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Revision of BLM land-use plan offers an opportunity for policymakers to support sportsmen’s efforts and follow through on the administration’s commitment to access and habitat
On a Saturday morning last month, more than fifty volunteers and several Nevada Department of Wildlife employees assembled at a desert camp in Mineral County for a safety meeting. Several Nevada Bighorns Unlimited board members and NDOW staff went over the plan for the day and cautioned everyone to stay hydrated and work safely.
The job at hand was to repair a wildlife water source called the Lower Paymaster Guzzler in the Gillis Mountain Range east of Hawthorne, Nevada, and to install a second guzzler adjacent to the original. Constructed more than a decade ago to retain water for the local desert bighorn population, Lower Paymaster could no longer support the number of sheep that had come to depend on it, and the structure had been damaged by excessive runoff in recent years. Even though this part of Nevada receives less than six inches of precipitation annually, it often comes as torrential thunder showers.
The Gillis Mountains are one of many important ranges in the 5.3 million acres of public land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management’s Carson City Field Office, where new land-use plans are being finalized right now. Decisions about public land access, habitat management, and development will be made through this process, and the resulting Resource Management Plan will have an impact on Nevada sportsmen and bighorn sheep, deer, and pronghorn populations for the next twenty years or more.
Fortunately, Secretary Ryan Zinke has ordered Interior agencies to expand hunting opportunities and sportsmen’s access on federal lands and improve habitat for big-game populations. If these orders are taken seriously by the Carson City BLM field office, hunters and anglers should be confident that we will be heard in the land-use planning process.
And we’ve sent a clear message: Since 2012, numerous conservation groups have called for the BLM to safeguard important hunting destinations in the Carson City BLM Field Office, including the Excelsior Range, Gillis Mountains, and Gabbs Valley Range. For these areas, Silver State sportsmen have requested that officials maintain public access, prioritize habitat restoration, secure traditional uses, and conserve the best wildlife habitats from future development.
Sportsmen’s groups have also backed conserving key habitat as Backcountry Conservation Areas to achieve these goals and Zinke’s mission. This balanced management tool was included in the draft version of the resource management plan for Carson City, but it is not yet clear if the Backcountry Conservation Area approach will be adopted in the final plan.
We feel the Carson City BLM field office has not publicly demonstrated a strong desire to prioritize sportsmen’s interests in the final land-use plan. If Zinke’s order will not persuade the local BLM to make changes to the plan, we need your help to persuade these local land managers to do right by hunters and anglers in the final RMP.
The volunteers who worked alongside me to build a critical new water source for bighorns and other Nevada wildlife have left their mark, quite literally, on this landscape and the health of these fabled herds. But a chorus of emails from concerned sportsmen is no less tangible when it comes to crafting strong policy measures for the next two decades of responsible public land management.
So please consider taking the time to speak up for Nevada’s public lands. We’ve made it easy to make your voice heard.
Top photo courtesy: BLM Nevada
Three fishing buddies land fish after fish on a stretch of shoreline that is significant to Louisiana sportsmen and conservationists—it was rebuilt with fines from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill after years of incremental habitat loss
I have been spoiled by the fishing in Louisiana for more than 40 years. Many days, my wrists have ached and my fingers have been scarred from landing countless speckled trout and redfish. There are times when, no matter how many fish I’ve caught, I can’t stand to walk out of the surf or point the boat back to the marina, because I know the next cast will mean another thump or topwater explosion.
But there are great days on the water and near-perfect ones, when the wind gods are merciful, the tide is just right, the company and camaraderie is unmatched, and the fish strike ferociously at just about anything cast their way.
I recently had one of these days in a place with particular significance to conservationists who have been following the Gulf Coast’s recovery from one of the worst ecological disasters in American history.
Perfection greeted me and two of my best fishing buddies, outdoor writer Todd Masson and Grand-Isle-area fishing guide Capt. Frank Dreher, on an early May trip to the Fourchon Beach, one of Louisiana’s most popular and renowned spring and summer fishing destinations. Two- to four-pound trout demolished a litany of lures—from topwater plugs and soft plastics to jerkbaits and minnow and shrimp lures—all morning long.
The backdrop for all this incredible fishing action just happened to be the largest coastal restoration project and the largest single investment in the recovery of the Gulf Coast after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, something that meant a lot to three lifelong Louisianans who have seen a lot of beaches, barrier islands, and marshes vanish over the last four decades.
The Fourchon Beach is the westernmost section of a stretch of shoreline known as the Caminada Headland, which, including Elmer’s Island, stretches 14 miles between Caminada Pass and the mouth of Bayou Lafourche, once a main artery from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico about 1,000 years ago. The headland was formed by sediment deposits delivered via the Mississippi and replenished by water-borne river silt until the bayou was dammed at the river around 1900.
For the last century, hurricanes, strong winter storms, subsidence, and tidal currents have eaten away at the headland, causing the beach to retreat about 35 feet per year and threatening the more fragile marshes to its north—not to mention the energy infrastructure of Port Fourchon and camps and homes on Grand Isle, Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island.
This land loss has also threatened the tremendous fishery along the beach, which is popular with boaters as well as wade fishermen. As most seasoned surf fishermen know, the best action of the morning is often right off the sand, giving waders an opportunity to target fish that boat-bound anglers can’t reach. I grew up fishing the Elmer’s beach with my dad, catching stringers of beautiful speckled trout and redfish and dozens of fat blue crabs in the summer.
In 2010, oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill coated this beach. Many of the iconic pictures circulated in the media coverage of the spill, showing sheets of sticky, rust-colored tar mats and brown pelicans coated with oil, were taken at Elmer’s Island and the Fourchon Beach. In August of that year, not long after the Deepwater Horizon well was finally capped, I fished along Elmer’s by boat, catching trout and Spanish mackerel on topwater lures and gold spoons, just like I always have. Wading wasn’t allowed for more than two years after the spill.
Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority were back with more heavy equipment and personnel in August 2013, this time to restore the beaches and dunes, rather than drag and sift them for oil. Using fines paid by the oil company and directed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, more than $200 million was invested to bring in sand from an ancient, sunken headland of the Mississippi River about 35 miles west of the Fourchon.
The entire beach was extended back into the Gulf by about 500 feet, fencing was installed to capture sand and rebuild the dunes, and sea oats were planted to hold the beach together. We at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership joined a host of other conservation and sportsmen’s groups in championing the restoration effort because of the enormous benefit to wildlife and fish and boost to fishing access.
It is a quintessential example of the kind of project that deserves to move forward using oil spill penalties, especially considering that this funding has the potential to leave the Gulf of Mexico a better place than it was before that awful event.
So, it was a proud day to be able to cast just short of the sand on that newly restored beach and set the hook into fat, feisty speckled trout. We watched specks jump clear out of the water, while brown-and-white shrimp skipped across the surface and gulls and pelicans dove all around the boat—it’s a memory that will stay with me for a long time. And, thanks to a wise investment by the state of Louisiana with support from a broad coalition of sportsmen and environmental groups, memories will be made along that beach for decades to come.
In the past two days, committees in both chambers have passed bills to expedite Everglades restoration and advance natural solutions to America’s infrastructure challenges
Congress took major steps this week to advance legislation that includes some benefits for water quality and fish and wildlife habitat across the country.
This afternoon, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed its “Water Resources Development Act” (H.R. 8) with provisions on boosting natural infrastructure and addressing harmful algal blooms, which can shut down fishing access. On Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously passed the “America’s Water Infrastructure Act” (S. 2800), which would help prioritize natural and nature-based solutions to infrastructure challenges, like frequent flooding, and expedite habitat restoration in the Everglades and Lower Mississippi River Basin.
“Both bills would help create opportunities to reduce flood and storm damages in American communities using natural infrastructure, which improves water quality and fish and wildlife habitat at the same time,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Nature-based infrastructure projects, like restoring wetlands and dunes, can be more cost effective than traditional infrastructure in the long-term, so what’s good for habitat is also good for taxpayers.”
If finalized, this legislation would expedite efforts to restore natural water flows through the Everglades and into Florida Bay, which is critical to the health of the fishery and outdoor recreation economy in this bucket-list fishing destination. “Recreational fishing supports more than 26,000 jobs throughout South Florida,” says Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation. “We are pleased that Congress has shown more urgency in making major advances on the largest ecosystem restoration project in our nation’s history.”
Both bills would also authorize a feasibility study of several key habitat restoration projects in the Lower Mississippi River Basin, which supports as many as 91 species of freshwater fish. “Although this region has some of the richest soil and greatest water resources in North America, it is home to some of the most impoverished communities in the nation with poverty rates over 35 percent,” says James L. Cummins, executive director of Wildlife Mississippi and vice president of the Boone and Crockett Club. “This feasibility study will greatly aid us in developing sound conservation solutions and outdoor recreation opportunities that make economic sense for the people who live and work in this very special place.”
Congress aims to pass water resources development legislation every two years to authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out proposed water-related projects. The full House and Senate still need to vote on these two bills and conference them together before sending final legislation to the president’s desk.
Top photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS via flickr.
Neither sportsmen nor scientists want to see more energy development within a renowned mule deer migration corridor, and Secretary Zinke has shown a commitment to conserving this kind of overlooked habitat—what now?
Earlier this year, scientists and the general public marveled at the record-breaking journey of an individual mule deer, Doe #255, which returned to its winter range in southwest Wyoming after summering to the west of Yellowstone National Park and some 240 miles away near Island Park, Idaho. The story made headlines across the country, drawing attention to the seasonal migration of thousands of mule deer between the low-elevation Red Desert and the high alpine country of the Hoback Basin, south of Jackson, Wyoming.
Each spring and fall, these animals travel more than 150 miles through the Red Desert-to-Hoback corridor. Along the way, they pass through public and private lands, crossing fences, roads, deep snowdrifts, housing developments, and rivers as they complete the second-longest land migration in North America.
The Need for Migration Corridor Conservation
In recent years, advances in GPS technology have allowed biologists to track this journey and better understand the importance of seasonal habitats—and fortunately, our policymakers are beginning to catch up. This past February, sportsmen and women celebrated Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s signing of Secretarial Order 3362, which ordered federal agencies to collaborate with states and private landowners to develop guidelines for improving the management of big-game winter range and migration corridors.
For many, Zinke’s initiative is a clear model of federal policy being shaped by the best-available science.
The Secretary’s commitment to conserving big-game habitat faces its first big test in Wyoming. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed 2018 third and fourth quarter lease sale includes a number of parcels located within the Red-Desert-to-Hoback corridor. The leasing of these lands for energy development would risk the degradation of this vital habitat and reduce the amount of usable winter range for mule deer. This could potentially result in further population decline in a herd that has already suffered from habitat loss due to energy development.
Despite popular myth, mule deer do not habituate to energy development, which disrupts their use of seasonal ranges, and long-term studies show that it can be harmful to herds. In all likelihood, sportsmen and women would see an associated reduction of hunting opportunities in numerous areas.
Hunters Take Action
Sportsmen’s groups have been leading the charge on this critical issue. In early May, we joined the Muley Fanatic Foundation, Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, Wyoming Wildlife Federation, and others by sending a joint letter to Secretary Zinke as well as other state and federal decision makers. Our coalition asked that the BLM defer the leasing of those parcels within the migration corridor until the impending completion of the BLM Rock Springs Resource Management Plan and the implementation of Secretarial Order 3362.
The Red Desert to Hoback corridor, the letter concludes, “represent[s] ‘ground zero’ for conserving these vital habitats for big game.” And, given the importance of Wyoming’s wildlife and its hunting traditions, deferring the lease of these parcels until the new guidelines are implemented is the right thing to do.
Opening this migration corridor to new energy exploration would likely result in more conflict over the issue and also pose a threat to the migration itself. What’s more, the parcels under consideration amount to a small fraction of the nearly one million acres proposed for leasing.
Sportsmen and women need to make our voices heard and ask that the BLM’s decision reflects our concerns for the future of fish and wildlife habitat. Secretary Zinke has shown his desire to safeguard hunting’s future, and deferring the lease of this vital mule deer habitat would be a powerful way of doing just that.
Photos Courtesy: @jakeysforkwyoming
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