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Unique conservation partnerships have helped to restore habitat and provide new public hunting and fishing access on nearly 4,000 acres in south-central Florida
Sportsmen and women love a great access success story, but when newly opened hunting and fishing lands also provide a win-win for habitat conservation, that should be breaking news across everyone’s social feeds.
This is one of those stories. It has the grit and tenacity of passionate volunteers and tireless collaborators. And their years of effort are already making a big difference for fish and wildlife in the Everglades, where water mismanagement has created a conservation and infrastructure crisis.
Here’s what you need to know about a project that will establish the first state Wildlife Management Area in Okeechobee County and provide hunting opportunities and recreational access on almost 4,000 acres of formerly private land.
In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Everglades Headwaters Conservation Partnership Area, a relatively new model of land conservation where the objective was to conserve 150,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat in the headwaters of the Everglades ecosystem.
Conservation in an area of this size could never be accomplished by one organization alone. Just look at the scope of the project: The partnership area extends from just north of Lake Okeechobee to the outskirts of Kissimmee just outside Orlando. This kind of conservation requires partnerships on a scale that is rarely encountered, but a unique coalition can already count one big win in the partnership area.
We’re talking about acquisition and restoration of the Triple Diamond Ranch, which lies adjacent to the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park and east of the Kissimmee River. This well-managed private ranch supports wet and dry prairie, which is otherwise globally imperiled. In addition to protecting this rare habitat, planned conservation work on the ranch will provide hydrological benefits as water flows south through the Everglades, restoring wetlands that can hold water and naturally filter out nutrients as flows are gradually released.
The ecological benefits of this project are clear. However, just as significant was the formation of unique alliances, which have paved the way for the property to be purchased, managed well, and eventually opened to the public for outdoor recreation. No single governmental entity was able to purchase the property on its own, so this had to be a team effort. Two nonprofit organizations, the Open Space Institute and the Wyss Foundation, made the initial purchase of the property, and it is now owned and managed collaboratively between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the end, almost 4,000 acres are now in permanent conservation status, with major assists from TRCP partners like the National Wildlife Refuge Association and Ducks Unlimited, as well as local advocates at Audubon of Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Division of State Lands, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
And collaboration continues—these lands will be co-managed by the Florida Forest Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Eventually, the property will be managed as the first state Wildlife Management Area in Okeechobee County, providing hunting opportunities and recreational access on almost 4,000 acres of formerly private land.
This is not just a win for fish and wildlife habitat, sportsmen’s access, and clean water. It’s a model for using conservation partnerships to make measurable progress on Everglades restoration. After all, we’re better together.
Jon Andrew is the Florida outreach coordinator for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. He is recently retired from a 35-year career as a biologist and refuge manager with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, where he eventually became responsible for management of all refuge lands in the southeastern U.S. and Caribbean. In his spare time, he enjoys saltwater flyfishing and poling his skiff in the shallow waters along the southwest Florida coast in search of snook.
Top photo by Andy Wraithmell/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
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
Hometown: Bozeman, Montana
Occupation: Public relations consultant
Conservation credentials: A lifelong sportswoman and advocate.Worked for senators Max Baucus and John Walsh to advance conservation initiatives in Montana and nationally. Currently champions the protection of public lands in Alaska.
Favorite conservation quote: “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.”
For Brianne Rogers, hunting is about experiences shared in the field and around the campfire. Her commitment to conservation has taken her all the way from small meeting rooms in Montana to Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, where she advocates against the seizure of public lands by private interests.
Here is her story.
I was first introduced to hunting by my dad, Brian Rogers. He was raised hunting ducks with his father and still recounts the childhood excitement of bringing birds home to pluck and roast whole.
After college, I moved back to my home state of Montana, got a Labrador retriever, and learned to train her with my dad. We’ve since had endless fun upland bird hunting in Montana and waterfowling across Montana, Canada, and Alaska.
I’ve had so many memorable times hunting, but nothing will match the intensity of hunting for king eiders—a large sea duck—off the coast of St. Paul Island, Alaska. We boarded a 20-foot inflatable boat and struck out into the Bering Sea to navigate eight-to-ten-foot swells.
In conditions like that there’s no staying dry. Instead, you’re being hit with freezing walls of briny water as your captain scans the waves for a line of calm water indicating the edge of the reef. The birds fly this stretch as they’re moving from roosting to feeding areas, and a good captain will position their hunter along this edge to set up for the hunt.
Ours was one such captain.
Eider ducks can fly at speeds of 45 to 65 miles per hour, so once you spot one, you need to mount your gun and lead the bird 10 to 20 feet before firing. Taking one down was so satisfying, because there were no second chances. Anything but a clean hit meant this tough sea bird would dive behind a wave, never to be seen again.
When hunting, location has always mattered less to me than the people I am with. The repartee and storytelling that comes at the end of a long day is hands down my favorite part of a hunting trip.
Hearing others share their favorite tales or having an older, more experienced hunter or colleague remind us of the “good ole days” always bring me back to something my dad shared with me decades ago: “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” The quote is from Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, and I think he captured the vital importance of hunter’s camaraderie perfectly. The shared experience that hunting engenders is so unique, it cannot be built in any other way.
I’ve focused my conservation advocacy on the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska. This 315,000-acre wilderness-and-wetland complex has remarkable expanses of eel grass and is vital to the survival of the world’s population of Pacific black brant and emperor geese. It’s an irreplaceable ecosystem that is facing a lot of challenges.
Designated as a Wetland of International Importance in 1986, this refuge has been beset with attempts by a foreign-owned company to de-list it from protected status in order to build a road that would bisect this wilderness. This seizure of public land has been prevented thanks to the work of many partners, thus avoiding setting a dangerous precedent for the opening of all wildlife refuges, national monuments, wilderness areas, and other public lands to economic development. However, if corporate interests remain, I fear that the threat will persist.
I spent my high school years helping my dad put his Townsend, Montana, ranch into a conservation easement. Every weekend, we planted shelter belts, cleared brush piles, reduced noxious weeds, and eventually watched the wetlands we constructed mature and flourish as a result of more balanced management.
Watching change like this firsthand has showed me what is possible if we bring folks of diverse backgrounds and upbringings together to be good stewards of our private and public lands.
Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a questionnaire.
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Vote highlights bipartisan support for fish, migratory bird, and wildlife habitat
The House Natural Resources Committee today passed two pieces of legislation to conserve habitat for fish, migratory birds, and other wildlife through effective partnerships and regional coalitions.
In a bipartisan vote, the Committee advanced the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (H.R. 925) and the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act (H.R. 1747). Together the two bills create a model for conservation that is driven by local and regional engagement and stakeholder collaboration.
“These pieces of legislation showcase the very best of conservation,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These bills invest in strong on-the-ground coalitions that are improving water quality, restoring habitat, and strengthening our ecosystems. Sportsmen and women are grateful for the Committee’s bipartisan work and urge the Senate to follow suit and advance this legislation.”
“We are elated that the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act was passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee following yesterday’s subcommittee hearing,” said Ed Schriever, chairman of the National Fish Habitat Board. “We appreciate the leadership of Reps. Wittman and Veasey in helping to move this bill through the committee. This legislation will strengthen our efforts to protect, restore and enhance fish habitat and benefit fisheries through the grassroots efforts of our partnerships. We are grateful for the efforts of our partners to advance this legislation, including the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, Trout Unlimited, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, and American Fisheries Society.”
“The sportfishing industry is grateful to the House Natural Resources Committee for passage of the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnership Act, which now moves to the House floor for consideration,” said Chad Tokowicz, the American Sportfishing Association’s inland fisheries policy manager. “Reps. Wittman and Veasey continue to demonstrate their leadership on behalf of our community. This bipartisan legislation will enhance coordination among federal, state, tribal and private entities that support healthy fisheries and create more opportunities for anglers to enjoy their favorite outdoor activity.”
Since its inception in 1989, North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants totaling more than $1.73 billion have leveraged $3.57 billion in contributions from partners to voluntarily protect, restore, enhance, and manage habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. More than 6,200 conservation partners from small landowners to large corporations have teamed up on 2,950 NAWCA projects to benefit more than 30 million acres of habitat. Through the history of the program, NAWCA projects have been implemented in all 50 states.
Established in 2005 by states, federal agencies, businesses, anglers, and the conservation community, the National Fish Habitat Program has made investments in 840 fish habitat conservation projects across all 50 states. The National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act authorizes federal funding for this program and supports the 20 regional partnerships working across the country to conserve priority fish habitats and fish populations. Sportsmen and women can write their decision-makers to support this legislation here.
Top photo by Dr. F. Eugene Hester/USFWS.
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