House Passes Legislation to Fund Waterfowl Habitat Restoration
An overwhelmingly bipartisan vote advances the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act
The House has passed the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act (H.R. 925), which would reauthorize a highly successful habitat conservation program benefiting migratory birds and other wildlife at up to $60 million annually through 2024.
Since its inception in 1989, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act has granted more than $1.73 billion and leveraged $3.57 billion in matching funds from local and state partners to complete nearly 3,000 projects on 30 million acres of habitat across all 50 states.
“As many Americans head out to duck blinds or volunteer to band or survey birds this season, it’s great to see the House prioritize a collaborative and popular conservation program to benefit wetlands across the country,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This move to invest in our waterfowl habitat is also timely because wetlands loss will likely accelerate under the EPA’s rollback of Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and headwater streams. We hope to see NAWCA move through the Senate soon so on-the-ground conservation can continue.”
Three Ways You Can Help Improve Fishing Opportunities Today
For many of us, winter is closing in and our days on the water are numbered—make the most of the off-season by taking action for fish and clean water
While I’m hiking to my favorite trout stream or trailering to the neighborhood boat ramp, I’m almost always focused on the day ahead—imagining the line pinched between my index finger and thumb, the breathless anticipation of watching a fish trail my rig, and the heart-stopping joy that takes over after a successful hook-set.
The future is full of possibilities on the morning of a fishing trip. It’s easy to lose sight of the challenges facing the broader future of fishing in America, and how much influence we have as anglers.
With some seasons winding down and winter closing in, take the energy you’d normally put into planning your next camping trip or day on the water and put it toward securing the future of our fishing opportunities.
Here are three things you can do to help America’s fisheries right now.
Tell Congress to Fund Fish Habitat Improvements
There are many threats facing many of our fish habitats, including polluted runoff, coastline degradation, invasive species, aging infrastructure that blocks fish passages, and water mismanagement in places like the Everglades. Often, habitat restoration is too big a job for any one agency—whether state or federal—to address. The National Fish Habitat Partnership was created to tackle these issues with a boots-on-the-ground approach.
One of the country’s most successful conservation programs, this partnership has almost 900 completed programs under its belt and is made up of 20 distinct groups that work across America to bring together state, federal, tribal, and private resources. This approach has enabled partners to boost existing fish populations, improve vast swaths of habitat, and restore rivers to their historic flows.
In Shelbyville, Illinois, for example, the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership has succeeded in activating a group of 100 volunteers and professional fisheries and reservoir managers to improve existing habitat, stabilize shorelines, and restore native aquatic vegetation.
Jeff Boxrucker, the partnership’s lead coordinator, praised the success of this project and its forward-thinking approach, but stressed the program’s need for additional funding. “We need to demonstrate the positive return on investment of restoration efforts to not only ensure continued funding but to show that we have moved the needle.” His group is not alone.
The National Fish Habitat Partnership program has no permanent funding, but a piece of legislation could change that. Known as the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act, this bill would secure reliable funding for NFHP through 2023. Your comments could rally lawmakers to move this bill to a vote—show your support now.
Defend Headwater Streams and Wetlands
In September 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its plan to roll back clean water protections for 50 percent of America’s wetlands and 60 percent of our stream miles. This announcement was made despite the thousands of public comments made by sportsmen and women in opposition to the agencies rule and the 92 percent of hunters and anglers who would strengthen or maintain current safeguards for clean water—not relax them.
Clean, productive wetlands and headwater streams are important for everyone, but essential for hunters and anglers and the species we love to pursue. These ecosystems enhance water quality, control erosion, provide fish and wildlife habitat, and maintain ecosystem productivity—and all of this supports a robust outdoor recreation economy worth $887 billion.
Together we can make a difference and hold the EPA accountable for jeopardizing healthy habitat and strong fisheries. Join the TRCP’s fight for clean water today and support our efforts to keep the Clean Water Act working for wetlands and trout streams.
Support the Forage Fish that Keep Sportfishing Fun
Forage fish make up the base of the marine food chain and include species such as menhaden, herring, anchovies, and sardines. A critical food source for predator fish such as tuna and striped bass, these small fish are essential for a healthy ecosystem.
But commercial fishing pressures are sometimes at odds with the needs of our tiniest baitfish and the sportfish that rely on them for food. Fortunately, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to promote more responsible management and conservation of critical forage fish. In the meantime, we need anglers to take action quickly to prevent further declines in one important Atlantic species.
Menhaden—also known as bunker or pogies—are the preferred forage of striped bass that are suffering on the East Coast, according to recent stock assessments. Menhaden also play a vitally important role as food for red drum, bluefish, tarpon, and summer flounder. But hundreds of metric tons of these fish are removed from the region’s waters every year to be turned into pet food, fish meal, and other products.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will soon implement an ecosystem-based management of menhaden, which will take into account the baitfish’s important role in the broader marine food web. They must also hold commercial fishing operations accountable for harvesting more menhaden than they should—this only robs struggling striped bass of their food source.
Sign our open letter and let the ASMFC know that you support healthy sportfish populations, strong marine ecosystems, and the menhaden fishery.
But that’s not all. Here are three lessons lawmakers learned from anglers and experts who know the real stakes.
We’re Talking About 100% Consumption of the Habitat
Brian Kraft, owner of two remote sportfishing lodges in Alaska and an advocate for Bristol Bay’s salmon for the past 15 years, hosts fishing clients from every state in the nation and not one has failed to remark on how unique the landscape and fishery are. He says he and his wife understand the concerns of businesses in their community as part of the $65-million sportfishing industry in Alaska.
In his testimony, Kraft pointed out that the simple question of “Is this the right place to mine?” can only be answered when you assume that the mine will consume 100 percent of the habitat it touches. In this particular case, you can’t directionally drill and you can’t shift the ore deposit, so the smaller of the two mine proposals would still consume 80 miles of streams and 3,500 acres of wetlands in an area that was legislatively preserved for its fisheries in 1972.
The Army Corps Has Yet to Address the Concerns of Salmon Fishermen
Three generations of Mark Niver’s family have worked as commercial fishermen in Alaska, and as an expert witness, he pointed out that fishermen are just one link in a chain—Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery employs 14,000 people every summer and generates $1.5 billion in worldwide economic activity. But he adds that this wouldn’t be possible without the area’s pristine, undeveloped freshwater habitat and science-based fisheries management. “For over a decade, the proposed Pebble Mine has cast a shadow of uncertainty over my livelihood and my family’s future,” he said. “Nowhere in the world has a mine of this type and size been located in a place as ecologically sensitive as Bristol Bay.”
After weighing in thoughtfully at multiple stages of the lengthy public process to consider the mine, commercial fishermen have not had their concerns adequately addressed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Niver told lawmakers that he fears the permitting process is a runaway train toward approval, despite the science indicating that salmon and Pebble Mine cannot coexist.
Unless the Proposed Footprint is Expanded, the Mine Will Lose Money
In his testimony, geologist and environmental scientist Richard Borden agreed that energy development is necessary in our society, but not all ore deposits can or should be mined. He believes Bristol Bay is the most “sensitive, globally significant, and challenging environmental setting” of any project he’s ever reviewed in more than 30 years of consulting for the mining industry, and the environmental impact statement completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in haste six months ago is deeply flawed. But, perhaps most surprisingly, he points out that the mining company is basing their timeline and promises about impact avoidance on examples of much smaller mines. To construct a mine on a scale that—they say—would minimize environmental risks, investors would certainly lose money, and pressures to expand the mine’s footprint would likely follow.
Now You Have Three Reasons to Get Involved
This testimony gives anglers three more reasons to speak out against Pebble Mine and safeguard habitat and our fishing opportunities in Bristol Bay. Sportsmen and women sent thousands of messages to the Army Corps during the last public comment period, but our lawmakers need to hear from YOU to influence Bristol Bay’s future. Reach out to your senators NOW using our simple action tool.
Podcast: Whit Fosburgh Discusses Conservation on Bass Pro’s Outdoor World
TRCP’s president and CEO Whit Fosburgh appeared on Sirius XM’s Rural Radio channel 147 this weekend to talk about conservation with Bass Pro’s podcast with host Rob Keck. The Outdoor World show airs every Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m. across the nation.
A volunteer effort in Nevada highlights the commitment of wildlife managers and conservationists
Of all the big game species in North America, bighorn sheep hold a special place in the hearts—and dreams—of many hunters. But these animals have been struggling for generations due to a number of factors, such as habitat loss and disease.
Wild sheep conservation sometimes depends on reintroducing these animals to their historic ranges and ensuring that they are healthy once they arrive. In Nevada, there has been tremendous success by the Nevada Department of Wildlife and groups such as Nevada Bighorns Unlimited, Elko Bighorns Unlimited, Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn, and the Wild Sheep Foundation. As a result, our state’s sheep have become a valuable resource for repopulating other areas of the West, growing new herds and pushing back against the many challenges faced by bighorns.
Last week I helped out on a desert bighorn sheep capture project in the Stillwater Mountains (Unit 044/182) of western Nevada. The animals we captured were transported to Utah for release into the Mineral Mountains near Beaver, in the west-central part of the state.
Folks onsite included a lot of staff from the Nevada Department of Wildlife and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, plus several volunteers, including two state wildlife commissioners.
The goal was to have 50 sheep to reestablish bighorns in the Mineral Mountains. The first day was a little slow, only resulting in 15 sheep in the trailer, but when the work was over, 51 sheep had been transported. Even 25 or 30 sheep is enough to get a new herd off the ground.
As you can see, it’s a very intensive process once the sheep are brought in. Wildlife biologists take a myriad of samples and administer injections. The animals’ temperatures are monitored constantly; if they rise too high, water, ice baths, and sometimes IVs are used to lower body temps and alleviate the related stresses.
Before being loaded for transport, each sheep was fitted with a GPS collar that can be monitored remotely. These collars allow researchers and wildlife managers to monitor the health of the transplants and how they utilize their new habitat.
This project was delayed a day, because the capture crew was busy in Arizona capturing pronghorns and other bighorns for migration studies. The helicopter contractor, Quick Silver Air, out of Alaska, is one of the best in the business. I have been on numerous captures with them, and they are true professionals. It’s an extremely dangerous profession, and I shake my head in wonder every time I see it happen.
Most of the photo credits go to my hunting buddy, Patti Lingenfelter, who did a great job of documenting the efforts of all involved. In addition to being a lot of fun, these projects are always a learning experience for me, as well as a testament to the dedication of our wildlife professionals and conservationists of different backgrounds.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.