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Randall Williams

October 13, 2021

Behind the Scenes of a New Film Focused on Big Game Migration

First Lite, Maven, and TRCP present “Vacant Space” | Hunting a Mule Deer Migration

Most successful hunters, at least the ones I know, are planners. Outcome-oriented and detail-minded, they channel their passion through checklists and are guided by research. Because so many variables are already involved in the pursuit of wild game, there’s a strong incentive to leave as little to chance as possible.

Even though I’m more likely than not to leave a tag unfilled (and not for lack of trying), I count myself among the planners. For that reason, it was a strange feeling to find myself this past fall sitting alone in my truck at an unfamiliar trailhead, waiting for the arrival of new partners with whom I’d never before hunted, and some of whom I hadn’t yet met.

All had, like me, never been to this area. But thanks to Idaho’s sale of returned general deer licenses, here we were.

The agreed-upon logistics were about as simple as it gets: Hike down the trail a few miles with camp on our backs, and spend a long weekend climbing high each morning, looking for deer. In short, we were winging it.

But even without much of a plan, we had a clear purpose in mind. The idea behind this deer hunt was to bring together different folks working in parallel on issues of mutual interest. We hoped to learn a bit more about each other’s efforts to benefit wildlife and wild places and, in doing so, to identify opportunities for future collaboration between our respective teams.

Kevin is a researcher and educator at the University of Wyoming, where his work focuses on migratory big game animals. Ford (First Lite) and Craig (Maven) are both industry professionals with backgrounds in biology, who are helping to shape the public face of two conservation-minded companies. And in my role for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, I work to educate sportsmen and sportswomen about the issues that matter most for hunters and encourage them to speak up for smart policies. Along for the ride—and a delightful final addition to the team—was videographer Nic Tapia. This was Nic’s first exposure to hunting, and he arrived eager to learn.

The specific topic of conversation was big game migration, which has emerged in recent years as one of the most urgent priorities for wildlife managers across the West. Cutting-edge research enabled by advances in GPS technology has allowed biologists to track animals’ seasonal travels with unprecedented precision. This growing body of data has transformed our understanding of migration not only in a quantitative sense (i.e., more dots on the maps) but in a qualitative sense as well: We now know how susceptible a herd’s overall health is to the disruption of a migratory corridor, particularly if that disruption occurs in a bottleneck or stopover area.

Across the West, development of all kinds is accelerating, and intact landscapes are being subdivided. Meanwhile, the global demand for energy continues to balloon. Without accounting for how our collective footprint could impact migratory big game, the consequences can be significant and long-lasting.

While the science has illuminated the stakes of this issue, the realm of policy is still catching up. State fish and game agencies have made strong headway, to be sure, but migration corridor conservation poses its own unique challenges.

Because the routes used by big game herds to travel between their seasonal ranges span multiple land ownerships and management frameworks, effective policymaking requires close coordination between federal and state agencies at various levels. Landowners and working ranches and agricultural properties play an especially important role in the functioning of these corridors, so substantive public-private collaboration is key. And sportsmen and sportswomen need to speak up so that the officials undertaking this important work receive the funding and institutional support required to keep it up over the long haul.

Early last year, Maven and First Lite decided to combine their respective platforms to bring greater awareness to this issue through a short film. As a biologist working on the front lines of research, as well as training the next generation of wildlife professionals, Kevin was a natural fit for the project. And because of my work in the realm of advocacy, I was lucky enough to join in the fun. In my mind, the opportunity to spend a few days in the field looking for mule deer and picking the brain of one of the world’s preeminent mule deer experts was just too good to pass up.

Given the lack of any structured plan, we let the days following our trailhead meetup unfold in the moment. Frosty mornings slipped away into sunny afternoons. The conversations stretched wide and dove deep.

Along the way, Kevin generously shared with us both his bottomless knowledge of mule deer behavior, as well as the role that hunting plays in both his family and professional life. Ford and Craig brainstormed how their respective brands could help Kevin and his students, and we discussed the challenge of communicating the implications of scientific nuances for policy and hunting opportunity.

In between conversations, our glassing turned up lots of elk, quite a few moose, and—towards the end of the trip—more and more mule deer. Though we remained optimistic, the mature bucks we hoped to find proved elusive; other hunters, not so much.

Our last full day of hunting proved the most exciting. That morning, Kevin and Craig turned up a young fork-horned buck, and Kevin wasted no time in filling his tag. After a painless downhill pack out, they spent the rest of the day relaxing back at the trucks.

Meanwhile, Ford, Nic, and I—unaware of Kevin’s success—huddled on a blustery ridge a few miles away, helping a young hunter who had drawn one of the area’s limited tags for bull elk. Sitting beside the boy’s father, we watched through our glass as he made a quick stalk with his younger brother and cousin, resulting in a shot on a nice 6×6 we’d spotted earlier. Our group then joined them in a heart-wrenching (but ultimately successful) search for a blood trail in the moonlight.

When the three of us stumbled back to the trailhead late that evening, cold beers and a lively recap of the day’s activity were exchanged across the flickering light of the camp stove. With a cooler full of fresh meat, we decided to forgo the dehydrated meals remaining in our food bags. Instead, Kevin made Chislic, a celebratory deer camp tradition from his native South Dakota: bite-sized pieces of fresh venison trim, salted heavily and flash-fried. We all ate our fill and soon called it a night.

The next morning, our group took one final hike up to a nearby glassing point. As darkness retreated from the landscape, snowflakes peppered us from above. With hat brims and hoods pulled low against the wind, we watched a string of deer pick their way through an aspen patch beneath us. Slowly, and then all at once, the trip’s last opportunity to joke and tell stories crowded out any thoughts of our final chance to turn up a second buck.

Later, we each headed off in our respective directions homeward, wishing one another luck with the season’s remaining tags while trading reminders to follow up on plans and ideas cooked up in camp and along the trail. Energized by both the weekend’s conversations and shared sense of purpose, I gave little thought to the empty cooler in my rearview mirror. Instead, my mind wandered across the rich ground we’d covered—both literal and metaphorical—in the days prior. The drive passed quickly with only a short stop halfway through for hotdogs and gasoline.

Support our work to conserve migration corridors with a donation to conservation today, and get a free koozie when you donate $5 or more. Koozies available through First Lite and Maven. Donations will be split between the TRCP and Monteith Shop. 

Head over to the TRCP’s migration site for an overview of the issue, links to additional resources, the latest news, and opportunities to take action.

Photos courtesy of Craig Okraska / Maven. 

 

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Randall Williams

September 29, 2021

New Report Details Next Steps for Big Game Habitat Conservation in Colo.

Report outlines strategies and policy recommendations to safeguard migration corridors

In Colorado today, Governor Jared Polis announced the release of a report highlighting the need for new policy to conserve the state’s big game populations and the variety of habitats on which they depend for their survival.

Opportunities to Improve Sensitive Habitat and Movement Route Connectivity for Colorado’s Big Game Species, which was developed by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources in cooperation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Transportation, marks yet another step forward on this issue resulting from Governor Polis’s 2019 executive order, Conserving Colorado’s Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors.

“This document is the product of two years of leadership by Governor Polis and his agencies to conserve big game migration corridors and seasonal habitats across Colorado,” said Madeleine West, director of the Center for Public Lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It clearly lines out the next steps necessary to conserve our big game populations, acknowledging both the important roles of a broad set of state agencies, as well as those of federal public land management agencies, private landowners, and nongovernmental organizations. We look forward to working collaboratively with all of these stakeholders to implement the report’s recommendations.”

In the report, the governor calls for a comprehensive approach to improving habitat for Colorado’s iconic big game species, such as elk, mule deer, and pronghorn, including the development of a statewide habitat and connectivity plan that would clearly define priority landscapes in the state that support big game and other wildlife species. The report builds upon a 2020 Colorado Parks and Wildlife publication, Status Report: Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors, which assessed the challenges and threats facing these important habitats.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Development of a statewide conservation and recreation plan that balances the need to expand recreational opportunities with wildlife conservation values, including the conservation of wildlife routes and priority habitats for big game.
    • Encouraging the Colorado General Assembly to create dedicated funding for transportation projects that conserve wildlife populations and protect human health.
  • Support for new staff at CPW and CDOT to continue collaborative work between the two agencies to conserve wildlife corridors and limit wildlife-vehicle collisions.
  • Direction to CDNR and CPW to work with the Bureau of Land Management to initiate a statewide resource management plan amendment to conserve big game migration corridors, as well as a recommendation that the BLM, pending completion of the plan, issue guidance requiring the adoption of best management practices for conserving big game habitats.
  • Direction to CDNR and CPW to convene an interagency task force to explore opportunities to minimize the impacts of renewable energy development on big game habitat.
  • Support for continued investment in state programs like the Colorado Wildlife Habitat Program and Ranching for Wildlife that finance activities on private land that conserve wildlife habitats.

“Healthy, intact habitats, and particularly the corridors that allow for seasonal wildlife migrations, are essential for sustaining our big game herds,” said Jon Holst, Colorado field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “More than anyone, sportsmen and sportswomen know the value of Colorado’s elk, mule deer, and pronghorn, as well as the spillover effects that benefit all species when the conservation of these landscapes is prioritized.”

The release of the report was timed to coincide with the governor’s proclamation to officially designate September 29 as Wildlife Habitat and Connectivity Day in Colorado.

To read more from the report, click here.

 

Photo: Jeff Wallace via Flickr

Andrew Earl

September 27, 2021

Congress Could Make Transformational Investments in Private Land Conservation

A plan has been announced to boost agricultural conservation spending by $28 billion through the budget reconciliation process

The TRCP and our partner groups have been outspoken for some time about how oversubscribed our Farm Bill conservation programs are. Our research has shown that nearly 40 percent of landowner applications go unfunded, leaving the conservation of over 13 million acres on the table each year.

These core, voluntary-incentive programs are ripe for investment, particularly as we evaluate how to enhance climate resilience through habitat improvements and meet our land conservation goals in the years to come. Now—through the budget reconciliation process that the TRCP has been tracking closely—Congress could be on the threshold of increasing private land conservation spending in an extremely impactful way.

For the better part of Friday, September 10, 2021, the House Agriculture Committee debated a more than $65-billion spending package for climate research, forestry, and rural development programs. Committee Democrats approved the package, with the assertion that an additional $28 billion in conservation spending would be included as an amendment on the House floor.

While the spending bundle is delayed on account of budget analyses, we’re getting a glimpse of what’s included. Here are the highlights:

  • $9 billion for climate-smart working lands practices under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program
  • $5 billion to support a $5 to $25 per acre cover crop initiative
  • $7.5 billion for landscape-scale conservation through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program
  • $1.5 billion to support agricultural and wetland easements
  • $4 billion to support whole-farm conservation assistance through the Conservation Stewardship Program
  • $200 million to build technical assistance support at the Natural Resource Conservation Service
  • $50 million to support USDA’s Climate Hubs
  • $6 million to support greenhouse gas monitoring

There is still a long, narrow road that this legislative package must travel between now and passage. Broader political disagreement threatens to shrink the topline of the Democrats’ proposed spending package, downsizing conservation dollars as well. But as lawmakers and staff count dollars and cents, it’s important to acknowledge the proven value of these programs—direct impacts on water quality, habitat improvement, and carbon reduction, as well as resilience and risk reduction for farmers, ranchers, and forest owners.

Our organization and partners will continue to support these important investments. If you’d like to speak up for Farm Bill conservation funding, click here to use our simple advocacy tool.

Learn more about the benefits of Farm Bill conservation programs to landowners, wildlife, and sportsmen and women HERE.

 

Top photo by USDA/Lance Cheung

Kristyn Brady

September 23, 2021

Two Great Reasons to Hunt, Fish, Mentor, or Give Back to the Outdoors This Weekend

Saturday is National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day, a perfect time to celebrate your role in conservation 

This weekend, help us celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day and National Public Lands Day by using and appreciating our country’s unmatched outdoor recreation opportunities, natural resources, and public land access. Timed with the start of many hunting seasons and some of the best fall fishing, it’s a perfect occasion to acknowledge the role that YOU play in conservation as you play in the outdoors.

In 1972, when Richard Nixon signed the first-ever presidential proclamation of National Hunting and Fishing Day, he wrote, “I urge all citizens to join with outdoor sportsmen in the wise use of our natural resources and in insuring their proper management for the benefit of future generations.”

And it is just as true today that hunters and anglers lead when it comes to advocating for healthy fish and wildlife populations, abundant habitat, and outdoor recreation access for all. We show up with our dollars, too: Sportsmen and sportswomen contribute more than $1.7 billion each year to fisheries management and $1.8 billion annually to wildlife conservation through our license and gear purchases.

Fortunately, our numbers are growing, enhancing the potential for these conservation investments. In 2020, 55 million Americans went fishing, including 5 million anglers who were brand new or returning to the sport after a few years off. More than 15 million hunters purchased licenses last year—a 4.9-percent increase over 2019.

This means that all of YOUR efforts to mentor and welcome friends, family, and other interested beginners are incredibly meaningful, beyond the knowledge and passion you share. You are helping to grow the next generation of conservationists and a critical source of funding for habitat improvement! So, get outside this weekend and enjoy the results: some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in the world.

Many National Public Lands Day events are focused on giving back through clean-ups and other volunteer efforts. Helping to remove old barbed wire fencing, construct a wildlife guzzler, or pick up trash is actually a great way to introduce someone new to the value of public lands access and the hunting and fishing community’s commitment to conservation.

Or, if you’re in a position to give financially, this could be the perfect moment to support an organization that helps to advance conservation on a local or national scale. Here are 60 that we admire and work with.

In celebration of the 49th anniversary of National Hunting and Fishing Day, the TRCP is calling on 49 new donors to step up for conservation and support our mission of guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. Will you be one of them?

Donate Now

No matter how you choose to support conservation or enjoy the outdoors this weekend, we thank you for using and appreciating our country’s unmatched natural resources and public land access. Your participation in hunting and fishing—and your commitment to welcoming others who are interested in these activities—truly makes a difference for conservation in America. Let’s double down on these efforts and have the best fall ever.

From all of us at the TRCP, happy National Hunting and Fishing Day and National Public Lands Day!

 

Are you new to the TRCP’s work for conservation, habitat, and access? Sign up to learn more about what we do and stay informed on the issues that will affect your hunting and fishing opportunities.

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.

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