August 21, 2020

A Healthy Chesapeake Bay Starts with Healthy Waters Upstream

Here’s a short explainer on what it’s going to take to clean up pollution and reduce the dead zone in the Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is a lifeline to 18 million people and 3,600 species of animals and plants. Its impact reverberates not just in the immediate Bay, but in the six states (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) and District of Columbia, that feed it.

The watershed’s connectivity to major urban environments and working agricultural lands have contributed to massive amounts of pollution flowing into the Bay significantly harming water quality and negatively impacting the fish and wildlife. Every year, a dead zone forms along the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay, occupying about 40 percent of its area and up to 5 percent of the Bay’s water volume.

A Commitment to Clean-Up

While the states worked for decades to try to clean up the Bay and the waterways that fed it, efforts were coming up short. So in 2010, the federal government stepped in to help create a plan to clean up the Bay by 2025. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) established pollution benchmarks that the states would have to meet.  In order to achieve those goals, each state developed Watershed Implementation Plans, which have been updated over time. States are currently on Phase 3 of their Watershed Implementation Plans.

Unfortunately, it appears as if Pennsylvania is at risk of falling short. This is deeply troubling since most of the pollutants entering the Bay come from Pennsylvania. For example, the Susquehanna River, which flows from New York through Pennsylvania and into Maryland, provides about half of the water for the Chesapeake Bay. A 2020 preliminary report by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection found that 30 percent (25,850 stream miles) of Pennsylvania portion of the Susquehanna River is impaired.

To meet its nitrogen reduction goals, Pennsylvania needs to reduce the amount of nitrogen that it releases into the Bay by 34 million pounds, but under its Phase 3 Watershed Implementation plan, it will only be able to cut two-thirds of that pollution.

Barriers to a Better Bay

So, what is preventing Pennsylvania from meeting its goal? Well, in order to meet its pollution reduction benchmark, Pennsylvania would need to invest an additional $257 million a year into its Bay waterways.  We think this is a wise investment, given that the Bay filters drinking water for 75 percent of watershed residents.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania state lawmakers tried to pass legislation that would freeze or redirect funding for some of the state’s most effective conservation programs.

We know that policymakers are under mounting pressure as they deal with coronavirus impacts and the ensuing economic fallout, but now is not the time to cut job-creating investments. The Bay contributes billions of dollars to our economy every year.

So what can hunters and anglers do?

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August 20, 2020

Lawmakers Are About to Negotiate Two Important Conservation Bills

Because different versions of each bill have been passed by the House and Senate, conference committees will debate which provisions move forward.

Considering the recent wins we’ve been able to celebrate for conservation—some that have been on our community’s bucket list for decades—it would be cynical to think that sportsmen and women are not being heard by decision-makers right now. If we continue to show up with practical solutions, we can continue to expect victories for fish and wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing opportunities, and our outdoor recreation businesses.

In that spirit, we’re watching two bills very closely as they move into a final phase of debate: The Water Resources Development Act and what’s generally referred to as a Highway Bill. Congress has a responsibility to pass these packages every few years—unlike a Great American Outdoors Act, for example, that goes through the process only once.

Here’s what’s at stake and what success could look like.

Water Wins in the Making

The Legislation: The Water Resources Development Act is a must-pass two-year bill that authorizes water conservation and enhancement projects, many with benefits for fish and wildlife habitat.

How We Got Here: The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020, with the Senate’s WRDA provisions, passed out of committee in May 2020. The House WRDA passed in a voice vote on the floor in late July.

What Sportsmen and Women Need Out of Negotiations: To safeguard America’s fish and wildlife habitat, it’s critical that the final bill takes meaningful steps forward on managing invasive species, addressing harmful algal blooms, and increasing the use of natural infrastructure that can improve fish and wildlife habitat while also addressing challenges like floods, sea level rise, and coastal land loss.

Both the House and Senate bills contain provisions that we like, and many have to do with clearing the way for more natural or nature-based infrastructure solutions. Reminder: This could mean anything from restoring wetlands that can better filter annual floodwaters to reversing coastal erosion by diverting river sediment that needs to be removed to areas that desperately need it.

These natural solutions boost habitat, are often more cost effective, and age better than traditional “gray” infrastructure, but planning for them requires more than just a mindset shift—WRDA can help outline the policies and procedures that ensure these projects stand up to cost-benefit analyses and ultimately get the green light from federal agencies.

If you’re interested in a deep, section-by-section breakdown of what we like in the House and Senate bills, 14 other organizations joined us in sending this letter to Congress with the details.

No Speed Limit for These Habitat Improvements

The Legislation: The five-year Highway Bill expires in a little over a month, and the clock is ticking on new legislation that authorizes projects related to our road systems. Especially at a time with record unemployment, considering conservation benefits at the start of these projects can help put Americans back to work.

How We Got Here: The Senate bill saw action and approval at the committee level last summer. The House worked its Highway Bill, the INVEST in America Act, into H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, which passed on July 1, 2020.

What Sportsmen and Women Need Out of Negotiations: This must-pass legislation presents an opportunity to energize the American economy, improve habitat connectivity and water quality, enhance public safety, and even expand hunter and angler access.

We especially like the House language and Senate funding levels set for states to prioritize, study, and build wildlife-friendly highway crossings—like overpasses, underpasses, culverts, and fences to funnel wildlife away from roads. These structures save human and animal lives and can connect migration routes disrupted by roadways.

It’s encouraging to see both chambers prioritize investments in wildlife crossings, but we’re pushing negotiators to adopt the Senate’s program, which guarantees new dedicated funding for projects, rather than diverting money from other programs. The Senate version also makes sure that states with smaller populations – often the ones with the greatest need for wildlife crossings – have access to the funds.

As in the water resources bill, conference negotiators can also do more for fish and wildlife while addressing the country’s infrastructure challenges. The TRCP is supportive of provisions that would invest in and authorize programs that prioritize natural infrastructure solutions, enhance water quality, and bolster drought resilience.

In particular, $500 million should be appropriated to the Army Corps of Engineers to complete a backlog of projects with habitat benefits that have already been authorized. Funding proposed for state support—including an increase for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, with 15 percent carved out specifically for natural infrastructure projects—should be included in the final bill, along with authorization for watershed recovery efforts in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Colorado River Basin.

Other important provisions include reauthorization of successful habitat and access programs, including those that support sportfishing, recreational boating, coastal resilience, forest management, conservation funding solutions, and improving outdoor recreation access for underserved communities.

Obviously, between the two bills and a very busy congressional calendar this fall, there is a lot at stake for hunters and anglers. Sign up to receive our emails so you don’t miss a single update.

This blog was co-authored by Kristyn Brady, Andrew Wilkins, and Kim Jensen. 

August 13, 2020

New Report Highlights Progress on Conserving Big Game Habitat

Hunters encouraged with progress to conserve winter range and migration corridors in the West

The Department of Interior has released a report showing that progress is underway to preserve big game habitat in the West.

The report highlights progress in implementing an Interior policy to improve habitat quality in Western big game winter range and migration corridors.

Secretarial Order 3362, signed on February 9, 2018, has been lauded by sportsmen and women for giving more attention to land management and planning in habitats where mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and other species migrate, rest, and spend the winter months.

“Not all federal policies yield quick results on the ground, but this one has already delivered so far for big game and hunters,” says Madeleine West, director of Western lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We know that much work needs to be done to ensure the long-term conservation of our iconic wildlife species and migrations across the West.”

Since the enactment of the Order on migration, the Department has provided 11 Western states with $6.4 million to address state-defined priority research projects and the mapping of elk, mule deer, and pronghorn migrations and habitat use. Additionally, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program have provided nearly $10 million, matched with more than $30 million from other partners, for habitat improvement and fencing projects.

“The resources provided to the states for research have advanced the science on migration across the West,” said Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The data emerging from those studies, coupled with investments in habitat improvement and restoration, will boost big game populations and ultimately improve sustainable opportunities for hunters in the future.”

The report also highlighted that long-term success will require strong partnerships and diverse funding sources.

The report is available here.


Top photo by Gregory Nickerson/Wyoming Migration Initiative.

August 7, 2020

Decision on Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zones in Mississippi Shows Power of Hunting Community

Sportsmen and women were a crucial part of defeating an uninformed effort to weaken disease response

In a complete reversal, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Commission recently voted to table discussion of altering the state’s chronic wasting disease management zones, focus areas where wildlife officials are responding to the rapid spread of this fatal disease in wild deer.

Even if you never plan to hunt in Mississippi, this is a win for you and all deer hunters. Here’s why: In May 2020, the Commission had already decided to proceed with changes that could have undermined the battle against CWD transmission. But the outcry from the hunting community—in state and across the country—made them reexamine the move and hold another vote.

The TRCP joined more than a dozen organizations representing millions of hunters, conservationists, and wildlife professionals in urging these decision-makers to follow national best practices and maintain the current structure of the state’s CWD Management Zones. Supplemental feeding of wild deer is banned in these areas, where CWD-positive animals have been identified, to prevent concentrating groups of deer that could then transmit the disease far and wide.

Thousands of individual sportsmen and women also commented on the Commission’s move to shrink these zones and change management tactics—which have been recommended by MDWFP biologists and follow the guidance of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies—within.

Advancing chronic wasting disease solutions will take prolonged effort, and some battles—for increased investments, better science, and more coordination—began years ago. It’s encouraging to see at least one example of our voices making a tangible difference in a matter of months.

The lesson: Keep taking action and speaking out for fish, wildlife, and habitat. Decision-makers are listening.

August 5, 2020

Anglers Praise Decision to Strengthen Striped Bass Populations

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission votes to improve menhaden management

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously today to improve management strategies for Atlantic menhaden, by requiring consideration for the small baitfish’s impact on fish up the food chain. Economically important sportfish such as striped bass rely on healthy menhaden populations for survival.

After recreational anglers weighed in, the Commission adopted the new ecological management system, which considers the needs of predator species and will begin the process of allowing fish like striped bass to meet population targets. Menhaden is the first fishery on the east coast to shift to an ecosystem management approach.

“This landmark decision represents a new era in fisheries management,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We are grateful for the Commission’s support of comprehensive strategies that support the entire Atlantic ecosystem. This decision will spur healthier menhaden and gamefish populations while supporting the recreational fishing economy along the eastern seaboard.”

The Commission has worked diligently for over a decade to thoroughly vet several ecosystem models that led to the development and implementation of these ecological reference points for Atlantic menhaden. The selected model includes important predator species like Atlantic striped bass and bluefish as well as alternative prey such as Atlantic herring. Ultimately, these reference points can be used to set quotas that will help ensure enough menhaden are left in the water to help Atlantic striped bass, bluefish and Atlantic herring rebuild from overfished conditions.

“Today’s decision is a critical step towards acknowledging that forage fish like menhaden are ecologically important to recreationally important species like striped bass and bluefish,” said Mike Leonard vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “A healthy Atlantic menhaden stock, and quotas that account for the needs of predators, is the science-based management we look for to help support a healthy ecosystem and the sportfishing opportunities it provides.”

“As recreational anglers, we commend the board for adding this new tool to the tool box which allows for a more holistic approach to managing the coast’s most valuable forage for striped bass and many other important recreationally caught gamefish species,” said David Sikorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland.

“The implementation of the ecological reference points for Atlantic menhaden represents a significant step in advancing science-based fisheries management,” said Chris Horton, senior director of fisheries policy of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “For the first time, we now have a model that can account for the need to leave menhaden in the water for the benefit of other important fisheries and the marine ecosystem as a whole.”

“Recreational boaters and anglers stand behind science-backed conservation efforts to maintain the health of our nation’s fisheries,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, government relations manager of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “This is why our community has come out so strongly in support of the approved Atlantic menhaden management plan, which would support the whole ecosystem and begin the process of bringing back populations of prized fish like striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish.”

According to a recent scientific study, menhaden reduction fishing contributes to a nearly 30 percent decline in striped bass numbers. The striped bass fishing industry contributes $7.8 billion in GDP to the economy along the Atlantic coast.


Top photo by David Blinken.



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.

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