Randall Williams

February 14, 2020

TRCP Recognizes Governor Gordon’s Leadership in Executive Order on Migration Corridors

Stresses need for long-term commitment to see the conservation of vital big-game habitats

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed an executive order this week prioritizing the conservation of big-game migration corridors.

The TRCP responded to the directive:

“We appreciate Governor Gordon’s leadership on big-game migration corridors with his Executive Order,” said Nick Dobric, Wyoming field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We have incredible wildlife populations and hunting opportunities in Wyoming, and we hope that the Governor’s directives will help conserve these resources for decades and generations to come.”

During the summer of 2019, Governor Gordon tasked an advisory group of eight citizens—each representing various interests, including sportsmen—with devising a solution for migration corridors that would conserve the corridors while being consistent with multiple uses of the land. After three long sessions, the group recommended the governor could best address the issue through an executive order that would set up a process for more public involvement and limit development in designated corridors, with emphasis on stopover and high-use areas.

Subdivisions, fences, roads, and energy development all contribute to the loss of big-game habitat and impede the migrations of these animals between the seasonal habitats on which they rely. Land-use planning decisions on state and federal lands can have a determinative effect on the function of these habitats. This includes the proposed management objectives in the Rock Springs draft Resource Management Plan that is expected this Spring and will have implications for the Sublette Mule Deer herd, which depends upon the 150-mile migration corridor commonly known as the Red Desert to Hoback.

“This week’s action should be viewed as a renewed commitment, not a final step, to see migration corridors conserved over the long-term in Wyoming. Sportsmen are hopeful that the governor’s directives will be applied to the Rock Springs draft RMP, which overlaps with the designated Sublette corridor,” said Dobric. “We are counting on the BLM to support state management objectives for this deer herd and apply conservation measures that protect its future.”

Many of Wyoming’s big game herds depend on migration corridors in areas that have yet to be formally identified and designated. While the Order does not apply to areas outside of designated corridors, the science does support similar measures to conserve habitats and allow for multiple uses in other areas. Wyoming Game and Fish has been at the forefront in the West due to their efforts to gather the best science to inform their big game management. Years of captures and collaring, funded by sportsmen and others, gives the state a strong foundation for expanding its efforts so that conservation measures can be put into practice on the ground for migrating big game.

“Wyoming has been a leader of migration science, as well as the policy, for over a decade,” said Dobric. “The TRCP will continue to work with the Governor, state and federal agencies, sportsmen, and other stakeholders to implement this Order and ensure the continued functionality of big-game migration corridors.”

 

Photo courtesy: BLM Wyoming

Do you have any thoughts on this post?

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Four Rivers BLM Land Use Plan Revised to Address Priorities of Hunters and Anglers

Final plan includes key provisions to benefit wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation

The Bureau of Land Management today released a land use plan that will support outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve important big game habitat on public lands north of Mountain Home and east of Boise in western Idaho.

When finalized, the BLM’s proposed Resource Management Plan for the Four Rivers Field Office will determine how the agency will manage approximately 750,000 acres of public lands, including the Boise Front, the eastern flanks of Brownlee and Oxbow reservoirs, and the Hixon Sharptailed Grouse Area.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership worked with landowners, local government officials, and other stakeholder groups, and helped activate hunters and anglers to provide meaningful feedback on the draft plans that was then incorporated into the final proposals.

“Sportsmen and women spoke up in support of additional management emphasis for hunting, access, and habitat improvement under the final plan, and we appreciate that the BLM listened to our community’s requests,” said Rob Thornberry, Idaho Field Representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This plan will benefit quality wildlife habitat and recreational access in places like the Bennett Hills, which is great news for those of us who care about Idaho’s strong outdoor traditions.”

The popular public lands in central and western Idaho to which the revised plan will apply help fuel the state’s $7.8-billion outdoor recreation economy, provide important wildlife habitat, and support various traditional uses of the land. These landscapes include IDFG Hunting Units 39, 43, 44, and 45, which offer some of the state’s best mule deer hunting.

“The Bennett Hills provide vital winter range and outstanding hunting opportunities for one of Idaho’s most important mule deer herds,” said Ford Van Fossen, conservation and content manager for First Lite, a Ketchum-based manufacturer of hunting apparel. “We want to thank the BLM for adopting measures in the Four Rivers RMP that prioritize wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.”

The revision process was formally initiated with a scoping phase in early 2016 and the BLM published its draft plan with a number of proposed alternatives in May 2019. While several wildlife- and recreation-friendly provisions to improve access and habitat were considered in the draft plan, most were not included in the preferred alternative at that stage of the process. Hunters and anglers spoke up and requested changes in management, and those comments produced meaningful improvements to the proposed plan.

“The hunting and fishing community owes the BLM thanks for the agency’s responsiveness to our concerns and proposals,” Thornberry said. “Public lands in Idaho are some of our state’s greatest assets and the revised Four Rivers plan will help ensure that future generations can enjoy these places as we do now.”

“I have hunted this area for almost 50 years, and I can state emphatically that it is a haven for an enormous amount of wildlife,” said Drew Wahlin, president of the Idaho Chukar Foundation. “It is a bird hunting destination and an essential winter area for the famed King Hill mule deer hunt. It is worthy of protections that help wildlife and sportsmen, and I applaud BLM’s decision.”

Randall Williams

February 13, 2020

Sportsmen and Women Support Missoula and Lewistown BLM Land Use Plans

Wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation will benefit from final revisions

The Bureau of Land Management today released land use plans that will support outdoor recreation opportunities and habitat for big game near Missoula and northeast of Lewistown, in and around the Missouri River Breaks.

When finalized, the BLM’s proposed Resource Management Plans for the Missoula and Lewistown Field Offices will determine the future of forest and grassland management, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation on approximately 900,000 acres of public lands in western and central Montana.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership worked with landowners, local government officials, and other stakeholder groups, and helped activate sportsmen and women to provide meaningful feedback on the draft plans that were then incorporated into the final proposals.

“We appreciate that the BLM listened to the input of the hunting and fishing community during the draft comment periods for both the Missoula and Lewistown RMPs, and made meaningful refinements to benefit quality wildlife habitat and recreational access,” said Scott Laird, Montana Field Representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Places like the Hoodoos and Ram Mountain in the Missoula area, as well as Arrow Creek and Crooked Creek in central Montana, will receive additional management emphasis for hunting, access, and habitat improvement under the final plans, and we view that as positive for sportsmen and women.”

The Missoula plan will guide management of local landmarks including the Blackfoot River corridor and portions of the Garnet and John Long mountain ranges. The revision process was formally initiated in early 2016 with a scoping phase and the draft plan was published in May 2019. While several wildlife- and recreation-friendly management measures dealing with access and habitat management were considered in the draft plan, they were generally not included in the preferred alternative at that stage of the process. Hunters, anglers, the state of Montana, tribal representatives, Missoula County, and other entities spoke up in support of such provisions, and those comments were reflected through meaningful changes in the final plan, including through the adoption of Backcountry Conservation Areas, a multiple-use focused conservation management tool.

“It is encouraging to see the BLM’s responsiveness to the concerns and suggestions of our community,” said Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “We’re fortunate to have these publicly owned landscapes in our own backyard and the revised plan will help ensure that future generations can enjoy them as we do now.”

“Having access to high-quality hunting opportunities on our public lands is critical for our customers and our bottom line,” said Casey Smith, owner of Straight 6 Archery in Missoula. “Refinements made to the BLM’s Missoula plan will help safeguard our outdoor traditions.”

In the Lewistown Field Office, which encompasses some of Montana’s best elk hunting units in the Missouri River Breaks, the planning revision process unfolded along a parallel timeline to that in Missoula. Similarly, strong support from the sporting community, the state of Montana, and local conservation groups led BLM decision-makers to include wildlife- and recreation-friendly measures in the final plan.

“The knowledge that places like Arrow Creek and Crooked Creek will continue to offer some of the best elk hunting in Montana is excellent news for sportsmen and women across our state,” said Doug Krings, Region 4 Leader for the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The BLM made sure that local values and priorities would shape the outcome of this process. As a result, our public land hunting heritage is stronger and future generations of public land owners will enjoy these places.”

 

Photo: Charlie Bulla

Melinda Kassen

February 7, 2020

Who Will Protect Our Nation’s Wetlands and Streams Now?

A look back at why EPA’s rollback doesn’t hold water

In January, the administration released its final new rule establishing the reach of the Clean Water Act. If this rule survives court challenges, the landmark federal law protecting our nation’s water from polluting activities will cover fewer waterbodies than at any time since 1972.

The new rule will not safeguard wetlands unless they are adjacent to a river, removing protections for the many wetlands supplied by underground source water, such as the prairie potholes of the upper Midwest, high mountain fens, and the playas of the southern plains. The new rule will also not protect “ephemeral” streams, which flow only after rainstorms.

Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr
The Backstory

The 1972 Clean Water Act responded to catastrophic pollution in the 1950s and 1960s, like the Cuyahoga River burning and Lake Erie being declared “dead.” The law replaced a 1965 federal statute that had given states the lead in fighting water pollution. While states are closer to problems and know the local value of a waterbody better than a federal agency in Washington, D.C., states simply did not have the resources or political will to stop the powerful interests responsible for the most damaging pollution.

So, Congress imposed a comprehensive framework to clean up America’s waters. The newly created Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers became the first line of defense by policing activities that discharged pollutants to rivers, streams and wetlands, although states were given the option to assume these permit programs if they could demonstrate they had the resources to do so. Meanwhile, states continue to set water quality standards, subject to federal approval, for their rivers, streams, and lakes, while the EPA established nation-wide “technology” standards on an industry-by-industry basis.

Finally, to ensure all parties had incentives to work towards better water quality, Congress appropriated billions of dollars to states for revolving funds to make loans to local governments for the construction of modern wastewater treatment facilities.

Over the decades, this strategy proved spectacularly effective. Our waters are substantially cleaner that in 1970 thanks to the Clean Water Act.

To be sure, every state still has its list of “impaired” waters, most of which are polluted by runoff from agriculture, abandoned mines, or urban development. The law requires states to adopt plans that move these waters towards better quality. Congress provides Section 319 funding to incentivize the implementation of measures that can minimize or eliminate polluted runoff.

Photo: Bryant Olsen via Flickr
Looking Ahead

Why is this history important? EPA and the Corps of Engineers argue that their decision to stop protecting many streams and over half of the country’s remaining wetlands is justified because states can and should have this responsibility. They assert this rationale while acknowledging that states currently have neither the programs nor the funds to protect all these waters, especially without the substantial federal investment of the last 48 years.

The federal agencies claim that if these water resources are truly important, states will pass legislation to create new programs and impose the new taxes or fees needed to support them, so that they protect their no-longer federally protected waters and wetlands. And if states don’t, then too bad.

“Too bad” is not responsible clean water policy. Congress acted in 1972 for a reason.

The EPA’s rollback gives the nation a choice: do we really want to lose the clean water gains of the last half century, standing by as activities pollute or destroy the wetlands that support the country’s waterfowl, the headwaters streams that nurture our trout and salmon, and the desert washes that sustain entire communities?

If not, hunters, anglers, and everyone who values these precious water resources will need to organize a massive grassroots campaign. Either we must convince Congress to clarify that the Clean Water Act is intended to protect these water resources or—if Congress refuses to act—we must work to ensure all 50 states have the resources and political will to take over this awesome responsibility.

Failure can simply not be an option.

 

Top photo: BLM Oregon via Flickr

Andrew Earl

February 6, 2020

A CLEAR Solution to Nutrient Loading

This Farm Bill-funded program boosts habitat and addresses a watershed-wide problem 

The 2019 planting year was historic—but unfortunately not in the way that many American farmers would like to remember. Unseasonably wet conditions prevented planting on nearly 20 million acres of corn, soybean, and wheat crops, among others, doubling the previous record of 9.6 million acres in 2011. The yearly average is typically between 3-4 million acres.     

Last spring’s deluge caused at least $3 billion in damages to the heartland and brought shipping on the Mississippi to a halt.  The resulting erosion, sediment loss and nutrient runoff carried ecological impacts stretching across thousands of miles. As rain continued to fall in the Missouri and Mississippi River basinsrising waters eroded soils and washed downstream millions of tons of nutrient fertilizer and organic matter from agriculturally productive land. Locally, the depletion of these substances results in reduced crop yields, and when this material reaches the ocean it can be devastating to marine health. 

But thanks to the Farm Bill, there’s a new initiative that will aid in addressing this challenge while both improving water quality and establishing healthy habitat for the birds and game animals that hunters love to chase. 

A Growing Problem

Each year, nutrient runoff in the midwestern United States flows downstream and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The sudden but predictable heightened levels of nitrates and phosphorus result in algae blooms which then decompose and deoxygenate the water tablekilling phytoplankton and fish at the base of the aquatic food-chain. The Gulf of Mexico hypoxia or “dead zone is not the only one in the United States, but it is one of the largest recurring in the world. In 2019, the Gulf dead zone covered 6,952 square miles off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas—the eighth largest on record. Each year, the dead zone dissipates as air and water temperatures drop but swells again in spring.  

The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force (HTF) is comprised of tribal, state and federal officials that coordinate nutrient reduction efforts from both point (wastewater) and non-point (agricultural) sources up and down the Mississippi River basin. The task force is working towards an ambitious goal of reducing the average size of the Gulf dead zone to 1,800 square miles by the year 2035. A problem of such significant scope does not offer a silver bullet solution, and meeting reduction targets requires a full state and federal toolkit. 

A CLEAR Solution

One key mechanism to address non-point source nutrient loading was codified in the 2018 Farm Bill. The Clean Lakes, Estuaries and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative builds on the existing continuousConservation Reserve Program (CRP) to target nutrient and sediment runoff and improve the water quality benefits of existing conservation practices. The CRP incentivizes landowners to retire marginal cropland for a period of 10-15 years and establish vegetative covers that offer a benefit to soil, water, and wildlife habitat—premium for deer, upland bird, and waterfowl hunting. The 2018 bill further required that 40% of continuous-CRP acreage be enrolled via CLEAR, and in order to track the long-term benefit of such practices established a pilot program (CLEAR 30) offering 30-year CLEAR contracts.

Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack oversaw the creation of CLEAR by the USDA in 2016. According to Vilsack, the installation of CLEAR practices such as duck nesting habitat, riparian buffers, contour grasses, and prairie strips can reduce nitrate runoff by up to 40% more than traditional conservation practices. Since its establishment in 1985, the CRP has grown to be one of the USDA’s most powerful tools in curbing nutrient lossreducing nitrogen and phosphorus runoff by a combined 650 million pounds in Fiscal Year 2014 alone. CLEAR has potential to demonstrably increase that benefit. 

As the USDA Farm Service Agency moves ahead with implementing the 2018 bill, the TRCP and our partner organizations are actively engaged in providing feedback to ensure that programs like CLEAR are implemented to achieve the greatest benefit to wildlife. The sum of these efforts will be critical in addressing some of our greatest conservation challenges like the Gulf’s dead zone.   

For more information on the Conservation Reserve Program, visit crpworks.org.

 

Top photo: Jeff Weese via Flickr

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.

Learn More
Subscribe

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!