51 Outdoor Groups Push for Strategic Use of Infrastructure Funding
Broad coalition offers six recommendations for successful implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
Today, 51 hunting, fishing, conservation, landowner, and business organizations representing the $689-billion outdoor recreation economy and millions of Americans wrote to the Biden-Harris Administration with several key recommendations for implementation of the landmark Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Enacted into law on November 15, 2021, the $1.2-trillion IIJA provides a critical infusion of resources to advance infrastructure solutions that recognize the value of natural systems and enhance climate resilience, while connecting Americans to their public lands and waters. Our community worked with Congress to secure critical funding in the IIJA package to advance wildlife crossings, ensure aquatic connectivity and fish passage, implement natural infrastructure solutions, prioritize clean water, and restore habitat across the country.
As the administration moves forward with IIJA implementation, our community is making recommendations to the Biden-Harris Administration in several key areas:
Building on existing partnerships
Prioritizing durable conservation and outdoor recreation at the landscape- and watershed-scale
Addressing capacity needs and other barriers
Waiving match requirements
Improving the NEPA process to get projects on the ground quickly
Developing a national IIJA project dashboard and geospatial tool to track and monitor implementation
We believe these recommendations will help to ensure this critical federal funding advances conservation and recreation at scale and results in lasting, durable solutions to address the most pressing infrastructure challenges facing our nation.
“The commitment that Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration made to our nation’s land, water, and wildlife through enactment of the bipartisan infrastructure package was a major victory, but how we put these critical investments on the ground matters just as much,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our coalition includes organizations that do significant work to implement projects on-the-ground, and our partnerships can provide a lot of value to agencies that are rolling out these infrastructure dollars.”
“The states welcome the opportunity to collaborate with our federal partners on implementing the landmark Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA),” says Tony Wasley, director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “This infusion of federal funding will help us to strategically build upon existing fish and wildlife conservation efforts and expand outdoor recreational opportunities for all to enjoy.”
The letter is cosigned by the American Sportfishing Association, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Boone and Crockett Club, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Mule Deer Foundation, Outdoor Industry Association, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, The Nature Conservancy, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trout Unlimited, Wild Salmon Center, Wildlife Mississippi, and 36 other partner organizations. Read the full letter here.
Letter recipients include the Secretaries of Interior, Transportation, Agriculture, and Commerce; Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; and senior leadership at federal natural resource management agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Federal Highway Administration, and the Bureau of Reclamation.
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.”
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.”
$1.1 Billion in Infrastructure Funding Will Go to Everglades Restoration
Historic investment in the Everglades will help boosthabitat 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.
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.
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.
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
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
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.