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Tides are shifting in our nation’s capital. Now that COVID recovery legislation has cleared Congress, policymakers are shifting their attention to a massive infrastructure package. This is welcome news for folks in Louisiana, where 158,000 people are unemployed and looking for ways to get back to work.
Conservationists are also eyeing this moment. If Congress can put aside partisanship, we believe an infusion of cash into the Gulf can put people back to work, create habitat for fish and wildlife, increase coastal resiliency, combat climate change, and build more equitable communities.
There are three specific legislative opportunities that hunters and anglers should be talking to their elected leaders about:
Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC)
This pre-disaster mitigation program is administered by FEMA to provide resources to states, local communities, tribes, and territories with the goal of reducing risk from natural disasters. In 2020, there was $500 million available through this program to support communities as they prepare for future catastrophic events. We are asking Congress to set aside 15 percent of future BRIC funds for natural infrastructure projects, which will help create habitat and combat the impacts of climate change.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA)
This U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant program invests in local projects to restore wetlands. Over the past two decades, these funds have supported over 3,000 projects impacting 30 million acres. One of these projects is located near Buras, Louisiana where Ducks Unlimited has partnered with local conservation leaders and used NAWCA funds to build wetlands in areas affected by numerous hurricanes over the last 15 years. The incredibly successful project has built more than 2,500 acres of wetland in areas that were open water less than a decade ago, improving fisheries and duck hunting and increasing community resiliency.
When wetlands are improved, communities experience better flood control, erosion prevention, and air quality, plus more sequestered carbon. We are asking Congress to fully fund this program so waterfowl and migratory birds can thrive and people can find work restoring this important habitat.
National Coastal Resilience Fund
This program is used to restore wetlands, marshes, river systems, dunes, beaches, barrier islands, floodplains, and oyster and coral reefs. Funded by Congress and private entities, it is administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to expand natural features in coastal communities. By fully funding this program, contractors and engineers can get back to work restoring these landscapes and creating habitat for fish and wildlife.
By prioritizing these items, our leaders can make a real impact in a state that has been hammered by COVID and natural disasters. In the last 12 months, construction employment has declined 13 percent in the Bayou State, opening the door for significant investment to help turn the page on a dark year. But, one area where jobs continue to expand is in coastal restoration work as penalties from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon continue to be directed toward construction of large-scale barrier islands, marsh restoration projects, and the engineering and design (and soon construction) of sediment diversions.
The Mississippi River Delta has lost over 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s and continues to lose a football field of wetlands every 100 minutes. Investments in restoring this critical fish and wildlife habitat not only improve fishing and hunting opportunities across the Gulf and throughout the Mississippi River Basin, but also means high-paying jobs for coastal residents.
We believe with the right focus, we can improve the land, water, and fish and wildlife resources that sustain our communities.
The United States Senate gave the nod to Congresswoman Debra Haaland in a bipartisan vote confirming her as the next Interior Secretary.
“The hunting and fishing community has met with Secretary Haaland many times, and in our interactions, she has committed to strengthening habitat and improving recreational access,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “There are many pressing issues coming before the Interior Department, and sportsmen and sportswomen stand ready to partner with the Secretary to advance conservation and support the outdoor recreation economy.”
During Haaland’s Senate confirmation hearing, she reiterated her commitment to hunting and fishing by saying, “I am a Pueblo woman, we’ve been hunting wild game for centuries, and in fact that’s the reason I am sitting here today, because my ancestors sustained themselves through those practices. My dad, my grandparents, my brother—they all hunt. In fact, I was fortunate to harvest an oryx from the White Sands Missile Range several years back and fed my family for about a year. I understand that, and I absolutely respect the sportsmen and the anglers whose traditions those are.”
To listen to more excerpts from the confirmation hearing, click HERE.
As restoration projects in South Louisiana continue, it’s not unusual for anglers to catch bass, trout, and redfish in the same area on consecutive casts with the same bait
All anglers will admit they have a favorite fish to pursue. Speckled trout has always topped my list.
A decade or so ago, I would leave the dock in my favorite waters near Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans, to catch only trout. If I couldn’t catch trout the way I wanted to catch them, I’d return to the dock disappointed.
There is plenty to be said for dialing in a particular species, figuring out how to catch them in any conditions, at any time of year. But it can be just as satisfying to tie on a spinnerbait or pitch a soft plastic, pick a pretty stretch of marsh, and see what bites.
Not being picky paid off for me and my longtime buddy, outdoor journalist Todd Masson, on a clear, cold day in mid-January. Water temperatures hovered in the low to mid 40s and a hard north wind had pulled the plug on the marsh, dropping water levels more than two feet. All told, the chances of catching even a handful of speckled trout in those conditions were slim, even though trout fishing had been very good all fall and winter.
Fortunately, we had an option that promised to be far more rewarding than pounding on cold, beat-up wintertime water for notoriously temperature-fickle trout—largemouth bass.
Over the last decade, the bass population has been climbing in the areas around Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), the ill-fated federal navigation channel that funneled storm surge into New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, damaging hundreds of thousands of acres of freshwater and brackish marsh and swamp. As marsh restoration and efforts to limit saltwater have progressed, the same marshes that were good places to catch redfish and speckled trout in the fall and early spring 15 years ago are now teeming with largemouth bass.
Persistent spring flooding of the Mississippi and Pearl rivers over the last decade has boosted both submerged vegetation and a more diverse forage base. Bass are eating traditional saltwater prey like shrimp and crabs. Redfish and speckled trout are eating freshwater prey like bluegill, crawfish, and shad.
Now, catching bass, trout, and redfish in the same area, on consecutive casts, and with the same bait is not unusual.
Bass fishing in these marshes can only be described as incredible. Good days produce 30 to 40 bass for a couple of anglers. Great days this past fall pushed that number past 50 fish, despite the constant surges of saltwater from the five tropical storms and hurricanes that hit Louisiana last year. These aren’t tournament-winning fish. A three-pounder is a big bass here. But what they lack in size they make up for in tenacity and numbers.
Lower salinities have, at times, moved speckled trout and redfish out of areas they once dominated, but it hasn’t eliminated them from the area’s marshes and lakes. Masson and I fished with two good friends last November and caught 30 fat speckled trout, a handful of redfish, black drum, and flounder not more than a few miles from our January bass fishing spot. In early December, another buddy and I caught 30 speckled trout in a couple of hours jigging a deep ledge in the MRGO, before moving a half mile to a narrow, grass-lined bayou to catch more than 30 bass.
I took my son and my dad at Christmas and landed a nearly 30-pound flathead catfish that hit a small soft-plastic swim bait on the same deep ledge where I’d caught trout just weeks earlier. The trout bite was slow that day, but we caught 15 bass and smiled all the way home. In July, the same area had offered my friend’s 11-year-old son the opportunity to catch his first redfish. The youngster battled an angry eight-pounder less than five minutes after I dropped the trolling motor at our first stop. We caught 14 more redfish, a handful of bass and a couple sheepshead before putting the boat back on the trailer around noon.
Largemouth bass, catfish, and white bass are becoming part of the accepted—and expected—bounty of the area. Local anglers are no longer scowling and saying, “All I caught were those damned green fish today.” Now, they smile and say, “We caught 25 bass today, a dozen trout, and even a few freshwater catfish.”
Duck hunters in Louisiana are following a similar path. As marshes, unfortunately, become open water, the opportunity to hunt mallards, pintails, and gray ducks (gadwalls) has been replaced by shots at dos gris (scaup), redheads, canvasbacks, and ringnecks. Shooting some divers for the grill and the gumbo pot is much more fun than complaining that the puddle ducks aren’t here.
There isn’t an area I have fished in South Louisiana that’s the same as it was 20 years ago. We’ve lost 2,000 square miles of coastal wetlands in a century. Most of those changes have meant less habitat and fewer opportunities to catch fish. Change is the only constant in this highly dynamic place.
More change is coming. As diversions from the Mississippi River are constructed to rebuild those vanishing wetlands and marsh creation projects further limit saltwater intrusion, there will certainly be seasonal changes to our fisheries. More habitat will mean more opportunity for hunters and anglers.
But in the short term, and while diversions are operating, some brackish species like speckled trout will move. It’s a return to the natural cycle that built our coast before levees prevented annual floods from spilling over the river’s banks. The fish, both freshwater and saltwater species, that inhabit this delta are equipped to deal with it. They wouldn’t live here otherwise.
Undoubtedly, some sportsmen and women will shake their heads and complain, focusing on the short-term impacts of freshwater and sediment rather than the long-term benefits of growing wetlands and expanding habitat.
I think I’ll tie on a spinnerbait, pitch a soft plastic, pick a pretty stretch of marsh, and see what bites.
Fish the marsh with Chris and Marsh Man Masson in the video below!
TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.
Based in: Orangeburg, SC
Mission: We connect public hunters with private landowners who are willing to provide hunting opportunities that promote respect for the land and ethical hunting for the future.
Vision: To provide hunting opportunities for everyone in South Carolina who would like to participate.
Established in 2017 by a group of citizens passionate about responsible and ethical hunting, the South Carolina Wildlife Partnership aims to ensure that everyone in South Carolina who wants to hunt, will be able to.
Here is their story:
The idea for the Partnership came after seeing how long hunters have to wait to be successfully drawn through a lottery to hunt on state managed public lands in South Carolina. For some, these wait times can extend up to five years, and that’s because there is so little public land in the state. 92 percent of South Carolina is privately owned. That’s when we decided to partner with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to create opportunities for unsuccessful lottery applicants to hunt on private lands.
In only our second waterfowl season, we hosted 350 public hunters on well managed private lands, eliminating their wait time to hunt, providing an incredible outdoor experience, and connecting people with the land and wildlife they love. Our hunters on average harvested roughly 3 birds out of a 6-bird daily bag limit, marking a big success for our organization!
Hunters don’t pay to participate in the program. If they aren’t drawn for a public land hunt through the Department of Natural Resources, they can opt in for the private land lottery through the Partnership.
Private landowners are the backbone of this program, as they understand the need for more hunting opportunity and trust the Partnership to conduct managed hunts on their properties.
We are funded completely by grants and donations. Part of this funding comes from the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), a federal program dedicated to creating public access on private lands. VPA HIP was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and provides funding to state and Tribal fish and wildlife agencies to incentivize private landowners to open their land, allowing for increased outdoor recreation opportunities. Initially championed by Jim Range, the founder of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the VPA HIP program has become the most successful tool for increasing public access on private land and helps fund programs like ours! (Click here to read more about this awesome access program.)
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources received $469,000 in VPA-HIP funding in 2020 to boost its Public Waterfowl Lottery Hunts Program. You can opt in for the hunts with the Partnership by clicking HERE.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More