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. “In Iowa, the results are real and tangible, and we appreciate the opportunity to show lawmakers those results.”
In a recent national survey of hunters and anglers, 75 percent agreed with providing financial incentives to farmers and ranchers to implement habitat conservation, and 87 percent said they do not want to see cuts to conservation programs, in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill or anywhere else. This summer, the TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group revealed its list of recommendations for conservation and sportsmen’s access priorities in the 2018 Farm Bill, which Congress needs to finalize by September 30 of next year.
“There’s no question that hunters and anglers are at the table as the Farm Bill debate ramps up, because fewer resources for conservation on private lands means fewer options for American farmers and the loss of access and opportunity for sportsmen and women who spend money in rural communities,” says Eric Sytsma, regional representative for Iowa Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “I think our message to congressional staff on the tour was that cuts to conservation in the Farm Bill would be felt across the state, by farmers, hunters, and the folks who run gas stations, motels, diners, and other small businesses.”
Read the full list of recommendations for growing conservation in the next Farm Bill, supported by 31 hunting and fishing organizations.
After nearly two decades of drought, the Colorado River Basin needs this boost to private land conservation to support agriculture, outdoor recreation businesses, and a growing population
Even as the Colorado River enters a 17th year of drought conditions, 35 million people and hundreds of thousands of businesses across seven U.S. states are creating an unsustainable level of demand on this stressed waterway. The mighty Colorado, of such strength that it continues to carve out the Grand Canyon, no longer reaches the sea. And future projections for the river system—based on population growth, increasing temperatures, and changing weather patterns—are troublesome to say the least.
But the 2018 Farm Bill could provide some relief for the overtaxed Colorado. Here are four ways that the conservation programs we already know are good for wildlife and water quality can also support innovation and the long-term health of the river.
Recent figures indicate the Colorado River supports an estimated 16 million jobs with a $1.4 trillion economic impact. Along with agriculture, outdoor recreation is a significant economic driver in the region. By one estimate, outdoor recreation in the Colorado River Basin contributes more than $27 billion annually to the region’s economy. The seven states within the river basin—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming—attract 1.37 million hunters and 4.2 million anglers annually.
All of this economic activity relies upon the Colorado River system’s ability to sustain fish and wildlife.
But roughly 90 percent of agricultural land in the Colorado River Basin is irrigated by off-farm water-delivery systems, which are not eligible for most Farm Bill conservation program assistance. Many Farm Bill programs are also currently limited when it comes to deficit irrigation, a practice that helps farmers in the Colorado River Basin save water while maintaining important land in production and could help plants “learn” to adapt to drought.
In the next Farm Bill, it may be possible to enhance the flexibility of conservation provisions for the Colorado River and Western farmers and ranchers. Here are four things we’d like to see:
Use the Environmental Quality Incentives program to improve the infrastructure that supports off-farm irrigation. Landowners already use EQIP projects to improve their on-farm water efficiency and, often, because the farmer can divert less water from the stream, they improve stream habitat at the same time. Allowing the Natural Resources Conservation Service to work directly with irrigation districts and the companies that oversee and maintain reservoirs and irrigation ditches would improve the effectiveness of water use on private lands across the West.
Address drought and water conservation practices within the Conservation Reserve Program. For more than 30 years, this popular program has incentivized farmers and ranchers to selectively take land out of production to achieve conservation outcomes, like improving soil and water quality, reducing erosion and nutrient runoff, and enhancing wildlife habitat. Expand it to acres where it might improve water conservation efforts, and give landowners even more options for a successful business plan.
Waive some acreage limits within the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program for projects that address regional drought concerns. Because watersheds in the West are typically larger than in the eastern half of the country, the acreage limits in the program make it difficult for Western irrigators to access these funds. Removing those caps would allow landowners to use Farm Bill dollars to build drought resiliency.
Help innovative partnerships enroll in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Already popular since its introduction in the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP allows landowners to partner with organizations to improve soil, water, and wildlife habitat conditions, but enrollment has been cumbersome so far. The next Farm Bill should clarify this funding arrangement and create the flexibility to promote conservation innovations at the landscape scale.
The TRCP and our partners will be working to inform decision makers in the Colorado River Basin states and key Farm Bill architects of the benefits these enhancements could make. But as the debate around the next Farm Bill continues and comes to a head in 2018, it’s very likely that there are private lands, waterways, and wildlife habitat at stake where you live. Join the TRCP to be the first to know about ways you can support these ideas and other recommendations that are good for landowners, habitat, outdoor recreation, and rural America.
Top photo by USDA via flickr
Anaconda-Deer Lodge county commissioners join a growing list of elected officials across the West to pass resolutions of support for public lands, and they are urging other Montana counties to follow suit
After passing a resolution opposing any effort to transfer or sell federal public lands to the state or local governments, the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Commission is trying to rally other Montana county governments around the value of public lands.
In a late-September meeting, Anaconda-Deer Lodge county commissioners voted unanimously to officially recognize the importance of public lands to the county’s 10,000 residents for attracting outdoor recreation tourism that drives the local economy. The Anaconda Sportsman’s Club approached the county commissioners about a public lands resolution, resulting in the vote. Nearby Georgetown Lake is a year-round fishing destination, and hunters from across the country come to the Pintler Mountains and Lost Creek to pursue elk, mule deer, and world-class bighorn sheep. The county seat of Anaconda is also located within driving distance of some of the most iconic national forests in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, with numerous opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, hiking, skiing, and backpacking.
Now, the ADL commissioners have sent a copy of the resolution with a letter to elected officials in every Montana county, urging them to take up official statements of support for America’s public lands and oppose public land transfer as a “short-sighted and ill-conceived” idea.
The letter claims that although land transfer has largely been defeated at the local level, special interests and lobbyists are pushing their agenda in Washington, D.C., by convincing lawmakers from states with few public lands that counties in Western states support the idea of transferring ownership. “As fellow Commissioners, we encourage your Commission to pass a similar Resolution supporting federal management of local public lands and honor the dedicated federal employees who manage the public lands and wildlife in your county,” the commissioners write.
“The Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Commissioners and the Anaconda Sportsmen’s Club should be commended,” says Scott Laird, Montana field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “They’re the first county commission in Montana to pass a resolution supporting our public lands and opposing the transfer of these lands to state or local governments. It’s heartening to see this movement grow at the county and local level, where a vocal minority would have lawmakers believe that Montanans want transfer.”
“The County’s resolution recognizes the importance of public lands,” says Terry Vermiere, chairman of the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Commission. “These lands bring irreplaceable value to our county’s economy, recreation, heritage, and quality of life.” Ben Krakowka, the county’s attorney adds, “This action was meant to send a message that selling off or giving away public lands is a bad idea. People come here from all over to vacation on our public lands. That opportunity doesn’t exist for many people from the eastern part of the country.”
A total of 30 pro-public-lands resolutions have been passed by county and municipal governments across the West in the past two years. Anaconda-Deer Lodge County is the first in Montana to do so. For links to these resolutions and other official statements of support for public lands, visit sportsmensaccess.org.
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.Learn More