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Randall Williams

March 17, 2022

New Report Highlights Big Game Movement in Western Montana

Offers conservation solutions to guide forthcoming land-use planning efforts for the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today released a report on big game migrations and the challenges they face on the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests in western Montana.

The report focuses on the habitat needs of several populations of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep across more than 3.5 million acres of national forests, including lands in and around the Blackfoot-Clearwater, East and West Fork of the Bitterroot, and lower Clark Fork watersheds. The Forest Service is expected to initiate the process of revising the land-use plan for the Lolo National Forest in 2022, and the Bitterroot National Forest is identified as a Tier 1 priority by the agency for revision. The TRCP’s report, along with a companion webpage, showcases the need for the USFS to prioritize important wildlife habitats as it considers how it will manage these public lands for the future.

“Public lands and the habitats they support in western Montana provide outstanding opportunities to hunters and contribute to the state’s $7.1-billion outdoor recreation economy,” said Scott Laird, Montana field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Healthy herds of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep on the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests are absolutely critical to sportsmen and sportswomen, local businesses, and rural communities alike. Our hope is that the Forest Service takes full advantage of the land-use planning process to ensure that modern migration science informs the management of these public lands, helping to conserve big game species that rely on their ability to move between winter and summer ranges.”

Land-use plans guide on-the-ground actions of land management agencies, setting goals, outlining strategies, and determining appropriate uses for public lands. Decisions, such as where to maintain roads and trails, how to balance wildlife habitat with development and recreation, and where to prioritize active habitat restoration, take their shape from these critical plans. The report includes six key recommendations to the Forest Service and urges the agency to incorporate the latest science, utilize the best-available conservation tools, and prioritize coordination with stakeholders, the state, and Tribes. The existing plans were drafted more than 30 years ago, and preplanning efforts for the Lolo NF plan revision are expected to begin in 2022.

“The past decade has brought clear advancements in our understanding of both big game migration as well as what can be done to ensure our herds remain healthy in the long term on a changing landscape,” added Laird. “The land-use planning process is where the rubber meets the road in terms of incorporating new science into the management of our public lands. Sportsmen and sportswomen see the upcoming plan revision for the Lolo National Forest as a critical opportunity to maintain and improve some of the best hunting and wildlife habitat in western Montana.”

To read the full report, click here.

To visit the companion webpage, click here.

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New Report Highlights Big Game Movement in Western Montana

Offers conservation solutions to guide forthcoming land-use planning efforts for the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today released a report on big game migrations and the challenges they face on the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests in western Montana.

The report focuses on the habitat needs of several populations of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep across more than 3.5 million acres of national forests, including lands in and around the Blackfoot-Clearwater, East and West Fork of the Bitterroot, and lower Clark Fork watersheds. The Forest Service is expected to initiate the process of revising the land-use plan for the Lolo National Forest in 2022, and the Bitterroot National Forest is identified as a Tier 1 priority by the agency for revision. The TRCP’s report, along with a companion webpage, showcases the need for the USFS to prioritize important wildlife habitats as it considers how it will manage these public lands for the future.

“Public lands and the habitats they support in western Montana provide outstanding opportunities to hunters and contribute to the state’s $7.1-billion outdoor recreation economy,” said Scott Laird, Montana field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Healthy herds of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep on the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests are absolutely critical to sportsmen and sportswomen, local businesses, and rural communities alike. Our hope is that the Forest Service takes full advantage of the land-use planning process to ensure that modern migration science informs the management of these public lands, helping to conserve big game species that rely on their ability to move between winter and summer ranges.”

Land-use plans guide on-the-ground actions of land management agencies, setting goals, outlining strategies, and determining appropriate uses for public lands. Decisions, such as where to maintain roads and trails, how to balance wildlife habitat with development and recreation, and where to prioritize active habitat restoration, take their shape from these critical plans. The report includes six key recommendations to the Forest Service and urges the agency to incorporate the latest science, utilize the best-available conservation tools, and prioritize coordination with stakeholders, the state, and Tribes. The existing plans were drafted more than 30 years ago, and preplanning efforts for the Lolo NF plan revision are expected to begin in 2022.

“The past decade has brought clear advancements in our understanding of both big game migration as well as what can be done to ensure our herds remain healthy in the long term on a changing landscape,” added Laird. “The land-use planning process is where the rubber meets the road in terms of incorporating new science into the management of our public lands. Sportsmen and sportswomen see the upcoming plan revision for the Lolo National Forest as a critical opportunity to maintain and improve some of the best hunting and wildlife habitat in western Montana.”

To read the full report, click here.

To visit the companion webpage, click here.

Tiffany Turner

March 10, 2022

Some Species and Habitat Loss from Climate Change May Already Be Irreversible

In the latest global climate report, scientists have a sobering message about fish and wildlife habitat reaching a tipping point

Late last summer, we shared with you TRCP’s readout on the latest global climate report put together by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The main takeaway was that climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe, leaving no question that fish and wildlife habitat in the U.S. is being impacted.

To double down on this message that climate change is already affecting your hunting and fishing opportunities—not just those of future generations—we’d like to draw your attention to the IPCC’s second installment of the four-part report. In this installment, scientists have focused on risks, vulnerability, and the adaptation and mitigation of climate impacts.

The epic 3,600-page document further explains how we know climate impacts are already happening, that they are more widespread and intense than we realized, and they will continue to get worse as warming continues. Here’s what sportsmen and sportswomen need to know.

Impacts to Hunting and Fishing

Our lives are already deeply impacted by climate change. Our new normal is punctuated by extreme weather events, such as catastrophic fires and more frequent and destructive floods and hurricanes.

Hunters and anglers—who are on the front lines, spending significant time in the affected habitats—are also experiencing and reporting changes to the environment. These include shifts in the seasonal ranges of certain species, earlier or later season start times, waters that are too low or too hot to fish, reduced snow cover, repeated freeze-thaw cycles, and habitats degraded and fragmented by drought, fire, or flooding. In addition to ecosystem losses and damages, climate change is challenging our agriculture system, limiting water availability, and damaging infrastructure and the economy.

This latest IPCC report makes clear that climate change is threatening our way of life, and in some cases, our livelihoods.

What We Didn’t Expect

Unfortunately, this latest analysis gets worse: some losses from climate change are already irreversible—and more are approaching a point of no return.

We’ve experienced the first species extinction driven by climate change, and species loss at a local level has been elevated because of periods of extreme heat. Around half of the species assessed globally by IPCC scientists have moved to higher latitudes or higher land elevations. The permafrost found within North America in Alaska and Canada is melting, which allows additional carbon dioxide and methane to be released into the atmosphere, while also causing flooding, erosion, and habitat fragmentation.

The impacts to biodiversity reduce the ability of an ecosystem to function, recover, and adapt to change. Affected habitat is less able to provide services like water filtration and recharge or carbon storage, which combats climate change.

What We Can Do

Climate change and biodiversity are interconnected and interdependent, meaning that the breadth and variety of life in a particular habitat is altered by climate change, and in turn, the ecosystem services normally provided by these species and the landscape cannot serve as an important tool to support climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Put another way: Continued unsustainable use and management of our land, water, and wildlife will support continued global warming, and every bit of warming will further degrade ecosystems, weakening habitat and reducing our food and water security.

Though the report presents a bleak reality and grim future, it also highlights the importance of nature-based climate solutions and continued conservation. Many of the TRCP’s top conservation priorities would reverse habitat loss and wildlife species declines, strengthening the U.S. economy and delivering carbon storage solutions. This includes better land-use planning, more climate-smart agricultural practices, and restoration and conservation of forests, peatlands, grasslands, coastal and inland wetlands, and headwaters and natural river systems.

We believe in this work and your need to understand the challenges we face. Do you have a question about the impacts of climate change on hunting fishing? Leave a comment and we may address your question in an upcoming blog or social media post.

 

Top photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service / Cole Barash via Flickr

How Working Lands Are Bringing Back Bobwhite Quail

One Farm Bill conservation program aims to conserve 7 million acres of quail habitat by 2026

For farmers, ranchers, independent foresters, and other private landowners, conservation is a constant balancing act between pursuing ecological benefits and ensuring economic sustainability. Agricultural producers operate in a sea of market variables that put pressure on their operations, and successful efforts to conserve lands and waters can, in fact, complement growing operations. 

This is exactly the aim of the Working Lands for Wildlife Program. 

Since 2012, this Farm Bill program has empowered the voluntary conservation of priority habitat through the improvement of working landscapes, providing a win-win for wildlife and landowners. In partnership with state agencies, conservation groups, and landowners, the Natural Resources Conservation Service identifies priority species for conservation through WLFW, and so it has become an important tool in averting the need for costly endangered species protections. Click here for a map outlining existing WLFW species initiatives in 2021. 

The iconic bobwhite quail has been a target species of the WLFW program since 2017. Bobwhites are considered an “edge” bird and can be found along crop fields, as they demand a variety of grassy cover and forbs to provide food, shelter, and protection. But bobwhite populations have fallen by over 80 percent in the last three decades because of habitat conversion, fragmentation, and degradation.  

Fortunately, the WLFW Bobwhite Initiative has facilitated motivated state conservationists and partner groups—like Quail Forever and the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative—as well as landowners, to leverage federal funds and technical assistance available through WLFW to the species’ advantage.   

The WLFW Bobwhite Quail Initiative is currently underway in 24 states, and was recently expanded through the renewed 2022 WLFW Bobwhite, Grasslands, and Savannas Framework for Conservation Action—which sets program goals for the next five years. 

The 2022 framework sets an ambitious course for the future of grassland and quail habitat conservation in the central and eastern U.S.: Through Fiscal Year 2026, the NRCS intends to conserve 7 million acres of bobwhite habitat through the WLFW initiative.  

With technical assistance from the NRCS, state and NGO partners will prioritize areas where there is the greatest need and practices that will make the biggest impact, such as the removal and monitoring of invasive trees across native grass ranges in Kansas. In states like Georgia and South Carolina, brush management and timber thinning will restore the health of forest stands and return undergrowth for brooding, nesting, and winter habitat. Several other states will seek easement agreements with landowners to secure habitat that is under threat.  

Recovering bobwhite quail populations will take many years and require the thoughtful, collaborative model of conservation showcased by the Working Lands for Wildlife Program. Fortunately, conservation practices have wide-reaching impacts, from reducing input costs and increasing yields for producers to sequestering carbon and improving water quality. Enhanced habitat and connectivity for bobwhite quail will also benefit songbirds, pollinators, and countless other species—creating an ecosystem-wide impact that multiplies conservation value.  

The thoughtful implementation of the WLFW program, as well as others in the Farm Bill’s conservation title, provides locally led efforts with the financial and technical support to reverse decades of habitat loss. We’re eager to see that work continue. Click here to learn more about our goals for the next Farm Bill.  

Click here to learn more about the full suite of Farm Bill conservation programs that support healthy soil, clean water, and wildlife habitat. 

Kristyn Brady

March 1, 2022

Why We Use Farm Bill Conservation Programs on Our Land

Regenerative farmers Ashly and Stacy Steinke share how a commitment to improving habitat has paid off for their grass-fed cattle business, the local wildlife, and water quality in Wisconsin

Ahead of the 2023 Farm Bill debate, we’re sharing firsthand accounts of how private land conservation programs are helping landowners not only to improve their soil quality and enhance wildlife habitat, but also to provide equitable hunting and fishing opportunities in rural communities.

Ashly and Stacy Steinke hunt, fish, raise three boys, and practice regenerative farming near Cornell, Wisconsin. With the help of multiple Farm Bill conservation programs, they have also been able to restore over 200 acres of wetlands, revive stream flows and water quality, install wildlife-friendly fencing, and implement conservation practices that benefit their grass-fed beef business.

Ashly tells their story:

Some of my earliest memories are of my dad bringing home animals from his hunts—I couldn’t wait to be a hunter like him. Then, I think in 1989, wild turkeys were reintroduced into my home county, right on the farm where my dad grew up. In the years that followed, we spent countless days just out watching those turkeys on the landscape, and I became obsessed with wildlife. In high school, I was further encouraged by an ecology teacher, Mike Harden, who was also passionate about wildlife and conservation. He took the time out of his evenings in the spring to take us to watch peenting woodcock and had us read A Sand County Almanac. (I’ve probably read it five times since then.) And so it really was a natural decision for me to attend college and graduate school for wildlife management.

I was working as a wildlife biologist when I first got to know the impact of private land conservation on fish and wildlife species, but I never saw these programs getting enough recognition. Then my wife Stacy and I decided to restore about 15 acres of wetlands on the first property we bought as a couple, back in 2010. That’s when I saw the power of restoration firsthand.

We converted an old, cool-season field dominated by invasive knapweed to a high-quality, native warm-season planting and buffered a worn-out stream with about 8,000 trees. I think the most important thing we learned from that project was how doable this kind of conservation work is and how many opportunities exist. It is still so rewarding to walk that property and see the results. And we still hunt wood ducks on that restored creek!

We bought our farm in 2014 after owning a successful wetland consulting business, and we started raising grass-fed cattle here almost right away. Now, we also run an Airbnb on the property, where there are opportunities to view wildlife—and our bulls—right from the firepit.

This land is also where we are raising our three young boys in the country lifestyle. Even though it is harder to hunt and fish with young kids, it is so rewarding to watch them become immersed in nature and the hunting and fishing lifestyle. We go ice fishing in the winter, hunt turkeys in the spring, catch catfish in the summer, and hunt geese and deer in the winter.

Our long-term goals are to make our land the best that we can—both to support our family and to have quality wildlife habitat resulting in excellent hunting for family and friends. It is our hope that our children will pick up this conservation ethic and want to put their stamp on this land when it is their turn.

With this in mind, the first Farm Bill conservation project we did on our farm was a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program project, where we restored 47 acres of native upland prairie and wetland habitat. Nine wetland basins were restored, resulting in almost zero runoff leaving that part of our farm. The newly restored grassland and wetland habitat is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife, from bobolinks to a pair of trumpeter swans. We have documented 15 different species of waterfowl using these restored wetlands.

Later, we relied on the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program again to create a 12-acre buffer along a stream through our fields. We planted approximately 3,000 trees along the riparian corridor to help filter water from ag fields before it enters the stream.

Next, we utilized the Environmental Quality Incentive Program for a forage and biomass planting and a grazing incentive. This helped us transition from the intensive tillage and row cropping practices of the previous landowner to a perennial, grass-based system. The soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat benefits are striking when spending time in the pastures. You can see it in the invertebrate life underground and the butterflies and grassland songbirds who make our pastures home.

We are currently in the fifth and final year of a Conservation Stewardship Program contract, which has helped us to remove miles of barbed wire fencing and replace it with high-tensile, wildlife-friendly fencing. We also planted and continue to maintain a seven-acre monarch pollinator planting, and we leave standing grain for wildlife in the winter. We look forward to adding more projects for a future CSP contract.

We have restored over 200 acres of wetlands and associated upland plantings to date.

It is amazing how fast wetland animals like muskrats move into newly restored sites. It is so fun seeing a nesting pair of Canada geese on a muskrat hut just two years post-restoration. Probably the most obvious sign of the improvements is the variety of bird life, from swallows hunting bugs to broods of blue-winged teal. You can’t miss the cacophony of sound they make.

When beavers cut down the aspen trees we planted 10 years earlier, I considered that the greatest compliment I could receive as a conservationist!

I think we are like anywhere else in the country where we have a landscape highly dominated by corn-soybean rotation. This is of no fault to those growers as they are making a living how they see fit and we need farmers on the landscape. However, I feel that we can still make big differences for wildlife by not farming the poor areas of the field, utilizing no-till practices, and planting cover crops. In addition, many young farmers today are introducing cattle back to the landscape and utilizing managed grazing on their operations. All of these practices are proven as conservation success stories. I think we are on the right track of getting to where we need to be as agricultural producers leading the way in conservation.

Private lands, including those that have been enhanced using Farm Bill dollars, are also creating equitable hunting and fishing opportunities. In our immediate area, we have several properties that are enrolled in a walk-in access program that is funded through the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. Many other farmers I know still open their properties to hunting through a warm handshake and a trust that the hunter will leave the property as they found it.

But we also have more—and healthier—habitat available on these private lands, and so there are better hunting and fishing opportunities for those using nearby public land access.

I wish that every hunter and angler was aware of how these programs are approved and funded by our government and that there is a need for all of us to advocate for the dollars that put these practices on the landscape. The conservation title makes up such a small percentage of the Farm Bill, but it can play such a huge role in boosting wildlife populations. I’ve seen it firsthand.

Learn more about the benefits of Farm Bill conservation programs here.

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.

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