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Former wildlife agency leaders, scientists, and other natural resource experts line out the requirements for successful policy on this conservation challenge
In a letter to New Mexico Governor Michelle Luhan Grisham, 14 wildlife and natural resources professionals thanked the governor for the state’s leadership on the issue of migration corridor conservation and urged the state to continue its efforts on this critical issue.
These professionals—each with between 20 to 50 years of experience in wildlife and natural resources management, research, and conservation—came together to request that decision-makers in New Mexico build upon the bipartisan support demonstrated by the passage of the Wildlife Corridors Act in 2019, the first-of-its-kind legislation in the country. They emphasized the need for adequate funding and a long-term, holistic view of migration corridor and habitat conservation if the state hoped to succeed in its efforts.
“As a longtime wildlife professional and New Mexico resident, I appreciated Governor Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Legislature passing the Wildlife Corridors Act,” said Dr. Bill Dunn, a 40-year veteran wildlife biologist and environmental consultant. “This bill is the first of its kind in America and should benefit conservation of migration corridors vital to our wildlife populations.”
In recent years, big game migration has become a priority for conservationists. “We’ve long known the importance of migration to and from seasonal habitats, but new technology has made the importance of these habitats for mule deer, pronghorn and other animals even clearer,” said Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
The letter asks that funding for migration corridor conservation extend beyond coordination and planning for transportation-related issues such as wildlife-vehicle collisions and crossing structures. Currently, the state has only set aside funding under the Corridors Act for such
projects. “It is important,” the signers noted, “for policy- and decision-makers and the public to remember that wildlife corridors may not necessarily intersect highways and roads.”
The breadth of the issue will require the state to utilize funds other than those set aside specifically for game protection, noted the letter, and it “encourage[d] New Mexico legislators to work closely with NMDGF and the New Mexico State Game Commission to ensure adequate funding is made available to support implementation…while maintaining funding for other agency priorities.”
Another challenge highlighted by the letter is coordinating the management of the full suite of habitats required by big game animals as they move across the landscape, including summer and winter range, migration corridors, and stopover habitats. To do this effectively, the state will need to conduct extensive research that could take years to complete. In the meantime, the letter urged state agencies to “develop interim guidance and recommendations while data are being gathered to ensure appropriate management and protection of potentially unmapped corridors.”
Additionally, the letter encouraged the BLM to work proactively with the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game to ensure that energy development on public lands does not disrupt wildlife migrations, as research has shown the impacts to be significant and long-lasting.
“Even though data are still being collected in New Mexico, the weight of existing evidence is clear that development does impact migratory movements and habitat use,” said Arnett. “We should anticipate potential conflicts with wildlife migrations that interface with all forms of energy development and other disturbance.” The signers noted that “Ensuring migration movement and functionality may require the state wildlife agency request leasing deferrals…or implementation of special management recommendations.”
The letter concluded by emphasizing that “the state and federal departments and agencies, and private landowners all must have long-term, institutionalized support for corridor conservation” and encouraged the state “to pursue all avenues that secure long-term support for conservation that will transcend multiple Administrations at both the state and federal levels.
“Healthy populations of mule deer, elk and other big game are a key economic driver for New Mexico’s economy,” says Dr. Ben Brown, a New Mexico resident and retired wildlife biologist with 48 years’ experience in wildlife conservation. “Conservation is a long-term endeavor. Both the state and federal governments need to ensure the functionality of habitat and migratory movements with long-term, institutionalized policy and funding for these efforts.”
Read the letter from 14 wildlife and habitat experts here.
Recreational fishing and boating groups applaud new bipartisan law
Following vocal support from recreational fishermen, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bipartisan bill improving menhaden management in the Atlantic.
The legislation transfers management authority of Atlantic menhaden—a small oily baitfish that feeds sportfish like striped bass—to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which oversees every other saltwater fishery in the Commonwealth. Now that the bill has been signed into law, the legislation puts Virginia on a path toward compliance with the regional fishery management plan, which Omega Protein violated last year.
“This new law will pave the way for stronger management of the Atlantic menhaden recognizing its critical role in the entire marine ecosystem and its benefits to the recreational fishing economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We want to thank Governor Northam, the bill sponsors, Natural Resources Secretary Matt Strickler, and the recreational fishing sector for working together on this legislation.”
“There is a growing need for more robust conservation practices in our fisheries – including menhaden and all forage fish – this law is an important step towards better recognizing and correcting the harmful impacts overfishing can have on our communities,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Protecting forage fish and sportfish stocks is essential for recreational activities in the Chesapeake Bay and across the country and we thank Governor Northam for taking action to that ensure our marine ecosystems remain healthy for generations to come.”
“Thanks to the signature of Governor Northam, menhaden will now be managed by fisheries experts at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Adequate menhaden populations are key to striped bass and other sportfish that support Virginia’s $583,806,000 saltwater recreational fishing economy. This important shift in management authority will help ensure a future of science-based management of menhaden that accounts for their important role in the ecosystem.”
“This commonsense legislation will help fisheries in not just Virginia, but along the entire Atlantic Coast,” said Chris Edmonstron, vice president of government affairs for Boat US. “Anglers and boaters should all applaud this long overdue change in fisheries management and encourage more science-based management practices be developed and implemented. BoatU.S., along with our 28,000 Virginia members, applaud the passage of this legislation.”
“This decision by Governor Northam and the Virginia General Assembly, which was decades in the making, recognizes the importance of science-backed conservation efforts in maintaining the health of our nation’s fisheries,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “Having menhaden fisheries managed by the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, like all other fisheries in the state, will make significant steps towards creating a healthier Chesapeake Bay. We thank the assembly, and Governor Northam for their leadership on this legislation, which will be felt by boaters and anglers all along the Atlantic coast for years to come.”
“On behalf of the Virginia Saltwater Sportsman’s Association and striped bass fishermen everywhere, I would like to thank Governor Northam and his administration, especially Natural Resources Secretary Matt Strickler, for leading the fight to conserve menhaden,” said John Bello, chairman of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association Government Relations Committee. “Menhaden are far too valuable to the ecosystem and to the recreational fishing economy to allow one foreign company to continue sucking up hundreds of millions of forage fish per year. Thank you, Governor.”
For more information about menhaden conservation click HERE.
Changes to a bedrock conservation law threaten to put blinders on federal decision-makers
As sportsmen and women know, big game animals migrate through landscapes that stretch across many boundaries. Rivers cross both state lines and international borders. Fish swim not only in large navigable waters, but in their tributaries, including ones that are small, intermittent or even ephemeral; some fish, in early life stages, live in wetlands. And the North American flyways send ducks and other waterfowl across our whole country and into Canada every year.
Our world is interconnected, which means we must look holistically at the impacts that human development has on land, water, wildlife, and fish.
Unfortunately, the Administration’s recently proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act would significantly inhibit federal agencies’ ability to measure these impacts.
President Richard Nixon signed NEPA into law in 1970 directing federal agencies to take actions that “restore and enhance [and also] avoid or minimize any possible adverse effects of their actions upon the quality of the human environment.”
NEPA requires every federal agency to consider the effects of its decisions on the environment; to look at a range of alternatives before acting; and to seek public comment on various aspects of a given project, from its scope and positive or negative effects to possible alternatives and mitigation.
The rules guiding this process have not been updated since the 1980s, but earlier this year the Administration proposed a major set of changes: some of which threaten to undermine its effectiveness and others that are welcome improvements.
For example, because so much of our communication is now conducted online, agencies should use web-based tools to announce proposed decisions and collect public comments. This is a welcome improvement.
There are also changes to streamline the process, in an effort to address widespread complaints that NEPA documents are too lengthy and take too long to develop. TRCP supports these changes, in part because they do not impose rigid or arbitrary limits. We just hope the agencies are given the resources to accomplish these goals.
As noted above, however, other changes are cause for concern. The purpose of NEPA has never been to require a specific outcome, but instead to ensure that federal decision making is well-informed by an awareness of and concern for any potential environmental impacts.
Perhaps the most dramatic proposed change would eliminate an agency having to consider the cumulative impacts of its actions and look only at the immediate action’s direct effects on nearby lands and waters. These changes so limit NEPA’s directive to consider reasonably foreseeable effects that it would force agencies to consider an action in a vacuum. The TRCP strongly opposes this change because we live in a world both that is both connected and ever-changing.
It is hard to imagine how an agency considers acting on a proposal without looking both at what is already there –roads and dams, cities and farm fields – and also what is expected in the near future – other new coastal developments, oil wells, timber sales or dams. Under the administration’s proposed rules, for example, agencies will not consider how multiple energy development proposals proposed across the same corridor would have a cumulative impact on a mule deer migration. Nor would agencies be required to study how a project that diverts water would add to a larger problem, such as serious drought conditions on a river system that already has multiple diversions.
So, please think about your future as sportsmen and women and exercise your public right to have a voice in this decision. Click here to learn more and submit a public comment by March 10.
Photo: Bob Wick, BLM via Flickr
Senators Manchin and Gardner propose bill to provide full dedicated funding to LWCF, make critical investments in National Parks
With the support of President Donald J. Trump, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced today during a press conference new legislation that will provide full dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The new proposal combines two bills that would fully fund LWCF (S. 1081 – the LWCF Permanent Funding Act) and address the maintenance backlog at National Parks (Restore America’s Parks Act ROPA – S.500).
“Sportsmen and women are thrilled to see bipartisan momentum building behind the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It has a proven track record of supporting hunting, fishing, and our booming outdoor economy. We urge the full Senate to invest in the future of LWCF and the conservation of our natural resources.”
“This is a historic deal reflecting the tremendous bipartisan support for our public lands. It is the once-in-a-generation chance we have been waiting for to solidify our investments in the outdoor economy and put an end to the constant raiding of LWCF. We applaud our congressional champions and the Administration for demonstrating that bipartisan cooperation can achieve great things, and for finding common ground in the fight to ensure that future generations will continue to have access to close-to-home recreation,” said Tom Cors, Director of Government Relations for Lands at The Nature Conservancy and a spokesman for the LWCF Coalition.
About the Land and Water Conservation Fund
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is America’s most important conservation program, responsible for protecting parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas at the federal, state and local level. For 50 years, it has provided critical funding for land and water conservation projects, recreational construction and activities and the continued historic preservation of our nation’s iconic landmarks from coast-to-coast.
LWCF does not use any taxpayer dollars – it is funded using a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments. Outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation activities contribute more than $887 billion annually to the U.S. economy, supporting 7.6 million jobs.
About the LWCF Coalition
The LWCF Coalition is the umbrella group of more than 1,000 state and local land owners, small businesses, ranchers, sportsmen, veterans, outdoor recreationists and conservation organizations working to protect America’s public lands and safeguard our shared outdoor heritage for future generations.
The Coalition is united in its advocacy for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will ensure the continued conservation of our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness, civil war battlefields, as well as state and local parks.
For more information on LWCF and the places in each state that have been protected using LWCF funds, visit www.lwcfcoalition.com
Photo by Stephen Baker/BLM Oregon
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