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May 13, 2024

whitetail deer WY @joshmettenphoto.ARW1

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May 10, 2024

For the Future of Striped Bass

Keep Fish Wet’s executive director explains why Atlantic striper numbers are down, and offers anglers science-based best practices to make the fishery more resilient

It’s early May in New England and like many anglers that love to target striped bass, I am gearing up and itching to get out on the water. A friend of mine on Cape Cod has been catching stripers for the last week and while I enviously hit the like button on his social media posts, I also worry about what this season will bring for the most popular recreationally targeted saltwater species on the East Coast. If you are also a striped bass angler, you probably know that the stock is in trouble, and the fish need our help. 

A gorgeous Cape Cod striper.  Photo credit: Bri Dostie

Currently, striped bass are overfished and the spawning stock biomass – an important indicator of the health of the stock and equal to the combined weight of all females capable of reproducing – is much lower than where it needs to be to have a thriving fishery. While the commercial harvest of striped bass has been slowly decreasing, the recreational harvest took a big jump in 2022, which is partially why the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the governing body for striped bass, took emergency action in 2023 to narrow the slot limit for harvest to 28 to 31 inches. 

But here’s the rub — since 1990, approximately 90 percent of striped bass that have been caught have been released either voluntarily or due to regulations, so it’s not just direct harvest that is causing declines. Currently, ASMFC estimates that 9 percent of stripers that are released alive don’t make it and eventually die. Just to put this into perspective, of the 29.6 million stripers caught and released by recreational anglers in 2022, an estimated 2.7 million died. This estimate is very rough, and while we still need more science to obtain a more accurate assessment, it’s in line with the estimations used by many other fisheries agencies, which are often in the 10 to 15 percent range. 

Striped Bass Are in Our Hands

It’s not all doom and gloom for our beloved stripers, however, and as you head out on the water you have an opportunity to make an immediate difference to help striped bass each time you catch one. There is ample science that shows that the fate of fish after release is primarily determined by how we as anglers chose to catch, handle, and release each fish. The science also shows that subtle changes in angler actions when catching, handling, and releasing fish can reduce mortality. It would take little effort to increase the chance of survival and health for stripers after release, and a reduction in that 9 percent mortality estimate by just 1 percent would save an additional 300,000 stripers to be caught again another day and support recovering stocks.

A fish-friendly angler properly releasing a striper.  Photo credit: Kyle Schaefer

Keep Fish Wet, the organization I run, provides science-based best practices so that you can help create a more resilient striped bass stock. Several years ago, we collaborated with two striper guides (one of whom is also an artist) to create Stripers In Our Hands, an open-source campaign and infographic with step-by-step instructions on how to create the better outcomes for each striped bass that you release. The campaign is centered around our three science-based Principles that are best practices for releasing fish: minimize air exposure, eliminate contact with dry surfaces, and reduce handling time. These three Principles constitute the actions that are most within an angler’s control and that make the most amount of difference to the health and survival of fish after release. They can be used with any type of fishing, so whether you’re fishing from a center console, kayak, or the shore, and throwing bait, plugs, or flies, learning and adopting our three Principles is the swiftest way to put conservation into action. 

As more science emerges on how striped bass respond to capture, handling, and release, Stripers In Our Hands will evolve so that anglers trust that a systematic, objective process was used to derive the best practices. We encourage anglers to sign up for our Advocate program – it’s free! – to stay in the pipeline about our science-based Principles and Tips, including information on taking fish-friendly photos.

Another example of proper striped bass release etiquette.  Photo credit: Kyle Schaefer

If we want vibrant striped bass stocks for years to come, we all need to do our part and advocate for the fish on and off the water. That means using science-based best practices to take better care of each striped bass intended for release. This will help build resiliency in the striped bass stocks as we continue to work through solutions for other challenges that striped bass are facing, from antiquated policy and management to habitat loss and climate change.

Sascha Clark Danylchuk is the executive director of Keep Fish Wet.  She uses her background as a fisheries scientist and passion as a fisher to build a community around helping anglers create better outcomes for each fish they release.  

Stripers In Our Hands is a collaboration between Keep Fish Wet, Soul Fly Outfitters, and Confluence Collective.

Support TRCP’s forage fish conservation efforts to help protect striped bass.

The TRCP is your no-B.S. resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.

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May 9, 2024

Freshwater Fishing Benefits from Mississippi River Restoration

South Louisiana’s Maurepas Swamp offers good opportunities for panfish, bass, and catfish that will get even better once its waters are reconnected to the river

If you’re targeting good-eating panfish – or for that matter, a whole host of fresh and saltwater fish or waterfowl – there are few places in America better than south Louisiana. The incredibly productive marshes, lakes, swamps, and coastal bays and islands of the Mississippi River Delta, the result of thousands of years of nutrients and sediments delivered to the region by the immense river, are what earned it the nickname “Sportsman’s Paradise.”

The dynamic fishing duo of Marsh Man Masson and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Chris Macaluso recently ventured to the Delta’s Maurepas Swamp, popping corks for bluegill, goggle-eye and chinquapin while offering great advice on the best lures and locations to target these tasty panfish. The swamp offered them classic Louisiana bayou scenery and decent fishing, but the fishing and waterfowl hunting there stand to get a real boost in the next few years as the swamp will soon be reconnected to the Mississippi River for the first time in more than a century.

“This is another one of those swamps, similar to the Des Allemands, that at one time had a connection to the Mississippi River, and that connection has been cut off,” said Chris Macaluso, TRCP director of the Center for Marine Fisheries. “In the process over the last century, since levies were put up, you’ve seen a slow decline in not only the water quality but also the overall health of this swamp.”

Construction of a small-scale diversion to reconnect Maurepas Swamp and its fisheries to the Mississippi River is set to begin soon, to once again introduce beneficial freshwater flows from the river. The diversion, a project being implemented through the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority, will provide fine sediment loads to help offset the subsidence that is eating away at southern Louisiana, due to sea level rise and lack of natural replenishment of terra firma from silt-laden flows brought down to the Delta by the Mississippi.

More directly, it will immediately restore beneficial nutrients and oxygen-rich water to the swamp. Backwater areas that lack significant flows of fresh water, such as seasonal inputs from a river, can over time become hypoxic – meaning they have low levels of dissolved oxygen that make survival difficult for fish and other aquatic life.

“When water gets back in the swamp there’s so much detritus on the bottom that decays, and when the water pulls out, it just doesn’t have much oxygen left in it and can be devoid of fish,” said Todd Mason, angling-savvy host of the popular YouTube fishing show Marsh Man Masson.

The TRCP is working with a coalition of conservation organizations to engage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to guide an ongoing effort referred to as “The Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Management Study.” Congress has instructed the Corps to identify ways to manage the southern half of the Mississippi River to improve flood control, habitat, recreational access, and natural infrastructure.

You can also learn more here about TRCP’s involvement in a major Mississippi River Delta restoration effort – construction of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion.

All images credit Todd Masson

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May 8, 2024

New Legislation Would Support Wildlife Habitat on Private Lands 

The Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act is aimed at expanding voluntary efforts to enhance wildlife habitat connectivity on private and working lands. 

Today, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Congressmen Ryan Zinke (R-Mont) and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) introduced the Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act. This bill would support and expand voluntary efforts to improve wildlife habitat, including big game habitat, on private and working lands.  

Building on the success of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Migratory Big Game Initiative in Wyoming, the bill would allow the USDA to leverage unique cost-share, technical assistance, and payments provided under the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (GCRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for the benefit of wildlife and agricultural producers. These common-sense improvements remove administrative barriers that limit both the conservation outcomes and relevance to producers working to conserve important fish and wildlife habitat on private land.  

“Working lands provide key habitat for migratory fish and wildlife, including big game like elk and mule deer. USDA’s voluntary conservation programs need to work together to support farmers and ranchers who create and enhance this habitat, and the next Farm Bill is our opportunity to make that happen.” said Becky Humphries, CEO at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act removes unnecessary barriers to working lands stewardship. The TRCP thanks Senator Heinrich and Congressmen Zinke and Vasquez for their leadership on this bill and urges its inclusion in the Farm Bill.” 

The bill also spurs UDSA research on virtual fencing technologies, which allow for greater wildlife movement and animal safety on livestock operations and provides greater incentive through EQIP for the adoption of conservation practices that conserve or restore wildlife habitat connectivity.   


Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs here

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May 7, 2024

A Short History of Conservation Collaboration in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains

Where we have been, and where we are going

The Ruby Mountains will always be a special place to me. I was first introduced to these incredible mountains and the wild they hold on a snowy November morning during the last weekend of the 1972 mule deer season. My brother-in-law’s family had hunted the Rubies many times, and it was with him and his younger brother that I first laid eyes on the mountain range that would fascinate me for the rest of my life.

Having arrived after dark late on a Friday night, we slept crammed like cordwood into my brother-in-law’s old 1959 Willys wagon. My first glimpse of the mountains at daybreak took my breath away. Being just a 15-year-old kid, I was awestruck by the beauty of the Rubies covered with six inches of fresh snow. My companions told me we should be well into the rut and this was going to be a weekend to remember.

We climbed, after a quick breakfast of chocolate chip cookies, to the top of a ridge where we could glass a huge basin filled with aspen groves intermixed with sagebrush, ceanothus, and bitterbrush. The small creeks were choked with aspens and beaver dams. As I looked into that snow-filled bowl, I spotted group after group of mule deer, six to ten or more in every little herd. Each group had a swollen-necked, rutting buck tending does. I had never seen anything like it, and honestly, haven’t seen anything quite like it since.

We looked below us and saw one of these small herds directly below us. The other two fellows were packing iron-sighted rifles, an old Lee Enfield .303 British and an even older Marlin lever action .30-30. I was carrying my Dad’s sporterized 1917 Enfield .30-06 topped with a 2.5 power scope. Since the deer were a bit far for their guns, they convinced me that I should take the shot.

With his mind on the does, the big four-by-four buck had no idea we were right above him. I rested on my knees, found the buck in the scope, and pulled the trigger. I was incredibly lucky that day and dropped a far better buck than a green kid like me deserved as a first deer. It took us several hours to drag that deer out the bottom through the beaver dams and downed aspen to where we could get to that old Willys.

I’m now honored that I have the opportunity to work to ensure that memories like this will continue to be made for others who admire the Ruby Mountains through my position at TRCP and the many partners who share a common vision for the future of this incredible landscape.

Conservation successes hardly ever happen overnight. Some take years, others take decades, and all the while organizations, decision makers, and engaged citizens work together for conservation measures that will maintain the high quality of life wild places provide.

The Ruby Mountains in northeastern Nevada is one such place where the work is still in progress, but progress is being made.

The Ruby Mountains support one of Nevada’s largest mule deer herds.

The Ruby Mountains stretch for nearly 100 miles in Elko County. These rugged, glacier-carved peaks and their cold, clear streams serve as a stronghold of native cutthroat trout and other wildlife, while providing an abundance of world-class public land opportunities for hunting, fishing, and other forms of outdoor recreation. They are also the origin of one of the most important big-game migration corridors in the state, utilized by one of its largest mule deer herds, and home to many other fish and wildlife species, including the Lahontan cutthroat trout.

The urgency for conservation safeguards began in 2017 when oil and gas exploration leases were requested on over 53,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land. Over the next year, Humboldt Toiyabe Forest personnel analyzed potential impacts to the area, while at the same time, a groundswell of public opposition to development formed. When the public comment period on the proposal opened, thousands of individuals and organizations spoke out against the proposal.

Finally, in 2019, Forest Supervisor Bill Dunkelberger issued a no-leasing decision on the request. However, within days of that decision, expressions of interest were filedon an additional 88,000 acres, many of which were the same parcels previously denied. It became clear to TRCP and our partners that whoever was behind the requests for oil and gas leasing was not going away. 

After hearing the many pleas to protect the iconic Ruby Mountains by denying requests to lease for oil and gas drilling, Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto(D)introduced legislation to permanently withdraw the Ruby Mountains area of the Humboldt Toiyabe Forest from leasing for oil and gas development.

In a bipartisan move, Nevada Representative Mark Amodei (R) introduced a similar companion bill. The two bills have been reintroduced each session of Congress since 2019, including in 2023. Yet, despite many efforts, neither have gone to the floor of their respective chambers for a full vote. Both decision makers and the hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations that support the legislation have realized that the best chance of establishing the necessary safeguards is to incorporate the bills into a larger, compatible, multistate lands package. Unfortunately, Congress has provided no such opportunity.

Seeing the need for interim safeguards on the ground while a permanent approach waits to advance in Congress, Senators Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) requested a 20-year administrative withdrawal from leasing by the Biden administration. In a series of letters to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland in August and November 2023, the Senators asked the Secretary to take the necessary action for a withdrawal of approximately 350,000 acres from mineral development. Under theMineral Leasing Act of 1920, the U.S. Department of Interior is charged with administering oil and gas leasing on the nation’s forests, as well as Bureau of Land Management acres.  

This action, and the related legislation, is supported by the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone of Nevada, who consider the area sacred ancestral land and whose reservation sits along the western flank of the Rubies. The Ruby Mountains are considered central to the lives of the Western Shoshone peoples.

In addition, Sportsmen for the Rubies, a coalition of 15 Nevada hunting and fishing groups, has supported bipartisan efforts to pass legislation permanently conserving the Rubies since 2019 and also supports the request for a temporary administrative mineral withdrawal.

So many hunting and fishing opportunities for Nevada sportsmen and women are tied to the wildness of the Ruby Mountains and the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Because of these invaluable qualities, the diverse, bipartisan support of tribes, legislators, and citizens remains strong and will continue to take steps forward to protect the places Nevadans love to hunt and fish. The TRCP has been at the forefront of urging conservation measures for this landscape be established, and while we’ve already come a long way, we continue our refrain of action: to urge the Bureau of Land Management to take administrative action to withdraw the oil and gas resources from leasing within the Ruby Mountains and Ruby Lake Refuge to safeguard this truly unique landscape in Nevada. And ultimately for congress to pass the Ruby Mountains Protection Act. 

To speak up for the Ruby Mountains, sign up below for our weekly newsletter that will keep you updated for opportunities to take action.

The TRCP is your resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.


This blog has been modified from an article first published by The Nevada Independent.

Photo Credit: J. Harsha

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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