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November 9, 2020

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November 4, 2020

Oregon Needs to Crowdsource $800K for Conservation by the End of the Year

The Beaver State is testing an innovative new funding idea that would benefit all species, including game

Hunters and anglers have long been champions of a proven conservation funding model based on a user pay-to-play system, which has been incredibly effective at restoring and sustaining fish and wildlife populations across the country.

Unfortunately, participation in hunting is declining. A 2016 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed that participation in hunting dropped in the previous five years by more than 2 million people to a total of 11.5 million hunters. Total expenditures by hunters also declined by 29 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 to $25.6 billion.

This has significant ripple effects on not only the key federal funding models that support conservation of fish and wildlife, but also the base of support for our public lands and natural resources policies.

Though license sales seem to be on the rise in this season of social distancing, declining participation in hunting is expected to speed up within the next ten years and widen already existing funding shortfalls. There is a growing need for the wildlife conservation community to broaden this funding base through alternative measures and opportunities to bring the greater outdoor recreation community into a stronger and more diversified funding model.

In my home state of Oregon, a broad group of stakeholders, including the TRCP, have been working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and state legislators to find innovative ways to bring in more funding and resources for fish and wildlife conservation. Here’s what that could look like and what needs to be done to ensure its success.

A Stronger Future for Conservation Funding

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) receives less than 10 percent of its budget from the state general fund and instead relies on revenue from fees paid by hunters and anglers. As is the case in many states, this funding model cannot keep up with the many challenges facing Oregon’s fish and wildlife, such as human population growth, development, drought, climate change, and ocean acidification.

Additionally, most of the funds received by state agencies like ODFW must be focused on game species. As a result, some of Oregon’s fish and wildlife in greatest need of conservation efforts are without a dedicated funding source because they are not pursued by sportsmen and women.

Oregon has been working for several years to diversify its conservation funding to best address the 21st century challenges facing the state’s more than 700 species of fish and wildlife. In 2019, the state legislature passed HB 2829 to create the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund. The law will put $1 million from the general fund aside to be matched by $1 million in private funds raised by ODFW and other partners, and this will serve as seed money toward an alternative, sustainable source of conservation funding in our state.

The legislation also created an advisory committee that approves the use of this funding for projects that focus on the goals of the Oregon Conservation Strategy and the Nearshore Strategy, two plans developed by ODFW that identify top conservation priorities. Significantly, the new Conservation and Recreation Fund would provide funding for non-game species and for improving outdoor recreational opportunities for all Oregonians. It would also serve as matching funds for federal investments made through the proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, national legislation that would distribute conservation funding across the country, including $20 million annually here in Oregon.

The advisory committee has recently chosen the first set of projects that will be funded through OCRF. Among other things, these efforts will help to conserve wildlife by improving beaver habitat in the high desert, installing a new wildlife underpass and fencing along Highway 97 in central Oregon, and researching the feasibility of reintroducing sea otters along Oregon’s coastline.

But there is a catch: The legislature will only provide the $1 million in general funds if the match is provided by private sources. To date, thousands of Oregonians have already stepped up to raise more than $200,000 as of November 1, but time is running out. The legislature asked for the full amount of funding to be matched by private donations by December 31, 2020.

How to Help

For this idea to work, we must show legislators that all Oregonians who enjoy the outdoors are willing to pitch in for the conservation of fish and wildlife, not just hunters and anglers. Support for OCRF is not just about raising a million dollars, it’s about working together to shift how state government prioritizes general fund dollars and invests in meaningful conservation work.

If the current fundraising campaign is successful, coalition partners like the TRCP will confidently go back to the state capital and make sure a bill is submitted that dedicates $13 million to $15 million a year from the general fund toward fish and wildlife management.

As hunters and anglers, we already pay to play. We shoulder the burden of conservation for everything the outdoors gives us. But we should strive to work with all Oregonians who enjoy the outdoors to give conservation funding a successful future. This new fund will improve critical conservation goals, expand opportunities for responsible outdoor recreation, and reduce barriers for underserved communities to better access the outdoors.

Will we see 100,000 Oregonians support these efforts with a gift of $10 for conservation? Please join us in support of modernizing funding for wildlife conservation and improving outdoor opportunities for all.

Learn more at oregonisalive.org.

Click here for more information about the Advisory Committee and the Conservation and Recreation Fund. For more information on the Oregon Conservation Strategy, visit the ODFW website.

 

Top photo by Rick Swart/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife via flickr.

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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.

Top photo by Ben Matthews (bentmatthews.com)

 

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October 27, 2020

Support a Bill That Promotes Better Catch and Release of Red Snapper

There’s no downside to sending reef fish safely back to their depths

Few things frustrate conservation-conscious anglers more than releasing a fish only to watch it flounder along the surface, unable to return to the depths from which it was caught. But no matter the steps you take to care for a fish that should live to fight another day, sometimes the trauma of the fight is too much to overcome.

Reef fish, like snapper and grouper, caught from depths of 50 feet or more are especially vulnerable because of barotrauma, a phenomenon which causes the swim bladder and eye sockets to expand after a rapid rise to the surface. When this happens, the fish’s stomach can protrude from its mouth and acts as a balloon, making the fish float.

Unless that pressure is relieved, the fish cannot return to the reef. Anglers can prevent this by using a venting tool to puncture the air bladder or a descending device—a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that will hold the fish while it is lowered to a sufficient depth to recover from the effects of barotrauma. This device can be anything as simple as a weighted milk crate on a rope to something more sophisticated, like the SeaQualizer, which has pressure-release clips that allow fish to swim away upon reaching the desired depth.

Angling advocacy and conservation groups have been working with regional fishery managers, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Congress, and many others to promote and require the use of venting tools and descending devices in the Gulf of Mexico. And there is legislation pending in the Senate right now that could make this #ResponsibleRecreation practice more widespread.

The Rise of the DESCEND Act

The Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act is a mouthful, for sure, but all you need to remember is DESCEND—the Act passed the House on October 1, 2020, and anglers need to call on the Senate to take up this priority before the end of the 116th Congress.

Introduced by Representatives Garret Graves (R-La.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) in the House and Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the Senate, the bill requires possession of a descending device or venting tool that is rigged and ready to be used on any recreational or commercial fishing boat targeting reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

The bill also requires the Department of Commerce to work with the National Academy of Sciences to study the effectiveness of these devices, determine the shortcomings of our current data collection on release mortality, and propose how to achieve improved rates of catch-and-release survival to increase fishing opportunities.

This is important because there is such a wide range of estimates from fisheries researchers on how many Gulf red snapper and other reef fish die after being released. In 2016, NOAA estimated that nearly 3.7 million recreational and commercially caught snapper perished after being released—an astounding number already, and one that has grown exponentially as the snapper population has swelled to unprecedented size in the last decade.

Better Odds for Out-of-Season Snapper

There are a lot of snapper in the Gulf. It’s difficult to fish reefs in 50-plus feet of water and not catch red snapper. However, seasons remain relatively short—in some states less than 50 days—so keeping these fish is not a year-round option.

A 2014-2015 study conducted by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi determined red snapper that had been vented and rapidly recompressed in a way that’s similar to using a SeaQualizer or other descending device had a 100-percent survival rate in water depths of 100 feet or less. Those just recompressed survived 92 percent of the time. Survival rates dropped for fish caught in deeper water, but still exceeded those of fish released with no effort to recompress or vent.

The DESCEND Act becoming law would ensure that recompression devices and venting tools are on vessels. And with some effort to educate anglers on how to properly use these devices, it could dramatically increase the number of snapper, grouper, and other reef fish that are successfully caught and released.

The bill’s passage can also work in concert with a recently approved effort by the Gulf oil spill trustee group. It would allow NOAA to use $30 million in Deepwater Horizon disaster penalties over the next eight years to increase the use of barotrauma reduction devices among Gulf anglers and monitor the impacts to reef fish.

There is no downside to the DESCEND Act becoming law. The research supports barotrauma reduction device use as good for conservation. Many anglers are already effectively using the devices and the bill’s passage will make sure more anglers have and learn to use them.

The Senate has every reason to pass this bill and send it to the president’s desk this year. Make sure your lawmakers hear from you in support of the DESCEND Act.

 

Top photo courtesy of Adrian Gray at IGFA.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

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.

Learn More

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