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Today, the U.S. Forest Service released a notice to prepare an environmental impact statement to amend 128 land management plans across the National Forest System that will guide future management of old growth forests. The amendment aims to establish a set of national plan components and direction for geographically defined adaptive management strategies that promote the persistence and recruitment of old-growth forest conditions across the National Forest System.
“Hunters and anglers recognize that productive, diverse, and resilient forests include old growth and young forests alike,” said Michael O’Casey, Pacific Northwest deputy director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “And given a century of fire suppression and hotter, more variable weather, the long-term conservation and recruitment of old growth will require active stewardship in many places.”
Today’s announcement builds on Executive Order 14072, Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies, which was signed in April 2022 and requires the Forest Service and other federal agencies to define, inventory, assess threats to, and “develop policies to institutionalize climate-smart management and conservation strategies that address threats to mature and old-growth forests on Federal land.” EO 14072 led to an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in April 2023, where the agency gave the public an opportunity to provide input on how the Forest Service should respond to the threats impacting forest health such as wildfire, insects and disease, and a changing climate through forest management activities and possible future policies.
Since April 2022, TRCP has been working with its hunt-fish partners, timber industry officials, and conservation leaders to identify opportunities to conserve old growth forests while also recognizing the importance of young forests and active stewardship to maintain forest health and wildlife habitat on national forest lands. This release kicks off a 45-day comment period where the public will have an opportunity to provide input on the proposed rule.
“Our national forests offer some of the best places for sportsmen and sportswomen to hunt and fish,” continued O’Casey. “TRCP is committed to working with our membership, partners, local governments, and the federal land management agencies to facilitate an outcome for this process that will benefit sportspeople and the fish and wildlife that rely on healthy forest systems across our public lands.”
Learn more about TRCP’s recent work on our nation’s forests HERE.
Photo Credit: Jack Lander
With 2023 winding to a close, we wanted to look back at the top accomplishments toward forage fish conservation that the TRCP, our partners, and dedicated members along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts achieved together this year. As you probably know, forage fish like menhaden and herring are small but critically important species that play a central role in marine food webs, and provide an essential food source for some of the most economically important sportfish like striped bass, redfish, bluefish, and speckled trout. There remains a lot more work to be done in 2024 to expand forage fish protections in the U.S., but we are poised to hit the ground running next year with your continued support.
1. We compelled the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Atlantic menhaden reduction industry and Virginia, to create a 1-mile no-fishing buffer along Chesapeake Bay shorelines and a ½-mile no-fishing buffer along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, and to implement summer holiday fishing restrictions. While this MOU is not legally binding for the menhaden industry, its development is a direct result of our public push in Virginia to move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Bay. It also appears to have already reduced fish spills along the Eastern Shore this season, as no major spill events occurred in 2023, unlike the many spills we saw in 2022. While there are still no enforceable regulations on the industry to lower its 100-million-pound annual menhaden harvest in the Bay, we plan to keep the pressure on in 2024 to add legal teeth to this “gentlemen’s agreement.”
2. We successfully pushed for the adoption of a notice of intent (NOI) by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to implement regulations for the Gulf menhaden fishery, including a mandated 1-mile coastwide no-fishing buffer, 3-mile no-fishing buffers near popular beaches, and more stringent spill reporting requirements. Anglers have been sounding the alarm about the reduction industry’s impacts to sportfish populations and shorelines for years, all while accepting more and more limits on recreational fishing, including stricter size and creel limits on redfish and speckled trout. The Commission recognized that it’s time for the menhaden industry to participate in conservation as well. This NOI will hopefully be approved ahead of the 2024 season, and we will be following its progress along the way.
3. We advocated for the final development of a comprehensive study of incidental bycatch in the Gulf menhaden fishery, to be conducted during the 2024 season. The latest science shows that industrial menhaden harvest negatively impacts sportfish and other marine species by depleting the forage base and increasing bycatch incidents. A group of researchers will be monitoring the Gulf menhaden reduction industry in 2024 to determine the extent of the impacts of bycatch on Gulf sportfish and other menhaden predators. The results of this study should be published in 2025, which will greatly enhance our understanding of the second largest fishery by volume in the U.S.
Most of our work in the Atlantic will remain focused on the Chesapeake Bay, where we will continue to advocate for lowering the footprint of the menhaden reduction industry in Bay waters, to leave more fish available for iconic predator species like striped bass and osprey. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) recently published a proposal to study the ecology, fishery impacts, and economic importance of menhaden populations in Virginia. Hopefully, this work will receive the necessary funding from the General Assembly next year so we can finally get more answers to our decades-old question – what impact does menhaden reduction fishing really have on the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem?
If the existing NOI to expand menhaden fishing buffers along the Louisiana coast is approved in 2024, this should drastically lower fish spill events caused by the reduction industry next season – of which there were 18 total this season alone – as the industry will be forced to operate in deeper waters and obliged to quickly clean up dead fish. In addition to these new coastal protections, work continues to develop an ecosystem-based management framework for the Gulf menhaden fishery. Reference points to set a Gulf-wide harvest cap, which leaves enough forage fish in the water for sportfish and other predators, are just around the corner, and we will be advocating for their implementation to bring management of this fishery into the 21st century.
Nationally, menhaden are not the only forage fish in need of conservation. Many forage fish species are in trouble, including Atlantic herring, American shad, and river herring in the Northeast. Atlantic herring populations are dwindling at only 21% of their target biomass, while river herring and shad are both severely depleted throughout their range. In 2021, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) adopted a 12-mile buffer to keep the midwater trawl herring fishery away from key coastal habitat and to address bycatch and user conflict concerns. However, in 2022, because of a case brought by industrial herring harvesters, the courts struck down the buffer zone on a procedural matter.
This year, the TRCP and partners renewed the campaign to move the midwater trawl fishery offshore, away from critical herring spawning habitat and highly trafficked areas. Next year we will ramp up efforts as we continue our work to reinstitute effective fishing buffers along the New England coast. In combination, we are also beginning to advocate for the implementation of new protections for shad and river herring, by developing bycatch provisions within the Atlantic herring fishery to reduce inadvertent impacts on these depleted stocks.
Learn more about how forage fish drive sportfishing and underpin healthy marine ecosystems, and stay tuned for more updates about our forage fish conservation efforts in the coming year. As always, feel free to reach out to our team at any time.
Top Image Credit: Louisiana Sea Grant
2024 legislative session could be an opportunity to permanently conserve the parcel via conveyance to Grand Teton National Park
Today, the Wyoming State Loans and Investments Board voted unanimously to table the proposed public auction of the Kelly Parcel until fall of 2024.
“The Wyoming people have spoken clearly at multiple meetings across the state—the Kelly Parcel should never be developed,” said Josh Metten, Wyoming field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Surrounded on three sides by Grand Teton National Park, the Kelly Parcel (T43N R115W Sec. 36) sits on crucial elk winter range and is centrally located in the northern portion of the “Path of the Pronghorn.” The property is also located in a Wild and Scenic designated portion of the Gros Ventre watershed which is home to native Snake River cutthroat trout.
This iconic parcel is a gateway to the National Park and the Bridger Teton National Forest, an area loved by Wyomingites and visitors alike.
State lands are managed in Wyoming to optimize revenue for public education, and this fall, Wyoming OSLI proposed to dispose of the Kelly Parcel via public auction. Privatization of the parcel could have led to development and permanent loss of invaluable habitat.
The TRCP was joined by a coalition of seven other Wyoming hunting and angling groups that sent the SLIB board a comment letter in support of conserving the parcel by conveying the acres to Grand Teton National Park.
“Today’s decision opens up an opportunity for a legislative solution,” said Metten. “We look forward to working with the Wyoming legislature to ensure an outcome that will be a windfall for public education while conserving the migration corridors, critical winter range, and scenic vistas that make this parcel so special.”
Learn more about Wyoming migration work here.
Photo Credit: Josh Metten
One of the country’s longest pronghorn migrations has a long road ahead
Archeologists recently uncovered what might be the oldest evidence of humans in North America near Oregon’s Hart Mountain. The artifacts, dating back to 14,000 B.C., help position the thousands of petroglyphs carved into the black basalt and rim-rock country from 6,500 years ago. These petroglyphs show how the Northern Paiute fished, hunted, and lived along the shore of Warner Lakes, at the base of Hart Mountain, and moved higher to hunt pronghorn and other big game during the summer.
Before European settlement, pronghorn roamed across western North America in the tens of millions, including on the high plains of what is now Nevada and Oregon. Unfortunately, unregulated hunting, disease, and habitat loss brought on by settlers caused a near collapse of the population. The area around Hart Mountain was one of the final strongholds for this unique species.
Determined to save the antelope, conservationists worked with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1936, signed an executive order to establish two refuges (Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge and the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge) for the purpose of conserving pronghorn and other wildlife. Today, more than 800,000 acres on the Hart-Sheldon Refuge Complex are uniquely managed for wildlife conservation, providing essential habitat for bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mule deer, and others. The refuges have also provided high-quality, big-game hunting opportunities for decades.
Since both refuges were established, researchers have learned a great deal about the wildlife and surrounding sagebrush steppe. Results from recent migration research have reinforced the importance of these two refuges as well as the adjoining 20 miles of BLM lands that separate them. From 2011-2013, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service followed 32 female pronghorn in the Greater Hart-Sheldon. What they found was one of the longest pronghorn migrations in the country, spanning more than 100 miles across 3 million acres of public lands.
In general, pronghorn spend summers in the higher elevations at Hart Mountain, then move to lower-elevation winter range on the Sheldon. But the pronghorn herds also utilized the adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands as much or more than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge lands throughout the year. Wildlife don’t recognize land ownership boundaries, and it’s critical that the habitat in this corridor remains unfragmented and ecologically intact for the long haul.
Unfortunately, over the past two decades, populations of mule deer, bighorn sheep, and sage grouse have declined, both on the refuges, and across the region. As wildlife biologists work to identify the cause of these concerning counts in hopes of reversing the trend, it’s clear that more financial resources, habitat restoration work, and management strategies are needed, both on BLM and USFWS managed lands.
That’s why the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has asked the Department of the Interior to direct the USFWS and the BLM to work together with the local community to identify a cooperative management strategy and update their overarching management plans to best conserve and restore the habitat and big game populations, both on the refuges and the BLM lands between, so pronghorn can move freely across the high-quality habitats to promote healthy populations for future generations of hunters to enjoy.
Learn more about TRCP’s work in the Pacific Northwest here.
A version of this blog was originally published by the Bend Bulletin.
Photo credit: Kabsik Park
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.Learn More