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February 7, 2024

Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Extend Great Lakes Protections 

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act would extend and increase funding levels aimed at safeguarding, restoring, and protecting the Great Lakes ecosystem and the commercial and recreational fishery it supports. 

Yesterday, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Congressman David Joyce (R-OH) introduced the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act in the Senate and House respectively. The bill would reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) through fiscal year 2031 at $500 million annually.   

Since its inception in 2010, the GLRI has served as a catalyst for federal action and coordination to protect and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem. This has included a five-fold increase in the successful cleanup of areas with extreme degradation, keeping over 2 million pounds of phosphorus runoff out of the Great Lakes, and protecting nearly half a million acres of habitat crucial to fish and wildlife. To accomplish this, the Initiative leverages investments, capacity, and collaboration across The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of the Interior, Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of State, Coast Guard, and Department of Transportation to safeguard, maintain, and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem.  

“We applaud Senator Stabenow and Congressman Joyce for their leadership on the bipartisan Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act,” said Becky Humphries, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “This important legislation will serve to foster, and fund continued federal agency collaboration aimed at safeguarding, restoring, and protecting the Great Lakes ecosystem and the nearly $7 billion commercial and recreational fishery it supports.” 

With over 10,000 miles of coastline and 30,000 islands, the Great Lakes are a vital source of drinking water, transportation, and recreational activities for the 30 million people residing in the Great Lakes basin. As the largest collection of freshwater lakes on earth, they hold an astounding 95 percent of the United States’ surface fresh water.

The Great Lakes are also an economic powerhouse, supporting over 1.5 million jobs and contributing $62 billion in wages, with nearly $18 billion generated annually through fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching. However, years of environmental degradation have put this invaluable resource at risk, necessitating immediate action to preserve it for future generations. The extension and increased funding dedicated to The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will help ensure that crucial efforts to protect our water can continue and that new and emerging threats can be confronted by increased agency collaboration. 

Notably, the GLRI will be critical in preventing the spread of invasive carp and combating harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes which imminently threaten its nearly $18 billion fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching industries. 

Click here to read more about Aquatic Invasive Species Solutions

In the Senate, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act is cosponsored by Senators Vance (R-Ohio), Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Young (R-In.), Duckworth (D-Ill.), Brown (D-Ohio), Baldwin (D-Wis.), Durbin (D-Ill.), Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Smith (D-Minn.), Peters (D-Mich.), Fetterman (D-Pa.), Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Casey (D-P.). 

In the House, the bill is cosponsored by Representatives Huizenga (R-Mich.), Dingell (D-Mich.), Kaptur (D-Ohio), Moore (D-Wis.), Bergman (R-Mich.), Moolenaar (R-Mich.), Tenney (R-N.Y.), Steil (R-Wis.), Stevens (D-Mich.), James (R-Mich.), Miller (R-Ohio), Schneider (D-Ill.), Slotkin (D-Mich.), McClain (R-Mich.), Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Morelle (D-N.Y.), and Quigley (D-Ill.). 

The GLRI Act is supported by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the American Sportfishing Association, the National Wildlife Federation, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, Great Lakes Commission, Alliance for the Great Lakes, League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, The Nature Conservancy, The National Audubon Society, Great Lakes Port Association, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Great Lakes Business Network, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Clean Wisconsin, Save the Dunes, and the Ohio Environmental Council 

Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to healthy habitat and clean water here.

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January 31, 2024

Conservation Community Responds After Menhaden Study Bill Again Stalled by Virginia Lawmakers

For second year in a row, legislators delay passage of bill that would support three-year study to determine the ecology, fishery impacts, and economic importance of the Atlantic menhaden population in Virginia waters

(RICHMOND, Va.) — Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly’s Studies Subcommittee voted on Monday to push House Bill 19 into the 2025 legislative session, effectively stalling its passage for the second year in a row. HB 19 would have directed the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, in collaboration with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, to study the ecology, fishery impacts, and economic importance of the Atlantic menhaden population in Commonwealth waters. The results would allow the VMRC to make better-informed decisions about menhaden management in Chesapeake Bay.

Conservation and recreational sportfishing organizations have expressed disappointment with this latest legislative setback, in the face of increasing anecdotal and scientific evidence of localized depletion of menhaden in the Chesapeake.

“It is disappointing that this important bill to support better science and data collection is stalling again, despite the public support from Chesapeake-area anglers, scientists and conservationists,” said Chris Macaluso, director of the Center for Marine Fisheries for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “To manage the Chesapeake Bay effectively, there is a need for robust data about the specific, concentrated impacts of this industrial-scale harvest of a critical forage species to Bay fisheries and habitats. It is also critical to better fisheries management to understand the impacts of the thousands of red drum, striped bass, and other sport and game fish that are trapped annually in commercial nets.”

“The fact that the industry was involved in designing the study, and then turned and lobbied against the bill, is yet another breach of public trust,” said Steve Atkinson, president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association.

Menhaden have accounted for more than 60 percent of all commercial fish landings in Chesapeake Bay for over five decades. Yet sampling in the Bay has shown that the relative abundance of menhaden has decreased almost 16-fold in the last 40 years. While Atlantic menhaden are not classified as overfished coastwide – meaning up and down the Atlantic coast – localized depletion in the Bay from decades of industrial fishing could be a critical factor in the decreased availability of food for predators like striped bass, bluefish, redfish, cobia, and other sportfish, as well as ospreys, whales, and commercially important species.

“For decades we’ve known that menhaden are extremely important to the Chesapeake and Atlantic ecosystems, as well as invaluable forage for gamefish such as red drum and stripers,” said Capt. Chris Dollar, a Virginia fishing business owner and Chesapeake conservation advisor for the Coastal Conservation Association. “What’s been missing, however, is better science to get a handle on the health and abundance of the Bay’s local menhaden population. It’s no surprise that Omega Protein flip-flopped in their support of the study bill, but it’s extremely disheartening that a handful of elected officials agreed with them to again derail this vital research.”

“The MRAA is disappointed to see that this important legislation is once again delayed and that menhaden reduction fishing will continue in Virginia waters, without a comprehensive understanding of the potential economic and environmental impact,” said Chad Tokowicz, government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “Studies like this are integral to gaining a more in-depth understanding of the Virginia menhaden fishery and will provide much-needed data to inform important fisheries management decisions.”

The study was specifically proposed to examine:

  • The Chesapeake Bay menhaden population (seasonal abundance, movement rates, and predator consumption rates)
  • Commercial fishery impacts on the menhaden population (fishery effort patterns, localized depletion analyses, and recreational fishery effects)
  • Economic impacts of menhaden policy (socioeconomic tradeoffs in management, ecosystem services of the menhaden resource, and modelling conservation vs. removals)

In the 2023 legislative session, an introduced precursor bill, Senate Bill 1388, would have directed VIMS to begin the three-year study this year. However, it was heavily amended and instead directed VIMS to merely develop a study methodology with input from VMRC and fishery stakeholders. That methodology was published last October by VIMS, and advocates were hopeful it would finally lead to a bill authorizing and supporting the study.  

Atlantic menhaden, which studies indicate comprise as much as 30 percent of the diet of striped bass, are removed from Virginia waters by industrial fishing operations to be “reduced” to fish meal, oil, and products used in livestock and fish farming feeds. Omega Protein, owned by Canadian-based Cooke Seafood, removes more than 100 million pounds of menhaden from the Chesapeake Bay each year, in addition to nearly 240 million pounds of menhaden from Virginia state waters outside the Bay.

Stock assessments indicate the Atlantic striped bass stock has been declining for years, with particularly concerning low populations in the Chesapeake Bay estuary, the primary spawning ground for 70 to 90 percent of the striped bass stock. Population declines and the resulting reduction in catches have led to a 50 percent loss in the economic value that striped bass fishing generates in Virginia. In neighboring Maryland, fisheries managers reported the 2023 year class of striped bass was one of the lowest ever recorded.

Virginia continues to be the only East Coast state allowing reduction fishing of menhaden in its waters.

Click here to take action to demand that Virginia fund menhaden research.

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

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January 18, 2024

The TRCP applauds BLM Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan for Establishing Backcountry Conservation Areas

Within BCAs, the BLM will prioritize conservation, restoration, and hunting and angling access

Today, the Bureau of Land Management’s Royal Gorge Field Office published their Record of Decision revising the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan after more than eight years of planning and public engagement. Hunters, anglers, and conservationists applaud the addition of 87,400 acres of Backcountry Conservation Areas in the Arkansas River Valley and Rural Foothills landscapes within the field office.

“The Eastern Colorado RMP will improve how high-value fish and wildlife habitat is conserved and managed across these BLM lands,” praised Liz Rose, Colorado field representative for the TRCP. “The BLM is wisely directing development away from key wildlife habitats by excluding BCAs from future utility and non-utility scale renewable energy and oil and gas development, while prioritizing conservation measures that benefit wildlife, hunters, and anglers long-term.”

This final RMP will provide management direction for 658,200 surface acres and nearly 3.3 million acres of BLM-administered mineral estate across eastern Colorado for decades to come. These BLM lands are home to elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and wild and native trout, and encompass 487 miles of streams and rivers and popular destination lakes and reservoirs valued by anglers. The TRCP thanks all the BLM, Department of Natural Resources, and Colorado Parks & Wildlife staff, county officials, and TRCP members, supporters, and partners who have provided invaluable feedback, guidance, and expertise since this plan revision process began in 2015.

The final BLM plan commits to managing about 13% of the field office as BCAs. Protecting these extraordinary fish and wildlife habitats from incompatible development and habitat fragmentation, while providing high-quality access for hunting, fishing, and trapping is a win-win for TRCP members. 

In these BCAs, the BLM will focus management activities on the conservation and restoration of key habitats, which can include wildfire mitigation work and habitat improvement projects.

Before the formal planning process began, Park County, Colorado Wildlife Federation, TRCP, several other conservation organizations, and water providers came together as the South Park Coalition and began identifying areas suitable for development and areas key to conserve.

“I think the work we did well before the formal process made a big difference to enable the really good outcome for the unique resources of the South Park area,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “We applaud BLM’s recognition throughout the process of this iconic basin’s distinctive and largely unfragmented wildlife habitats, prized trout streams, water quality, and spectacular vistas. In addition, the plan’s treatment of the areas managed by BLM in eastern Colorado outside of South Park has been much improved.”

The now cohesive, established framework for guiding management on eastern Colorado’s public lands will mean the BLM will be able to adapt management to best address shifting conditions and priorities.

Photo Credit: Larry Lamsa

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January 17, 2024

TRCP Responds to BLM Western Solar Development Proposal

Organization encourages BLM to conserve big game habitats & hunting and fishing areas as it advances solar development on public lands

Today, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft plan that—when completed—will guide utility-scale solar development on federal public lands across 11 western states. The draft is a proposed update of BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan, which identified areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah with high solar potential and low resource conflicts to streamline solar development. The update expands application of the Western Solar Plan to include potential solar development on public lands in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.

“We recognize that public lands in the west provide important options to help meet the nation’s renewable energy needs,” said Jon Holst, wildlife & energy senior advisor for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our public lands also contain critical unfragmented habitats for fish and wildlife populations that offer world class hunting and angling opportunities. We will be looking at the details of this draft plan to make sure that the interests of hunters and anglers are incorporated.”

The TRCP and partners have been involved in BLM’s efforts to update the Western Solar Plan since scoping began in late 2022. The updated plan is an important step toward meeting the Administration’s goals of deploying 25 GW of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and to have a 100 percent clean electricity grid by 2035. The BLM and Department of Energy estimate that approximately 700,000 acres of public lands will be needed to meet the Administration’s goals for solar deployment. The TRCP is committed to working with our membership, partners, state and local governments, and other key stakeholders to facilitate a successful outcome for the Western Solar Plan that advances the development of solar energy in a manner that also conserves our natural resources and sporting heritage.

This release kicks off a 90-day comment period where the public will have an opportunity to provide input on the alternatives and other management options presented by the BLM in the draft plan. Public input will inform a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision. The public can submit written comments through April 18, 2024. More details are available on BLM’s Solar Program website.

Find the BLM press release here.

Find TRCP’s scoping comments here.

Find TRCP’s public land solar blog here.

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January 5, 2024

New Legislation Aims to Revitalize our Local Outdoor Recreation Areas 

Lawmakers have introduced a bill to improve outdoor recreation facilities at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed areas. 

The Lake Access Keeping Economies Strong (LAKES) Act has been introduced by Representatives Westerman (R-AR.), Womack(R-AR), and Huffman (D-CA.). Paired with the Senate version of the bill sponsored by Senators Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Cramer (R-N.D.), it seeks to better equip the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to meet the increased demand for outdoor recreation access while simultaneously growing the economic footprint of the outdoor industry in communities across the United States. 

The LAKES Act would: 

  • Revitalize local outdoor recreation areas managed by the USACE by ensuring that 80% of fees collected on-site will stay in the community. 
  • Foster public-private partnerships with nonprofits to boost community engagement. 
  • Fund infrastructure upgrades for safer and more enjoyable outdoor experiences. 
  • Drive economic growth for surrounding communities by meeting the demand for increased outdoor recreation through a commitment to conservation and sustainable management. 

“The prioritization of public recreation access and the outdoor economy is a win for local communities and sportsmen and sportswomen alike,” said Becky Humphries, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Representatives Westerman, Womack, and Huffman and Senators Heinrich and Cramer for their leadership on the LAKES Act. It is much-needed legislation that will bolster local economies by providing more resources to outdoor recreation through improved public access, climate resiliency, and infrastructure.”  

In 2022, the outdoor recreation economy generated $1.1 trillion in gross economic output and supported over 5 million jobs across the nation.  Activities such as boating, fishing, and hiking thrived and increased their contributions to the overall outdoor recreation economy by 22 percent. The LAKES Act aims to address this surge in participation by empowering the USACE to provide more resources to invest in the infrastructure, public access, and climate resilience necessary to sustain continued outdoor recreation on Corps of Engineers-managed land and water.   

The LAKES Act is supported by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, Public Lands Alliance, International Game Fish Association, 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. 

Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to the future of hunting and fishing access 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.

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