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August 9, 2019

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August 8, 2019

In the Arena: Doug Duren

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

Doug Duren

Hometown: Cazenovia, Wisconsin
Occupation: Site and land management consultant and contractor; part-time manager of a 400-acre family farm
Conservation credentials: Helped raise $5,500 and led the effort to provide six dumpsters for the proper disposal of deer bones and carcasses to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in southwest Wisconsin. This kept an estimated 1,400 carcasses from being moved or disposed of in areas where CWD could infect other deer.
Conservation motto: “It’s not ours. It’s just our turn.”

Doug Duren has some stories, and you may have even heard a few. He’s a MeatEater podcast regular and good friend of Steven Rinella, but he’s also a lifelong conservationist who has lived closer to the land than many of us can say. In his neck of the woods, chronic wasting disease prevalence has been growing steadily, and Duren is concerned about the role that hunters are playing in the spread of this always-fatal deer disease.

That’s why he spearheaded a project with Hunt to Eat to raise enough funding to place six deer carcass disposal dumpsters across the region for the duration of the 2018 hunting season. (The brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils, and spleen of a deer are the parts most likely to hold the prions responsible for CWD, and bringing carcasses home, to a deer processor, or left in a traditional gut pile could pass the disease on.)

We’re proud to showcase Duren’s incredible work and conservation ethos. Here’s his story.

The person who introduced me to hunting, fishing, and the outdoors was my father, Vincent Duren. But, growing up in Wisconsin farm country, outdoor activities of all sorts were just a part of our lives.

Cazenovia is built around an 80-acre mill pond where all the local kids swam and fished. The hilly terrain of the Driftless Area is filled with trout streams and the farms are a mix of fields, wetlands, and woodlands. So, in the late 1960s and 70s, when I was a kid, my friends and I spent much of our time—after our farm chores were done, that is—exploring, fishing, and hunting this area.

These days, if I could hunt or fish anywhere, I wouldn’t have to go very far. I still love the Driftless Area of the Midwest and all the hunting and fishing opportunities it has to offer. My family has lived in this very special place for five generations, and I feel very fortunate to spend my days working and hunting in this part of the world.

Honestly, it’s enough for me.

Up Close with a Grizzly

But I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lot of memories wherever I find myself in the outdoors. I’ll tell you about a recent one. First, it’s important to note that I’ve known Steve Rinella for a decade or so now, and he and I have become pretty good friends who hunt and fish together fairly often—both on and off camera. I’ve made a lot of friends through Steve and the folks on his crew are some of my favorite people in the world.

Recently, Steve asked me to go on an Alaska caribou hunting trip that would be filmed. I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were joined on the trip by some of my favorite guys from the MeatEater crew: Janis Putelis, Chris Gill, Garrett Smith, and Brody Henderson. Also joining us on the trip was Mark Kenyon, a fellow Midwestern whitetail hunter.

And it turned out to be a series of amazing experiences: Driving through some amazing country. Pushing the weight limit of a Super Cub (much to the chagrin of the pilot.) Landing on what seemed like a postage-stamp-sized area in the alpine tundra. Seeing and being close to more than 5,000 caribou—never mind harvesting one of those amazing animals. The meals, the camaraderie, the incredible vistas, and even the weather couldn’t be beat.

The most amazing part of the trip for me was the encounter we had with a boar grizzly bear. It was the first evening, and we were all setting up camp, prepping gear for the next day, and settling in. Janis was looking for a good water source and was some distance away. Suddenly, I heard him yell, “Grizz!” from across the ridge, and we all stopped what we’re doing to look. Sure enough, there was a light-colored grizzly working its way up a ravine near our camp, eating blueberries “like he was angry at them,” as Steve says.

Photo by Garret Smith/@dirtmyth.

Steve and I walked over to the edge of the ravine with our binoculars to get a better look, and I was just dumbfounded by the beauty of it all. We were traded guesses at its age while tracking the bear as it worked its way up the ravine. Soon, I realized Steve was no longer at my side. A minute later was back with his .300 WinMag over his shoulder.

I said, “Well, clearly I’m in good hands, because I would have stood here like a dummy and watched that bear until he was on top of me.” Steve smiled and said we’d watch him a little bit more, but “we’ll have to let him know he’s not welcome here soon. If he wants to, he can cover the distance between us in a few seconds.”

We made some noise and tried to look as large as we could, to which the bear just stood up, regarded us with no expression, and then slowly wandered off. Even if nothing else happened on that trip, I would have gone home happy. The memory makes me smile with wonder and awe.

A Conservation Legacy

Conservation, too, has been part of my life as far back as I can remember. My family was in the timber and sawmill business for three generations, and the forest on our family farm has been sustainably managed for even longer than that.

I took a couple years off from college and worked for a reforestation company, traveling around with a bunch of other gypsies and hand-planting trees throughout the South. I went for the adventure, but that experience really showed me how important conservation was, no matter what I did or where I lived.

I also taught high school for a number of years in northern New Hampshire, where I worked on a trail maintenance crew in the White Mountains during the summers. The work was hard, the people were incredible, and I spent a lot of time in and caring for access to places that are awe inspiring.

I’ve worked in land management for nearly 30 years now, and conservation is one of the key elements and considerations in everything I do. There is such joy in it.

It’s from this perspective and with all this experience that I say chronic wasting disease is the biggest conservation challenge where I live. There are other concerns, like water quality, resource protections, and access issues, but nothing is as bigger crisis than CWD.

So, in 2018, the Adopt-a-Dumpster Program was born out of a need for proper deer carcass disposal in the CWD Endemic Area of southwest Wisconsin. The intent was to mitigate the spread of CWD by providing dumpster locations around the area where hunters could properly dispose of deer bones and carcasses, thus removing possible infected deer parts from the landscape. And in some cases, dumpsters were located at CWD testing locations.

Six dumpsters were fully funded for the 2018 hunting season, with partial funding provided for three other locations run and monitored by two organizations and one business. Throughout the season, we collected more than 39 tons’ worth of carcasses, and we learned valuable lessons that could help this effort expand.

We saw that our Adopt-a-Dumpster Program and other Adopt-a-Kiosk programs, because they involve and empower hunters and landowners, provide an opportunity for discussion and education about CWD and proper carcass disposal. This kind of interaction and advocacy is invaluable, especially as some efforts to control CWD get twisted to look like a loss of hunting rights.

Some areas were unable to secure a dumpster because there was not a solid waste provider in the region who was willing to take deer carcasses as part of their services or to their landfill. It would help if the Wisconsin State Legislature considered legislation requiring licensed landfills to accept and properly dispose of deer carcasses. Lawmakers could also allocate funding specifically for the disposal effort. A voluntary check-off box on deer license applications could be another source of dedicated funding for disposal.

Hunters will likely continue to support this kind of effort. And it follows that organizations and businesses concerned about the health of the deer herd or the future of hunting should get involved, too.

 

Do you know someone In the Arenawho should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

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August 7, 2019

Sportsmen Respond to Forest Service’s Plans for Southwestern Colorado

New management guidelines address some priorities for hunters and anglers, while other important areas were excluded from needed management direction

Yesterday, the Rio Grande National Forest released its Final Environmental Impact Statement and final Land Management Plan for the forest. The planning process involved nearly five years of engagement by hunters and anglers and provides high-level direction for management of these crucial resources over the next 20 years. The final Rio Grande National Forest plan will be the first to be finalized under the new planning direction and will serve as an example for future forest plans.

Overall, sportsmen and women are considering the pluses and minuses regarding a new plan for the management of 1.86 million acres in southwestern Colorado that includes important big game winter and migratory habitats, vital riparian and aquatic areas, a stronghold for Rio Grande cutthroat trout, and thousands of acres of excellent backcountry hunting and fishing opportunities.

Some important aspects of the new planning rule will have big impacts on hunting and fishing. The Forest Service will be placing greater focus on landscape-level management, social and economic sustainability, ecological sustainability, plant and animal diversity, and the use of the best available scientific information. The Rio Grande plan addresses these areas of focus, but also lacks sufficient management direction for some areas that are crucial for fish and wildlife in the field office.

“This plan does well to ensure quality hunting and fishing opportunities over the life of the plan in some regards, while other areas need improvement” said Nick Payne, Colorado representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re glad that that the Forest Service took our community’s input throughout this process and incorporated some of it into the final plan. This includes the addition of bighorn sheep to the list of species of conservation concern, and the clear direction from the planning rule.”

“While the positive changes are appreciated,” Payne said, “it’s also important that the Forest Service take steps during the objection period to address ‘Special Interest Areas’ so they’re managed as needed to help maintain our outdoor traditions on the Rio Grande National Forest and surrounding lands. This 60-day objection period is our last chance to get this right.”

The release of the draft plan starts a 60-day objection period, ending October 1st, during which members of the public can raise objections to specific parts of the proposed plan.

Details on how to comment can be found here: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=46078

 

 

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August 5, 2019

Forest Service Unveils Final Changes to Sage Grouse Conservation Plans

Amended plans for 5 million acres of sage grouse habitat follow a concerning trend

The U.S. Forest Service has released its final proposed amendments and records of decision for plans to conserve greater sage grouse habitat in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. The new plans replace forest plans from 2015, which helped to give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confidence that the bird did not yet require listing as threatened or endangered.

While these state-specific plans maintain the basic framework of the originals, which were created through years of collaborative effort, there is concern that the new plans do not provide the same safeguards for certain sagebrush habitats. Priority habitat has been reduced and there is more potential for development and mineral extraction within sage grouse habitat in the new plans.

Similar changes were made to the Bureau of Land Management’s sage grouse conservation plans earlier this year.

“While perhaps not surprising, these changes are another mixed bag, with some addressing legitimate concerns from the states and others rolling back smart protections for core sage grouse habitat,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Ultimately, we need federal land managers to commit to an approach that produces positive results for sage grouse habitat and populations. And we will continue working with the Forest Service, BLM, Western states, industry, and local partners to ensure that happens.”

The final plans identify and address potential environmental impacts for 19 national forest units with more than 5 million acres of potential greater sage grouse habitat. In this version, the strongest level of habitat protection given in the 2015 plans were weakened for more than 865,000 acres of sagebrush focal areas in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, and overall priority habitat management areas were reduced by about 160,000 acres.

General habitat management areas were removed altogether in Utah. While the original no-surface occupancy policy remains—meaning infrastructure for development cannot be built on priority habitat—the revised plans also give the Service and BLM more flexibility to waive these protections if they feel it’s necessary.

Unlike the BLM’s new stance on habitat mitigation, the Forest Service retained its compensatory mitigation requirements to offset the impacts of development in sage grouse habitat. However, for all states except Nevada, the plans shift the bottom-line goal for conservation away from a habitat gain to a no-net-loss standard.

This is really the least the agency can do to retain existing habitat, but it might not keep these birds off the endangered species list in the future, which was the goal when mitigation was included as a fundamental component of the 2015 plans. We can support better alignment with the states’ individual approaches to mitigation, but all habitat impacts must be mitigated and should also account for the future risk of losing the habitat.

The release of these new plans kicks off a 60-day objection period that will end October 1, 2019, and final decisions will be made by the Forest Service in December. At this point, it will be important for all federal agencies to move forward swiftly with implementation of these new plans to conserve sagebrush habitat and begin tracking the effectiveness of conservation measures.

Dr. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reminded us of this when the BLM plans were released: “The outcomes for sage grouse and sagebrush conservation and management must be legally defensible. If the agencies do not provide enough regulatory certainty, if there is too much flexibility leading to negative impacts on habitat, or if we find out later that actions were not effective, we will likely end up facing legal challenges deeper than those from the past. At that point, it’s difficult to see a future where sage grouse aren’t reconsidered for listing.”

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July 31, 2019

Senate Committee Passes Highway Bill with Funding for Wildlife Crossings

This is good news for states looking to put in overpasses, underpasses, and culverts where busy roads intersect with fish and wildlife habitat

In a 21-0 vote, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a bipartisan highway bill with a major priority for sportsmen’s groups and wildlife managers: The legislation would carve out $250 million in dedicated funds over the next five years for wildlife-friendly roadway crossing structures like overpasses, underpasses, and culverts that connect fragmented fish and wildlife habitat.

The TRCP and our partners have been calling for this dedicated funding for months as the clock ticks toward expiration of the 2015 highway bill’s authority at the end of September 2020. More than 40 sportsmen’s groups signed a letter to congressional leadership in April 2019 asking for a competitive grant program with at least $50 million annually be directed toward the planning, design, and construction of wildlife crossing projects.

These innovative enhancements to our roads and highway infrastructure should reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife and integrate habitat connectivity into highway planning, so fish and wildlife are not an afterthought.

In other good news, the Senate’s highway bill includes a title dedicated specifically to climate change for the first time ever. The climate change section creates grant programs encouraging all manner of innovations aimed at reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector and funding projects meant to enhance the resiliency of our transportation systems during natural disasters.

The latter, which is called the PROTECT grant program, would specifically prioritize the use of natural infrastructure to improve not only the function of roads and bridges, but also overall ecosystem conditions. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) deserve our thanks and appreciation for these forward thinking and innovative provisions.

A passenger road through Kaibab National Forest. Photo by David Hercher/US Forest Service.
A Maintenance Backlog in the Making?

Unfortunately, the highway bill on the move in the Senate misses one major opportunity to improve funding for a program that helps federal agencies maintain passenger roads through public lands. The Federal Lands Transportation Program would provide relatively generous funding for the National Park Service to manage its tens of thousands of miles of roads with $350 million in funding. But with only $26 million for the U.S. Forest Service, the highway bill undercuts an agency that is responsible for hundreds of thousands of miles of passenger roads.

In fact, the Forest Service is perennially overlooked when it comes to FLTP dollars, which contributes to the growing maintenance backlog at the agency. And these are not your off-grid high-clearance roads that are being neglected—many local residents rely on roads through public lands to get to work and school each day.

It’s the House’s Move

The TRCP will raise the issue of this imbalance with House lawmakers as they craft a companion bill, and we’ll continue to emphasize the importance of dedicated funding for wildlife crossings in any highway bill that moves forward.

In case you need convincing, we gathered reporters and partners last week to lay out all the reasons why the five-year highway bill is a golden opportunity to prioritize habitat connectivity and conservation within migration corridors. Here’s what our experts had to say.

This photo by Wyoming Department of Transportation is from a camera that was mounted inside an underpass on US 30 in Nugget Canyon, Wyoming, after construction was completed on six new underpasses and several miles of game-proof fencing. Wyoming DOT monitored the effectiveness of these crossing structures for three years and documented more than 49,000 mule deer crossings during that study.
Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer, TRCP

We are calling on Congress to pass a 2020 Highway Bill that invests in wildlife, safety, and the future of our nation’s infrastructure system.

The hunting and fishing community is asking for a dedicated funding source in the 2020 Highway Bill for the construction of wildlife crossings in areas that are heavily used by animals. This investment will benefit wildlife and protect motorists.

According to the Highway Loss Data Institute… between 2014 and 2017, drivers filed more than 1 point 8 million animal-strike insurance claims, mostly involving deer.

These claims were made at an average cost of about 3 thousand dollars each, totaling more than 5 point 4 billion dollars in damages paid by the insurance industry in just four years. This doesn’t include the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent annually by state wildlife and transportation agencies to deal with wildlife-vehicle collisions, nor the costs of human and wildlife injury of even loss of life.

New technology allows us to see where wildlife activity near highways is greatest and where animals migrate across the landscape. When overlaid with maps of our highway system, wildlife movement data can identify vehicle collision “hotspots” and where roadways fragment critical habitat.

But the risk of vehicle collisions can easily be minimized or even eliminated.

For decades, the Highway Bill has been a tool for building roads and bridges and creating jobs. We aren’t asking for that to change. We are asking for a small portion of the investment in the new 2020 Highway Bill to be used specifically for construction of wildlife-friendly road crossings. Often, these projects are not prioritized by state departments of transportation without the existence of dedicated funding.

Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper are drafting the Senate version of the 2020 Highway Bill right now, and we urge them to work together in a bipartisan manner to make these smart investments for wildlife and people.

Back in February, TRCP convened 80 officials from 11 state wildlife agencies, 12 state departments of transportation, 3 federal agencies, and several non-profits to discuss solutions to wildlife-vehicle collisions.

The result was a shared understanding that there needs to be more done at a federal level to empower states… so they can prioritize smart crossing projects in high-risk areas.

Since then, we’ve seen support from dozens of conservation groups and thousands of individuals across the country who believe the Highway Bill provides a golden opportunity to invest in wildlife crossings.

We also appreciate the Western Governors’ Association for acknowledging the importance of migration corridors and the threat of wildlife-vehicle collisions. A recent WGA resolution called for funding and provisions in the next Highway Bill to support fish and wildlife crossings and habitat connectivity.

There is strong momentum and support for this. We just need Congress to act.

Photo by Colorado Department of Transportation.
Miles Moretti, president and CEO, Mule Deer Foundation

MDF has been concerned about the impacts of big game-vehicle collisions for several years. We have worked with several state wildlife agencies on this issue, and we encourage Congress to pass a 2020 Highway Bill that invests in wildlife, safety, and the future of our nation’s infrastructure system.

In February 2018, then-Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, signed a Secretarial Order on migration corridors and big game winter ranges. This provided the spark to State Wildlife Agencies, DOI, and NGOs to start working closer together to understand the migration corridors of mule deer, elk, and pronghorns.

We have all heard of the tremendous migrations of these three species in Wyoming, but every Western state has migratory big game herds. Many of these big game migrations cross a major transportation corridor. The loss can be hundreds of animals each year as they migrate in the fall and again in the spring.

Highway crossing structures are the key to getting these animals across the highways safely, thus reducing the number of animals lost by as much as 90 percent, but also reducing damage to vehicles and human injuries.

The SO provided much needed funds to the state wildlife agencies to monitor these herds and analyze the massive amount of data we are receiving from new GPS radio-collar data. As Christy said, these radio collars allow biologists to monitor migrations and pinpoint where a majority of the animals are crossing highways. Building structures in the correct spot is key to them being successfully used by big game.

There has been proven success at structures that have already been built. Hundreds of crossings by big game animals have been documented. And winter ranges once cut off by highways are now available to these animals.

That’s why we need a dedicated fund that will allow these crossing structures to be built.

Photo by Katie Theule/USFWS
Joy Bannon, policy director, Wyoming Wildlife Federation

Recent work by the Wyoming Wildlife and Roadways Initiative Implementation Team, which is a collaborative partnership, has focused on identifying opportunities to reduce the conflict between roads and wildlife. This work, as well as the 16 wildlife crossing structures the WYDOT has already installed, have made Wyoming a national leader in understanding where big game crossing needs are most urgent and in designing and deploying safe crossing infrastructure along our roadways.

Solutions such as crossing structures, activated warning signs, and animal detection systems can produce dramatic reductions in place-based wildlife-vehicle collisions. Here in Wyoming, the 16 wildlife crossing structures near Pinedale, Kemmerer, and Baggs have been examples of success: They have reduced collisions by 80 to 90 percent and created more connected habitat for the animals.

Wyoming has illustrated the success of these investments in reducing collisions without interference to ranching or other private or commercial operations along our roadways. Through a thorough and collaborative process, the Wyoming Wildlife and Roadways Initiative identified 40 priority areas where more investment in crossing infrastructure is needed, with 10 sites highlighted for most immediate action.

Roads are also a major obstacle for animals to cross, hindering their ability to access critical habitat. Through its research using GPS collars on big game animals, the University of Wyoming has demonstrated that certain migrations north and south of Interstate-80 actually STOP where the historical migration corridor meets the highway—thus limiting habitat for pronghorns and mule deer.

Every day there are families on the roads who accidentally hit a deer, turkey, or—in Wyoming, for example—even bison. In fact, 15 percent of all reported vehicle collisions in Wyoming involve big game animals. Every year, more than 6,000 deer, antelope, elk, and moose are hit by vehicles on Wyoming roads. These collisions can be serious or even deadly.

In addition, accident costs are high: Nearly $50 million annually is spent on damages to vehicles, human injury expenses, and loss of wildlife. This doesn’t even count the millions of dollars spent by our state Department Of Transportation, first responders, and other agency taxpayer dollars to address these collisions.

We want to see improvements in roadway safety and through more dedicated funding in the forthcoming transportation and infrastructure bills we can implement these wildlife crossings. We have a solution here, and the fix is based on dollars invested.

This country deserves healthy wildlife populations and safe roadways for our children, parents, and grandparents. We are able to achieve this by improving our nation’s infrastructure system. This is a bipartisan effort but, more importantly, it is an American effort to keep us safe on our roadways.

Click here to take action and urge Congress to remain committed to wildlife crossings in the upcoming Highway Bill.

 

Top photo by Colorado Department of Transportation.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

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.

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