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Chris Macaluso

October 12, 2022

$100M Coastal Restoration Project Completed in the Gulf with Oil Spill Fines

After setbacks from Hurricane Ida, the beaches and natural barriers that protect estuary and marsh habitat and coastal communities have been restored

The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has been working for more than 15 years to rebuild the natural speedbumps that separate the waves and storm surges of the Gulf of Mexico from the inner Barataria Basin. This summer, the final piece of that restoration puzzle was placed with the completion of a more than $100-million project to restore and protect Grand Terre Island using fines and settlements from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster 

Located less than two miles east of Grand Isle, Grand Terre’s reconstructive surgery began in the spring of 2021, when a dredge located about five miles southeast of the island began pumping sand to rebuild approximately four miles of beaches and dunes and nearly 150 acres of marsh on the north side of the island. Bulldozers and backhoes shaped the sand and mud, while rock breakwaters were reenforced along Barataria Pass and installed along the northside of the island to protect restored marshes from wave action.  

Construction was slated to wrap up by the end of 2021, however Hurricane Ida slammed into Grand Terre, Grand Isle, and the rest of Southeast Louisiana with unprecedented ferocity last August, before the restoration effort was complete.  

Fortunately, CPRA was able to allocate some additional funds to the project to offset the damage caused by Ida, and restoration resumed in late 2021, said CPRA executive director Bren Haase. 

“The restoration projects in the area that were finished before Ida hit fared very well during the storm, but the ones like Grand Terre that were still under construction did suffer some significant damage,” Haase said. “Much of the sand and sediment that was pumped to rebuild beaches and dunes wound up being captured by the marsh and the rock containments behind the island, and some of it stayed fairly close to the backside of the island.”  

Haase said restoration of barrier islands and headland beaches in the Barataria Basin began in earnest in 2006 and ramped up significantly during and after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Every beach between Scofield Island, near Venice, to Belle Pass at the mouth of Bayou Lafourche and thousands of acres of back-barrier marshes have been restored in the Barataria Basin. This has reestablished a 45-mile-wide boundary between the more sensitive marshes and ridges to the north and the Gulf to the south.  

“Maintaining that barrier between open Gulf and the estuary is critical to fisheries production and protecting infrastructure in the Barataria Basin,” Haase said. “It’s also important to maintain the integrity of the passes between the islands like Barataria Pass and Coup Abel Pass, not only to allow for tidal exchange and boat passage, but also because those areas are important spawning areas for fish and provide opportunity for fishing.”  

Haase said work will continue and hopefully ramp up significantly in coming years to rebuild marshes north of the Barataria Basin’s restored barrier islands. Without additional marsh creation from dredging projects, sediment pipelines from the Mississippi River, and the additional sediment supplied by the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, barrier island restoration projects and the integrity of passes are in jeopardy.  

Hurricane Ida made that effort more urgent and more difficult by washing away more than 100 square miles of marshes in the upper Barataria Basin last year.  

“Reducing the volume of water behind the barrier islands is top priority, otherwise the islands can’t hold up to the amount of water that is trying to pass through and fill in all the open water areas in the basin,” Haase said. “Sediment delivery projects and largescale marsh and ridge restoration efforts—like the 500-acre marsh creation at Grand Liard, the more than 1,600 acres of marsh recently built at Spanish Pass near Venice, and the sediment we will get from the Mid-Barataria diversion—are especially important if we want those barrier islands to last and have the basin be productive in the future.”  

Captain Frank Dreher guides speckled trout and redfish charters out of Grand Isle and often seeks shelter behind Grand Terre when spring and summer winds make it tough to fish beaches or other open-water areas.  

“We catch a lot of fish at Grand Terre, both along the beach when the wind and waves allow as well as along the rocks behind the island,” Dreher said. “You can see the difference in the productivity of the areas where we have healthy marsh, like the restored marsh at Grand Terre and East Grand Terre. There are shrimp, mullet, croakers, crabs, all kinds of food behind those islands.”  

Dreher said he focuses much of his fishing efforts on areas near Grand Isle that have been restored in the last 10 years, including Queen Bess Island, Fifi Island, Grand Terre and East Grand Terre, and the Caminada Headlands, more commonly known as Elmer’s Island and the Fourchon Beach.  

In each case, restoration efforts have changed the way the fish use the habitat and how he and other anglers approach the areas. However, once new beaches and marshes have a chance to settle and waves and tides begin to carve contours along the bottom, fishing generally improves.  

“There is a lot of shallow water around Grand Terre since the restoration project, and some areas where we could get right up behind the island or right next to the beach are too shallow to get to now,” Dreher said. “I was glad to see them doing the work to Grand Terre, even though I knew it would change the fishing for a while. We still caught fish there this spring and summer. If not for that island and Queen Bess, we’re looking at more than 10 miles of open water to the north before we hit marsh. Grand Terre gives us a place to fish.”  

This story was originally published in the fall 2022 issue of  Louisiana Sportsman Magazine. 

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Madeleine West

October 11, 2022

Half of Sagebrush Ecosystem Has Been Lost, According to Report

Federal agencies announce new strategy for conserving iconic habitat 

A new U.S. Geological Survey report shows that half of the original sagebrush ecosystem has been lost at a rate of approximately 1.3 million acres each year in the last two decades. 

The sagebrush ecosystem is the largest terrestrial biome in the Lower 48 at over 165 million acres spanning 13 Western states. It is home, of course, to the iconic greater sage grouse, a species that has driven unprecedented collaboration between state and federal managers for multiple decades, and yet sage grouse populations continue to decline 

Sagebrush habitat also supports ranching, an important sector of the Western economy, and 350 species besides sage grouse. Many of these—like mule deer, pronghorn, and other grouse species—are important to sportsmen and sportswomen. In fact, the rapid decline of this ecosystem should resonate with anyone seeking hunting opportunities across the West, not just grouse hunters. Here’s just one example of the impact on big game in Southern Oregon.  

The report finds that the decline in sagebrush habitat is both ecosystem- and human-driven. Causes include events like more frequent and intense wildfires, the spread of invasive annual grasses that fill in after fires have passed through, and the encroachment of conifers into the shrub-steppe landscape, which reduces the amount of forage available to support wildlife. But a quarter of the impact on the ecosystem is attributed to urban development, suburban sprawl, and energy extraction—all activities that reduce the quality of habitat.  

Significantly, the report also maps out 33 million acres of remaining high-quality, intact sagebrush habitat, termed “core areas.” And the authors suggest that the highest priority for preventing future declines to the ecosystem, as a whole, is to invest in the conservation and preservation of this remaining 33 million acres.  

Continued efforts to prevent degradation, whether from the spread of invasive weeds or human development, in these core areas will slow habitat declines at a broad scale and should be the top priority. But the report also calls for revamping another 84 million acres termed “growth opportunity areas”—lower quality habitat that the researchers say could be restored to higher functionality through revegetation, conifer removal, spraying of weeds, and other activities to bolster core habitat.  

Investing in these tactics that keep the remaining high-quality habitat intact and functional, and improve marginal habitat to a high quality, will be most effective at reducing the ecosystem’s overall decline.  

These findings are somewhat of a game changer, because up to now, state, federal, and local agencies and nonprofits have targeted restoration of the most degraded lands in the hopes of retaining more sagebrush. But the success rates of restoring low-quality sagebrush vary.  By recommending the maintenance of core habitat first, this report  sets a new standard by which investments can be made in conservation and restoration to make a difference across a large swath of the American West.  

These recommendations come at a critical time: Federal agencies are now deciding how to spend once-in-a-generation investments in infrastructure and climate change solutions, and efforts to maintain sagebrush habitats and support increased biodiversity and resiliency fit the bill. Congress is also debating additional proposals that would support local investment in restoration of sagebrush and grassland habitats, like the North American Grasslands Act.  

The time is now to increase investment in conservation and restoration actions, and the need is great. This report demonstrates how such investments can have a real and meaningful impact on a vast ecosystem that provides for so many species and is such an integral part of Western life.  

Learn more about the impact on sage grouse by watching this excellent Eastmans’ film and taking action using TRCP’s simple advocacy tools. 

Andrew Earl

October 6, 2022

New Poll Finds Overwhelming Support for Better CWD Management

88% of Americans polled support additional federal investments in chronic wasting disease management and surveillance 

One of the greatest challenges we face in addressing the spread of chronic wasting disease is communicating urgency around such a complex issue that affects people in so many ways. Hunters and non-hunters, the old and the young, and rural folks and city dwellers all have something at stake when it comes to this disease’s impact on wildlife and the outdoors. 

Now, we know a little more about Americans’ breadth of understanding of the CWD threat and how much support there is for solutions. 

In a recent poll of 800 random voters from across the U.S., an overwhelming 94 percent said that the presence of wildlife was important to their quality of life, and 92 percent believe wildlife is important to their state’s economy. It’s no surprise, then, that hunters and non-hunters strongly support action on CWD:  

  • 88 percent support additional federal investment in CWD management at the state level. 
  • 93 percent support increasing the disease detection standards required of captive cervid operations if they are to be accredited as “low-risk” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. 
  • 90 percent support limiting the movement of live, captive deer between facilities to lower the possibility of disease spread—and half of this group said they strongly support such action. 

In total, 96 percent of respondents support their states taking action to curb the spread of CWD across the landscape.  

The poll was conducted on behalf of the TRCP and National Deer Association. Both organizations have been working for years to educate the public about the impacts of chronic wasting disease on deer, give hunters the tools to prevent CWD transmission, and alert lawmakers to the fact that the rampant spread of CWD threatens the future of wild deer and deer hunting in North America. 

Currently, the federal government sends $10 million in funding to state and Tribal agencies for CWD management through cooperative agreements with the USDA each year, and invests $2 million annually in CWD research at the National Wildlife Research Center. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come close to addressing the urgent need on the landscape. The CWD Research and Management Act, if passed by the Senate this year, would increase the overall investment to $70 million annually through fiscal year 2028 and evenly split funding between CWD management and research priorities.  

Increasing these oversubscribed funds is the most immediate way that Congress can impact disease spread on the landscape. But the Biden Administration should also look at these poll findings and realize that it is time to examine and reform the existing Herd Certification Program for captive deer operations. Participation in the voluntary HCP continues to slide, and the disease is being detected more and more often at certified facilities. Without action, the problem’s scope and cost of associated solutions will only increase. 

Learn more about chronic wasting disease and our poll by visiting TRCP’s new online resource for all things CWD 

Michael O'Casey

October 4, 2022

Planning for Big Game Population Success in Southeast Oregon

The single-most important step that can be taken to revitalize herds on the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge 

Over the previous three blogs in this series, I’ve covered the history behind the creation of the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, the role of these public lands in the recovery of bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope populations, and some of the threats facing these species and others across the Great Basin. In this final blog, we’ll dive a bit deeper into policy. 

While it’s not as thrilling or attention-grabbing as a video of a biologist flying in a helicopter to capture bighorn sheep, the rules and guidance that inform the on-the-ground management actions of federal agencies are central to how we achieve our mission to “guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.” So, hang in there as I provide details about a few policies that guide the work of the world’s first wildlife conservation agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  

Background: 

The earliest roots of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service date back to 1871 with the establishment of the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Since that time, the name has changed many times, but the mission to restore and safeguard fish, wildlife, and their habitats has remained constant. The nation’s first national wildlife refuge was established by President Theodore Roosevelt on Pelican Island, Florida, in 1903. Since that time, the National Wildlife Refuge System has expanded to include 567 refuges on more than 100 million acres across the country. 

Many laws and regulations have been created since the first refuge in 1903, but two acts of Congress in particular form the basis for today’s refuge mandates and management tactics. The first piece of comprehensive legislation was the National Wildlife System Administration Act of 1966. This law formally established the National Wildlife Refuge System, provided new refuge guidance, and—perhaps most importantly—required that activities on any given refuge must be ‘compatible’ with its established purpose. It also identified six priority public uses on national wildlife refuges: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, interpretation, and environmental education. 

In 1997, Congress passed a significant amendment to the Administration Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, which further strengthened the underlying philosophy that “wildlife comes first” on refuges. Among its key provisions is a requirement that every national wildlife refuge develop a comprehensive conservation plan and revise it every 15 years.  

Comprehensive conservation plans ensure that each refuge unit is managed to fulfill the purposes for which it was established. They describe the desired future conditions of a refuge and provide long-term guidance and management direction to maximize the quality of fish and wildlife habitat. While the ecological and biological sciences serve as the foundation of each CCP, the process of developing and revising these documents relies on public participation and input from local community members such as business owners, hunters, anglers, wildlife enthusiasts, and more.  

How does a CCP matter to Hart Mountain: 

In 2012, the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge initiated a planning process to revise its CCP, which would have created the opportunity to ensure that the refuge’s management plan incorporated the best-available science and addressed its most pressing challenges. As I’ve detailed in prior blogs, big game populations on the refuge face a number of significant threats that require active management. Climate change, diminished habitat quality, increased recreational use, and mountain lion predation are all factors that affect Hart Mountain’s legacy of conservation success. Unfortunately, the planning process was put on hold in 2016 before a new plan could be completed and as a result the refuge is still being managed under the 1994 CCP, which is now 28 years old and long obsolete. 

The TRCP and its partners appreciate the work of the Fish and Wildlife Service in completing the recently finalized Bighorn Sheep Management Plan for Hart Mountain that aims to reverse a rapidly declining population. Now, the refuge needs a full CCP revision to improve habitat conditions for pronghorn, mule deer, sage grouse, and other species experiencing regional declines. Furthermore, a revised CCP should utilize the best-available science and consider additional opportunities to conserve and enhance the pronghorn antelope migration that was the basis for the creation of the refuge.  

Reinitiating a CCP planning process for Hart Mountain is the single-most important step that can be taken for healthy habitats and robust wildlife populations on these public lands. Big game herds on the refuge offer sportsmen and sportswomen one-of-a-kind hunting opportunities that we can’t afford to lose.    

Take action today for one of the nation’s first big game refuges, the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge.  

Randall Williams

September 28, 2022

TRCP’s Webster Appointed to Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council

Expert panel to advise key federal agencies on issues important to hunters and anglers

On September 23, in anticipation of National Hunting and Fishing Day, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced 18 members of the Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Vice President of Western Conservation, Joel Webster was appointed as a primary member of the Council for a three-year term. The Council will meet twice annually and function to advise the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture on issues relating to wildlife and habitat conservation.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to the interests of hunters, anglers, and wildlife habitat by serving on the Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council,” said Joel Webster, TRCP Vice President of Western Conservation. “From conserving big game migration corridors on BLM and Forest Service lands to expanding hunting and fishing access on National Wildlife Refuges, I’m excited to roll up my sleeves alongside other Council members help our federal agencies create a better future for American sportsmen and sportswomen.”

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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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