Credit: Larry Lamsa via Flickr
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Credit: Larry Lamsa via Flickr
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.
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.
Damaged wetlands can’t provide these benefits and, worse, fail to filter essential sources of drinking water. That’s why restoration is incredibly important in places that are already facing environmental challenges, like the Everglades.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More