A Watershed Moment for Pacific Northwest Salmon and Steelhead
Idaho lawmaker takes the lead on recovery effort
Sportsmen and women should rally behind Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) who earlier this week laid out a bold, thoughtful, and highly vetted plan to solve the Northwest’s most intractable conservation problem: the impending extinction of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.
Last Sunday, the 11-term representative from Idaho’s Second Congressional District, proposed a $33-billion infrastructure investment plan that would bypass four dams on the Lower Snake River to aid in the recovery of salmon and steelhead runs, which have dwindled over the past three decades despite the government spending $17 billion on recovery efforts. The plan would also reform the region’s power network and help the Northwest’s commodity producers embrace new ways to ship their crops to the Pacific Rim and the world.
The need is critical. Runs of salmon and steelhead are at historic lows, driven to the precipice by hostile ocean conditions, climate change, and barriers that obstruct their migration to upstream spawning habitat.
Simpson’s plan is an audacious one, for sure. It would set aside:
$1.8 billion for dam bypass.
$2.3 billion for updating the region’s transportation network.
$10 billion for the Bonneville Power Administration to offset its lost hydropower production and modernization of its infrastructure to better accommodate new power sources.
$1.5 billion to help the agriculture industry transition from a river-based travel corridor to a rail-based one.
$1.25 billion for creation of a research facility where technology can be developed to capture and store energy from renewable sources.
It also accounts for less vocal interests, like marina owners, river guides, and boat owners who could be hurt by the loss of slack water.
While it is ambitious in scope, Simpson’s plan is rooted in collaboration and extensive communications. Simpson and his team have held more than 300 meetings in the past three years, hearing the opinions of grain growers, shippers, state officials, anglers, irrigators, sportsmen, and leaders of all the communities impacted by his proposal.
“Working together as a delegation and with the governors, stakeholders, and conservationists, we can create a Northwest solution that ends the salmon wars and puts the Northwest and our energy systems on a certain, secure, and viable path for decades and restores Idaho’s salmon,” Simpson said.
As climate change intensifies and partisan divides deepen, Simpson has returned to the roots of great conservation: a collaborative solution that comes from the realities on the ground. It is based in pragmatic care for all stakeholders and a commitment to consensus and the economic impacts of the region.
It is the kind of process that hunters and anglers should support. Thank you, Rep. Simpson for showing the way.
Interior Will Ensure Land and Water Conservation Fund Is Used Where It’s Needed Most
Hunters and anglers call for prioritization of projects that increase public access to recreational opportunities
The Department of Interior announced today that it will be reducing restrictions on the availability of Land and Water Conservation Fund investments, ensuring that these dollars are used for the best possible opportunities to enhance public land access and habitat.
The LWCF was plussed up last August after the Great American Outdoors Act became law, marking one of the greatest bipartisan conservation achievements in decades. The bill guarantees full funding for the program at $900 million each year. Today’s announcement overturns Secretarial Order 3388, which deprioritized Bureau of Land Management lands for consideration for LWCF projects and gave county commissioners veto authority over private landowners’ decisions to sell their land.
“We are pleased the Department is doing away with rules that could have crippled getting these critical dollars to the ground,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen want to ensure that the LWCF is working to increase public access to outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve important habitats. This is going to require investments in agency capacity, prioritization of areas with recreational value, and coordination between federal, state, and private partners. We appreciate that hunters and anglers are being heard in this process.”
In addition to prioritizing the conservation of habitat and access through federal lands, the Land and Water Conservation Fund provides matching grants to state and tribal governments for the development of fishing areas, hunting access, hiking and biking trails, city parks, and urban green spaces.
“Whether you live in New York City or Cody, Wyoming, the COVID pandemic has shown us that access to the outdoors is critical for our health and wellbeing,” said Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer of the TRCP. “The LWCF opens doors for people to experience our natural resources, while also investing in local economies and creating jobs.”
“Proper implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund can make a lasting difference on these landscapes,” said Joel Webster, senior director of TRCP’s western programs. “Looking forward, if states can put these investments toward conserving fish and wildlife habitat and increasing public access, it will benefit generations of hunters and anglers to come.”
New coalition of sportsmen and women seeks to keep a landscape from being ‘”loved to death”
Oregon’s Owyhee Country is a paradise for those fond of adventure and solitude with a rod or rifle in hand. But what was once enjoyed mostly by locals is now in danger of being “loved to death”as the Pacific Northwest populationbooms andInstagram influencers crave never ending‘likes’ through adventure. Additional pressures such as a climate change, invasive annual grasses, and renewable energy pressuresare mounting, which is why I’m representing the TRCP within a coalition of seven conservation groups proposing solutions that safeguard fish and wildlife habitat and the unique hunting and fishing opportunities the region is known for.Here’s what we stand to lose if hunters and anglers are not at the table when it comes to conserving the Owyhee.
What’s at Stake?
Stretching across 4.6 million acres of public lands in the BLM’s Vale District, this landscape is among the most remote and unpopulated in the lower 48 states and can test the skills of even the most seasoned outdoorsperson. It encompasses more than 1.2 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas, made up of a rugged and remote sagebrush sea, broken only by narrow lava rock canyons that wind down to the banks of its namesake river.
Far removed from the famed Douglas fir forests of Oregon’s west side, the outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities found in the Owyhee Country can sometimes be overlooked. These canyons provide vital habitat for mule deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and more than 200 other species of wildlife. Anglers catch native red-band trout in the beaver ponds of the West Little Owyhee, cast for 20-inch browns in the reach below the Owyhee dam, and introduce their kids to fishing on the abundant and easy–to–fool smallmouth bass found throughout the river basin. Hunters in the area enjoy some of the best units within the state for mule deer, bighorns, antelope, and chukar.
While its remote location has allowed the Owyhee Country to maintain its backcountry character, pressures from renewable energy, mining, oil and gas, and off-highwayvehicles grow with each passing decade. The recent surge of outdoor recreation within the area from rafters, hunters, anglers, hotsprings enthusiasts, and other recreation-seekers also presents difficult management challenges. The impacts of these increasing uses, combined with invasive annual grasses, wildfire, and climate change-fueled drought, all threaten the unique fish and wildlife habitat within the region. Both the health of the landscape and the rural economies of the nearby communities need more resources to address theseissues.
Working Towards a Collaborative Solution
Thankfully, Oregon’s congressional delegation is seeking pragmatic solutions after multiple requests from both the ranching and conservation communities. In 2019, Senator Ron Wyden spearheaded a series of stakeholder meetings to find common ground for a bill that would promote the long-term health of the landscape while providing for economic development and the continued traditional uses of public lands. The result was the introduction in November 2019 of S.2828, the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act (MCEOA). Notably, the bill would safeguard one million acres of undeveloped backcountry across Malheur County while releasing an equal amount of wilderness–quality lands back to multiple use. Additionally, it would provide for important funding to restore the health of degraded sagebrush habitats and infuse economic development money into many surrounding rural communities.
In order to ensure sportsmen and women have a strong voice in this decision-making process, the TRCP has partnered with the Oregon Hunters Association, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Friends of the Owyhee, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Soul River Inc., and the Oregon Chapter of The Foundation for North American Wild Sheep to form, organize and engage a new coalition of hunting– and fishing–based conservation organizations called the “Owyhee Sportsmen.” Since August 2019, the coalition has worked closely with the Oregon congressional delegation—especially Senator Wyden’s office—to provide input and recommendations to the bill that would improve the conservation of the region’s fish and wildlife habitat. Our sportsmen and women’s coalition has strongly urged Senator Wyden, SenatorJeff Merkley, andRepresentative Cliff Bentz to work together to make a few changesand pass this bill, which we expect will see consideration from lawmakersthis year.
Speaking Out for the Owyhee
The Sportsmen for the Owyhee campaign is currently working to educate the public, business owners, and decisionmakers on the need to protect Oregon’s Owyhee Canyons from development while highlighting the abundant opportunities the region provides for hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreators of all types.
Recently, I joined several other members of the coalition to work on a hunting and fishing film with Alpenglow Press Productions to showcase just a few of the great adventures one can find in the Owyhee Country. I have spent hundreds of nights under the darkest skies in the nation exploring this vast area over the years, but it is hard to beat some of the experiences we enjoyed during the filming of this project. The Coalition is excited to share the film with the public and to work with members across our organizations to show support for this unique and stunning landscape that needs our attention.
There are few large areas of land and water left in the U.S. where one can get truly lost, where skies at night are completely free of artificial light, and where sportsmen and women can chasesuch iconic game animals, upland birds, and trout. Oregon’s Owyhee Country is such a place, and we are committed to keeping it that way.
If you want to get involved, please take actionHERE to support protecting the Owyhee Country and to stay informed on future opportunities to weigh in.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Moves to Boost Private Lands Conservation
Farmers and ranchers have more time to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program
Heeding calls from the hunting and fishing community, the U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced it’s extending enrollment for the Conservation Reserve Program—the nation’s most successful private lands conservation initiative.
Since 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program has offered incentives for American farmers, ranchers, and landowners to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and create wildlife habitat. The current enrollment period for general signup was set to expire on February 12, but the USDA has announced it will be extending that deadline to “evaluate and implement changes.”
“Getting more landowners signed up for the Conservation Reserve Program will improve soil, water, and habitat health,” said Andrew Earl, director of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s private lands program. “Increased enrollment also benefits sportsmen and sportswomen who hunt and fish on private land, while providing economic support for farmers and ranchers. Further, the Conservation Reserve Program is an important tool in our toolbox of land- and water-based solutions to climate change.”
CRP has helped restore more than 2.3 million acres of wetlands and set aside land that has sequestered more than 12 million metric tons of carbon. Despite these notable successes, enrollment in the program has been dwindling.
The program is currently at a three-decade low of 20.7 million acres enrolled. Just two years ago, Congress increased the program’s acreage cap from 24 to 27 million acres in response to rampant landowner interest. However, in the time since, significant changes to rental rate formulas and incentive reductions have diminished the attractiveness of the program.
The TRCP has been raising alarms about the weakening of the CRP over the past few years and has laid out a plan to strengthen the program moving forward.
Visit the TRCP’s interactive model farm to see how the CRP and other Farm Bill conservation programs make an impact for wildlife habitat, soil and water quality, and sportsmen’s access.
Six Habitat Improvements That Are Also Climate Solutions
These types of conservation projects help to improve hunting and fishing opportunities and combat climate change in a win-win for fish and wildlife
From extreme droughts, flooding, and fires to altered migration patterns and “hoot owl” fishing restrictions, all of us have seen firsthand the impacts of a changing climate. If we are to protect and restore the habitats that support all the species we love to pursue, the hunting and fishing community must be part of climate change solutions.
There is no one silver bullet or single set of actions that will turn the tides entirely—climate change can only be addressed with a comprehensive strategy that involves all of us and all the tools we have. Thankfully, this includes habitat conservation measures already supported by sportsmen and women.
Here are six habitat improvement strategies that provide this win-win proposition: better hunting and fishing opportunities and fewer climate-change-driven impacts to fish and wildlife.
Improve Forest Management
The nation’s forests provide habitat for wildlife, shade to cool trout streams, and many convenient places to hang a tree stand, but they also store carbon—keeping carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and warming the globe. In fact, across the world, forests store as much as one-third of all emissions from burning fossil fuels or about 2.6 billion tons of carbon each year.
Forests also draw additional carbon out of the atmosphere. Young, healthy growing forests mostly sequester carbon while older forests store it, which is why it helps to have diverse, well-managed forests. Unfortunately, decades of fire suppression and past management practices have left many public forests in poor health and vulnerable to uncharacteristically large wildfires. Poorly managed forests can alter the carbon storage and sequestration balance.
Hunters and anglers are already advocating for reforestation, active management of young stands, and conservation of late-successional forests, because these measures promote diverse habitat conditions, reduce fire risk, and filter polluted runoff that would otherwise harm trout and salmon streams. But these are also natural climate solutions. One of the TRCP’s top priorities this year is pushing decision-makers to ensure that savings from the recent wildfire funding fix will go toward forest health and management. This is just one step toward securing more of the habitat and climate benefits of our national forests.
Reverse Grasslands Loss
Native grasslands are being lost at an alarming rate due to agricultural conversion, development, and other factors. Just like forests, degraded western rangelands and grasslands are less resilient to temperature and weather changes, and their carbon storage and sequestering benefits are altered as more habitat damage is done. Invasive species like cheatgrass now dominate many sagebrush landscapes and have dramatically altered this ecosystem’s productivity, stability, and fire regime.
But grasslands and shrub communities also absorb huge amounts of carbon.
Restoration and conservation of rangelands and grasslands will be an important component of a broad-scale, comprehensive habitat and climate resilience strategy. We need to stop converting these habitats and focus on restoring grasslands to increase their resilience and productivity.
Conserve and Restore Wetlands
Inland and coastal wetlands, marshes, estuaries, swamps, deltas, and floodplains are among nature’s most productive ecosystems—providing vital habitat for migratory waterfowl and both fresh and saltwater species of gamefish—that also store carbon.
Wetlands across the country already provide critical habitat, reduce erosion, improve water quality, and filter flood waters to protect our communities. But they are also being lost—drained, developed, converted to crops, or damaged beyond repair.
Globally, wetlands may presently sequester as much as 700 billion tons of carbon each year. Once drained or partially dried, these areas may become a net source of methane and carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. They are also particularly vulnerable to climate change. Rising temperatures and increased drought can convert permanent wetlands to semi-permanent or seasonal ones.
We need to protect our remaining wetlands and reverse the loss while restoring those that have been altered to help meet the nation’s goals for flood control, clean water, habitat, and carbon reduction.
Boost Farm Bill Conservation Programs
Roughly 40 percent of the United States is in agricultural production. This sector represents about 9 percent of all carbon emissions, but farmers and ranchers also contribute significantly to carbon storage and sequestration when they manage and preserve grasslands, wetlands, and forests.
Our community is already preparing to work with Congress on a 2023 Farm Bill with strong conservation funding, and this would give landowners more of a chance to contribute to climate change solutions, as well. Increasing Conservation Reserve Program acreage to 50 million acres, for example, would enhance the habitat benefits for whitetail and mule deer, prairie chickens, pheasants, quail, wild turkeys, waterfowl, and countless other species—not to mention provide better hunting and fishing experiences for the sportsmen and women who rely on CRP lands for access.
Boosting the CRP would also give landowners the option to conserve grasslands and wetlands that combat climate change. Expanding this and other conservation programs would be a great starting point for strengthening the role that private landowners play in the climate fight.
Continue the Gulf Coast Comeback
Rising seas have already destroyed thousands of miles of coastline and hundreds of thousands of acres of coastal salt marshes and seagrass beds that are vital to many sportfish and waterfowl. Louisiana’s more seasoned duck hunters can likely point to actual ground they once hunted that has now been lost.
The good news is that building coastal infrastructure is a viable solution to fight these catastrophic losses.
Reparation funds from the BP oil spill have already helped to rebuild habitat health beyond what was damaged in the environmental disaster and recover some of what has been lost to subsidence, erosion, and sea-level rise.
The continued conservation and restoration of these habitats can help save lives and protect coastal communities, while providing healthier fisheries, cleaner water, and enhancing resilience to climate change. We need to ensure federal programs and funding are available to identify areas for protection, restoration, or management and to develop effective strategies to sustain the natural benefits of coastal habitats.
Shore Up Streambanks
One of the most obvious impacts of climate change for America’s anglers is rising water temperatures that threaten coldwater trout species. This is compounded in places where streams have been degraded by major floods, wildfires, dam construction and land-use changes. Many conservation volunteers cut their teeth on projects aimed at restoring healthy stream flows, reducing streambank erosion, and ultimately lowering water temperatures, but they may not realize riparian areas have an underappreciated ability to store carbon, both in vegetation and the soil itself.
At the federal level, we will need to invest in numerous solutions to build resilient river systems and ensure our lakes, rivers, and streams are able to function as productive carbon sinks while also supporting the fish and wildlife we love to pursue. Programs and policies emphasizing water conservation, water efficiency, nutrient reductions, and riparian zone protection and restoration will be critical.
Let Habitat Work
Any national climate strategy must include land- and water-based solutions that harness the power of our natural systems. But, as you can see, these habitat improvements are already on our wish list as a conservation community.
It’s important to note that these actions will not only benefit fish and wildlife, enhance soil quality, and create cleaner water—they will also create jobs and strengthen rural economies. But there is no time to waste, whether we’re talking about implementing natural climate solutions, reversing habitat loss and wildlife species declines, or putting Americans back to work through conservation. We have to stop debating about resolving climate change and get to work on implementing these straightforward natural solutions. Let’s allow habitat contribute all it can to the climate fight.
Top photo by USFWS/Katrina Mueller.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
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.