Interactive Map Shows PA Streams Lacking the Conservation They Deserve
Explore the waterways that qualify for High Quality and Exceptional Value status but have been backlogged at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
If you’ve been following the TRCP for a while, you’ve likely seen us call for Pennsylvania anglers to take action in support of upgrading conservation safeguards that the PA Fish and Boat Commission can provide to our best trout streams. In this process, the commission opens a public comment period every three months and anglers are outspoken in their support of bestowing Wild Trout and Class A Wild Trout stream status where waterways are eligible.
Similarly, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection develops water quality standards designed to safeguard PA streams, rivers, and lakes and give the highest possible protections to our best waters. The agency designates qualified waters as High Quality or Exceptional Value to protect and maintain clean water where it already exists.
Unfortunately, a lengthy list of PA’s top wild trout streams qualify for the highest conservation safeguards at the DEP, but the agency has failed to implement these protections. And our trout streams have waited long enough.
Explore the map to see which streams in the Delaware River watershed are currently backlogged and pending designation by the DEP.
How Did So Many Streams Get Backlogged for Designation?
Waterways can be recommended for upgraded status by the DEP, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, or the public. After streams are proposed for additional designation, an arduous assessment by the DEP then follows. In fact, the evaluation of High Quality and Exceptional Value streams often represents years, if not decades, of work and detailed water surveys.
Even after this thorough process, though, some streams have not yet been designated. (See streams marked “Qualifies for Conservation” on the map.)
Many waters being considered right now are already recognized as wild trout waters and several are recognized as Class A wild trout waters by PFBC. (See streams marked “Recommended for Conservation” on the map.)
This means that not only do these waters sustain naturally reproducing populations of trout, but several of them are among the best in the state. These waters deserve top conservation safeguards, according to one state agency, but they await assessment and designation by the other. This has resulted in a lengthy backlog and delay in commonsense protections.
Why Is It Important to Clear the Backlog of Stream Designations?
Clearing the backlog is particularly important to our state’s $58-billion outdoor recreation economy right now. These additional protections are critical to helping the state manage and protect fish populations, especially as demands on water resources continue to increase. When you consider that roughly 40 percent of streams across the state are NOT suitable for fishing, swimming, and/or drinking water, according to the DEP, it makes sense to safeguard the exceptional waterways that already meet top standards and support outdoor recreation that drives our economy.
The state just broke ground on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion—America’s largest and most expensive habitat restoration project to date—to breathe life back into a critical Gulf Shore basin and promote long-term fishery health.
The first time I launched a boat out of Empire, La., along the Mississippi River south of New Orleans, I had just graduated from high school in 1994.
I had spent a lot of time, to that point, fishing across Louisiana’s coast, from Delacroix, east of New Orleans, to Dularge in western Terrebonne Parish, but I never had the opportunity to traverse the speckled trout and redfish paradise of the eastern Barataria Basin with its seemingly endless maze of bayous, marsh ponds, lakes, and bays between our launching spot and the Gulf of Mexico.
About a decade later, those bayous, lakes, and bays were either gone or almost totally unrecognizable, laid to waste by Hurricane Katrina’s unprecedented storm surge and land-eating ferocity. Other powerful hurricanes like Gustav, Ike, Laura, Delta, and especially 2021’s Ida, which washed away more than 100 square miles of coastal wetlands, have gouged and gashed the Barataria Basin in the 18 years since Katrina. These, along with nature’s consistent, relentless attacks and effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have further altered the basin.
What was once eight miles of marsh between Empire and the Gulf is now open water dotted with pilings and concrete riprap where old fishing camps and natural gas canals used to be. The Barataria Basin was 700 square miles of varying coastal marshes, swamps, bays, and islands from the west bank of the river to Bayou Lafourche in 1900. More than 430 square miles of that have vanished in the last century.
On August 10, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, federal partners, and hundreds of Louisianans gathered just north of Empire to break ground on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a project designed to breathe life back into the Barataria Basin by reconnecting the Mississippi River to the marshes, bayous, islands, and ponds it originally built.
It is America’s largest, most ambitious, and most expensive habitat restoration project to date, designed to move as much as 75,000 cubic feet of sediment-laden water per second through a gate on the Mississippi River levee and a two-mile conveyance channel to mimic the connection that once existed between the river and its delta. The price tag is estimated at an astonishing $2.9 billion, almost all covered by penalties levied against BP and others for damages caused by the 2010 oil disaster including $660 million for construction from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. Optimistically, the project is set for completion by 2028.
Thousands of years of annual floods and consistent connections between the river and the basin immediately to its west built what was once one of the world’s most productive fishery and waterfowl wintering grounds. But since that connection was cut off, beginning initially in the late 19th century to straight-line the river’s channel for ease of navigation and with levees built to control flooding, Barataria has been sinking and eroding faster than any other coastal basin in the world.
Wetland scientists, engineers, and fish and wildlife biologists have been predicting the basin’s eventual demise since the late 1800s because of efforts to disconnect the river from dozens of outlets south and west of New Orleans. Even back then, with a seemingly inexhaustible expanse of wetlands and barrier islands still present, there was an appreciation that removing the land-building sediment and the life-giving water and nutrients meant eventually the coastal habitat would vanish, taking away the fisheries and wildlife production and natural protection for coastal communities. However, the prediction was that the region and nation would both benefit so greatly from consistent navigation and flood control it would undoubtedly re-invest in the ecosystem at some point.
It took numerous devastating hurricanes, the worst oil spill in the country’s history, and the resulting fines, the Gulf lapping at the doorstep of New Orleans’ West Bank, more than 50 years of discussion, and the unweaving of bureaucracies and complex environmental laws and policies for that prediction to come true. While CPRA, federal agencies, and parish governments have invested billions in important marsh creation, ridge and barrier island restoration, and hurricane protection over the last four decades, none of those projects truly addressed the fundamental cause of the land loss like the Mid-Barataria diversion is designed to do.
While valuable, dredge-created barrier island and marsh restoration projects begin subsiding and eroding as soon as the project is finished. They are only built to withstand, at most, three decades of sinking, winds, and waves. Mid-Barataria, on the other hand, is designed for longevity as it will mimic the annual sediment slugs and wetland-sustaining water and nutrients that built the basin prior to straight-jacketing levees and jetties.
Certainly, reintroducing freshwater and sediment will change local fisheries. The Barataria Basin will become more like unlevied areas east of the river and to the west where the Atchafalaya River’s annual spring floods inundate coastal wetlands with water and sediment. While those changes have drawn harsh criticisms from commercial and even some recreational fishers, including the threat of lawsuits to try and stop the project, the narrative used by opponents that Mid-Barataria will mean the end of catching speckled trout, redfish, shrimp, crabs, and other species in the basin is simply not true. If the Barataria is to have any chance in the future of producing and sustaining the harvest of all those species, the Mississippi River must be re-connected, and the habitat rebuilt.
While the politics and the bureaucracy of diversions is complicated, the biological equation describing what’s happening in the basin is relatively easy to explain. The Mississippi River, when connected to the basin, regularly delivered sediment, water, and nutrients. That consistent engagement created a rich environment perfect for innumerable fish and animals to thrive in, but with seasonal changes based on how much freshwater was in the system. When the connection between river and marsh was cut off, the nutrients continued to leach out and feed the system as the wetlands degraded. Fisheries production exploded, but a timer had been set for eventual collapse of productivity while saltwater overtook and killed brackish and fresh marshland and swamp. At some point, there simply wouldn’t be enough marsh left to degrade.
Collapse is where we are now. Over the last 40-plus years of fishing the Barataria Basin, I can look back at too many days to count where friends and I caught trout and redfish until we didn’t want to cast any more. Literally hundreds of fish in a day. A two-person limit of 60 trout and redfish on ice by 8 a.m. wasn’t unusual. Fishing un-rivaled by anywhere in the country, the best place to catch a redfish in the world.
Until Katrina, unfortunately, we took for granted that it would always be like that. Louisiana’s current, ongoing, heated discussions over reducing trout and redfish creel limits because of productivity loss have their origins in devastating habitat loss. We just don’t have the fish we once did.
In the wake of Hurricane Ida, the Barataria Basin northeast of Grand Isle was unrecognizable. Miles and miles of marsh washed away. Communities 40 miles from the Gulf were covered in fetid mud from dying swamps, leaving residents to question how much of this loss and devastation could have been avoided if the projects to reconnect the river and sustain wetlands had been built 30 or 40 years ago instead of debated and dismissed as too costly. The longer these types of projects sit tangled in bureaucratic morass, the more habitat is lost as the costs skyrocket.
The Mid-Barataria Diversion gives Louisianans like me an opportunity to think positively about the future of our coast. Certainly, it will change the approaches we take to fishing the Barataria Basin. But it will give us a chance to experience a basin that is growing and an opportunity to see new land, gain new shorelines to cast to, and new ponds and grass beds to sustain a diverse fishery. For me, it’s a welcome change from the constant disappointment of knowing each year more and more of my home state will be lost to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the best chance we have.
Groundbreaking photo at top courtesy of Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority
Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act Introduced in the House
House Lawmakers have introduced the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act to boost a crucial Farm Bill program that creates public hunting and fishing opportunities on private land.
The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 has been introduced in the House by Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Mich) and Representative Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.). This bill is a companion to the bipartisan Senate bill introduced in April by Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) to strengthen one of the most critical Farm Bill programs for America’s hunters and anglers: the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). It is the only federal initiative that helps to create public hunting and fishing opportunities on private land and this new legislation calls for tripling the program’s impact. Bipartisan sponsors in both the House and Senate show the value of this program and bode well for increased investments in hunting and fishing access.
“Lack of access is the largest barrier to hunter and angler participation, and the USDA’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program is the single best federal tool to increase recreational access on private lands,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Representatives Dingell and Johnson for their leadership on the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act and we look forward to working with Congress to expand hunting and fishing opportunities for all Americans.”
“Access to private lands provides valuable fishing opportunities to anglers across the country,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “Since 2008, the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program has delivered crucial support to landowners to voluntarily open their lands to fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreation. The American Sportfishing Association applauds Representatives Dingell and Johnson for their support of VPA-HIP through legislation that would expand this successful program and open new waters to America’s 52.4 million anglers.”
“We greatly appreciate Representatives Dingell and Johnson introducing the House version of the VPA Improvement Act. As we entered discussions of the 2023 Farm Bill, extending and expanding the impact of VPA-HIP was one of Delta’s highest priorities,” said John Devney, chief policy officer at Delta Waterfowl. “As duck hunters across the country look for additional access, increased investments in VPA HIP can lead to new partnerships with private landowners to enhance habitat and also provide access. We hope that the effort by Representatives Dingell and Johnson will lead to a broader bi-partisan effort to include an expanded VPA-HIP in the final Farm Bill.”
“Since 2008, the Voluntary Public Access & Habitat Incentive Program has provided one of the most vital funding sources for increasing public access to private lands for hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent recreation. The economic returns from investments in VPA-HIP have been shown many times over across America for rural communities. Access is at the core of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s mission, and we thank Representatives Dingell and Johnson for their bipartisan support for this very successful program.” – Marilyn Vetter, President and CEO, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever.
“VPA-HIP is an incredibly important program for hunters, opening nearly one million private acres to public hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation over its lifetime,” says Torin Miller, senior director of policy for the National Deer Association. “Not surprisingly, interest and enrollment in the program is growing. The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 recognizes the growing interest in the program and the importance of maintaining quality hunting access across the country. The bill’s $150-million authorization will ensure expanded and continued enrollment in VPA-HIP, benefiting hunters, landowners, and local communities. The National Deer Association is proud to endorse this legislation.”
“Restoring wildlife habitat and expanding recreational access on private lands is a win-win for both wildlife and the hunters, anglers, and outdoorspeople, who power our $862 billion outdoor recreation economy,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “This common-sense bill will ensure farmers, ranchers, and private landowners have the tools and resources they need through the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program to sustain our shared wildlife heritage. Thank you to Representatives Dingell and Johnson and their colleagues in the Senate for working to pass this important bipartisan legislation.”
The VPA-HIP is the single best federal tool for increasing recreational access on private lands by helping states create innovative ways of incentivizing private landowners to open their lands to the public for wildlife-dependent recreation. It also has a very special place in the hearts of TRCP’s staff and supporters, as it was championed by our inspirational co-founder, Jim Range, before his untimely death. The program was established and funded through the 2008, 2014, and 2018 Farm Bills—most recently at $50 million over five years—with its impacts felt across the country.
Apart from creating more outdoor recreation access, VPA-HIP funding is also utilized to provide technical and financial assistance to landowners for wildlife habitat improvement and enhancement projects. It is often layered with other Farm Bill programs that have habitat benefits, such as Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Easements. And the program allows states to address liability, alleviating a roadblock for many landowners to open their lands to the public.
Recent studies have shown that the VPA-HIP has a more than eight-to-one return on investment in the form of outdoor recreation spending in rural communities.
New Report Highlights the Critical Importance of Longleaf Pine Forests
The continued maintenance and restoration of longleaf pine forests will benefit wildlife, habitat, landowners, and local economies.
In a new report, America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative (ALRI) highlights the critical need to continue maintaining, improving, and restoring longleaf pine forests for the benefit of sporting traditions and recreation, local economies, national defense, rare species, forest resiliency, wildfire risk, clean air and water, carbon sequestration, and climate change mitigation.
When longleaf pine forests are at the healthiest levels, they are among the most diverse forest ecosystems in the world and provide unique wildlife habitat, supporting bobwhite quail, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and Florida black bear. These forests are one of the best for helping wildlife recover from changes in food, shelter, and movement and they are more resistant to insects, disease, fire, and other risks than other southern pine forests. They play an important role in reducing the effects of climate change on biodiversity and benefit wildlife, habitat, hunters and anglers, landowners, and local economies.
In 2015, U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Forester Christopher Oswalt wrote, “Longleaf pine was once one of the most ecologically important tree species in the southern United States.” Over the last century, longleaf pine forests declined from nearly 90 million to approximately 3 million acres in the mid-1990s.
ALRI was started to turn suitable cropland to longleaf pine forests. In 2008, the ALRI Comprehensive Plan was developed to maintain, improve, and restore these forests. Through the efforts of ALRI and their partners, and with support from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), there are currently almost 5 million longleaf pine forest acres in the Southeast.
Introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill, the Conservation Reserve Program incentivizes landowners to put a portion of their acreage into conservation cover, particularly on lands that would be more productive as wildlife habitat than they would be for crops. By assisting farmers and landowners in achieving both farming and conservation goals, the CRP helps protect natural resources by establishing land cover, improving water quality, and increasing wildlife habitat. CRP funds typically reimburse a portion of expenses for approved conservation practices. The Longleaf Pine Establishment program is a great example of a CRP conservation practice and serves as a guide for planting longleaf pine trees and native grasses to support successful prescribed fire management and improve wildlife habitat.
The reported successes of America’s Longleaf 2022 Range-wide Accomplishment Report means positive outcomes for us all. In 2022, ALRI partners established more than 123,000 acres of new longleaf, implemented prescribed fire on more than 1.7 million acres, and protected 38,000 acres of land. Moving forward, ALRI is focused on tackling the highest priorities for the longleaf landscape and working towards increasing longleaf coverage to 8.0 million acres.
By maintaining, managing, restoring, and improving longleaf ranges we can provide wildlife habitat that is critical to our hunting and fishing opportunities. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership works to maintain and strengthen the future of hunting and fishing by uniting and amplifying our partners’ voices in conserving and restoring wildlife populations and their habitat as challenges continue to evolve.
Much-Needed Forest Conservation Program Introduced in the Senate
Lawmakers have introduced a bill to advance private forest conservation that will complement other successful Farm Bill Title II programs.
The Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP) Act has been introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) to advance private lands forest conservation and complement other successful Farm Bill programs. Paired with the House version of the bill, sponsored by Representatives Trent Kelly (R-Miss) and Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), this much needed private-lands conservation option continues to gain steam ahead of the 2023 Farm Bill.
“Hunters and anglers know that forests are essential for wildlife habitat, local economies, and climate resilience,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Senators Gillibrand and Wicker for their leadership on the Forest Conservation Easement Program. It is a much-needed program that will advance forest conservation and complement other successful Farm Bill Title II programs.”
Healthy, working forests are a crucial part of our ecosystems, economy, and sporting traditions. The FCEP Act will complement the existing Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and help ensure that America’s forests remain forests by permanently providing the wildlife habitat, water filtration, carbon sequestration, and forest products they deliver today.
Conservation easements provide a voluntary, incentive-based mechanism for permanently ensuring private land remains undeveloped. The FCEP Act would provide two options to landowners:
Through Forest Land Easements (FLE), state, local and tribal agencies, and NGOs/land trusts will be able to purchase working forest conservation easements from willing private and tribal landowners, filling a critical void among federal programs.
Through Forest Reserve Easements (FRE), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will purchase forest conservation easements directly from willing private and tribal landowners and provide financial assistance for the management and restoration of the lands to restore, maintain, and enhance habitat for threatened and endangered and other at-risk species. FRE is the successor to and expansion of the existing Healthy Forests Reserve Program.
The FCEP Act has been championed by The TRCP, The Conservation Fund, Wildlife Mississippi, Land Trust Alliance, National Alliance of Forest Owners, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, and more.
“Conservation easements are our most durable tool for voluntary, incentive-based conservation on private land,” said Aaron Field, director of private lands conservation at the TRCP. “The FCEP Act applies that tool to working forests, ensuring that they will continue to be an economic driver while providing habitat, clean water, carbon sequestration, and more.”
TRCP works to maintain and strengthen the future of hunting and fishing by uniting and amplifying our partners’ voices in conserving and restoring wildlife populations and their habitat as challenges continue to evolve.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
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.