Guest Blogger Jon Andrew

January 2, 2020

Everglades Restoration Efforts Offer New Hope for Southwest Florida

An ambitious infrastructure project promises relief for the Caloosahatchee River system and new opportunities for sportsmen and women

The Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida has long been troubled by erratic changes in water quality and quantity. A wet summer season brings too much water, while drier times of the year bring too little, and changes in salinity for extended periods of time put the system under great stress. Adding to these problems are excessive loads of nutrients entering the water due to changes in land-use and an ever-increasing human population.

In recent years, these problems have resulted in a large-scale loss of sea grass beds, which in turn affected the local fishery and anglers’ opportunities to chase snook, redfish, and trout.

But thanks to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and collaborative efforts by resource managers, conservationists, and local and state officials, a solution is on the way that will restore habitat, improve water quality, and boost opportunities for sportsmen and women.

Photo: dconvertini via Flickr
An Altered Waterway

Originally the Caloosahatchee drained a basin west of Lake Okeechobee and was fed by rainfall and springs in the region. In the 1880s, however, a canal connecting the river to Lake Okeechobee resulted in a permanent change in the hydrology of the system.

Continued population growth and changes in land use continued over time until the system reached a breaking point. Frequent algae blooms and a recent outbreak of blue-green algae now represent a threat to domestic animals as well as fish and wildlife, and may also pose a health risk to people.

In addition to water quality concerns, sustained periods of very high or very low flows of freshwater result in stress on sea grasses and other marine life. In recent years this produced a large-scale loss of sea grass beds. With the loss of sea grass the local fishery suffers, and opportunities for anglers to enjoy snook, redfish, and trout have diminished.

Photo: South Florida Water Management District
Working Towards a Fix

A solution to these problems started to take shape in 2015, when construction began on the C-43 West Basin Reservoir. When completed, this reservoir, located adjacent to the Caloosahatchee, will span nearly 11,000 acres and provide the capacity to store 170,000 acre-feet of water.

Stormwater runoff and releases from Lake Okeechobee would be stored in the reservoir and released to replicate historic flows in the system. An added benefit will be the reduction in sediment and nutrient loads entering the river and estuary. In addition, a water quality component is being developed while construction is underway. Restored sea grass and filter feeding organisms will also help to improve water quality in the river and estuary.

Major partners in the project include the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Construction funding is being provided by the state with operations and maintenance shared jointly by the federal and state governments.

The project has received support at the highest levels, including the Florida state legislature, the Florida congressional delegation, and Governor Ron DeSantis, who visited the site on October 25, 2019, for the initiation of work on the 15 miles of perimeter canals and 19 miles of embankments needed to complete the project. Overall construction is expected to be completed in 2022.

 

Photo: South Florida Water Management District
A Promising Future

The finished reservoir will provide resource managers with the ability to regulate water quantity and quality in the Caloosahatchee River, San Carlos Bay, and the greater Caloosahatchee estuary. This capability will in turn mitigate potentially harmful releases of water from Lake Okeechobee and allow the lake’s water levels to be managed more flexibly. These measures will help to improve sea grass beds, a valuable marine fishery, and provide more recreational opportunity to fish for trout, redfish, and snook.

While the project’s fundamental purpose is to benefit the river and estuary, the reservoir and perimeter canals will provide new angling opportunities since funding has been included for a recreational component to the project. Anglers will be able to use boat ramps and fish the perimeter canals once the reservoir is operational and fish populations have become established.

All told, this project will be a big win for sportsmen and women and a great example of how conservation partnerships can produce healthy habitat and clean water, as well as the hunting and fishing opportunities that go with them.

 

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: South Florida Water Management District

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Randall Williams

December 19, 2019

Bill to Recruit, Retain, Reactivate Hunters Heads to Trump’s Desk

Bipartisan legislation to keep the government open and invest in conservation to become law 

Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed a bill to safeguard hunting traditions, while paving the way for new investments in conservation.  

Bipartisan legislation to fund the government through September 2020 cleared both chambers and included language allowing excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to be used to address declining hunting participation.  The Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act was one of several key wins in the year-end appropriations bill.

“In times of political rancor, it’s clear that conservation and outdoor recreation unite people from all walks of life,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. This legislation invests in the future of hunting and fishing, public land access, habitat restoration, and ensuring healthy waterwaysWe are thrilled that it is making its way to the President’s desk and we look forward to seeing it become law.”

The bill also included $495 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $200 million for Everglades restoration to reduce harmful algal blooms, $55 million for WaterSMART grants to strengthen fisheries and water efficiency, and $175 million for NRCS Watershed and Flood Prevention Operationsand $73 million for the Chesapeake Bay. 

TRCP Trail Cameras Track Priority Areas for Migration Corridor Conservation

Field staff take to the woods to capture images of elk, deer, and sheep on the move

Like many hunters over the past few months, here at TRCP we’ve been paying close attention to the migration corridors and seasonal ranges used by big game species like mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope.

As landscapes across this country are increasingly fragmented by roads, fences, and human development, maintaining the functionality of these habitats has become an urgent conservation challenge. Meanwhile, a mounting body of scientific research shows that the loss of or disruption to migration corridors and winter range has a severe, negative impact on the health of big game herds.

There’s an old truism that a picture is worth a thousand words, so this fall TRCP took to the field armed with trail cameras to capture some images of these habitats in use. We focused our attention on the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests in northern New Mexico as well as the Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado.

We chose these places because ongoing planning efforts by the U.S. Forest Service will determine how these public lands are managed over the next 20+ years. It is imperative that land-use plans for our National Forests and Bureau of Land Management public lands incorporate the latest research on migration and seasonal range in order to ensure the health of wildlife. And where more research is needed to safeguard these habitats, it is critical that our fish and game agencies receive the resources needed to complete this important work.

By no means was our trail cam experiment a scientific effort—we simply thought it would be a fun way to raise awareness about the issue (and a good excuse to stretch our legs while exploring public lands). Besides, there are many other groups and agencies documenting big game migration using the latest methods and technology to improve our understanding of the issue.

So if you don’t already, follow us on Instagram and over the coming weeks you’ll see some of the wildlife images captured on our trailcams.

Or return to this blog, which will be updated as we release new photos on our social media accounts.

Above all else, be sure to support migration corridor conservation and let decision-makers know that sportsmen and women across the country won’t stand by while threats to our big game herds go unaddressed.

 

 

 

Marnee Banks

December 17, 2019

Senate Committee Passes Legislation to Conserve Wetlands and Fish Habitat

North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act Clear Key Hurdle

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today passed comprehensive wildlife conservation legislation that includes, among other major wins, authorization of two key initiatives that lay the groundwork for stronger management of wetlands, water, and fish habitat.

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act both received unanimous bipartisan support as they made their way to the Senate floor.

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act was originally enacted in 1989 in an effort to restore wetland habitat for ducks, geese, and upland birds, provide flood control, reduce coastal erosion, and improve water quality. The Act is one of the great success stories of the modern conservation era and has funded nearly 3,000 projects through $1.73 billion in grants. More than 6,200 partners have contributed another $3.57 billion in matching funds to conserve 30 million acres of habitat.

“Among a multitude of benefits, wetlands provide excellent waterfowl habitat, contribute to carbon sequestration, and improve coastal resilience,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The North American Wetlands Conservation Act underpins many ongoing efforts to restore and safeguard these landscapes, which are critical to the future of hunting and fishing in America. For thirty years, this law has proven itself the model of conservation investment done right.”

The National Fish Habitat Partnership, a collective of 20 diverse groups across every landscape in America, has already succeeded in boosting fish populations through on-the-ground fish habitat conservation projects. Since 2007, more than 840 projects have been completed across all 50 states. But the future success of these partnerships is perennially threatened because the initiative has no permanent authorization and funding has been cut year after year. The National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act invests in the Program for the first time and formally establishes the National Fish Habitat Board to guarantee all stakeholders—tribes, nonprofits, local and state governments, private sector entities, and the federal government—have a seat at the table.

“Anglers are committed to advancing the conservation efforts of the Partnership,” added Fosburgh. “The National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act tackles some of the biggest challenges to fish habitat conservation head on. The TRCP is proud to be part of this effort moving forward.”

Earlier this year in a bipartisan vote, the U.S. House passed companion legislation for both bills, paving the way for support by Senate Democrats and Republicans.

The legislation passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee today also includes language to reauthorize the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, create a coordinating task force between federal and state agencies on Chronic Wasting Disease, and reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program, a funding stream that helps Bay watershed states meet water quality goals.

“Thanks to the leadership of Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper and committee staff, we move one critical step closer to getting these bipartisan provisions on the President’s desk,” said Fosburgh.

More information about the National Fish Habitat Partnership is available HERE.

 

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Marnee Banks

December 16, 2019

Congress Announces Legislation to Invest in the Future of Hunting and Conservation

Bipartisan bill to keep the government open includes Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act

In one of the biggest conservation victories of the year, bipartisan leadership in the House and Senate released legislation to invest in the future of hunting and secure new investments in wildlife and habitat.

The bipartisan compromise to fund the government through September 2020 includes historic legislation that for the first time allows excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to be used to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters.

As the number of hunters decline nationally, the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act will ensure that millions of more active and engaged outdoorspeople are paying into conservation and supporting some of America’s greatest traditions. This legislation has been a top priority for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which has actively worked to include it in the year-end government funding deal.

“Every time hunters purchase guns and ammo they invest in habitat and wildlife, and this legislation will help avert a major conservation funding crisis,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We cannot underscore the importance of this bill for sportsmen and women, conservation, and the next generation of hunters. We hope everyone in the House and Senate will stand with hunters across the nation and send this to the President’s desk for swift signature.”

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of hunters declined by 16 percent contributing to a decline in funding from hunters.

“This is truly a landmark day for hunting and conservation,” said Fosburgh.

Read more about how the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act supports conservation HERE.

To take action and tell Congress to get this bill across the finish line sign our petition today.

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.

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