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The most recent attempts to revive the Pebble Mine proposal and roll back sensible limits on mining activity in one of the finest fishing destinations on Earth
Even by Alaskan standards—and we’re lucky to have our pick of remote streams with big and plentiful fish—Bristol Bay is a sporting paradise. It is recognized as one of the finest fishing destinations on Earth, tucked away in an isolated corner of southwest Alaska. The region also produces about half the world’s sockeye salmon, with a record 60 million fish returning last summer to our famed rivers.
There’s no question that Bristol Bay is unique, and yet we continue to have to speak up to make sure it stays that way. Here’s why.
The now-infamous proposed Pebble Mine would carve out an open pit at the headwaters of the Bay’s two largest rivers, threatening clean water and fish habitat. Somewhere between 1.2 billion and 11 billion tons of mine waste could then remain in the area forever.
That’s why anglers, recreation businesses, tribes, chefs, commercial fishermen, conservation organizations, and hundreds of thousands of Americans came together to successfully take the proposed mine from a done deal to a less-than-popular project—it has lost three major partners, but the mine’s remaining proponent, Northern Dynasty Minerals, is still looking for new investors.
Together, we’ve successfully created major hurdles for Pebble, and in 2014, there was enough widespread public support to place sensible limits on mining in the region. In 2017, the EPA attempted to roll back limits on mining, but those who recognize the value of Bristol Bay had something to say about it—and the agency listened. The EPA received over one million public comments in response to their attempts to withdraw proposed protections for Bristol Bay, and surprisingly, the agency announced in January 2018 that they would keep these protections on the table.
Though the protections are not final, they haven’t been eliminated, as we feared. Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a final permit for Pebble Mine while a review of these protections is ongoing. And while the Pebble Partnership has been touting that it has a green light on all fronts to proceed, our decision makers are expressing serious reservations about the possibility that mining in Bristol Bay can happen safely—even in a pro-development political environment. EPA Administrator Pruitt and Governor Walker both made very strong statements on the heels of the announcement to maintain protections.
Though this is a huge victory, Pebble Mine backers are gaining momentum and the fight is far from over. The vigorous support of hunters and anglers has been critical to protecting the bounty of Bristol Bay in the past. But we will to speak up again, as early as this spring.
At the end of 2017, Pebble Limited Partnership applied for the first of many dozens of permits they’ll need, and this kicked off a multi-year NEPA review and Environmental Impact Statement process. Mine opponents will continue to demonstrate at every level that for scientific, economic, and cultural reasons, Pebble should not be granted a permit.
We expect the federal agencies to open a scoping comment period soon, and this is the first major step of the EIS process. Sportsmen and women need to make our voices heard once again during that process. Additionally, Alaskans are advocating for options at the state level that, if enacted, would establish higher hurdles for Pebble to overcome to get approval for its state permits.
As an Alaskan, a mother, and an angler, I’d like to thank the thousands of sportsmen and women from across the country who have already spoken up time and again to tell decision makers at all levels that Pebble Mine is not worth the risk in Bristol Bay. We’ve seen that when enough of us do so, we are heard.
Nelli Williams is Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Director. She has worked on the effort to safeguard Bristol Bay’s fish, wildlife, communities and jobs for nearly a decade. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband and two young children – they get out fishing and playing on Alaska’s rivers every chance they get.
Top photo courtesy of Ben Knight and Wild Salmon Center.
The Modern Fish Act would allow updated management approaches that acknowledge the difference between recreational and commercial fisheries, and it’s nearing the finish line
Saltwater anglers celebrate this time of year, knowing that the bulk of winter has passed and warmer temperatures, calmer seas, and lines stretched by sportfish of all sorts are likely just a few weeks away.
But the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee recently gave anglers another reason to be optimistic about March’s arrival—last week, they approved the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, also known as the Modern Fish Act, by a wide margin. A bipartisan contingent of 22 out of the 27 committee members voted to approve the bill and advance it to the Senate floor.
This is great news for America’s anglers, because the bill contains a host of provisions aimed at improving federal management of recreational fishing, specifically by acknowledging in federal law—finally—that recreational and commercial fishing have fundamentally different approaches and management should be “adapted to the characteristics of each sector.”
The Modern Fish Act allows regional fisheries management councils to maintain conservation measures and explore approaches that update management to better serve anglers. This includes strategies that have been very successfully used by state agencies to manage coastal and inland fish species.
The bill also calls for NOAA to work with the National Academies of Sciences to examine and improve data collection programs for recreational fisheries. More state-collected stock assessment and recreational harvest data could be used by federal managers under the Modern Fish Act, as well. More precise harvest data could result in longer, more stable recreational seasons.
Under the bill, NOAA will need to take a hard look at commercial and recreational fishing allocations in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic to determine if current allocations are based in the best available data and meet the economic and cultural needs of the entire fishery—not simply the commercial side. This could mean more fish allocated to recreational or commercial harvest, depending on how conditions have changed, but the updates are critical. Many current allocations are based in information from three decades ago or more and have not been examined with an eye toward meeting both sectors’ needs.
Finally, the Modern Fish Act calls for a thorough examination of the social and economic impacts of implementing additional limited-access privilege programs, also known as individual fishing quota systems, in fisheries shared by commercial and recreational users. While individual fishing quotas have worked well in the Alaskan crab and Pollock fisheries, which are entirely commercial, they aren’t suited for recreational fisheries where the fish must continue to support every American’s opportunity to fish.
Sportsmen would never suggest that private companies and individuals own ducks, deer, or largemouth bass—and private ownership of saltwater sportfish should not be tolerated either.
It is important to note that this bill has garnered broad bipartisan support since being introduced by Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker and Florida Democrat Bill Nelson last July. Twelve co-sponsors have added their names to the bill over the last eight months, split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Help also came from both Republican and Democratic staff on the committee, who worked extensively with recreational fishing conservation groups over the last year or more to ensure that the bill accomplishes the targeted fixes to federal law that anglers are seeking, while making sure that resource conservation isn’t compromised. “This is the Commerce Committee at its best,” said Wicker after the February 28 committee hearing.
Since the bill was first introduced, the TRCP and a coalition of partner and non-partner groups—including the American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Yamaha Marine Group, and others—have worked tirelessly with staff from Senate offices on both sides of the aisle to address concerns and make reasonable amendments to the bill. Many concessions were made in the last 10 months to bring the Commerce Committee a bill that is a source of pride for Republicans and Democrats, and, more importantly, the sportsmen and women who have always been leaders in resource conservation.
“The Modern Fish Act represents five years’ worth of input from our community and will increase the level of trust between America’s 11 million saltwater anglers and federal fisheries managers,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re extremely encouraged to see these updated management approaches tailored to meet the unique needs of recreational fishing, rather than forcing recreational seasons into a management scheme designed for commercial fisheries.”
Certainly, when congressional staff is helping to write legislation with cooperation from recreational angling conservation groups, and both Republicans and Democrats are willing to compromise to improve legislation, it represents the best of our country’s lawmaking process. Hopefully we can expect to see this level of agreement and cooperation extended to other efforts to improve law and policy.
But even a popular bill isn’t necessarily a done deal—there are many demands competing for our lawmakers’ attentions, and we need to continue to engage Senate and House members to move the Modern Fish Act to passage as soon as possible. Saltwater angling and the management of our most important fisheries are closer than ever to getting well-deserved recognition from the federal government.
We can’t let another Congress go by without addressing the very real differences between recreational and commercial fishing—or improving fisheries management to rebuild trust between anglers and federal fisheries managers.
The Department of Commerce released the first-ever official data on outdoor recreation’s outsize impact on the American economy, and these numbers don’t lie
For the first time ever, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis has released data on the financial clout of outdoor recreation in America. Thanks to a 2016 law, the agency is now charged with tracking this sector as it does other parts of the U.S. economy.
The new BEA data quantifies what many of us already knew: Outdoor recreation is big business, accounting for $637 billion, or more than 2 percent, of the nation’s gross domestic product.
This doesn’t even consider trips of less than 50 miles—about two-thirds of all outdoor recreation trips are of the close-to-home variety—nor the sale of imported goods. Those numbers are included in the Outdoor Industry Association’s five-year report, the most recent of which showed that the outdoor recreation economy is worth $887 billion.
What is also striking about the BEA numbers is the growth rate of the industry. While the U.S. economy as a whole grew by 2.8 percent in 2016, the outdoor recreation economy grew by 3.8 percent—nearly 36 percent faster than the national economy.
It’s an extraordinary step forward to be able to quantify exactly how much America’s hunters, anglers, boaters, hikers, bikers, skiers, wildlife watchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts are contributing to a healthy economy and job market. When you consider that there are also many unquantifiable benefits of getting outside, including fostering healthy bodies and minds, you would think that growing this sector would be a top priority for our national decision makers.
This is not always the case. Right now, the same agencies charged with managing the 640 million acres of public lands that provide a foundation for outdoor recreation are being targeted for budget cuts. And the dilapidated infrastructure of our public lands facilities—from roads and visitor centers to trails and campgrounds—is an afterthought, at best, in the president’s recent infrastructure proposal, which is largely contingent on expanding the industrialization of our public lands.
According to the BEA’s findings, boating and fishing are key drivers of the outdoor recreation economy, accounting for almost $40 billion annually, but the president’s recent budget proposal shortchanges the federal agencies responsible for keeping our water clean and our recreational fishing sector thriving.
The EPA budget is slated for a 23 percent cut, and two U.S. Department of Agriculture programs aimed at incentivizing private landowners to improve land management practices and reduce polluted runoff would be eliminated. Meanwhile, massive dead zones caused by nutrient runoff in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and South Florida directly impact fisheries and tourism.
It is time for the administration and Congress to take the outdoor recreation economy seriously and invest in this sector, and perhaps the BEA statistics will help this process. The availability of this new data should be celebrated, and Americans should demand that these numbers are recognized in every debate about the future of our country’s public lands, waters, and conservation incentive programs.
We can have strong energy, agricultural, and industrial sectors without directly harming the lands and waters that sustain the hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, birding, and biking industries—or the clean air, clean water, and open spaces that all Americans need.
But this will require a different mindset, one that rejects the notion that industrial jobs are somehow worth more than outdoor recreation jobs.
Georgia lawmakers are set to vote on a bill that will help create more funding for conservation, but it could also inspire solutions on the national level
It’s no secret that we’re headed for a conservation funding shortfall in America. Even as sportsmen and women willingly raise our own hunting and fishing license fees, the decline in participation in our sports has real consequences for federal funding models and the state-level agencies that depend on federal dollars to manage wildlife. Federal land managers tasked with maintaining public access and improving habitat could soon see substantial budget cuts, as well.
Many conservation champions are working on new and alternative sources of funding, and some state initiatives may serve as inspiration. In fact, a positive model for the nation is moving through the Georgia state legislature right now.
Though you may not have experienced its trout streams and pine stands, Georgia is an east-coast sportsmen’s paradise, with opportunities to land brookies or trophy-size largemouth bass in the depths of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest or just a few miles outside downtown Atlanta. In fact, a Georgian is more likely than the average American to be an angler. The state is also home to whitetail deer and some of the best remaining bobwhite quail habitat.
Hunting and fishing are not just a way of life here, they’re also an economic engine in the state—more jobs are supported by Georgia’s outdoor recreation businesses than by the state’s powerful automotive industry. And outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, generates almost four times as much consumer spending in Georgia as in the outdoor mecca of Montana.
But, like the rest of the country, there are costly challenges for the state fish and wildlife managers who are charged with carrying out conservation and supporting the region’s sportsmen and women. Balancing the needs of wildlife with development and restoring waterways polluted by agricultural and stormwater runoff requires reliable funding—something that keeps local conservation agency leaders up at night.
So lawmakers are putting one solution to a vote.
The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA) is legislation being considered by the Georgia General Assembly that would dedicate a portion of the current sales tax on outdoor recreation equipment to land conservation. Part of the goal of the legislation is to improve water quality, restore wildlife habitat, and increase public access to hunting and fishing. This dedicated source of funding would mean roughly $20 million in additional funding each year would go toward conservation efforts in the state.
The TRCP is supportive of this effort because it will provide stable, long-term funding for conservation in Georgia, ensuring that fish and wildlife habitat is conserved and sportsmen and women have access to quality places to hunt and fish.
GOSA recently passed the Georgia House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority and is now being debated in the State Senate. But lawmakers have less than 10 days to pass the bill before the end of the legislative session on March 29. At that point, the governor would have to sign the bill so it can appear on the Georgia state ballot in November.
Right now, Georgia residents can contact their State Senator and urge them to support GOSA. Similarly, if your State Representative voted to advance the bill, you should reach out to express your thanks. We’ll be watching hopefully from Washington, where GOSA could serve as a model for the rest of the country. Sportsmen and women will need this kind of thoughtful legislating and creative funding to sustain our hunting and fishing traditions for generations to come.
Top photo courtesy of Jack Kennard.
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