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Offers conservation solutions to guide forthcoming land-use planning efforts for the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today released a report on big game migrations and the challenges they face on the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests in western Montana.
The report focuses on the habitat needs of several populations of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep across more than 3.5 million acres of national forests, including lands in and around the Blackfoot-Clearwater, East and West Fork of the Bitterroot, and lower Clark Fork watersheds. The Forest Service is expected to initiate the process of revising the land-use plan for the Lolo National Forest in 2022, and the Bitterroot National Forest is identified as a Tier 1 priority by the agency for revision. The TRCP’s report, along with a companion webpage, showcases the need for the USFS to prioritize important wildlife habitats as it considers how it will manage these public lands for the future.
“Public lands and the habitats they support in western Montana provide outstanding opportunities to hunters and contribute to the state’s $7.1-billion outdoor recreation economy,” said Scott Laird, Montana field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Healthy herds of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep on the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests are absolutely critical to sportsmen and sportswomen, local businesses, and rural communities alike. Our hope is that the Forest Service takes full advantage of the land-use planning process to ensure that modern migration science informs the management of these public lands, helping to conserve big game species that rely on their ability to move between winter and summer ranges.”
Land-use plans guide on-the-ground actions of land management agencies, setting goals, outlining strategies, and determining appropriate uses for public lands. Decisions, such as where to maintain roads and trails, how to balance wildlife habitat with development and recreation, and where to prioritize active habitat restoration, take their shape from these critical plans. The report includes six key recommendations to the Forest Service and urges the agency to incorporate the latest science, utilize the best-available conservation tools, and prioritize coordination with stakeholders, the state, and Tribes. The existing plans were drafted more than 30 years ago, and preplanning efforts for the Lolo NF plan revision are expected to begin in 2022.
“The past decade has brought clear advancements in our understanding of both big game migration as well as what can be done to ensure our herds remain healthy in the long term on a changing landscape,” added Laird. “The land-use planning process is where the rubber meets the road in terms of incorporating new science into the management of our public lands. Sportsmen and sportswomen see the upcoming plan revision for the Lolo National Forest as a critical opportunity to maintain and improve some of the best hunting and wildlife habitat in western Montana.”
To read the full report, click here.
To visit the companion webpage, click here.
Groundbreaking public land access legislation awaits a vote in the Senate
The House of Representatives has passed the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act (H.R. 3113), which would enhance outdoor recreation opportunities on public land by investing in modern mapping systems that provide Americans with the public access information they need while using handheld GPS technology commonly found in smartphones.
Introduced by U.S. Representatives Blake Moore (R-Utah), Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) in May 2021, the MAPLand Act has been a top priority for hunters and anglers across the country. It was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee this past July with unanimous support.
“We thank House lawmakers for listening to the voices of public land users and for making a commonsense investment in the future of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation access,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The MAPLand Act will help more Americans to get outside and enjoy the unparalleled recreational opportunities found within our public land system. It is encouraging to see broad support for this legislation from both sides of the aisle, a welcome reminder that conservation and our outdoor heritage transcend party lines.”
The MAPLand Act will direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available recreational access information as geospatial files. Such records include information about:
Companion legislation in the Senate (S.904) passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in November 2021, with unanimous support. The bill now needs to clear the full Senate before it can be delivered to the president’s desk and signed into law.
“Hunters want more information on where to gain access to public lands but often don’t know where to start and the information can be incomplete. The MAPLand Act will make it easier for sportsmen and women to enjoy our outdoor heritage with modernized information on how to access our public lands,” said Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Thank you to the House of Representatives for coming together in an overwhelming display of support that will benefit all Americans. Now on to the Senate!”
“This is a big win for hunters and anglers, and we appreciate House leadership for bringing this bill to the floor,” continued Fosburgh. “We hope to see a Senate vote on the MAPLand Act in the very near future. The TRCP will continue to voice its support for this important legislation until it becomes law.”
With last week’s passage of omnibus legislation to fund the government, Congress has opted to make $10 million available to state wildlife agencies for CWD management through September 30, the end of the 2022 fiscal year. This is an increase of $3 million from the previous year and double the funding made available in FY 2020.
Dollars are administered by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, even with the increase, they won’t go as far as is needed.
In October 2021, the agency awarded 28 cooperative agreements totaling $5.7 million to state and Tribal agencies for CWD suppression. Unfortunately, 36 other proposals were left unmet, due to limited funding. Since then, CWD has been detected for the first time in Alabama, Louisiana, and Idaho. There have also been major outbreaks in wild and farmed deer in Iowa, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Texas.
“The unchecked spread of chronic wasting disease across the United States poses an existential threat to deer hunting, which generates $40 billion in annual spending, and as the status quo on the landscape continues to worsen, the inevitable costs of managing CWD continue to balloon,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This increase in federal funding is a positive step forward, but more work remains to be done, including securing investments in research that will make disease management more effective in the long-term.”
One state relying on the APHIS funding to support management efforts is Iowa, which received $200,000 in October 2021. The state has been aggressively testing for the disease since 2002, when CWD was first detected in nearby Wisconsin. It wasn’t until 10 years later that CWD was detected in Iowa. Since that time, the Iowa departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture have continued statewide testing and targeted harvests to manage the spread. Still, the disease has been detected in wild herds across a total of 10 counties—breaking new ground particularly in the past two years.
Many states have come to realize that the most effective strategies for addressing the spread of CWD rely on hunter and landowner participation. The Iowa DNR is using the funds to develop access agreements for hunters on private acreage within endemic zones and authorizing the harvest of an additional buck in specified management zones. Importantly, the agency will also study public perception and understanding of CWD and related management techniques to grow public support and encourage participation among the hunting and non-hunting public moving forward.
Other states are using funds to increase the availability of carcass disposal and testing sites or develop educational materials. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is researching the potential use of dogs to detect the disease in live cervids. Here’s how South Dakota used its funding in 2020.
The TRCP and its partners pushed for this additional FY22 funding to be made available through APHIS, but the hunting community is also urging decision-makers to do more.
For starters, the Senate should take up and pass the CWD Research and Management Act, which passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin in late 2021. That bill would immediately authorize $35 million annually for cooperative agreements with states and Tribes, as well as an additional $35 million to support critical research into the disease. Hunters can take action in support of the bill here.
Top photo courtesy of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries via Flickr.
Late last summer, we shared with you TRCP’s readout on the latest global climate report put together by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The main takeaway was that climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe, leaving no question that fish and wildlife habitat in the U.S. is being impacted.
To double down on this message that climate change is already affecting your hunting and fishing opportunities—not just those of future generations—we’d like to draw your attention to the IPCC’s second installment of the four-part report. In this installment, scientists have focused on risks, vulnerability, and the adaptation and mitigation of climate impacts.
The epic 3,600-page document further explains how we know climate impacts are already happening, that they are more widespread and intense than we realized, and they will continue to get worse as warming continues. Here’s what sportsmen and sportswomen need to know.
Our lives are already deeply impacted by climate change. Our new normal is punctuated by extreme weather events, such as catastrophic fires and more frequent and destructive floods and hurricanes.
Hunters and anglers—who are on the front lines, spending significant time in the affected habitats—are also experiencing and reporting changes to the environment. These include shifts in the seasonal ranges of certain species, earlier or later season start times, waters that are too low or too hot to fish, reduced snow cover, repeated freeze-thaw cycles, and habitats degraded and fragmented by drought, fire, or flooding. In addition to ecosystem losses and damages, climate change is challenging our agriculture system, limiting water availability, and damaging infrastructure and the economy.
This latest IPCC report makes clear that climate change is threatening our way of life, and in some cases, our livelihoods.
Unfortunately, this latest analysis gets worse: some losses from climate change are already irreversible—and more are approaching a point of no return.
We’ve experienced the first species extinction driven by climate change, and species loss at a local level has been elevated because of periods of extreme heat. Around half of the species assessed globally by IPCC scientists have moved to higher latitudes or higher land elevations. The permafrost found within North America in Alaska and Canada is melting, which allows additional carbon dioxide and methane to be released into the atmosphere, while also causing flooding, erosion, and habitat fragmentation.
The impacts to biodiversity reduce the ability of an ecosystem to function, recover, and adapt to change. Affected habitat is less able to provide services like water filtration and recharge or carbon storage, which combats climate change.
Climate change and biodiversity are interconnected and interdependent, meaning that the breadth and variety of life in a particular habitat is altered by climate change, and in turn, the ecosystem services normally provided by these species and the landscape cannot serve as an important tool to support climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Put another way: Continued unsustainable use and management of our land, water, and wildlife will support continued global warming, and every bit of warming will further degrade ecosystems, weakening habitat and reducing our food and water security.
Though the report presents a bleak reality and grim future, it also highlights the importance of nature-based climate solutions and continued conservation. Many of the TRCP’s top conservation priorities would reverse habitat loss and wildlife species declines, strengthening the U.S. economy and delivering carbon storage solutions. This includes better land-use planning, more climate-smart agricultural practices, and restoration and conservation of forests, peatlands, grasslands, coastal and inland wetlands, and headwaters and natural river systems.
We believe in this work and your need to understand the challenges we face. Do you have a question about the impacts of climate change on hunting fishing? Leave a comment and we may address your question in an upcoming blog or social media post.
Top photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service / Cole Barash via Flickr.
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