February 18, 2022

Collaborative Conservation Restores a River Delta

How one national wildlife refuge created invaluable opportunities for hunters and anglers in the Pacific Northwest

Easily accessible from Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia, the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state draws more than 200,000 visitors each year, including about 10,000 students. Its proximity to one of the Northwest’s largest urban hubs allows the refuge to provide abundant wildlife viewing opportunities to a wide range of people.

Among them each year are hundreds of sportsmen and sportswomen who come to the refuge to hunt geese, duck, and scaup during the fall and winter hunting seasons. In 2019, the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was among the 77 refuges and 15 hatcheries within the system wherein the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expanded hunting and fishing opportunities in what was—at that point—the single-largest increase of its kind in the refuge system’s history, adding 1.4 million acres of expanded access.

In many ways, the refuge demonstrates the importance of hunting to the National Wildlife Refuge System, the critical role that refuges play in offering public access to people from all walks of life, and the power of collaborative conservation work between a variety of stakeholders to benefit fish and wildlife.

Credit: Puget Sound Partnership
Establishing the Refuge

The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge encompasses more than 4,500 acres around the delta of the Nisqually River, where glacial meltwater from the slopes of Mount Rainier flows into the southern end of Puget Sound. In this estuarine environment, saltwater and freshwater marshes, grasslands, mudflats, and forests provide habitat for salmon species and forage fish; waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and shorebirds; and mammals like beavers, coyotes, deer, otters, and minks.

The Nisqually River Delta’s ability to support robust fish and wildlife populations was not always certain. In 1914, prior to the refuge’s establishment, a Seattle attorney named Alson Brown purchased more than 2,000 acres of land in the area and built a long dike to transform the estuary into farmable fields. Later, from the 1940s through the 1960s, the Ports of Tacoma and Olympia proposed dredging the site for a new, deep-water port to accommodate the larger and heavier ships developed for maritime trade.

Events during the 1970s resulted in a different future for the Nisqually River Delta. In 1974, the persistent efforts of the Nisqually Indian Tribe, the state of Washington, landowners, and local environmental advocates led the Department of the Interior to purchase 1,295 acres of the delta for the purpose of establishing a national wildlife refuge. That same year, a federal district court ruled in the case of United States v. Washington: what is now known as the Boldt Decision reaffirmed the treaty rights of Washington tribes and established tribes as co-managers of salmon and other fisheries with the state. Now, as co-managers, the Nisqually Indian Tribe started to look closely at the Nisqually watershed and the salmon habitat in the river.

In 1996, the Nisqually River flood overran Alson Brown’s old dikes, inundating some areas of the refuge. In turn, the refuge sought funding to assess the feasibility of removing the dikes and restoring the delta. The dikes ran in a loop that served as a hard border around the outer parts of the refuge, inhibiting both the natural meandering of McAllister Creek and the Nisqually River as well as the exchange of water between the creek, the river, and Puget Sound. The removal of these impediments and the completions of some additional landscape modifications would reconnect historic floodplains and open up prime habitat for salmon, waterfowl, and other wildlife.

Credit: USFWS Pacific via Flickr
Restoring the Delta

In 2007, a group of partners that included the Nisqually Indian Tribe, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Ducks Unlimited launched the Nisqually estuary restoration project, the largest estuarine habitat restoration project in the Pacific Northwest.

The project secured public and private funds, including more than $1.8 million from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund—co-administered by the Puget Sound Partnership and the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office—pooled together by different watershed groups that contributed to the project; federal salmon project funding; and private funding raised by Ducks Unlimited.

Over the course of two years, from 2008 to 2010, the Nisqually estuary restoration project removed six miles of dikes and roads to restore more than 750 acres. Afterwards, aerial photos showed a thousand branching channels and sloughs running through the tidal marsh across the refuge, providing important habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, as well as a variety of other fish and wildlife.

The expansion of the tidal marshland also affected the number and type of birds that visited or inhabited the refuge, and the composition of waterfowl at the refuge has changed—there are more wigeon and estuarine waterfowl now than before. This development, in addition to the post-restoration decision to allow hunting on refuge lands adjacent to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hunting areas, has created a large stretch of accessible and productive hunting land at the refuge.

Caption: Comparison of Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge from before the estuary restoration (1997) and after the restoration (2009). 1997 aerial photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2009 aerial photo by U.S. Geological Survey.
Opportunity for All

Prior to the 2019-2020 hunting season, the refuge expanded the area where hunting is permitted, opening more than 1,100 acres of waters and tideland for waterfowl hunting. The refuge is open to hunting for more than 100 days per season, stretching from mid-October to the beginning of February.

Cody Raffensberger and Tyler Klump, two hunters who came out to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge on the opening day of the 2021 waterfowl season, said hunting at the refuge appeals to them for different reasons. Raffensberger, who has hunted at Nisqually 15 times over the last three years, said he appreciates the accessibility of the refuge and the convenience of the boat launch at Luhr’s Landing. “There’s a good number of birds here, and the population stays year-round,” Raffensberger said.

It was Klump’s first time hunting at Nisqually, and he said he enjoyed the experience. “The places I normally go, they’re a lot more compact, with pre-built lines and things like that, and usually a lot more crowded,” he said. “Here, you can kind of get out on your own and check out better areas. This was the best day of duck hunting I’ve had.”

Greg Sullivan, another hunter who came out to Nisqually on the opening day of the 2021 waterfowl season, explained that he likes the hunting at the refuge because it offers more than just mallards, snow geese, and teal ducks. “I love that, no matter what, every time I come here, I’m going to see something interesting even if it’s not something that I’m going to hunt,” he said. “For example, there’s a group of at least six eagles in this area that’s always really cool to see. There’s a lot of marine wildlife and a good variety of waterfowl—that’s all interesting.”

These types of experiences and observations reveal some of the unique values of the refuge system, which provides all Americans with quality experiences in the field and on the water, conserves biodiversity, and sustains habitat connectivity for fish and wildlife. Looking ahead to the future of the system, sportsmen and sportswomen can point to the establishment and restoration of the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually River Wildlife Refuge as an example of a collaborative, locally supported effort where hunters and anglers came together with other stakeholders in what can only be described as a conservation success story.


Kevin Hyde is the communications specialist for the Puget Sound Partnership, the Washington state agency that leads the region’s collective effort to restore and protect Puget Sound. He enjoys hiking and camping throughout the Pacific Northwest.


Top photo: USFWS Pacific via Flickr

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February 17, 2022

Six Ways to Help Farmers, Foresters, and Ranchers Combat Climate Change

We were proud to support a broad coalition effort to identify priority policies for improving private land habitat and capture more carbon

The TRCP has long been a vocal advocate for farmers, foresters, and ranchers who are strong partners in conservation. This commitment is most recently shown through our membership in the Bipartisan Policy Council Farm and Forest Carbon Solutions Task Force, a group of organizations working together to develop policy proposals that enhance climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices. We’re proud to support the resulting recommendations that recognize and incentivize actions by private landowners to invest in the productivity of their land, while delivering better wildlife habitat, more hunting and fishing access, greater resilience to the effects of climate change, and increased carbon stored in soils, forests, and wood products.

The task force recommendations cover a range of actions across six broad policy objectives. Here are some of the highlights.

Start With What’s Already Working

The task force recommended expanding existing Farm Bill programs that already deliver climate benefits and offer pathways to new market opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners. To do this, Congress should double funding for USDA conservation programs. Conservation practices have been proven to improve habitat while also storing and sequestering more carbon. The TRCP supports boosting funding to deliver increased carbon sequestration and soil health, rather than borrowing from existing funding that supports much-needed wildlife and water quality. Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs and take action in support of doubling investments in private land habitat.

Give Landowners More On-the-Ground Support

With new opportunities for landowners to implement natural climate solutions, there’s also a need to expand technical assistance to support them and address related workforce needs. The USDA should recruit private-sector partners to work with their Extension offices and provide training on climate-smart practices. Farmers, ranchers, and foresters can play a pivotal role in addressing climate change, but most don’t know how or where to start. When they do look for help, it’s usually within their own community or from trusted representatives, including agricultural retailers, cooperatives, seed and feed companies, other landowners, procurement foresters, and nonprofits. Many of the TRCP’s partners regularly serve in this capacity with existing networks and should be leveraged to expand access to and engagement with USDA programs.

At the same time, the administration should strengthen USDA’s data and technology capacity to allow farmers, foresters, ranchers, and other landowners to more easily estimate the impact of adopting climate-smart practices on their land. Providing clarity and supporting their decision-making would maximize the benefits—including better habitat—of natural climate solutions.

Strengthen Carbon Markets

The task force also recommends that Congress pass the Growing Climate Solutions Act and the Rural Forest Markets Act, which would reduce barriers to entry for voluntary carbon markets, improve market integrity, and create jobs. Together, these bills establish trusted and credible third-party verifiers and technical service providers and offer guaranteed federal loans to voluntarily manage land that generates carbon credits while improving habitat and air and water quality.

USDA should use the Commodity Credit Corporation, which provides U.S. producers with financial assistance, to support piloting of climate-smart practices. By lowering the transaction cost for landowners and leveraging carbon markets, this initiative can promote innovation and test new tools. Priority should be given to projects and practices that provide other co-benefits, such as improvement in habitat, access, or air and water quality.

Tie Conservation to More Successful Farming

To help overcome barriers to the broad adoption of natural climate solutions, the USDA should conduct a comprehensive study to compare the impacts of conservation practices on crop yields and insurance payouts under the Federal Crop Insurance Program from yield losses attributed to drought, flooding, and other extreme weather events. We believe the findings from this study would confirm that conservation practices reduce losses and offer co-benefits in terms of carbon sequestration and emission reductions. The study would also help underscore the need for an improved crop insurance program that incentivizes reducing climate risk.

Support Forest, Grassland, and Sagebrush Restoration

There is also a need to enhance resilience to wildfire, drought, insects, disease, and invasive species on a landscape scale through reforestation, but we’ll need a doubling of the current output from tree nurseries to meet the demand. The task force is asking Congress to pass legislation to modernize and expand public and private seed collections and tree nurseries to support the scale-up of natural climate solutions like reforestation.

Congress should also establish and fund the North American Grasslands Conservation Act, a major initiative for the TRCP that is modeled after the highly successful North American Wetlands Conservation Act. The new bill would provide landowners with voluntary, flexible economic incentives and opportunities to help improve and conserve grasslands and sagebrush habitat while promoting carbon storage and sequestration.

Reduce Costs and Challenges

Finally, we stand behind the task force’s recommendation that decision-makers should foster innovation in the agriculture and forestry sectors to make natural climate solutions cheaper and easier to implement and to address measurement and monitoring challenges. Congress should provide increased funding across USDA research programs to enhance collaboration with other federal agencies, universities, and the private sector and improve the development of new technologies for landowners interested in implementing nature-based solutions. This work would build on existing innovation programs and accelerate scaling of successful approaches.


If implemented, these recommendations would provide a multitude of benefits for wildlife habitat, clean water, and the outdoor recreation economy, while spurring investment in rural communities and empowering farmers, foresters, ranchers, and other landowners to contribute to climate resilience.

For more information about the climate-smart policies backed by the hunting and fishing community, check out ourlandwaterwildlife.org.


Top photo courtesy of USDA NRCS Montana via Flickr.

A Record $1.5 Billion is Going to Conservation—Thanks to YOU

A portion of your gear, firearm, license, and boat fuel purchases helped to generate more funding than ever for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to distribute for state work on conservation and outdoor recreation access

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

February 11, 2022

Support Bills to Boost Healthy Habitat and Cleaner Streams in Pennsylvania

H.B. 1901 and S.B. 832 would support conservation from the Keystone State to the Chesapeake Bay 

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.

Take Action

Top photo courtesy of Joanna Gilkeson / USFWS via Flickr.

Coming to Grips with the Impacts of Ida

Gulf coast anglers have a firsthand perspective on the habitat destruction caused by yet another massive storm 

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.”

This satellite image courtesy of the USGS shows the damage to the little lake area in the wake of Hurricane Ida

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.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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