Momentous Clean Water Safeguards Secured for Bristol Bay
TRCP cheers decision to protect the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery
Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue final Clean Water Act safeguards for the headwaters of Bristol Bay. This decision restricts and prohibits the discharge of mine waste in Bristol Bay, adding another layer of durable protection against the formerly proposed Pebble Mine.
Bristol Bay is home to the most prolific sockeye salmon run on the planet. In 2022, nearly 80 million sockeye returned to Bristol Bay, smashing the region’s previous record of 66 million fish in 2021. More than 14,000 jobs are directly supported by this sustainable fishery. In addition to the region’s abundant salmon, hunters and anglers from around the world are drawn to Bristol Bay in search of its famed brown bears and trophy trout.
“Today’s decision is a hard-earned victory for Bristol Bay residents, the majority of Alaskans, and the four million Americans who have repeatedly requested conservation safeguards for this special place,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska program manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The hunt-fish community is thrilled to know that another layer of safeguards now exists for the headwaters of Bristol Bay.”
Today’s decision by the EPA restricts mine waste in the rivers, streams, and wetlands of the North and South Fork of the Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek in Bristol Bay’s headwaters. This action is supported by strong science and overwhelming public support. In the most recent public comment period, more than half a million people supported Clean Water Act safeguards for Bristol Bay.
“Bristol Bay is one of the world’s great fishing and hunting destinations,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The TRCP commends the administration’s decision to safeguard the headwaters of Bristol Bay, and we remain committed to securing permanent protections for this world-class fishery.”
Historic Protections Announced for Boundary Waters
Department of the Interior orders 20-year mineral withdrawal in the Rainy River Watershed of Northeast Minnesota
Today, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland cemented historic protections for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness by signing an order to withdraw approximately 225,504 acres of public land in the Rainy River Watershed of Northeast Minnesota from federal mineral leasing for a period of 20 years. The mineral withdrawal order will ban federal hard rock mineral leasing upstream of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park.
This monumental decision ensures that future generations of hunters, anglers, and paddlers will be able to fish for lake trout, chase grouse, and share a campfire under the stars in America’s most visited wilderness for decades to come.
Across the country, this significant decision is being celebrated. Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters would like to express our deepest gratitude to this administration for its leadership in protecting the BWCA from sulfide-ore copper mining.
Not only is this announcement a milestone in the history of the BWCA, but it also affirms the immeasurable value of the Boundary Waters to Minnesota’s outdoor economy, its unparalleled recreational opportunities, and its contribution to the legacy of our nation’s public lands and waters. Thank you to all who have stood shoulder to shoulder with us for years in defense of the Boundary Waters.
The Boundary Waters provides world-class opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to hunt, fish, and camp in a true backcountry Wilderness landscape. Today’s decision guarantees that the Boundary Waters is a place where Minnesota’s hunting and fishing heritage will be protected for future generations.
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters would like to thank every hunter, angler, and BWCA advocate who spoke up to preserve the integrity of this wild and truly special place. The ongoing work to conserve the Boundary Waters watershed would not be possible without our partner organizations and enthusiastic supporters, and we are forever grateful for the ongoing support from our community.
Conservation leaders across the country are applauding today’s decision:
“The TRCP applauds the administration’s decision to safeguard the Rainy River watershed from mining for the coming two decades, and we will continue to work to conserve the Boundary Waters permanently,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This world-class fishing, hunting, and canoeing destination has provided generations of Americans with important outdoor experiences, and today’s decision will support future opportunities.”
“The time I’ve spent in the Boundary Waters, especially with my family by my side, are memories I deeply cherish,” said Land Tawney, CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Today’s decision by this administration to protect these unique public lands and waters will not only conserve an irreplaceable landscape; it will also ensure that experiences like mine will be possible for all Americans and their families to enjoy forever.”
“The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of the most magnificent landscapes in America and provides outstanding habitat for moose, bears, otters, lynx, wolves, and hundreds of species of birds,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Allowing sulfide-ore mining in the ‘crown jewel of Up North’ would be devastating to the hundreds of wildlife species that make their home in the pristine watershed and would have threatened a billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy that supports 17,000 jobs. Secretary Deb Haaland’s decision is one that future generations will look back upon with gratitude.”
Conservation Safeguards Restored in Southeast Alaska
TRCP commends the reinstatement of conservation measures on the Tongass, America’s largest national forest
Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated the return of conservation safeguards to more than 9 million acres of quality fish and wildlife habitat in Southeast Alaska.
The Tongass National Forest is home to some of the most productive hunting and fishing grounds in Alaska. By reinstating the Roadless Rule across the Tongass, the U.S. Forest Service will limit industrial development activities—such as new road building and large-scale logging—across 9.37 million acres of undeveloped public lands. The agency will continue to offer reasonable allowances for restoration activities and community development projects that serve the public interest, such as local hydropower installations. The decision will not affect previously roaded and logged forests.
“The TRCP applauds today’s decision to restore common sense conservation measures to the Tongass,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska program manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sitka black-tailed deer, brown bear, salmon, and many other species in the Tongass depend on mature, intact forests and watersheds to thrive. Our public forests sustain our communities, and we should be managing them for today’s needs and for generations to come.”
As the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, the Tongass National Forest plays an important role in buffering the effects of climate change in Alaska and beyond. These hardworking, mature forests can’t provide climate or habitat benefits if they are opened to industrial development. The Roadless Rule ensures that intact habitat within roadless areas in the Tongass will remain that way.
Reinstating the Roadless Rule on the Tongass is one component of the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, unveiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July 2021. The sustainability strategy aligns the management of the Tongass with local values and the region’s biggest economic engines: tourism, recreation, and fishing.
Pairing the restoration of conservation safeguards with new, robust investments in Southeast Alaska’s economy, the USDA’s framework was developed in partnership with local communities, Alaska Native leaders, and various stakeholders as a balanced solution that promises a sustainable future for a vibrant region. The strategy also ensures that the Tongass National Forest will remain an iconic hunting and fishing destination.
“Tongass National Forest safeguards have long been a TRCP priority because of the benefits they provide to continued hunting and fishing opportunities in the region,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate USDA prioritizing sustainable forest management practices that will result in productive habitats, improved recreational opportunities, and more resilient communities.”
Leading up to the recent announcement, more than 250,000 Americans asked the administration to restore roadless area conservation measures on the Tongass National Forest, including a broad spectrum of hunters, anglers, recreation business owners, Tribal leaders, and other conservationists.
The 118th Congress is now underway, with narrow majorities in both the House and Senate and a considerable workload in the coming year. Fortunately, conservation issues have a way of garnering bipartisan agreement—a necessity as Congress takes up landmark legislation like the 2023 Farm Bill. The TRCP and our partners look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to advance conservation solutions in the coming months.
Here’s what’s at the top of our list for habitat and access in 2023.
Investing in Landowner-Led Conservation
Providing over $6 billion each year for voluntary, incentive-based conservation, the Farm Bill is the biggest piece of legislation impacting fish and wildlife in the U.S. Congress crafts a new Farm Bill every five years, and with the last bill expiring in September, 2023 is when decisions will be made that shape habitat on private lands for half a decade.
That is why the TRCP and our partner groups have been hard at work over the past several months to develop a comprehensive platform for what hunters and anglers would like to see in the 2023 bill.
This includes tripling investment in the popular Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, which provides dollars directly to state agencies to expand local walk-in hunting access opportunities by working with willing landowners. VPA-HIP provides a significant return on investment, with $5.20 in economic activity for every dollar invested in the program. That supports not just the landowners that choose to enroll, but also local businesses like game processors, diners, motels, gas stations, and more. The access, of course, is a boon for sportsmen and sportswomen, particularly in states where there are few public lands. In fact, when polled, nearly 60 percent of hunters in Illinois said that the land made available through the Illinois Recreational Access Program was the only huntable acreage accessible to them.
Beyond VPA-HIP, hunters and anglers are looking to lawmakers to improve the Conservation Reserve Program to ensure it remains a premier tool for habitat conservation, prioritize the enrollment of conservation easements to keep working lands and their habitats in place, and ensure that wildlife remain a co-equal focus of USDA conservation programs as climate mitigation becomes a growing priority in agriculture.
Improving Recreation Opportunities on Public Lands
As lawmakers negotiated an end-of-year funding deal in late 2022, a proposed package of recreation and public lands bills wound up on the cutting room floor and should receive top billing in 2023.
This starts with the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, a bipartisan package of bills developed by Senators Manchin and Barrasso to enhance recreation opportunities on public lands. Included are bills directing the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to expand access to shooting ranges and complete road-use planning on their lands. Other bills would streamline permitting processes for guides and outfitters, limit the spread of invasive species, support gateway communities, and make it easier for outdoorsmen and women to experience our vast public lands.
Providing Necessary Resources for State Wildlife Management
For more than a century, sportsmen and sportswomen have led the charge on new ways to invest in fish and wildlife habitat. That leadership role continues in 2023 as we look for a way to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, landmark legislation that would provide $1.4 billion annually in dedicated funding to state wildlife agencies to conserve species of greatest concern. Not only would this new funding restore habitat and benefit hunters and anglers, it would also keep those species from being listed under the Endangered Species Act, minimizing untold costs to the energy industry, developers, and small businesses.
The RAWA was widely celebrated, enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and nearly made it to the finish line in 2022. Now, its base of support is greater than ever before. Hunters, anglers, conservationists, recreators, landowners, and business owners agree on the importance of passing RAWA. While the path is never easy, the TRCP and our partners will be working to expand congressional support, secure approval in the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and send RAWA to the president’s desk in the 118th Congress.
Accelerating Conservation and Restoration Projects
We’re expecting Congress to consider legislation to improve project approvals—especially for energy development, mining, and other infrastructure projects—early in 2023. It may be a surprise to some that challenges with permitting and approvals don’t only slow down development projects, but also the stream and wetland restoration, forest health, and other environmentally beneficial projects. Costly and often redundant planning processes discourage local partners from participating and result in wasted time and energy while federal funds remained locked up with the agencies, rather than benefitting fish and wildlife.
Additionally, when it comes to improving mining and renewable energy development on public lands, hunters and anglers have long fought for bipartisan solutions like the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act and Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act. PLREDA, for example, would balance renewable energy development and habitat needs, while funding for fish and wildlife conservation projects. The Good Samaritan legislation would reduce existing barriers to abandoned hard rock mine cleanup, making it easier for local partners to help improve water quality and habitat.
Accelerating conservation and restoration projects will ensure that the funds made available by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other recent legislative successes touch down on the landscape. In the year ahead, the TRCP will be engaged on both sides of the aisle, bringing conservation and habitat restoration priorities to the permitting conversation taking place in Congress.
For more information, and to take action in support of these critical conservation priorities in the year ahead, visit the TRCP Action Center. To follow important conservation legislation as it makes its way through Congress, follow @theTRCP on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Outdoorswoman and director of SITKA’s ecosystem grants program shares her most memorable hunt, the toughest conservation challenges facing Utah’s Wasatch Front, and how climate change has affected her experience of hunting, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors
Lindsey Davis is an entrepreneur, conservation advocate, writer, and ecologist based in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she has been exploring public lands with a rod, gun, or bow for more than eight years. She currently runs SITKA Gear’s ecosystem grants and conservation partnerships program and serves on the board of directors for the Outdoor Alliance and Utah Wildlife Federation. Previously, she spent three years shaping the work of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations representing over 110,000 American businesses.
Today, she shares her thoughts on some of the toughest conservation challenges we face.
TRCP: How and with whom do you prefer to spend your time outdoors?
LINDSEY DAVIS: I seek out ways to interact with the landscape around me through hunting, fishing, and foraging for wild food and observing wildlife. No matter where I am, finding wild edible plants and cooking my catch are my favorite ways to build memories in a new place. I love experiencing this on the home front with my friends and family here in Utah, and while exploring new places with friends and knowledgeable locals. Those with literacy in the landscape tend to be the people I enjoy being outdoors with most!
TRCP: Describe your most successful/rewarding day afield or on the water. When was this and what were you doing?
DAVIS: One of my most memorable days in the field was my first successful archery hunt. I had backpacked into the Uinta National Forest for the opening weekend of mule deer season. That year, we’d had a wet spring, so the gooseberries were ripe and full. As I stalked around the woods, I ate fistfuls of berries and looked for deer. I ended up being in the right place at the right time to find a bachelor herd of mule deer, and I put a successful stalk on one of them.
On that hunt, the days were long, the skies were clear, rain was regularly refreshing the landscape, and we were the only hunters around. It was perfect.
TRCP: What is the biggest habitat challenge in your area?
DAVIS: There are many challenges facing wildlife and its habitats here in Utah, but the most glaring in my opinion is the rapid pace of development and population growth in this state. Along the Wasatch front, we have four of the fastest growing cities in the nation and a ton of new housing developments. Advocates are working diligently to map key habitat areas and propose smarter development, but every year I see more wintering grounds and sagebrush habitat ripped out and replaced with condos. I fear that we are putting too much pressure on our wildlife in this urban interface with little understanding of the impacts.
TRCP: How has climate change affected your hunting and fishing experiences in recent years? (Example: Altered seasons or migrations, species decline due to drought or wildfire, invasive species pushing out native forage, etc.)
DAVIS: You have to pay attention to snow, rain, and wildfire like never before. The strength and severity of winter storms has affected the ability of elk, deer, and pronghorn to make it through the winter. The amount of precipitation determines whether there will be enough green-up in the spring for calving females and what elevations the herds will need to be at in the late-summer and early-fall to find food. These same factors impact where ranchers will be grazing their sheep and cattle on public land. It all matters so much and determines how and where I hunt in the fall.
Variability in these factors has changed where it is productive for me to hunt in recent years. Wildfires have made it necessary to pack an inhaler and an N95 mask. It has also made it near impossible, at times, to see wildlife more than a few hundred yards away. Warmer water temperatures have made flyfishing closures imperative for the health of fish, limiting recreational fishing hours to just a handful a day before noon.
In short, it feels like there are just too many pressures on wildlife.
TRCP: How has this affected outdoor recreation businesses and/or hunting and fishing participation where you live?
DAVIS: Here in Utah, hunting and fishing participation is growing for the first time in decades. This makes for even more pressure on delicate resources at a challenging time. Limited hours for flyfishing inhibits a guide’s ability to book full days, which is having a huge impact on the guiding and outfitting components of outdoor recreation. With population increasing, hunting tag allotments are growing more limited and permits are harder to acquire, frustrating residents who would like to hunt every year.
TRCP: Why do you feel responsible for engaging in conservation and efforts to build climate resilience?
DAVIS: I see humans as a part of, not the center of, the ecosystem at large. We have an outsized impact on our natural habitats and also have the means and resources to do things differently. Because I am aware of my impact on the natural world around me, I feel responsible for being a steward and working to ensure generations that follow mine have the opportunity to experience wildlife and its habitats.
TRCP: What is one thing you wish every hunter and angler knew about the impacts of climate change?
DAVIS: While our individual experiences of climate change feel isolated and unique, it is a global issue we are all experiencing. I wish we had more of a shared sense of responsibility around it—more than the priority species we care about or the one region where we live.
TRCP: Do you think the hunting and fishing community is getting serious about fighting for climate change solutions? What would you like to see more of?
DAVIS: I appreciate the growing interest that the hunting and fishing community is showing toward climate change solutions. I think there is still more proving ground for our community at large before we are known as unified and serious, but we are getting there.
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.
5 Responses to “Momentous Clean Water Safeguards Secured for Bristol Bay”
Thanks for being in this fight since the outset. I remember meeting Jim Range and Matt Connolly on a very early trip to DC and TRCP has been along for the rest of this wild ride. What an incredible display of tenacity and resilience shown by the incredible and diverse coalition that stood up for Bristol Bay. A day for celebration for sure. Cheers.
Mark Titus and the crew that made this happen are the real hero’s for the decade and maybe the century. Finally once in a lifetime Nature has a win win win. Cheers to all the Alaskans around Illiamna and Bristol Bay that stood up to the crooks in Northern Dynasty.
Don’t let your guard down and think that this is the end of it. As we have seen in past administrations, and particularly the last administration, politics can trump (sorry) science at the EPA. If a trumpanista assumes the presidency in two years, EPA may just find new “science” with regard to the environmental threat to Bristol Bay.
Very happy to finally hear and see action from an administration that listens to the will of the people who put them in office and not corporations and big business.
This decision must remain permanent and not change where the wind blows with other or future administrations. This is an invaluable ecosystem and hopefully will remain for many generations to come!
Everyone that is a conservationist should be behind clean water and helping Bristol Bay with new safeguards. Protecting a fishery is just about the most important thing anyone can do to help save fishing for the next generation.