August 3, 2020

BLM Releases Final Montana Management Plans that Conserve Key Backcountry Lands

Backcountry Conservation Areas near Missoula and Lewistown will safeguard recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat

(Missoula, Mont.)–The Bureau of Land Management today announced it’s finalizing new Resource Management Plans in western and central Montana that will shape hunting and fishing opportunities for generations to come.

These two plans will guide the future of forest and grassland management, wildlife habitat, fisheries conservation, and outdoor recreation on approximately 900,000 acres of public lands east of Missoula, surrounding Lewistown, and in and around the Missouri River Breaks. In response to requests from sportsmen and women, the final plans include Backcountry Conservation Areas, a new multiple-use framework aimed at conserving prized big game habitat and hunting and fishing areas.

“Thanks to these plans sportsmen and women will experience high-quality big game hunting in places like the Hoodoos and Ram Mountain in the Missoula area, as well as Arrow and Crooked Creeks in central Montana,” said Scott Laird, Montana Field Representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate that the Montana BLM listened to the input of many hunters and anglers and adopted Backcountry Conservation Areas in the final plans.”

The Missoula Field Office plan guides the 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 then the draft plan was published in May 2019. Hunters, anglers, the state of Montana, tribal representatives, Missoula County, and other entities spoke up in support of Backcountry Conservation Areas in the highest value wildlife and recreation areas. Those comments are reflected in the final plan.

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 Missoula’s. Similarly, strong support from the sporting community, the state of Montana, and local conservation groups led BLM decision-makers to include Backcountry Conservation Areas in the Crooked Creek and Arrow Creek areas.

“While the Lewistown RMP didn’t include everything we asked for, we are grateful that our comments generated some compromise, said Doug Krings, the Region 4 Chapter Leader for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “In particular, the addition of the BLM’s new Backcountry Conservation Areas—which ensure that wildlife and wild places will stay intact and productive for hunters and other outdoor recreationists—is something that all public land owners are pleased to see.”

“The recently released plans are not perfect, but Trout Unlimited appreciates changes in the final Lewistown plan that give greater consideration for the conservation and restoration of rare native trout populations in the Judith Mountains,” said Colin Cooney, Montana field coordinator for Trout Unlimited.  “We also feel that this RMP sets a new, much-welcomed standard for stream buffers in the West and one that we are going to work with other field offices to adopt in a region where economic diversity is so important. Specifically, the plan includes ½ mile oil and gas development buffers for all Blue and Red Ribbon fisheries, native trout streams, and streams suitable for restoring populations of Westslope cutthroat trout. We thank the BLM for including this necessary, balanced, and common-sense bar of protection for our most important trout fisheries.”

In collaboration with landowners, local government officials, and other stakeholder groups, several hunting and fishing organizations helped activate sportsmen and women to provide meaningful feedback on the draft plans that was then incorporated into the final proposals.


Photo: Charlie Bulla

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July 31, 2020

Pebble Mine Was Too Risky Then, and It’s Too Risky Now

Despite the results of the Army Corps’ final environmental impact statement, sportsmen and women still oppose greenlighting the copper and gold mine permit

In 2014, the EPA all but doomed the now-infamous Pebble Mine proposal on the grounds that it would irrevocably damage Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon fishery. But last week, the Army Corps of Engineers concluded in its final environmental impact statement that the mine would not have a measurable effect on fish numbers.

Now, the Corps could give the green light to dig in the headwaters of Bristol Bay in as little as 20 days, even though its study confirms that Pebble would destroy 185 miles of streams and over 4,000 acres of wetlands in the most prolific sockeye salmon fishery on the planet.

Photo by Tim Romano.

This decision would do harm to:

  • A $1.5-billion economy that supports over 15,000 jobs for lodge owners, guides, commercial fishermen, fish processors, tourism operators, and more.
  • One of the most sought-after sportfishing destinations in the country.
  • 31 federally recognized Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq tribes that depend on salmon to support their way of life.
  • More than 50 percent of the world’s catch of sockeye salmon.
  • The broader habitat at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, where Pebble would permanently store 10.2 billion tons of toxic waste.
  • Taxpayers, who would be stuck footing the bill for pollution and habitat damage.
Photo by Fly Out Media.

Oh, and did we mention that Pebble Mine investors wouldn’t even be satisfied with the project as it has been proposed? You see, to get the permit, the applicant substantially shrank the footprint of the mine from what they were proposing five years ago.

Looking at only the current plan, which would extract only a part of the mineral deposit at the site, economists estimate that the mine will lose $3 billion in its first 20 years unless it is expanded. A bigger footprint means more habitat degradation. Witnesses testified on this point before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment last fall.

As sportsmen and women, we are once again in a pivotal moment to speak out against Pebble Mine. We know you’ve heard this at various points in the process for the better part of a decade spanning two presidential administrations. (Here’s our appeal after a mildly positive development in 2018.)

Photo by Paul Nicoletti.

But the fact that the proposal was once off the table based on the impact to fish habitat should energize us all to stay engaged. We cannot give up now.

The House voted yesterday to block permitting of Pebble Mine in an amendment to a $1.3-trillion spending package under consideration today. Sportsmen and women need to send a message to senators and the White House and request that national decision-makers intervene to save Bristol Bay.

Take Action Now

For more information on Pebble Mine threats, visit savebristolbay.org. Top photo by Fly Out Media.

July 24, 2020

This New Rule Deals Another Serious Blow to Fish Habitat and Wetlands

While the conservation world focused on the Great American Outdoors Act, the administration quietly limited the states’ authority to protect water quality

It feels unfair to be writing about bad news for water quality as we celebrate such a hard-earned victory for public lands this week. Certainly, with the year we’ve been having, all Americans needed a win. But those of us who have been fighting the dismantling of Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands needed a morale boost even more. Here’s why:

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency quietly finalized changes to Clean Water Act rules that allowed states to look out for their own water quality as development activities needing federal permits are proposed that may affect the rivers, streams, and wetlands. What is noteworthy from an administration that usually champions states’ rights is how this rule removes state power.

The EPA’s new rule deals with the “401 certification” process, which is an important, if obscure, Clean Water Act authority. To understand how it works, you need to know two things:

  1. Federal agencies permit thousands of construction activities across the country each year. The Army Corps of Engineers typically issues permits for building roads, bridges, shopping malls, housing developments, dams, and diversions that touch the nation’s water bodies—inland and coastal, big and little—and wetlands. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses hydropower facilities and transmission pipelines.
  2. The Clean Water Act authorizes states to tell these federal agencies what conditions to include in their federal permits that will protect the state’s water quality from the adverse effects of development.
Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service.


At least twice since the mid-1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the broad scope of states’ authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. In the first of these cases, the State of Washington successfully required a dam operator to maintain healthy river flows for the resident salmon fishery. That’s just one example of how this process has provided checks and balances to benefit fish and wildlife.

To be clear, the states’ role is not to prevent development. With tens of thousands of certifications issued annually, half the states who responded to an EPA survey reported zero denials. Because projects need certification, the process is usually one where states and applicants work together to find ways for development to proceed without compromising water quality, habitat, or outdoor recreation opportunities.

The new rule would fundamentally change this process, which has existed for 50 years.
Most dramatically, it limits the states to imposing only conditions that relate directly to water quality standards that EPA approves. So, if a bridge were proposed across a stream that currently supports a recreational fishery and provides fishing access, the state could not require that substitute access be provided close by, because EPA does not do this work.

States can no longer institute certain flow requirements—like Washington did to save its salmon—or require a permittee to build or maintain fish passage, even when the permitted activity would fragment an intact fishery’s habitat.

And states will no longer be able to require water quality protection for the streams and wetlands that the federal government no longer protects under the new “waters of the US” rule. (Here’s my post about that.) According to Trout Unlimited scientists, this is 50 percent of the nation’s stream miles and 40 percent of wetlands, like the prairie potholes of the Upper Midwest.

The rule finalized last week also tightens timelines for the states to take action. States issue most of their certifications in less than six months, but large complex infrastructure reviews take more time. It is appropriate to ask regulators to work quickly, but this new rule shifts the power to applicants. The clock starts to run when applicants first put in a basic request—not when a state receives a complete application, with all the information needed for analysis and decision.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Why these changes? In 2019, in Executive Order 13868, President Trump directed the EPA to change the certification process “to encourage greater investment in energy infrastructure.” Regardless of the importance of this policy, it is unrelated to the only objective of the Clean Water Act, to restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation’s waters.

The 401 certification change will almost certainly mean less clean water for fish and wildlife, especially when added to the administration’s rule rolling back environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, also finalized last week, and the rule I mentioned shrinking Clean Water Act protection by almost half.

During debate over the latter, the administration argued that the states could use their authority to protect the headwaters and wetlands that the federal government would no longer regulate. But this latest change constrains the states’ ability to do just that.

While EPA takes contrary positions regarding state authority, the beneficiaries of these rules are the same—those who want to build pipelines without having to safeguard fish and wildlife. These developers also win under the NEPA rule changes.

Sadly, the losers may be those of you reading this blog.

July 20, 2020

Four Reasons to Root for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Billions of dollars in annual funding could go to habitat restoration and boosting wildlife species

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act as an amendment to its sweeping infrastructure package, and this builds momentum for what could be the most impactful wildlife conservation investment in U.S. history. The Act would provide $1.4 billion in dedicated funding annually to restore habitat, recover wildlife populations, and rebuild the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities across the country.

Here are four reasons why the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is one for sportsmen and women to watch in the weeks ahead.

The timing couldn’t be better.

These investments would put Americans back to work immediately by creating non-exportable jobs—as many as 33,500 annually—that will fuel our nation’s $778-billion outdoor recreation economy just as local businesses need it most. And as states continue to slowly re-open parks and public lands, Americans are grateful for the escape that the outdoors can provide. Congress can support economic recovery and underscore the value of our natural resources by advancing this bill.

RAWA dollars would meet their match on the ground.

The $1.4-billion annual investment included in the House bill would generate an additional $3.36 billion in economic output. This means every federal dollar spent on species and habitat restoration would generate 2.4 times that amount for the national economy. This is a net positive gain of $1.96 billion for the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, but sportsmen and women would also see the results of healthier wildlife habitat in the form of world-class recreation opportunities.

Bipartisanship is strong with this one.

This common-sense, fiscally responsible solution is endorsed by 182 House cosponsors on both sides of the aisle. It received strong bipartisan support when it was reported out of the House Committee on Natural Resources last December and as it was passed on the House floor. (It is worth noting that the group of amendments that included RAWA was praised as the only bipartisan legislation being considered “en bloc” during these floor proceedings.) This consensus makes a strong case for the bill’s passage in the Senate.

It creates a new source of federal conservation funding for the next five years.

As an amendment to the House infrastructure package (H.R.2), the bill would fund the implementation of existing science-based wildlife action plans managed by state fish and wildlife agencies on the same timeline as the five-year highway bill. But, ultimately, we want to see this become a permanent, dedicated 21st-century funding model for the much-needed conservation of our fish and wildlife.

This is exactly what the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife was established to accomplish. We bring together members representing the outdoor recreation, retail, and manufacturing sector, including the energy and automotive industries, plus private landowners, educational institutions, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups, and state and federal fish and wildlife agencies to achieve our mission.

In June 2020, we rallied this strong partnership to send a letter signed by 250 groups, businesses, and tribes to U.S. House leadership in support of including the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in the infrastructure package. This proved effective, and we’ll continue to build on this broad base of support as we look to the Senate.

Keep following the TRCP for updates about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.


Sean Saville is the Alliance for America’s Fish & Wildlife campaign manager for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. He resides just outside of the nation’s capital in Virginia and is an avid outdoorsman and wildlife enthusiast. Among his favorite outdoor activities are hiking with his son, backcountry camping, motorcycle riding, snowboarding, and birdwatching. Feel free to contact Sean with any questions at ssaville@fishwildlife.org.


Top photo by Alex Butterfield via flickr.

July 17, 2020

TRCP Leads on Fisheries Management, Coastal Restoration, and Fishing Access at ICAST Online

Watch four conservation seminars from the virtual sportfishing trade show

Adapting quickly to the new digital format of this year’s trade shows, the TRCP was able to showcase its leadership on marine fisheries conservation issues and coastal restoration this week by bringing together expert voices, business leaders, and the media for the fifth consecutive year at ICAST.

One additional benefit of hosting these discussions online is that anyone can take part, which seems appropriate considering one of the major themes that emerged: Anglers can and do make a difference when they get involved in conservation.

This point was stressed by all five expert panelists in Thursday’s presentation, “Building a Better Model for Menhaden Management,” which focused on the recent successes for the important forage fish in Chesapeake Bay. Outspoken recreational fishermen were critical to clinching many of these wins, including holding Omega Protein accountable for willfully ignoring the harvest cap in the Bay and transferring menhaden management authority away from the political body of the legislature, said Matt Strickler, Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources.

The goal of the more scientifically guided Marine Resources Commission and its new menhaden advisory committee is to make management decisions more transparent, said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association who was recently appointed to join the committee. They will have the authority to set the new cap in the Bay and reduce it to account for Omega’s overages in 2019. “I think you’ll see a much more open and robust dialogue on how the fishery should be regulated compared to the state legislature, where you’d just have to wait to see what they came out with. Recreational fishing and conservation groups can have a greater seat at the table,” said Leonard.

The panelists also seemed to agree that there’s little reason for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission not to vote for a more holistic management model for menhaden at their upcoming meeting. Taking into account the value of these fish—not only to the marine food web, and striped bass in particular, but also to water quality in the Bay—makes sense, said David Sikorsky, executive director of CCA Maryland. And shifting to this model allows us to gather better data on whether there is a localized depletion of menhaden in the Bay, said Chris Moore, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Watch the full presentation below to see how panelists answered questions about a possible ban on purse seines, whether we can expect an increase in fish populations soon after this management shift, and how this model could be applied in the Gulf of Mexico and with other embattled forage fish, like shad and herring.

TRCP’s other panel takes us from an issue where sportsmen and women have helped achieve success to an urgent need for hunters and anglers to engage: As elected officials craft legislation to boost the economy and put Americans back to work, we have a unique opportunity to prioritize habitat restoration and natural infrastructure projects that create jobs.

An infusion of government funding would provide certainty to the businesses and workers who design and build projects, manufacture and sell equipment, plant native vegetation and trees, and contribute to Gulf Coast restoration in other ways, said Scott Kirkpatrick of the Coast Builders Coalition. A lot of this work has thankfully been able to continue during the pandemic, he added, with engineers able to work from home, some construction workers being deemed essential personnel, and outdoor job sites being safer than others.

TRCP’s Chief Policy Officer Steve Kline went on to outline the various legislative efforts already in motion to carve out funding for shovel-ready projects and jobs at every level of the economic spectrum, from heavy machinery operators to entry-level biologists. His list includes the Water Resources Development Act, a five-year Highway Bill, and the Great American Outdoors Act as well as yet-to-be-introduced economic recovery bills.

And Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) appeared via pre-recorded video to share his view that investing in habitat restoration and natural infrastructure has benefits for the economy but also for mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Watch the full presentation below for answers to audience questions about the prospect of maintaining Everglades restoration funding and addressing invasive species like Asian carp during this economic downturn.

These panel discussions were made possible with the support of TRCP’s sponsors: NOAA Fisheries, the American Sportfishing Association, Bass Pro Shops, Costa, Peak Design, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Power Pole.

TRCP experts were also featured in two additional conservation seminars hosted by ICAST architects at the American Sportfishing Association.

On Monday, President and CEO Whit Fosburgh argued that the devil is in the details when it comes to executing the idea of protecting 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030, which has been proposed by the United Nations and some state and national decision-makers. “I like big, audacious conservation goals, but a slogan should not be driving policy,” he said, even if on its face “30 by 30” sounds great.

Watch the 22-minute video below to see Fosburgh caution against protecting certain waters without consulting the people who live and breathe conservation every day—sportsmen and women.

Also earlier this week, TRCP’s Chris Macaluso weighed in on the progress made since the 2018 passage of the Modern Fish Act. He addressed how close we might be to seeing federal fisheries managers change decades-old allocations in the video below.




Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

Learn More

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