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May 8, 2023

BLM Proposes Near-Final Plan for Key Idaho Winter Ranges

Big game habitat and hunting areas to benefit in proposed Four Rivers RMP

Idaho sportsmen and sportswomen applaud the Bureau of Land Management for taking a vital step toward completing a revision of the Four Rivers Resource Management Plan, a move that will conserve crucial big game migrations and winter ranges in some of Idaho’s most popular hunting units.

In today’s announcement, the BLM issued a Notice of Significant Change to the Record of Decision with modifications to the proposed plan, which include increased conservation measures for elk and mule deer winter range along the Boise Front and the Bennett Hills. The BLM has reopened the draft to one final round of public comment for 30 days and is expected to issue a record of decision later this year.

“The TRCP appreciates the continued refinement of the BLM’s Four Rivers Resource Management Plan because of the benefits it will provide to wildlife habitat and our hunting opportunities,” said Rob Thornberry, Idaho field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We will take a detailed look at the nearly completed plan and provide comments during this final opportunity.”

The Four Rivers Field Office includes Idaho Department of Fish and Game Hunting Units 39, 43, 44, and 45 in the central and western portions of the state. These popular public lands help fuel Idaho’s multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy, provide important wildlife habitat, and support various traditional uses of the land.

“From the Boise Front to the Bennett Hills, you will be hard pressed to find more productive big game habitat and hunting country than the lands managed by the BLM’s Four River Field Office,” continued Thornberry. “We appreciate BLM’s increased consideration for wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities in the near final plan.”

Click here to contribute your public input on potential updates to the proposed Four Rivers Field Office Resource Management Plan.

Photo Credit: James Brower

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May 4, 2023

New Striped Bass Regulations Aim to Rebuild Fish Population

Management Board took emergency action last week in response to increased mortality rates

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Striped Bass Management Board yesterday exercised a seldom-used emergency action intended to reduce fishing mortality in striped bass populations, with the goal of more effectively rebuilding stocks to target levels by 2029. The emergency action will implement a 31-inch maximum size limit across the entire recreational fishery, including the Chesapeake Bay and along the East Coast. Individual states are tasked with implementing the change by July 2.

The Board also initiated Addendum II to the Fishery Management Plan, which will consider more thorough management changes for 2024 using a formal public input process. The minimum size limit, bag limit, seasons, and gear restrictions for striped bass remain unchanged under the emergency action.

“The TRCP appreciates the Board taking action to increase the possibility of rebuilding the coastwide striper stock by 2029,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Active management to decrease fishing mortality, along with full consideration of the need for a healthy forage fish base and mitigation of impacts from interactions with invasive species, are all crucial elements of any plan to improve the chances of long-term stability of striped bass stocks.”

The commission’s Massachusetts delegation led the push for emergency action after population projections showed there are significant headwinds to rebuilding striped bass stocks, particularly stemming from four consecutive years of poor juvenile survival rates in the Chesapeake Bay and an increase in fishing mortality in 2022.

“The Board has signaled they are prepared to act conservatively on striped bass to ensure rebuilding,” said Mike Waine, Atlantic fisheries policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “Hopefully taking emergency action now will pay dividends later, so we can avoid the further use of short-term changes in regulations, and instead focus on longstanding and predictable management measures to provide stability to the most important and valuable fishery in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions.”

Striped bass are extremely important to coastal communities along the Atlantic and the entire fishing economy, estimated to generate $7.8 billion annually.

The sportfishing industry values long-term fishery sustainability while allowing for reasonable recreational fishing opportunities. Sportfishing and conservation organizations continue to encourage state agencies and the ASMFC to work with industry leaders on educating the public to ensure a mid-year management change in 2023 will have the intended conservation benefits across the entire recreational fishery.

“Controlling coastwide fishing mortality is the key to rebuilding striped bass abundance to levels the public expects and deserves,” said David Sikorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland and Maryland’s legislative appointee to the Striped Bass Management Board. “It is also important to recognize, however, that striper recruitment issues related to successive poor spawns, coupled with an expanding blue catfish population in the Chesapeake Bay will continue to complicate the longer-term trajectory of this iconic fishery.”

“No doubt there are a lot of factors at play that drive striped bass abundance over time, but fishing mortality is the only thing we can address directly in the striped bass management plan,” said Chris Horton, senior director of fisheries policy for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “While the increase in recreational removals in 2022 could actually be a good sign, based on recent stock assessments and the current status of the stock given the information we have available today, it is not surprising the ASMFC is erring on the side of caution and reducing mortality without reducing access to the fishery.”

Click here to read the ASMFC’s statement about the emergency action and initiation of Addendum II.

Click here to learn more about striped bass management in the Atlantic.

 

Photo by @woozyfishing

April 25, 2023

Menhaden Agreement Between Omega Protein and Virginia Falls Short

Members of the recreational fishing and conservation community focus on next steps to conserve the Bay as purse seine sector celebrates toothless memorandum of understanding

An agreement signed last week to address the impacts of industrial menhaden harvest in the Chesapeake Bay falls short of limiting real damage inflicted by the fishery on recreational fishing and broader ecosystem health, based on a collective initial assessment by a coalition of sportfishing and conservation groups.

Last Thursday, commercial purse seiners announced a voluntary agreement with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to avoid fishing in a small portion of the Chesapeake Bay, purportedly to avoid net spills near populated areas. However, the non-binding agreement is centered on the narrow goal of limiting and responding to future spill incidents, in which dead menhaden and other fish species released from nets foul area beaches, and does not address all areas within the Bay.

What the MOU does:

  • States that purse seiners will not fish within a half-mile of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, nor within one mile of the lower Eastern Shore and Virginia Beach regions.
  • States that purse seiners will not fish inside Bay waters on holidays, including Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, nor on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
  • Outlines how the VMRC and purse seiners will develop a fish spill response protocol.

What the MOU does not do:

  • Establish any buffer in the northern portion of the Bay.
  • Prevent net spills outside the most populous areas of the Bay shoreline.
  • Create enforceable regulations of the reduction fishery.
  • Reduce the amount of menhaden removed from the Bay, which currently amounts to more than 100 million pounds of fish each year.

In short, the agreement does not address the concerns of Virginians regarding user conflicts and fish spills that have plagued the Bay for years.

“The menhaden MOU is a positive step, but it falls short in several ways,” says Steve Atkinson, president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association. “The buffer of one nautical mile does not extend to the Rappahannock River area, which is a popular spot for recreational fishing. The agreement also fails to address longstanding concerns about overharvest in the Bay.”

In December 2022, hundreds of Virginians attended a VMRC meeting to comment on a proposal by the Youngkin Administration that would have established regulations negotiated over months of stakeholder engagement. At that meeting, the VMRC agreed to instead pursue the non-binding memorandum of understanding with industrial menhaden harvester Omega Protein, which became final last week.

“While the memorandum of understanding covers a similar set of issues as the regulations put before VMRC last December, there is one big difference—enforceability,” says Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Whether or not Omega Protein abides by the agreement, and we hope they do, there is still much more work to be done to lessen the harm that reduction fishing is causing to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.”

Throughout 2022, reduction fishing boats caused multiple Eastern Shore fish spills, resulting in the waste of an estimated 12,000 pounds of red drum bycatch and beach closures on major holidays, including Independence Day weekend. As recently as 2019, Omega willfully exceeded its 51,000-metric-ton catch limit in the Bay, inspiring tens of thousands of anglers, dozens of business and organizations, and nine East Coast governors to request that the Secretary of Commerce get involved.

“This memorandum of understanding with a foreign-owned, industrial-scale fishing operation in the Chesapeake Bay does little to address conservation of menhaden as a vital forage fish for striped bass and other sportfish,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “While it is our sincere hope that the Commonwealth of Virginia will work to minimize user conflicts and fish spills in the Bay, this non-binding framework relies on the state’s ability to trust cosigners to abide by the rules. The reduction fishery hasn’t earned this trust.”

Last year, more than 10,000 anglers and conservationists from Virginia and up and down the East Coast signed a petition asking Gov. Youngkin to move industrial reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay until science could show that the fishery was not having a negative impact on the ecosystem or the economy. The petition was delivered to Youngkin and the VMRC in October 2022.

“It is our hope that the signing of this MOU is only the first step toward increased conservation measures for this staple forage fish species,” says Chad Tokowicz, government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “As we inch toward the May openings of Maryland and Virginia’s respective striped bass seasons, it will be obvious the importance menhaden have for this keystone recreational species.”

Anglers remain engaged and anxious to see more meaningful action to safeguard menhaden, sportfish, and the Bay economy. The conservation community looks forward to working with the Youngkin Administration this September on the implementation of a menhaden study that would fill gaps in the data about the impact of the reduction fishery on Bay health and sportfish populations.

Virginia continues to be the only East Coast state allowing reduction fishing of menhaden—a practice where millions of pounds of these forage fish are turned into fishmeal, fish oil, fertilizer, or similar products—in its waters.

Learn more about the recreational fishing community’s push for better management of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico.

 

Photo by Gaelin Rosenwaks. Follow her on Instagram @gaelingoexplore.

April 18, 2023

Manchin, Moore, Humphries, and Vincent Receive TRCP’s Conservation Awards

Gala event hosted by MeatEater’s Steven Rinella brings together D.C. luminaries, outdoor industry leaders, and TRCP supporters

At its 15th annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership proudly celebrated the conservation achievements of Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Representative Blake Moore (R-Utah), and CEOs Becky Humphries of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Howard Vincent of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, who will both retire in 2023 after many years of outstanding leadership in our community.

The gala event was hosted by MeatEater’s Steven Rinella—a TRCP Board member—at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

“We proudly honor these leaders whose commitment to conservation has had real and lasting on-the-ground results for hunters, anglers, and all Americans,” said Whit Fosburgh, TRCP president and CEO. “Senator Manchin and Rep. Moore have been instrumental in clinching recent legislative victories for habitat, access, and conservation funding that will impact hunting and fishing opportunities for years to come. Our gala event is also a fitting way to celebrate two deeply appreciated colleagues in conservation, Becky Humphries and Howard Vincent, who have been part of the fabric of TRCP and this community for many years.”

As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Joe Manchin championed the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020 to provide full and permanent funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and reduce the maintenance backlog at federal land management agencies. More recently, Manchin negotiated the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, securing major new resources for forest management, climate-smart agriculture, drought mitigation, and coastal resilience. He is a lifelong hunter and angler and continues to prioritize conservation and outdoor recreation legislation in Congress.

Since entering Congress in 2020, Rep. Blake Moore has quickly developed a reputation as a pragmatic lawmaker and champion for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. Moore worked closely with the TRCP and our community to secure passage of the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act, to digitize access data for millions of acres of our public lands. He’s also led efforts to expand access to public shooting ranges, remove barriers to outdoor recreation, and address the management needs of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

Becky Humphries started her career in wildlife conservation as an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before joining the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 1978. Her 32-year career with the agency saw her move from field biologist to Wildlife Division chief and, finally, director—she was the first woman to ever hold the position. In 2011, Humphries left public service and joined Ducks Unlimited as director of conservation programs before joining the National Wild Turkey Federation as chief conservation officer in 2013. She became chief operations officer in 2016 and CEO in 2017. Since its founding in 1973, NWTF has invested more than $500 million into wildlife conservation and has conserved or enhanced more than 22 million acres of critical wildlife habitat. Humphries retires this year.

Howard Vincent started with Pheasants Forever in 1984, two years after the organization’s founding, and became CEO in 1990—he will step down this year. During Vincent’s tenure, Pheasants Forever has grown into one of the most respected wildlife conservation organizations in the country, dedicated to habitat conservation, education, and advocacy. The organization has more than 400 employees and 400,000 members, supporters, and partners. In its history, the organization has been responsible for delivering more than 22 million acres of habitat.

Vincent and Humphries have both served as TRCP Board members for many years. They will be introduced onstage by conservation giant Steve Williams, who is also retiring this year from the Wildlife Management Institute. Williams received TRCP’s conservation achievement award in 2015.

For more information about the CCAD, click here.

 

Photo by Jon Fleming

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April 11, 2023

New Film Uncovers the Complexity of Public Land Access

Paper Trails follows the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Eastman’s Hunting Journal through a confusing patchwork of public and private land

A new Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership film, to be released on Saturday, April 15, unpacks the complexity of public land access in collaboration with Eastmans’ Hunting Journal, onX, Savage Arms, SIG SAUER, and Kenetrek.

With an October 2022 Wyoming pronghorn antelope hunt as a backdrop, Paper Trails and its characters uncover the challenges hunters and other outdoor recreationists face when accessing and navigating their public lands and describe what’s being done to improve that access.

“Hunters know from firsthand experience that public access can be difficult, and even confusing to figure out, but many people don’t know why it is so complex or what to do about it,” said Joel Webster, TRCP vice president of Western conservation. “Recognizing this challenge, TRCP and several of our partners created Paper Trails to uncover several issues surrounding public access that have never before been explored on film—such as difficult to retrieve public easements and inaccurate or absent public signage—and offer solutions to the problem moving forward, such as the MAPLand Act.”

The film highlights the reality that the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have 90,000 road and trail easements scattered across the nation, of which 50,000 remain on paper file and have not yet been digitized or made readily available. The film further explores the need for better information to be made available about the location of county roads, which are also open to the public. The status of BLM travel management plans are also discussed.

“For many of the lines that people see as roads on our maps, there isn’t a designation between public and private,” said Lisa Nichols, senior access advocacy manager at onX. “And the reason for that is there are very few road data sets that exist in the whole country that classify roads as public or private.”

Paper Trails also features the MAPLand Act, which was passed into law in April 2022 and requires federal agencies to digitize and make information publicly available about recreational access to public lands. This process is presently being implemented and will provide greater transparency to all Americans about the location of public land access easements—unlocking more public land.

“Every state is a little different. Every access issue is a little different. I think the MAPLand Act is going to be a huge benefit to sportsmen,” said Brandon Mason of Eastmans’ Hunting Journal.

“Accessing public land is one of the biggest challenges hunters face,” said Beth Shimanski, Savage Arm’s marketing director. “Public roads, access points, and easements are not always clearly marked or known to the public. This film shines a light on the problem and highlights what needs to be done today to protect public land access for future generations of hunters,”

“SIG SAUER is extremely proud to help support this amazing project in partnership with Eastman’s and the TRCP,” said Jason Wright, SIG SAUER’s vice president of marketing. “The challenge of maintaining the rights of landowners combined with providing access to America’s public lands is immense, and this film demonstrates the incredible work the men and women of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are doing to ensure the interests of both parties are met and the tradition of hunting the vast expanse of the western U.S. is maintained.”

“Hunting access to public lands is one of the most challenging problems facing our industry today, and Kenetrek is happy to provide support for this important documentary,” said Jim Winjum, president of Kenetrek LLC.

Watch Paper Trails here. Full film to be released April 15.

 

Photo Credit: Eastmans’ Hunting Journal

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

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.

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