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Guest Author Emily Baldauff

November 30, 2022

State Conservation Funding Program Is a Success Story in Pennsylvania

Get to know the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund that has improved key trout streams for future generations of anglers

It is written in our state constitution that Pennsylvanians have the right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment. This overarching dedication to conserving our woods and waters is an attribute that many Pennsylvanians hold dear.

Over the last few decades, Trout Unlimited has worked to preserve and protect coldwater fisheries across the country, including here in Pennsylvania. This work couldn’t be done without the passionate efforts of volunteers and supporters and sufficiently funded federal and state conservation programs.

One such program is the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund, which was created in 1993 with near-unanimous support from the Pennsylvania General Assembly and an overwhelming referendum vote by the general public. Since the fund was established, it has provided state-level matching dollars for a variety of conservation projects, including land acquisitions, river conservation, and trail improvements.

Over the years, the Keystone Fund has helped to fund many projects that benefit anglers. This includes the creation of the Brodhead Creek Heritage Center at the ForEvergreen Nature Preserve, along the historical Brodhead Creek in Monroe County; fish habitat and streambed improvements on the Monocacy Creek in the Lehigh Valley; and land preservation and planning efforts to restore and protect Valley Creek in the Southeast corner of the state.

These projects, along with countless others, have been made possible by the strong combination of state dollars and local matching funds, which have increased opportunities and access for anglers, families, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts in an array of neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth.

The Keystone Fund has helped TU to further its mission to “care for and recover rivers and streams” for future generations, but there is still much work to be done in ensuring Pennsylvanians will forever have access to over 86,000 miles of streams. Vital dedicated funding must continue to further restore and conserve those stream miles through the Keystone Fund and passionate local partners.

Emily Baldauff is Trout Unlimited’s Mid-Atlantic organizer and a native of northeastern Pennsylvania.

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Madeleine West

November 15, 2022

TRCP Welcomes BLM’s Increased Emphasis on Habitat Connectivity

Sportsmen and sportswomen applaud the agency’s commitment to coordinating with state and Tribal partners in implementing new BLM planning guidance

Today, the Bureau of Land Management issued a policy that prioritizes the conservation of habitat connectivity on more than 245 million acres of public lands. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership believes the updated guidance will help to ensure that the best-available science guides the BLM’s management of public lands, while emphasizing robust coordination and collaboration with state and Tribal partners.

The policy directs state offices to consider opportunities to conserve areas important for habitat connectivity as they evaluate, revise, or amend land-use plans—which dictate the management of BLM-administered public land, primarily across the Western U.S.—as well as during the review of specific project proposals and when prioritizing proactive habitat conservation and restoration projects.

Among the specific steps outlined, are:

  • Coordinate with states, Tribes, and other partners on shared strategies to remove physical barriers to wildlife movement through installation of wildlife-friendly fencing and highway crossing structures.
  • Consider alternatives during project-level environmental reviews that avoid, minimize, and mitigate for adverse impacts to areas important for habitat connectivity.
  • Address and appropriately analyze areas of habitat connectivity in new land-use planning processes.

“Across the West, the future of big game hunting depends on the continued ability of our elk, mule deer, and pronghorn herds to move across the landscape between seasonal habitats,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen appreciate the leadership demonstrated by the Bureau of Land Management in its commitment to habitat connectivity. Public lands managed by the agency comprise some of the most important seasonal ranges and migration corridors across the West, and it is imperative that the BLM’s efforts on this front are undertaken in close partnership with states and other key stakeholders, including in support of good conservation efforts undertaken by private landowners.”

This new BLM guidance builds off April’s announcement by Secretary Deb Haaland highlighting steps the Biden Administration is taking to continue implementation of Secretarial Order 3362 and BLM Instructional Memo 2018-062, both issued in 2018 by the Trump Administration to support hunting, fishing, and shooting sports and big game habitat on public lands. The BLM’s new policy also supports the executive orders issued by governors in Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming.

As the largest public land management agency, the BLM has a direct impact on the conservation of habitats critical to sustaining populations of big game animals that migrate seasonally—often over long distances—as well as a variety of other species that utilize those same habitats year-round.

Last year, the TRCP issued a report highlighting the need for public land management plans to be updated to conserve big game migration corridors and the seasonal habitats they connect. Many plans across the West are decades old and do not incorporate new migration science developed by state wildlife agencies that pinpoints where and how animals move across and utilize the landscape throughout the year. This information would improve the agency’s ability to manage multiple uses of the land to reduce conflicts with wildlife and guide proactive efforts to enhance habitats.

“Today’s announcement indicates the agency is prioritizing and creating forward momentum on one of the issues that matters most to sportsmen and sportswomen,” continued Fosburgh. “For implementation of this new guidance to be successful, the TRCP strongly supports the BLM’s commitment to coordinating closely with state and Tribal governments on habitat connectivity data and the incorporation of up-to-date, science-based management actions for our nation’s public lands. We look forward to working with our NGO partners, state agencies, Tribal governments, private landowners, and the BLM to ensure the agency has the resources necessary to implement this planning guidance and support habitat connectivity and migration corridor conservation across the country.”

Learn more about the TRCP’s efforts to conserve wildlife corridors.

 

Photo by Josh Metten

Carl Erquiaga

November 3, 2022

When It Comes to Healthy Herds, The Next Generation of Hunters Is Counting on Us

A family deer hunt reinforces the importance of forward-looking conservation solutions in Nevada

Over the years, acquiring a big game tag in Nevada has become highly competitive simply because there are far more hunters in our state than we have surplus animals available to harvest. All big game tags in Nevada are awarded through a lottery process and each year many sportsmen and sportswomen are disappointed because they do not draw.

Hunting is deeply engrained in my family. From very young ages, my children were engaged in my favorite pastime which later became theirs. All three have continued to hunt big game when given the opportunity. They love the meat as well as just being outdoors in the fall. When I was blessed with two granddaughters, I hoped they would also be interested in hunting on some level. The thought of sharing hunting knowledge, traditions, and experiences with them was a dream of mine.

This year, my 12-year-old granddaughter, Hayden, was eligible to apply for tags and fortunate enough to draw a youth mule deer tag. We made preparation and planning for the hunt a big part of our summer activities. When the season finally arrived, her dad and I took her across the state for the opening of her hunt. On the morning of the fourth day of hunting, Hayden spotted three bucks and we were able to get in range. With a well-placed shot, she put one of them down. To say we were excited would be an understatement! Amid a healthy amount of back-slapping, hugging, and even a few tears, the time-honored tradition of hunting in my family passed to the next generation. We made so many memories this fall that will last for the rest of our lives.

Hayden with her first mule deer

The point of this story is two-fold. One is to show how important our sport is to families like mine and how rewarding it is to recruit young hunters and make those memories in the field. The second point is that these traditions and opportunities depend on healthy herds and intact habitats in our state. For that reason, I’m particularly encouraged by two important steps taken by wildlife and land management agencies in Nevada that promise a brighter future for our big game populations.

Under an executive order issued by Governor Sisolak in 2021, the Nevada Department of Wildlife is developing a Sagebrush Habitat Plan with the goal of recovering our sagebrush habitats that so many species depend on. The sagebrush ecosystem is one of the most imperiled in the United States today. More than 50 percent of all historic sagebrush habitats range-wide have been lost to threats such as wildfire, invasive species, pinyon-juniper encroachment, climate change, and fragmentation caused by human development. The Sagebrush Habitat Plan will set priorities, establish focus areas, and identify funding for recovery efforts, ensuring that we take a forward-looking approach to this conservation challenge.

As part of the same executive order, NDOW will also be creating a Wildlife Connectivity Plan in the next year. By GPS tracking collars to study species like mule deer and pronghorn, wildlife researchers are able to produce detailed maps that illustrate and inform our understanding of how big game animals use migration corridors to travel from summer to winter habitat and return. This data can identify chokepoints or obstacles that our herds encounter on the landscape, as well as important areas called stopovers where animals spend time resting and recovering along their journeys, finding vital nutrition to make it through the winter.

NDOW has already completed extensive mapping of three of our largest deer populations in the northeast corner of Nevada. Once they determine the specific habitats that deer prefer to use, agencies can direct funding and projects to those areas that may need restoration. These maps are also used to pinpoint where wildlife highway crossings are needed to provide safe passage for deer when their migration paths intersect with major roadways. NDOW and Nevada Department of Transportation have constructed several important crossings you may have seen on Interstate 80 and Highway 93, east and north of Wells, Nevada. When released, the finished Connectivity Plan will likely identify other areas where wildlife-friendly infrastructure should be built.

Wildlife crossing at Pequop Summit on Interstate 80

It’s no secret that mule deer populations throughout Nevada are declining. No doubt there are many reasons for this, some of which have not yet been identified. The development of these plans is just a piece of the work needed to recover our deer herds, but together they are a very encouraging step in the right direction. This important work will take time and there is no one single solution to the many challenges facing our big game herds.

In the meantime, sportsmen and sportswomen should be speaking up when given the chance and asking agencies to place our big game populations high on their priority list. We owe it to the next generation so they, and future generations, can enjoy and carry on the pastime of hunting as we know it.

November 2, 2022

The Power of Grasslands, Grazing, and Ranchers Who Get It Right

A second-generation Texas ranch owner shares the real-world impact of climate change on her land and how she has taken action to be part of the solution

Meredith Ellis is a second-generation rancher in Rosston, Texas, a small agricultural community in the northeast part of the state. Working ranches are an incredibly important part of the fabric of wildlife habitat connectivity woven between public and private lands in America, and responsible grazing practices benefit huntable species in many ways. Ellis is part of a new generation of ranchers who are also thinking about their contributions to climate resilience and how certain agricultural practices can boost carbon storage and soil quality while benefiting their businesses. This is powerful motivation, because—like hunters and anglers—ranchers are out on the land every day, on the front lines of climate change, seeing how it is already impacting our natural world.  

Here is Meredith’s story of witnessing those effects and taking action.

As a rancher, my job requires that I am outdoors every day, and one of the most satisfying aspects of this is seeing how animals use and provide a benefit to our grazing lands. I have documented over 500 species, including 91 different species of birds. Bald eagles roost in one of our pastures in the fall and winter. We also have an elusive river otter family that refuses to be photographed. 

I have documented nine different types of milkweed, alone. Milkweed is toxic to cattle, so they do not consume it, but it’s a great example of what native species are giving back to our land. Monarch butterflies rely on milkweed, as most people know. It also contains a deep fibrous taproot that enhances water infiltration and holding capacity in the soil, so that when it rains, milkweed helps to prevent erosion and allows for every drop of water to percolate deep into the ground, making it available during long periods of drought. 

Society has historically undervalued grazing lands, despite the important role they play in species conservation, the hydrological cycle, water quality downstream, and carbon sequestration and storage.  

The loss of our native grasslands to development reflects this misunderstanding. 

Across the U.S. and Canada, around 80 percent of our grasslands have been converted to other uses and about 97 percent of tallgrass prairie, in particular, has been converted. Texas is separated into ecoregions, including the blackland prairie—what was once 12 million acres of pristine grazing land that has now dwindled into just 5,000 acres. A few miles down the road from my ranch, there is a 300-home subdivision going in. What was once a pasture for grazing cattle is now completely paved over. 

Then there’s climate change. I grew up on this ranch and was part of growing it from 450 acres to 3,000 acres over the last 40 years, and I’ve noticed a great deal of ephemeral changes occurring over time. I’ve seen very early or very late blooming periods, more severe weather, and heavier sporadic rainfall followed by extensive dry spells.  

I’ve seen a monarch butterfly that had clearly begun its migration way too early in the season—it was jumping from spot to spot in search of milkweed that would not grow for another month. I’ve also experienced the terror and heartbreak of the freeze of February 2021, when the temperature in Texas was colder than the north pole. One morning at first light, it was -6 degrees. I bundled up, headed to the barn, and noticed a mockingbird perched on a limb, frozen solid.   

Perhaps this is why I feel that it is becoming increasingly necessary to build in climate resilience through land stewardship principles in the face of increasingly devastating weather events. Ranches must be both drought and flood resilient. It is a matter of our national food security. 

Growing up on this ranch, I was a tomboy and was rarely indoors. You could usually find me somewhere on the ranch riding my horse and building forts. I attended our small local school and upon graduation, with the know-it-all attitude of an 18-year-old, I was so very ready to get out of here. I wanted to see the world, and I did. I have been to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and beyond.  

I eventually found myself at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where I received my bachelor’s in business and a master’s degree in landscape architecture with a focus on sustainability. As far away from ranching as that sounds, it was there that I realized the importance of what my dad was doing back home on our ranch. Through my studies, I learned about urban sprawl, the truncation of migratory patterns and pathways, and became keenly aware of most Americans’ disconnection with where their food comes from—and with nature as a whole.  

I headed home with the conviction I needed to learn the skills necessary and continue our ranching operation as the second generation.  

Around this time, I also became a mom. As all new moms realize upon holding their newborn, suddenly my life wasn’t just about me anymore—it was about my child and his future. What would this world be like when he was my age? There had been more and more studies about how detrimental the beef industry was for the environment in terms of its carbon footprint. I wouldn’t be able to say I did the best I could for my son’s future knowing I was a contributor to climate change.   

So, I jumped at the chance to participate in a new effort to quantify carbon sequestration through land stewardship in agriculture—a part of the Noble Research Institute’s Land Stewardship Program which was a pilot for what is now known as the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium. I shared enormous amounts of data with the ESMC, including our fuel usage, fertilizer usage, rainfall amounts, forested land, grass type, pasture boundaries, and where and when each cow was grazing on our ranch 365 days out of the year etc.  

It was an enormous amount of work, but as a result of that process, I received reassuring news: After accounting for the methane our cattle burp, our fuel usage, their grazing impact on the land, and any other element considered a carbon source, and then weighing that against the carbon being sequestered on our operation, initial data modeling indicates that every year on average, we are sequestering a net 2500 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. That is the equivalent of taking 551 cars off the road.   

This valuable knowledge indicated to me that ranching can either be a cause for good and a climate solution or a detriment to the environment, depending on the day-to-day decisions of the rancher.  

The key to our success is how we allow cattle to exist on our land. If you go back hundreds of years and think of how bison migrated across our national grazing lands, you discover a symbiosis between ruminant herds of animals and the grasslands. Grasslands thrive on appropriate disturbance of the landscape, such as trampling dead leaf matter, allowing it to make contact with the ground, turning it to compost and eventually to soil. As ruminant animals move through the landscape, they knock seeds onto the ground, push them into the soil with their hooves, and then fertilize them with their manure.   

Through multiyear biodiversity studies comparing grazed versus under-grazed areas of our ranch, the grazed areas are much healthier and vibrant. There is greater biodiversity in these areas, as well.  

All of this led me to the conclusion that removing cattle from the landscape was not the answer but allowing cattle to mimic their natural instinctual migratory patterns, just as the bison did hundreds of years ago, was essential. Ultimately, my job as a rancher is to allow my cattle to exist appropriately within the landscape that they co-evolved, acting as a catalyst for land health. To achieve this, I am the ultimate observer, watching my cattle’s interaction with the landscape and knowing when to “migrate” them to the next pasture. It is a knowledge that is science-based but also comes from years of living outside within this landscape with my beloved cows. 

I believe the ranching community is embracing these kinds of changes. I am a board member of the Integrity Beef Alliance, which, along with partners, has been awarded $30 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture climate-smart commodities grant. Funding goes toward not only education and outreach about land stewardship practices but also boosting transparency in the beef industry. We want to set apart climate-smart and conservation-oriented ranchers, like me, from ranchers who aren’t doing right by the environment, and give customers a choice at the supermarket. The program, called Integrity Beef Legacy, is 100-percent producer-led and -developed, and I really think it is going to revolutionize the industry, putting the power back in the hands of the land stewards. 

If you’re experiencing the effects of climate change where you hunt and fish, share your story here. 

 

Photos courtesy of Meredith Ellis.

Liz Rose

October 27, 2022

Improving Management Where Big Game and Recreation Overlap on Public Land

If updated, Colorado Bureau of Land Management plans could prevent habitat loss and reduce tensions between recreational user groups

When it comes to our public lands, it is possible to have it all—healthy wildlife populations, accessible trail systems, and a vibrant outdoor recreation economy. But given the many uses and increasing pressures on our public lands, that won’t happen by accident.  

As our recent analysis shows, about 40 percent of the most important elk habitat in Colorado is already impacted by motorized and non-motorized trail users. A clear framework for balanced land management offers our best chance of reducing conflicts between user groups while also minimizing impacts to our shared natural resources. 

That’s why we’re calling on the Colorado Bureau of Land Management to set a clear, consistent direction and ensure informed management of the most important big game habitats on public lands. Here’s what you need to know. 

Increased Pressure on Shrinking Habitat 

In Colorado, we’re fortunate to have a variety of big game animals—such as elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn—and opportunities to recreate outdoors 365 days per year in some form or fashion. Wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation often overlap on public lands, and it’s clear that interest in, and usage of, public lands for recreation is increasing. From 2012 to 2017, trail-based recreation in Colorado increased by 44 percent, and visitation to Colorado state parks and BLM lands jumped by more than 20 percent every year for the past few years. 

At the same time, in some parts of the state, guides, outfitters, hunters, and local business owners reliant on hunting-related income are frustrated, because the number of limited hunting licenses available for antlerless elk in Colorado is not even half of what it was 18 years ago, representing a loss of almost 70,000 cow elk tags. This is an attempt to stabilize the state’s elk herds, as elk cow-calf ratios have been declining for the last 20 years in much of the state, meaning our herds have lower success at producing and raising elk calves than they used to. 

These declines are due to several factors, but chief among them is habitat loss.  

As elk and other big game habitats are increasingly squeezed by residential, commercial, and industrial development, what habitat remains is often fragmented by roads, train lines, fences, and recreational trails. Studies investigating elk herds’ struggles to produce and raise offspring are ongoing in Colorado, and recreation-driven disturbance to elk is one of the major focuses for researchers. 

A Need for Informed, Consistent Direction 

Given the clear potential for adverse effects on big game herds by motorized and non-motorized recreation, the risk of increased conflict between stakeholder groups over competing management priorities is concerning. That’s why it is critical that an overarching strategy guides land-use management in a way that reflects the latest data and science and balances interests in order to facilitate consistent application of best planning and management practices and avoid further conflict and controversy. 

However, despite the significant proportion of Colorado BLM public lands that overlap with high-priority big game habitat, and the abundance of mapped trails on those lands, there remains no clear, consistent direction for responsible recreation management on public lands managed by the agency. 

An Important Opportunity 

Right now, however, Colorado BLM has the opportunity to incorporate the latest science on big game behavior and habitat needs and provide consistent recreation management direction to its field offices across the state through its ongoing Big Game Resource Management Plan Amendment process.  

The BLM can reduce impacts to big game animals—including elk, deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep—in a number of ways. This includes directing recreational development outside of important big game habitat, where possible, or limiting route densities within important habitats and employing seasonal use limitations when and where it’s needed. 

Ensuring that Colorado maintains its world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and thriving wildlife populations is a top priority for state agencies and elected officials. Governor Jared Polis’s 2020 executive order creating the Colorado Outdoor Regional Partnerships Initiative set in motion a process for developing a statewide Conservation and Recreation Plan to balance the needs of wildlife and recreational public land users. It will be informed by regionally developed priorities for recreation and conservation, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Habitat Conservation and Connectivity Plan, and, ideally, the BLM’s Big Game Resource Management Plan Amendment.  

What You Can Do 

The BLM’s adoption of well-vetted management actions would help minimize big game habitat loss, compensate for some of the adverse impacts to Colorado big game herds, and facilitate responsible recreation development throughout the state. Join us in calling on the BLM to set this direction. Take action using our simple advocacy tool to push for the responsible management of recreation and big game habitats through the Big Game Resource Management Plan Amendment. 

 

Photo: Dan Swackhammer

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