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posted in: General

August 29, 2023

Volunteers Make an Impact on New Mexico Private Lands Conservation

The Impact Outdoors NM projects will benefit wildlife, habitat, hunters, and a ranching operation.

In early August, joined a group of volunteers with Impact Outdoors New Mexico on behalf of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to help complete three projects on a local landowner’s property near Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The projects benefited wildlife, hunters, and the ranching operation.

Impact Outdoors is a nonprofit organization dedicated to impacting communities through education, conservation, and meaningful outdoor opportunities like hunting and fishingBy fostering strong relationships and community, for both veterans and youth, Impact Outdoors builds a cadre of strong volunteers who possess a deep passion for the outdoorsThrough Impact Outdoors, many of the youth and veterans volunteer their time to assist with habitat restoration on public and private lands.

Private landowners play instrumental roles for conservation, ensuring that public and private working lands are conserved and managed correctly benefits us allThanks to a great working relationship with a landowner near Santa Rose, NM, volunteers with Impact Outdoors had already been able to help restore wetlands, fence off riparian zones to protect cattle from over grazing and restore native grasses, and install water valves to ensure water gets to the appropriate locations on the propertyDue to these past efforts, the leopard frog, which is listed as a species of conservation concern in New Mexico, has returned to the property.   

The Hermit Peak and Calf Canyon Fire in 2022 burned northwest in the headwaters of the Pecos River and was the largest fire in New Mexico State history. This property is irrigated with water from the Pecos River. After the fire the region received large amounts of rain causing a carbon kill off in the river. Due to the quick actions of the landowner and Impact Outdoors NM they were able to keep the carbon out of the restored wetlands and maintain an intact macroinvertebrate source to reestablish in the Pecos River. 

In a continuation of this important conservation work, I joined about 30 volunteers from Impact Outdoors NM as they set about tackling three new projects in coordination with the landowner. We installed a catwalk over a ditch headgate to ensure the landowners safety when changing water allocations for irrigation and providing water to the wetlands. We built a fully accessible duck blind that will accommodate a track chair and allow it to fully turn around. Lastly, we built a ramp and pully system that allows a layout boat to be launched into the wetlands allowing a hunter using a wheelchair to hunt waterfowl from the water with a volunteer from Impact Outdoors beside them in the water in waders.   

The event was a great success and the completion of the three projects helped prepare the way for youth and veterans to have a quality location to hunt turkeys and waterfowl as well as fish this fall. 

Click here to learn more about Impact Outdoors NM

Click here to learn more about private lands conservation programs 

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posted in: General

August 10, 2023

Reflections on Mentorship and Conservation

The conservation community needs to lean into mentorship. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to engage with the mentorship cohort of Next 100 Colorado while on a conservation tour in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the Next 100 Colorado focuses on workforce diversity across conservation and outdoor recreation, ensuring equitable access for all people, and using the outdoors to tell accurate, complex, uplifting and healing stories about Colorado lands. The mentorship cohorts are intended to provide community for underrepresented individuals in conservation as well as guidance for mentees who are within the first five years of their conservation career. The conservation trip took place on July 18-19 and consisted of five mentees and four mentors (or members) of Next 100 Colorado. 

The mentorship cohort tours the San Luis Valley of Colorado

On this trip both mentors and mentees were able to learn about the complexity and history of Spanish and Mexican land grants as well as private land conservation in Southern Colorado. On a ranch tour we were able to see conservation at a landscape level as the ranch was taking significant efforts to reduce fuel loads across the semi-desert shrubland to the montane forest ecosystems. This would help ensure that the next fire on the landscape isn’t catastrophic but rather beneficial. Fire has evolved with these ecosystems and during our tour we learned how indigenous tribes utilized fire to maintain healthy forests and create quality hunting areas for themselves. We ended the trip by visiting and camping at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, which was a first for many of the participants. 

The tour provided the opportunity to learn about the complex history of Spanish and Mexican land grants.

The experience was tremendous. It fostered camaraderie and community amongst the group as we broke bread together, learned about new people, and shared new experiences as a team. Together, we learned that a key to making any camping trip successful is being familiar with the tent you are bringing, and if you are setting it up for the first time, try to do it in the daylight hours. We overcame this obstacle together and left with the valuable lesson that there is nothing worse than setting up a tent for the first time in the dark. 

While reflecting on this trip, I have spent time thinking of all the mentors and influential individuals who chose to share their time and talents to help shape me and my journey. Those who guided me range from family members to teachers and coaches to coworkers. I can personally attest that conservation needs to lean into mentorship as it is a powerful tool for passing on knowledge, skills, and experience. As demographics shift in the U.S. it is important that our conservation community engage and provide mentorship to underserved communities so that future generations know the importance of protecting our natural resources now and for future generations to come. Currently Hispanic and Latino children make up 50% of the U.S. population 18 years old and younger and we need to be intentional in how we connect with them. 

Enjoying Great Sand Dunes National Park

Hunting and angling mentorship is important for introducing new people to the sport and our conservation ethos. It teaches the necessary safety and ethical practices while helping develop a lifelong passion for the outdoors. National R3 programs (Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation) exist to increase participation in hunting, shooting sports, and fishing and have a strong focus on mentorship.  To date, many states and organizations have implemented similar mentoring programs to help grow the hunting community as well. 

The stunning views of Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Two additional organizations that have leaned into mentorship are the Minority Outdoor Alliance and Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever. Together, they are engaging new and diverse audiences to build a multicultural upland hunting community. The Learn to Hunt experience is designed to provide opportunities for novice minority hunters to form strong authentic bonds in the field and around the campfire. These events provide knowledge, skills, and an introduction to hunting through education and interaction with instructors in a controlled setting.  The desired outcome is that participants gain the confidence and support they need to further pursue their outdoor interests and stay connected well after the event.  

As conservationists, let’s keep leaning into the mentorship challenge and extend the olive branch to our kids, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and greater community just as our mentors did for us. I encourage you all to participate in your state wildlife agency’s mentorship programs or take a mentorship pledge like I did this year with Pheasants Forever.   

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posted in: General

May 22, 2023

Pennsylvania Must Help Reduce Chesapeake Bay Pollution

Following settlement, the state and EPA both can be held accountable if pollution reduction goals are not met and enforced

Last month, the EPA agreed to a lawsuit filed in 2020 by Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and the District of Columbia that stated Pennsylvania must reduce its disproportionate impact in polluting the Chesapeake Bay. The litigation asserts that the EPA has failed to hold the state accountable for meeting pollution reduction goals, and the settlement now allows a means to hold EPA officials responsible if the state’s pollution requirements are not enforced.

Reducing nutrient runoff would mean cleaner waters in the state and a healthier Chesapeake Bay farther downstream.

Although great strides have been made in reducing pollution in recent years, one-quarter of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams still suffer from contamination. The Susquehanna River, which is the largest source of fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay, is also the largest source of nitrogen pollution to the Bay. Agricultural runoff, acid mine drainage, and suburban stormwater remain the leading sources of Pennsylvania pollution to the Bay. The negative impacts are not just felt in Bay waters, but also in the surrounding states.

A 2010 settlement required Pennsylvania and other states in the watershed to each implement a pollution reduction plan by 2025, known as the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. But Pennsylvania hasn’t made enough progress on its piece of the plan.

Last month’s agreement established by the EPA, which must now go through a mandatory 30-day public comment period prior to implementation, lays out specific oversight actions such as necessitating an annual public report on Pennsylvania’s progress. EPA officials can be held accountable if the state again fails to enforce pollution requirements. The agreement also highlights the need for further grant funding opportunities to make the necessary changes to meet reduction goals in the state.

Pennsylvania contains more farmland than the other Bay watershed states. Farms can be a significant source of pollution due to the runoff of sediment and excess nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous found in fertilizers, that the state has thus far been unable to address. The Commonwealth’s most recent state budget created a new funding source known as the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program to help farmers implement conservation practices that keep valuable topsoil in place and reduce potentially harmful material from reaching local waterways. This funding stream could prove to be crucial to ensuring Pennsylvania reaches its goals in the agreement set forth by the EPA.

Pennsylvanians, show your support for stronger Chesapeake Bay habitat and cleaner water throughout our state. This lawsuit aside, we’re all working toward a better future for the rivers and streams that support our hunting and fishing opportunities. Take action here to get involved.

January 18, 2022

Pending Mine Proposal Threatens Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp

Why the upcoming decision impacting this Southeast Georgia outdoor recreation haven is important to hunters and anglers

EDITOR’S NOTE: Go ahead and put Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp on the same shortlist with Alaska’s Bristol Bay, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, and Nevada’s Ruby Mountains—areas that provide unmatched fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities that spur the local economy but have been at risk from development interests. Here’s what you need to know about a pending mine proposal that could degrade this unique habitat and who is standing up for it.

The Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure and angler’s paradise. Among the most visited national wildlife refuges in the country, the Okefenokee is an outdoor recreation engine, hosting some 600,000 visitors annually who help to create more than 750 local jobs and a total annual economic output of $64.7 million in the region.

Covering 680 square miles, the swamp itself is the mysterious domain of black bears and American alligators. But like many untouched habitats, it isn’t easy to get to. Most people like it that way—access to the largest blackwater swamp in North America requires a canoe or john boat and the gutsy spirit of a swamper.

The Okefenokee Wilderness Canoe Trail is visited by those seeking a truly secluded and isolated wilderness experience. The area is so expansive that even if you fished all 120 miles of the refuge’s designated water trails, you would still only have seen 2 percent of its vast beauty. Currently, there are three hunting units in the refuge, which supports abundant game that travel well beyond its borders. It’s an important sportfish nursery, a winter stopover for migratory waterfowl, and one of only three places in Georgia that supports a black bear population. The endless miles of wilderness and massive wetlands deliver clean water downstream, while the swamp is also one of North America’s largest freshwater carbon sinks.

But right now, the Okefenokee’s future hangs in the balance. In the coming months, the state of Georgia will decide whether Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, will be given permission to dig 50-foot-deep pits into the very ridge near the swamp that acts as a geological dam, maintaining water levels in the swamp and feeding the St. Marys and Suwannee rivers. Excavation would extend below the water table, and the company also wants to pump up to 1.44 million gallons of water daily from the swamp’s aquifer.

Sportsmen and sportswomen should not allow this to happen.

Joe Cook/Georgia River Network
What’s At Stake in South Georgia

Scientists, including experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Georgia, recognize the hydrologic link and have warned that as groundwater is lowered by mining operations, so goes the water level in the swamp. At only 1.5 to 3 feet deep, there is not much wiggle room for water loss that could make access to the swamp impossible as the canoe trails dry up.

Lowering of the water table would also dry up the saturated peat that helps to store carbon and combat climate change. Even worse, lower water levels can induce drought conditions, and as the ecosystem changes from boggy and wet to parched, the peat fuels can easily catch fire and release a CO2 equivalent that would worsen climate effects.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has written that “should impacts occur, they may not be able to be reversed, repaired, or mitigated for,” as destruction of the peat that took thousands of years to accumulate would destroy the swamp.

And the impacts to clean water would be immediate. The proposed mining site includes some 300 acres of wetlands that help ensure the delivery of clean water to the St. Marys River, a sinuous, blackwater beauty that has its origins within the Okefenokee Swamp and harbors endangered species like the Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. These wetlands are likely to be destroyed.

Georgia Can Stop This Mine

Twin Pines has their mining equipment ready at the doorstep of the Okefenokee Swamp. If they are granted permission, the effects of the mine could be devastating and irreversible—all to retrieve titanium dioxide, a common, widely available mineral that can be found elsewhere. The uncommon Okefenokee, perhaps the wildest place in Georgia, is found nowhere else on Earth.

Visit garivers.org to learn more about the pending mine proposal and how you can stand up for the habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities in the Okefenokee.

 

Rena Ann Peck is executive director of Georgia River Network, advocating for water trails and science-based conservation to protect special places like the iconic Okefenokee Wilderness.

Photos courtesy of Joe Cook/Georgia River Network.

 

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posted in: General

January 13, 2022

TRCP’s Top 10 Conservation Priorities for 2022

The legislative and policy solutions we’re pursuing to improve habitat and your hunting and fishing opportunities

Following a 2021 that was a rollercoaster in so many ways, the year ahead provides hunters, anglers, and the conservation community with significant opportunity. Lawmakers deep in re-election cycles know that habitat, access, and conservation funding issues are things that most Americans can agree on and are eager to bring home legislative wins to their voters.

Working alongside our partners, here’s what we want to get done this year.

Infrastructure Implementation

Passed in late 2021, the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides significant federal investment in programs benefiting fish and wildlife on public and private lands, including a first-of-its-kind five-year wildlife crossings grant program. The TRCP will closely follow the implementation of this and other programs to ensure that dollars are both benefiting fish and wildlife and enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities.

 

Building Climate Resilience

Efforts to address our changing climate continue to become less polarizing in Congress. There is significant interest among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in prioritizing carbon sequestration and nature-based solutions that mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events on vulnerable rural communities. Whether in the proposed Build Back Better package, other potential climate legislation, or the 2023 Farm Bill, the conservation community will have an active voice in the discussion.

 

Passage of the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act

Led by Representatives Kind of Wisconsin and Thompson of Pennsylvania, this comprehensive legislation would provide state wildlife and agriculture agencies with much needed resources for CWD management and suppression. The bill would also create a CWD research grant program to study the spread of the disease and direct the USDA to collect public feedback on ways to improve oversight of the captive deer industry. The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives in late 2021 and awaits introduction in the Senate.

 

Protection of Bristol Bay in Statute

In late 2021, the Biden Administration once again halted the proposed Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. While this was welcome news, more work is needed to federally protect the world’s most prolific sockeye salmon fishery in statute. The TRCP is working with lawmakers and state and national partners in developing legislation to do just that.

 

Passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

RAWA would provide state wildlife agencies with nearly $1.4 billion annually to implement state wildlife action plans, allowing for more proactive conservation of wildlife and associated habitat to avoid potential endangered species listings. Introduced by Representative Dingell of Michigan and Senator Heinrich of New Mexico, the legislation has bipartisan support in both chambers and would be a generational investment in wildlife conservation.

 

Passage of the Modernizing Access to Public Land Act

The MAPLand Act, championed by Senator Risch of Idaho and Representative Moore of Utah, would require that maps and easement records held by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are digitized and publicized for the benefit of all Americans. Doing so would bring recordkeeping into the 21st century and provide hunters and anglers with much greater certainty in planning outings on our public lands.

 

Introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act

In the last half-century, the intense conversion of grasslands has precipitated a steep decline in associated bird populations. The TRCP and several partners have worked for the past year on developing an innovative grant program for grass and rangeland conservation that works with ranchers and landowners to improve ecosystem health and ensure that their acreage remains productive and healthy habitat for years to come. Our groups have worked closely with Senator Wyden in developing the legislation and are looking forward to bringing the bill before the House and Senate.

 

Improving the State of Gulf Menhaden

Largescale industrial menhaden fishing in the Gulf accounts for more than one billion pounds of this forage fish harvested each year, making it Louisiana’s largest fishery. Pogie boats often operate near shore, netting thousands of other fish species, including red drum and speckled trout. Anglers have fought to restrict these operations in the surf zone but continue to face opposition from menhaden processors citing economic impacts. In 2022, the TRCP will continue to work with partners and scientists who study the bycatch of such operations and pursue legislation to further reduce the impact of the industrial menhaden fishery on sportfish in the Gulf, with a particular focus on protecting beaches and other shallow-water habitat.

 

Using the Power of Habitat to Boost Water Resources

Western watersheds, such as the Colorado River and Rio Grande, face increasing pressure from wildfire and drought. Natural infrastructure approaches—such as the protection and restoration of headwater wetlands and riparian areas—have been shown to effectively reduce natural hazard risks while benefiting water users and watersheds. In 2022, TRCP is working to prioritize the implementation of natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions to address Western water challenges in various federal and state policy initiatives, with a focus on the 2023 Farm Bill and this year’s Water Resources Development Act. We’ll also be pushing for the latter legislation to improve Everglades restoration funding and build on the successful construction of projects to help restore natural waterflows.

 

Conserving Migration Corridors

Beyond the wildlife crossing pilot program included in recently passed legislation, additional solutions are needed to conserve big game migration corridors across the country. The TRCP and partner groups are continuing to work with state and federal land managers to increase investments in research and corridor mapping, improve interagency coordination, and conserve corridors on public land.

 

For more information, and to take action in support of these critical conservation priorities in the year ahead, visit the TRCP Action Center.

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.

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