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Kristyn Brady

December 15, 2021

10 Conservation Achievements We’re Proud of in 2021

Your support helped to make these organizational and legislative successes possible

Setting the Agenda

In early 2021, the TRCP staff clearly communicated top hunter and angler priorities to the incoming Biden-Harris Administration and members of the 117th Congress. Our top ten must-do list for the administration and top five priorities for Congress were among our most popular blog posts of the year, making it clear that American hunters and anglers are engaged in these policy discussions—and we let decision-makers know that sportsmen and sportswomen are paying attention. At the 100-day mark, we’d seen progress on many, but not all, of our top priorities, and conservation has advanced even further in the remainder of the year. Read on for details.

 

Strengthening a Popular Farm Bill Conservation Program

In April 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration implemented multiple recommendations from the TRCP and our private land conservation partners to boost shrinking enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program. These changes will not only help to pull the CRP out of a slump, they will also better support farmers and ranchers who want to incorporate conservation into their business plans. Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs here.

 

BLM Colorado
Helping to Secure Conservation’s Role in “30 by 30”

Almost immediately after the inauguration, the news of the administration’s support for a global initiative to conserve 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030 had left some landowners, politicians, industry executives, and even conservation groups fearful about what exactly this would mean. Fortunately, the voices of sportsmen and sportswomen—including those behind huntfish3030.com—were heard, and the White House’s 10-year “America the Beautiful” initiative includes key TRCP priorities, like expanding habitat conservation, increasing outdoor recreation access, incentivizing the voluntary conservation of private land, and creating jobs through conservation. Here’s what you need to know about 30 by 30.

 

Creating More Certainty for Special Places

After years of facing conservation rollbacks in bucket-list hunting and fishing destinations, hunters and anglers finally got some good news in 2021. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would restore conservation safeguards for 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, and the public can weigh in on the detailed plan until mid-January. The EPA also announced new steps to permanently protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from mining, while the Ruby Mountains Protection Act—a TRCP priority, given its impact on Nevada’s largest mule deer herd—was debated and voted out of committee. Learn more at sportsmenfortherubies.com.

 

USFWS Alaska
Restoring Clean Water Protections

In an important step for fish and waterfowl, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers began to reconsider which waters and wetlands should be protected under the Clean Water Act, with formal feedback provided by the hunting and fishing community. This marks the fourth pendulum swing since a series of Supreme Court cases created confusion in the early 2000s. For more detail, check out our brief timeline on the history of the Clean Water Act.

 

USFWS National Elk Refuge
Conserving Migration Corridors

Throughout the year, new commitments were made by the USDA, the Department of the Interior, and the governors of New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado to conserve and enhance wildlife migration corridors—a signature TRCP issue. Learn more on our resource page devoted to all things big game migration.

 

BLM Wyoming
Creating Conservation Jobs

Many key priorities of the TRCP and our partners are also included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed by President Biden in November. We successfully pushed for a revolutionary program to build more wildlife-friendly highway crossings and once-in-a-generation investments in stream connectivity, forest health, coastal and estuarine habitat conservation, water quality, and water conservation projects across the West.

 

Craig Okraska / Maven
Unlocking Public Land Access

In 2021, lawmakers reintroduced and advanced the TRCP-led MAPLand Act, which would require public land agencies to digitize their paper maps and access information. Once accomplished, this would help you identify more inroads to public hunting and fishing areas using smartphone apps and GPS devices. After clearing committees in both chambers, the legislation is poised for floor votes that could send it to President Biden’s desk next year.

 

USDA
Boosting Efforts to Study and Stop the Spread of CWD

This summer—as chronic wasting disease outbreaks traced back to captive deer operations in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota highlighted the need for definitive federal action—we worked with lawmakers to craft comprehensive chronic wasting disease legislation that would establish substantial funding streams for management activities, education, and research priorities. We’re very proud to stand behind the bill that was introduced by Representatives Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) in October and passed by the House just last week.

 

Gregg Flores / Rachel Smiley / Kelsey Johnson / Durrell Smith
Highlighting Individuals Who Are Shaping Conservation’s Future

Part of the fun of what we do is making you aware of the hunters and anglers out there who help to power conservation without asking for any acclaim. This is just a small window into the community that we feel lucky to be a part of. If you need some uplifting reading this holiday season, check out our Q&As with Durrell Smith, Kelsey Johnson, Gregg Flores, and Rachel Smiley. Be inspired by what Clint Bentley was able to accomplish for Nevada’s bighorn sheep populations, just by speaking up. Let Austin Snow take you along on his hunt with Steven Rinella and Janis Putelis of MeatEater. Or take just a few minutes to watch Suzy Weiser, Charles Garcia, and Geo Romero explain why conservation in the Colorado River Basin is personal for them.

 

That wraps up our top ten for the year. Thanks for following along and supporting our work to create conservation success across the country. It wouldn’t be possible without you. Want to do even more for habitat, access, and the outdoor recreation economy? Donate to the TRCP before December 31, and SITKA will match some or all of your gift. Learn more here.

Email subscribers: The December 17th Roosevelt Report is the last of the year, and we’ll be back on January 7, 2022. Want to get on the list for the next one? Subscribe here.

 

Top photo courtesy of Kyle Mlynar.

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Randall Williams

December 14, 2021

New Digital Mapping Tool Offers Look at Disturbances to Mule Deer Migration

Agencies and the public have a clearer view of the challenges facing Wyoming’s herds

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the University of Wyoming released a web map today that highlights current levels of human disturbance in Wyoming’s three designated mule deer migration corridors, including the 150-mile Red Desert to Hoback corridor.

The web map was developed by University of Wyoming’s Geographic Information Science Center in collaboration with TRCP to serve as a resource for both wildlife and land-use managers, as well as the interested public. It incorporates the best available data on migration and disturbance to inform future decision-making when conservation opportunities arise or development is proposed in migration corridors.

“We would like to see this web map utilized as a resource for future decisions as it provides a unique piece of information about the current level of disturbance in these corridors,” said Nick Dobric, the Wyoming field manager for the TRCP. “The mule deer in the Sublette herd, for example, that migrate and winter in the Rock Springs area have been struggling since the early 2000s and are currently 34 percent below their population objective, resulting in the loss of hunting opportunity with shorter seasons and reduced tags. This web map highlights parts of the corridor that could benefit from habitat restoration and where future development could have a big impact on the health of our herds, such as in stopover areas.”

Using the township and range grid system, the web map provides disturbance calculations at three different scales and provides a feature to customize the analysis boundary. The information displayed utilizes publicly available data, including the disturbance layer developed by the state of Wyoming for sage-grouse conservation. Research has consistently demonstrated that anthropogenic disturbances impact mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and other big-game species. One study, conducted in 2020, indicates that migrating mule deer have a disturbance threshold of approximately 3 percent of a landscape’s surface area, dependent upon the size and configuration of development, as well as specific vegetation and migration habitats.

“Wyoming is fortunate to have robust wildlife populations and hunting opportunities, in large part because of our still functioning migration corridors,” said Joy Bannon, Policy Director for Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “Development is essential for our state, but it needs to be thoughtfully planned. As the web map shows, disturbance is relatively limited in most parts of the corridor and with smart planning in the future – it can stay relatively the same so that we can continue to enjoy our incredible wildlife.”

Wyoming has been at the forefront of migration corridor research and conservation for decades. In the 1960s, Frank and John Craighead developed the first maps of elk migrating in and out of Yellowstone National Park. In recent years, the development of GPS technology has revolutionized the field as researchers are now able to document movements in unprecedented detail. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission adopted a migration corridor strategy in 2016 in part due to the growing body of knowledge regarding migratory animals’ behavior and habitat needs. Likewise, Governor Gordon issued an executive order in 2020 to conserve migration corridors while balancing multiple-uses and protecting private property rights. This web map is an additional piece of information for managers and the public to utilize.

Wyoming takes well-deserved pride in its role as a leader in researching and conserving the migration corridors used by our big game herds,” said Josh Coursey, CEO of Muley Fanatic Foundation. “Governor Gordon’s executive order, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission’s migration strategy, and cooperative efforts between the state and federal agencies like the BLM, all demonstrate a recognition of the importance of this issue, and it is our hope that the web mapping tool will prove useful to those efforts and guide further action moving forward.”

Jaclyn Higgins

December 9, 2021

Preliminary Study Shows Extent of Menhaden’s Role in Gulf Ecosystem

Results could help support a new management model that considers the needs of sportfish

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the University of Miami, and the University of Florida recently completed a study which modeled the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico with a focus on Gulf menhaden. The model was developed to evaluate the varying effects of different harvest policies on marine species to support ecosystem-based fisheries management in the Gulf.

The study can be used to inform stakeholders and policymakers of the trade-offs between different management actions, while considering predator-prey interactions, fishing pressures, and environmental variables. The authors were primarily interested in evaluating the effects of menhaden harvest on predators like speckled trout, redfish, mackerel, and many other fish that anglers like to catch.

Hundreds of diet studies and dozens of coastal species were included in the study’s Gulf-wide food web, which modeled predator-prey interactions from 1980 to 2016. Menhaden, called pogies in the Gulf, were found to support the diets of 32 predator groups. When categorized by age class, the main predators of juvenile menhaden were redfish, speckled trout, and seabirds. Menhaden over one year of age were mainly preyed upon by reds, trout, and king and Spanish mackerel, as well as apex predators like blacktip sharks, gag grouper, dolphins, and coastal piscivores—including jacks, tuna, and mahi mahi.

It is interesting to note that menhaden accounted for about 85 percent of all forage fish biomass in this model, but that number is probably smaller in reality. Because other forage fish in the Gulf—like sardines, anchovies, and mullet—are not as well-studied as the menhaden, more data is needed to determine the role of all forage species in the ecosystem. Certainly, other forage species contribute to the diets of predators like snapper and grouper, so more data would be useful for future assessments of those species.

Commercial and recreational fishery statistics were added to the model to evaluate historical fishing pressure and compare potential scenarios with different harvest strategies. Notably, the Gulf menhaden reduction fishery was responsible for 48.1 percent of all commercial catch (in weight) from 1980 to 2016. When looking at scenarios where menhaden fishing pressure differed, the data showed the current amount of pressure in the Gulf cuts king mackerel biomass in half compared to where there is zero menhaden fishing. Other species are reduced, as well, including the extremely popular speckled trout and redfish.

Based on this study, Gulf menhaden support about 40 percent of the diets of both Spanish and king mackerel and about 20 percent of the diet for speckled trout. This information could be integral to the development of an ecosystem-based management plan for the Gulf menhaden fishery, considering the needs of such predators.

During the entire period, there was a 30-percent increase in fishery landings (commercial and recreational) across the Gulf. Although certain gamefish—like yellowfin tuna and swordfish—showed increased biomass estimates, large oceanic sharks, other tunas, Spanish and king mackerel, and reef piscivores decreased in biomass.

While the authors of the study noted there are still data gaps regarding predator diets throughout the Gulf, this is the most up-to-date and comprehensive diet model available. Based on the latest stock assessment published in 2019, king mackerel are not considered overfished, nor are they experiencing overfishing, but it is clear from this study that Gulf menhaden and king mackerel are connected. The next stock assessment for Spanish mackerel is scheduled to be published in 2023, which will hopefully close some of the data gaps.

With further study, it may be found that the health of king or Spanish mackerel stocks can serve as indicators of ecosystem impacts in the Gulf, like striped bass are in the Atlantic. The TRCP and its partners will be working diligently to gain more information on the role of menhaden in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and how redfish, speckled trout, tarpon, jacks, and grouper are affected by the industrial menhaden fishery that currently has no catch limit and very little state and federal oversight.

Learn more about our efforts to conserve menhaden in the Gulf and Atlantic.

Kristyn Brady

December 8, 2021

House Passes Legislation to Boost CWD Management and Research

Swift passage of this bipartisan bill reflects the critical need for more resources to study and stop the spread of chronic wasting disease

In a 393-33 vote this evening, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Chronic Wasting Disease Management and Research Act, which would expand the federal government’s role in the fight to control a fatal wildlife disease that threatens the future of deer hunting in America. The bill was introduced by Representatives Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) in October 2021 and was quickly passed out of committee.

“This swift bipartisan passage of the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act reflects the incredible need for resources to study and stop the spread of the disease on behalf of our wild deer herds and hunting opportunities,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This legislation has the federal government stepping up its responsibility for addressing CWD, giving state agency staff more support, focusing the scope of much-needed research, and educating the full spectrum of stakeholders—from hunters to the captive cervid industry—so that we are all accountable for advancing CWD solutions.”

The legislation calls for an annual $70-million investment through fiscal year 2028 on an even split of CWD management and research priorities. It also includes authorization for federal, state, and Tribal agencies to develop educational materials to inform the public on CWD and directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review its Herd Certification Program, which accredits captive operations as “low-risk” for CWD contamination but has proven inadequate to stem the spread of the disease.

$35 million per year for research would focus on:
  • Methods to effectively detect CWD in live and harvested deer and the surrounding environment
  • Best practices for reducing CWD occurrence through sustainable harvest of deer and other cervids
  • Factors contributing to spread of the disease locally, such as animal movement and scavenging
$35 million per year for management, including surveillance and testing, would prioritize:
  • Areas with the highest incidence of CWD
  • Areas responding to new outbreaks of CWD
  • Areas without CWD that show the greatest risk of CWD emerging
  • Jurisdictions demonstrating the greatest financial commitment to managing, monitoring, surveying, and researching CWD
  • Efforts to develop comprehensive policies and programs focused on CWD management

As a next step, the TRCP and its partners are working with lawmakers to secure the introduction of a companion bill in the Senate.

Learn more about chronic wasting disease and what’s at stake for hunters here.

 

Feature image courtesy of the National Deer Association

Alex Funk

December 7, 2021

The Importance of Healthy Wetlands for Hunting

Inland marshes and riparian areas are obviously beneficial to fish, but hunters should care about these habitats, as well

Wetlands are having a moment. As part of a commitment to conserving ecosystems that serve as critical carbon sinks, the White House recently identified the conservation of terrestrial wetlands as essential to addressing a changing climate.

These inland wetlands, like riparian areas along streams, store and sequester more carbon than coastal wetlands or any other type of terrestrial ecosystem, including forests. Besides their climate benefits, functioning wetlands are also important natural infrastructure solutions, as they enhance watershed resilience to natural disasters, such as drought and wildfire.

As an example, mountain fens in Montana act like sponges, absorbing snow runoff and other precipitation, then slowly releasing water downstream, recharging groundwater systems, and sustaining river flows during the summer, which supports healthy habitat for fish and wildlife important to hunters and anglers. There’s also emerging science that wetland and riparian systems even act as fire breaks, mitigating the severity of wildfire impacts to critical drinking water supplies and fish habitat.

The benefits of wetlands to fish might be the most obvious: Wetlands help keep streams cool, reduces erosion of streambanks which affects instream habitat, and provide critical spawning areas. But these ecosystems are also important to many terrestrial wildlife species that are popular with hunters. Wild turkeys, for example, utilize spring seeps for winter habitat and forage. Wet meadows contain crucial brood-rearing habitat for the greater sage grouse. And whitetail deer are well known to utilize riparian corridors for access to water, cover, and travel routes.

In fact, when it comes to animal migration, studies show that riparian corridors will become even more important for animals seeking refuge from warmer and drier conditions or for connecting fragmented habitats under a changing climate.

Despite the importance of wetlands to society and our hunting and fishing opportunities, many wetland ecosystems in the United States remain at risk from development and natural hazards, such as wildfire and drought. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken positive steps to restore Clean Water Act protections to wetlands, but previous interpretations of the act have excluded non-floodplain wetlands that are essential to maintaining healthy rivers and streams.

In Georgia, a proposed titanium mine threatens the Okefenokee Swamp, the largest blackwater swamp in North American and a popular hunting destination. In Colorado, a proposed water development project would inundate an extensive system of mountain fens, which support local wildlife.

Collectively, threats like these present an opportunity for hunters and hunting organizations to support federal protections for wetlands systems under the Clean Water Act. In January 2022, the EPA is hosting several public workshops to gather feedback on their proposed rule, which would help to prevent wetlands loss. The TRCP encourages hunters to attend these hearings and offer their support for federal wetland protections—we’ll also give TRCP members plenty of opportunities to weigh in digitally during the multiple rounds of public comment.

In the meantime, we’ll keep working with partners to address these threats to wetland systems. One step will be developing a scientific review of the importance of wetlands to big game species, in particular—we look forward to sharing that with you soon.

 

Top photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service via Flickr.

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