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Restoring 350 Miles of Impaired Streams in PA’s Amish Country

Years of planning and collaboration, especially with local farmers, could make this a model of success for at-risk fish habitat across the country

With its Amish farms and quaint architecture, Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County is a tourist destination where people hope for a glimpse of the past. With its urban sprawl, disappearing farmland, and impaired waterways, it now offers, rather more tellingly, a good look at the future.

That future just got a good deal brighter. Let’s set the stage.

Photo by Derek Eberly.

Lancaster County is home to some 550,000 souls, roughly double the population of 80 years ago. The increase in population has brought in quite a few sportsmen and sportswomen, but also all of the environmental threats that go with urbanization and industrial and transportation development. This has coincided almost precisely with the age of chemical agriculture, with pesticides, herbicides, and liberal application of fertilizers having become the norm.

The result? More than half of the county’s 1,400 miles of stream are listed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as impaired. Taken together, we may have more hunters and anglers but ever fewer places to hunt and fish in a seemingly inexorable trend.

There’s every reason to hope that the trend is about to be reversed. Lancaster Water Partners has received $7.4 million from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to commence what may become a massive cleanup.

The goal is to take 350 miles of Lancaster County streams, or close to half of the area’s degraded waters, off the EPA’s impaired list by 2030. That’s an ambitious agenda for such a sum, but the key element is collaboration.

Some government agencies and nonprofits are important partners, but the most impact may be had by the farmers in stream catchments areas. By cooperating in the program and voluntarily improving their management practices, the farmers can reduce the sediment and nutrient loads that landed the streams on the impaired list in the first place.

Education and public awareness, therefore, are also part of the goal of the project. Sponsors hope for 75 percent of the county’s adult population to be aware of the work, and to support it, by the time this phase is complete.

Photo by Derek Eberly.

One important partner, the Chesapeake Conservancy, has used advanced geographic information system techniques to create maps that will serve as a starting point for determining stream needs and the best candidates for restoration. So far, 19 catchments have been identified in the Conestoga, Chiques, Pequa, and Octoraro watersheds.

This strategic approach is the result of years of planning. Now, we need to make sure there’s robust and dedicated funding moving quickly where it’s needed to get shovel-ready projects started and people back to work.

There is likely to be a considerable lesson here. Lancaster County is by no means the only place with impaired streams, and agriculture is not the only culprit. From acid rain to abandoned mine tailings and industrial waste, all manner of pollutants have degraded waterways across the country. Lancaster’s program is setting an example that can spread—and quickly.

 

Take action now to support conservation investments in Pennsylvania.

 

David Terrell is retired from the U.S. Geological Survey and living in Elizabethtown, PA. His background includes print journalism and staff work in the U.S. Senate.

Top photo by Derek Eberly

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Chris Macaluso

June 15, 2021

Louisiana Lawmakers Reject Bill to Create Pogie Boat Buffer Zone

Champions of sportfish populations, coastal habitat, and recreational fishing were disappointed by the failure to keep disruptive industrial menhaden harvest activity farther away from Louisiana beaches

Unfortunately, a handful of misguided Louisiana lawmakers undermined the will of the overwhelming majority of residents and legislators seeking reasonable conservation through H.B. 535, which would have created an exclusion zone to keep industrial menhaden harvesters one half mile away from beaches. Legislators reached an impasse last week, despite previous support for the measure in state House and Senate committees.

All who care about Louisiana’s beaches, barrier islands, and fisheries are thankful for Representative Orgeron’s leadership and the help we received from many other coastal lawmakers who put the needs of our state ahead of those of foreign-owned pogie reduction fishing companies. The concerns about the damage being caused to Louisiana’s surf zones by these companies are only going to increase.

There is a reason why every other coastal state has safeguards in place to protect their shorelines against the abuse of commercial pogie fishing. The proposed half-mile buffer zone was a substantial compromise from the one-mile exclusion area considered but not approved by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission. The TRCP, Coastal Conservation Association Louisiana and our coalition partners will continue to champion this issue until we get the necessary protections in place for our coastal ecosystems, fisheries, and coastal communities.

Read on for my official testimony given before Louisiana’s Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, June 1, when I outlined the argument for this legislative commitment to coastal habitat and jobs in Louisiana. If you find it compelling, sign our open letter to state and federal fisheries officials supporting better management of menhaden, which means pushing back on the foreign-owned companies that disrupt recreational fishing when pogie boats pull up near our beaches and leave dead sportfish in their wake.

TRCP’s Official Testimony on Louisiana H.B. 535

Chairman Hensgens, members of the Committee, thank you for the chance to be here today.

My name is Chris Macaluso. I am the marine fisheries director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. I am a lifelong Louisianan, proud conservationist, and an avid recreational fisherman.

I want to thank Representative Orgeron for introducing his bill and for working with charter fishermen, recreational fishing groups, and conservation organizations to develop this bill. I want to also thank Representatives Zeringue, Fontenot, and Kerner as well as Senator Allain and all other legislators who participated in the discussions to try to find compromise over the last seven months.

I am here today to urge you to support H.B. 535. As an avid angler, and because of my job, I am on the coast on a weekly basis. I have seen the pogie harvest along our beaches many, many times. I have been fishing within 50 yards of beaches in Plaquemines and Terrebonne Parish and had pogie boats come as close as 100 yards from me and set their nets. It’s never pleasant to see the rafts of dead pogies and the dead redfish, sharks, jacks, and other fish we often see left behind.

I have many friends who are charter captains. I hear from them constantly during the spring and summer about pogie boats in water so shallow that they muddy the water and the boats run aground. They also complain about the dead fish and how sometimes they have to take customers elsewhere because they are disgusted by the sights and smells. I hear from other anglers regularly who see dead redfish on the beaches, floating in the surf. It makes them angry. And it should. That is an iconic fish in Louisiana, a vital part of a $3 billion annual recreational fishing industry in our state being wasted. I have sent all of you links to videos showing this activity, and I could send you many, many more.

 

Menhaden boats run aground, chew up surf zone in Empire, La.

 

Dead bull redfish floating in the wake of menhaden boats in Empire, La.

 

Menhaden boats 300 yards from Elmer’s Island Beach, La. 

 

Dead redfish and menhaden left by menhaden boats in the surf, Elmer’s Island Beach, La.

 

You may have been told that these are isolated incidents. They are not. This is a regular occurrence during the summer on our beaches.

Once or twice would be an isolated incident. But about 20 times over the last 30 years, I have personally seen rafts of dead pogies multiple times near Grand Isle and Cocodrie, dozens of dead redfish floating at Elmer’s Island and in Lake Pelto, dead pogies and herring washed up on the beach at Grand Isle and Elmer’s Island, and boats fishing in very shallow water less than 200 yards from beaches. I’m not on the water every day. Some charter guides around Grand Isle and Empire see this on a weekly basis.

This is not just about a conflict between user groups. There is a biological concern. It’s estimated nearly a billion pounds of pogies are harvested annually off Louisiana’s coast, and that includes an additional 30 to 50 million pounds of unintended catch—much of which would serve as food for sportfish. All of this harvest happens with no consideration for the role these fish play as food for other fish and animals or the impact on water quality.

The surf zone is home to the highest diversity of fish and wildlife in the Gulf. If the pogie boats are in the same place where speckled trout and redfish are being caught, then speckled trout and redfish are being killed in their nets. The redfish and trout are there to spawn and are eating pogies.

It’s also reasonable to think that the thousands of dead redfish anglers are seeing on our beaches and in the surf are detrimental to our redfish populations. Preliminary results of a study being conducted by NOAA and the University of Florida show a significant reduction in speckled trout and redfish biomass in the Gulf from menhaden harvest—as much as a 50-percent reduction.

I’d also like to address some of the other issues that have been brought up to try and paint this bill as some kind of attack on Louisiana jobs or assault on all commercial fishing. These are all untrue and misleading arguments.

As Representative Orgeron has said over and over again, if this bill was going to cost hundreds of jobs, he wouldn’t have introduced it. And we aren’t here asking the industry to catch any fewer fish. We are asking for some simple, reasonable protection of our beaches.

The argument that efforts to enact reasonable conservation is costing jobs is especially dubious considering Omega Protein chose to eliminate jobs in Cameron Parish by closing its plant in 2014, sending some of those jobs to Mississippi. Nobody here asking for reasonable conservation measures had anything to do with those jobs being lost in Louisiana. That was Omega choosing to do what they called “streamlining” and “reallocating assets.” Meaning fewer jobs for Louisiana and more money for their shareholders.

You have likely heard that this menhaden fishery has received the Marine Stewardship Council Certification for sustainability. That certification is provisional. These two companies have to agree to meet [certain standards in the future, including] ecological reference points. That could mean a reduction in harvest and certainly will mean a catch limit. That could lead to a loss of jobs. And there isn’t an organization here asking for this bill to pass that made these two companies take that step.

Speaking of that certification, Omega Protein received that same certification in the Atlantic for its plant in Virginia in 2019. That same year, the company willfully violated the terms of that certification by blatantly exceeding the catch limit in Chesapeake Bay by more than 30 percent, forcing the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Trump Administration to punish them and reduce the following year’s harvest.

Earlier, I mentioned that Louisiana jobs were moved to Mississippi. It’s fair to ask how much of the opposition to this bill is so pogie boats from Mississippi can fish right up against Louisiana’s beaches and damage Louisiana’s coastal habitat. Mississippi has already moved to protect many of its beaches and barrier islands from this fishery. We are asking Louisiana to do the same.

And I think it’s fair to say Louisiana fishermen and Louisiana lawmakers shouldn’t tolerate a single dead redfish from pogie boats coming here from Mississippi.

So, I’m here today to ask us to take the side of conservation. Let’s do what’s best for our state, our recently restored beaches, and our recreational fishing and tourism economy. Move this fishing activity out of the surf zone and into deeper water where there is less chance to damage our shores and less chance of bycatch. Thank you.

 

Take action now to support meaningful updates to menhaden management.

 

Top photo courtesy of Healthy Gulf via Flickr.

Randall Williams

June 11, 2021

TRCP Applauds USDA Tongass Announcement

First step toward restoring safeguards to roadless areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

Hunters and anglers commended an announcement that the U.S. Department of Agriculture intends to “restore or replace” the previous administration’s decision to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule.

The Tongass exemption, which was finalized in October 2020, stripped conservation safeguards from more than 9 million acres of public lands in Southeast Alaska, despite overwhelming opposition from Alaskans as well as sportsmen and sportswomen across the nation. Today’s announcement confirms that the decision-making process used to justify the exemption was flawed and begins the process of restoring the management framework.

“Today’s announcement is welcomed by a majority of Alaskans and more than 250,000 Americans who vocally opposed last year’s extreme decision to fully exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The TRCP thanks USDA Secretary Vilsack for taking the first step toward restoring conservation safeguards to some of Southeast Alaska’s best fish and wildlife habitat. We urge USDA and the Forest Service to swiftly reinstate the conservation measures that have served the Tongass well for 20 years.”

The Tongass National Forest encompasses nearly 90 percent of the southeastern panhandle of Alaska. Some of the nation’s most productive watersheds for salmon rearing and fishing are located within roadless areas of the forest. Eliminating the Roadless Rule in the Tongass made more than 9 million acres of undeveloped forests available to industrial logging and road construction, undermining some of Alaska’s largest salmon fisheries and potentially impacting vital habitat for Sitka black-tailed deer, black and brown bears, and moose.

Earlier this month, nearly 70 hunting- and fishing-related groups, national brands, and local businesses signed a joint letter calling on the USDA to move quickly to reinstate roadless area safeguards in the Tongass. From gear manufacturers and media companies to guides, outfitters, and retailers, the letter emphasized the importance of sustainable forest management on the outdoor recreation economy.

By the Forest Service’s own analysis, repealing the Roadless Rule was expected to have only a “minimal beneficial effect” on the region’s diminished forest products industry, and at a significant cost to taxpayers. Instead of focusing on cutting critically important mature forests, conservation groups have urged the decision makers to manage the Tongass with an emphasis on second-growth forest management, an approach that would support local jobs and forest health.

“The industries that contribute the most to Southeast Alaska’s economy—such as commercial fishing, recreation, and tourism—rely on the conservation of our remaining old-growth forests and pristine watersheds within the Tongass,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s time we help the Forest Service manage the Tongass in a way that conserves vital fish and wildlife habitat, allows for sustainable second growth forest management, and boosts the resiliency of our communities.”

Photo: Ben Matthews (www.bentmatthews.com)

Kristyn Brady

June 10, 2021

House Committee Passes Highway Bill with Dedicated Funding for Wildlife Crossings

$100M annually for wildlife-friendly roadway crossing structures represents one of the bill’s biggest benefits for hunters and anglers

Early this morning in a 38-26 vote, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed its five-year highway bill with $547 billion in transportation infrastructure investments, including a new grant program to help states construct more wildlife crossings that knit together fragmented habitat and increase public safety.

The INVEST in America Act establishes the wildlife crossings program and funds it at $100 million annually. This investment would be the first of its kind in a national wildlife crossings initiative and satisfies what has been a top legislative priority for the TRCP since 2019. The organization has convened wildlife experts, department of transportation planners, engineers, and others to formulate its recommendations in this policy area.

“We are thrilled to see this momentum for a program and funding that would kickstart the construction of critical wildlife crossings,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The timing couldn’t be better, as our enhanced understanding of big game migration routes demands that we reconnect critical seasonal habitats that have been fragmented by roadways, potentially altering the movements of mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and other species.”

Of course, the highway system presents habitat connectivity issues to more than just Western big game. The program would also fund projects that benefit amphibians, fish, and reptiles. “We know that one of the best ways we can ensure fish and wildlife adapt to a changing climate is to enhance their ability to move, as needed, across the landscape,” says Fosburgh. “As Congress prepares to make some of the most impactful investments in our highway system, critical infrastructure, and American jobs, we look forward to working with lawmakers to support these efforts.”

Other important provisions in the INVEST Act include:

  • $555 million per year for the Federal Lands Transportation Program, which helps federal agencies maintain passenger roads through public lands. Of this total, the $50 million set aside for the Forest Service is just one-fifth of the total that the TRCP and others recommended to avoid contributing to the maintenance backlog at the agency. Congress must invest more in the Forest Service’s aging roads, which Americans rely on not just for outdoor recreation but to connect communities that are adjacent to or separated by Forest Services lands.
  • $345 million annually for the Federal Lands Access Program to repair, maintain, and reconstruct roads on public lands, which are essential for outdoor recreation.
  • Establishment of a pre-disaster mitigation program to help communities prepare for future catastrophic weather events that often affect habitat. The TRCP has prioritized this as one of the ways Congress can put Americans back to work through conservation, especially when communities are encouraged to invest in nature-based infrastructure.

The Senate surface transportation bill includes $350 million over five years for wildlife crossings, plus support for climate resilience and better access to public lands. It has passed out of committee and needs a floor vote before both chambers can hammer out a deal to reconcile the two bills.

Also of interest to sportsmen and sportswomen is a bill to increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, which was passed in the same House committee markup today.

Since February, the TRCP has called on Congress to authorize $40 billion over five years for this bedrock program used by states and territories to fund water quality protection, including wastewater control, water treatment, and activities such as land conservation and habitat restoration projects. The TRCP also supported setting aside 15 percent of these funds for the Green Project Reserve Program within the Clean Water SRF to encourage states to invest in natural systems and nature-based approaches to addressing local water quality challenges.

Both of these provisions were included in the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021 when it passed out of committee today with a bipartisan vote of 42-25.

To learn more about the natural infrastructure and water quality solutions championed by hunters and anglers, click here.

 

Top photo courtesy of Wyoming Game and Fish Dept.

Randall Williams

June 7, 2021

New Report: Federal Agencies Should Update Plans, Conserve Big Game Migrations

Sportsmen and sportswomen urge BLM and Forest Service to manage for this conservation priority

Click here to view the full report.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today released a report on the need for federal land management agencies to amend and revise land-use plans to incorporate the latest science in public land management and take active steps to conserve the West’s big game migrations.

According to the report, “our understanding of the threats to the continued functionality of [migration corridors] has advanced to the point that it can suggest actionable, pragmatic solutions to ensure their conservation. In the meantime, outdated land-use plans are being used every day for on-the-ground management decisions about what can and cannot happen on our public lands.” Citing missed opportunities to complete habitat improvement projects, responsibly site energy development, and manage recreation, the report calls on the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to revise and amend land-use plans to incorporate the latest migration science into their decision making.

“Because so many land-use plans are decades-old and long overdue for an update, we have a real opportunity all across the West to take actions to ensure some of the region’s most iconic wildlife will be enjoyed by future generations,” said Madeleine West, director of the Center for Public Lands with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The science clearly demonstrates that this is an important conservation challenge and also shows what we can do to address it.”

During their seasonal journeys, big game herds move across a patchwork of land ownership and administrative boundaries. The report showcases landscapes in the six Western states of Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and Colorado where agency attention to address this issue would make a big difference for big game herds. It also describes how cutting-edge migration science and mapping can inform public land management to conserve elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and other big game species that rely on their ability to move between winter and summer ranges.

“Modern GPS migration data can pin-point within 15 feet where collared animals travel, documenting how wildlife use the landscape and how specific human activity in these habitats affects, for instance, mule deer populations,” said Joel Webster, vice president of Western Conservation at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This migration science can then be used by public land managers to inform and guide their decision making to balance multiple uses of our public lands, be better partners with state and tribal wildlife managers, and cooperate with private landowners.”

But agency-created land-use plans must consider this science in order for it to be incorporated into public land management decisions. Regrettably, most land-use policy and planning tools for federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management haven’t been updated to reflect this growing body of knowledge, even when the agencies themselves have adopted migration corridor conservation as a management priority. Existing federal agency land-use plans—many of which were written decades ago—frequently do not acknowledge wildlife migrations or do so with minimal emphasis. This includes BLM lands in the states of Colorado and Nevada.

“GPS technology, and the knowledge it provides on where and how animals migrate, has vastly improved in the time since land management plans in Nevada were developed,” said Tony Wasley, director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “Without updates to those plans, in some ways it is as if, despite having a programmable calculator, we are forced to use an abacus. The Department stands ready and willing to bring any and all available resources to assist our valued land management agency partners in this worthy endeavor.”

“Use of the best available science is critical to guide the modernization of land management plans here in Colorado, including the initiation of a statewide plan amendment in partnership with the BLM in the coming year to protect big game movement and habitat on our public lands,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.  “Colorado’s big game herds are a critical component of our state’s identity and economy and we can better protect them with additional research that maps their movements across the landscape.”

Here is what TRCP partner organizations have to say about this work:

“The Mule Deer Foundation works with agencies to advance habitat restoration projects across the West that support mule deer and other species. It is critical that we put this new information to use now, to guide the future uses of our federal lands while protecting key migration corridors and seasonal habitats. By including priorities for migratory habitat restoration and enhancement in land-use plans, the agencies would make it easier for states and NGOs like ours to target restoration work that could provide the greatest benefit for wildlife.”

– Joel Pedersen, President/CEO, Mule Deer Foundation

“Healthy big game herds and intact habitat are essential to sustaining quality hunting opportunities and special outdoor experiences on our public lands. But unless federal agencies incorporate the latest wildlife migration science into the plans that govern how these lands and waters are managed, the seasonal ranges that elk, mule deer, and pronghorn rely on for their survival remain at risk from a variety of threats that could marginalize wildlife populations and compromise future opportunities for outdoor recreation.”

– John Gale, Conservation Director, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

“Ensuring a positive future for the West’s deer herds starts with conserving their habitat, and the science clearly demonstrates that mule deer need to be able to move unimpeded as they migrate from winter to summer ranges and back again. Without adequate safeguards to secure connectivity between these habitats, as well as funding and priorities for habitat restoration and enhancement, it will become more and more difficult for our deer populations to undertake their seasonal journeys.”

– Nick Pinizzotto, President/CEO, National Deer Association

Click here to view the full report.

 

Photo: Josh Metten

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