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July 27, 2023

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National Monuments, A Net Gain for Hunters and Anglers

Report evaluates existing national monuments and offers principles for future proposals

In a new report, National Monuments: A Hunting and Fishing Perspective, 25 groups and businesses–championed by Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership–evaluated hunting and fishing opportunity, as well as the economic impact, of four national monuments. They include Colorado’s Browns Canyon, New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande-del Norte, and Montana’s Upper Missouri Breaks.

Sharing stories from sportsmen, sportswomen, and business owners with deep connections to these public lands, the report concludes that national monuments can be a net gain for hunters, anglers, and local communities by providing world-class sporting opportunity and creating jobs.

The report offers eight principles to generate meaningful support from hunters, anglers, and sporting businesses for the creation and management of national monuments on public lands. These principles include creating monuments that safeguard fish and wildlife habitat, maintain reasonable public access for hunting, fishing, and wildlife management, and provide assurance that authority over fish and wildlife populations will be retained by state management agencies.

“The Arkansas River through Browns Canyon National Monument once suffered from acid mine runoff,” said Steve Kandell, national campaign director for Trout Unlimited. “Since designated a monument in 2015, the entire river corridor is now protected. This stretch of the Arkansas River is Gold Medal trout water with wild browns and rainbows. The Antiquities Act of 1906 was the right tool for conserving this canyon while supporting a thriving outdoor industry.”

“National monuments play a critical role in the conservation of intact lands and waters that provide quality fish and wildlife habitat,” said John Gale, VP of policy and government relations for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “From wild sheep populations to native trout, the principles in this report provide decision-makers and natural resources managers the guidance needed to ensure that fish and wildlife management needs and our hunting and fishing traditions remain integrated in conservation designations.”

Numerous sporting groups and businesses, including California Waterfowl Association, Orvis, Argali, and First Lite, support the strategy outlined in the report.

“National monuments can further our sporting traditions by providing certainty for habitat conservation,” said Joel Webster, VP of western conservation for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We encourage the administration to view this report as a guide to successfully navigate the creation and management of new national monuments for the benefit of American sportsmen and sportswomen.”

“Conserving quality public lands that will be permanently available to sportsmen and -women should be of the utmost importance to any outdoor company,” said Kenton Carruth, co-founder of First Lite, a hunting gear company. “Supporting monument designations that allow hunting and fishing and protect public lands is at the core of First Lite.”

Photo Credit: BLM

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July 21, 2023

Nine Major Menhaden Developments in 2023 

An update on Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico menhaden recovery successes, challenges, and recent events since January

A lot has already happened this year on the menhaden conservation front, so probably not even the most engaged followers have been able to keep track of it all. The TRCP wanted to provide its members, supporters, and partners with a summary of everything that’s happening along both coasts, and point out what’s to come later this year.

Here are five major developments related to Atlantic menhaden, and another four related to the fishery in the Gulf, that saltwater anglers and conservationists should know about. 

Atlantic/Chesapeake Bay

Plans to Study Menhaden Ecology, Economics

The state legislature in Virginia passed a bill in late March which directs the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to develop plans for studying the ecology, fishery impacts, and economic importance of menhaden populations in Virginia waters. In September, VIMS will present their plan to the General Assembly. The TRCP will be supportive of a comprehensive and unbiased study plan, and looks forward to working with VIMS and the General Assembly in 2024 as they execute the plan.

Voluntary Agreement Between Omega Protein and Virginia

A final memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and foreign-owned reduction fishery giant Omega Protein was published in late April. While the MOU is intended to protect Chesapeake Bay shorelines from fish spills and limit user conflicts between the reduction fishery and other stakeholders, through voluntary buffer zone avoidance and other measures, it lacks what the original regulatory proposal from 2022 provided – legal teeth. VMRC rejected a proposal from Governor Youngkin’s administration late last year that would have created mandatory one-mile buffers from Bay shorelines and a half-mile buffer on either side of the Bay Bridge Tunnel, where purse seining would be prohibited, along with summer holiday seining restrictions.

New Appointments Coming to Marine Resources Commission

The TRCP led 17 partners and state groups to sign a letter to Governor Youngkin in May, expressing support for qualified and balanced candidates to the VMRC Board who will support recreational fishing and conservation. Two VMRC Board positions are expected to be appointed by the governor soon. We will be monitoring the two upcoming appointments by the Youngkin administration to ensure that both candidates are fair and balanced towards recreational interests. In the meanwhile, keep letting the governor know it’s time to stop industrial menhaden fishing in the Bay – or at least work toward more effective regulations to conserve this critical forage fish.

If Chesapeake Bay Menhaden Really Are That Abundant…

Earlier this month, seven of Omega Protein’s larger seine boats – the majority of its Chesapeake Bay menhaden fishing fleet – steamed 200 miles north to fish off New York and New Jersey, presumably to find more fish. Typically the fleet focuses on the Bay this time of year, due to plentiful and easily accessible menhaden. Could this incredibly expensive tactic indicate a lack of enough available menhaden close to the company’s home base in the Bay, where the vessels are typically found fishing around this time? Add to that the fact that osprey reproductive success is crashing in areas of the Bay where the raptors rely primarily on menhaden to feed their chicks, and the concerns about the state of the Bay’s menhaden become even more worrisome. Whether or not this fleet movement is a result of lower menhaden numbers in the Bay than Omega Protein proclaims are present, it’s clear there’s a problem and we need to push to protect Chesapeake Bay menhaden and the ecosystems and recreational activities this important fish supports.

Opportunity to Change Menhaden Regulations in Bay this Fall

From October to December each year, the VMRC has the ability to change menhaden regulations in the Commonwealth. The TRCP and its partners will be focused on getting proposals passed that have real legal teeth to protect Chesapeake Bay’s menhaden, rather than relying on handshake agreements.

Gulf of Mexico

Ecological Thresholds for Pogie Populations

In January, a study was published that quantified tradeoffs between menhaden harvest and predator biomass to develop ecological reference points – which assess a species’ overall role in an ecosystem, rather than simply considering that species alone. The study findings included that biomass for many predators was more affected by the commercial harvest of menhaden, also known as pogies, than by fishing pressure on the predator species itself. The research could inform efforts to better monitor bycatch in commercial nets and manage menhaden with their importance to sportfish in mind. However, a bill that used these results to propose menhaden catch limits based on the dietary needs of their predators and intended to establish purse seine buffers off Louisiana beaches to protect redfish spawning areas was stopped by opposition in the state legislature.

Proposed Rule Would Prohibit Net Abandonment

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries approved a Notice of Intent in February to prohibit the abandonment of purse seine gear and implement penalties for the wanton waste of menhaden as a public resource. The rule would also require notification to LDWF within two hours of any net spills. This notice came on the heels of a fish spill in September 2022, when Omega Protein abandoned a purse seine net off Louisiana. Omega not only left the net behind but spilled more than 900,000 dead menhaden into the Gulf, along with many sportfish caught as bycatch (including spawning-size red drum). The TRCP has previously shared information about how Gulf sportfish are affected by purse seining for menhaden, and will continue to apply pressure to establish more common sense menhaden regulations in the Gulf fishery.

Research on Gulf Bycatch

In May, proposals were due to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission for plans to conduct a comprehensive bycatch study on menhaden fishing. Much anecdotal evidence indicates a significant amount of bycatch, including spawning size redfish and other sportfish, in Gulf seining operations, but the necessary scientific data are lacking. An announcement of the chosen research group is expected from the GSMFC soon. We will be monitoring the resulting bycatch study, which will be overseen by the GSMFC, to ensure that the methodology is unbiased toward industry interests. This September, the GSMFC will host the third menhaden reference points stakeholder workshop in Long Beach, Miss. The TRCP and partners, long focused on better management of menhaden, will participate in the workshop and focus on creating and implementing realistic, scientifically based ecological reference points that leave enough menhaden in the water for the predators that rely on them.

First Step to Conserve Louisiana Redfish

A continuing resolution was passed unanimously in June by both chambers of the Louisiana State Legislature, which urged LDWF to end the killing of breeding-size redfish by both recreational and commercial fishermen. The TRCP applauds this resolution, which marks a first step toward regulations that will conserve redfish and could also hinder the menhaden industry’s ability to kill many thousands of redfish via pogie boat bycatch each season.

Learn More About Menhaden

Learn more about how this tiny forage fish drives sportfishing and underpins marine ecosystems.

Osprey images courtesy of Katherine Crozier

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Why TRCP Supports BLM’s Proposed Updates to Oil and Gas Leasing

Updates will help reduce conflict between energy development and our sporting traditions

The Bureau of Land Management recently released a set of proposed changes to its oil and gas leasing program. The reforms would apply to hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands coveted by hunters and anglers. Fully 90 percent of the 245 million acres of federal land under BLM authority are currently available for oil and gas leasing and development, with more than 26 million acres under lease in 2021. 

In an effort to address potential impacts to wildlife habitat and public access, sportsmen and sportswomen have been working to promote responsible approaches to energy development for decades. While the debate over domestic energy policy can be heated, it is hard to argue the fact that many of BLM’s existing rules governing oil and gas leasing on public lands are at least half a century old, and they have often put oil and gas leasing and development at odds with other resource values. The BLM’s proposed reforms will modernize its onshore oil and gas leasing regulations to help reduce the conflict between oil and gas development and other important multiple-uses, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife habitat.

The proposed rule would help reduce conflict, in-part, by cutting down on the practice of speculative leasing so that those lands can instead be managed for other uses—like habitat conservation to support abundant wildlife populations. Speculative leasing occurs when an oil and gas company leases land with no real potential for economically viable oil and gas production—preventing BLM from being able to effectively manage that land for other important multiple-uses that may not be compatible with oil and gas. The rule addresses this by prioritizing leasing in places with existing oil and gas infrastructure or high production potential. The proposed rule would also implement the Inflation Reduction Act’s mandated reforms of the oil and gas leasing program, ensuring taxpayers get a fair return for the development of public minerals and ensuring responsible development when public land oil and gas resources are leased to private companies.

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 requires federal regulators to ensure adequate bond coverage before oil and gas companies can drill on federal land. The proposed rule would additionally reform the bonding rates that oil and gas companies must post in order to ensure public lands are cleaned up when companies abandon wells—a provision that was not included in the Inflation Reduction Act but has long been supported by several organizations in the hunt-fish community.  

Specific provisions of the proposed rule include:

Bonding requirements: The rule proposes to increase the minimum lease bond amount (the upfront fee to ensure eventual well cleanup) to $150,000, and the minimum statewide bond to $500,000. The rule also proposes to eliminate nationwide and unit bonds. The existing lease bond amount of $10,000—established in 1960—no longer provides an adequate incentive for companies to meet their reclamation obligations, nor does it cover the potential costs to reclaim a well should this obligation not be met. The current, outdated bond requirement increases the risk that taxpayers will end up covering the cost of reclaiming wells in the event the operator refuses to do so or declares bankruptcy. The Department of the Interior has made available more than $1 billion in the past two years from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells on federal, state, and private lands. This proposed rule aims to prevent that burden from falling on the taxpayer in future years.

Protecting Wildlife and Cultural Resources: The rule would help steer oil and gas development away from important wildlife habitat or cultural sites, and toward lands with existing infrastructure or high production potential.

Royalty rates: Proposed changes to royalty rates reflect provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act. Royalty rates for leases issued for 10 years after the effective date of the Inflation Reduction Act are 16.67 percent. After August 16, 2032, the rate of 16.67 percent will become the minimum royalty rate.

Minimum bids: The proposed rule includes a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that increased the national minimum bid from $2 per acre to $10 per acre. The minimum acceptable bid is important because it establishes the starting bid at the BLM’s oil and gas lease auctions. A fair rate of $10 will help ensure that only lands with actual development potential are leased at auction.  

Base, or minimum, rental rate: Pursuant to the Inflation Reduction Act, for leases issued in the 10 years after its enactment, the proposal includes a rental of $3 per acre, or a fraction thereof, per year during the first 2-year period beginning upon lease issuance, $5 per acre per year, or a fraction thereof, for the following 6 years, and then $15 per acre, or a fraction thereof, per year thereafter. After August 16, 2032, those rental rates will become minimums and are subject to increase.

Expressions of Interest: The Inflation Reduction Act established a new fee for expressions of interest. The proposed rule includes that fee, which is $5 per acre, or a fraction thereof. Requiring a fee for Expressions of Interest will help reduce speculative leasing.

Final Thoughts and How to Get Involved

We understand that most Americans still drive gasoline-powered vehicles and don’t want to be hit at the pump. These updates will not impact domestic energy production but will ensure taxpayers receive a fair rate of return on that development, while reducing conflict between energy development and our sporting traditions.

The proposed Oil and Gas Rule, in concert with other ongoing BLM efforts including the Public Lands Rule, the Wind and Solar Rule, and updating the Western Solar Plan, is an important part of a comprehensive approach to managing public lands to bring energy development into the 21st century, while maintaining robust wildlife populations, access, and opportunities for future generations of hunters and anglers. You can find these documents on BLM’s website at blm.gov.

We support these efforts and encourage you to get involved. BLM has announced a 60-day public comment period on the proposed Oil and Gas Rule and will be holding a series of public meetings. Look for future communication here at trcp.org and on our social media for updates on the rulemaking.


Photo Credit: Josh Metten

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July 20, 2023

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to Host Wyoming Public Land Access Listening Sessions

TRCP and the Wyoming chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers will organize six sessions this August

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Wyoming Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have announced a series of six public land access listening sessions throughout Wyoming slated for early August.

The recent corner crossing case that drew national attention to Wyoming has again sparked controversy around public access. A federal judge ruled in favor of four Missouri hunters, which means they did not trespass when crossing corners on their 2020 and 2021 hunting trips. Despite this victory for public land access, the legality of corner crossing remains uncertain.

TRCP and BHA are taking steps to be proactive about improving access to inaccessible public land in ways that can be broadly supported, while respecting private property rights. The organizations encourage the public to attend these sessions to share their personal experiences and ideas about improving access to public lands.

The event details are as follows:

August 1 – Pinedale, WY, Wind River Brewing, 6pm, register here

August 2 – Buffalo, WY, Bond’s Brewing Company, 6pm, register here

August 3 – Cheyenne, WY, Blacktooth Brewing, 6pm, register here

August 8 – Evanston, WY, Suds Bros Brewing, 6pm, register here

August 9 – Rock Springs, WY, Square State Brewing, 6pm, register here

August 10 – Casper, WY, Blacktooth Brewing, 6pm, register here

“Wyoming has over 4 million acres of inaccessible public land, and it is important that we identify collaborative solutions to improve access, while respecting private property rights,” said Sabrina King,  BHA’s Wyoming chapter lobbyist.

“The value of public lands in Wyoming is incredible,” said Alex Aguirre, Wyoming community partnerships coordinator for the TRCP. “These millions of acres have brought residents together for years to enjoy and cherish. That’s why we hope you can join us for an evening to discuss the importance of accessing these precious acres.”

The sessions will include a short presentation followed by a Q & A regarding public land access in Wyoming. Interested parties should register for an event through the corresponding links above. 

Photo Credit: Josh Metten

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.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

Learn More

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