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March 19, 2024

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March 14, 2024

BLM Announces Greater Sage Grouse Draft Plan Amendments to Guide Management of 67 million Acres in the West

TRCP encourages the agency to plan for durable conservation strategies

Today, the Bureau of Land Management announced the release of its draft Greater Sage Grouse Environmental Impact Statement and associated Resource Management Plan Amendments that—when completed—will guide management decisions across approximately 67 million acres of sage grouse habitat on public lands overseen by the BLM.

Driven by legal challenges, these draft amendments are intended to update plans previously finalized by the BLM in 2015 and 2020, and they will direct management across 10 Western states that cover the current range of the greater sage grouse.

“The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, along with hunters and anglers across the West, understand the importance of well-managed BLM lands for the longevity of greater sage grouse and other sagebrush obligate species,” said Madeleine West, TRCP’s director of the center for public lands. “And while there’s a clear need to complete these latest plan amendments, the focus of federal and state agencies, along with external partners, must quickly shift to implementing conservation strategies on the ground.”

These plan amendments offer the opportunity for the BLM to incorporate new science to inform land management decisions. A 2022 U.S. Geological Survey report revealed that half of the original sagebrush ecosystem has been lost at a rate of approximately 1.3 million acres each year over the last two decades. 

The sagebrush ecosystem is the largest terrestrial biome in the Lower 48 at over 165 million acres spanning 13 Western states. It is home to the iconic greater sage grouse as well as numerous other fish and game species. Greater sage grouse conservation efforts have driven unprecedented collaboration between state and federal managers, private landowners, and NGOs for multiple decades. This continued collaboration is critical to reverse the trend of significant habitat loss, which impacts individual species like the greater sage grouse, as well as communities across the West.  

Today’s announcement kicks off a 90-day formal comment period where the public can submit scoping comments that will be used to inform revision of the draft plan amendments, which are expected to be finalized by the end of 2024.

“TRCP will be digging into the details of the draft plan amendments to provide constructive comments that ensure successful and durable conservation measures can be implemented on BLM-managed lands that support the greater sage grouse, the myriad other species that benefit from healthy sagebrush habitat, as well as the diverse communities that rely on these public lands,” added West.

Read more about TRCP’s work on greater sage grouse conservation HERE.

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March 13, 2024

In the Arena: Bill Cooksey, National Wildlife Federation

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Bill Cooksey

Hometown: Jackson, TN
Occupation: Senior Sportsmen Outreach Coordinator for the Vanishing Paradise Program of the National Wildlife Federation, and NWF Director of Conservation Partnerships for Tennessee.
Conservation credentials: Outreach and partnership coordination expert who has ties across the conservation spectrum for his ability to drive cooperative efforts, a direct but amicable personality, and prowess as a waterfowl hunter.

Inducted into the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame in 2022, Bill Cooksey is a well-known and well-respected Tennessee duck and turkey hunter and freshwater angler who is involved in conservation issues throughout the Southeast. Like his father, who was a trustee emeritus for Ducks Unlimited, Cooksey is highly regarded by the sporting community. As NWF’s Senior Sportsmen Outreach Coordinator for the Vanishing Paradise program, Cooksey currently works with TRCP and other partners to address coastal restoration and water flow/quality issues from Texas to the Mississippi River Delta to the Florida Everglades, and is now also setting his sights on conservation efforts farther up the Mighty Mississippi.

Here is his story.

Photo Credit: Bill Buckley

I don’t really recall my introduction to hunting and fishing because my father began taking me when I was very young. I know I caught my first fish at age three and began dove and duck hunting with him when I was four. I can only recall snippets from those experiences, but they obviously inspired me in the direction my adult life would take.

According to both parents, I’d cry if my father said he was going hunting or fishing without me, and I’d cry when he said it was time to go home. Some would call it child abuse, but Dad would tie a hookless Christmas Tree Bomber on my Zebco rod and reel and let me throw that sucker all day long. My wife says I’m not much smarter today.

My first real “outdoor” memory was of a Ducks Unlimited Rally (precursor to the banquet) in Jackson, Tenn., in 1971. It was in the Civic Center, and I can recall a man on stage holding a shotgun and blowing a duck call. Suddenly, a mallard was flying through the air, and it fell when he shot. Three-year-old me had no idea it was a shackled duck and blanks. To me it was just the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Conservation was always part of my dad’s life, culminating in Trustee Emeritus at Ducks Unlimited, with many accolades along the way. Thus, conservation was always just part of the experience for me. I suppose you could say I just don’t really know another way.

Photo Credit: Bill Buckley

I’ve been blessed to hunt with so many incredible people and in so many wonderful places it’s an embarrassment of riches. It’s impossible to say which adventures are my favorites, because as one memory rises to the top another comes to mind. But I’d say the various “firsts” for my sons, and their first turkeys especially, might just take the cake. They were killed 17 years and 100 yards apart. When my youngest killed his, I recall crying on the drive home. Our oldest had passed away ten years prior, and my father died just a month before turkey season. The two people I most wanted to call and share Bill’s accomplishment with were gone.

I live where I do for a reason. I love duck hunting the southern half of the Mississippi Flyway. I mean, I love everything about it. Sadly, the trend here appears to be going the wrong way, and I’m very concerned about the future. Changes in weather patterns, habitat and even production in the Prairie Pothole Region are taking a toll on waterfowl hunting in my home range. 

Photo Credit: Ron Wong

Here in western Tennessee, I can step out my door and hit Kentucky Lake with a rock, so the biggest conservation challenge in my backyard is invasive Asian carp, but that’s just the most obvious. More frequent, and sustained, flooding is wreaking havoc in all of our reservoirs and bottomlands. Late spring and early summer floods scour our reservoirs and kill the grass that our native fish – and waterfowl in the winter – need, and sustained spring flooding is killing huge tracts of bottomland hardwoods.   

These are challenges we face. But because of my dad, I don’t really know how not to be involved in conservation and efforts to address these sorts of threats. If nothing else, being involved helps me understand what’s happening with our wildlife, and, surprisingly to some, it makes me a better hunter and fisherman. Keeping it light, being involved also helps fill the time between hunting seasons with something related to them. It’s really not so very different from hunters shooting clays or running retriever hunt tests. Being involved in conservation means being involved in my favorite sports.

Being involved in conservation has allowed me to connect with incredible sportsmen and conservation leaders around the country, while learning far more about places I care about. When the national news features an environmental catastrophe in south Florida, it’s likely to be about red tide. Rarely will they explain the common link between red tide, algal blooms, and fish kills with needed Everglades restoration. How many times have you seen coverage of a hurricane or tropical storm approaching Louisiana and heard mention of the fact the marshes are disappearing at the rate of a football field every 100 minutes, and that sediment diversions are the best way to restore the coast? When was the last time you heard about the rapid loss of bottomland hardwoods in the southern Mississippi flyway?

Photo Credit: Bill Cooksey

Without sportsmen and conservation organizations pushing out important information at every opportunity, nothing happens. And successful conservation is the only way the next generation of hunters and anglers will have anything approaching the experiences I’ve enjoyed.  

Click here to help protect and restore Everglades habitat.

Read more about Mississippi River Delta restoration efforts here.

Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email us at info@trcp.org

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March 8, 2024

Pennsylvania’s Trout Fishing Streams: Why They Lack Full Protection

There’s a growing list of popular trout fishing streams awaiting full protection at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. What can anglers do about it?

In this short video, we explain how the state of Pennsylvania is working to protect the cold, clean waters that trout require, but is coming up short for one simple reason.

Pennsylvania anglers who have followed TRCP for the last few years are probably aware that four times each year, the state’s Fish and Boat Commission proposes a number of streams for conservation protections. These streams are given a designation based on how sustainable their trout populations are, and we help ensure that our members’ voices are heard by the state during each of these cycles.

What folks might not understand is that some trout streams the commission recommended for full protection to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) years ago still haven’t received these safeguards – or why that’s happening.

It’s time DEP clears the backlog and conserves Pennsylvania’s best trout waters.  Make your voice heard and send DEP a message through our simple comment form.

Learn more and explore a map of backlogged Pennsylvania trout streams here.

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March 5, 2024

Productive Louisiana Freshwater Fishery “Dying a Slow Death”

The swamp-fringed Lac Des Allemands is losing ground without historical sediment flows, but Mississippi River restoration efforts offer a lifeline 

Lac Des Allemands is one of many storied freshwater fisheries in South Louisiana.

Located about 60 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the northernmost open body of water in the Barataria Basin, a 1.5 million-acre expanse of freshwater cypress and tupelo gum tree swamps that give way to fresh, brackish, and salt marshes, open bays and lakes, and eventually a chain of islands that form the barrier between the basin and the Gulf.

An ambitious angler in the right vessel could conceivably start the day catching redear sunfish in Des Allemands, make a move 25 miles south to fight redfish in the marsh near Lafitte, then jump through Barataria Pass at Grand Isle 25 miles from there and catch red snapper in the Gulf to end the day. I haven’t tackled that challenge yet, but was fortunate to fish Des Allemands recently with my friend Marsh Man Masson (check out the video below), when I saw ominous signs that the marsh is slowly dying.

Swamps Born of Sediment Flows

The entire Barataria Basin was formed by sediments and nutrients flowing from the Mississippi River over several thousand years. Those resources stopped flowing into the basin over the last 200 years as Bayou Lafourche, its western boundary, was dammed and levees were built along the lower Mississippi River to control floods and aid river navigation.

On average, about 10 square miles of wetlands have been lost each year in the basin since it was isolated from the river. Oil and gas exploration and manmade shipping canals have changed the region as well. Then there was Hurricane Ida, which slammed into the basin as one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the U.S., destroyed 100 square miles of coastal wetlands in August 2021, the overwhelming majority of them in the Barataria Basin. It also caused massive fish kills around Lac Des Allemands as bacteria blooms and saltwater intrusion sucked the oxygen from freshwater and brackish marshes.

The sad truth about Des Allemands’ moss-laden, fish and wildlife-rich cypress-tupelo swamps is they are dying, though – unlike a marsh – it may be hard to see.

A South Louisiana freshwater fishery. Photo Credit: nsub1


An Almost Invisible Death

When a marsh sinks, erodes, and eventually becomes open water, which has happened more in the basin in the last century than anywhere else in the world, the damage is obvious. One day there’s marsh. A year later, that same marsh is gone, replaced by shallow open water.

Swamps die differently. Trees starved of sediment and nutrients slowly perish. As the canopy opens, more and more grasses grow, rooted in feet-thick layers of muck and dying organic materials. Those grasses are much more vulnerable to hurricanes than hard-rooted trees. Invasive vegetation takes over and dissolved oxygen wanes in backwater areas, leaving fish fewer places to spawn, feed, and hide. Biological productivity dissipates over decades, leading to fewer successful bass and panfish trips and a whole lot fewer commercially important creatures like crawfish and channel catfish. Even ducks stop utilizing the area as wintering grounds.

The Des Allemands swamp is not the only one in the Mississippi River Basin dying a slow death. With so much attention, law, and policy directives focused on managing the river for flood control and navigation, with little regard for the ecosystems over the last 150 years, swamps and historic floodplains are struggling to continue to be productive fish and waterfowl areas. Nearby communities that have enjoyed the natural protection and flood retention of healthy swamps also are becoming increasingly threatened by sea-level rise, subsidence, levee over-topping, and nutrient loads that could be better filtered by allowing the river to flow through those swamps again.

Hope for Louisiana’s Wetland Habitats

The TRCP is working with a coalition of conservation organizations to engage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and help guide an ongoing effort called “The Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Management Study.” Congress has instructed the Corps to identify ways to manage the Mississippi south of its confluence with the Ohio River with an eye towards improving flood control, habitat, natural infrastructure, and recreational access.


If the Corps listens, reconnecting the Mississippi to swamps like Des Allemands will be at the top of the list of places to start.

Read more about recent Mississippi River Delta restoration efforts 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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