Guest Blogger Karen Hyun

October 29, 2020

How to Allow Fish and Wildlife Habitat to Protect Us from Severe Storms

Using lessons from Superstorm Sandy and safeguarding the coastal systems that help limit the destructive nature of storms

At this time eight years ago, the Northeast and Atlantic Coast were being pummeled by one of the strongest, deadliest, and most destructive hurricanes in recent memory, ultimately inflicting roughly $70 billion in damage on American communities.

Unfortunately, Sandy has been followed by other destructive and costly hurricanes, and climate change is contributing to more frequent storms. As we work to implement solutions for the impacts of climate change, it is clear that many of the most cost-effective options also provide benefits to fish, wildlife, and all Americans who enjoy outdoor recreation. It is also clear that we face many difficult decisions about the future of development where it can affect our lands and waters.

One law that has helped to keep this balance since 1982 is the Coastal Barrier Resources Act. But there are opportunities and threats to the future success of this policy.

Keeping Coastal Habitat Intact

When Ronald Reagan signed the CBRA into law, he commended it as a “major step forward in the conservation of our magnificent coastal resources [that] will enhance both wise natural resource conservation and fiscal responsibility.” Nearly 40 years later, the CBRA has saved the federal taxpayer $9.5 billion, while protecting coastal habitat that is vital to fish, shellfish, birds, and other wildlife. The CBRA has also helped to improve coastal resiliency by discouraging development in areas that are vulnerable to hurricanes, sea level rise, and storms.

The CBRA established the Coastal Barrier Resources System, which includes roughly 3.5 million acres of undeveloped barrier islands, beaches, wetlands, inlets, and estuarine areas along the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Areas in the System are shielded from most federally funded development, so these habitats remain undeveloped or lightly developed.

This is good news for sportsmen and women who enjoy saltwater fishing, boating, and other forms of outdoor recreation. Coastal wetlands and nearshore waters protected by the Coastal Barrier Resources System comprise important fish habitat. In fact, more than half of the fish and shellfish caught recreationally in the Southeast depend on coastal wetlands and estuarine habitat.

Wetlands protected by the System also help to buffer and absorb the impacts from storms like Sandy, helping to shield upland communities from flooding and other harm. A 2020 study found that, on average, wetlands can greatly reduce property damage from storms, providing roughly $700,000 in protective value per square mile annually.

The Future of the CBRA

In 2018 and 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified more than a quarter-million acres that could be added to the protective System in nine states affected by Hurricane Sandy—New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia—a storm that affected almost half the country. The proposed maps were publicly reviewed and now must be finalized and sent to Congress for action next year. Adding new areas to the Coastal Barrier Resources System would help conserve more habitat for fish and wildlife, enhance coastal resiliency, and save money.

But while the new maps are welcome, an action by the Department of Interior has prompted concern by taxpayer advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and sportsmen’s groups, including TRCP. In November 2019, the Department of Interior announced that federally funded sand mining would be allowed in undeveloped inlets, islands, and beaches in the areas protected by the CBRA to generate sand for beach renourishment projects in developed areas.

Sand mining threatens habitat and reduces storm resiliency—the cornerstones of the CBRA. CBRA expansion could make even more of a difference for fish, wildlife, and coastal communities, but undercutting one of its core protections will reduce its ability to conserve habitat and buffer upland communities. The National Audubon Society has challenged the DOI’s decision so the CBRA’s full benefits to habitat and public safety can be restored.

Learn more here.

Karen Hyun is the vice president for coastal conservation at the National Audubon Society.

Top photo by Daniel X. O’Neil via flickr.

 

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Major Conservation Rollbacks Finalized in Alaska Despite Opposition from Hunters and Anglers

Decision to fully repeal the Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest opens 9.2 million acres of public lands to development

Today the U.S. Forest Service issued its final decision to eliminate conservation safeguards on 9.2 million acres of public land in the Tongass National Forest, a move that would allow logging and roadbuilding in areas of the forest that have never been developed. This dramatic policy shift poses a clear threat to the region’s world-class fisheries and vital big game habitat.

The Forest Service issued its proposed plan for the Tongass last fall, after the White House instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to fully exempt the forest from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a successful management plan that conserves national forest lands that have never been developed. This directive closely followed an off-the-record meeting between President Trump and Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy. By pursuing the most extreme option, the administration effectively foreclosed any opportunity for a compromise solution and forced a majority of stakeholders—locally and nationally—to oppose the agency’s proposal.

By some estimates, only 50 percent of the most mature, large-diameter trees in the Tongass remain standing. For two decades, the Roadless Rule has supported industries in Alaska that depend on conserving the remaining high-quality habitat, such as hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation, tourism, and commercial fishing. The rule also has built-in flexibility and allows for community development projects when they serve the public interest.

Here are three examples of how lifting the Roadless Rule might affect the fish, wildlife, and people who call the Tongass home.

The future of Southeast Alaska’s abundant salmon fisheries will face new risks.

According to the Forest Service, approximately 17,000 miles of pristine creeks, rivers and lakes in the Tongass provide optimal spawning and rearing conditions for all five species of wild Pacific salmon and several varieties of trout. The nutrient-rich waters of the Tongass produce approximately one-quarter of all commercially harvested salmon in Alaska and offer exciting sportfishing opportunities for anglers from around the world.

Critical to the health of this fishery are the intact stands of spruce and hemlock trees that anchor stream banks and help regulate water temperature by shading streams in the summer and insulating them in the winter. Because the Roadless Rule exemption results in a loss of protections for these key elements of salmon habitat, it could be a blow to the region’s commercial fishing and seafood processing industries.

Sitka blacktail deer populations are likely to see declines in the long-term.

Deer in Southeast Alaska are generally confined to old-growth forest winter ranges from December through March. According to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, medium and large-tree hemlock and spruce forests provide the best winter habitat during deep snows. Larger trees offer more protection from the snow and provide greater access to winter food sources. Old forests also provide vital fawning habitat in the spring and foraging habitat in the fall.

Although deer populations tend to increase in the short-term (20 to 30 years) following timber harvest, populations tend to decline in the long run as the new canopy closes, resulting in lower habitat quality. In the agency’s cost-benefit analysis of Roadless Rule alternatives, the Forest Service determined that repealing the Roadless Rule “could lead to a decline in the deer population, particularly following severe winters.” Healthy populations of Sitka blacktail deer support recreational hunting opportunities and food security in rural communities.

Alaska’s economy could have a harder time rebounding.

The Forest Service projects that a full exemption of the Roadless Rule on the Tongass would result in $319,000 per year in lost revenue across Southeast Alaska’s recreation industry. That doesn’t account for the potential negative impacts of development to the entire tourism industry, which has contributed more than $700 million annually in visitor spending across Southeast Alaska in recent years.

While important for several reasons, Alaska’s timber industry supplies less than one percent of all jobs in Southeast Alaska. By the Forest Service’s own analysis, a full repeal of the Roadless Rule is expected to have only a “minimal beneficial effect” on the region’s forest products industry, and at a significant cost to taxpayers. Instead of focusing on cutting critically important undeveloped forests, we should be helping the timber industry transition to second growth forest restoration and management – an approach that would support both jobs and forest health.

What happens next?

Today’s final decision to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule is the unfortunate result of a politically driven process at the expense of irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat. Six options were considered in the rulemaking process, ranging from “no action” to the full repeal of the Roadless Rule. Despite overwhelming public feedback to keep conservation safeguards in place, the administration chose the most extreme option and repealed the Roadless Rule.

Because the most unbalanced option was chosen, it will likely be challenged at every turn until a different outcome is reached. The TRCP is focused on achieving durable solutions, and we will continue to roll up our sleeves and find common ground in Alaska to safeguard roadless areas for the benefit of hunting, fishing, and recreation-based economies; encourage a transition away from logging intact forests that have never been developed and toward second-growth logging that benefits both mills and forest health; and support the needs of local communities to diversify their income sources and look long-term toward sustainable outdoor recreation industries.

Sign up as a TRCP partner and stay tuned for future opportunities to help restore conservation safeguards to the Tongass.

 

Photo: Ben Matthews (www.bentmatthews.com)

Steve Kline

October 26, 2020

A Toast to the Patron Saint of Conservation on His Birthday

If you’ve looked at the state of our country lately and thought, ‘What would Theodore Roosevelt do?’ this might be your answer 

Hunting and the American outdoors were fundamental to who Theodore Roosevelt was—without them, he would be unrecognizable. There have been other sportsmen in the White House (Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight Eisenhower were all passionate flyfishermen), but T.R.’s greatness cannot be separated from his passion for the outdoors, which is what makes him the patron saint of conservation in America.

So, it’s no wonder we’re thinking of him today, as his 162nd birthday coincides with a pivotal time for our nation and the conservation priorities he helped to set in motion.

Theodore Roosevelt led with a clarity of purpose, and he would have seen clearly the task facing modern-day hunters and anglers—it is no less than the survival of our outdoor traditions. The future of hunting and fishing, not to mention our fish and wildlife resources, is in the hands of decision-makers who are often uninformed or downright hostile. But it is also in our hands. We must move fish and wildlife conservation up the hierarchy of our own political decision-making and vote accordingly.

If, like Roosevelt, hunting and angling are foundational to your very being, something you want to pass down to your children, then you can’t afford to be passive about policies that will affect your access or the responsible management of fish and wildlife habitat.

A generation ago, many elected leaders learned the language of the land as kids, knew the culture of opening day, and shared stories of blaze orange and bird dogs at the Formica counters of small town diners. But today, the lawmakers who understand our culture beyond its value at the voting booth are few and far between. This reality reflects broader trends: an increasingly urban population that’s more and more profoundly disconnected from wildlife and wild places.

Still there is no more important issue in this country than conservation, and to celebrate T.R. is to celebrate his famous maxim.

Subsequently we must hold our elected officials accountable when they make decisions that threaten habitat and access. We must inform others, and be informed ourselves, on the importance of the North American model of wildlife management, and explain how hunters and anglers play an absolutely essential role in the funding of conservation work. After all, following in T.R.’s footsteps, we are the prime authors of some of the greatest fish and wildlife conservation success stories in the history of the world.

To be a hunter or an angler in 2020 is to be a steward for the future. It is no less an essential call than the one that motivated Theodore Roosevelt and a generation of American conservationists, to whom we owe a profound debt of gratitude. The hunters of the next century need us to carry that mantle forward with our words and actions.

Get started right now by urging lawmakers to include investments in conservation in any economic recovery legislation. Congress can put Americans back to work during the COVID crisis by supporting conservation programs that restore habitat, fix trails and access sites, make highways safer for people and wildlife, and build more resilient water systems. Click here to take action.

 

This post was originally published on October 27, 2016 and has been updated.

Kristyn Brady

October 23, 2020

TRCP and 40 Groups Launch Conservationists for Climate Solutions

#OurLandWaterWildlife campaign outlines seven key areas of focus for policymakers

A diverse coalition of 41 groups from across the hunting, fishing, landowner, and conservation communities launched a new website to highlight the impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, and habitat and promote policy solutions in seven key areas.

Ourlandwaterwildlife.org will be a hub of educational resources, storytelling, and advocacy dedicated to natural solutions that sequester carbon and build habitat resiliency to combat climate change. Many of the coalition’s recommendations are proven strategies for safeguarding the fish and wildlife habitat that supports outdoor recreation opportunities in the United States.

“Our organizations already advocate for and implement land-and water-based solutions to make our rivers, lakes, streams, forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal systems more resilient to the impacts of climate change,” the coalition writes in a formal joint statement, which is being used in communications with key lawmakers. “Conservation organizations and state and federal land and wildlife management agencies have been on the cutting edge of ecosystem-based solutions. Together we can expand these programs to have a much greater impact far more quickly.”

The recommendations included in the statement and at ourlandwaterwildlife.org are intended for Congress, the executive branch, agency leadership, states, and other decision-makers developing a national-level approach to addressing climate change.

The seven key areas of focus for the coalition include: Agriculture; Forests, Rangelands, and Grasslands; Oceans; Rivers, Lakes, and Streams; Wetlands; Coastal Resilience; and Adaptation.

Learn more at ourlandwaterwildlife.org.

October 21, 2020

More Atlantic Menhaden Will Help Rebuild the Iconic Striped Bass Fishery

Managers vote to reduce Atlantic menhaden quota by 10%

A coalition of eastern states took a step toward improving the management of the Atlantic menhaden, a tiny baitfish consumed by striped bass any other sportfish.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Board voted to reduce the Atlantic menhaden quota by 10 percent, establishing a quota of 194,400 metric tons for the 2021 and 2022 fishing years.

The harvest reduction comes in response to a recent fundamental shift in Atlantic menhaden management. In August, ASMFC unanimously adopted a new ecological management system, which considers the needs of predator species and is set up to specifically help rebuild the striped bass population and fishery.  Yesterday’s quota decision on menhaden is especially important to the sportfishing and boating community because it represents a follow through on the commitment by ASMFC to implement this new ecological management system.

“The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission took an important step in curbing harmful menhaden reduction fishing, something recreational fishing and conservation groups have been working on for more than 20 years,” said Whit Fosburgh, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s important to note that the commission’s own science showed that an additional cut is needed to give striped bass a 50 percent chance of meeting target goals. Therefore, additional harvest cuts will likely be needed to ensure the long-term recovery and health of striped bass and other important sportfish. The TRCP will continue to work to implement additional measures to guarantee there are enough menhaden in the Atlantic Basin to serve the critical role of forage as well as improve water quality.”

Several recreational fishing and boating organizations recently sent a letter to ASMFC urging the adoption of a conservative coastwide total allowable catch that will help rebuild the iconic striped bass fishery.

“In order to have a high likelihood of rebuilding striped bass, the fishing mortality for striped bass and menhaden must each be maintained at their target levels,” said Mike Leonard, Vice President of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Last year, ASA supported ASMFC’s decision to control fishing mortality for striped bass to its target level, and this decision sets us on the path toward achieving the needed reductions in menhaden harvest to achieve its ecosystem reference point target level.”

“This important first step by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to put science-backed limits on menhaden harvests will help support the entire ecosystem of prized sportfish that our industry’s boaters and anglers count on,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, Government Relations Manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “While more may need to be done in the future, this significant improvement to fisheries management will allow our community to work with ASMFC to continue to reduce fishing mortality, and steward our whole marine ecosystem well into the future.”

“Given the importance of menhaden to the Atlantic Coasts largest recreational fishery it is concerning that the board set upcoming quotas at levels that include more risk than sound ecological management suggests,” said David Sikorski, executive director of CCA Maryland. ”While more fish will be left in the water for predators next year, managers should be concerned over the near-failure of recruitment of striped bass that was recently reported in the Chesapeake this year, and not lose site of the vital connection that harvest levels of menhaden have to the future of striped bass.”

 

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.

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