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January 27, 2022

Interior Cancels Hardrock Mining Leases in the Boundary Waters

A broad coalition of groups commended the administration’s action to ensure long-term protections for this bucket-list paddling, fishing, and hunting destination

Hunters and anglers are applauding the Department of the Interior’s decision to cancel two federal hardrock mineral leases located in the Superior National Forest within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed, citing the importance of sustaining the Boundary Waters’ recreational, economic, and fish and wildlife values.

Sportsmen and sportswomen also commended federal agencies’ reinterpretation of the legal “m-opinion” that underpinned several previous agency decisions to allow for sulfide-ore copper mining permits and leases to be granted within the watershed. Thousands of members of organized hunting, fishing, and conservation groups support this decision, which is an important step in the effort to permanently protect the Boundary Waters watershed from the negative impacts of hardrock mining.

Over 250,000 people recently commented in a federally led process to set aside the over 225,000 acres in the Superior National Forest from destructive hardrock mining, with the public input overwhelmingly in favor of the area’s long-term conservation. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is America’s most-visited wilderness area, which supports a regional economy highly dependent on access to public lands.

“Today’s announcement by the Biden administration is the right decision for the Boundary Waters and for the outdoor community that has worked so hard to protect it for future generations,” says Lukas Leaf, executive director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. “Spending time outdoors is what rejuvenates and energizes us. The importance of preserving places like the Boundary Waters that provide that experience is immeasurable. We appreciate these steps taken by federal land management agencies that lay out the correct process by which we can protect our priceless public lands and waters. Now we must build on this momentum and achieve permanent protection for the BWCA.”

“We applaud the administration’s decision to cancel the hardrock mineral leases upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Superior National Forest was originally set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt to conserve this remarkable landscape, and today’s announcement renews the opportunity to permanently safeguard the Boundary Waters as a renowned canoeing, fishing, and hunting destination.”

Downstream of the mining leases are sensitive populations of native lake trout that are significant not only to anglers, but also as part of Minnesota’s natural heritage, says John Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited. “Today’s decision is an important step to help ensure that populations of these unique fish remain healthy long into the future,” he says.

Local hunters and anglers have been vocal in their opposition to the leases for years. “We have worked hard to press decision-makers to ensure we keep these waters clean and safe,” says Matt Lee, chair of Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “I would like to thank all of our members—who have reached out to the last three administrations—with the goal of ensuring that these lands and waters are protected for future generations. We look forward to our continued work with the administration and congressional leaders to implement permanent conservation measures for the Boundary Waters.”

Other leaders in the hunting and angling community also reacted positively to the announcement:

“With memories of my family’s trip to the Boundary Waters this summer still fresh in my mind, I had the great pleasure of telling my kids today that an imminent threat no longer exists,” says BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “We join a thunderous applause in thanking the administration for rescinding the leases that never should have been issued in the first place – and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to assure the long-term protection of the Boundary Waters watershed.”

“The reasons to safeguard the magnificent Boundary Waters, America’s most popular wilderness area, are as crystal clear as the pristine waters of the Rainy River Watershed,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The Boundary Waters are a natural treasure that is simply too important to risk – and the costs for people and wildlife too steep. The Biden administration’s decision will safeguard essential habitat for hundreds of wildlife species and protect thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of economic benefits that depend upon the Boundary Waters’ world-class camping, hiking, paddling, fishing, and hunting.”

Securing permanent protections for the Boundary Waters was on TRCP’s list of top priorities for the Biden Administration. Learn more about this issue on our blog.

Top photo courtesy of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

4 Responses to “Interior Cancels Hardrock Mining Leases in the Boundary Waters”

  1. The Boundary Waters and adjacent region is so beautiful! It one of the few areas with its unique biodiversity left in the U.S. It brings in people from all over creating an economic boom relative to tourism. At least FOR NOW, its good to know we will keep this amazing place as is.

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Ian Nakayama

January 26, 2022

$1.1 Billion in Infrastructure Funding Will Go to Everglades Restoration

Historic investment in the Everglades will help boost habitat for sportfish and waterfowl 

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has announced that they will allocate almost $1.1 billion in funding for Everglades restoration work. This is the largest single investment in the Everglades throughout its history and will help preserve and restore essential habitat for sportfish and waterfowl in South Florida, with impacts that will be felt throughout the southeastern United States.

This funding will allow work on major projects to improve the quality, timing, and distribution of freshwater flows to the Everglades. The marsh system historically depended on consistent freshwater flows to maintain wetland vegetation and produce a ridge-and-slough topography, where bands of ephemeral wetlands cut across open water. But this important natural infrastructure and unique habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife was damaged over years of development.

In the 19th century, the ridge and slough pattern ran from just south of Lake Okeechobee all the way to the coast. Throughout the 20th century, however, water quality and flow in south Florida declined due to flood control projects that cut the northern Everglades off from the central and southern Everglades, canals and levees that divided the central everglades, and harmful runoff from agricultural and residential areas. Levees built throughout the Everglades ecosystem in the mid-20th century degraded over 5,000 square miles of marsh and watershed. This has led to seagrass die-offs and toxic algal blooms that have harmed sportfish, marine mammals, and waterfowl.

To revive freshwater flows and their related benefits, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which directs the Army Corps—in partnership with state government—to “restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection.”

The CERP has made significant progress since its implementation. Multiple projects have been completed, including the Kissimmee River Restoration Project, which returned the river to its natural meandering state, restoring 44 miles of river flow and 40 square miles of floodplains.

The nearly $1.1 billion allocated by the Army Corps will go toward completing other projects like this in the Everglades. This funding was provided by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and shows just some of the impact that this important legislation will have on conservation throughout America.

Investments in Everglades restoration have a large impact on the economy: Every dollar invested generates four dollars in economic growth, and a fully funded CERP will create more than 440,000 jobs over the next 50 years.

Important restoration work remains in South Florida, including the construction of a reservoir that would store and purify water south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce harmful lake discharges into the Everglades. The TRCP is advocating for this project and others like it during the annual congressional appropriations process.

You can help, too. Take action and urge your lawmakers to support full funding for Everglades restoration projects. There is momentum building with the Army Corps’ investment, but we can’t stop there.

Take Action

Top photo courtesy of B. Call / Everglades National Park via Flickr.

Kristyn Brady

January 19, 2022

House Committee Advances the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Learn why this important conservation funding bill—one of our top ten priorities for the year—has strong bipartisan support in Congress

As conservation’s share of the federal budget has been cut roughly in half over the past 30 years, it has become increasingly important to invest those dollars in efforts that get the best return, with layered benefits for fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation, our economy, and the safety of our communities. Consequently, history has shown that conservation is more successful and less costly when the focus is on preventing species and habitat decline versus restoring far-gone populations or replacing lost habitat.

This is why pushing for passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is one of the TRCP’s top ten legislative priorities this year. The bill would amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to provide an additional $1.4 billion per year—$1.3 billion for state agencies and $97.5 million for tribes—in dedicated funding to restore habitat, recover wildlife populations, and rebuild the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities.

This new funding would go toward implementing state wildlife action plans, which identify at-risk species that would benefit most from “an ounce of prevention,” as the saying goes. And the legislation has strong bipartisan support in both chambers, with 32 co-sponsors in the Senate—evenly divided between parties and led by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)—and 145 co-sponsors in the House—led by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.)

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee debated and voted to advance the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 2773), bringing us one step closer to securing a solution that has been championed by the hunting and fishing community since 2016.

It’s easy to see why. RAWA would not only supplement much-needed conservation investments across the country, but it would also create as many as 33,500 jobs annually and generate an estimated $3.36 billion in economic activity on the ground.

RAWA has had momentum before, but the timing couldn’t be better for lawmakers who are up for re-election to bring a big win home for fish, wildlife, and habitat in a way that benefits not only sportsmen and sportswomen but Americans from all walks of life. The legislation would save taxpayers money and many habitat projects could improve natural infrastructure that prevents damage from extreme weather and other emergencies, like catastrophic wildfire.

We applaud members of the House Natural Resources Committee for this first step today and urge lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill to take up and pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act without delay. It would be a defining victory for wildlife, habitat, outdoor recreation, and our economy.

Click here to learn more about the major sources of conservation funding in the U.S.

 

Top photo by Tom Koerner / USFWS via Flickr.

Guest Author Rena Ann Peck

January 18, 2022

Pending Mine Proposal Threatens Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp

Why the upcoming decision impacting this Southeast Georgia outdoor recreation haven is important to hunters and anglers

EDITOR’S NOTE: Go ahead and put Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp on the same shortlist with Alaska’s Bristol Bay, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, and Nevada’s Ruby Mountains—areas that provide unmatched fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities that spur the local economy but have been at risk from development interests. Here’s what you need to know about a pending mine proposal that could degrade this unique habitat and who is standing up for it.

The Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure and angler’s paradise. Among the most visited national wildlife refuges in the country, the Okefenokee is an outdoor recreation engine, hosting some 600,000 visitors annually who help to create more than 750 local jobs and a total annual economic output of $64.7 million in the region.

Covering 680 square miles, the swamp itself is the mysterious domain of black bears and American alligators. But like many untouched habitats, it isn’t easy to get to. Most people like it that way—access to the largest blackwater swamp in North America requires a canoe or john boat and the gutsy spirit of a swamper.

The Okefenokee Wilderness Canoe Trail is visited by those seeking a truly secluded and isolated wilderness experience. The area is so expansive that even if you fished all 120 miles of the refuge’s designated water trails, you would still only have seen 2 percent of its vast beauty. Currently, there are three hunting units in the refuge, which supports abundant game that travel well beyond its borders. It’s an important sportfish nursery, a winter stopover for migratory waterfowl, and one of only three places in Georgia that supports a black bear population. The endless miles of wilderness and massive wetlands deliver clean water downstream, while the swamp is also one of North America’s largest freshwater carbon sinks.

But right now, the Okefenokee’s future hangs in the balance. In the coming months, the state of Georgia will decide whether Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, will be given permission to dig 50-foot-deep pits into the very ridge near the swamp that acts as a geological dam, maintaining water levels in the swamp and feeding the St. Marys and Suwannee rivers. Excavation would extend below the water table, and the company also wants to pump up to 1.44 million gallons of water daily from the swamp’s aquifer.

Sportsmen and sportswomen should not allow this to happen.

Joe Cook/Georgia River Network
What’s At Stake in South Georgia

Scientists, including experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Georgia, recognize the hydrologic link and have warned that as groundwater is lowered by mining operations, so goes the water level in the swamp. At only 1.5 to 3 feet deep, there is not much wiggle room for water loss that could make access to the swamp impossible as the canoe trails dry up.

Lowering of the water table would also dry up the saturated peat that helps to store carbon and combat climate change. Even worse, lower water levels can induce drought conditions, and as the ecosystem changes from boggy and wet to parched, the peat fuels can easily catch fire and release a CO2 equivalent that would worsen climate effects.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has written that “should impacts occur, they may not be able to be reversed, repaired, or mitigated for,” as destruction of the peat that took thousands of years to accumulate would destroy the swamp.

And the impacts to clean water would be immediate. The proposed mining site includes some 300 acres of wetlands that help ensure the delivery of clean water to the St. Marys River, a sinuous, blackwater beauty that has its origins within the Okefenokee Swamp and harbors endangered species like the Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. These wetlands are likely to be destroyed.

Georgia Can Stop This Mine

Twin Pines has their mining equipment ready at the doorstep of the Okefenokee Swamp. If they are granted permission, the effects of the mine could be devastating and irreversible—all to retrieve titanium dioxide, a common, widely available mineral that can be found elsewhere. The uncommon Okefenokee, perhaps the wildest place in Georgia, is found nowhere else on Earth.

Visit garivers.org to learn more about the pending mine proposal and how you can stand up for the habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities in the Okefenokee.

 

Rena Ann Peck is executive director of Georgia River Network, advocating for water trails and science-based conservation to protect special places like the iconic Okefenokee Wilderness.

Photos courtesy of Joe Cook/Georgia River Network.

 

January 13, 2022

TRCP’s Top 10 Conservation Priorities for 2022

The legislative and policy solutions we’re pursuing to improve habitat and your hunting and fishing opportunities

Following a 2021 that was a rollercoaster in so many ways, the year ahead provides hunters, anglers, and the conservation community with significant opportunity. Lawmakers deep in re-election cycles know that habitat, access, and conservation funding issues are things that most Americans can agree on and are eager to bring home legislative wins to their voters.

Working alongside our partners, here’s what we want to get done this year.

Infrastructure Implementation

Passed in late 2021, the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides significant federal investment in programs benefiting fish and wildlife on public and private lands, including a first-of-its-kind five-year wildlife crossings grant program. The TRCP will closely follow the implementation of this and other programs to ensure that dollars are both benefiting fish and wildlife and enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities.

 

Building Climate Resilience

Efforts to address our changing climate continue to become less polarizing in Congress. There is significant interest among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in prioritizing carbon sequestration and nature-based solutions that mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events on vulnerable rural communities. Whether in the proposed Build Back Better package, other potential climate legislation, or the 2023 Farm Bill, the conservation community will have an active voice in the discussion.

 

Passage of the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act

Led by Representatives Kind of Wisconsin and Thompson of Pennsylvania, this comprehensive legislation would provide state wildlife and agriculture agencies with much needed resources for CWD management and suppression. The bill would also create a CWD research grant program to study the spread of the disease and direct the USDA to collect public feedback on ways to improve oversight of the captive deer industry. The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives in late 2021 and awaits introduction in the Senate.

 

Protection of Bristol Bay in Statute

In late 2021, the Biden Administration once again halted the proposed Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. While this was welcome news, more work is needed to federally protect the world’s most prolific sockeye salmon fishery in statute. The TRCP is working with lawmakers and state and national partners in developing legislation to do just that.

 

Passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

RAWA would provide state wildlife agencies with nearly $1.4 billion annually to implement state wildlife action plans, allowing for more proactive conservation of wildlife and associated habitat to avoid potential endangered species listings. Introduced by Representative Dingell of Michigan and Senator Heinrich of New Mexico, the legislation has bipartisan support in both chambers and would be a generational investment in wildlife conservation.

 

Passage of the Modernizing Access to Public Land Act

The MAPLand Act, championed by Senator Risch of Idaho and Representative Moore of Utah, would require that maps and easement records held by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are digitized and publicized for the benefit of all Americans. Doing so would bring recordkeeping into the 21st century and provide hunters and anglers with much greater certainty in planning outings on our public lands.

 

Introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act

In the last half-century, the intense conversion of grasslands has precipitated a steep decline in associated bird populations. The TRCP and several partners have worked for the past year on developing an innovative grant program for grass and rangeland conservation that works with ranchers and landowners to improve ecosystem health and ensure that their acreage remains productive and healthy habitat for years to come. Our groups have worked closely with Senator Wyden in developing the legislation and are looking forward to bringing the bill before the House and Senate.

 

Improving the State of Gulf Menhaden

Largescale industrial menhaden fishing in the Gulf accounts for more than one billion pounds of this forage fish harvested each year, making it Louisiana’s largest fishery. Pogie boats often operate near shore, netting thousands of other fish species, including red drum and speckled trout. Anglers have fought to restrict these operations in the surf zone but continue to face opposition from menhaden processors citing economic impacts. In 2022, the TRCP will continue to work with partners and scientists who study the bycatch of such operations and pursue legislation to further reduce the impact of the industrial menhaden fishery on sportfish in the Gulf, with a particular focus on protecting beaches and other shallow-water habitat.

 

Using the Power of Habitat to Boost Water Resources

Western watersheds, such as the Colorado River and Rio Grande, face increasing pressure from wildfire and drought. Natural infrastructure approaches—such as the protection and restoration of headwater wetlands and riparian areas—have been shown to effectively reduce natural hazard risks while benefiting water users and watersheds. In 2022, TRCP is working to prioritize the implementation of natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions to address Western water challenges in various federal and state policy initiatives, with a focus on the 2023 Farm Bill and this year’s Water Resources Development Act. We’ll also be pushing for the latter legislation to improve Everglades restoration funding and build on the successful construction of projects to help restore natural waterflows.

 

Conserving Migration Corridors

Beyond the wildlife crossing pilot program included in recently passed legislation, additional solutions are needed to conserve big game migration corridors across the country. The TRCP and partner groups are continuing to work with state and federal land managers to increase investments in research and corridor mapping, improve interagency coordination, and conserve corridors on public land.

 

For more information, and to take action in support of these critical conservation priorities in the year ahead, visit the TRCP Action Center.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.

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