Do you have any thoughts on this post?
The TRCP has long worked to defend a balance of the many demands on our public lands, which sustain so many of our hunting and fishing opportunities in the U.S. The push for increased renewable energy production on public lands is creating new challenges that we are doing our best to address with public land managers.
There is an undeniable need to transition as quickly as possible to low-carbon sources of energy to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. I was encouraged by the Bureau of Land Management’s recent announcement detailing its intentions to revise and potentially expand its 2012 Western Solar Plan to all 11 Western states. Expanding the geographic scope of this planning document and updating it to incorporate the best available science, like new data on recently mapped big game migration corridors, is the most responsible way to expeditiously meet the administration’s goal of deploying 25 GW of renewable energy development on public lands by 2025, while minimizing adverse impacts to wildlife and other public land resources.
There are, however, trade-offs that the BLM must consider when updating its Western Solar Plan. After touring several utility-scale solar facilities myself, I hesitate to enthusiastically endorse the widespread deployment of this type of development on our public lands. My unease comes from the fact that unlike other forms of energy development—such as wind, or even oil and gas—utility-scale solar generating facilities are usually high-fenced and allow for no other uses of the land within their boundaries. This exclusive use of the land can span thousands of acres for a single solar facility and will cover hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands to meet the administration’s goals. The magnitude of habitat removal and loss of public access from the BLM’s proposed expansion of utility-scale solar development on public lands is unprecedented.
Even with the most careful planning, the expansive size of utility-scale solar developments may have unintended consequences for habitat connectivity and migratory wildlife like big game. A poorly sited solar development in Wyoming that blocked a migration route and forced more than 1,000 pronghorn into a nearby highway right-of-way is a recent reminder of the potential for unintended consequences from solar development. The bitter irony is that these same species that migrate to access critical resources for survival will need large, connected landscapes more than ever to adapt to a changing climate.
I am reminded of a recent quote from Dan Ashe, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who said that addressing climate change will not, by itself, reverse the trend of increasingly widespread habitat fragmentation and the loss of wildlands and wildlife. “The lie is that if we address the climate crisis, we will also solve the biodiversity crisis,” said Ashe.
There are also implications for public access to public lands. A friend of mine recently showed up at his favorite spot to hunt pronghorn and found it fenced and covered with solar panels. Similarly, I was devastated to find out that my best dove hunting location has been approved for utility-scale solar development. I’m left wondering if the biological and social costs of developing large solar facilities on intact, otherwise undisturbed public lands might outweigh the incremental benefits they will provide in our fight to save the climate.
I was somewhat relieved to find out that I am not alone in thinking that utility-scale solar development might not be the highest and best use of our precious public lands. The public comments during the BLM’s scoping meetings on its Western Solar Plan revision were almost universally opposed to expanding utility-scale solar development on public lands.
These comments come in the context of explosive year-over-year increases in recreational demand on our public lands, and an article in High Country News revealing that if solar panels were put on top of big box stores in the 11 Western states targeted by the BLM, they would generate more than 31 million megawatt-hours of electricity—vastly exceeding the administration’s goals. While there are significant logistical and regulatory constraints to increasing distributed solar generation on big box stores and other existing developments, the public is asking why we aren’t tackling these problems head-on before we further compromise our public lands with additional utility-scale solar development.
The TRCP and our partners came together during the BLM’s public scoping comment period to provide detailed recommendations on how to minimize the impacts of utility-scale solar development on public lands while increasing generating capacity. Specifically, we urged officials to focus development on previously disturbed lands and exclude areas with high habitat or recreational value. You can still join us by commenting when the BLM releases a draft programmatic environmental impact statement—likely late this summer or early next fall. Look for future communications here at trcp.org and on our social media for how to get involved when the draft is released.
In a major milestone for Everglades restoration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has broken ground on the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, which will collect, clean, and convey water south to reinvigorate wetlands and estuaries in South Florida.
While the Corps builds the reservoir to store excess water from Lake Okeechobee, the state-run South Florida Water Management District is responsible for constructing a treatment wetland that will clean the water. Construction began in 2020 and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Together, these projects promise to reduce pollution, improve habitat, and restore the natural north-to-south water flows that once sustained the ecosystem.
In an on-site ceremony last week, many of our organizational partners were upheld as having played an essential role in advocating for the reservoir. Watch the video below for highlights and inspirational words from our friends at Captains for Clean Water and the Everglades Foundation.
This first step toward construction of the EAA Reservoir should be celebrated: Cleaner water and healthier sea grasses will benefit populations of spotted seatrout, redfish, tarpon, largemouth bass, and peacock bass when the reservoir is complete. Prevention of harmful algal blooms will also boost waterfowl populations and improve hunting and fishing opportunities.
But, as many said at the event, our work is not nearly done.
The TRCP is pushing Congress to allocate the funding necessary to complete this project and restore and conserve America’s Everglades. Take action using our simple advocacy tool to tell your lawmakers you support full funding and expedient completion of Everglades restoration work.
Photo by Captains for Clean Water
Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, University of Miami, and University of Florida recently completed a study that modeled the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico with a focus on Gulf menhaden. The model was developed to assess the ecosystem effects of different menhaden fishing policies, focusing on how menhaden predators would respond to changes in forage availability and bycatch risks.
The researchers also quantified tradeoffs between menhaden harvest and predator biomass to develop ecological reference points—metrics that would help manage the menhaden fishery in the context of the fish’s relevance to the entire ecosystem. ERPs are currently used to manage the Atlantic menhaden fishery, after years of advocacy by anglers.
The TRCP reported on the preliminary results of this study back in 2021. The final published results confirm the findings we shared at that time: Gulf menhaden support about 40 percent of the diets of both king and Spanish mackerel and about 20 percent of the diets of red drum, sea trout, seabirds, and blacktip sharks.
The newly published results also indicate which predators are most sensitive to menhaden harvest and why. King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, blacktip sharks, and red drum are most impacted by the resulting shortage of forage in the water. Tarpon, sea trout, and croakers are most at risk of getting scooped up and killed in the massive purse seine nets deployed by the menhaden reduction fishery.
In the Atlantic, striped bass are the predators that are most sensitive to Atlantic menhaden harvest. This is why stripers were the key species considered in the 2020 development of ERP targets and thresholds, which aim to leave sufficient menhaden in the water as forage for bass and other species, like bluefish, weakfish, and spiny dogfish.
In this Gulf model, the most sensitive predator species to Gulf menhaden harvest was king mackerel, but intermediate relationships were found between menhaden and nine other predator groups. An ERP target could therefore be developed based on the ten most affected predator groups.
The authors suggested that a 20-percent reduction in commercial menhaden landings, compared to 2018-2020 levels, would leave enough menhaden in the water to support these ten predator species at their biomass targets.
Interestingly, the results showed that biomass for many predators was more affected by the commercial harvest of menhaden than by fishing pressure on the predator species itself. This was most notable for red drum and croaker, because of the effects of bycatch. Red drum are a favorite target of anglers in the Gulf, yet the menhaden reduction fishery might catch more redfish as bycatch than the whole recreational sector does.
Unfortunately, the Gulf menhaden fishery has little to no recent bycatch data and no observer coverage during the season. The TRCP has been advocating for updated bycatch analyses in the menhaden fisheries on both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and it is our hope that this model will drive that process forward.
This model can be used to inform stakeholders and policymakers of the tradeoffs between different management actions, while considering predator-prey interactions, fishing pressure, and bycatch. It could fuel the development of ERPs for the Gulf menhaden fishery, which mirror that of the Atlantic menhaden fishery.
This updated science is an exciting step forward for the improved management of Gulf menhaden and the predators that rely on them. The TRCP and its partners will be working diligently to gain more information on the role of menhaden in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and how mackerel, red drum, and sea trout are affected by the industrial menhaden fishery that currently has no catch limit and very little state and federal oversight.
One of the most impressive things about TRCP’s work with 63 organizational partners is that it allows us to bring together the best minds in conservation to influence specific hunting and fishing legislation—and the Farm Bill is one of the most impactful examples.
Farm Bill conservation programs, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, conserve and restore fish and wildlife habitat, expand hunting access, and build resilient farms and ranches. The Farm Bill is also the single-largest source of private lands conservation funding, providing roughly $6 billion annually through voluntary, incentive-based programs that benefit landowners, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.
The 2018 Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, 2023, and Congress is currently developing its next five-year bill. To make sure your voice is heard during the 2023 Farm Bill debate, the 27 member organizations of TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group created a roadmap to improving the Farm Bill’s most important programs, and we’re sharing it with decision-makers right now.
Here’s what you need to know about this list of top priorities, how it was made, and what benefits hunters and anglers can expect if our recommendations are included in a final bill.
Going into a Farm Bill debate, it is critical to have our community pulling in the same direction. This platform was carefully built to reflect the priorities of a huge swath of the hunting, fishing, and conservation community. Because the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are now soliciting input on the next Farm Bill, the TRCP was able to raise these priorities during a recent listening session hosted by the House committee chair, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.)
We look forward to the Senate Committee’s first hearing on the conservation title on March 1, when we can do the same thing for decision-makers in that chamber. Having the hunt-fish community clearly aligned on our priorities ahead of this hearing strengthens our voice.
Each of the Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group’s member organizations brings expertise on some subset of the Farm Bill, whether it’s the particulars of forest management for wild turkeys, wetland easements to protect waterfowl habitat, or agricultural practices that improve water quality for trout. In this platform, every recommendation has been proposed and justified by an AWWG member and vetted by the group. For example, if an AWWG member proposes a change to CRP to benefit pheasants, the rest of the group reviews that change to make sure that it doesn’t have unexpected downsides to species like deer or ducks. Every recommendation on the list has made it through this process—which takes multiple meetings over many months—meaning it has been vetted by some of the best conservation minds in the country.
Every item in this platform would benefit hunters and anglers. If adopted, these provisions would help:
There’s plenty to like in there. Here are just some of the overarching recommendations that would help to get these things done.
Title II, or the Conservation Title, of the Farm Bill is where a huge chunk of wildlife-related work gets done. Even though these programs have great ecological outcomes, massive landowner demand, and are strictly voluntary, they can be targeted for cuts when lawmakers want to tighten budgets. If we’re not careful, debates can also break out over the allocation of funding between the various conservation programs. This is particularly important in this farm bill because recently passed legislation has given many of our favorite programs more funding than they have ever seen. Fortunately, the hunting and fishing community remains broadly united in support of maintaining Farm Bill conservation program funding. Sportsmen and sportswomen pushed for these conservation wins for years, and we must stay the course.
In recent Farm Bills, incentives to enroll land in the Conservation Reserve Program have been reduced or eliminated altogether. These cuts, coupled with high crop prices, have led to reduced landowner interest and low CRP enrollment, resulting in a loss of wildlife habitat. Our community is aligned on restoring incentives and building commonsense management flexibility into CRP, which would put it on a trajectory back toward historical acreage levels – which means more pheasant, quail, and waterfowl habitat . One bill that would do this, supported by the TRCP, is the CRP Improvement Act from Senators Thune and Klobuchar.
There is no other Farm Bill program that affects hunters and anglers more directly than the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, which assists states who provide incentives to landowners for walk-in access to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation on their lands. Current funding levels are far from meeting demand , and economic analyses of the programs show a huge return on investment while expanding hunting opportunities. To meet state demand for this program, we’re recommending the VPA-HIP be funded at no less than $150 million, tripling the current level of support for this program.
We’ve also proposed that lawmakers maintain an important requirement of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that carves out at least 10 percent of program funding for wildlife habitat practices. EQIP provides planning assistance and cost share to landowners who want to be better stewards of their farms, ranches, and forests. The Natural Resources Conservation Service reserves a certain percentage of the funds it receives for livestock producers, new farmers and ranchers, and wildlife. We need to make sure that wildlife continues to receive its fair share and that these dollars produce measurable benefits.
None of these programs can get habitat on the ground without staff to meet with landowners, evaluate conservation opportunities, create a conservation plan, and enroll them in programs to fit that plan. The USDA is doing more work with fewer staff than at any other time in history. The 2023 Farm Bill needs to help the USDA staff up internally and simplify processes for partnerships with local governments and nonprofit organizations with shared conservation goals.
The Farm Bill is the largest conservation legislation that will come before the 118th Congress, and it’s critical that hunters and anglers are at the table to ensure that habitat and wildlife remain central to sensible farm policy in the United States. If you support and want to share this platform with your elected officials, take action now.
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