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Andrew Earl

March 24, 2022

The Key to Sage Grouse Recovery Is Partnership

One Farm Bill conservation program is a strong model for collaboration among federal, state, and local partners creating better habitat for sage grouse 

As most sportsmen and sportswomen know, a major conservation challenge that requires an even larger solution is the plight of the greater sage grouse. The sagebrush steppe ecosystem, which once spanned nearly 500,000 square miles across the Intermountain West, has shrunk by half, due to a variety of issues including invasive species, drought, land conversion, and development. These stressors have each contributed to population declines of over 95 percent and brought sage grouse to the brink of an endangered species listing in 2014.

The issue has been a political football in the years since, marked by court cases and management plan revisions, and all the while, Congress has included an annual rider in its spending bills to prohibit the use of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding for purposes of listing the bird as endangered. Ten Western states have developed sage grouse management plans across 65 million federal acres, but populations continue to struggle.

As any wildlife biologist or land manager can attest, the issues that threaten a species and its associated habitats do not exist in a vacuum—nor do effective solutions. That’s why the careful collaboration and negotiation of conservation measures for sage grouse on public land are not enough.

Fortunately, there are a handful of tools available to private landowners to boost sage grouse habitat. One, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, was created in the 2014 Farm Bill and has quickly grown into our nation’s premier public-private conservation program addressing resource challenges on a landscape scale. Based on its early popularity, the program was expanded in the 2018 Farm Bill and subsequently authorized at $300 million annually.

One of the success stories that brought Congress to invest in the RCPP in the 2018 bill was an effort underway in California and Nevada to ensure the future of the bi-state population of greater sage grouse. Led by the Eastern Sierra Land Trust, 11 national, state, and local partners have been working to conserve the bird since 2002. In 2017, those groups together leveraged $16 million in partner funds to secure an additional $8 million in RCPP dollars for habitat restoration on the California-Nevada border, an RCPP project known as “Livestock In Harmony.”

Map of the project area of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

 

In the five years since this RCPP investment was awarded, the locally led partnership has made significant funding and technical assistance available to farmers and ranchers to enroll in agricultural and wetland easements. It has also carried out ecosystem restoration, optimized water use, supported outreach and education, and more.

The project wraps up in June 2022, and we look forward to seeing the progress made on local sage grouse populations as well as the surrounding landscape generally. As improvement projects have done for many bellwether species, restoration of sage grouse habitat will have far-reaching benefits for all sagebrush species.

Of course, implementation of the expanded RCPP hasn’t been without hurdles. The TRCP and our partners—some of whom are involved in project implementation—hear concerns about application timelines and costly requirements for the share of funds not being contributed by the federal government. Especially as lawmakers begin to develop the 2023 Farm Bill, it’s critical that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is able to get authorized funding out the door and onto the landscape now, or risk Congress providing a much smaller sum to the program in the years ahead.

For more information on the RCPP and other Farm Bill conservation programs, visit trcp.org/farmbill.

 

Top photo courtesy of the USFWS / Tom Koerner via Flickr.

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Kristyn Brady

March 23, 2022

Video: The Importance of Grasslands to Deer

Why hunters should support a historic effort to restore grasslands and sagebrush ecosystems 

A new video featuring Ryan “Cal” Callaghan of MeatEater highlights the importance of grasslands and sagebrush habitats for deer and other big game, as well as the threats to these rapidly disappearing landscapes.

Produced by the National Deer Association, with support from the TRCP and a coalition of leading conservation groups, the video points to the North American Grasslands Conservation Act as a much-needed tool for restoring healthy, intact grasslands that offer deer forage, cover from predators, and areas to raise their young.

The North American Grasslands Conservation Act is modeled after the highly effective North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which has been successfully restoring waterfowl habitat since 1989. The new legislation, expected to be introduced this spring, would direct $350 million in funding for private landowners to restore and conserve what remains of the most threatened ecosystem on the planet—our continent’s shrublands, sage steppe, savannahs, tallgrass prairies, and shortgrass prairies.

Learn more about the coalition effort at ActForGrasslands.org.

Click here to take action in support of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act.

 

Top photo courtesy of the USFWS / Tom Koerner via Flickr.

Chris Macaluso

March 17, 2022

Anglers Need Louisiana Lawmakers to Create Pogie Boat Buffer Zone

A commonsense measure with bipartisan support would keep disruptive industrial menhaden harvest activity farther away from Louisiana beaches

As the Louisiana legislature convenes this week, there is already momentum behind a measure meant to safeguard the state’s beaches, barrier islands, fisheries, and coastal economy. Anglers have been pushing for it since last summer: Decision-makers need to create a regulated buffer zone along Louisiana’s beaches that would restrict the industrial harvest of menhaden—an important forage fish locally known as pogies—to deeper waters.

To recap, restricting purse-seine operations in the surf zone would reduce habitat impacts and conflicts between pogie boats and anglers. The two foreign-owned companies behind industrial menhaden fishing in the Gulf have said they don’t and can’t operate their boats in shallow waters, where they are at risk of running aground, but anglers and charter boat captains regularly witness pogie boats within a half-mile of shore—often leaving dead redfish, sharks, jacks, and other fish behind. And every other coastal state has safeguards in place to protect their shorelines against the abuse of commercial pogie fishing.

A bill in the legislature ultimately died last year after it had strong support in committee. Since then, fisheries managers not only failed to extend a proposed half-mile buffer zone to a full mile, but they actually weakened the proposal, setting into motion a public comment period on a quarter-mile restricted area. Meanwhile, the concerns about damage being caused to Louisiana’s surf zones by these foreign-owned companies have only increased.

This is our time to secure a durable solution for habitat and sportfish that rely on pogies for food. We aren’t asking the reduction fishing industry to catch any fewer fish. We are asking for some simple, reasonable protection of our beaches—many of which have been recently restored to support coastal tourism and spending on activities like recreational fishing.

Take just a few minutes out of your day to reach out to your elected officials using TRCP’s simple advocacy tool and help us move pogie boats out of the surf zone and into deeper water, where there is less chance of damaging our shores and less impact on sportfish.

 

Top photo courtesy of Healthy Gulf via Flickr.

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

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