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Guest Blogger Rob Shane

September 20, 2021

Blue Carbon: How Fish and Waterfowl Habitat Combats Climate Change

Add this to all the other reasons we love and need healthy wetlands

Have you ever wandered through a maze of tidal creeks and marshes searching for tailing redfish or a bait-busting school of striped bass? Maybe you prefer a duck blind on a crisp fall morning, as the sun finally peeks over the horizon and the smells and sounds of the marsh come alive? If you answered yes, then you—like me and millions of other hunters and anglers—have benefitted from healthy coastal habitats.

But these wetlands have even more to give.

What has only been recognized recently is the key role these habitats play in the fight against climate change. This is because salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds have the acute ability to capture and store carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. We call this blue carbon, a simple concept that has immense benefits. In fact, some blue carbon ecosystems sequester carbon at 10 times the rate of mature tropical forests per unit.

Thankfully, blue carbon has become more than just a buzzword as the science to quantify carbon storage has matured significantly in the last decade. Leaders are taking note, too.

Legislation that puts an emphasis on the need to protect and restore blue carbon habitats has been moving through Congress with bipartisan support. Earlier this year, Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), Bill Posey (R-Fla.), and Don Beyer (D-Va.) introduced the bipartisan Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) followed suit with the Blue Carbon Protection Act in June 2021.

Shortly thereafter, Representatives Huffman and González-Colón (R-P.R.), along with Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), introduced legislation that would reauthorize and increase funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program, including up to $1 million for states and territories to restore coastal wetlands.

Now, as Congress moves ahead with the budget reconciliation process, elected officials are stepping up by proposing $9.5 billion in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect and restore coastal habitats nationwide, including support for the design and implementation of blue carbon projects.

Blue Carbon Benefits Beyond Climate

Beyond mitigation, there are a myriad of co-benefits for fish and wildlife, too. Mangroves are imperative for juvenile bonefish and tarpon growth and survival. Salt marshes provide critical habitat for migratory birds and young salmon. Crabs rely on seagrass for protection and spawning. The list goes on and on. Hunters and anglers depend on these coastal habitats to pursue our passions, too.

Wetlands and salt marshes are also our first line of defense in the face of severe storms, acting as sponges to both absorb and filter flood waters before they can reach our homes and businesses. Meanwhile, mangrove forests and other natural barriers protect roads, bridges, and homes from being inundated by storm surge and rising seas.

According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, for every $1 we spend on mitigation, we save $6 on recovery efforts. More often than not, natural infrastructure or nature-based solutions are more cost-effective and outperform their grey-infrastructure counterparts.

The economic value of blue carbon, therefore, is not only in the greenhouse gas it stores in the ground, protecting our planet and our outdoor recreation pursuits from the impacts of climate change, but also in the damage they prevent.

With 40 percent of the U.S. population living in estuary regions, and 47 percent of our country’s economy coming from the coast, protecting and restoring coastal blue-carbon ecosystems has never been more important. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report estimates that we should expect no less than six feet of sea-level rise by 2100 and that storms will continue to become more intense. This report also left no doubt that climate change is affecting the places where we hunt and fish.

Time is running out to put much-needed funding on the ground and get millions of Americans to work conserving and restoring our most valuable coastal assets—our neighbors, homes, livelihoods, and, for many, our favorite fishing and hunting spots.

 

Rob Shane is the Communications Manager for Restore America’s Estuaries. He is an avid fisherman based in Northern Virginia and spends his free time chasing anything that swims in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

 

Top photo courtesy of Everglades National Park via Flickr.

One Response to “Blue Carbon: How Fish and Waterfowl Habitat Combats Climate Change”

  1. Tom Rairdon

    Excellent blog, Rob. I learned a bit today. Being mindful that we need to look beyond the obvious is imperative in creating sound action plans. Your article is an excellent example that should be shared. I’m also excited to see bipartisanship at work here. Hope you are well. I know you’ve doing good things.
    Tom

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Alex Funk

September 16, 2021

Alex Funk Heads TRCP’s Clean Water Efforts at a Watershed Moment

Our new director of water resources and senior counsel shares how his work will support conservation across the Colorado River Basin, Chesapeake Bay watershed, and headwaters and wetlands nationwide

In the summer of 2014, still fresh out of law school, I took two pivotal trips from the muggy confines of Washington, D.C., to the American West.

The first of those trips took me to New Mexico to meet with local conservation organizations working to stop a diversion project that would drain the headwaters of the Gila River—a region that Aldo Leopold convinced Congress to protect as the nation’s first Wilderness Area. On the second trip, I found myself on a raft floating down the canyons of the Upper Colorado River for the first time. It rained, and it was cold, but these experiences cemented a desire to focus on conserving our country’s Western rivers.

Looking back on those trips, I remember being in awe of the Western landscapes I saw. The vastness of the mountain ranges and red hues of the soil were alien to someone who grew up along the lush, green banks of the Shenandoah River.

Perhaps most striking to me, however, was how small the Gila River is compared to Eastern rivers such as the Potomac or Hudson—especially considering that the Gila is a major tributary of the Colorado River. That comparison, however, underscores the outsized role of Western rivers in the semi-arid to desert landscapes of the left half of the country. Although comparatively small in terms of volume, Western rivers are the hardest working rivers in the country and support a wide range of ecosystem services and benefits. This includes providing critical wildlife corridors and winter range for a variety of species, like elk and mule deer.

The Colorado River, in particular, provides water for approximately 40 million people in the southwestern United States and Mexico, irrigates nearly 5.7 million acres of farmland, and is the lifeblood for 22 federally recognized Native American tribes. According to an Arizona State University study, the Colorado River supports $1.4 trillion in economic output, $871 billion in wages, and 16 million jobs annually. It also underpins countless hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities that are under threat while the river faces drought and climate change.

At the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, I’m looking forward to sharing stories of hunters and anglers and their connection with the Colorado River, while building a coalition of outdoor recreation partners to advance conservation in the face of these challenges. The TRCP is hard at work encouraging Congress to support critical investments in modernizing Western water infrastructure and nature-based solutions that enhance climate resilience and sustain healthy habitat for fish and wildlife.

As part of the 2018 Farm Bill, the TRCP was instrumental in securing important victories for the Colorado River, including expanding eligibility for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to include watershed-scale conservation and restoration projects and ensuring drought resilience is a key priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The TRCP Center for Water Resources will also continue to play a leading role in pushing for more durable protections for waters and wetlands critical to fish and wildlife habitat under the Clean Water Act. The current administration is in the process of developing a new rule that will replace the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed federal protections from 18 percent of the nation’s streams and as much as 50 percent of remaining wetlands.

I will also be working with TRCP’s Pennsylvania field rep to build a local coalition of sportsmen and sportswomen to sustain critical conservation funding for natural resource management priorities, such as improving water quality and wildlife habitat and strengthening state stream protections for coldwater fisheries.

Overall, I’m eager to be working with the TRCP and its partner community to advance innovative policy solutions to a myriad of challenges facing our nation’s rivers and streams and sustain these resources for future generations. I look forward to keeping all of you up to date on our progress.

Learn more about Alex here.

Ed Arnett

September 15, 2021

Some Deflating Sage Grouse Status Updates and What Can Be Done for Habitat

State wildlife agencies are reflecting on the spring lek count totals, while a national advocacy effort could help private landowners create more grouse habitat

During the recent Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies annual fall meeting, state wildlife agencies presented updates on spring sage grouse lek counts that didn’t paint a pretty picture.

Like most years, there were localized increases and decreases, but the overall trend continues heading in the wrong direction. This past spring, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated a long-term, downward trend of about 3 percent for male sage grouse counted on mating grounds, or leks, across the Western states. Their analysis showed that there are 80 percent fewer male sage grouse than in 1965, and half of that loss has occurred in just the last 17 years.

Here are a few highlights shared by biologists last week:

  • In Wyoming—the major stronghold state for the bird—sage grouse lek counts were down 13 percent but were higher than at their lowest points in 1996 and 2013.
  • Sage grouse in Nevada are in awful shape. Biologists reported on long-term attendance and monitoring of 160 leks in the state, finding a 47.2-percent decline since 2019 and a trend that is 62 percent below the long-term average—the lowest ever recorded for those leks. Drought stress, cheatgrass, wildfire, feral horses, mining, and geothermal development all contribute to habitat loss and degradation in the state.
  • California noted that the bi-state sage grouse population—a distinct population in Calif. and Nev.—was stable at present, but the state’s portion of the range-wide population is down and still decreasing from peak highs in past years.
  • In Utah, seven of the state’s 11 populations showed declines, while four had increases this past year.
  • Washington suffered devastating wildfires last year that burned up significant amounts of what little quality habitat remained there. Lek counts were down 22 percent in the perimeter of the fire and down 4 percent outside the fire zone.
  • Oregon was a mild bright spot, with lek counts climbing 12 percent over the 2019 counts, but populations are still well below past highs.

These numbers have forced the states to continue conservatively managing sage grouse harvest. Nevada had to close more sage grouse hunting units, the state of Idaho has now converted to a limited permit system, and two prime areas in Colorado remain closed to grouse hunting.

Unfortunately, while our state wildlife agencies have been conservatively managing hunting for decades, this data is making it harder to defend continued recreational harvest of sage grouse. Nor does it indicate that we can avoid a future listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act. We need huge investments in habitat restoration and continued protection of the healthy sagebrush that remains for the bird. We identified five major habitat threats that contributed to the depressing numbers this spring, and we continue to work with partners on legislative and administrative solutions that will kickstart meaningful sagebrush conservation efforts.

One such solution is introduction and passage of a North American Grasslands Conservation Act—federal legislation that would help incentivize private landowners to restore grasslands and sagebrush habitat.

Everyone, including sportsmen and women, have a vested interest in this unique ecosystem and the species that call it home. Outdoor recreation, energy and agriculture industries, and the species are all at risk if we don’t stop the bleeding and reverse these trends now.

Be part of the solution by supporting the North American Grasslands Conservation Act now. Take action and learn more about our effort with ten other leading conservation groups.

Take Action

Kristyn Brady

September 8, 2021

11 Leading Conservation Groups Call on Congress to Take Action for Grasslands and Sagebrush

The TRCP joins forces with key partners to push for a new policy and strong investments in grassland and sagebrush restoration

The past year and a half has given Americans plenty to worry about. But in these troubling times, we’ve rediscovered an incredible resource that grounds us and helps us cope—the outdoors. And just as participation in hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation are soaring, these landscapes and our fish and wildlife resources are facing many challenges.

One that has flown under the radar is the loss of native grasslands. In fact, our once vast prairies are now one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. Nationwide, more than 50 million acres of grassland habitat have disappeared from the landscape in the last 10 years alone, according to a World Wildlife Fund report.

There is, however, a plan to conserve grasslands and sagebrush before it’s too late. A group of leading conservation organizations—including the TRCP, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Izaak Walton League, North American Grouse Partnership, National Deer Association, and Land Trust Alliance—are bringing together all those who rely on grasslands to conserve this essential habitat for future generations, while also providing economic opportunities for ranchers, farmers, and outdoor recreation businesses.

The idea is built on a proven model of conservation success and is in front of key lawmakers right now—our hope is that a North American Grasslands Conservation Act will be introduced in Congress this fall. Here’s what you need to know and how you can help.

What would the North American Grasslands Conservation Act do?

A North American Grasslands Conservation Act would provide funding needed to restore and conserve what remains of America’s grasslands and sagebrush habitat while creating a program that would work with private landowners—whose working farms and ranches are key to the success of this ecosystem.

The Act would establish a grant program designed to provide landowners with voluntary, flexible economic incentives and opportunities to help improve and conserve our disappearing grasslands. The funding could go toward restoring native grasses, controlling invasive species, managing with prescribed fire, or fighting conifer tree encroachment that has been turning our grasslands into forests with little utility for grassland-dependent species.

This approach is innovative, but there is already a model for its success: The North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Its voluntary incentives have helped to fund nearly 3,000 wetlands improvement projects across 30 million acres in all 50 states.

What NAWCA has done for waterfowl, the North American Grasslands Conservation Act could do for pronghorns, sage grouse, mule deer, and many other species. And NAWCA has also had a tremendous economic impact that could be replicated in prairie states. A program such as a North American Grasslands Act would create new economic opportunities by funding conservation jobs, improving habitat that supports outdoor recreation and ranching businesses, and investing in the wildlife populations that support hunting and other wildlife-related tourism.

How can hunters and anglers help?

Grasslands and the sagebrush steppe are under threat, but by working together, we can ensure their beauty for future generations and for all those who rely on them. You can call on lawmakers to support the idea behind the North American Grasslands Conservation Act by taking action at actforgrasslands.org.

Randall Williams

August 25, 2021

Migration Corridor Conservation Prioritized by New Mexico Governor

New executive order establishes collaborative approach to prioritizing big game seasonal habitats

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham today announced bold steps to conserve New Mexico’s land, water, and wildlife, adopting the goal of conserving 30 percent of all lands in the state by 2030. Through an executive order, the governor established a 30 by 30 Committee comprised of secretaries or designees of seven state agencies and directed it to “support and implement programs designed to conserve, protect, and enhance lands and natural environments across the state,” emphasizing among other things efforts that “support migratory wildlife habitat and ensure movement across the landscape.”

“Today’s commitment to safeguarding New Mexico’s migratory habitats is a strong step forward on a conservation challenge that has been front-and-center among the issues that matter most to sportsmen and sportswomen,” said John Cornell, the southwest field manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We want to thank Governor Lujan Grisham for recognizing the value of the outdoor recreation economy, for highlighting the importance of increased access and recreation, and for including these issues among her administration’s priorities. New Mexico has vast natural landscapes and incredible wildlife resources that will benefit greatly from the goals laid out in this order.”

Significantly, the executive order directs state agencies to “coordinat[e] as much as possible with federal agencies that manage lands and resources across New Mexico, including through direct engagement on natural resource management plans, transportation and energy development projects, and any other initiatives that impact land and water conservation, including wildlife migration.” In June, the TRCP released a report highlighting opportunities for the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to work with state wildlife agencies to incorporate big game migration science and data into land management plans and decisions.

Governor Lujan Grisham’s executive order arrives as the Biden-led Departments of the Interior and Agriculture are shaping their next steps for migration corridor conservation, which was highlighted as a priority in the May 2021 report Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful. The Interior Department began partnering with Western states on the issue in 2018 when then-Secretary Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362. Sportsmen and sportswomen see considerable opportunity for the federal agencies to build upon these early successes to ensure meaningful and durable habitat conservation.

According to the executive order, the committee will also focus on land- and water-based solutions that help sequester carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, the TRCP and 40 other hunting and fishing conservation groups launched Conservationists for Climate Solutions to drive solutions-oriented policies that combat the impacts of climate change on land, water, and wildlife.

“Hunters and anglers applaud today’s announcement and look forward to working with the governor’s office and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to achieve these outcomes,” continued Cornell. “Our community is ready to collaborate with a diverse range of stakeholders to be part of the solution and to bring sportsmen’s and sportswomen’s voices to the table as we tackle these important issues.”

To read more from the Governor’s Executive Order click HERE.

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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 conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.

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