Kristyn Brady

May 28, 2021

Five Conservation Podcasts for Your Long Weekend

Whether you’re headed out on the road or straight for your couch, pass the time by getting informed on some of the most pressing conservation issues affecting hunters and anglers 

Top photo by Larry George II on Unsplash

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Randall Williams

May 27, 2021

New Report Connects Conservation and Rural Economic Well-Being

Highlights success stories in four Western states and offers guidance to NGOs looking to adopt a new approach to community engagement

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Heart of the Rockies Initiative today released a report on how conservation and outdoor recreation missions align with supporting the well-being of rural communities across the United States.

The report features projects in four Western states where conservation organizations and outdoor recreation groups engaged with rural communities in ways that recognize mutual values and benefits, as well as the intersection of conservation, recreational opportunities, and community economic development. The case studies featured in the report include Aberdeen, South Dakota; Lincoln, Montana; Montrose, Colorado; and Southeast Alaska.

“Quite simply, rural communities with strong economies are more likely to be in a position to support conservation and recreation, including policies that benefit fish and wildlife habitat,” said Joel Webster, Vice President of Western Conservation with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This report showcases what can be accomplished when conservation organizations and outdoor recreation groups adopt the belief that community well-being is critical to the success of their work.”

The report points out that in recent years, a number of conservation organizations have recognized that “rural community revitalization and economic opportunities are important values; that resource conservation and outdoor access can be aligned with those values; and that hunting and fishing organizations, land trusts, and other recreation and conservation groups can provide meaningful support for community-led development priorities in ways that are consistent with a conservation organization’s core mission.”

In the community of Lincoln, Montana, conservation organizations have worked to augment community capacity and to implement the community’s Envision Lincoln plan, including applying for federal and state grants and bringing together people and resources to support community goals.

“After losing our primary industries–logging and mining–we had to reinvent ourselves. Outdoor recreation offers the opportunity for our businesses to keep their doors open and thrive in an every changing economy,” said Laurie Richards, former President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Wheel Inn restaurant.

In Southeast Alaska, where local communities were hit hard by the Covid pandemic, the Sitka Conservation Society pivoted capacity and programs to support urgent community needs in ways that helped create genuine and long-term trust-based relationships.

“Sitka Conservation Society’s Community Conservation Corps program gave us experience with how nonprofits can leverage coronavirus relief funding to employ local residents and subcontractors and spread these funds to local businesses, while investing in projects that have benefits for locals as well as our recreation and visitor industry,” said Katie Riley, Policy Director for the Sitka Conservation Society.

“The Heart of the Rockies Rural Development Program was developed on the premise that the success and sustainability of conservation in the Rocky Mountain West is inextricably linked to rural community vitality and economic well-being,” said Gary Burnett, Executive Director of the Heart of the Rockies Initiative. “In highlighting these four case studies, this report illustrates what can be accomplished when stakeholders recognize the alignment between these interconnected priorities.”

Click here to download a copy of the report.

 

Photo: @NickMKE via Flickr

Derek Eberly

May 26, 2021

28 Pennsylvania Trout Streams That Deserve a Status Update with Conservation Benefits

Anglers are campaigning to update the designations of some Pennsylvania waterways to reflect the exceptional status of their wild trout populations and water quality

Four times each year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission proposes streams to be added to the Wild Trout and Class A lists. Right now, there are 28 wild trout streams proposed for designation25 Wild Trout streams and 3 Class A wild trout streams that represent the best of our best waters. Those eligible for protection during this comment period include tributaries to top fishing areas, such as the Lackawaxen River, Schuylkill River, and Swatara Creek.

Local sportsmen and women have a chance to influence this process and seal the deal for our best trout streams—here’s why you should take action today.

The Economic Power of Trout Waters

With 86,000 miles of streams and about 4,000 inland lakes, Pennsylvania is home to some of the best publicly accessible fishing that the East Coast has to offer, including phenomenal trout and bass fishing. With opportunities like these, it’s no wonder that 1.3 million Pennsylvanians fished their local waterways in 2016, helping contribute to the state’s $26.9-billion outdoor recreation economy.

Since 2010, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has worked with sportsmen and local universities to distinguish our best waters through the Unassessed Waters Program. Based on the UWP’s evaluation, stream sections that meet a set of criteria are eligible for certain protections. For example, streams that have abundant populations of wild rainbow, brown, and brook trout can be eligible for Wild Trout Stream or Class A Stream designations. Protecting these streams ensures that the outdoor recreation industry continues to thrive and that future generations can enjoy the same (or better) fishing opportunities.

Tackle shops and fishing guides are among the businesses that make up an important part of the robust outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania. And giving special consideration to the best wild trout streams supports these small businesses. “When I worked in the local fly shop, the Class A list provided a great reference to point people in the right direction to find trout water,” says Matthew Marran, a flyfishing guide and former fly shop worker in the Delaware River Basin. “As a guide, I depend on Class A waters to put clients on wild trout with consistency and confidence. And I’m seeing more and more people ask when booking to fish exclusively for wild trout.”

Why Does a Designation Matter?

In these cases, what’s in a name really matters: Wild Trout and Class A streams qualify for additional protections from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, including the limitation of activities around these streams that would degrade water quality. The Wild Trout Stream title designates a water as a Coldwater Fishery and protects surrounding wetlands from development. Similarly, streams that qualify for the Class A designation get additional recognition as high-quality waters, which restricts in-stream discharges and guards against habitat degradation.

These designations from the PFBC are critical to helping the state manage and protect fish populations, especially as demands on Pennsylvania’s water resources continue to increase. When you consider that roughly 40 percent of streams across the state are NOT suitable for fishing, swimming, and/or drinking water, according to the DEP, it makes sense to safeguard the exceptional waterways that already meet top standards and support outdoor recreation that drives our economy.

Fortunately, sportsmen and women understand the importance of this process. A recent TRCP survey found that 92 percent of Pennsylvania sportsmen and women support designating streams when they meet the right criteria.

What You Can Do to Help

Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers have an important opportunity to conserve more critical streams. If we don’t speak up, these exceptional waterways could easily be degraded and eventually lost to pollution.

Take action now and tell the PA Fish and Boat Commission that you value these protections for clean water and fish habitat.

This blog was originally posted in November 2019, and has been updated for each new public comment period. The current comment period ends on June 21, 2021. Photos by Derek Eberly.

Transportation Bill Makes Groundbreaking Investments in Wildlife Crossings, Climate, and Access

Sportsmen and sportswomen help shape Highway Bill

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has unanimously passed a historic compromise to invest in wildlife crossings, disaster prevention, climate resilience, and public access as part of a major infrastructure package, sending the bill to the full Senate for a vote.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, commonly called the Highway Bill, invests $350 million over five years in a competitive grant program dedicated to the construction of wildlife crossing structures, including over and under passes. These crossing structures help connect otherwise unavailable habitats that benefit pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and black bears.

“This remarkable agreement will preserve wildlife and human life by reducing vehicle-wildlife collisions,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our highway system has historically fragmented big game habitat and migration corridors, but this bill recognizes that we can create jobs, maintain modern infrastructure, and improve our natural systems. The bill also builds climate resilience as we grapple with the impacts of weather events and improves public access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities. We want to thank Chairman Carper and Ranking Member Capito for leading the effort to ensure this transportation bill keeps wildlife habitat connected.”

This investment is the first of its kind in a national wildlife crossings initiative. The TRCP began working on this issue back in February 2019 by hosting a workshop with biologists, planners, and engineers from multiple state and federal agencies to discuss the issue of wildlife-vehicle collisions and how to safeguard migrating wildlife. Since that time, the TRCP has spearheaded the legislative and grassroots effort with many partner organizations and more than 12,000 hunters and anglers who have asked lawmakers to invest in wildlife crossings.

Other important provisions in the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act include:

  • Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) Grant Program to improve the ability of disaster-prone communities to reduce risk and build resilience to significant weather events.
  • Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program to storm-proof roads to protect habitat and water quality; reclaim unneeded roads to prevent erosion from damaging streams; replace culverts to restore fish passage; and improve trails on public lands.
  • Federal Lands Transportation Program to repair, maintain, and reconstruct roads on public lands, which are essential for outdoor recreation.
  • Federal Lands Access Program to supplement state and local resources for infrastructure projects that improve public access to adjacent federal lands.

Rob Thornberry

May 24, 2021

Cooperative Winter Range Management in Idaho Shows A Path Forward for Migration Conservation

Hunters, ranchers, and land managers partner for the benefit of wildlife and working lands

As snow recedes in the Centennial Mountains along the Idaho-Mountain border and in the high country of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, big game animals are on the move.

Following the spring green-up that comes with snow’s retreat, roughly 10,000 deer, elk, moose, and pronghorn are leaving the Sand Creek winter range—located roughly 50 miles northeast of my home in Idaho Falls— and heading primarily north and east to the high-country headwaters from Camas Creek east toward Yellowstone’s Boundary Creek and Falls River.

The seasonal movements of these animals are one of the wonders of the West, especially considering the challenges presented by habitat lost to severe wildfire, the proliferation of fences and other barriers, and the near-constant encroachment of more second homes, roads, and major highways. With Idaho’s rapid growth in recent years, keeping this migration route intact will be a major challenge.

Fortunately, a blueprint for success has been developed at the wintertime terminus of this major migration, the Sand Creek desert, which sits between the towns of St. Anthony and Dubois in eastern Idaho’s Fremont and Clark counties. The winter range is a 500,000-acre patchwork of Bureau of Land Management public lands, endowment lands managed by the Idaho Department of Lands, and private property.

Despite the differences in priorities of the various stakeholders, these agencies and landowners have teamed together to conserve the winter range while also allowing the local ranching industry to thrive.

The partnership began in the 1970s when local ranchers applied to have 4,000 acres of big game winter range converted to cultivation for potato farming. The BLM rejected the proposal, but the ensuing dialogue resulted in the Sand Creek Habitat Management Plan, adopted by the BLM, Idaho Department of Lands, and Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which outlined a cooperative management approach to enhance the elk winter habitat in the BLM’s Sands Habitat Management Plan. One of the plan’s main goals was to help a fledgling herd of elk that was first identified in the area in 1947, and, in the late 40s or early 1950, the Fremont County Sportsmen Association also transplanted 12 elk to the area from Yellowstone National Park.

The partnership was tested in the 1980s when local ranchers and the counties asked the BLM to turn the Egin-Hamer Road into a year-round, farm-to-market road. Again, the local landowners lost their request at first, but cooperation won out in the end. In exchange for converting the road into a year-round thoroughfare, all of the interested parties agreed in 1987 to an annual closure for the winter range that limited all human entry from Jan. 1 to May 1, preventing human disturbances to big game animals already stressed by harsh seasonal conditions. It is a model of conservation that came to pass because of cooperation and negotiation.

More than 30 years later, the group of agencies, landowners, and sportsmen that created the wintertime closure are back at the table, working for the best interests of wildlife and the local ranching community. Mobilized by a 2019 wildfire that burned roughly 20 percent of the winter range, conservationists, sportsmen, landowners, state biologists, and federal land managers have joined forces yet again. This time, the priority is to build firebreaks to protect the remaining healthy winter range and design vegetation treatments to restore the overgrown stands of aging sagebrush. The goals of their collaboration are preventing large wildfires, improving wildlife habitat, and providing for a working landscape.

Already this spring, deer, elk, moose, and pronghorn have largely left the Sand Creek Desert, riding the green wave of new forage to the high country of the Centennials and Yellowstone. There they will calve and fawn. They will fatten over the summer and fall until deep snow pushes them back down from the mountains. The winter range will be waiting, protected by meaningful conservation safeguards, and in the good hands of Idahoans who are working together.

Sand Creek is a template for how to manage challenges facing winter ranges and other valuable wildlife habitats. More importantly, it is a model of the type of cooperation that has been at the heart of our country’s greatest conservation successes. That same collaborative spirit will be needed on future BLM and Forest Service planning efforts as we continue our work to ensure the West’s big game herds can move between the seasonal habitats they need to thrive.

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure.  Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create jobs, restore habitat, and preserve fish and wildlife.

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