Randall Williams

August 12, 2021

New Federal Commitment Will Help to Conserve Migration Corridors

Departments of Interior and Agriculture take steps to conserve and enhance wildlife migration corridors in partnership with states and tribes

Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated a joint announcement by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the state of Wyoming regarding cooperative efforts to partner in the conservation and enhancement of wildlife migration corridors.

“Functional migration corridors and other seasonal habitats are essential to healthy populations of elk, mule deer, and antelope and help to ensure that all Americans have opportunities to enjoy our storied big game herds,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We greatly appreciate the leadership shown today by Secretaries Haaland and Vilsack, in partnership with state and tribal governments, to invest in the conservation and restoration of migratory wildlife habitats.”

Today’s statement included a commitment by the federal agencies to support the implementation of Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon’s 2020 executive order prioritizing the conservation of mule deer and pronghorn migrations. In addition, the agencies announced the availability of $2 million in new grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big Game Migration Corridors and Habitat Connectivity program, as well as a commitment from USDA to leverage programs such as Working Lands for Wildlife, the Sage Grouse Initiative, and the Conservation Reserve Programs.

Wildlife migration corridor conservation was highlighted in the May 2021 Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report, and today’s announcement marks the first agency actions under the Biden Administration to address the issue. These steps signal that the new administration is genuinely interested in building upon the migration-focused DOI Secretarial Order 3362, signed in 2018 by then-Secretary Ryan Zinke. That order, and the federal funding associated with it, catalyzed significant investment from state agencies and non-governmental organizations.

“Given recent advancements in migration research and mapping, there is enormous opportunity for state and federal agencies to make more precisely informed land management decisions and to invest strategically in conservation and restoration projects,” continued Fosburgh. “The TRCP looks forward to continuing to work cooperatively with the administration, states, tribes, and private landowners to advance and further expand this exciting work, which is fundamental to the future of hunting in America as we know it.”

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Kristyn Brady

July 29, 2021

House Votes to Increase Key Conservation Funds that Benefit Waterfowl, Deer, and Sportfish

The chamber passed a “minibus” package of appropriations bills outlining funding for the federal agriculture, energy, water, environment, and public land agencies, including investments in conservation that will affect hunting and fishing in America

In a 219 – 208 floor vote this afternoon, the House passed a “minibus” package of appropriations bills for fiscal year 2022, including those that fund conservation at the federal agencies overseeing agriculture, energy, water, the environment, and public lands.

Experts at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership have scrutinized these funding levels and identified important increases in several areas, including drought resiliency, wetlands conservation, private land conservation, big game herd health, and habitat restoration in the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, and Upper Mississippi River watershed.

“We’re pleased to see the House supporting robust and increased investment in conservation at a time when public land visitation is up, participation in hunting and fishing is growing, and our natural resources face many challenges, including climate change, drought, development, invasive species, wildfire, and disease,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “We have to create certainty for the federal workers who keep hunters and anglers safe on our public lands and waters and give them the resources to improve habitat and stave off risk—rather than scramble to recover after losses or watch maintenance backlogs grow. This requires investment. We look forward to working with the Senate to secure these funding levels and seize additional opportunities to commit to conservation in fiscal year 2022.”

Some highlights of the appropriations package include:

  • $25 million for the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Drought Response Program, which is $10 million more than FY21
  • $350 million for Army Corps construction projects within the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program—an increase of $100 million over FY21, although less than half of what the TRCP and conservation partners had pushed for to expedite completion of authorized Everglades restoration projects
  • $50 million for North American Wetlands Conservation Act programs, up by $3.5 million
  • A $65-million bump in funding for conservation technical assistance available to private landowners who enhance habitat, bringing total program funding to $894 million
  • A $44-million increase for Bureau of Land Management habitat programs, bringing the total to $233 million
  • $33.5 million for Upper Mississippi River restoration
  • $15 million for Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • $10 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to assist state agencies in CWD containment

While the funding measure takes an important step in growing federal investment in several areas important to wildlife, conservation needs continue to outpace funding. Challenges ranging from chronic wasting disease to drought are affecting hunters, anglers, landowners, and fish and wildlife. The TRCP looks forward to working with lawmakers in the Senate to support these critical funding needs for FY22 and years to come.

 

Photo by RimLight Media

Randall Williams

July 28, 2021

An Inspiring Tale of Generosity and Stewardship to Help Nevada’s Bighorns

Hunters and conservation groups step up to support Nevada’s wild sheep in a time of need

In parts of the arid West, water is often the limiting factor for populations of desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife. Over the years, groups like the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn, Nevada Bighorns Unlimited,  and the Wild Sheep Foundation have partnered with the Nevada Department of Wildlife to build structures known as guzzlers. These manmade water sources provide a reliable supply of drinking water for all types of local wildlife and help to distribute sheep throughout the range. Typically, these water catchments are filled by collecting rain on an apron, but without adequate precipitation they need to be filled by helicopter or else they’ll run dry.

This year’s heat and drought, which has been prolonged and severe in southern Nevada, drove Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn president Clint Bentley to ask his fellow hunters and sheep fanatics for help. And—as usual—sportsmen and sportswomen rose to the challenge, making a huge difference for wild sheep and offering another extraordinary example of hunters and conservationists opening their wallets to support wildlife.

Here’s Clint’s story:

Like much of the West, Nevada has been hot and dry this summer. Simply put, there has been no habitat anywhere in the southern part of the state with any greenery whatsoever. Everything is totally brown and dead, so the nutritional value for our wild sheep is basically zero. That has been as big a concern to me as the lack of water, because we can haul water, but we can’t just replace their food-base.

What worries me most—and not just me, but Nevada Department of Wildlife and the Wild Sheep Foundation—is that this lack of nutrition and lack of water will cause our lamb survival rate and recruitment to plummet. These conditions are just devastating to the lamb crop.

In conditions like we’ve been experiencing lately, where there hasn’t been enough rainfall to replenish the guzzlers, we need to supplement them with water hauls, primarily using aircraft.

 

Between August 11 of last year through January 8 of this year, we hauled 167,000 gallons of water, with more than 160,000 gallons of that by helicopter. That amounts to somewhere between 800 and 1,000 helicopter trips to deliver water to 28 different guzzler sites on 13 different mountain ranges.

Then, in three weeks this June, we hauled another 71,000 gallons by helicopter to nine mountain ranges and 15 different sites. On June 24, 2021, we flew water surveillance flights to 16 different guzzler sites on three different mountain ranges and saw there would be an urgent need for additional water in early August.

At that point, however, we had totally depleted the FDB’s emergency water haul fund. I started that fund seven years ago, and we’ve been building it ever since because I knew we’d need it someday. But it doesn’t take very long to deplete a large sum of money when you start flying helicopters ten hours a day.

So, knowing the conditions on the ground and the state of our account—I think we had $4,000 left, which wouldn’t cover anything—something needed to be done to help our sheep.

The day after our water surveillance flight, I made a request on behalf of the Fraternity of Desert Bighorns at the Wild Sheep Foundation’s 13th Chapters and Affiliates Summit for any financial assistance to help us in the upcoming months of water hauling. I was secretly hoping to garner $50 to $60,000 from this request.

Instead, it received a response far beyond my hopes and expectations: WSF and NBU-Fallon each pledged $30,000 and 17 chapters and affiliates as well as two individuals combined to pledge another $122,000. The grand total amounted to $182,000.

As a result, on August 1st we will begin three days of recon flights to establish where we need to start hauling water. These funds will be going directly to keeping wild sheep on the mountain.

I still get tears in my eyes thinking of everyone who contributed. It has strengthened my faith in all of these groups and reestablished that we all really are in this for the benefit of wild sheep and all of the other wildlife that depend on these same guzzlers. It’s just so reassuring to see how everyone is truly committed to the same cause.

What’s important is not just that we can raise this amount of money, it’s how those funds will be used. That money is going to go into the ground to keep our wild sheep healthy. And these water hauls have already saved the day on two mountain ranges where the herds were in serious trouble. Sheep were going to start dying if we didn’t get water there, plain and simple.

Over the last 50 years, hunters and conservation groups have worked to increase Nevada’s wild sheep population from basically 2,000 to 12,000. At the same time, we’ve been able to augment sheep numbers in Texas, Utah, and Oregon. Clearly, the commitment that led to those successes is alive and well in our community.

I get overwhelmed every time I look at the list of those groups and individuals and see what everybody is willing to do for our wild sheep. I was just praying for $50 to $60,000 and then the response that we got it—well, it just chokes me up. What else can I say?

Chris Macaluso

July 26, 2021

Expert Panel Discusses Gulf Menhaden Management

TRCP gathered conservation leaders, fisheries managers, fishing businesses, and media to talk about gulf menhaden management and the industrial menhaden reduction fishery’s impact on recreational fishing

Menhaden—also known as pogies in the Gulf—are essential forage fish for redfish, speckled trout, and many other culturally important gamefish throughout the region. Meanwhile, the industrial menhaden reduction fishery is the largest fishery by volume in the Gulf of Mexico. Two foreign-owned companies harvest about 1.2 billion pounds of menhaden annually using purse seine nets and large ships of 160-200 feet in length. The fish are “reduced” and used for a variety of products including fish feed for foreign fish farms, livestock feed, and cosmetics.

This high volume of harvest is largely unregulated. There are no catch limits in place and observer coverage is virtually non-existent. Preliminary indications from an examination of the menhaden fishery by the University of Florida and NOAA show a significant effect on sportfish—as much as a 50-percent reduction in speckled trout and redfish biomass—from industrial menhaden harvest in the Gulf.

This is why we gathered media and conservation leaders attending ICAST to discuss improving menhaden management in the Gulf and reducing the impacts of the industrial reduction fishery.

Speakers included Dr. Aaron Adams, director of science and conservation at Bonefish and Tarpon Trust; Richard Fischer, executive director of the Louisiana Charterboat Association; Jesse Simpkins, vice president of marketing for St. Croix Rods; and Mike Waine, Atlantic fisheries policy director at the American Sportfishing Association.

Here’s what you need to know:

An estimated 80 to 90 percent of the Gulf pogie harvest takes place off Louisiana’s coast, with roughly 20 to 30 percent of that catch occurring in the shallow surf zone near beaches and barrier islands—ecologically sensitive areas where heavy bycatch is more likely.

Up to 60 million pounds of bycatch is lost each year as a result of reduction fishing in the Gulf, including hundreds of thousands of redfish, speckled trout, jacks, mackerels, and tarpon as well as crabs, mullet, shrimp, herring, and other vital forage. A 2016 analysis of Gulf menhaden fishing bycatch on redfish conducted by NOAA reported as many as 1.1 million pounds of redfish are killed annually, including tens of thousands of brood stock fish between 10 and 35 pounds.

The Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana, the TRCP, and a host of other fisheries and wildlife conservation groups—including the National Marine Manufacturers Association, American Sportfishing Association, Audubon Louisiana, Pew, the Louisiana Charterboat Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Wild Oceans, Angler Action Network, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, International Gamefish Association, Fly Fishers International, the Billfish Foundation, and Menhaden Defenders—have formed a coalition to support conservation measures.

This includes creating a model of ecological management for Gulf menhaden fishing like what has been recently implemented by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Ecological management would take into consideration the role that pogies play as forage for sportfish, marine mammals, and birds, as well as the capacity for pogies to filter and clean water. It would also examine the impacts the reduction fishery has on habitat and require a management authority, like the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, to set and enforce catch limits.

The coalition is also pushing for a buffer zone off Louisiana’s beaches and barrier islands of at least one-half mile where reduction fishing would be prohibited. Louisiana legislator Rep. Joe Orgeron introduced a bill in April 2020 that would have created a half-mile buffer off most of Louisiana’s coast and a one-mile buffer off areas heavily used by recreational anglers. The bill passed the Louisiana House but was amended by the state Senate and ultimately failed to become law. The coalition will continue to work with the state legislature and other law and policy bodies to implement commonsense conservation measures for the Gulf menhaden fishery.

Learn more about menhaden and how these important baitfish drive sportfishing here. 

 

Top photo courtesy of Oceana/Carlos Suarez via Flickr.

Chris Macaluso

July 22, 2021

Expert Panel Discusses Possible Impacts of 30×30 on Recreational Fishing

TRCP gathered conservation leaders, fisheries managers, fishing businesses, and media at ICAST to discuss the Biden Administration’s proposal to conserve 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030

The TRCP and the conservation community at large have been highly engaged in helping shape
efforts to further protect America’s fish and wildlife habitat, focused especially on the effort to
conserve 30 percent of the nation’s land and water by the year 2030, commonly referred to as 30×30. This is why we gathered media and conservation leaders attending ICAST to discuss 30×30’s potential impact on recreational fishing with the help of an expert panel.

Panelists included: Janet Coit, the assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Marc Gorelnik, chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council and general counsel for the American Sportfishing Association; Chris Horton, senior director of Midwestern states and fisheries policy at the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation; and Jessica McCawley, director of the division of marine fisheries management at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Here’s what you need to know:

More than 40 conservation and hunting and fishing advocacy groups joined together in 2020 to
create an effort to ensure that hunters and anglers are involved partners in 30×30, that critical fish and game habitat will be prioritized, and that access for outdoor recreation will continue. Hunters and anglers have always been at the forefront of land and water conservation with more than $65 billion generated for conservation since 1939.

“We’ve always been about conservation in the hunting and fishing community,” said Horton. “We’re all in, provided that hunting and fishing are recognized as compatible uses of our resources.”

In January, President Biden issued Executive Order 14008: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. Section 216 called for identifying steps to conserve at least 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. Currently, it’s estimated that as much as 23 percent of the nation’s oceans and 13 percent of lands are already protected.

The recreational fishing community has worked aggressively with staff to help shape this effort and provided comments to the Department of the Interior and Department of Commerce. Past presidential administrations have created large ocean monuments that initially restricted recreational fishing. Legislation introduced in California in February 2020 initially could have made recreational fishing and other recreational activities off limits in large areas of the state. But recreational advocacy groups were able to add language that recognized the importance of access for recreational activities before the law passed in late 2020.

“Conservation is a goal, and protection is a means of achieving that goal,” said Gorelnik. “To some stakeholders protection is a goal to be reached through denial of access… There’s a place we can meet where we can have responsible access while also protecting biodiversity.”

Comments submitted to NOAA in March by a host of sportfishing and boating groups insisted that 30×30 efforts include:

  • Recognition of the positive role that hunting and fishing play in conservation
  • Protected area definitions that allow for well-managed and sustainable wildlife-dependent
    activities
  • Consideration of existing protected areas in measuring progress toward stated goals
  • Targeted, science-based conservation measures developed through a stakeholder-driven
    process to address biodiversity threats
  • Clearly defined roles and authorities for the entities charged with carrying out the 30×30
    initiative

This advocacy has paid off. Released May 6, the administration’s 30×30 report entitled “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” specifically recognizes “the contributions and stewardship traditions of America’s hunters, anglers, and fishing communities,” as well as the benefits of healthy lands and waters to jobs and the outdoor recreation economy.

“We are pleasantly surprised and cautiously optimistic that hunting and fishing will continue to be in a leadership position advancing the goals of the 30 by 30 effort,” said Chris Macaluso, TRCP’s marine fisheries director. But the work continues for conservation groups, the administration, and Congress as specific details of what protection means and how it will be achieved are developed.

Learn more about the 30 by 30 initiative and the role of hunters and anglers here.

Take action now to ensure that hunters and anglers have a seat at the table as 30×30 is planned.

 

Photo by RimLight Media.

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