Emphasizing the Importance of Federal Investment in the Rio Grande Basin
The TRCP organized a trip to Washington, DC to advocate for enacting meaningful legislation that supports restoration and drought mitigation.
The Rio Grande is the Nation’s fourth longest river, providing drinking water to an estimated 12 million people, irrigating thousands of acres of farmland, and supporting habitat for game and fish. Like much of the West, the Rio Grande Basin is experiencing long-term drought and aridification as a consequence of decreased precipitation and increased temperatures throughout the basin. This results in increased strain on freshwater availability for communities, habitats, and species while simultaneously increasing the severity and frequency of wildfires and other natural hazards.
Additionally, substantial portions of available federal funding are specifically focused on addressing drought in the Colorado River Basin and “other basins experiencing comparable levels of drought” without statutory guidance on how drought is quantified. This makes it difficult to determine how much money will be available to other drought-stricken basins, like the Rio Grande.
During our trip, we met with staff from Senators Luján (D-N.M.), Heinrich (D-N.M.), Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), and Bennet (D-Colo.), as well as staff from Representatives Stansbury (D-N.M.), Leger Fernendez (D-N.M.), Vasquez (D-N.M.), and Boebert’s (R-Colo.) offices and were glad to see broad support for increased coordination and management of the Rio Grande Basin.
We appreciate bipartisan leadership from our members of Congress in Colorado and New Mexico to enact meaningful legislation that supports restoration and drought mitigation, and we are thankful for the continued support of ensuring that this investment is meaningfully distributed on the ground.
Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to habitat and clean water here
Every Angler Can Help Control Aquatic Invasive Species
Professional fisherman Ish Monroe shares his personal perspective and tips to mitigate damage to America’s fisheries from non-native threats.
I started fishing tournaments when I was 14 years old. I had a passion for competing and wanted to make it my living. In 1997, when I was 22, Bassmaster came out West and I qualified for their pro bass fishing tour. It was right then that I put everything I owned into storage and never looked back.
As a pro angler for almost the last three decades, I’ve met a lot of great people, and heard from parents how much it meant to their children to see someone with a similar look and background in this sport.
Because fishing is not only my livelihood, but my passion (I love to saltwater fish for fun, and just got back from an offshore tuna fishing excursion), I pay attention to threats to angling in America. One of the biggest, least understood, and most difficult to address threats arrived in this country a long time ago. I’m talking about aquatic invasive species (AIS).
AIS Are Everywhere
In America, AIS issues range from well-known Asian carp and zebra mussels in the Midwest to lake-choking hydrilla out West, and from sunlight-blocking water hyacinth down South to northern snakeheads and blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay. If you’re a recreational angler, and especially if you own a boat, there’s a very good chance you’ve already encountered some of these aquatic invasives.
You may know what I’m talking about – you’re in a state that is dealing with zebra mussels or quagga mussels, and you need to pull your drain plugs and be sure livewells are totally dry before you go to another body of water to fish. In California, where I’m from, if you don’t follow these procedures your boat goes into quarantine. But this initiative is critical to preventing further spread of these mussels.
AIS problems represent a huge hassle for anglers and aren’t something we can ignore. If unaddressed, the problems only get worse. Invasive mussels will eventually clog up drinking water or irrigation pipes. Snakeheads will eat everything, from the fish we catch to the prey items in their diets. Invasive vegetation will degrade the habitat of native fish.
And then there are Asian carp.
These invasives, which come in multiple species, including silver and bighead carp, remove plankton that normally provide forage to native bait species. Also, when the bass are in a spawning area, the carp can ruin the beds they’re spawning on with their gluttonous feeding habits.
These carp also leap out of the water when they’re agitated, and I’ve had them fly right into my boat. Imagine going down the lake at 60 miles per hour and having one jump up in front of you. People actually get hospitalized for this.
Invasives Cost Billions of Dollars, Hurt Communities
Maybe the biggest threat aquatic invasives present is the financial burden they put on federal and local economies. Our federal government alone spends an estimated $2.3 billion annually to prevent, control, and eradicate domestic AIS issues. In fact, AIS cause $100 billion worth of damage per year in the U.S.
Those are only big-picture costs. Fishing supports communities, and sometimes the real damage from invasives occurs at a more local level. When AIS take over an area, the fishing gets bad. When fishing gets bad, people stop fishing. Entire communities suffer.
The only good news about the economic damage AIS problems cause is that it has forced politicians and other decision-makers to take notice. People won’t get behind AIS battles unless the economics and dollars are there.
Management & Control of Invasives
Clearly there’s good reason to want to control, or at least mitigate the damage from, aquatic invasives. The best option is to never allow an exotic species to move into a body of water in the first place. We all play a part in preventing future spread.
Once AIS establish themselves, full eradication is often the ideal solution, even though in most cases it’s not financially feasible or practical to implement. Species like zebra and quagga mussels, and fish like freshwater Asian carp and lionfish in our oceans, offer little benefit to North American environments. If possible, we want to remove them. That’s much easier said than done, however. The best thing is to never allow invasives to gain a foothold in a waterway in the first place.
Myself and other pro anglers on the circuit, along with our sponsors, are already doing our part to help deal with AIS issues. Bassmaster’s Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) offers great information to pro anglers on how to reduce the spread of invasives, and also is now officially part of the national Clean Drain Dry Initiative. And Yamaha Rightwaters, the number-one program where I work on conservation issues, does more than just waterway clean-ups, like the Tennessee River Beautiful effort I’m involved with. Among the program’s initiatives is a national AIS Commission convened with partners like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Diverse AIS Commission Sets Priorities
In 2021, the TRCP worked with Yamaha Rightwaters and other partners to form an AIS commission to improve the prevention, control, and mitigation of aquatic invasives. I chose to be on the commission because I see where things are going with tournament bass fishing, and if I don’t do something to help it could eventually go away.
It was a difficult but great process to try and wrap our minds around such a big issue. Among our recommendations, which were finalized in 2023, were the need to modernize federal law and policy, increase targeted federal funding, maintain access to water for anglers, and increase public education and engagement.
And that’s where you and other anglers come in. Please help do your part to help prevent further AIS spread, to benefit fish populations and our collective angling experiences.
How You Can Help Stop the Spread of Invasives:
Follow the “Clean, Drain, Dry” rule. Don’t’ transfer water from one place to another.
Be educated about AIS in your area. Know what you should or shouldn’t do.
Get involved. Volunteer, follow an advocacy like Yamaha Right Waters, and let your elected officials know you expect them to address AIS issues.
Consider organizing or entering a competition that focuses on AIS removals (and have fun in the process).
Ishama “Ish” Monroe is a professional bass fisherman with nine career wins, five of them being on the B.A.S.S. tour. He has earned $2.4 million in lifetime prize winnings. Sponsored by Yamaha Motor, Bass Pro Shops, Simms Fishing, Ranger Boats, and other big names in the angling industry, he is based in northern California but competes and volunteers nationally.
Learn more about the AIS Commission and its recommendations here.
TRCP Applauds Fish and Wildlife Service’s Proposal to Support SW Montana Working Lands
New conservation area would sustain voluntary agreements with willing landowners utilizing LWCF dollars
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to create a new conservation area in southwest Montana. As proposed, the Missouri Headwaters Conservation Area would advance a vision for the future of working agricultural lands in this region by allowing the use of Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to conserve working lands through voluntary agreements with landowners in portions of Beaverhead, Madison, Deer Lodge, Jefferson, and Silver Bow Counties.
“The proposed support from the Fish and Wildlife Service for private lands conservation means ranching will remain a strong pillar in this valley,” said Jeff Johnson, a rancher from Dell. “Ranching is tough work, and the development pressures on farms and ranches make it that much tougher. These financial resources are what we need to make sure working lands remain productive.”
The proposal would not allow fee title acquisition and—as proposed—would limit the scale of voluntary conservation easements within the project area to 250,000 acres. Given increasing development pressure on Montana farms and ranches, the conservation area would offer private landowners additional financial options to maintain their agricultural operations, while conserving valuable wildlife habitat.
“Southwest Montana provides some of the finest wildlife habitat and hunting country found anywhere,” said Chris Marchion with Anaconda Sportsman’s Club. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal for southwest Montana will make funding available to keep agricultural lands in production, while maintaining the wildlife habitat that supports our hunting traditions.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service has an extensive history of working with landowners to create private land conservation areas in Montana, and similar project areas have long existed on the Rocky Mountain Front and in the Blackfoot River Valley.
“Voluntary private lands conservation has been a success story for wildlife and working lands across Montana for decades,” said Joel Webster, VP of western conservation for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We are excited about this proposal to support Montana farms, ranches, and wildlife habitat, and we encourage the Fish and Wildlife Service to listen to local landowners as they refine the proposal.”
A public comment period is expected to commence on Sept. 20 and run through Oct. 26.
Learn more about TRCP’s conservation work in southwest Montana here.
TRCP Commends USFS for 834,000 acres of Proposed Wildlife Management Areas in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests
Newly established Wildlife Management Areas and critical management updates seek to protect and enhance high-value habitat for big game
The over three million acres of public land that make up the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests in Western Colorado will soon have an updated management plan thanks to the hard work and years of public and partner engagement by Forest Service staff.
The GMUG National Forests comprise hunting units where approximately 50,000 big game hunting licenses are allocated annually, and support nearly 20 percent of the state’s iconic mule deer and elk populations. The GMUG currently hosts 3,000 miles of sanctioned recreational trails, four scenic byways, six peaks over 14,000 feet, 10 Wilderness areas, and over 3,600 miles of perennial streams. If the Forest Service adopts its preferred alternative in the final environmental impact statement and approves its draft record of decision, 834,000 acres (28% of the GMUG Forests) would be managed with a focus on conserving important seasonal habitats for big game and other wildlife species.
“The management objectives and guidelines specific to over 800,000 acres of newly defined Wildlife Management Areas that seek to maintain and improve habitat connectivity and function, including vegetation management projects designed to improve habitat long term, will benefit hunter and angler opportunity,” praised Liz Rose, TRCP’s Colorado field representative.
The proposed GMUG National Forests’ Revised Land Management Plan aims to protect and reinforce the forests’ value to recreationists, local communities, and wildlife through active and adaptive management as social and environmental pressures continue to change. A century of fire suppression combined with ever-increasing risks from drought and wildfire and unprecedented increases in recreational use means that planning, active management, and monitoring, all informed by the best available data and science, is needed to restore diverse, healthy, natural systems across the GMUG Forests.
“Wildlife need healthy forests in the near and long term and status quo is not an option for maintaining them,” explained Patt Dorsey, west region director of conservation operations for the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Forest restoration activities that maintain forest resilience are crucial on the landscape and project level.”
The proposed plan aims to steer future recreational trail expansion away from Wildlife Management Areas, designated and proposed Wilderness, and other special areas such as Research Natural Areas. Furthermore, in Wildlife Management Areas, the Forest Service intends to maintain a lower density of roads and trails in order to minimize habitat fragmentation and year-round disturbance to wildlife. This management standard will help make Wildlife Management Areas high-quality habitats for deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, Gunnison sage-grouse, and other wildlife. The TRCP looks forward to working with the Forest Service to finalize the proposed GMUG to benefit Colorado’s fish, wildlife, and outdoorspeople.
The Forest Service will accept formal objections during a 60-day objection period. Following this period, the Forest Service may revise its plan then issue a record of decision and adopt the plan as final. The TRCP encourages the Forest Service to adopt a final plan expeditiously so GMUG staff can begin 2024 with updated direction to improve fish, wildlife, and watershed health, and provide opportunities for people to safely, confidently, and successfully utilize and enjoy time spent on Colorado’s special public lands.
Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish here.
“This win for hunters is because Idaho’s outdoor community—hunters, outdoor business owners, wildlife professionals, conservationists, and outdoor recreationists—came together to ask for sensible, active management to perpetuate huntable wildlife populations in perpetuity,” said Rob Thornberry, Idaho field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We owe a huge thanks to our wonderful hunting and fishing community.”
The plan, which will set guidance in the 783,000-acre field office for decades to come, includes a major win for hunters: a 120,800-acre Backcountry Conservation Area where BLM “will promote public access to support wildlife-dependent recreation and hunting opportunities and facilitate the long-term maintenance of big game wildlife populations,” according to the ROD.
When successfully implemented by the BLM, the Bennett Hills BCA will be managed to: • Protect and enhance public access to world-class hunting. • Conserve intact wildlife habitat, including crucial big game winter range and migratory habitats for six distinct mule deer, elk, and pronghorn herds. • Prioritize management practices that restore habitat and control noxious weeds (i.e. treat cheat grass, control conifer encroachment, and allow water developments). • Support and maintain traditional uses of the land such as ranching and hunting.
In addition to the conservation of the Bennett Hills, the new resource management plan will continue wildlife-friendly management in the Boise Foothills and the conservation of habitat for both long-billed curlew south of Emmett and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse near New Meadows.
Release of the final plan follows roughly a decade-long effort by TRCP to make BCAs a reality. That path included the release of a draft environmental impact statement and resource management plan in May 2019 where the agency’s preferred alternative excluded all wildlife protections from the plan, such as the then-proposed BCA, 11 Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and one area identified as Lands with Wilderness Character.
The TRCP worked with Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Idaho Chukar Foundation, and other independent hunters and anglers to facilitate the return of wildlife friendly protections, including reinstating the Bennet Hills BCA and Boise Front ACEC, to the final plan. The Boise Front ACEC is a key piece in this public land conglomeration puzzle because the area annually hosts thousands of wintering deer, elk, and pronghorn. Like the Bennett Hills BCA, it is critical for the long-term viability of deer, elk, and pronghorn.
Thirty-nine Idaho-based sporting businesses also advocated that BLM include significant conservation measures within the final plan.
Drew Wahlin, executive director of the Idaho Chukar Foundation, echoed those comments and gave special praise to the BLM.
“BLM deserves a huge thank you,” said Wahlin. “These conservation measures wouldn’t have been possible without the thoughtful leadership of BLM.”
Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish here.
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.