Looking ahead at the most pressing policy needs for habitat, access, and the outdoor recreation economy
Push Congress to Put Americans Back to Work Through Conservation
Secure conservation priorities that also support jobs in future COVID-19 economic recovery bills. This includes programs that fund and facilitate improvements to habitat, access, and outdoor recreation infrastructure.
Coordinate with Partners on Climate Change Legislation
Build a coalition and lead the sportsmen’s community on a comprehensive climate change strategy. Influence policy to help build resiliency in coastal and forest habitats, agricultural practices, and water systems.
Advance the MAPLand Act
The data at our fingertips on smartphones and GPS units means nothing if it’s incomplete. This legislation promises to modernize public land records so you don’t miss out on hunting or fishing opportunities that are only marked on a paper map in the back of some dusty filing cabinet.
Ensure Proper Implementation of the Farm Bill
In 2018, we celebrated passage of the five-year bill with increased funding for conservation. Now we must push the administration to deliver on all of the bill’s promises for better habitat, access, and soil health.
Increase Investments in the Fight Against Chronic Wasting Disease
State wildlife agencies that have been scrambling to combat this fatal disease in wild deer, elk, and moose herds need meaningful federal support. The TRCP will continue to push for these resources.
Address Maintenance Backlog on Federal Public Lands
Advance legislation—some that’s already in play—with dedicated funding for deferred maintenance projects that undermine Americans’ experiences on public lands. Keep advocating for robust funding of public land agencies so this backlog does not grow.
Spur Policies That Conserve Migration Corridors and Fund Wildlife Crossings
Build on recent successes to codify conservation policies for previously overlooked seasonal habitats, like big game migration routes and summer and winter ranges. Secure new funding streams for wildlife-friendly highway overpasses and underpasses, which connect fragmented habitats and keep animals off roads.
Mobilize Sportsmen and Women to Take Action for Conservation
Continue the TRCP’s grassroots work to engage hunters and anglers in advocacy and the public process of managing public lands. Educate our audience on what’s at stake, offer meaningful opportunities for them to communicate with decision-makers, and amplify their voices to effect policy change.
Top photo by Tim Donovan at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
How Far Fish Habitat Has Come in the Ten Years Since the Gulf Oil Spill
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was ten years ago, and Louisiana’s coastal habitat is being rebuilt to flourish even better than before. In fact, lands that experts predicted would have vanished by now are supporting fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation spending.
A decade ago, bulldozers, excavators, and hard-hat-donning work crews were removing millions of pounds of sand and vegetation coated in thick, tarry oil from Louisiana’s beaches and barrier islands after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
The heavy equipment and hard hats have returned to our coast, but now it’s in an effort to restore damaged fish and wildlife habitat using fines paid by BP and others responsible for the spill. This year alone, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority—in conjunction with federal partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service—will begin, continue, or conclude restoration projects representing an investment of more than $250 million in Deepwater Horizon penalties.
Thirteen barrier islands and headland beaches line the Louisiana coast from Venice to the Barataria, Timbalier, and Terrebonne Basins. All of them have either been restored in the 10 years since the oil stopped spewing or will be restored in the next 10 years. In addition, some smaller islands beyond these areas—which are also critical habitat for fish, brown pelicans, and other coastal birds—have been restored.
Louisiana’s barrier islands and beaches are all remnant headlands of the ever-shifting Mississippi River Delta and the first line of defense against hurricanes and violent winter storms that batter the northern Gulf. Without barrier islands to break up the waves and dampen storm surges, the vulnerable wetlands and nursery grounds north of the islands would crumble and coastal communities would become even more exposed to the full fury of the Gulf of Mexico.
Of course, this is also extremely important habitat for the Gulf’s most popular sportfish, like speckled trout, redfish, and Spanish mackerel. If the surf is light, these beaches and islands are lined with boats and surf anglers tossing topwaters, live shrimp, and a variety of plastic plugs and swimbaits. On most summer days, the line of boats along popular Elmer’s Island and Timbalier Island stretches from horizon to horizon.
The dynamic nature of Louisiana’s coastline and the lack of sediment input from the Mississippi River has shortened the lifespan of many of these critical islands, especially since the river was extensively levied in the late 19th and early 20th century. Without investments of oil spill penalties and funds from state-federal partnership programs, some islands would be little more than subsurface sandbars today.
“In the early 80s, the islands in Terrebonne Parish were losing land at a tremendous rate and the prediction then was that all of those islands would be gone by 2015,” says Bren Haase, executive director of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “However, there have been a host of restoration efforts made throughout the area that have kept those islands largely intact and the land area has stayed roughly constant over the last 30 years.”
Three of the beach and island projects currently underway are designed to keep the Terrebonne Basin intact for the next 20 years or more and provide protection for infrastructure and the fishing camps, marinas, and bait shops in small but important towns like Port Fourchon, Leeville, Cocodrie, and Dulac.
Approximately 9.2 million cubic yards of sand will be dredged from a massive ancient Mississippi River delta in about 30 feet of water off Terrebonne Parish. The sand will be barged to the beaches and then shaped with earth-moving equipment before being planted with native grasses to help hold it in place.
In all, approximately $167 million in fines from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund is being spent to revive and extend the life of the West Belle Pass headland, Timbalier Island, and Trinity Island. The GEBF was the first fund established with oil spill penalties and dedicated $2.4 billion Gulf-wide to projects that restore fish and wildlife habitat damaged by Deepwater Horizon.
Haase, who has worked on coastal habitat restoration and hurricane protection efforts in Louisiana for more than 20 years, says the oil spill fines have allowed the CPRA and federal partners to expedite project construction, while dramatically increasing the size and scope of island and beach restoration projects.
Restoration efforts that once consisted of projects costing $15-million to $30-million and taken on piecemeal have grown into massive $100-million projects that can rebuild hundreds of miles of beach, dune, and tidal marsh all at once.
“Over the last decade we’ve taken a more system-wide approach to barrier island restoration,” says Haase. “Rather than build one project here and there, in our analysis, we saw that there were weaknesses in certain areas of islands and headlands that we could address that would prevent breaches and help provide more protection to the habitats inside the barrier islands.”
The challenge was always to use the unprecedented fines and penalties paid by those responsible for the economic and environmental destruction and loss of life to make sure the mistakes of the past weren’t repeated—to make the Gulf a better place post-spill. Louisiana’s investment and the innovation developed in restoring its critical barrier islands, beaches, and marshes shows that our state has wholeheartedly embraced that responsibility.
Add #ResponsibleRecreation to Your Facebook Profile Photo
A step-by-step on how to add our new #ResponsibleRecreation frame to your Facebook photo
1.Go to your personal profile homepage or follow this link.
2. Use your cursor to select the circular profile photo icon. A dropdown menu will appear with two options: “View Profile Picture” and “Update Profile Picture.” Select “Update Profile Picture.”
3. On the next interface, choose the “Add Frame” option located in the upper-right.
4. A menu displaying popular default frames will appear. Using the search box at the top of your screen, search #ResponsibleRecreation TRCP. Select the TRCP #ResponsibleRecreation frame (example below.)
5. Reposition your profile picturewithin the frame and use the gray slider to adjust the size. Once you are satisfied with your layout, select the “Use as Profile Photo” option on the bottom right side of the box.
6. Congratulations! You have updated your Facebook profile with the #ResponsibleRecreation frame!
1. Make sure your Facebook mobile app is up to date
2. Navigate to your profile homepage.
3. Tap the circular profile picture icon. It should appear in the upper center of your device
4. Select “Add Frame.” A feed will appear with popular and suggested frames. Using the gray search bar, search #ResponsibleRecreation TRCP.
5. Select the TRCP branded #ResponsibleRecreation frame (example below.)Facebook will present you with a preview of your profile photowith the new frame.To edit or adjust your profile photo, use the gray “Edit” button.
6. Once you are satisfied with your layout, select “Save” in the upper righthand corner.
7. Congratulations! You have updated your Facebook profile with the #ResponsibleRecreation frame!
TRCP Challenges Hunters and Anglers to Take the #ResponsibleRecreation Pledge
Sportsmen and women step up to safeguard the privilege of enjoying our country’s natural resources
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is proud to help launch the #ResponsibleRecreation pledge, which encourages Americans to enjoy outdoor recreation while adhering to proper COVID-19 safety protocols.
The coordinated campaign was created with respected conservation leaders at the National Wild Turkey Federation, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
These groups are encouraging Americans to take advantage of our country’s numerous opportunities to recreate on public lands and waters, while maintaining proper social distancing and adhering to other best practices in line with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Whether participating in hunting, fishing, shooting sports, or numerous other outdoor activities, individuals and families are getting outside as a means of coping with the challenges of this health crisis,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “The conservation community recognizes that this is a privilege, one that sportsmen and women take very seriously. Just as we’ve stepped up to fund conservation efforts and recover at-risk species, hunters and anglers have yet another opportunity to lead by example and ensure that outdoor recreation can continue to delight and facilitate healing for anyone who ventures outside.”
Outdoor television personalities, gear makers, and conservation-minded decision-makers are already embracing the pledge.
“As parts of the country are beginning to reopen and the weather warms up, we will see growing numbers of Americans spend more time in the great outdoors,” says Congressman Marc Veasey. “As an avid sportsman myself, I am eager to get back outside, but in a way that will not accelerate the spread of COVID-19. That means practicing responsible recreation by continuing to socially distance, wear appropriate face coverings when needed, and follow proper health guidelines to protect our fellow Americans.”
While many of the organizations involved in spearheading the #ResponsibleRecreation pledge have their own interests—namely, hunting, fishing, or shooting sports—the hope is to engage anyone who enjoys the outdoors safely and responsibly. Outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to share how they are recreating responsibly, challenge their friends to do the same, and use the campaign hashtag across social media.
“Now more than ever, Americans want to recreate outdoors for the health, physical, and social benefits,” says Jessica Wahl Turner, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “As our country begins to reopen, we encourage outdoor enthusiasts to continue practicing social distancing, respect the communities you visit, and follow the health guidelines applicable to your activities. If we work together to steward the outdoors and keep safety top of mind, we can help our public lands and waters remain open and get our recreation economy and jobs back on track.”
Omega’s rapacious appetite for harvesting as many menhaden as it possibly can is hardly breaking news. For decades, the foreign-owned company has had a monopoly on a public marine resource, threatening the ecology and economy of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coastal communities.
Anglers know firsthand why menhaden are called the most important fish in the sea: Because they are extremely valuable food for many popular and valuable game fish, including striped bass, red drum, bluefish, cobia, tuna, and flounder. Leaving more of these crucial forage in the water is one of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s key conservation initiatives.
Which is why it is so hard to fathom how Omega Protein can be called “sustainable” in the first place, let alone keep its certification from the Marine Stewardship Council—an international organization that helps determine which fisheries qualify for a seal of approval. Given the fact that Omega willfully blasted past the legitimate Bay cap by more than 30 percent in 2019, one would think the company would be sheepish about continuing to flout this specious sustainability claim.
If legitimately earned, these labels allow consumers to make informed seafood choices. And companies can typically charge a premium to recoup costs associated with being more environmentally responsible. To earn the MSC “blue checkmark” label, for example, seafood companies are required to follow internationally recognized best practices for operating healthy, sustainable fisheries while causing minor impacts on the marine food chain. But the MSC is a for-profit venture, and despite the blowback from anglers, Omega seemed able to buy their way to “sustainability” in 2019.
This was before the company violated the Bay cap last fall, but after it was cited for Clean Water Act violations and paid a $400,000 fine to the Security and Exchange Commission for misleading investors.
Full compliance with the ASMFC’s management plan is important, because if the moratorium takes effect, it could have severe economic consequences—not only for Omega’s workers, but also for Bay watermen, charter captains, tackle shop owners, and recreational fishermen.
This isn’t what sportfishing groups want to see happen.
Thankfully, the Virginia General Assembly recently passed historic legislation that transfers authority for managing menhaden from the state legislature, where it has been highly politicized for decades, to the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, which was already effectively managing all other marine fisheries in the state—including striped bass, crabs, and oysters. The TRCP and its sportfishing partners played a pivotal role in getting this landmark legislation across the finish line.
Both the new law transferring management authority and the VMRC’s swift action to limit Omega’s harvest this year are historic wins for marine conservation. Later this year, the ASMFC is expected to vote on a new plan for managing menhaden according to their broader ecological value, which offers another opportunity to advance the sound conservation of such a vital resource.
With so many groups invested in securing the future of this forage fish, could it be time for MSC to rethink their tacit endorsement of Omega Protein and yank the “sustainable” label? If you ask me, sucking up thousands of tons of critical food for our most important game fish and disrupting the marine food chain, is about as far from being a responsible steward of a public resource as you can get.
Incredibly, SAI Global, an independent auditor for the MSC that supported Omega’s accreditation, claimed “there is no firm evidence” that the operation affects the species’ sustainability. Recreational anglers and conservationists know better. That’s why we have objected at every stage of the certification process.
Without a doubt, there is much at stake to keep the pressure on Omega Protein to be accountable for their actions. Sportfishing is both culturally and economically important to the Chesapeake and mid-Atlantic region. According to a 2016 study by Southwick Associates, striped bass generated almost $8 billion to our country’s GDP. Thousands of jobs tied to a healthy striper population—charter captains, marinas, bait and tackle shops, hotels, and restaurants, to list several—are at risk if menhaden populations are overfished. Moreover, 32 percent of recreational and 69 percent of commercial harvest of stripers comes from the Chesapeake, resulting in a combined economic impact of approximately $2.5 billion.
In Virginia alone, striped bass drove more than $240 million in economic activity just a decade ago. Sadly, those numbers have plummeted to just over $100 million annually. The recent decline in the population of this marquee game fish has already resulted in reduced seasons and creel limits, putting the livelihoods of many coastal residents in jeopardy. In fact, striped bass charters in 2019 were down between 50 and 100 percent in some areas. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 has already added to the stress.
Reminder: Omega’s industrialized fleet is the last of its kind on the entire East Coast. All other states have banned reduction fishing using such highly mechanized boats, nets, and gear. And yet Omega—and Daybrooke in the Gulf of Mexico—continues to pulverize these protein-packed fish into oils and powders used in health supplements and, increasingly, as feed for overseas aquaculture operations.
Omega’s operation is particularly nettlesome on the Chesapeake, where concerns over localized depletion have persisted for decades and conflicts with anglers are on the upswing. When Omega Protein flouts its industrial operation as “sustainable,” it’s a step too far. Especially given that state and coastal fishery leaders have taken encouraging steps to better manage menhaden, the label simply doesn’t fit.
Captain Chris Dollar is a professional fishing guide, tackle shop owner, all-around Chesapeake outdoorsman, and writer.
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create jobs, restore habitat, and preserve fish and wildlife.