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Ian Nakayama

May 12, 2022

Senate Committee Advances Important Water Resources Legislation

What the Water Resources Development Act can do for the Everglades, Gulf coast, and iconic watersheds of the West 

The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee recently voted unanimously to advance the Water Resources Development Act of 2022, important two-year legislation that authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out flood control, improve waterways, and conduct ecosystem restoration work. Past WRDA bills have also addressed water infrastructure policy and financing.

Why WRDA Matters

The TRCP has long advocated for conservation priorities in the biennial WRDA process because it presents several opportunities to support federal investments in ecosystem restoration and natural infrastructure approaches that benefit fish and wildlife habitat.

Hunters and anglers may not know that the Corps is the primary federal manager of the nation’s water resources and plays a critical role in planning, designing, and implementing water resource projects, while protecting communities from floods and other natural hazards. The Corps’ mission area also includes ecosystem restoration, and it is a driving force behind the implementation of many largescale projects that benefit sportsmen and sportswomen, particularly in the Everglades and Mississippi River Delta.

More recent WRDAs have expanded the Corps’ focus to include implementing natural infrastructure approaches—where healthy habitat can help solve infrastructure challenges, such as restoring floodplains and coastal wetlands to reduce the vulnerability of critical infrastructure and communities to natural disasters. Wetland and riparian restoration projects provide numerous public benefits while boosting the habitat that supports sportfish, waterfowl, and other species.

So, hunters and anglers should take note as WRDA moves through Congress this year. A strong WRDA ensures that the Corps has the authorization to carry out restoration and prioritize natural infrastructure across the country.

What to Watch for in WRDA ‘22

Thanks in large part to the TRCP and our partners’ advocacy efforts, the Senate version of the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 includes several important victories for hunters and anglers as it heads for a floor vote. The bill clarifies the federal cost-share for ecosystem restoration in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, lowers the local cost burdens for the Mississippi River Interbasin Project and the Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Study, and would expedite a western Everglades ecosystem restoration study.

Importantly, the legislation also calls for the Corps to conduct a study evaluating the benefits of utilizing natural infrastructure approaches, such as restoring source watersheds to enhance the resilience of Western water supplies, critical water storage, and delivery infrastructure to drought and wildfire. Across the West, drought and fire are reducing the quantity of water available to fish, wildlife, agricultural producers, and residents, and degrading the quality of water as post-fire debris flows downstream.

Emerging evidence indicates that nature-based solutions, such as restoring wetland systems upstream of critical water infrastructure, can help to mitigate these impacts, but additional research and demonstration will be helpful in encouraging greater utilization of nature-based approaches. If WRDA passes with this provision, the Corps would utilize information gained from the study to further integrate nature-based approaches into Western water management in ways that benefit people and the environment.

This year’s WRDA is still only partway through the legislative process, and the TRCP will continue to look for additional opportunities to expand the use of natural infrastructure in the USACE’s work. For example, there could be a reduced cost-share on natural infrastructure projects to ensure that disadvantaged communities can access them. A holistic accounting of the benefits of natural infrastructure would enable these projects to be more competitive with (and ultimately considered over) traditional gray infrastructure.

Learn more about natural infrastructure and what TRCP is doing to advance these solutions.

 

Top photo by Bob Wick / BLM Colorado via Flickr.

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Jaclyn Higgins

May 10, 2022

Join the Businesses Urging Louisiana Lawmakers to Pass Bipartisan Pogie Bill

Local, national, and global fishing companies and manufacturers are showing their support for Louisiana HB 1033 

More than 50 recreational fishing businesses are standing up for Louisiana’s coastal habitats and outdoor recreation economy by supporting House Bill 1033. Introduced by Representatives Joe Orgeron, Bryan Fontenot, Scott McKnight, and Vincent Pierre, the legislation would create an annual catch limit on menhaden reduction fishing in Louisiana state waters and implement reporting requirements for the first time.

The Louisiana House of Representatives voted to advance the bill (75-22) on April 27—it moves to the Senate in the coming days and weeks.

The TRCP and its partners are leading an effort to harness the voices of local, national, and even global interests that weigh out the two foreign-owned companies that object to careful monitoring and regulation of their industrial menhaden fishing operations. To date, more than 50 companies have signed on to a letter urging the Louisiana Legislature and Governor John Bel Edwards to enact HB 1033.

These businesses understand that commonsense regulations will help to keep enough menhaden in the water to serve as forage for important game fish like speckled trout, redfish, and mackerel. It will also support Louisiana’s $1.15-billion recreational fishing economy and 17,000 jobs.

These companies are dedicated to the conservation of Louisiana’s world-renowned fish and wildlife habitats, as well as the protection of our coastal economy and culture. To join them, email Chris Macaluso, TRCP’s director of marine fisheries. 

Individual anglers can take action right here. HB 1033 will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources Committee within the next few weeks—don’t delay! Let your senator know that you support this commonsense pogie legislation.

 

Click here to learn more about the importance of menhaden in the Gulf and Atlantic and take action in support of conservation.

Top photo by Louisiana Sea Grant via Flickr.

Randall Williams

May 3, 2022

TRCP Applauds Advancement of America’s Outdoor Recreation Act

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee moves legislation important to public land recreation 

Hunters and anglers lauded today’s passage in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee of the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act of 2022, a legislative package related to public land access and outdoor recreation. In addition to this important legislation, introduced by committee chairman Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and ranking member Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the committee considered other bills pertaining to public land conservation, including the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act.

“America’s Outdoor Recreation Act will make our public lands more accessible to all Americans by modernizing agency rules and processes and enhancing recreation infrastructure across the country,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This bipartisan bill reflects the importance of these shared spaces to outdoor recreation. Hunters and anglers thank leadership and members of both parties in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee for moving this legislation forward.”

 

Top photo courtesy of BLM Colorado via Flickr.

Andrew Earl

April 21, 2022

Six Conservation Priorities Congress Should Tackle Before August Recess

As session days become more limited, lawmakers should seal the deal on these conservation wins 

Spend any time around federal policymaking and you’ll quickly get a sense of the rhythm of legislating. To perhaps oversimplify things, Congress and the administration spar over funding levels in the spring, make the rounds to constituents during August recess, and do last-minute legislating in December.

This tempo, however, is complicated during election years. Incumbent legislators need victories to bring back to constituents in the summer and floor-time in the fall is eaten up by campaigning. If major legislation isn’t passed before August, the next opportunity is often a lame duck session in December.

So, while not the very last chance to act, the next few months will be critical to the future of some conservation solutions. Here’s what we want to see between now and early August.

Floor Action on the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, if enacted, would invest nearly $1.4 billion annually in state and Tribal wildlife agencies for proactive conservation of thousands of species vulnerable to listing under the Endangered Species Act and also provides funding for collaborative partnerships to voluntarily conserve habitat and recover species already listed as threatened or endangered. In short, the bill would make a generational investment in wildlife habitat conservation.

The House Natural Resources Committee passed its version of RAWA earlier this year, followed by the Senate EPW Committee earlier this month. Now, both pieces of legislation await consideration before their respective chambers. While differences between the bills remain, and negotiations over the bill’s ‘pay-for’ are ongoing, RAWA is further along than ever before and primed for floor consideration. The TRCP, our partners, and conservationists nationally continue to work with lawmakers and staff to see this landmark legislation pass.

Passage of the Water Resources Development Act

The Water Resources Development Act authorizes water management and conservation projects at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The two-year bill is critical to water infrastructure maintenance and management in the United States, affecting not just commerce and agriculture, but also fish habitat and aquatic ecosystems.

House and Senate committees began holding hearings on the 2022 WRDA earlier this year and heard feedback on priorities for the bill in March. The TRCP and our partner groups have been working with key lawmakers in both chambers to include provisions that support natural infrastructure projects—those that use the power of habitat to solve infrastructure challenges or even replace gray infrastructure—and build climate resilience.

The House and the Senate are expected to consider and pass their own versions of the 2022 WRDA in the coming months.

With some provisions in the existing 2020 WRDA scheduled to expire in December, lawmakers will look to align the House and Senate versions as soon as possible and send a final bill to the president’s desk. For that reason, it’s vital that the TRCP and our partner groups continue to be engaged and ensure that conservation measures remain in the final bill.

Senate Introduction of the CWD Research and Management Act

In late 2021, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps Ron Kind and Glenn Thompson and was quickly passed by an overwhelming margin (393-33)—but we still need the Senate to act. The TRCP and partner organizations focused on wild deer and deer hunting are actively working with a bipartisan group of senators to bring forth the bill’s introduction in that chamber.

If enacted, the bill would provide $35 million annually to state agencies for CWD suppression and an additional $35 million for research into the disease and management techniques. We look forward to the bill’s introduction and expeditious consideration in the coming months.

Importantly, the bill also directs the USDA to carry out a public review of the Herd Certification Program, which is the federal standard by which states accredit captive cervid operations as “low-risk” for CWD spread. This review is critical now more than ever, as CWD detections originating from HCP-accredited facilities increase in frequency and voluntary participation in the program continues to decline.

Bipartisan Introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act

For the better part of two years, the TRCP and several partner groups—including Pheasants Forever, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and others—have been developing a first-of-its-kind national grassland conservation proposal, to enable partner-led conservation of our nation’s most imperiled habitat. In doing so, we’ve gathered feedback from state and Tribal agencies, conservation groups, land trusts, and, importantly, the broader agricultural community. The biggest threat to our remaining grass and sagebrush ecosystems is development, so ensuring that the program meets the needs of farmers and ranchers is paramount to the success of the bill. Senator Wyden has agreed to lead on the legislation in the Senate, and we’re continuing to work with like-minded Republicans. We look forward to having a bipartisan bill introduced before the August recess.

Committee Action on an Outdoor Recreation Package

Late last year, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Manchin and Ranking Member Barrasso introduced the Outdoor Recreation Act. Among the bill’s provisions is one that would direct federal land managers to consider opening lands for recreation during shoulder seasons, where appropriate. It would also direct managers to consider recreation improvements during management plan revisions and provide financial and technical assistance to “gateway” communities adjacent to federal lands.

Shortly after introduction, the committee held a hearing on the Outdoor Recreation Act along with a number of other bills aimed at improving recreation permitting, access, and infrastructure. The committee is expected to take up and approve a revised package of bills in the coming months. The TRCP, our partners, and many constituents of the broader $778-million outdoor recreation industry are excited about the opportunity to advance bipartisan recreation legislation. We’ll continue to work alongside lawmakers and committee staff to bring about its timely consideration.

Hearings on 2023 Farm Bill Priorities

The 2018 Farm Bill expires in September 2023, which is not quite as far off as it seems. With that in mind, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have started holding hearings to review and gather feedback on the successes (and failures) of the 2018 Farm Bill.

The TRCP, through its Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group and other coalitions, is currently developing a conservation and forestry platform for the 2023 bill. We’re workshopping policy ideas and funding priorities, ground truthing them with state agencies and partners, and working with lawmakers to draft legislation. We look forward to a 2023 Farm Bill that builds on the successes of 2018, invests in conservation and forestry, and benefits fish and wildlife.

This snapshot of legislation in progress provides a glimpse of what the TRCP and our partner groups will be prioritizing on Capitol Hill in the coming months. Congress has some big opportunities ahead in 2022, and amidst it all, conservation continues to drive consensus in Washington. To track these legislative priorities along with us, sign up for TRCP’s weekly Roosevelt Report.

 

Top photo courtesy of the USDA via Flickr.

Randall Williams

April 20, 2022

The Amazing Capture-and-Collar Field Work That Drives Conservation

A firsthand look at the science that informs smart conservation policy (and allows for powerful, up-close encounters with the West’s iconic big game animals)

Anglers know that there’s a certain magic, when releasing a lively fish, in seeing the flick of its tail propel it back into a “wild” state, as if you’d momentarily held lightning in a bottle. That feeling is magnified many-fold, one might imagine, when letting go of an adult mule deer and watching her trot off toward the horizon on a blue-sky day in sagebrush country.

Needless to say, when faced with the opportunity to do just that by participating in the type of scientific research that informs our work at TRCP, I didn’t have to give it much thought before accepting the invitation. Here’s what I learned from a weekend of capturing and collaring mule deer and bighorn sheep with the University of Wyoming’s Monteith Shop.

(Check out the four-minute feature below and then scroll down to read the story and view additional video shorts from this project.)

 

One Data Point at a Time

Across the West, there’s no issue to which fresh-from-the-field data is more relevant than the challenge of safeguarding big game migration corridors and seasonal ranges. As development of all kinds sweeps across the Western landscape, transforming and fragmenting habitats at an alarming rate, unprecedented advances in the study of migratory big game animals help inform solutions to ensure these herds can access the food and cover they need throughout the year. And central to our understanding of these issues is on-the-ground, boots-in-the-mud wildlife science.

This is part of the reason I’ve long been intrigued by the work of my friend Kevin Monteith, a professor at the University of Wyoming, and was thrilled to join his team last month for a few days of working with collared bighorn sheep and mule deer.

Kevin’s team—a mixture of Master’s and doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and research scientists—had already been in the field for 10 days by the time I met up with them at a Wyoming Department of Game and Fish parking lot in Jackson. Each December and March, the researchers at the Monteith Shop spend three weeks capturing and collecting data from collared big game animals, timing the work to shed light on how winter has affected their physical condition. Then, in mid-May, they capture and collar that year’s offspring, gathering the first of what will be a lifetime of information provided by the study of these animals. On top of those three key periods, various other field work occupies researchers from the Monteith Shop for the rest of the summer and throughout the year.

 

How It All Adds Up

Some of these different tracking projects have been ongoing since 2013, helping to illuminate the connections between the health and behavior of these animals and the changing landscapes on which they live. The data collected in the field amounts to a highly detailed portrait of these individual animals at a particular moment in time, and when repeated at regular intervals over a long period, it begins to tell the stories of their lives. As the years pass, the data begins to stretch across generations and the collective wealth of information illustrates population-level dynamics.

This is exactly the type of research that tells us, for example, what happens to herd numbers or fawn recruitment in the years following industrial development in a migration corridor or the fragmentation of winter habitat by a new highway.

As sportsmen and sportswomen who care about, observe, and encounter animals like mule deer and elk, it’s easy to take for granted that we know what we do about the bigger picture in terms of what will keep these populations healthy for future generations. To be sure, the most basic pieces of that puzzle are obvious—they need food, water, security, etc. But evidence showing, for example, that a specific change on the landscape will have a particular effect of a certain magnitude on a big game herd allows us to make well-informed, responsible decisions about how to manage our public lands for multiple uses over the long term.

 

The Main Event

At the day’s outset, a helicopter-based crew, which travels across the country performing this highly specialized work, tracks down the animals using the frequencies emitted by their collars. Individually, these animals are netted, then hobbled and blindfolded, before being transported to Kevin’s team, who set up staging areas in different locations throughout the day to minimize the distance traveled by each animal.

Once they arrive via helicopter, each individual animal undergoes a series of tests. Members of the team weigh each animal and measure their length, girth, and lower leg (metatarsus), while others collect blood, hair, and fecal samples. Portable ultrasound machines allow the researchers to gauge the amount of body fat remaining after a long winter, and to check each animal for pregnancy. For each pregnancy identified, the number of fetuses, as well as the width of their orbital sockets (a key indicator for their stage of development) are noted. The bighorn sheep, which are particularly susceptible to respiratory pneumonia, receive an extra test: nasal and tonsil swabs to test for infection.

Throughout the process, the animals are handled with care and their temperatures are monitored as a way of ensuring that they are not experiencing excessive physiological stress. Each animal also receives a mild pain reliever and fever reducer as a precaution. Behaviors such as vocalizations and kicks observed in the course of the process are all recorded for future reference.

After collecting all of these data, the team checks—and, when needed, replaces—the tracking collars, then marks each animal with livestock paint so that they will not be inadvertently recaptured as the day’s work continues. One finished, we release the deer at each processing site, watching as they spring forth onto the sagebrush-covered landscape, while the sheep are loaded back onto the helicopter to be released where each specific individual had been captured.

 

The Takeaway

Perhaps the most remarkable part of my experience was watching the Monteith Shop team at work. With every load of animals from the helicopter, they leapt into action unprompted, moving with a care and a seriousness of purpose that never wavered throughout the process. Moments of downtime allowed plenty of laughs and smiles among the group, but a shared sense of responsibility for the welfare of each individual deer and sheep—as well as a shared understanding of each data point’s importance—meant that the whole operation hummed along methodically, efficiently, and deliberately.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve typed the phrase “the latest research tells us,” or some variation thereof, during my tenure with TRCP. That should come as no surprise: Smart conservation policy is grounded in science and derives much of its credibility from dispassionate, empirical data. But even the most objective and matter-of-fact fieldwork does little to dull the wonder of experiencing an up-close interaction with a bighorn sheep or mule deer.

Participating in the hands-on work of the Monteith Shop put into stark relief the strange familiarity, intimacy, and mystery that surrounds each encounter with the West’s big game animals and fuels my fascination with them. In that sense, it was a welcome reminder of why we do what we do at TRCP and instilled in me a greater appreciation for the tireless efforts and dedication of so many others who make our work possible.

For more information about the Monteith Shop, visit monteithshop.org or follow on Instagram (@monteithshop) and Facebook.
To voice your support for migration corridor conservation, sign our petition to decisionmakers here.
Images and footage by @maxsbenz

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