Bald Eagle State Forest
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As Congress marches toward a hotly contested 2022 midterm election, with the potential for a new political landscape in 2023, much of the American West is experiencing a historic multi-year drought. Lawmakers have taken notice, and recent hearings in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Agriculture committees have highlighted the serious drought-related challenges to fish and wildlife habitat. While D.C. remains gridlocked on a host of issues, Congress also has some immediate opportunities to deliver on water and conservation policies that invest in habitat, access, forest health, and drought resilience.
Here’s what the TRCP and our partner groups are prioritizing on Capitol Hill in the next six months.
The House-passed Build Back Better reconciliation package, which included $27.1 billion for climate-smart agricultural practices and an additional $27.1 billion for forest management and watershed restoration, has been on the back burner since last year. Over the past month, some reports suggest Senate Democrats may consider a slimmed down version of the package.
Even a skinny version of the original proposal, should it include funding for conservation and forestry, would provide a significant boost to the existing suite of farm bill conservation programs that are perennially oversubscribed and build on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s investments in forest management and habitat restoration. The TRCP is pushing for investments that would improve habitat and resilience to drought and wildfire at a landscape level. These efforts are not only climate-smart but would also pay dividends by avoiding the cost of species recovery and disaster response down the road.
Over the past several weeks, Congress has held multiple hearings on short- and long-term solutions to addressing drought in Western watersheds. At one of those hearings, on June 14, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton made a groundbreaking announcement: To mitigate the impacts of drought on the Colorado River Basin, states must develop a plan by mid-August to conserve 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water on an annual basis—or collectively more Colorado River water than what is currently allocated for the entire state of Arizona.
The scale of this challenge is immense and will require that Congress support immediate investments to assist states, Tribes, and other water users in reducing overall demand, while prioritizing multi-purpose conservation approaches that benefit the fish and wildlife habitat that is important to hunters and anglers. TRCP, for its part, is working with key members of the House and Senate as they consider advancing a package of Western water measures with a particular focus on legislation that can help achieve this scale of water conservation, prioritizes long-term resilience, and restores riparian areas and wetlands that provide natural water storage and fish and wildlife habitat.
The Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes and advances U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water projects, is typically considered and passed by Congress every two years. The TRCP and many of our partner organizations keep an eye on this legislation, because it has real implications for fish and wildlife habitat and aquatic ecosystem restoration. The House of Representatives passed its version of the 2022 WRDA bill earlier this year and, while the full Senate has yet to consider WRDA, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved its version of WRDA in early May.
Although the House and Senate versions are slightly different, both include a provision developed by TRCP staff that directs the Corps to study the benefits of natural infrastructure for enhancing the resilience of the agency’s reservoir operations to drought and wildfire, while benefiting fish and wildlife. Once the Senate acts on WRDA, it will be important for both sides to resolve their differences and send a final bill to the president’s desk, so that important ecosystem restoration projects continue or, in the case of the new natural infrastructure study, get underway.
[This opinion piece was originally published in the The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press.]
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is working hard to improve Virginia’s economy. By establishing an Amazon fulfillment center in Augusta County, which will create 500 new jobs, and a Walgreens micro-fulfillment center in Hanover County, which will create 249 new jobs, it’s clear that Youngkin is pro-business.
As a Republican governor focused on building up the commonwealth, the Chesapeake Bay is most likely high on Youngkin’s list of priorities.
The bay has been a breadbasket in our region for hundreds of years, producing vital food and resources, as well as supporting thriving coastal ecosystems. Now it’s time to focus economic growth on the Northern Neck, by revitalizing industries that have fallen to the wayside in favor of industrialized fishing, which has been pillaging our bay for decades.
In Reedville, within Northumberland County, internationally owned Omega Protein operates a largescale “reduction” fishing operation for Atlantic menhaden. Each year, more than 100 million pounds of Atlantic menhaden are being removed from bay waters and “reduced” to fish meal and oil for pet food and salmon feed. However, Atlantic menhaden play a vital role in coastal ecosystems by serving as the base of the food chain, supporting the diets of striped bass, bluefish, humpback whales, and osprey, to name a few.
Between 2009 and 2016, the value of the striped bass fishery, once the most economically valuable recreational fishery in Virginia, dropped by more than 50 percent from $382 million to $166 million. The decline in the striped bass population, which uses the Chesapeake Bay as its primary nursery grounds, can be traced back to the menhaden reduction fishery.
According to the latest ecosystem modeling, the health of the striped bass population is directly tied to menhaden fishing in the Atlantic. As menhaden reduction fishing increases, relative striped bass biomass decreases. In other words, because striped bass are so dependent on Atlantic menhaden, reduction fishing is estimated to contribute to about a 30-percent decline in the striped bass population coastwide.
Saltwater recreational fishing in Virginia is enjoyed by 600,000 anglers annually, contributing $465 million to the commonwealth’s economy and supporting more than 6,500 jobs. The opportunities created by these fisheries are the lifeblood of our coastal communities, as more than 90 percent of the sportfishing and boating industry is made up of small businesses.
Virginia’s menhaden resources belong to all citizens of the commonwealth and not to one company whose profits are funneled back to an international corporation and its other international subsidiaries. By allowing this company to take the resource from our bay at a lower cost, Virginia in effect is subsidizing this operation. And since the menhaden fishing season only runs eight months out of the year, it’s up to Omega’s employees to find a new job to cover that gap or apply for unemployment during the off-season.
It’s time that Youngkin becomes the first Virginia governor to boost our Northern Neck economy, just as he did in Augusta and Hanover counties, by ending menhaden reduction fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, and by establishing good-paying jobs for Virginia citizens.
The detrimental impact of menhaden reduction fishing on the marine environment is so pronounced that it is outlawed in every state along the East Coast except Virginia. Let’s get with the times and produce some real economic change in the commonwealth by prioritizing the livelihoods of our hardworking citizens rather than prioritizing the bank accounts of foreign companies.
Please join the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association and other organizations by signing our petition to Gov. Youngkin to move the industrial harvest of menhaden out of the Chesapeake Bay by taking action right here.
Mike Avery, of Hampton, is the chairman of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association. Top photo by Steve Droter/Chesapeake Bay Program.
The conservation community is applauding a proposal from federal agencies that would protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northeast Minnesota. A long-awaited assessment from the U.S. Forest Service shows that copper-nickel mining poses a major risk to habitat, and the draft environmental assessment proposes a 20-year ban on copper-nickel mining on federal lands in the watershed.
The proposed moratorium from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would prohibit the development of any mineral leases on approximately 225,054 acres of Superior National Forest lands within the watershed of the Boundary Waters for up to 20 years.
“This EA validates what is obvious to any person devoted to this incredible water wilderness where we hunt and fish: The risk of copper-nickel mining to the purest waters remaining in the Lower 48 is flatly unacceptable,” says Lukas Leaf, executive director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. “This type of mining is not compatible with the BWCA watershed, and it’s clear that there’s solid scientific footing to implement the proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal.”
Another mineral withdrawal had been proposed during the Obama administration, but the Trump administration reversed it shortly after. Last year, the Biden administration reinitiated the study for two years. Earlier this year, the Department of the Interior also decided to cancel two federal hardrock mineral leases located in the Superior National Forest within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed, citing the importance of sustaining the Boundary Waters’ recreational, economic, and fish and wildlife values.
As part of the draft environmental assessment, a 30-day public comment period will open on June 28—stay tuned to the TRCP for updates on this step, which will require hunters and anglers to take action.
“We’ll be encouraging sportsmen and sportswomen to participate fully in this latest opportunity to speak out against the risk of mining in one-of-a-kind habitat and a bucket-list hunting, fishing, and paddling destination,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our community has been working diligently for years to get to this step, with a thorough assessment of the threats to the region from proposed development and clear support for conservation from our federal agencies. It speaks to the power of hunter and angler voices that we’ve come this far, and we appreciate the administration’s commitment to ensuring that future generations of Americans will be able to experience the Boundary Waters as we know them today.”
Following agency review of comments, the EA will be finalized and handed to the Bureau of Land Management, which will summarize and deliver it to the desk of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for a decision.
The new draft EA would extend protections for 20 years, but only Congress can implement a permanent ban. Rep. Betty McCollum, who was recently awarded TRCP’s James D. Range Conservation Award, has championed such protections for the BWCA via the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. If passed, H.R. 2794 would permanently protect 234,328 acres of federal lands and waters within the Superior National Forest from sulfide-ore copper mining. It has the support of local, regional, and national advocacy groups in favor of permanently protecting these critical resources.
To learn more, visit sportsmenbwca.org.
Sportsmen and sportswomen today applauded a USDA announcement regarding new guidance for the Forest Service’s management of public lands across the country. Secretarial Memorandum 1077-044, signed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, directs the agency to prioritize actions that will build climate resilience and enhance carbon stewardship on national forests and grasslands.
“We appreciate the Secretary’s direction on wildlife connectivity and migration corridor conservation, as well as the renewed focus on watershed health and restoration—this begins to address longstanding challenges facing our national forests and grasslands,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen look forward to working with the Forest Service to implement this memo and to see wildlife migration corridor conservation fully integrated into forest management planning and collaborative efforts with other agencies and landowners.”
Among other things, the memo directs the USFS to:
The TRCP plans to engage with our partners and USDA to expand and implement the SO’s directives that are aligned with our mission and relevant to the future of hunting and fishing.
Top photo courtesy of USFS / Scott Dickson via Flickr.
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.Learn More