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Hunters and anglers often engage in conservation through our words and actions, speaking up for sound policies and volunteering to plant native grasses, pick up trash, or band birds. But we also contribute financially to conservation through excise taxes on our hunting, shooting, and fishing equipment, including ammo and boat fuel.
This funding is sorely needed by state agencies that carry out habitat conservation and upkeep of outdoor recreation access points and facilities—and, fortunately, there’s quite a bit more of it this year. It was announced late last week that sportsmen and sportswomen generated a record-breaking $1.5 billion in conservation dollars for the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.
You might know this funding source as the combined result of the Pittman-Robertson Act, or Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which created an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment in 1937, and the Dingell-Johnson Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, which created a similar tax on fishing tackle, boat equipment, and boat fuel in 1950.
The hunting and shooting side of our community brought in over $1.1 billion for conservation in the past year, while the fishing and boating side generated almost $400 million. Together, this shatters the previous high mark of $808 million distributed for conservation in 2015.
The Associated Press reports that Texas will receive the largest pot of funding ($71 million) followed by Alaska ($66 million) based on land and water area and the number of hunting and fishing license holders in the state. A state-by-state listing of how the funding will be spent can be found here.
To date, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has distributed more than $25.5 billion in Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program apportionments for state conservation and recreation projects, according to a Department of the Interior press release. The recipient state wildlife agencies have matched these funds with approximately $8.5 billion, primarily from hunting and fishing license revenues.
In the final days of 2019, Congress passed a package of its annual appropriations bills that implemented an important change to the Pittman-Robertson Act: Hunting and shooting equipment excise taxes can now be used to help recruit, retain, and reactivate new hunters and recreational shooters, a provision that was made in Dingell-Johnson and that successfully helped to grow the ranks of fishing participation in recent years.
The TRCP and our partners pushed for this change and, at the time of the bill’s passage, we called it “a landmark achievement” for the 116th Congress.
Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson are just two of the cornerstone sources of conservation funding in America, but we rely on many other federal investments in our lands and waters. Click here for a refresher on where your conservation dollars come from.
Top photo by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation via flickr
In 1994, John Annoni started out as a schoolteacher with a simple goal: To introduce a new generation of youth to America’s outdoor heritage through after-school activities. That effort has now turned into a life-changing year-round experience known as Camp Compass, where volunteer mentors make a difference in the inner city by sharing their knowledge of hunting, fishing, archery, and other outdoor activities, while providing tutoring assistance and much-needed social guidance for students aged 10 to 18. This award-winning non-profit program gives young people the exposure to outdoor activities that Annoni discovered as a child only with the help of books, relatives, neighbors, and his limited resources. We are inspired by his commitment to empowering others through these experiences, and we’re proud to share his words with you.
Here is his story.
They say if you don’t get love in one place, you’ll find it in another. I’m grateful that Mother Nature embraced me.
I was introduced to the outdoors while I was trying to avoid abuse in my home in the housing projects of Allentown, Pa. I have a chapter in one of my books about seeing a pheasant in the local junkyard, while I was hunting starlings and rats. It was quite a time in my life for joy and pain.
My grandmother got me scholarships to summer camp—big shout out to Camp Horseshoe!—where I fished and learned about firearms. I also had a few uncles who showed their love by spending time with me in the outdoors, and that helped me grow in my teen years.
These days, my dream hunt would be west of the Mississippi River, because in 33 years of teaching I have never had a week off during the fall mule deer, antelope, elk, or duck seasons to head out West. I’m not allowed by contract to have more than two days off back-to-back, so by the time I could get there, I’d have to turn around and come back. I just hope that one day I can make the trip, be around good people, and chase critters with time on my side.
I’m what could be considered a non-traditional hunter and fisherman, because I wasn’t brought in by my immediate family, so I guess my viewpoint on conservation is a bit non-traditional as well. To me, the most important “critters” we can help are America’s youth, because they will affect wildlife with their future decisions and actions. There is an opportunity to use conservation activities to empower youth, and even adults, and give them the tools needed to navigate life’s challenges. For me, conservation is a battery; it powers the outdoor experiences that help to grow others.
In some circles, the biggest conservation challenge is about animals and flora. In my case, and in a lot of places across America, the human is the one trying and needing to be saved. If you are getting shot at, or getting things taken, or you don’t have the chance for experiential learning, your chances for a decent quality of life are diminished. Conservation is so separate from the daily grind of the concrete world, until it is introduced and used as a support mechanism or an escape.
There are all kinds of people who hunt and fish. We are selling ourselves short if we don’t recognize that. The opportunities available in the outdoors, in fact, are just as diverse, but the space is not very inclusive. And that’s what I’m trying to change seven days a week. Using a bunch of equity, diversity and inclusion words or workshops to make us think we should care, or that we are making progress, pales in comparison to real proof that we all want to be together in a common space for a common reason.
It’s important for me to be involved in conservation because I believe in what conservation has to offer those who participate in it, what it does for wildlife, and how it molds us as humans.
Many of TRCP’s members hunt, fish, camp, and enjoy Pennsylvania’s abundant natural resources every year, and we want future generations to have these opportunities, as well. But there are changes occurring in the waters we wade and forests and fields we scout. Agricultural runoff and abandoned mines pollute nearly 30 percent—more than 25,000 miles—of our rivers and streams and degrade hundreds of thousands of acres of land, robbing sportsmen and sportswomen of access to quality places to hunt and fish.
To support habitat and access while boosting our economy, Governor Wolf and the General Assembly should provide adequate funding for a Growing Greener III program—which has a long track record of proven success in conserving the state’s fish and wildlife habitat—and a Clean Streams Fund using resources already granted to the state as part of national economic recovery efforts.
That is why TRCP was so pleased to see Wolf’s announcement last week about a plan to prioritize federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for conservation, recreation, and preservation. This announcement, along with accompanying legislation in each chamber of the General Assembly, would provide the funding needed to create jobs while conserving natural resources that increase our quality of life.
Specifically, S.B. 832 and H.B. 1901 would create a funding source known as the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program to help farmers implement conservation practices that keep valuable topsoil in place and reduce potentially harmful material from reaching local waterways. Polluted runoff is not just an issue for anglers seeking clean water and abundant fisheries. Restoring the health of agricultural land to reduce runoff will boost farm businesses and provide meadow and woodlot habitats for just about all the game species we pursue—from ducks to whitetail deer.
We’ve already seen increased hunting opportunities and more abundant wildlife after completion of just a portion of the state’s plan to send fewer nutrients downstream to the Chesapeake Bay by 2025, also known as Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan. It includes several new initiatives and accelerated strategies that will benefit anglers, hunters, and anyone who enjoys the outdoors or cares about clean water. The governor’s plan, combined with the legislation discussed above, would hasten these efforts to restore Pennsylvania’s impaired waters across the Commonwealth.
S.B. 832 and H.B. 1901 would go a long way toward helping us conserve Pennsylvania’s water resources and expand access to outdoor recreation, while shoring up the health of vital industries like tourism and agriculture. If you value our state’s coldwater fisheries, big game and bird habitat, and widespread public access to outdoor recreation that supports local jobs, do NOT wait. Act now and urge decision-makers to support S.B. 832 and H.B. 1901 today.
Top photo courtesy of Joanna Gilkeson / USFWS via Flickr.
Veteran Lafitte speckled trout and redfish guide Maurice d’Aquin took a break from cutting sheetrock and clearing debris from his house in early August 2021 to have a look at what Hurricane Ida had done to some of his favorite fishing spots.
What he found stunned and upset him almost as much as the three feet of mud left by Ida he was trying to shovel and till in his yard.
“I went to a shoreline on the west end of Little Lake, a spot where I had caught nice redfish all spring and summer and it was completely gone,” d’Aquin said. “I went to the exact mark on my GPS where I was casting to redfish along a shoreline and had to go across about 700 yards of open water before my trolling motor even touched mud.”
What d’Aquin has found by boat across the upper reaches of Barataria Bay, especially on the western and northern stretches of Little Lake, has been confirmed with both aerial surveys by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and satellite images gathered by the United States Geological Survey. Hurricane Ida’s 150 mile per hour-plus winds scoured and decimated Louisiana’s coastal marshes in ways not seen since Hurricane Katrina removed an estimated 200 square miles in 2005.
The Extent of the Damage
Early indications are 106 square miles of marshes washed away or were displaced by Ida’s savage winds and 10-foot storm surge. The destruction spreads across areas of Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parish east of the Mississippi River all the way west through Terrebonne Parish.
The Barataria Basin bore the brunt of Ida’s fury. Marshes west and south of Empire in lower Plaquemines and Jefferson Parish that never recovered from Katrina were decimated again by Ida, taking what little was left in areas closer to the Gulf of Mexico and damaging recently restored barrier islands. It’s the extensive damage in the northern reaches of the Barataria system, however, that has coastal wetlands experts and fisheries biologists most concerned.
“The whole Barataria Basin is only about 700 square miles, so to lose about 100 of those in one event like Hurricane Ida is significant and stunning,” said Brian Lezina, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s Chief of Planning. “There’s a chance some of it will come back. The marsh can heal itself in time if the resources are there and vegetation regrows. But we won’t know how much will recover for a few years.”
Lezina said much of the marsh damage was in areas where organic materials and lighter silt make up the soils. Some of it was flotant, which is marsh that roots in decaying vegetation floating above the organic soils beneath. Ida scattered the uprooted marshes and light, organic mud, filling in nearby canals and fouling Lake Salvador and Cataouatche and shoving mud and grass into and under houses from upper Plaquemines Parish west into Jefferson and Lafourche. Organic soil marshes and flotant are much more susceptible to wave action and erosion than marshes east of the Mississippi River and those closer to the mouth of the Atchafalaya River, which receive annual sediment deposits of heavier clays and sand. They also lack the ability to repair themselves in the same way as areas that get sediment replenished annually by the rivers.
Resources to repair the marsh are often hard to come by in areas far removed from the river and the sediments it carries. Lezina said the CPRA and federal partners are evaluating the best options to try to repair some of the damage. He’s optimistic some regeneration will occur through a combination of natural processes and dredging projects.
“You have the Davis Pond Diversion nearby and the Intracoastal Canal that both can carry some water and sediment into the badly-damaged areas,” he said. “The sediments are being reworked all the time by waves and current. If the submerged vegetation grows back in shallow areas, it can help capture some of that sediment. And we’re looking closely at what resources can be directed into the area to help recapture some of the sediment.”
A Fishery Transformed
Chris Schieble, a marine fisheries biologist with Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said the exact long-term effects of the dramatic marsh losses from Ida on fisheries production are hard to predict. However, as more organic soils and marsh “edge” are lost to storms, daily wave action and sinking of the land below the water line called “subsidence” that is eating away at the Barataria and other basins across Louisiana, fisheries production is certain to decline.
“It’s the organic materials and rotting vegetation called detritus that feeds the food chain in areas that don’t get a lot of sediment and freshwater input from the Mississippi River,” Schieble said. “Areas where the fresh and saltwater mix more east of the river and near the Atchafalaya River, the food chain starts with phytoplankton. But in organic soils, the ones that look like coffee grounds, it’s the nutrient leeching out of the soil that makes up the base, feeds the forage fish, and ultimately the predators like speckled trout and redfish.”
In the short term, marsh loss from storms can cause an increase in fisheries production and lead to more catches of speckled trout and redfish as fish orient to newly created and exposed edge habitats, shallow flats and washouts where tidal flows concentrate baitfish.
D’Aquin said he’s seen that firsthand in areas damaged by Ida.
“The storm opened up some new cuts along the shoreline in Lake Salvador where water is flowing in from the Intracoastal Waterway,” he said. “We caught a lot of redfish in the early fall in those washouts.”
In the long-term, however, the profound loss of marsh and organic materials will inevitably lead to a decline in fisheries production as nutrient levels drop and vital nursery grounds for juvenile shrimp, crabs, mullet, and other forage is lost. Lezina and Schieble both said the Barataria Basin and other areas hardest hit by wetland loss over the last century will reach a tipping point where the benefits of new edge habitat created by storms will be outweighed by the habitat and nutrient loss and the conversion to open water.
“We may already be at that tipping point in the Barataria Basin,” Schieble said. “If you look at the time of year when Ida hit, it’s a time where we would be seeing redfish larvae recruit into the marsh and white shrimp developing in those marshes. The redfish might have been displaced or not recruited into that marsh at all. Ida’s path and destruction couldn’t have been worse for our recreational and commercial fisheries. Productivity and access have taken a big hit.”
Anglers Adapt, Look to the Future
The extreme changes in habitat have also altered where anglers and guides have had to focus their efforts since the storm. Many guides and recreational fishermen have also noted a change in the size and number of fish they’ve been catching.
Captain Joe DiMarco has been fishing east and west of the Mississippi River out of Buras for more than three decades. He said the habitat loss and the fishing on the east side of the river is far different than what he’s seeing west of the river after Ida.
“The east side didn’t take nearly the beating we are seeing to the west where a lot of the smaller cane islands and humps where we caught trout last year are now gone,” DiMarco said. “We see some damage on the east side on the edge of Black Bay, but nothing like on the west. The storm seems to have pushed in a lot of big redfish too. Seems like we are catching many more 27- to 35-inch redfish way up in the marsh than we are 16- to 27-inch fish.”
D’Aquin said he’s having to relearn to fish his home waters around Lafitte in the same way he did after Katrina 16 years ago.
“Canals where we caught speckled trout during the winter are almost completely filled in and islands and peninsulas where we were catching trout and reds in the past are gone,” he said. “Just like after Katrina, we are seeing fish that are stressed and we are having to make adjustments. The fish and the marsh suffered just like the communities hit by the storm. But just like the communities are coming back slowly so are the fish. Each day gets a little bit better.”
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