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May 21, 2021

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May 19, 2021

Three Ways States Use Federal Funding to Control CWD

Without dedicated investments, these essential efforts by state wildlife managers wouldn’t be successful

Day-to-day efforts to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease among wild deer and elk require a significant dedication of resources from state departments of natural resources and wildlife agencies. Unfortunately, it has become common to redirect funding and personnel from other ongoing conservation programs to manage a steady stream of outreach, surveillance, and testing needs.

And this strain on bandwidth has only grown as CWD has broken new ground, expanding the need for hunter education and outreach, testing capacity, data management, and more. As of January 2021, the disease was present in 339 counties across 25 states.

The most immediate and direct way to make an impact in containing CWD is to provide state agencies with the resources and capacity to meet the disease head on. That’s why it was a big win in fiscal year 2020, when the TRCP and its partners succeeded in pushing Congress to spend $5 million to support CWD management in the states.

We have since shared concerns about how some of those dollars were administered. But that’s not to say that there was no impact on wild deer. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks was one of 15 state wildlife agencies to be awarded cooperative agreement funding, securing nearly $214,000 to support targeted surveillance and hunter outreach efforts across the state.

Using South Dakota as a case study, it’s clear why CWD response funding should continue to be made available by Congress. Here are the three ways that the Game, Fish, and Parks Department made the most of these dollars.

Increased Surveillance

Based on the natural movement of deer across the landscape, the Department ranked and prioritized sampling efforts, including non-endemic areas within 25 miles of known CWD “hot” zones. To do so, they provided tribal governments, taxidermists, processors, and other relevant private businesses with a modest incentive to submit samples for testing from deer harvested over the course of the 2020 season. The agency provided processors with sampling ID tags, established collection stations near processing kiosks, and provided hunters with incentives for sample submission, including by covering the cost of testing.

Public Outreach

Deer and elk hunters provide the lion’s share of harvested deer samples and are an invaluable management partner in the fight against the disease. Hunter education and outreach are vital to this cooperative management effort and our thorough understanding of the scope of the disease on the landscape.

Supported by the federal funding, the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks issued mailers and used targeted emails to contact hunting license holders within priority surveillance areas and urge them to get their deer tested. The Department developed and shared a video on how to properly remove tissue samples for testing, used its licensing databases to expedite notifying hunters of test results through email and worked alongside a communications consultant to amplify their messages across the web.

They also contacted taxidermists, processors, and waste management providers to alert them to updated carcass transportation and disposal regulations. Throughout the season, GFP staff were active in doing media interviews and podcasts, providing updates to partner agencies and responding to questions from resident and non-resident hunters alike.

There’s little doubt that the increased visibility by the agency and urgency felt by deer hunters seeing the emails, web, and social media ads was converted in some degree to testing samples being submitted. Considering the influx of non-resident hunters each season, there’s also a likelihood that the information stopped the inadvertent improper transportation or disposal of a CWD-positive deer.

Analysis and Response

The bump in testing helped the agency identify CWD-positive deer in four additional counties—there are now 16 counties on watch statewide. Particularly notable is detection in Sully County, the first positive in the state east of the Missouri River. In total, the South Dakota tested over 1,700 deer, elk, and moose in 2020, with 49 testing positive for CWD.
As a result of such strong levels of sampling, wildlife managers can refine statistical analysis in the coming year and have already taken action to update carcass transportation and disposal rules.

Investing in the Future of Deer and Hunting

Congressional funding supported CWD management activities at 15 state wildlife agencies in 2020. Unfortunately, CWD has been detected in 25 states, so the gap is wide. In order to get ahead of the spread of this disease, which threatens not only deer hunting but also the $40 billion in economic activity directly tied to hunting, the TRCP and our partners are calling on Congress to grow this important funding stream to $15 million in fiscal year 2022. This will help enhance existing efforts to respond to the disease, supply other states with resources they desperately need, and provide a safety net in places where the spread of CWD is, unfortunately, imminent.

Learn more about CWD and the need for federal investment here.


Top photo by National Deer Association


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MeatEater Podcast ft. TRCP: Biden’s First 100 Days

TRCP’s Whit Fosburgh talks with Steven Rinella, Ryan Callaghan, Seth Morris, and Janis Putelis about the Biden Administration’s progress toward important conservation goals for hunters and anglers.


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May 18, 2021

How Cover Crops Benefit Fish, Wildlife, and Farmers

One Farm Bill conservation program helps landowners think bigger than food plots

We all know that food plots help provide food and cover to our favorite game, but cover crops are different—they are legumes, grasses, grains, and root vegetables that are typically planted after row crops like corn and soybeans are harvested. Like food plots on a much larger scale, the benefits of cover crops to soil, water, and wildlife are significant.

Some benefits are obvious to farmers: If cover crops are not planted, a field might be left bare for up to seven months while waiting for the next row crop planting. And, as our nation learned during the days of the Dust Bowl, that bare soil is vulnerable to erosion caused by wind, rain, and snowmelt.

Losing healthy soil, even incrementally, is bad for business, like losing pennies on every dollar. And the problem worsens—both for landowners and for fish and wildlife habitat—when more than just soil runs off the farm in a rainstorm. Large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer end up in our rivers, lakes, and streams, causing catastrophic algal blooms that can keep you from being able to fish.

This is why one of the most popular features of the Farm Bill’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program is its incentives for landowners and farmers to incorporate cover crops into their planting rotation.

While cover crops improve farm fields and our favorite lakes and streams, they can also serve as prime habitat for a variety of our favorite critters. And farmers’ interest in cover crops is on the rise, because integrating soil health practices can help combat climate change by capturing more carbon. 

Here are four standout cover crops and how they benefit fish and wildlife.

Photo credit: OakleyOriginals


Walleyes, Bass, and Everything in Between

Algal blooms caused by nutrient pollution can put a damper on summertime fishing by limiting access and shortening seasons. From the Gulf of Mexico to Utah Lake, the Ohio River, and Vermont’s Lake Carmi, fish and anglers would benefit from the increased use of cover crops—like clover, radishes, winter wheat, and rye—that slow the incremental loss of nutrient-rich topsoil.


Photo credit: Jason Mrachina

As our friends at QDMA can attest, radishes can make great food plots for whitetails. Deer are attracted to them during the fall and especially during late season when other foods are typically scarce.  During the winter months, the large tap root can provide much needed energy to those post-rut bucks. The tap root also serves as a natural tiller as it drills down and breaks up compacted soil, reducing the need for a field to be heavily tilled before the primary crop is planted.


Photo credit: Don DeBold

In the spring, clover and alfalfa are great sources of protein for wild turkeys, and they attract some of the bird’s favorite insects to help draw gobblers out of the hardwoods. In the late season, turkeys will appreciate the hearty meal provided by grains like winter wheat, that also help prevent soil erosion between planting seasons.


Photo credit: Nick O’Doherty
Upland Birds

For pheasants and quail, various cover crops like clovers, rye, and brassicas can provide some nesting and brood-rearing habitat so long as they are not tilled or sprayed during the nesting/brood rearing season. Cover crops that mature in late summer and early fall as the commodity crop is growing, will also provide both forage and bugs into fall after the crop is harvested.


Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs here.


This story was originally posted on May 2, 2018 and has been updated. 


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May 14, 2021

More Hunting and Fishing Coming to a National Wildlife Refuge Near You

Interior Department proposes another wave of expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on wildlife refuges and other public lands

UPDATE (August 30, 2021): In a press release today, the department announced that this proposed rule has been finalized in time for the 2021-2022 hunting season. The original post discusses the proposal.


Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intention to allow hunting and fishing on an additional 2.1 million acres of land across 90 national wildlife refuges and one national fish hatchery.

This follows similar moves to expand access under the Trump Administration in 2019 and 2020, which we called out as one of the recent successes the Biden Administration could build upon to benefit sportsmen and sportswomen. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the expansion proposed in this rule is the largest in recent history—including last year’s, which itself was larger than the previous five rules combined.

If the rule is finalized after a public comment period, Americans will be able to hunt and fish on seven wildlife refuges previously off-limits to these activities and access new lands on another 83 refuges. Public lands in all 50 states are included in the new proposed rule, and the changes would go into effect in time for the 2021-2022 hunting seasons.

All told, the new rule would boost the total number of huntable national wildlife refuges to 434 and make fishing available on 378. The Fish and Wildlife Service is also working with states to make sure hunting and fishing regulations on federal refuges are more consistent with local laws and seasons.

Why Allow Hunting and Fishing on Refuges?

It comes as a surprise to some that hunting and fishing are allowed on refuges, which were established to conserve, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and their habitats. These lands, however, are not off-limits to other uses, and six wildlife-related activities are prioritized by law: hunting, fishing, photography, wildlife watching, environmental education, and interpretation.

When, where, and how hunting or fishing is allowed is dependent on several factors, and the decision to permit these activities is made on a case-by-case and unit-by-unit basis by local refuge managers and biologists. Considerations include objectives of each refuge or hatchery, its biological soundness, and the public demand for and economic feasibility of providing recreation while protecting other resources. Learn more about the history of allowing hunting and fishing on refuges here.

More Access Equals More Opportunity

“Hunters and anglers are some of our most ardent conservationists and they play an important role in ensuring the future of diverse and healthy wildlife populations,” says USFWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “Our lands have also provided a much-needed outlet to thousands during the pandemic and we hope these additional opportunities will provide a further connection with nature, recreation and enjoyment.”

Here are 26 places across six regions where this proposal may enhance your hunting and fishing opportunities by this fall.

The West

Some of the proposed changes in the West would open new opportunities for species or types of hunting that were not previously available. In Montana, for instance, both the Charles M. Russell NWR and the UL Bend NWR would allow mountain lion hunting on acres of the refuges already open to other types of hunting. Similarly, both the Las Vegas NWR in New Mexico and the Camas NWR in Idaho would allow elk hunting, which would be the first big game hunting opportunity offered by either refuge.

On the Ouray NWR in Utah, pronghorn and sandhill crane hunting would be allowed in areas already open to sportsmen and sportswomen pursuing other species. Likewise, the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming would allow deer and pronghorn hunting in areas already open to other hunts.

The Southwest

In some places, hunters would see a sea-change in opportunity. On the Muleshoe NWR in Texas, sportsmen and women will be able to hunt whitetail deer, mule deer, quail, and doves, which would amount to the refuge’s first big game, upland game, and migratory bird hunting seasons.

The Southeast

While some changes create hunting and fishing opportunities where they previously did not exist, others expand existing opportunities to a greater area of the refuge. For example, in addition to opening migratory bird hunting for the first time, changes proposed for the Mackay Island NWR in North Carolina/Virgina would also expand current opportunities for deer hunting.

Several refuges would create additional opportunities through youth-only hunts. Among those proposed in Arkansas are a youth deer hunt on the Big Lake NWR, a youth turkey hunt on the Bald Knob NWR, and youth hunts for deer, rabbits, and squirrels on the Holla Bend NWR.

Anglers in the region would for the first time get to enjoy sportfishing on the Grand Bay NWR, which straddles Alabama-Mississippi border, and the Florida Panther NWR in Florida, while waterfowlers in Alabama would see the first-ever duck and goose hunting season on the Choctaw NWR.

The Mid-Atlantic

Both the Great Swamp NWR and the Supawna Meadows NWR in New Jersey could offer new opportunities to hunt, among other species, turkeys, and both could also expand existing deer hunting opportunities.

In Virginia, the proposed rule would open migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and sportfishing for the first time at the Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, while also expanding existing opportunities there for whitetail hunting. The Great Dismal Swamp NWR, James River NWR, Occoquan Bay NWR, Prequile NWR, and Rappahannock River Valley NWR would all allow turkey and coyote hunting for the first time, among other opportunities.

The Midwest

In Michigan, the Harbor Island NWR would allow migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and sportfishing for the first time, while also expanding current opportunities for deer hunting and bear hunting to additional acreage within the refuge.

The Northeast

In Maine, waterfowl hunters would enjoy the first-ever migratory bird hunting opportunities at the Franklin Island NWR and the Pond Island NWR, which also extends into New Hampshire. Likewise, anglers would for the first time be able to fish at the Pine Tree State’s Green Lake National Fish Hatchery.

A complete list of the proposed changes to hunting and fishing access can be found here.


Top photo by Wyman Meinzer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via flickr.



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.

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