Filson_ (7 of 16) Bethany Goodrich
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Bjorn Dihle is a lifelong Southeast Alaskan whose world revolves around the incredible habitat and fish and wildlife resources of the region. As a wildlife guide and writer, he knows how fortunate he has been to enjoy the wild backcountry of the Tongass National Forest, a legacy that he hopes to pass on to his young sons one day. As a result, Dihle has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of the balanced management of the nation’s largest national forest, working to see a reinstated Roadless Rule safeguard more than 9.2 million acres of undeveloped habitat.
Bjorn’s latest book, A Shape in the Dark, is a fascinating and memorable tribute to brown bears. Outside Magazine, which describes it as “part history, part adventure narrative,” named it one of its best books of 2021. Purchase on Amazon Smile to build your conservation library while supporting TRCP’s work.
Here is his story:
My dad and my mom moved from California to Alaska when they were in their early twenties. Dad wanted to hunt, fish, and experience the wild country of the Tongass National Forest. My two brothers and I grew up listening to his stories and following him around in the woods. He untangled countless yards of our fishing line and we spooked who knows how many deer during our early “hunts” with him. He bought each of us our first big game rifle. Just as important, he instilled a reverence for wild places and animals in us that still guides me today.
I could probably only hunt Southeast Alaska for the rest of my life and be happy. Sitka blacktail is my favorite meat and an August alpine deer hunt is darn near impossible to beat. I love caribou and sheep country up in interior and northern Alaska, but I’m happy to wander there without a rifle. I was lucky enough to be born and live where I am.
One of my most memorable experiences outdoors occurred on Chichagof Island, where during a late spring evening I counted 35 brown bears feeding in one watershed. There were a fair amount of Sitka blacktails, too. In the 1980s, the Forest Service had wanted to clearcut this area and surrounding mountains. Biologists, hunters, and people who care about wild places fought hard and ended up saving the watershed. Watching all those bears go about their business, surrounded by mountains covered in old growth forest, was a good reminder that we can save the wild places we love if we’re willing to stand up and fight.
Conservation is the only reason that I’m able to live the life that I do. My income mostly comes from guiding natural history film crews, primarily after brown bears, but occasionally I get to work with other wildlife, like wolves and moose. The meat my family eats is basically all wild, with deer and salmon making up the lion’s share. Deer, salmon, brown bears, and the whole Southeast Alaska ecosystem are tied to healthy habitat. And here, old growth forest is the most ecologically valuable habitat. Protecting old growth forest from being clearcut and trying to keep our salmon fisheries productive is key to preserving my lifestyle.
We need to reinstate the Roadless Rule and halt industrial clearcut logging of old growth in the Tongass. We also need to support the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy and long-term protections for the Tongass’s remaining old growth. There’s also a stampede of gigantic open-pit mines being built in British Columbia on rivers shared with Southeast Alaska—these waterways also provide critical spawning habitat for our salmon. Runs are already becoming depleted in the region, and if we lose salmon, we will lose an integral part of the ecosystem.
My food, income, and health all come from wildlife and good habitat. I have two sons—a baby and a two-and-a-half-year-old self-described “big boy man.” I really want those boys and future generations to have similar opportunities to live, work, and hunt the way I do. When my boys are men, I want them to be able to fill their freezers with venison and salmon. I want salmon runs flooding our streams, brown bears trudging ancient trails beneath giant trees, and plenty of deer in the forest. Without those things, Southeast Alaska just wouldn’t be the same.
Shallow-water purse seining for menhaden contributes to beach erosion and damages nursery habitats for redfish, speckled trout, sharks, jacks, mackerels, blue crabs, and other species. To ensure that Louisiana’s coastal habitat can continue to support billions of dollars in revenue from recreational fishing and wildlife tourism, as well as thousands of vital jobs, the TRCP and its sportfishing partners have been calling for a regulated buffer zone that would restrict industrial menhaden harvest to deeper waters, reducing habitat impacts and conflicts between pogie boats and anglers.
On Thursday, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission amended a proposal to create a restricted zone that would limit industrial menhaden fishing within a quarter mile of the state’s coastline. Unfortunately, the original proposal did not go far enough to prevent erosion and habitat damage, and Thursday’s amendment would further reduce the size of the buffer along sensitive marshes on the western shore of Breton Sound—making an already inadequate measure even weaker.
Public comments submitted over the last two months overwhelmingly favored strengthening the proposal by expanding the restricted area to at least a half mile from beaches and sensitive shallow water areas. The Commission’s vote Thursday showed that those comments have been largely ignored.
Sportfishing advocates were in favor of last year’s legislative action to create a half-mile restricted zone to help conserve and protect surf zone habitat, reduce harmful bycatch, and protect Louisiana’s recreational fishing economy and culture—a legislative solution that the menhaden industry strongly opposed. The bill ultimately failed, but the commission could achieve the same goal by expanding the proposed restricted zone. Unfortunately, the Commission does not seem intent on voting in favor of conservation.
The lone bright spot resulting from the amendment is it gives all concerned about this issue additional time to continue to voice opposition to a feeble, quarter-mile buffer zone.
What difference does a quarter mile make? Let’s dive deeper.
The menhaden reduction fishing industry—namely two companies, Omega Protein and Daybrook Fisheries—has reported that their boats only fish in waters 12 feet or deeper, so the large vessels don’t hit the bottom. In past discussions of this issue with the Commission, menhaden industry representatives and some commissioners have claimed that it is impossible for the boats to operate in shallow-water areas, where the vessels run aground, and that the industry would not risk the damage to the vessels by operating them in water depths of 5 to 10 feet.
Almost the entire proposed, one-quarter-mile restricted zone is in depths of up to just 6 feet. Amending the buffer zone to at least a half mile, which would include depths between 6 and 12 feet, would decrease the negative impacts of purse seining that plague Louisiana’s coast. If the claims from Omega and Daybrook are true—and they cannot risk the damage to their vessels by having them contact the bottom—there should be no issue with a half-mile buffer zone, which would only restrict fishing in areas that are supposedly too shallow for industrial pogie ships.
There’s good reason to keep these vessels out of shallow water as a policy, instead of trusting the companies’ assertions that pogie boats don’t go that close to shore: Numerous eyewitness accounts and videos show them intentionally running aground and displacing large volumes of sediments in waters inside a half mile of beaches. [Watch the video for actual footage of this happening within yards of recreational fishing boats.]
The Gulf menhaden fishery is the largest fishery by volume in the contiguous United States, and Louisiana accounts for 80 percent or more of all menhaden catches in the Gulf of Mexico, with over 900 million pounds harvested in 2020. Industrial pogie fishing made up almost half of all catches in the Gulf from 1980 to 2016.
Even if no more than 5 percent of the fish they harvest are species other than menhaden or herring (per Gulf-wide bycatch restrictions) the amount of potential bycatch is still immense. Sadly, the data from Omega and Daybrook regarding bycatch of important pogie predator species—including redfish, speckled trout, blacktip shark, and king and Spanish mackerel—is not publicly disclosed.
Efforts should be made by the menhaden industry to measure the environmental effects of their bycatch and to prove that the pogie fishery poses no risks to Louisiana’s fragile coastal ecosystem. In the meantime, bycatch of species like speckled trout, blue crabs, redfish, and some mackerels would be reduced by restricting harvest in nearshore areas.
Omega and Daybrook frequently tout their Marine Stewardship Council certification as an indicator of their sustainable fishing operations in the Gulf. However, they have funded studies that deny the correlation between menhaden abundance and predator populations—directly contradicting MSC Fisheries Standards. Other studies have shown that pogies and other forage fish ARE correlated with the abundance of seabirds, king and Spanish mackerel, and blacktip sharks. The menhaden industry has blatantly disregarded MSC principles, further proving their unwillingness to accept the negative impacts of their operations along Louisiana’s coast.
If Omega and Daybrook want to demonstrate the effectiveness of a quarter-mile buffer zone versus a half-mile, they should prove through transparent and independent science that they are not harming our coastline by damaging the delicate intertidal zone or killing massive numbers of animals that depend on pogies as prey, like redfish, speckled trout, and seabirds.
The current fishery management strategy does not include a harvest control rule, coastwide catch limit, or accountability for overfishing. The implementation of, at minimum, a half-mile restricted zone for the industrial menhaden fishery is a necessary first step toward the conservation of Gulf menhaden, the wildlife and fish that depends on them, and the critical surf-zone habitat in Louisiana.
We have urged the Commission to amend the proposed quarter-mile restricted zone to a minimum of a half mile, and we will continue to push for meaningful conservation measures in the menhaden industry. Please send comments to email@example.com and keep following the TRCP for further updates on how to take action.
Top photo by Jay Huggins via Flickr.
In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a report that showed 6 percent of the U.S. population participated in hunting. Within that group, 97 percent identified as white, and 90 percent were male. The data indicated that Hispanic and Latino participation accounted for just 3 percent of all hunters, while the 2020 U.S. Census data shows that Hispanics account for 19 percent of our population.
The TRCP wanted to better understand why the Hispanic and Latino communities in the U.S. participate in hunting at a reduced capacity. To do this, the TRCP partnered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to facilitate two roundtable meetings, where Latino participants could share what barriers, they face when trying to participate in hunting.
Fourteen members of the community—from lifelong, multi-generational hunters to beginners who want to learn more—joined TRCP and CPW staff in addition to facilitators from the Meridian Institute and were compensated for their time. This resulted in the creation of a toolkit that is being shared with other state wildlife agencies on how to better engage diverse communities in hunting.
Here’s how state agencies can serve these hunters better.
Establish Trust and Sincerity
Roundtable participants believed that establishing trust is essential when trying to connect with all communities. Efforts that don’t feel sincere can create further irreparable damage between communities and perpetuate the lack of trust. Agencies can build sincere relationships by identifying and working with trusted partners that already exist in the Latino community, being open and ready to modify programs based on community feedback and ensuring that programs are sustainable and not one-and-done.
Examine Messaging and Whose Stories Are Told
In the roundtable meetings, participants indicated that the messaging around hunting often makes it seem like a white space in the eyes of people of color, and many had encountered discrimination and profiling when they were out in the field simply trying to participate in outdoor activities. Storytelling was suggested as an avenue to change that.
Many of the participants were multi-generational hunters and had strong familial connections to hunting—but their stories were rarely told in outdoor media. If stories from the broader Latino hunting population were amplified by state wildlife agencies, it would create the narrative that Latinos are welcome and respected in the hunting community. It would also ensure that there is not an erasure of their history as hunters and conservationists.
Additionally, participants flagged certain terminology that could promote bias. Terms like “huntsmen” or “huntmasters,” for example, can be exclusive of women and people of color, reinforcing the narrative that hunting is a white, male-dominated space.
Similarly, each state agency should get to know its Latino and Hispanic communities and dial in the terminology for addressing these groups—“Hispanic” and “Latino” are very broad terms that encapsulate people of many backgrounds and heritages. When possible, roundtable participants indicated that they’d much prefer the use of terms for specific communities and regional identities, such as Chicano, Mexican American, and Tejano.
Use Data Collection and Monitoring to Improve Engagement and Outreach
Participants thought that it was important for state agencies to collect demographic data and that it be available to the public. Collection of demographic data should be done in a clear and concise manner that has its intent clearly explained. This would better identify who is participating in hunting and how broader participation could be achieved at a state and regional level. Demographic data collection would then help to further design and facilitate engagement and outreach programs for women and people of color. Programs that meet communities where they are important for the future of conservation and hunting. To have the best chance of success, state agencies should partner and co-host hunting education programs with organizations that are already serving Latinos and other communities, such as Hispanic Access Foundation and Latino Outdoors.
Feedback from roundtable participants indicated that it is easy for people to get discouraged and disenfranchised when they are enthusiastic about participating and learning to hunt but repeatedly fail to draw tags. Agencies must provide clear and concise information about the unbiased draw process and publicize other opportunities to participate in hunting when you don’t draw tags, such as over-the-counter or novice licenses.
Why This Work Is Important to TRCP
Our public lands and outdoor access are valuable to people of all backgrounds and demographics. Our public lands can be healing for individuals and our nation. By taking steps to welcome prospective hunters from Latino and Hispanic communities, we can change the narrative and ensure that all people have the opportunity to participate in the outdoors and share in the responsibility of conservation.
Top photo courtesy of Gregg Flores.
Here’s how recently passed legislation will be implemented to improve habitat connectivity and help wildlife safely cross our roadways
In one of the major victories for conservation this year, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in November provides new federal funding for projects and research to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity for mule deer, elk, and pronghorn. One of the key provisions is the establishment of a new wildlife crossings pilot program that will dedicate $350 million over a five-year period for the construction of new wildlife-friendly overpasses, underpasses, and fences that funnel animals safely across roads.
This is a major win because, for the first time ever, there is now programmatic federal investment to directly support the work of state wildlife and transportation agencies focusing on this issue. Sportsmen and sportswomen understand that crossing infrastructure is essential to supporting the unimpeded movement of wildlife as animals follow seasonal and historical migrations each year. But it also reduces wildlife-vehicle collisions that cost human lives and millions of dollars in property damage.
We’ve known for years that crossings are effective, but without this dedicated funding, projects were harder to pay for because they were in competition with other transportation infrastructure needs. With just a fraction of a percent of the total spend on American infrastructure recently approved by Congress and the president, this investment will make an outsized impact on migratory wildlife populations and human safety.
Here’s what you need to know about the next steps for this first-of-its-kind program.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act directed the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to distribute the $350 million over five years through a competitive grant process to projects that reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve wildlife connectivity. The first $60 million will be awarded before September 30, 2022.
There are many strong examples of projects that could serve as models for the pilot program. In Wyoming, the Trappers Point project, completed in 2012 at a cost of $12 million, has enabled thousands of mule deer and pronghorns to cross the highway safely each year. The Wyoming Department of Transportation estimated that prior to the crossing’s construction, motor vehicle collisions with wildlife at the site resulted in $500,000 in damage annually. In the first three years, the overpasses and underpasses at Trappers Point saw 85,000 documented wildlife crossings, while vehicle-wildlife collisions decreased by about 80 percent.
In northeastern Nevada, a herd of over 5,000 mule deer utilize a series of five crossings and four underpasses that were constructed over Highway 93 and Interstate 80 at a cost of approximately $35 million. These structures have resulted in nearly 40,000 documented safe crossings since the projects began in 2010.
Oregon’s first crossing—completed in 2012 in the central part of the state along Highway 97—has reduced collisions by 85 percent. It has supported safe crossing for more than 40 different species, but mule deer in particular have benefited as they migrate between their summer and winter ranges. The Oregon Department of Transportation has identified at least 10 more projects like this that are currently awaiting funding. Many other states are in the same boat.
The Nevada Department of Transportation believes that if there are five or more vehicle collisions with deer per mile of road each year, it actually costs more to do nothing than to build the crossing structures. In fact, evaluation, engineering, and siting of these wildlife projects should be part of any roadway expansion and considered upfront when possible.
What’s more, Western states in particular have demonstrated significant leadership on building crossings where it most benefits migratory wildlife and keeps migration corridors intact. This makes federal infrastructure dollars go even further by also creating habitat gains.
Dedicated funding will help get those projects done sooner, but more data may be necessary in some states to prioritize the most important crossing projects. Migration mapping from GPS-collared animals, paired with data showing where animals are most frequently hit on highways, helps agencies pinpoint where these crossing projects are most needed. Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon and several other states have already used wildlife and transportation data to prioritize locations for crossings to build projects into long-term transportation plans. This kind of planning will help put new funds to work quickly, and clearly demonstrates a need for further investment.
The Federal Highway Administration is currently accepting public comment on implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, allowing stakeholders and the public the opportunity to suggest the best process for soliciting, reviewing, and awarding grant applications through the new competitive grant program for crossings. Over the coming months, the TRCP and its partners will submit formal comments and meet with these officials to ensure that funding gets awarded as quickly as possible and to projects that support the movement of big game species.
Meanwhile, at the state level, the TRCP will continue to support mapping and prioritization efforts that lead to projects that can compete successfully for grant funding. Our field representatives will meet with state wildlife and transportation agencies to help facilitate collaborative efforts, inform state legislators about its importance, and coordinate with other stakeholder groups to build momentum and public support. All of this will help ensure that states are able to utilize funding from the new crossings program most effectively.
The pilot program’s $350 million over five years is an unprecedented amount of funding specifically for wildlife crossings, but we know that project needs far outweigh the available funds. In the long term, it will be critical to demonstrate the success of this program and the need for continued and increased funding beyond 2026. Securing this important funding is just the start of a long road ahead for our work to get more wildlife crossing projects built in support of our big game herds.
UPDATE: Now you can encourage decision-makers in your state to prioritize the construction of wildlife crossings and apply for the dedicated funding that is newly available through this first-of-its-kind competitive grant program. Sign our open letter in support of wildlife crossing projects in your state.
You can also support these ongoing priorities by considering making a donation before the end of the year. Here’s where you can find out about SITKA’s generous offer to match new and increased donations to the TRCP, making your gift go further for conservation. And here’s why we call on you for your individual support of our mission at this time each year. It matters more than you know.
Top photo: Greg Nickerson/Wyoming Migration Initiative
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More