Plumer’s Senate Testimony Encourages Fish and Wildlife Focused Solutions to Water Management Challenges
Appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, TRCP Chief Conservation Officer Christy Plumer encouraged lawmakers to make strategic investments and improve agency collaboration
Yesterday, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was honored by the invitation to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure on water management issues including drought and water conservation.
The TRCP is dedicated to ensuring the places Americans love to hunt and fish are conserved and the species upon which we depend as hunters and anglers are managed at sustainable levels. Therefore, water conservation and federal and state authorities related to water quantity and quality are core to our mission.
Chief Conservation Officer, Christy Plumer, touched on the growing water management challenges, particularly in the West, and the opportunity for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to advance nature-based solutions. As Congress heads toward consideration of the Water Resources Development Act of 2024, we are encouraging the Committee to invest in existing drought resilience programs including the Sustainable Rivers Program, Continuing Authority Program, and drought-specific WRDA 2022 provisions; strengthen technical assistance through the Silver Jackets Program and other community-based efforts; enhance cross-boundary partnerships; update the Corps’ benefit cost analysis to advance natural and nature-based infrastructure; and invest in recreational infrastructure through the LAKES Act (S. 1358). Click here to read Plumer’s written testimony.
We stand ready to work with the Subcommittee and full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Congress, and the Corps to advance these fish and wildlife focused solutions.
New Federal Mitigation Policies Will Reduce Habitat and Species Loss
Finalized guidance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set an expectation that proposed development projects should minimize impacts to fish and wildlife wherever possible
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized two vital mitigation policies to conserve critical fish and wildlife resources, while still allowing for necessary development projects to occur in sensitive habitats. The two policies, a Service-wide Mitigation Policy and an Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy, provide guidance to agency staff for how to best mitigate losses to species and their habitats from proposed development projects.
The USFWS’ new policies recommend application of the mitigation hierarchy to ensure “no net loss” of resources. The ESA Compensatory Mitigation Policy provides additional guidance on how to replace loss of species and their habitats under the Endangered Species Act. These principles, referred to as the mitigation hierarchy, are fundamental to conservation and set expectations that proposed projects should first avoid impacts to species and their habitat within practical means.
If impacts are unavoidable, projects must then minimize remaining effects through project modifications. As a final step if the project ultimately impacts the species or sensitive habitat, the project proponent should compensate for that loss by replacing similar resource values elsewhere.
“When applied appropriately, these policies allow development projects to succeed by reducing conflicts with fish and wildlife resources in a clear and consistent way,” says Madeleine West, director of the center for public lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The TRCP welcomes these policies and encourages the Service to appropriately apply the mitigation hierarchy to ensure that development projects in sensitive habitats do so without causing an overall loss to fish and wildlife resources.”
Six Major Investments in Conservation Announced This Spring
An influx of conservation funding will have an impact from our nation’s streams and migration corridors to imperiled grasslands and waterfowl habitats
After years of advocating for stronger funding of fish and wildlife habitat improvements, it’s an exciting time for sportsmen and sportswomen—these dollars are beginning to hit the ground and have an impact where we hunt and fish.
In 2021 and 2022, our community played a critical role in ensuring that once-in-a-generation investments in our nation’s infrastructure and climate response also create more quality places to enjoy the outdoors. We pushed for projects that have layered benefits, including stronger fish and wildlife populations, better habitat connectivity, more climate resilience, and safeguards for communities that face increasingly intense flooding, drought, and wildfire.
Now, federal agencies are rolling out their plans to address top-priority projects using these and other funds. Here are six major investments that hunters and anglers should know about.
More Than $13 Million for Migration Routes
Most recently, the deputy secretary of the Interior announced a plan detailing how $4 million in grants and $9.2 million in matching funds will power 13 projects that conserve key migration paths and other habitat important to pronghorns, elk, and mule deer across nine states. According to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which administers the grants, these projects will create new easements, improve 890 miles of fencing to encourage animal movement, improve management of 900,000+ acres of rangeland, treat 13,000 acres for invasive plants, and restore more than 200,000 acres of public, private, and tribal lands.
98 Forest Service Projects to Boost Access and Habitat
Strategic Distribution of Duck Stamp and NAWCA Funds
Beyond investments driven by recent infrastructure and climate legislation, funds have also been released for longstanding conservation programs that are well known with hunters. In April, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission approved more than $146 million to help conserve or restore 242,000 acres of wetlands and uplands. This includes $50.9 million in North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants that will be matched by more than $73.4 million in partner funds. (Good to know: NAWCA has had a proven impact on waterfowl populations since 1989 and serves as the model for the new North American Grasslands Conservation Act, which would empower private landowners to improve native prairies and sagebrush habitat.) Another $21.7 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund—drawn primarily from the sale of Duck Stamps—will conserve and expand five national wildlife refuges across four states, enhancing public hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation access.
39 Projects to Restore River Connectivity
In April, the Department of the Interior unveiled a $35-million investment for fish passage projects in 22 states that will address outdated or obsolete dams, culverts, levees, and other barriers fragmenting rivers and streams. It is one piece of a $3-billion commitment to improving aquatic habitat connectivity using funds authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. In a statement, the department described the locally led, collaborative development of each of the nearly 40 projects, nine of which will be implemented by Tribes. Atlantic salmon, American shad, Pacific salmon and steelhead, and other fish species will benefit.
Millions to Boost Irreplaceable Waterfowl Habitat
Interior also announced in March that it will invest $23 million in landscape-scale conservation and restoration in the Prairie Pothole Region as part of its plan for $120 million in new conservation funding authorized by legislation in 2022. This investment will prevent habitat loss in an area that supports more than half of North America’s waterfowl. DOI’s plan also includes $20 million for projects in the Lower Mississippi River Valley and $10 million for habitat restoration in the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River. Taken together, these three pots of funding signal a significant investment in the health of the river and the Central and Mississippi flyways. We covered this in more detail here.
Nearly $1B for Private Lands Habitat
The administration announced in mid-February that $850 million from last year’s Inflation Reduction Act will be distributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help fund oversubscribed private land conservation programs at the Natural Resources Conservation Service. These dollars will benefit fish, wildlife, habitat connectivity, and hunting and fishing opportunities in rural America by supporting a diverse range of voluntary activities that also boost climate resilience, such as planting filter strips and grassed waterways, improving grazing management, and restoring wetlands. We covered this in more detail here.
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.
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.”
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.