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This video is the fourth in a series detailing conservation projects powered by Pennsylvania’s Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund that benefit hunters and anglers. Since 1993, the Keystone Fund has provided state-level matching dollars for a variety of conservation projects, including land acquisition, river conservation, and trail work. This series is the result of a collaboration between the TRCP and Trout Unlimited where the goal is simply to celebrate conservation success stories that make us all proud to be able to hunt and fish in Pennsylvania. The videos highlight just a few of the projects powered by this critical source of conservation funding. For more information on the Keystone Fund, you can visit: https://keystonefund.org
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is best known for being the encampment where George Washington and the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777 to 1778. Only a day’s march (18 miles) from Philadelphia, this historic site is also at the confluence of Valley Creek, a Class A wild trout stream, and the Schuylkill River.
For decades, a dense population and significant development in the region had sent stormwater and other polluted runoff into Valley Creek, degrading water quality and fish habitat. Fly fishing author Charles R. Meck also documented two cyanide spills and a PCB spill that ended state efforts to stock trout in the creek. But beginning in the 1990s, anglers helped to secure the future of this important waterway, which persists as not only an unheard-of wild trout stream in the middle of suburbia but also one of the state’s designated top-quality waters.
First, Valley Creek was protected as an Exceptional Value stream in 1993, which set guidelines around development activities that could impact the stream and surrounding wetlands. Stream designations help to guide new development, but land preservation and stream restoration were necessary to mitigate the ongoing impacts of stormwater. That’s why the Valley Forge TU Chapter of Trout Unlimited has worked with the Open Land Conservancy of Chester County to protect and restore several portions of Valley Creek using conservation dollars from the state’s Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund.
“Everything we do in the headwaters flows down and impacts Valley Forge National Historical Park,” says local angler Pete Goodman, who has seen firsthand the evolution of this gentle spring creek in his 50 years in Valley Forge. “It’s really important to create these preserves and expand them, but without the grant funding from the county and state, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
In our latest video in collaboration with Trout Unlimited, Goodman describes how Valley Creek has offered a reliable reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the booming region, whether he’s escaping into a local preserve for a few quiet minutes after a busy workday or wading into the waters of history to toss a line to a few hungry trout behind Lafayette’s Headquarters. Enjoy the film and check out our other videos spotlighting Brodhead Creek in the Poconos, Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem, and the former Klondike Property in Gouldsboro.
TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.
Hometown: Laramie, Wyoming
Occupation: Graduate Student
Conservation credentials: Working on her PhD on the interface between disease and nutrition in bighorn sheep
Growing up in Connecticut, Rachel Smiley never imagined that she would one day become a hunter. But a college course on wildlife biology put things in a new light and instilled an interest in acquiring her own game meat. Now a graduate student with the Monteith Shop research group at the University of Wyoming, Smiley studies wildlife ecology and has become a proud hunter.
Her observations about the information gap between hunters and nonhunters highlight one way that conservationists can expand our ranks and recruit new sportsmen and sportswomen.
This is her story.
I was 24 years old when I harvested my first animal – a white-tailed deer in northwest Wyoming. I sat with a doe in my sights for what felt like hours. Tall grass concealed me as I lay prone, mentally preparing myself to pull the trigger. Thankfully, the deer stayed broadside the whole time I contemplated the shot, just 50 yards away.
Shooting was the only part that made me nervous. I’d been researching ungulates—hoofed animals, like deer and elk—for a few years, so the other steps in the process came naturally to me: I’d tracked and stalked hundreds of animals and cut open plenty of dead deer and bighorn sheep to determine the cause of death. But, I’d never purposely killed an animal, and I never would have imagined that I’d become a hunter. As I sat silently, I reminded myself why I wanted to kill this deer.
For a long time, I was very opposed to hunting. Growing up, I didn’t know many hunters, but I didn’t think that was necessary to understand hunting. To me, things seemed simple enough: I loved animals and thought a sport centered around killing them was heartless. The widespread stereotype of the sloppy hunter was prominent in my mind, and I had heard urban legends of stray bullets hitting people, so I’d avoid the trailheads with lots of trucks and orange during hunting season. Complementary to my opposition to hunting was a vegetarian lifestyle that I adopted late in my teenage years. Eating meat was unnecessary, unsustainable, and an industry that I did not want to support.
So much of what is obvious to sportsmen and sportswomen about hunting never occurs to those who didn’t grow up around it, and my acceptance of hunting happened quickly once I learned more. Unexpectedly, a wildlife management class in college changed my thinking. I was exposed to fundamental concepts that I had never known or considered before.
I hadn’t realized that most of the funding for conservation comes from license fees and taxes on ammunition. For the first time, I began to consider how game meat offers a sustainable food source. I learned how deer overpopulation in some towns in the northeast was dealt with by sharp shooters, because there were not enough people hunting to keep deer numbers at a level that would prevent them from having a negative impact on the rest of the ecosystem.
With this new knowledge, I decided I would be okay with adding game meat to my otherwise vegetarian diet. At the time, I didn’t know many hunters, so the opportunity to eat game meat rarely arose. It took some internal debate and a couple of years to decide that if I was going to eat game meat, I should also be able to harvest it myself.
The possibility of becoming a hunter remained a hypothetical interest, until I moved to the West to pursue wildlife technician jobs and eventually a graduate degree in wildlife management at the University of Wyoming. Many of the people I met were hunters, and I tagged along with several, hoping I could help carry out the meat and become familiar with the process. An opportunity to hunt for myself came about on a lab retreat with my research group, the Monteith Shop. I was excited for the opportunity and overwhelmed with the possibility of turning my desire to hunt into reality.
With the whitetail in my scope, I was hyper-focused on the animal in front of me, but in the background, my thoughts replayed the change in my relationship to hunting over the past five years. I ignored the thought that my past self would be disappointed. Instead, I worried that I would make a bad shot (though I had practiced enough to know I wouldn’t). I wondered if I would feel sadness, guilt, or remorse if I did kill the deer.
Still, I was determined to push through the crux of this personal journey. I controlled my breathing and squeezed the trigger. I hit the deer in the vitals, it ran about ten yards, and fell to the ground. After a few seconds of not knowing what to feel, I was overcome with pride.
Since that first hunt, I’ve hunted pronghorn and elk and embraced this new aspect of my identity. I’m filled with pride and satisfaction whenever I open my full freezer, and I happily share the stories of my hunts when I make dinner with the meat I’ve processed. Without fail, my friends and family who knew me as a vegetarian are always shocked to learn I’ve taken up this sport.
My own personal story and numerous conversations with others tell me that the recruitment of new hunters doesn’t need to be an uphill battle. Perhaps most importantly, my experiences illustrate that we can’t take for granted that nonhunters understand what exactly it is that we do each fall, and we need to think carefully about the messages we’re sending. I encourage all sportsmen and sportswomen to be open-minded about what a hunter looks like and who might come to appreciate all that hunting has to offer.
Expanding hunter participation will require that we communicate what it is that we love about it. For me, this includes watching animals undisturbed, trying to understand their behaviors and anticipate their next movements, using the landscape to our advantage while stalking in close, and savoring the opportunity to eat the most locally sourced meat possible.
It’s also important that prospective hunters understand they don’t have to be perfectly comfortable with the idea of taking an animal’s life. Some in our community casually use terms like “killer” and “slayer” in jest and as a compliment, which still makes me uncomfortable. And if this type of language is off-putting to someone like me, it no doubt alienates nonhunters who are left with the wrong impression of what we find appealing about the sport.
Tree-hugging vegetarians might not be the easiest of recruits, but—with informed dialogue, generous mentors, and thoughtful messaging—they can be convinced. I’m living proof.
Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced several long sought after changes to the Conservation Reserve Program that will help boost shrinking enrollment in our nation’s most popular private lands conservation program. Currently, the program sits 4 million acres below the 25-million-acre cap, with another 9 million CRP acres expiring between now and the 2023 Farm Bill.
Yesterday’s announcement is a strong first step in addressing changes to program administration that accelerated this decline to a historic three-decade low. Six provisions that will support the enrollment and re-enrollment of valuable habitat for decades to come include:
Restoring the use of soil productivity as an adjusting factor in soil rental rate calculations. This reverses a June 2018 decision that led to significantly decreased rental rate offerings on highly productive soils and widely varying rates across county lines. Taking soil productivity into account will ensure these rates more accurately reflect county-wide averages and provide consistency—landowners looking to re-enroll in the program should not be met with rental rate offerings well below what they’ve historically received.
Creating a new incentive for climate-friendly conservation practices. A new carbon incentive will provide an additional 3 to 10 percent on top of base soil rental rates for practices that combat climate change. The CRP can be a valuable tool for sequestering more carbon, and most practices will qualify for this incentive. At the same time, better soil quality equates to better habitat and fewer impacts of climate change on fish and game.
Increasing incentives for particularly high-quality conservation practices. The Farm Service Agency provides Practice Incentive Payments to alleviate the cost burden on CRP landowners who make top-quality habitat improvements, control erosion, or enhance water quality on acreage under Continuous CRP. (The Continuous program targets practices on environmentally sensitive lands and is not subject to a competitive bidding process like General CRP. Plus, landowners can enroll year-round and not just during a sign-up event.) These incentives were lowered to 5 percent in recent years, then increased to 20 percent in December 2020. Yesterday’s announcement increases these payments to 50 percent of the cost of putting conservation on the ground.
Boosting incentives for practices that help high-priority local wildlife by administering the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative through Continuous CRP. SAFE facilitates state and local involvement in the development of practices that safeguard particularly at-risk wildlife. In late 2019, SAFE was moved from the Continuous CRP umbrella to the general sign-up, which limited rental rates and signing and practice incentives, lowering landowner interest. Moving the high-value SAFE practices back to the Continuous program restores benefits that will ensure conservation-minded landowners can make an impact for wildlife.
Removing limitations on long-term efforts to improve clean water. The Clean Lakes Estuaries and Rivers (CLEAR) 30 pilot program was created in the 2018 Farm Bill and supports the establishment of 30-year CRP water quality practices. The bill did not place a geographic restriction on the program, but a June 2020 announcement limited its availability to 12 states in the northeast and Midwest. This week’s announcement makes the pilot available to landowners across the country.
The USDA also announced it would increase CRP technical assistance funds at the Natural Resource Conservation Service to $140 million, which will support soil sampling to determine a baseline standard for carbon sequestration within the CRP.
Several of these updates reflect recommendations shared by the TRCP and partners in recent years, as sportsmen and women have urged administration officials to restore the purchasing power of the CRP, which Congress saw fit to expand in the last Farm Bill. Creating a more healthy CRP and providing its full suite of benefits to wildlife and landowners was also among the TRCP’s top ten conservation priorities for the Biden administration’s first 100 days.
The course correction for CRP follows an announcement in February that the Farm Service Agency would be extending the ongoing general sign-up period to allow for a thorough evaluation of the tools available to interested landowners. The TRCP and several partner organizations have been supportive of this process and are encouraged by the outcome.
As we look to the 2023 Farm Bill, a healthy CRP is important to rural America for so many reasons. Beyond healthy soil and water, quality habitat and carbon sequestration, CRP acreage provides landowners and local communities with economic opportunities that extend well beyond the farm. Further, as Congress and the USDA look to prioritize carbon sequestration and climate resilience into federal decision-making, landowners, farmers, and ranchers must have seat at the table. A strong Conservation Reserve Program offers just that.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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