sand creek desert bull elk
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This video is the last in a five-part series detailing conservation projects powered by Pennsylvania’s Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund, which has provided state-level matching dollars for land acquisition, river conservation, and trail work since 1993. 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. To view other videos in the series, visit our YouTube playlist. For more information on the Keystone Fund, you can visit: https://keystonefund.org
It is no secret that the pandemic has generated a renaissance in outdoor recreation. Hunting, fishing, and boating were all important parts of this growth here in Pennsylvania. In 2020, hunting license sales increased by 5 percent, fishing licenses were up 20 percent, and boat registrations climbed an impressive 40 percent. The growing number of hunters, anglers, and boaters in 2020 and 2021 will only help to boost a robust $26.9-billion outdoor recreation economy in Pennsylvania.
Increased interest in the outdoors shines a spotlight on the conservation challenges we face, but it also creates an opportunity to showcase what Pennsylvania has already done right by funding habitat and public land improvements and protecting water quality.
It is easy to see why water-centric activities grew intensely across the commonwealth in 2020—with 86,000+ miles of rivers and streams, Pennsylvania is a water-rich state. Many state parks and forests saw 100- to 200-percent increases in visitation, but parks with large water features, like the reservoir in Beltzville State Park outside of Jim Thorpe, saw as much as a 400-percent increase in foot traffic.
The revenue generated from water-based recreation recognizes just a portion of the return on our investments into these resources. As many sportsmen and sportswomen mention in our videos, these rivers and streams facilitate connection—with nature and with each other—and represent our ability to sustain uniquely American outdoor traditions for generations to come. With about 30 percent, or at least 25,000 miles, of streams in Pennsylvania impaired for one or more uses, plenty more investment is needed to realize the full potential of our waters.
This is why dedicated conservation funding matters to hunters and anglers in Pennsylvania. For the last video in our series on conservation successes, we look back at the individual projects featured on Valley Creek, Monocacy Creek, Brodhead Creek, and the Lehigh River to drive home what’s at stake if we lose conservation funding sources like the Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund.
It’s clear that whether flyfishing fabled waters steeped in the roots of American history, hunting waterfowl on newly minted public game land, or chasing wild trout through some of the most densely populated regions on the east coast, one thing is true: Water connects us all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Top photo by National Deer Association
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This story was originally posted on May 2, 2018 and has been updated.
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