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May 15, 2024

Mule Deer Migration Ishawooa Creek @joshmettenphoto

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May 14, 2024

Farm Bill Proposals Gain Momentum

Ag Committee leaders continue spelling out their plans for the next Farm Bill 

We’re now over halfway through a one-year extension of the 2018 Farm Bill, and several years of work have already gone into making sure the next Farm Bill is a good one for fish and wildlife, as well as hunters and anglers. Behind the scenes, this work has never stopped, whether we’re talking about Ag Committee Members, Congressional staff, or the conservation community. But from the outside, deadlock, gridlock, and election year politics have made getting a bill done this year look increasingly unlikely. But optimism persists and perseverance endures. 

In the past two weeks, for the first time in a long time, we’ve seen tangible progress. Last Friday in the House, Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-Pa) put forward a summary of the bill he has scheduled for a committee markup on May 23rd. The week prior, Senate Ag Chairwoman Stabenow (D-Mich) released a detailed section-by-section breakdown of her own proposal.  

Before we get into the substance of each proposal, there are a few things to remember: 

Farm Bills must be bipartisan to become law. With Democrats controlling the Senate and a Republican majority in the House, bipartisanship will be essential. Both frameworks were produced by the Ag Committee Chair of their respective chamber, and it is not entirely clear where disagreements exist between parties or among constituencies at this point. However, we can be certain that a final farm bill will look different and contain more points of compromise than these frameworks. Thankfully, Ag Committee leadership from both parties has a long history of navigating the challenges that come with bipartisanship. 

Farm Bills are huge. All twelve titles (topic-based sections) of the Farm Bill impact hunters and anglers in one way or another, but Title II – Conservation and Title VIII – Forestry get most of our attention, and for good reason. Our review of proposals will focus on those two titles.  

More and better details will emerge with time. The information currently available is in a summary form, rather than actual bill text. As expected, we are receiving more details with time. It will be important for the TRCP and our partners to review bill text before fully forming a position. This will help ensure that any changes made will accomplish what they are intended to do. 

Negotiations will continue. Nothing in either of these publicly available proposals is set in stone. The first formal action, barring a quick schedule change in the Senate Ag Committee, will be the House Ag Committee’s markup on May 23rd. In this markup, committee members will have the opportunity to offer amendments to the Chairman’s bill, speak for or against individual provisions, and vote on whether to advance the bill to a Floor vote. Changes can also happen through Floor amendments and during a Conference Committee between the House and Senate. All of this to say, what we’re seeing in these proposals is not necessarily what will become law. 

A lot must be done in a short time. We are in an election year, and a presidential election year at that. While this will motivate some Members of Congress to show efficacy in getting a Farm Bill done, party conferences and campaigning also compress the legislative calendar. The months of May and June will be critical if we’re going to get a bill done. 

Farm Bill programs have a huge impact on hunters and anglers. Engaging in this bill is crucial, as policy and funding changes in this Farm Bill will impact fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing access for the next five years and beyond. You can find explanations about how Farm Bill programs support hunters and anglers here. 

Keeping these dynamics in mind, let’s dig in. What exactly is in the proposals? How might they impact habitat, fish, wildlife, and our sporting traditions? Below, we run through a few of the key elements of the proposals from Chairman Thompson and Chairwoman Stabenow.


Chairman Thompson’s Overview 

Following the release of a broad overview on May 1, Chairman Thompson released a more detailed title by title summary of his bill on Friday, May 10. This summary includes multiple references to marker bills, or bills filed with the intent of later inclusion in the Farm Bill base text, which gives us a glimpse at what base text might look like, although we still can’t make assumptions. There are several items’ hunters and anglers will want to follow in Chairman Thompson’s proposal including:    

Reallocates Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs into the Farm Bill Conservation baseline.

This is a major investment in conservation. Making this funding permanent will increase the Title II-Conservation baseline by close to 25%, the first such increase in decades. The TRCP and our partners have been calling for this throughout the Farm Bill process, and Chairman Thompson and his staff should be commended for resisting calls to repurpose these funds for non-conservation purposes. 

Creates a new Forest Conservation Easement Program. 

Depending on how it’s structured, the Forest Conservation Easement Program would streamline the process by which willing landowners can permanently protect working forests, creating and enhancing wildlife habitat while supporting sustainable timber harvest. We look forward to seeing bill text on this program and are encouraged to see it included in the Chairman’s summary. 

“Modernizes” the Conservation Reserve Program. 

The details will be very important here. The marker bill referenced in this section (H.R.8270) makes multiple positive changes to the Conservation Reserve Program, including increasing rental rates on marginal cropland, providing cost share for mid contract management, and increasing the CRP’s payment limitation. On the negative side, the bill would reduce rental payments for CRP reenrolling at the end of a contract, which could lead to lower enrollment in the long run. We still don’t know what parts of the marker will be included in the Farm Bill’s base text. 

Reauthorizes the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. 

The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program is the only federal program designed to incentivize landowners to allow public hunting and fishing. The TRCP and our partners have been leading the charge to reauthorize and plus-up VPA-HIP, as was proposed in the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act, and we are thrilled to see that Chairman Thompson’s proposal does just that. Beyond that, Chairman Thompson’s proposal states that they will “create continuous funding” for programs like VPA-HIP, which would put us in a much stronger position in future Farm Bills  

Incentivizes active forest management through public-private partnerships.

Expanding existing authorities like the Good Neighbor Authority and Stewardship End Result Contracting enhances flexibility for our partners to increase the pace and scale of forest and watershed health restoration and wildfire risk reduction efforts. These updates are commonsense, widely supported, and will provide benefits to fish and wildlife.    


Chairwoman Stabenow’s Summary

On May 1, Chairwoman Stabenow released a section-by-section summary of her own proposal. There is currently no scheduled markup in the Senate Ag Committee, and it is likely that many of these proposals will not go into bill text exactly as they are written now. Even so, there are many provisions in this summary that hunters and anglers will be glad to see. Key provisions to watch include:  

Reallocates Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs into the Farm Bill Conservation baseline and permanently authorizes those programs.

Chairwoman Stabenow was instrumental in passing the Inflation Reduction Act and making that investment permanent would be another major achievement. Permanently authorizing conservation programs puts us in a stronger position in the next Farm Bill and lessens the impact of any future Farm Bill expiration. 

Provides substantive updates to the Conservation Reserve Program.

The proposal includes multiple positive changes to the CRP, including several components of the bipartisan CRP Improvement Act, which the TRCP and partners have supported for years. The Chairwoman is also proposing to raise the acreage cap by 2 million acres and increase rental rates, improve cost-share, and provide opportunities for longer term conservation in the CRP. 

Codifies key provisions of the USDA Wyoming Big Game Initiative.

This initiative, recently expanded to Montana and Idaho, combines USDA conservation programs to ensure that working lands and public lands provide a seamless route for migrating big game like elk, mule deer, and pronghorn. Codifying these authorities ensures that this model can be applied long term and in new areas. 

Improves and funds the Water Source Protection Program.

The Water Source Protection Program provides the U.S. Forest Service with resources to work with water users to increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration efforts, including the restoration of streams and wetlands, which in turn enhances resilience to drought and wildfire and benefits fish and wildlife that depend on healthy headwaters.      

Furthers investment in nature-based solutions and better on-farm decision making.  

Most of the provisions we’ve noted also serve as nature-based climate solutions, furthering agriculture’s role in sequestering and storing carbon while delivering wildlife habitat and food security. The proposal also enhances agricultural data protection and access to help farmers and researchers know how adopting conservation practices will impact their farm’s resilience and profitability. Additionally, it provides loan guarantees to help rural private forest landowners earn and sell carbon credits on working forests.

Reauthorizes the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program at $50 million over five years.

As discussed above, VPA-HIP reauthorization is a top TRCP priority, and we appreciate the challenge of finding funding for a program without baseline in a Farm Bill. However, given the importance of VPA-HIP to hunters and anglers and bipartisan support in both chambers for increased funding, we were disappointed to see this program held flat. 


There is a long way to go before we see the impact of these proposals on the ground. The TRCP thanks House and Senate Ag Committee leadership for their work toward a bipartisan Farm Bill that supports habitat and access.

You can help. Conservation is, and should be, a shared priority regardless of party affiliation or ideology. Congress needs to hear that this is important to you. Take action here.

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May 13, 2024

Hunters and Anglers Applaud Senate Passage of the Bipartisan ACE Reauthorization Act  

The ACE Reauthorization Act aims to boost funding and provide vital enhancements to conservation programs benefiting fish and wildlife. 

The America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Reauthorization Act of 2024 passed the Senate on Wednesday May 8, 2024, by unanimous consent. The ACE Reauthorization Act was sponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and would reauthorize multiple programs that benefit hunting and angling including, the National Fish Habitat Partnership, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Chesapeake Bay Program, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It also helps address threats like chronic wasting disease. This reauthorization provides technical improvements, administrative streamlining, and increased authorized funds to improve these programs. 

“The America’s Conservation Enhancement Reauthorization Act will benefit fish and wildlife while enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities for millions of hunters and anglers,” said Becky Humphries, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “TRCP applauds the Senate’s passage of this important bipartisan legislation and looks forwards to building on the success of these crucial programs.” 

The original ACE Act was passed in 2020 and sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Many of its authorizations expire next year, necessitating the passage of the ACE Reauthorization act to ensure these programs can continue to operate in good legal standing.  

The ACE Act is co-sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Angus King (I-ME) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). 

The legislation is endorsed by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Ducks Unlimited, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation, American Sportfishing Association, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the National Audubon Society. 

The TRCP looks forward to working with the House of Representatives to ensure this essential legislation for hunters and anglers becomes law.  

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 healthy habitat and clean water here. 

Photo: Josh Metten

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

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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