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November 4, 2021

Hunters and Anglers in Colorado Will Help Shape the Future of the West’s Water

Locally led water resource plans are being crafted that will help guide the management of water so it supports the needs of fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation, agriculture, and communities

Iconic Western watersheds are at a crossroads. The American West remains in the midst of a “megadrought,” which is contributing to catastrophic wildfires, impacting agricultural operations, and even affecting iconic Western wildlife and our hunting and fishing opportunities.

The Colorado River’s average annual flows have declined by 20 percent since 2000. More than half of that decline has been attributed to warming temperatures, which threaten fish and wildlife species that depend on there being not only enough water in the river but also cool enough water for them to survive.

The trickle-down effect on water-based recreation, such as fishing and boating, is easy to see. This summer, Colorado’s Yampa River was closed to fishing and recreation for more than three months due to low flows and high temperatures. Lower flows are also a concern to communities that depend on the Colorado River for drinking water in seven U.S. states—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California, and Nevada—and Mexico. Importantly, the watershed is home to 33 percent of the U.S. Latino population and 30 Native America tribes.

Right now, we all have a chance to influence the future conservation of Western water resources as we look toward a hotter, drier future. If you are someone who depends on America’s “hardest working river” or just a curious TRCP blog reader, here’s what you need to know about the next steps and how to get involved.

The Future of Water in Colorado

The ongoing Colorado Water Plan Update offers an opportunity for hunters and anglers to have our voices heard on how communities will address water resource challenges for the next five years. The existing Colorado Water Plan outlines how to create more resilient, thriving watersheds that support robust agriculture, outdoor recreation opportunities, and vibrant communities. Now, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency responsible for developing the Colorado Water Plan, is revising this plan to ensure that it is meeting current and future water needs based on changing circumstances in our state and across the West. Over the next few months, we will share a series of videos, action alerts, and other direct ways for you to engage in the Colorado Water Plan update process.

The full proposed update won’t be available to comment on until July 2022, but conversations are already underway that will influence this plan. In Colorado, water policy and management decisions are largely informed through a grassroots process. In order to facilitate conversations around managing water, Colorado established nine Basin Roundtables, composed of local volunteers who coordinate regional input on important water resource management issues.

The Basin Roundtables represent each of Colorado’s eight major watersheds and the Denver metro area, where the majority of Colorado’s population resides. The feedback they gather may include how to prioritize funding for water projects and maintain compliance with interstate water compacts. This will help update the nine Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs), which are locally driven documents identifying goals and actions to address regional water issues and priorities. BIPs also help to prioritize projects ranging from stream restoration to water infrastructure upgrades.

Weighing in on these grassroots-level plans will help to provide recreational and environmental benefits and build out the scaffolding for the broader Colorado Water Plan. For more information on roundtables and BIPs, check out Water for Colorado’s recent blog post.

Local Hunters and Anglers Can Take Action Now

While hunters and anglers across the country have a stake in the Colorado Water Plan and how it affects fish and wildlife across the region, it is vital that those of us who live and recreate right here in Colorado participate in this first locally led planning effort. Drafts of the updated Basin Implementation Plans are currently open to public comment through November 15.

We’ve made it easy for hunters and anglers to take action and help ensure that BIPs will sustain healthy river flows for fish and wildlife, encourage water conservation and efficiency, promote diversity and equity in the update process, and reflect other top priorities for sportsmen and sportswomen. Check out our simple advocacy tool to make your voice heard today.

This blog was collaboratively written by Jared Romero, TRCP director of strategic partnerships, and Alex Funk, TRCP director of water resources and senior counsel. Top photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via flickr.

Learn more about our work to conserve the Colorado River here.

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Jaclyn Higgins

October 29, 2021

How the Forage Fish Conservation Act Will Benefit Anglers

New legislation will help ensure that the species at the base of the marine food chain are abundant enough to support sportfish

Forage fish like menhaden, river herring, and shad are the foundation of the marine food web. These fish serve as prey for popular sportfish, such as striped bass, speckled trout, and bluefin tuna, as well as iconic species like osprey, bottlenose dolphins, and humpback whales.

Shad and river herring, in particular, used to support some of the largest and most important commercial and recreational fisheries along the Atlantic coast, but habitat loss from dam construction and stock depletion from overfishing have decreased herring and shad landings by 96 percent since 1950. Meanwhile, billions of pounds of menhaden are commercially harvested by a single foreign-owned company to be “reduced” into livestock feed, fish oil, fish meal, fertilizer, and other products.

The TRCP has been engaged in the push for better forage fish management, because these species are essential to coastal ecosystems and economies.

The bipartisan Forage Fish Conservation Act, which was introduced in the House this week, aims to address current gaps in forage fish management by amending and building upon the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which has been instrumental in addressing overfishing and maintaining stocks for anglers to enjoy over the past 50 years.

The new legislation would ensure that federal fisheries managers account for the needs of forage fish and the predator species that depend on them. It would establish management plans for river herring and shad in the Atlantic and address the needs of sportfish and other predator species in existing forage fish management plans. It would also require that managers assess the possible impacts of newly proposed commercial fishing for forage fish, including the effects on other fisheries, anglers, and the marine ecosystem. The bill would require that science-based recommendations are made on forage fish management and provide a national, science-based definition for forage fish, to help clarify future policymaking.

More abundant forage fish populations will boost sportfish and fishing opportunities. The implementation of the Forage Fish Conservation Act would sustain forage fish populations by improving management strategies, so that anglers can enjoy thriving coastal ecosystems and economies for generations to come.

Do Your Part

Ask your elected officials to support the Forage Fish Conservation Act and the future of forage fish management using our easy advocacy tool. Take action now!

Top photo courtesy of Woozy Fishing (@woozy_fishing)

Alex Funk

October 21, 2021

Five Impacts of Western Drought That Have Nothing to Do with Fish

When rivers and reservoirs drop, there are major consequences for anglers, but the ongoing megadrought could affect your hunting season, as well 

Drought is readily identified as a stressor on freshwater ecosystems—but how often do you think about the impacts of drought on hunting? The recent headlines about the ongoing megadrought that is affecting nearly 92 percent of the western United States probably call to mind the major consequences for fish and anglers, like voluntary fishing closures due to low flows and warm stream temperatures. But hunters must also contend with warmer and drier conditions that disrupt our seasons or deepen the decline of some game species.

Here are five ways that drought could affect your hunting opportunities.

Decreased Duck and Upland Bird Production

According to Field & Stream, widespread drought conditions in the Upper Midwest’s Prairie Pothole region are contributing to reproductive stress, low recruitment, and long-term population decline for waterfowl species. Fewer young ducks can mean fewer opportunities for hunters too, as more wary adults avoid even the best decoy spread in the marsh. In California, there isn’t enough water available for rice fields, which provide critical food and habitat for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway. When birds pack in to what limited water sources are available, disease outbreaks and other impacts can occur. Drought conditions often trigger emergency haying and grazing rules that affect the quality of grassland cover, leading to fewer birds, as well. Finally, heat stress and limited cover and water may have long lasting effects on upland bird species, including poor nesting cover and high chick mortality.

Disrupted Migration Patterns

Dry conditions associated with drought are contributing to more frequent, longer wildfire seasons in the West, and data from the 2020 wildfire season shows that wildfire smoke appears to be disrupting the flight paths of migratory birds like geese. Birds are flying longer distances and taking more time to reach their final destinations. These longer flights can result in higher energy expenditure and may lead to increased mortality or lower productive rates.

Public Access Limitations

Habitat isn’t the only thing at risk when drought drives more intense wildfires: Our access could also be temporarily closed as public land agencies struggle to respond to fires and keep people safe. In August, the U.S. Forest Service closed California’s national forests—a total of 20 million acres of public land—to mitigate the potential for additional wildfires. Some state-managed public lands were also closed to keep emergency response routes clear and protect public safety. These closures coincided with the beginning of California’s popular deer hunting season.

Less Forage (and Water) for Big Game

Drought is contributing to a wide range of impacts to iconic Western big game species. According to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, mule deer recruitment is declining due to reduced forage availability and increased heat stress. Drought can even make it harder for bucks to grow full-size antlers. In Arizona, the state’s wildlife agency has been forced to haul wildlife drinking water to a network of catchments, but at a significant financial cost to the agency. In Nevada, hunters recently raised more than $180,000 to support water hauling efforts that sustain the state’s revitalized bighorn sheep populations.

Fewer Hunting Permits

It stands to reason that if habitat and critters are in decline, our hunting opportunities will decrease, too. For example, Utah’s wildlife board approved 5,650 fewer general-season permits for the 2021 deer hunt. The decision was based on a recommendation from state wildlife biologists, who found that ongoing drought is contributing to reduced productivity of critical wildlife ranges, decreased animal survival, and lower statewide population levels of many big game species.

 

So, whether you hunt, fish, or support sportsmen and sportswomen from the sidelines, the ongoing drought and drier, hotter future we’re facing across the West should concern you. Click here to learn more about hunters and anglers who are experiencing the impacts of the Colorado River crisis right now.

Top photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

Whit Fosburgh

October 18, 2021

This Is the #1 Threat to Deer Hunting

The movement of live deer is supercharging the spread of chronic wasting disease, and the captive deer industry must be held accountable

It’s a fantastic time of year to be in the woods, and as much as we’d love to just let you enjoy your deer season, without any nagging sense of unease, there is a critical need for hunters to speak out about the rapid spread of chronic wasting disease.

By now, you’ve heard us repeatedly state these facts about CWD: It’s 100-percent fatal in deer, elk, moose, and other cervids. It is now found in 26 U.S. states, and possibly others where they have failed to detect or even test for it. Infected animals can spread the disease through urine and saliva, sometimes for years, before succumbing to its effects. The prions—malformed proteins that cause CWD—can be taken up in plant matter and transported, and hunters can unwittingly spread CWD by transporting the carcass of an infected animal.

But it’s time that we get real about one more thing: The greatest threat to deer hunting is the movement of live deer within and between states by the captive deer industry.

Freak Deer, Profit Motive, and CWD

For those who lack the time, patience, or skills to harvest a deer the old-fashioned way—but who have plenty of money and no qualms about practicing fair chase—captive deer facilities are just the answer. A person can select his or her deer from a menu, and success is guaranteed. Moreover, these facilities can grow deer never found in nature. Genetic manipulation, steroids, supercharged feed, and no challenge from predators can create freaks that true hunters know did not come from the wild but look great on a den or office wall.

When a single deer can be sold for more than $25,000, it is easy to understand why there are 4,000 or more such facilities in the U.S. today. But we can point to at least four examples in the last five months that show the blatant disregard for science by the captive deer industry and the fecklessness of current state and federal regulations.

In northern Minnesota, CWD-positive carcasses from a defunct captive facility were discovered dumped on nearby public land, threatening to introduce the disease to a new part of the state. In Texas, the disease was detected at three facilities outside of Dallas and San Antonio, but only after those facilities shipped deer to more than 260 others across the state.

CWD was then detected in a captive whitetail deer on a hunting preserve in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier, spreading the disease to a new part of the state and posing a heightened threat to New York’s deer population to the north. Most recently, two CWD-positive captive deer in Wisconsin prompted an investigation into one of the most, if not the most, extensive web of deer shipments from a CWD-positive facility on record—nearly 400 deer were sent to 40 facilities in seven states over the last five years.

CWD was first detected in a captive facility in Colorado in 1967 and since that time has spread to almost every place captive deer facilities exist. Federal and state best practices demand that any facility where a CWD-positive deer is found be depopulated and closed. Science shows that the prions remain in the soil of an infected facility for a decade or more, so just getting rid of infected animals is not sufficient. But the profit motive is so great, it is common for deer breeders to hide infections, or simply not test, and thus spread the disease.

Four Ways to Prevent Captive Deer From Spreading CWD

It is past time for state and federal regulators to step in and prevent the threat of CWD to wild deer, as the captive deer industry either lacks the ability or willingness to police itself. Here’s how:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture should immediately ban the interstate movement of live deer.
  • Congress needs to help fund surveillance and testing programs in all the states.
  • All captive deer facilities should follow the best management practices put forward by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in 2018, including double fencing—which helps to eliminate direct transmission from captive to wild deer—and 100-percent testing of all captive deer deaths.
  • All deer breeders should be required to have insurance or post a bond to fund the depopulation and permanent closure of infected facilities, so taxpayers no longer have to foot the bill for a bad actor’s reckless behavior.

Hunters understand that success in the deer woods is not guaranteed. In fact, most of us return emptyhanded from a day in the woods but generally richer for the experience. But we cannot fail when it comes to stopping CWD. Hunters, politicians, and regulators need to step up and do what is necessary for the deer hunting tradition—and the billions of dollars in conservation funding that hunters generate—can continue into the future.

Do Your Part Now

Do what you can this season: Get your deer tested. Check your local regulations on carcass transport and disposal. Consider boning out your deer in the field to avoid transporting the parts of the carcass that would carry CWD. (MeatEater’s Janis Putelis takes you through the process in the video below.) Finally, take action to push the Secretary of Agriculture to take immediate action to stop the spread of CWD from captive deer facilities.

 

Top photo courtesy of the National Deer Association.

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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