PA Anglers: Ensure the Best of our Best Waters Get Top Conservation Status
Experts have spent years or, in some cases, decades monitoring trout populations and water quality in these streams—now their time has come
Right now, hunters and anglers in the Keystone State have a rare opportunity to help strengthen protections on more than 45 miles of exceptional coldwater trout streams in the middle Lehigh River basin.
Through February 12, 2021, this list of waterways is being considered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for additional conservation safeguards under the commonwealth’s Water Quality Standards, Clean Streams Law, and the federal Clean Water Act.
Our polling shows that 92 percent of sportsmen and women in Pennsylvania support maintaining or strengthening clean water standards. You probably feel the same way if you’ve ever taken action to support upgrading PA streams to wild trout or Class A wild trout status. The TRCP provides local sportsmen and women the opportunity to engage in this process at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission four times a year.
But this is different. Taking action today actually doubles down on those advocacy efforts and pushes exceptional trout waters into two even more elite categories.
What Are High Quality and Exceptional Value Streams?
Properly designating qualified waters as High Quality (HQ) or Exceptional Value (EV) recognizes the significance of protecting and maintaining clean water where it already exists. This is not only the correct conservation ethic, it is also a more cost effective way to maintain water quality than attempting to restore these streams after they have been degraded.
Waterways can be recommended for upgraded status by the DEP, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), or the public, but an arduous assessment by the DEP then follows. In fact, the evaluation and designation of High Quality and Exceptional Value streams often represents years, if not decades, of work and detailed water surveys.
Documenting the presence of wild trout is often a first step, but there are other qualifiers for HQ and EV status that are determined through macroinvertebrate sampling and water chemistry testing. Many waters being considered right now are already recognized as wild trout waters and several are recognized as Class A wild trout waters by PFBC. This means that not only do these waters sustain naturally reproducing populations of trout, but several of them are among the best in the state.
This effort to conserve the best of the best is particularly important to our state’s $26.9-billion outdoor recreation economy right now. Last year, the PFBC saw fishing license sales jump by 20 percent, and boat registrations spiked by an impressive 36 percent. As 2021 begins, license purchases are outpacing even last year’s sales, further highlighting the importance of conserving our most productive waters.
Take Action Now
These streams have waited long enough. Now is the time to help them across the finish line.
Take a minute and sign our action alert to let the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection know that sportsmen and sportswomen believe in protecting these waters for generations to come.
Hunters and Anglers Respond to President Biden’s Climate Executive Order
TRCP focuses on putting Americans back to work using climate solutions
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s president and CEO, Whit Fosburgh, issued the following statement in response to President Biden’s Executive Order on climate change:
“From the wetlands that make coastal communities more resilient to the forests and grasslands that sequester carbon, our nation’s lands and waters are engines ready to be turned on to address the impacts of climate change. We appreciate the president’s commitment to using the best available science to conserve our outdoor places for future generations. As this administration implements these directives, we urge them to engage people who live in the communities most affected by these policies, including hunters and anglers. The outdoor recreation economy is a powerful job creator and can play a key role in putting Americans back to work while mitigating the impacts of our changing climate.”
But, as more Americans have turned to the outdoors and our fish and wildlife resources, there is more for the 117th Congress to get done. As we saw throughout 2019 and 2020, nothing sparks bipartisanship quite like conservation, and TRCP looks forward to working with our Democratic and Republican allies to assemble the next coalitions for conservation policy success.
Here is our shortlist for the habitat, access, and funding priorities they should take up first.
Create Conservation Jobs
The Civilian Conservation Corps was a keystone of the New Deal response to the Great Depression, and it put significant numbers of unemployed Americans back to work building a legacy of trails, parkways, lodges, and tree-plantings that are still plainly visible across the country. Seventy years later, in response to the Great Recession of 2008, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), funding all manner of infrastructure and natural resource restoration projects meant to get people back to work.
As we stand at another economic threshold, with 10 million Americans still out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress should once again craft economic recovery legislation that invests in conservation programs with a track record of creating jobs and restoring our natural resources.
In the last decade or more, it has become clear that American hunters and anglers are among the first to witness the impacts of a changing climate. Altered migrations, delayed rut seasons, and invasive species are just a few of the challenges sportsmen and women face as we plan time afield.
Now, leaders in Washington seem poised to act on climate, and with such a unique stake in the outcome, hunters and anglers must be at the table.
While there will certainly be much talk about pricing carbon, electric vehicles, and grid modernization, truly comprehensive climate legislation must include dramatically expanded roles for our nation’s water- and land-based systems that, conservative estimates indicate, could sequester at least 20 percent of our carbon targets. This means investing in grassland conservation, coastal and wetland restoration initiatives, and active forest health projects—exactly the kind of climate projects that benefit rural America and enhance the adaptability of our fish and wildlife resources.
Modernize Public Land Data
Increasingly, hunters, anglers, and all forms of outdoor enthusiasts seek to plan their adventures using the latest in mobile technology. This revolution in how people interface with their public lands has highlighted how little data about those lands is available in a technologically relevant format. To this day, knowing where one can go and what one can do there sometimes requires paper maps and an awareness of arcane and ever-changing agency policies.
Seeking to address these challenges, in 2020 the TRCP worked with a diverse bipartisan mix of House and Senate legislators to introduce the Modernizing Access to our Public Lands (MAPLand) Act.
With less time spent commuting and fewer things competing for our limited time, folks have found more chances to head afield during the pandemic. Some states have indicated that hunting and fishing license sales have soared, and outdoor businesses have seen strong demand. But this uptick in outdoor enthusiasm means more pressure on access points and outdoor recreation infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the state wildlife agencies haven’t been able to keep up. Across the nation, state fish and wildlife agencies have seen furloughs, layoffs, hiring freezes, and a reduction in volunteer participation, all while usage of natural resources has been increasing, creating a tremendous capacity issue for our frontline fish and wildlife professionals. What’s more, we now enter into that time of year when state governors and legislatures will be considering state budgets, and fish and wildlife agencies may well be on the proverbial chopping block.
Congress should prioritize swift passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act as part of their comprehensive COVID response and get needed support to state and local governments. Many aspects of state governments have been stressed by this pandemic, and state fish and wildlife agencies are no exception. They shouldn’t be ignored as they perform an ever more essential role in keeping the American public safely enjoying our outdoors.
And while COVID-19 has had catastrophic effects on our nation and the world over the course of the last year, a wildlife disease crisis has continued to spread throughout the country. Chronic wasting disease, a 100-percent fatal disease that affects all species of North American deer, was recently identified in Ohio’s wild whitetail population and the wild elk population of Grand Teton National Park.
It is time indeed for Congress to act on comprehensive chronic wasting disease legislation, which would fund strong state response plans including better testing and surveillance, funding for better research, and improved management of the movement of live deer. There is arguably no more important issue facing wildlife conservation, and the issue deserves the attention of congressional leaders and the Biden Administration.
The 117th Congress and Beyond
No matter how much of great import we got done in the last Congress, there is much more to do, including far more than we can include in this list. The role that conservation and natural resources play in our national economy, our health, and our quality of life have never been more clear. All of us at the TRCP look forward to getting to work on our agenda for the 117th Congress and the future of America’s hunters and anglers and fish and wildlife.
MeatEater Podcast ft. TRCP: The State of Conservation Moving Into 2021
Listen now for our CEO’s take on the wins and losses for habitat and access last year
Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP, joined Steven Rinella, Clay Newcomb, Brody Henderson, and Janis Putelis on the MeatEater Podcast in late December to discuss the state of conservation leading into 2021. If, as the podcast’s title suggests, we gave 2020 a sideways thumb, the TRCP is making every effort to give conservation a thumbs up this year. Take a listen and arm yourself with the knowledge to continue our conservation fight!
Major Spending and COVID-Relief Package Contains Investments in Conservation
Year-end bill includes wide ranging provisions for fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation access
A sweeping legislative package to keep the government running and invest in COVID relief has become law. Tucked throughout the bill are numerous conservation provisions that invest in climate solutions, sustainably manage water resources, restore habitat, combat chronic wasting disease, and strengthen access for hunters and anglers.
“In a year that has been incredibly difficult for families and communities across America, conservation provides a place where we can find glimmers of hope and common ground,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This sweeping legislation addresses many issues that are top of mind for hunters and anglers, including investments in habitat and access. We can close out this year knowing we accomplished a lot for conservation and turn our eyes toward 2021 and the goals of investing in climate solutions and putting Americans back to work through conservation.”
The more than 5,500-page bill contains the following provisions:
Invests $900 million in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, of this $67.5 million must be used to expand recreational access to public land.
Infuses $1.9 billion into our nation’s public lands, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and national parks, critical new resources for addressing deferred maintenance projects.
Increases communities’ ability to use nature-based solutions to meet their flood control needs.
$7 million for states to manage chronic wasting disease.
$2 million for chronic wasting disease work at the National Wildlife Research Center.
$3.72 million to fund collaborative chronic wasting disease studies, including research to identify early detection tools and carcass disposal.
Invests in the restoration of the Everglades, the Great Lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Allows conservation organizations to access WaterSMART grants, including for nature-based water solutions.
Updates the Army Corps’ Floodplain Management Service program so that it can improve its ability to provide technical assistance that communities desperately need while also prioritizing assistance for economically disadvantaged communities and communities subject to repetitive flooding.
Ensures consistency in cost-sharing requirements for natural infrastructure projects.
Directs the Army Corps of Engineers to update guidance on sea level rise and inland flooding.
Expands the Cooperative Watershed Management Program that allows communities to develop joint solutions to their water challenges.
Establishes a new program to fund fish passage.
Recognizes tribal water rights and funds projects that will provide access to clean, safe drinking water and other critical water supplies.
Urges Natural Resources Conservation Service when converting wetlands to ensure that one acre of impact equals one acre of conserved land elsewhere.
Requires Natural Resources Conservation Service to prioritize implementation of Drought Contingency Plans for Colorado River Basin.
Directs Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop Environmental Quality Incentives Program guidance for local feedback on irrigation district-led projects.
Strongly encourages the Farm Services Agency to prioritize State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program.
Prohibits new oil and gas leases within ten miles of the Chaco Cultural National Historic Park in New Mexico for the next year.
Additionally, the legislation conveys approximately 93 acres in North Dakota to construct the Roosevelt Presidential Library.
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 conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.