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Does it seem like you’re reading more and more headlines about algal blooms, dead zones, and water crises across our country? Here’s why
Water is always moving. The Lake Erie waters dripping off a just-landed walleye contain billions upon billions of molecules that traveled untold miles over time, picking up all kinds of chemical hitchhikers, which include nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus—from farm fertilizer. The word “nutrient” is often associated with positive effects on human health, but they can become dangerous pollutants in our watersheds.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency released a memo renewing a single call to action: reduce nutrient pollution. Why? Because it “remains one of the greatest challenges to our nation’s water quality and presents a growing threat to public health and local economies.” In other words, nutrient pollution makes our water toxic to drink and costs communities millions of dollars to treat.
Nutrient pollution comes from many sources, including storm runoff from cities, but a lot of it drains into our water via poorly managed agricultural land. Nutrients in fertilizers make farms more productive, but when rain washes over those fields, nutrients can pollute entire watersheds. The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, which was perhaps the biggest legal action on water quality in decades, specifically addressed pollution caused by nitrogen, one of the major components of fertilizer. The downstream impacts are bad for human health, sportfish, waterfowl, and even your Labrador retriever.
While the nutrients themselves can be toxic, the effects of added nitrogen and phosphorus can ripple out with devastating effects. Nutrient pollution leads to algal blooms, which decimate fish and wildlife populations not only near the agricultural lands where nutrients are sourced, but also downstream at some of the best freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, and hunting spots—on both private and public lands and waters.
That’s why sportsmen and women should care deeply about this problem and work with landowners to support solutions.
Nutrients facilitate algae growth, just like fertilizer on a farm facilitates crop growth, and the algae need little else to survive. While there is typically more than enough light and water to keep algae reproducing, the presence, or lack, of nutrients in water is the limiting factor keeping algae populations in check. Reduce nutrients and growth stops. Add them, and growth explodes uninhibited.
The critters that we love—fish, ducks, and more—thrive in conditions with low levels of algae. When we add fertilizer to the equation, everything gets out of whack, and resulting algal blooms become a big, big problem. Here’s why:
First, and most simply, some types of algae are toxic if consumed by fish, wildlife, and humans. When these toxic algae bloom, they can create dire scenarios for public health. This has led to states of emergency in cities and towns across the country, including parts of Florida, the Great Lakes, and Utah. In 2014, half a million residents of Toledo, Ohio, were banned from drinking the city’s water, or using it to cook or brush their teeth, for three days. Similarly, algal blooms are also toxic for fish, wildlife, and pets (including your bird dog) and can cause massive die-offs.
Second, algal blooms lead to a depletion of oxygen. As algae dies it decomposes, and the business of decomposition requires a lot of oxygen. All that oxygen consumption leads to hypoxia, the absence of dissolved oxygen in water, which causes sportfish such as trout and salmon to literally suffocate. This is what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay dead zones.
Third, mats of algae block sunlight from entering the water, harming aquatic plants by limiting their ability to convert sunlight into energy. This causes vegetation to disappear from wetland and coastal areas, removing an important food source for fish and waterfowl and a source of oxygen that is urgently needed in water where algae are decomposing.
All of this is to say that when you read or hear about clean water initiatives, you should be as concerned as you would about a threat to your public access, because toxic water means losing opportunities to hunt and fish. And when you think about conservation, remember that watersheds often start on private lands and that landowner conservation practices—like restoring wetlands, maintaining stream buffers, and planting cover crops—are critical to maintaining healthy fish and wildlife habitat.
The Farm Bill supports some of the most successful programs for improving water quality and reducing harmful nutrient runoff from private lands. For example, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program was introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill partly to allow landowners to partner with organizations to improve soil, water, and wildlife habitat conditions. Click here to learn more about the farm bill conservation programs that help landowners improve water quality downstream.
This was originally posted October 12, 2016, and has been updated.
Part Two in our series of conversations with women who are helping to shine a spotlight on habitat, access, and funding issues that impact hunting and fishing
Perhaps one of the best things to come out of recent threats to public lands has been a new kind of alliance between hunters, anglers, and other people who enjoy the outdoors, like skiers, hikers, bikers, climbers, and paddlers. Lindsey Elliott considers herself originally from this second group, but as an enthusiastic newcomer to hunting—she went on her first big game hunt last year—she’s become a very willing ambassador for our sports, especially with devotees of her business Wylder Goods, a built-by-women-for-women outdoor gear retailer she co-founded with her friend Jainee Dial in April 2016.
We talked to Lindsey about how she got interested in hunting—it involves her collecting roadkill, more on that later—and why she believes in weaving conservation stories into the marketing of a business that relies on the outdoors.
TRCP: We first got to know you at the Outdoor Retailer show this summer, where you were on a panel about hunting and public lands with our president and CEO Whit Fosburgh. He said you had a really unique journey to discovering your love of hunting—can you share it with us?
ELLIOTT: Yeah, I was sort of the token beginner hunter on that panel, which was great because it’s such an interesting time to be joining the hunting community—there’s this bipartisan wave of support for public lands, and meanwhile women are increasingly getting into hunting as the overall number of hunters is declining. It’s part of why I’m motivated to share my story.
I don’t come from a hook-and-bullet background. I mean, I fished as a kid and I’ve gotten into flyfishing as an adult, but I don’t have any family members who hunt. I’d really never fired a high-powered rifle until last year.
I used to work in environmental education, and we’d show the kids things like primitive skills and basic firemaking. One day I found a dead fox on the side of the road—it had this really beautiful coat and it wasn’t mangled or anything, so I had an expert help me use it for a skinning demonstration. She did about half the job and talked me through the rest, and it ended up being this really incredible experience for me where I sort of felt like I was out of my body watching my hands move as if they knew where to go. I realized it didn’t matter whether I thought I could or couldn’t do it—it was biologically engrained in me.
That sort of lit a spark, and for the next eight years or so I just wanted more and more experiences like that. I got a collection permit to use other critters to teach my students, whether it was about feather design or what scavengers eat. I learned how to tan hides (not very well, because it’s super hard), and I just became the person everyone called when they had dead animals! I was like the roadkill queen of my community, which was pretty funny.
Then I moved to Utah, and one of my friends here has been hunting for 25 years. His walls are covered in beautiful taxidermy mounts and skulls, and we’d eat these wonderful meals with wild game and I’d ask him about the stories behind all of it. He finally asked if I wanted to come along on a hunt and see for myself, so I got an apprentice hunter license.
I thought I’d just shadow him for the season, but then I got a tag and started training with a rifle, and since I wasn’t half bad it seemed like I could really go for it. Everything just kept lining up. By early fall, I’d spent about eight months reading a lot about hunting and sort of testing the conversation in my peer group, just exploring the idea. But now I really wanted to do this! I sincerely hoped I’d get the opportunity to shoot a deer—and I did.
It was a beautiful process, and one that I immediately felt aligned with. Since then, cooking that meat for friends has even deepened the spirituality of the experience. I was sure I’d know in an instant if hunting was going to be for me, and every part of my first hunt just confirmed that this is something I’m going to pursue for the rest of my life.
TRCP: You made a great point about this being a very big moment for public lands and maybe an opportunity for some non-traditional partnerships around conservation. But do you think that women who hunt are accepted by your customers who are adventure athletes? Is that a dated stereotype that there is mistrust between the two groups?
ELLIOTT: Coming from the climbing and biking side, I’ll say that it felt like a big risk a year ago to step out and start talking about hunting on the Wylder platform, because it can be such a divisive topic. But I have been so surprised at how interested outdoorswomen have been in my process and the stories that I’m sharing. Every time that I bring it up on social media, I get responses from a handful of women who say Thank you for sharing this, or I really want to get into this someday, or I just asked my dad if he would take me hunting for the first time. So, I do notice that there’s more genuine interest than I thought there was in a group where I was pretty concerned about broaching the conversation. That’s exciting.
TRCP: You created Wylder because you saw a need to better serve women interested in outdoor gear made for them. Do you think the industry is evolving, and where do you think other women have an opportunity to help make a change?
ELLIOTT: The hunting industry does seem to be turning a corner, even in the short amount of time I’ve been paying attention, especially with Sitka’s women’s line coming out and there being more of an accurate representation of women in hunting magazines and videos.
Where I’m personally motivated is changing the style of storytelling, and I think that women should be a part of that: Let’s tell more complex, emotional stories about hunting, because there’s so much more to it than what a grip-and-grin photo shows you. You have this incredible moment of fear and anguish—I mean, I was buckling at the knees just watching from afar as my deer collapsed to the ground—and of course there’s a moment of relief that you finally got there, and you can eventually smile at some point for a photo. But I think a lot of that gets left out, and it could shift the public perception of what it means to be a hunter.
TRCP: Wylder is a certified B Corp, a for-profit company that uses the power of business as a force for good. Why is that important to you?
ELLIOTT: For us, it was part of the original conception of Wylder and really the only way we saw ourselves getting involved in business in the first place. We partner with four non-profits, donate two percent of our sales profit to them, and dedicate a quarter of our marketing to their calls to action and campaigns. Part of our goal is infusing learning and advocacy into the narrative of our online community so people feel less like visitors to wild places and more like part of the ecosystem. When I first learned about B Corps, it just struck me that we could start a business in a place where we are personally connected, where there’s a need in the market, and we can use it as the engine for driving attention toward the good work that we want to see happen in the world. It has been the biggest surprise in my career to end up doing what I’m doing.
Follow Lindsey at @lindenroams, @wyldergoods, and on the Wylder blog. If you know an amazing, inspiring sportswoman with a passion for conservation, tag us on social media and share her story. We’d love to feature more fierce females like this.
Outdoor writer and hunter’s hunter Hal Herring leads a planting crew in Idaho after a series of rangeland fires—the work will help restore wildlife habitat, but the job is a boost for locals
Hal Herring is planting sagebrush on a bluebird day in the Bennett Hills of south-central Idaho, and he is in high spirits. It is the first morning of a 10-day project to restore healthy sagebrush habitat on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The area was once critical winter range for more than 10,000 mule deer until a series of rangeland fires burned much of the habitat to ash. What once was chest-high sagebrush, bitterbrush, and native grasses is now a sea of invasive species, including cheatgrass, medusahead, and rush skeleton weed.
Herring is an awarding-winning writer for Field & Stream and High Country News and a contributor to national magazines such as The Atlantic and The Economist. He’s also a hunter’s hunter and a respected voice on public lands issues. Today, however, he is crew boss for 14 tree planters.
The crew is on the ground to plant more than 100,000 seedlings as part of a cooperative effort between the BLM, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Mule Deer Foundation, Idaho Department of Lands, and North American Grouse Partnership.
“We are trying to restore the carrying capacity of the land,” Herring says. “We are trying to give each sagebrush plant a chance to catch hold and spread seeds. It sets the stage for the area to return to sagebrush steppe, and sagebrush holds water better than invasive species. That gives the native grasses a chance to succeed, which is a benefit to wildlife and grazing livestock.”
Nearby, Herring’s crew is all smiles as they efficiently plant eight-inch sage seedlings. The process is physically demanding, yet it requires a deft touch, too. Using a hoedad—a hand-tool that’s a cousin of the more well-known Pulaski—each planter takes ten strides, scrapes away the tops of the invasive species and then drives the hoedad into the ground. If it sticks, there is enough soil to plant the seedling. If it bounces off the broken basalt flat, the planter moves to another spot and starts over.
The seedling must be planted perfectly straight up and down and without any air around the roots. If more than 50 percent of the seedlings take hold, the effort is a success. Rain or snow right after the planting is critical, but it takes several years to see the results.
There are other hunters on the crew. Some have worked almost year-round on restoration projects from seed gathering to planting. Others are graduate students, trail maintenance crew bosses, and backcountry rangers. They are drawn by good wages and the opportunity to work outdoors. Plus, they know they are making a difference.
“Deer food equals big bucks,” says Jeremy O’Day. “It’s a pretty simple equation.”
While returning the ground to a more productive state after the fires is the primary goal of the work, Herring believes it’s just as critical to highlight that restoration work creates jobs across the West. As huge fires become more repetitive, he believes restoration projects can help the wildlife and the economy.
“We all recognize that there is an enormous amount of restoration to be done,” he says. “This is an incredible opportunity to both reignite some rural Western economies and build ecological resilience for the future.”
Herring talks fast all the time, but he drops into fifth gear now to explain. He believes Western resentment of the federal government is fostered by a Congress that won’t give the federal land agencies enough money to adequately manage public lands. That fuels the feeling that nothing is getting done to benefit local economies.
He believes developing a West-wide restoration industry could break down the old argument that environmental regulations kill jobs, while providing habitat and graze for deer, elk, antelope, sage grouse, domestic sheep, and cattle.
“It is a myth that nothing gets done on federal ground, and restoration is the way of the future. It is something that helps everybody,” he says.
Danelle Nance, a natural resource specialist with the BLM, is the federal government’s point person on the sagebrush restoration in south-central Idaho. She says that roughly 125,000 acres burns each year of the 4 million acres the district office oversees. But partnerships with the Mule Deer Foundation, Idaho Fish and Game, National Grouse Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Idaho Department of Lands help to grow restoration efforts from thousands of acres to tens of thousands of acres.
“It is incredibly important to have these partnerships. They foster interest in local communities and take on a life of their own,” she says. “Success breeds success. And Hal is right—where restoration is needed across the West, it could be a model to follow.”
Herring enjoys plugging the idea of a restoration economy, but there is much work to be done. Planters stock their bags with seedlings and head off to the horizon, “dropping trees” every 10 yards.
“Can you picture it?” Herring says, pointing to the scorched soil. “In time, this will be a functioning winter range, which benefits everybody. I can see it.”
He sees mule deer enduring winter in chest-high sage. He sees healthy sage grouse populations. And he see a healthy economy in rural communities.
Part One in our series of conversations with women who are helping to shine a spotlight on habitat, access, and funding issues that impact hunting and fishing
Long before Theodore Roosevelt hunted the badlands and remade himself from a sickly child into an American conservation hero, there were tales of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. She is the modern-day inspiration for Artemis Sportswomen, a group that’s ready to change the face of conservation.
We caught up with one of their founding members, Allie D’Andrea—you may know her by her social media handle, Outdoors Allie—to hear what inspires her outdoor pursuits and how she thinks women can help advocate for America’s quality places to hunt and fish.
TRCP: How did you first get involved in hunting and fishing?
D’ANDREA: I grew up very much in the outdoors, but I did not start hunting and fishing until my college years. My boyfriend Nick played baseball, but after a serious elbow injury he needed to find a new way to fill his time in the fall. He began hunting, heading into the woods almost every chance he could. We had been together since I was 16, so this sudden change was noticeable, and naturally I wanted to see what the draw was!
I started out just observing him on hunts and ended up throwing myself into solo hunting, falling more and more in love with the pursuit. Now, I hunt for meat, for adventure, and to feel a deeper connection to our natural world.
TRCP: What inspires you as a sportswoman in conservation?
D’ANDREA: I absolutely love exploring Western landscapes—they are truly awe-inspiring. The more I see, the more I’m inspired to safeguard wildlife, wild places, and my right to explore.
TRCP: Can you share a recent epiphany you’ve had about conservation and your role as a sportswoman?
D’ANDREA: I’ve come to realize that there are people from all walks of life who care about conservation. Whether you are a hunter, climber, urbanite, or all three, it doesn’t matter. If we all care about the same issues, then it’s only natural that we should all work together. Of course, there will be areas where we won’t see eye to eye, and that is OK. It’s more about joining together where there is common ground for the greater good of wildlife and habitat.
As sportswomen, we are a piece of that puzzle. It’s our responsibility to not only join that conversation, but contribute to it.
TRCP: Why do you think it’s so important for women to speak out?
D’ANDREA: Because anyone who cares about conservation and has something powerful to contribute deserves to be heard. And with the creation of niche conservation groups like Artemis, it becomes easier to amplify those voices.
TRCP: What do you see as the biggest impediment for women who want to get into hunting, fishing, and conservation?
D’ANDREA: As the social norms have started to shift, the biggest challenge might be finding mentors. Personally, I was surrounded by such a welcoming group of men willing to help me learn. I would have been lost without them.
TRCP: How are you using your platform to promote R3 and make sure a new generation of sportswomen are introduced into this community?
D’ANDREA: On social media, I’m trying to create a safe place for anyone to be part of the conversation, from folks who are brand new to hunting to those with decades of experience. You can never stop learning, and I try to highlight the joy of learning in my own journey, hoping to inspire others to do the same!
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