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Ed Arnett

October 15, 2021

How the Push for Renewable Energy Development Affects Hunting and Fishing

As the Biden Administration moves quickly to expand renewable energy on public lands, sportsmen and women are concerned about the potential impacts

Even if you drive by an oil and gas field or wind farm to reach your favorite hunting or fishing spot, you may not give much thought to how much is at stake for sportsmen and sportswomen when it comes to developing our energy resources, including renewable sources such as wind.

But it’s a critical time to think about the possible impacts, and here’s why.

After the Trump Administration prioritized oil and gas drilling and coal mining on public lands—rescinding many previous policies and making it easier to lease and develop fossil fuels—the energy development pendulum has swung back in the other direction. Now, advancing renewable energy production on public lands has become a top priority as part of the Biden Administration’s response to the climate crisis.

The impacts of climate change—including steady habitat loss—are undeniable and must be addressed. The hunting and fishing community understands that major shifts in energy policy will be necessary to meet the goals set forth by the Biden Administration, including a commitment to generating a whopping 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 and permitting at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy by 2025.

But there are many unanswered questions about impacts likely to occur while achieving these goals.

Calculating the Risk to Wildlife

There is no question that renewable energy sources—wind, solar, and geothermal—have an important role to play in helping to solve the climate crisis, but at what cost? We know oil and gas development can suppress mule deer populations, but what about renewables? The impacts on birds and bats are well documented, but less is known about how expanding renewables on public lands will impact habitat and populations of game birds or big game animals. And the few studies that have been conducted indicate mixed results.

Studies on grouse species, like greater sage grouse and prairie chickens, have shown both neutral response and negative impacts from wind turbines. Researchers have expressed caution about placing wind turbines within a mile or so of occupied sage grouse habitat until we fully understand the breadth of impacts on these birds. In Wyoming, pronghorn antelope were displaced by wind turbines during the winter, but the overall impact on the population remains unclear. These researchers noted that more than a decade of animal tracking data in the Cowboy State can help identify places to site wind turbines to be more compatible with big game species.

Because we need more data, the rush to develop and bring renewable energy resources to the market could negatively impact fish and wildlife and result in the loss of access for hunters and anglers.

A poorly located solar project near a pronghorn migration corridor may be just as devastating as a coal mine or natural gas field—we don’t know for sure. Access roads, fencing, and transmission lines associated with renewable projects could all have negative impacts on wildlife, as well. And while one project alone may not have significant effects, at some point a threshold will be reached where impacts will undoubtedly occur for many species. Too many turbines or solar projects in an area will “industrialize” a landscape, perhaps to a point of no return.

Be Smart from the Start

The key to any energy development is avoidance of critical habitats and siting wisely—or being “smart from the start.” This idea is not new. Obama Administration officials coined the phrase and, more than a decade ago, the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition—led by the TRCP, Trout Unlimited, and the National Wildlife Federation—released a report with a set of ten “smart from the start” principles for developing renewable energy on public lands.

These principles are still valid today in a new and fast-paced renewable energy frontier:

  • Giving hunters and anglers a voice in decision making.
  • Protecting roadless backcountry areas, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and local and state public lands.
  • Conserving important fish and wildlife habitat.
  • Consulting with state fish and wildlife officials first.
  • Relying on the latest science.
  • Strengthening the permitting and leasing process.
  • Monitoring impacts to fish, wildlife, and water.
  • Mitigating damage and reclaiming affected land and water.
  • Complying with all relevant environmental laws.
  • Holding industry accountable for development costs, including monitoring and mitigation expenses.

When applied, these principles can help ensure renewable energy development’s compatibility with the needs of fish, wildlife, and hunters and anglers.

There is little doubt that sportsmen and sportswomen are about to see some rapid changes on public lands and more solar, wind, and geothermal projects emerging. As with oil and gas extraction, our community supports the multiple-use mandates on our public lands—and among those uses is energy development. We also demand that these resources be developed wisely and without loss to ever-shrinking fish and wildlife habitats that support our recreational pursuits.

The SFRED coalition members will continue to carry the sporting community voice in land-use planning and policy debates so that all forms of energy are balanced. Our community also knows there must be big policy shifts to tackle the impacts of climate change on the environment. But today’s fish and wildlife cannot be forgotten or sacrificed in the rush to solve the climate crisis.

Visit the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development website to learn more.

Top photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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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. 

 

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.

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