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January 30, 2024

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January 23, 2024

Weigh in on Forest Management to Support Hunting and Fishing

In December, the U.S. Forest Service released a notice to amend 128 land management plans across the National Forest System to promote the persistence and recruitment of old-growth forest conditions across the 193-million-acre National Forest System.

Hunters and anglers recognize that old growth is an important forest type for salmon, steelhead, and trout that benefit from the cold, clear water and habitat provided by older forests. In some places, old forests intercept snow during the coldest months, providing relief for wintering big game. Our community also values the young forests that provide forage for many wildlife species, including deer, elk, and grouse.

Fortunately, as proposed, the forthcoming Forest Service changes are thoughtful and would enhance the agency’s ability to maintain old growth stands through active stewardship—allowing for restoration to maintain forest resilience and to reduce the threat of uncharacteristic wildfire. The changes would also provide space for the creation of young growth habitats in areas of our national forests where old growth is not present.

Speak up for habitat by commenting today in support of balanced and scientifically defensible national forest policy. You can draft your own letter using our talking points below and easily submit them to the USFS comment portal link HERE.

Suggested Comments for your Convenience:

TRCP has developed suggested main points to help you submit formal comments on the Forest Service proposal. Individual comments carry more weight than form letters, and we appreciate you taking a few minutes to weigh in on this important issue:

Old growth trees and forests are important components of National Forest ecosystems, and we appreciate the USFS effort to create a consistent approach to protecting and managing old growth trees across our national forest system. Young, early seral forests are also important to the hunt-fish community, and we encourage the USFS to ensure that the value of early seral forests is recognized in the plan amendment process. Fortunately, as proposed, the forthcoming Forest Service changes are thoughtful and would enhance the agency’s ability to maintain old growth stands through active stewardship—allowing for restoration to maintain forest resilience and to reduce the threat of uncharacteristic wildfire. The changes would also provide space for young growth restoration projects in areas of our national forests where old growth is not present.

As you move forward with the nationwide amendment to create consistent management direction for old growth forests and other forest types, please consider these important comments to advance healthy forests on our public lands.

• Promote forest diversity and recognize that forests are dynamic. Young, middle-aged, and old forests across landscapes provide habitat for multiple species and their life cycle needs. To do so, we must view forests as dynamic collections of important seral states. Forests are healthiest when varying forest ages are interspersed across landscapes, from young forests to old growth.

• There is broad agreement that active forest management is necessary to reduce risks posed by wildfire, optimize carbon outcomes, improve wildlife habitat, safely restore fire to fire-adapted forests, and restore impaired ecosystems. The challenge is how to manage these landscapes at the scope and scale that will address the increasing need.

• The Forest Service must conduct more vegetation management on larger geographic scales to restore forest health and promote resilience, which includes an ecologically appropriate abundance and distribution of mature and old growth forests where those traits are lacking.

• The old growth inventory and analysis of threats completed by the USFS found that mortality from wildfires is currently the leading threat to mature and old growth forests, followed by insects and disease. I support management efforts that focus on science-based restoration and wildfire treatments to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in mature and old growth as well as other forest types.

Photo credit: Jack Lander

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January 22, 2024

Removing Retired Gulf Rigs Ruins Offshore Fishing

Decades-old offshore oil and gas structures, no longer involved in extraction, still provide critical marine habitat – and bipartisan legislation is aimed at protecting these rigs-turned-reefs

Here in Louisiana, I look forward anxiously to the first weekend in June every year.

Some good buddies and I always get together to fish our high school’s alumni tournament in Port Fourchon. Weather permitting (and sometimes even when we should have stayed in bed), we snapper fish on the oil and gas rigs and artificial reefs that have come to life on those structures, almost always with incredible success.

Our favorite destination was once the South Timbalier 50’s blocks, specifically the red-and-yellow-painted double platform that towered over the other dozen or so structures in the area. It was about 12 miles southwest of Belle Pass, meaning it was generally accessible in a 24-foot bay boat. It stood in 60 feet of water and always held nice-sized red and mangrove snapper. Six years ago, we aimed the boat right for it on the first day of the tournament, only to find it wasn’t there anymore.

From a marine fisheries standpoint, Gulf rigs provide an extensive network of the world’s most productive artificial reefs.

This has become a common story along the Gulf Coast. In the early 1980s, there were some 4,000 oil, gas, and sulfur production platforms in the northern and western Gulf. Obviously, the metal structures fixed to the sea floor in depths of 3 to 1,300 feet of water were built to extract and transport petroleum and minerals. But from a marine fisheries standpoint, they also quickly became an extensive network of the world’s most productive artificial reefs.

In the last 25 years, that number of rigs has been cut by 60 percent. In the next decade, as many as 700 more of the 1,550 or so remaining rigs could be removed as well. And, when they are removed, federal law currently requires that the sea floor be stripped bare, with all signs of the rig and associated reef removed.

Fortunately, two Gulf Coast congressmen have recently stepped in to try and save some of the ecologically and economically valuable reefs that have colonized the rigs. Rep. Garret Graves, a Louisiana Republican, and Rep. Marc Veasy, a Texas Democrat, introduced H.R. 6814 late last year. Named the “Marine Fisheries Habitat Protection Act,” it would change federal law and policy to require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to examine the Gulf’s artificial reefs and associated fisheries production while encouraging more participation in the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s Rigs-to-Reefs Program.   

Critics of artificial reefs, and of the oil and gas industry, have long claimed these structures are simply fish aggregators, meaning they make fish easier targets for anglers and commercial harvesters, likening them to piles of corn or salt licks that attract deer. However, research conducted over the last 30-plus years by Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Louisiana State University and a host of other academic institutions have thoroughly debunked those claims. For some fish, especially snappers and groupers, rig reefs are just as productive or more productive than natural hard bottoms and corals. And these vertically oriented structures can host as many as 90 species of fish that utilize different water depths, while steering fishing pressure away from sensitive natural reefs.  

Within weeks of being in the water, rig legs begin to be colonized by benthic creatures like corals, sponges, barnacles, algae, and other organisms. Some fish species also arrive almost immediately, with jacks, dolphin (mahi mahi), sharks, mackerels, barracuda, tunas, and others quickly orienting higher in the water column. Reef fish and crustaceans come soon after with snappers, groupers, spadefish, triggerfish, and numerous other structure-loving fish colonizing the maze of vertical pilings and cross members.

While Atlantic coast and eastern Gulf states seek out decommissioned naval ships, old tugboats, subway cars, and many other hard structures to sink to expand fish and coral habitat and increase fisheries production and opportunity, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama had artificial reefs built for them free of charge by the oil and gas industry. All four states have worked with the owners of those platforms on programs to keep as many decommissioned structures as possible in the water, but the rate of removal has far outpaced the effort to navigate the web of bureaucracies, laws, and policies allowing them to stay in place.

For Gulf anglers, the removal of their favorite fishing spots has been a punch to the gut. Many are rightly frustrated, and even angry, at the lost fisheries production and opportunity. Reps. Graves and Veasy, both avid anglers, are deserving of praise for trying to do their part to help their constituents and, more importantly, the fish themselves. With your support, hopefully all of Congress sees it that way and gets behind this bill.   

Tell Congress to support legislation to protect artificial reefs and offshore fishing.

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Alaska’s D-1 Lands: The Biggest Conservation Opportunity You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Life-long Alaskan Bjorn Dihle explains what’s at stake for hunters and anglers on 28 million acres of public lands currently under review in Alaska

My older brother whispered the yardage as a Dall sheep ram slowly climbed toward a bank of fog. 

“305. 310. 315,” he said, irritation growing in his voice. 

I watched the ram through my rifle scope, knowing it was a matter of seconds until I no longer had a shot. Our younger brother was doing his best not to explode.  

It was my first sheep hunt, and I was nervous about pulling the trigger on a sublegal animal. Our low-quality spotting scope was underpowered, but even to my untrained eye the ram looked more than full curl. The ram stepped into the first swirl of fog and stood broadside. A few moments after my shot echoed across the mountain, the sheep crashed into rocks. My brothers shook their heads in disbelief.  

“We really thought you were going to blow it,” they said.  

We were hunting the eastern Alaska Range, a mecca for outdoor adventure. Its mountains, tundra, and taiga offer everything from quests for Dall sheep and ATV moose hunts, to the annual fall Denali Highway caribou pilgrimage where families and friends enjoy time together trying to fill their freezers with the best meat out there. Much of the region is managed by the Bureau of Land Management as “D-1” lands. 

“D-1” sounds like technical jargon that doesn’t apply to the real world, but what it really means is “some of the best and wildest fishing and hunting grounds in Alaska.” These are places where visitors and locals have the opportunity to do things like hunt caribou and moose, and fish for all five species of salmon and a host of other freshwater fish. It’s big country where you can wander and do, more or less, what you please. This sort of freedom is increasingly rare in places outside of Alaska. For many outdoor folks, the vast solitude that D-1 lands afford is the most special part of a fishing or hunting trip. 

The D-1 lands currently under review by the BLM are concentrated in Western Alaska, including important winter range for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of Alaska’s largest caribou herds. The planning area contains intact hunting and fishing habitat in other renowned areas across the state, including Bristol Bay—home to the world’s most prolific sockeye salmon fishery—and the headwaters of the Chilkat River in Southeast Alaska, famous for its salmon runs and for hosting the biggest congregation of bald eagles in the world.  

A Rare Opportunity to Maintain Quality Habitat and Public Access

Alaska’s D-1 lands were originally withdrawn from mineral extraction in the 1970s to ensure the uses of these lands were consistent with the public interest. These lands have been effectively safeguarded from privatization and large-scale industrial development for approximately 50 years, which has helped maintain intact habitat and public access for hunters and anglers. 

Now, the BLM is taking a fresh look at how 28 million acres of D-1 lands should be managed for future generations. Later this year, the agency plans to issue a decision to fully retain, partially retain, or revoke the withdrawals that have prevented mineral entry and conveyance to private interests for decades. If these conservation measures are revoked, it is reasonable to expect that hunting and fishing quality and opportunity would be diminished on some of Alaska’s most spectacular public lands.  

These lands are home to approximately 100 rural communities. Many villagers in the planning area live hundreds of miles from the nearest modern grocery store; they harvest wild foods like game, fish, and berries to feed their families and to continue their cultural traditions.  Nearly 80 Alaskan Tribes are calling on the BLM to maintain the existing D-1 safeguards that support salmon, caribou, moose, and other species on which they depend.  

Alaska’s unique state and federal laws protect the customary and traditional uses of fish and game above all other consumptive uses. In order to maintain harvest opportunities for all users, it is essential that we maintain healthy populations of game and fish. The conservation of Alaska’s D-1 lands is an important strategy, especially for species experiencing population declines, such as caribou and Dall sheep.

“The BLM’s review of these 28 million acres is one of the largest public lands conservation opportunities in America,” said Jen Leahy, the Alaska program manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Many hunting and fishing groups, including the TRCP, must often focus on restoring important habitat that was previously degraded, or developing new conservation programs to address an unmet need. This is a unique issue because we’re seeking to maintain a successful conservation tool that has worked well for hunters and anglers for decades.” 

A Map of the Future 

It triggers a lot of memories when I look at a map of the 28 million acres the BLM is reviewing. There on the lower Noatak River is where that brown bear sow and cubs visited camp. There in Bristol Bay, I took a break picking sockeye out of a net to study a volcano rising out of the tundra. There, in the upper Chilkat River Valley, I found a bitten off wolf paw on an otherwise completely white, snow-covered alpine expanse. There, in the eastern Alaska Range was where my family got that bull moose. There, on that mountain was where a wolverine ran past three unconcerned bull caribou I was glassing. There, at the edge of that glacier was where my buddy and I snuck by a caribou that had just been killed and cached by a grizzly. A few hours before that, we’d encountered a herd of more than 70 Dall sheep. 

I have only experienced a portion of D-1 lands, but what I’ve seen has been more than enough to make me know what’s at stake. Allowing all 28 million acres to be opened to industrialization and privatization would deprive future generations of our outdoor heritage.  

Hunters and anglers have an opportunity to help protect some of the best and wildest fishing and hunting grounds in Alaska. The BLM comment period on the D-1 draft environmental impact statement is open through February 14, 2024. If you believe like I do that hunting, fishing, and clean water are our highest priorities for managing these public lands, please take one minute to submit a comment to the BLM in support of retaining the D-1 withdrawals. The public may also submit comments directly through the BLM’s site.

Bjorn Dihle is a lifelong Alaskan, who’s been hunting, fishing and exploring his state since he was a kid. He lives with his wife and two young boys in Southeast Alaska, where he does a variety of wildlife and conservation work. 

Photo credits: Bjorn Dihle

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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

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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