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Annual flooding on the Mississippi River is part of life in South Louisiana
Each year, the Mississippi swells with late winter and spring rain and snowmelt, carrying sediments from the Midwest and the Great Plains down to the Gulf of Mexico. Before levees the length of the river were built to tame floods and help navigation, the swollen river would spill over into the swamps and marshes of Louisiana’s coast, building an intricate web of coastal rivers, bayous, ponds, lakes, bays, and thick, lush marshes.
The land underneath my house in Baton Rouge was built in the last 15,000 years by that annual flooding. The towns of Dulac, Dularge and Grand Isle, where I will launch from to fish in the coming days and weeks are built on land created by the great river in the last 5,000 years.
If the average annual flood is a garden hose, the floods of 2018 and 2019 are a fire hydrant that nobody can figure out how to turn off.
The Mississippi has been above the highwater mark (8 feet on the New Orleans gauge) for going on 230 days and there is no sign it will go below that mark in the coming month. While high water makes shipping more treacherous and dirties adjacent bays, the Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t act to protect New Orleans from flooding until the river gets to between 16 and 17 feet, prompting the opening of the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway, a floodgate located about 25 miles upstream that can direct about a quarter of the river’s flow into Lake Pontchartrain and take pressure off levees that protect the city.
This year, Bonnet Carre’ has been open for a record number of days–86 and counting. And it appears that number will grow to at least 95 days before its gates are shut for good. The old-timers talk about 1973 being the year the Mighty Mississippi almost broke free of its shackles. And the real old timers talk about 1927 when the river experienced unprecedented flooding. Now we have 2019 to add to the annals.
Generally, June is when the river begins to drop below flood stage and settle into its summer and fall channel, and when conditions downriver begin to change as the Gulf of Mexico’s green, saltier waters take over coastal bays southeast of New Orleans.
But this year the flood keeps pushing past and as a result silt-heavy freshwater from the Mississippi, Pearl, Atchafalaya, and Sabine Rivers has inundated coastal lakes and bays across Louisiana’s coast well into the summer. Sure, we understand summer doesn’t start until June 21 on the calendar, but once the thermometer touches 90, it’s summer. And that happened about a month and a half ago.
The muddy waters have some Louisiana anglers discouraged, assuming it’s just not worth the effort to put the boat in the water. But many have persevered, adapting to the freshwater influxes and finding speckled trout and redfish concentrated in areas adjacent to the freshwater, where there is enough salinity for them to feed on the shrimp, mullet,menhaden, and even freshwater shad, bluegill and crawfish that come with the floods. It’s far from an ideal summertime situation, but in some cases the fishing has been outstanding even in areas inundated by river water.
Often, Louisiana anglers lose sight of how adaptive the fish and animals can be. Speckled trout and redfish didn’t show up in Louisiana after levees were built along the Mississippi River. They were here long before that and live here because of the habitat, nutrients and food supplied by the river, not in spite of it. The speckled trout that have left coastal marshes and lakes close to the river to find saltier water this spring and summer will return this fall when the Gulf pushes back against the river,and the Gulf will most certainly push back. Then those fish will find areas full of vegetation, food, and new habitat.
Hopefully this year’s flood will be the catalyst for a serious examination of the way the Mississippi River is managed top-to-bottom. The strategy of narrowing the river, forcing it higher and higher through levees seems to be a failing approach in many parts of the country. Sediment is building up in areas throughout the basin, leading to reduced storage capacity during floods while areas downriver need more sediment to keep up with subsidence.
Those who make policy and folks who live and fish along the great river will have to adapt to what the present and future will bring, just like the fish residing in our favorite coastal lakes and bays have had to change over time.
After sportsmen and women urged Congress to invest in solutions, spending bill contains new funding dedicated to combatting CWD in wild deer
A House spending bill for federal agriculture, interior, and environmental agencies (H.R. 3305) has passed with amendments that create new dedicated funding to research, test for, and battle chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease discovered in deer and elk populations across more than half the U.S.
Led by Representatives Veasey, Gosar, Kind, and Abraham, an amendment to the House’s Agriculture Appropriations bill will send $15 million to the states to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer.
“Chronic wasting disease is a dangerous and contagious condition affecting deer, elk, and moose in 26 states and over 250 counties,” said Representative Marc Veasey (D-Texas). “The disease spreads to new counties and states every year, threatening our wild deer populations rises. State fish and wildlife agencies are doing their best to combat the spread of this disease with the limited resources they have, but they need more support from the federal government to ramp up their efforts and effectively respond to both new and ongoing outbreaks in wild deer populations. That’s why I introduced a bipartisan amendment to dedicate new resources in the fight to contain and eventually eradicate the disease. My amendment designates an additional $12 million to be sent to state fish and wildlife agencies, bringing the total to $15 million, and I was glad to see the it adopted by the House of Representatives.”
Reps. Gosar and Abraham successfully introduced a second amendment that will direct $1.72 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to research chronic wasting disease and improve the effectiveness of testing methods.
“Research into chronic wasting disease and enhanced testing methods will help give hunters the confidence they need to continue to harvest wild deer, elk, and moose,” said Representative Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) “I look forward to continuing to address threats posed by CWD in order to conserve resources for sportsmen and protect America’s hunting traditions.”
Together, these amendments allocate a total of $16.72 million to fighting CWD in wild deer. It’s the first time that some portion of funding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which maintains a certification program for captive deer operations that take precautions against CWD, could be used to benefit wild deer herds.
“This is a major milestone in our effort to combat CWD and preserve our hunting traditions,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of TRCP. “This new funding will support states in their efforts to keep deer herds healthy. We want to thank House appropriators for taking this first step, and we urge the Senate to prioritize these investments, as well, so Congress can pass legislation that tackles this epidemic head–on.”
The Senate has yet to release its version of the appropriations bill.
This news comes on the heels of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s advocacy
push to include increased resources for responding to CWD in the Agriculture Appropriations bill. The TRCP has rallied more than 1,500 sportsmen and women to contact their lawmakers and ask for these investments.
Take action and urge senators to include these investments in their appropriations bills.
Nearly 3,000 hunters will take to the field in the Ruby Mountains this fall, but first we must defend this habitat
Results for the Nevada Department of Wildlife big game tag drawings came out late last month, and tags are currently making their way to the mailboxes of successful applicants.
More than 2,700 tags were issued to hunters who will be able to pursue deer in area 10, which includes the backbone of Nevada’s largest mule deer herd—the unparalleled Ruby Mountains. Additionally, 150 elk tags were given out for a depredation hunt in the Rubies under the statewide elk management plan. Finally, eight very lucky hunters have drawn what could be called the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hunt mountain goats in three units within the Ruby and East Humboldt ranges.
In the coming months, these tagholders and their families and friends will be making scouting trips, most likely to be combined with fishing, camping, and hiking in Rubies, as well as the Ruby Lakes Wildlife Refuge, an area known to Nevadans as the Ruby Marshes. Approximately 10 percent of these sportsmen and women will be from out of state, and their spending will bring substantial income to rural Nevada businesses.
Many of these recreationists will be enjoying the area for the first time, while others will be returning to traditional hunting grounds, where they have a long history. All will be building lifelong memories of a special place. I know what that is like.
I tagged my first mule deer buck in the Ruby Mountains more years ago than I care to admit. At just 13 years old, it was where I learned some of the most formative lessons about woodsmanship and the outdoors from close friends and relatives. That November hunt was an adventure I’ll never forget and is still one of my favorite stories to tell.
The Rubies are indeed a special place. But this habitat could be changed forever if we don’t speak out for fish, wildlife, and our outdoor recreation opportunities.
A Landscape Under Threat
Sportsmen and women need to be aware of an ongoing threat to the Ruby Mountains and how they can help. Nearly two years ago, 54,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in the Rubies were nominated for oil and gas leasing. After months of careful consideration, the forest supervisor officially decided not to allow leasing of those parcels.
In late January 2019, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto went even further and introduced the Ruby Mountain Protection Act (S. 258) to withdraw 450,000 acres of Forest Service land on the Rubies and East Humboldt Range from oil and gas leasing. The bill had a hearing in May and now awaits further action.
At approximately the same time, additional “expressions of interest”—the mechanism by which parcels are nominated for leasing—were filed for some of the same areas as the original request, as well as other parcels in the southern Rubies. Mule deer migration corridors flank both sides of the mountains, where Nevada’s largest deer herd moves from the high-elevation summer and fall range to its southern winter range.
Oil and gas exploration could negatively impact those corridors. But Cortez Masto’s bill would be a major step forward in protecting and conserving these critical habitats.
Time to Act
S. 258 would be a huge win for anyone who care about this special place, and sportsmen and women need to speak up in support of this legislation.
Still, we can do even more to protect the outdoor opportunities in this area. The Ruby Marshes, nestled against the southeastern corner of the Ruby Mountains, are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and now is our opportunity to see that they are protected as part of the larger bill. Please ask lawmakers to add the Ruby Lakes National Wildlife Refuge to the lands included in Cortez Masto’s bill to ensure that the hunting and fishing traditions in this area remain intact for future generations.
Learn more and take action at SportsmenfortheRubies.com.
Photo: Tom Hilton via Flickr
Draft public lands management plan shows some promising provisions in the preferred alternative, some areas in need of improvement
Canon City, Colo. – On Monday the Bureau of Land Management made public its Royal Gorge Field Office (RGFO) draft Resource Management Plan, which when finalized will guide management decisions over the next few decades on 600,000 surface and 6.8 million subsurface acres of public lands.
A coalition of ten hunting- and fishing-related groups and 23 local businesses have been working alongside a wide range of stakeholders over the past several years to ensure that high-value backcountry hunting and fishing areas are accessible and big game populations conserved in the Royal Gorge Field Office. While sportsmen would like to see some changes to the final plan, the response to the draft plan was generally positive.
“South Park-area BLM public lands offer some truly amazing and wide-ranging opportunities for sportsmen and women,” said Nick Payne, Colorado field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This is particularly true in the Upper Arkansas River area, which supports a great deal of recreation. By making a few adjustments to secure sportsmen’s priorities in the final plan – especially for key backcountry hunting areas – the BLM could make this land use plan a success.”
Safeguards for key hunting and fishing lands have been one focus of a years-long community-driven planning process for the South Park area. While some changes have been made to management provisions in the South Park Area, hunting and fishing groups believe this part of the plan remains largely true to the desired outcomes expressed by the community and various stakeholders.
“Although there have been some changes in presentation of the South Park management in the draft RMP, we feel good about where this planning process is headed and believe the community’s priorities can be represented in the final plan,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, who has been on the forefront of these efforts since the first discussions in 2011. “Sportsmen, women, and wildlife enthusiasts will remain involved in this process as constructive partners to ensure that the final plan benefits the iconic South Park landscape and community.”
Terry Meyers, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, pointed out the importance of this plan to Colorado’s bighorn sheep hunters, “Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunting units in the RGFO offer hunters the chance to pursue this iconic Western species in Colorado every year. We encourage the BLM to conserve valuable intact habitat and hunting areas in the final plan”
“This process isn’t over yet and there are some things we’d like to see improved,” continued Payne. “But we also appreciate the work put into this plan by the BLM and we will remain at the table to see this process through to completion. We believe it can be a success.”
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More