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We’d forgive you for losing track of what is at stake for fish and wildlife as House members continue to extend debate and negotiations on two critically important legislative packages: the budget reconciliation bill known as Build Back Better and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Both would be defining victories for this Congress and the administration. And both contain some very big wins for conservation.
A House vote on reconciliation will only push this process to the next step, which is Senate consideration. This is important, since the legislation could clinch once-in-a-generation investments in climate resilience and private land conservation. We hope to have more to share on that as things progress.
But there are numerous conservation provisions in the $1.2-trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal that are top TRCP priorities. And because the legislation passed out of the Senate in August, these would be headed to the president’s desk if the House can agree on final passage. Here’s what we’re rooting for as we watch this process closely:
Stay tuned to the TRCP blog and social media channels (@theTRCP) for the absolute latest.
Photo of the Capitol by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Kelsey Johnson is a Bozeman, Montana-based artist who uses oil paints and graphite pencils to depict the unique people, wildlife, and landscapes of the American West. Three years ago, she came up with the idea of a “Conservation Christmas” fundraiser, pledging a portion of her sales each holiday season to the TRCP. Throughout the month of November, $5 from every print sold, $10 from every small work, and $50 from every original will be donated by Kelsey to help support our mission of guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.
We’ve been thrilled to have Kelsey’s support over the years, but we also just think she’s someone you should know! Here is her story.
I grew up with the typical, fondly remembered, but “soft” outdoor experiences: camping in the pop-up, dirty hands and s’mores, catching bluegills off the dock – that type of stuff. My family volunteered at the animal shelter, we ate a lot of TV dinners, and I couldn’t have imagined becoming a hunter. That came much later, as I sought out a greater understanding of, and a stronger connection to, my food and the outdoors.
My story is pretty standard “adult onset hunting” fare. A move out West and a love of hiking slowly introduced me to folks who shared a passion for wildlife, nature, and physical activity. To my surprise, many of them hunted, and thus my mind was opened to the world of hunting and conservation. It’s been a fun, fulfilling, and educational ride ever since.
While it’s hard to pick out a single memorable experience outdoors, I enjoyed a very special moment this spring with my oldest brother, who joined my fiancé Seth and me for our annual turkey camp. Like me, my brother has also picked up hunting as an adult, and last fall had a tough elk hunt in Colorado, where they hardly saw any elk. On our hunt together, we all set up against trees facing a large clearing, waiting for gobbles.
After about an hour of sitting in silence, to our surprise a large herd of elk filtered into the clearing and slowly fed past us, coming within 20 yards or so. It’s not the craziest outdoor experience in the world, but it meant a lot to share the excitement of spending time so close to all those elk together. And to make it even sweeter, we both doubled on turkeys later that week.
Conservation is central to my life outdoors, because whenever I’m in the mountains or on the prairie, I’m reminded of how lucky we are to have these experiences. I understand how hard-won our model of conservation is. I also understand that it is a constant effort to uphold a well-managed system that allows for quality access and healthy fish and wildlife populations. So, I always feel fortunate and grateful for every opportunity to be outdoors.
Although there are many challenges facing our fish and wildlife today, the first that come to mind when I think about where I live are those of habitat loss and water use. In Bozeman, and I think across the West in general, urban areas are expanding rapidly. Much of the land that is being developed for residential and commercial use is historically wildlife winter range, migratory routes, grasslands, and other important habitats. The dramatic increase in population and the resulting demands on our water supply seem like massive challenges that will require us to come together to find long-term solutions.
At the end of the day, I simply cannot imagine a life without access to the outdoors. These freedoms are vital to me: to walk the prairie in pursuit of deer or grouse, to wander hills and coulees in search of antler sheds, to hike to a mountain ridge for the exercise and fresh air. These rights bestowed upon the American people are ours to protect, and it is important to take that seriously.
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Iconic Western watersheds are at a crossroads. The American West remains in the midst of a “megadrought,” which is contributing to catastrophic wildfires, impacting agricultural operations, and even affecting iconic Western wildlife and our hunting and fishing opportunities.
The Colorado River’s average annual flows have declined by 20 percent since 2000. More than half of that decline has been attributed to warming temperatures, which threaten fish and wildlife species that depend on there being not only enough water in the river but also cool enough water for them to survive.
The trickle-down effect on water-based recreation, such as fishing and boating, is easy to see. This summer, Colorado’s Yampa River was closed to fishing and recreation for more than three months due to low flows and high temperatures. Lower flows are also a concern to communities that depend on the Colorado River for drinking water in seven U.S. states—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California, and Nevada—and Mexico. Importantly, the watershed is home to 33 percent of the U.S. Latino population and 30 Native America tribes.
Right now, we all have a chance to influence the future conservation of Western water resources as we look toward a hotter, drier future. If you are someone who depends on America’s “hardest working river” or just a curious TRCP blog reader, here’s what you need to know about the next steps and how to get involved.
The ongoing Colorado Water Plan Update offers an opportunity for hunters and anglers to have our voices heard on how communities will address water resource challenges for the next five years. The existing Colorado Water Plan outlines how to create more resilient, thriving watersheds that support robust agriculture, outdoor recreation opportunities, and vibrant communities. Now, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency responsible for developing the Colorado Water Plan, is revising this plan to ensure that it is meeting current and future water needs based on changing circumstances in our state and across the West. Over the next few months, we will share a series of videos, action alerts, and other direct ways for you to engage in the Colorado Water Plan update process.
The full proposed update won’t be available to comment on until July 2022, but conversations are already underway that will influence this plan. In Colorado, water policy and management decisions are largely informed through a grassroots process. In order to facilitate conversations around managing water, Colorado established nine Basin Roundtables, composed of local volunteers who coordinate regional input on important water resource management issues.
The Basin Roundtables represent each of Colorado’s eight major watersheds and the Denver metro area, where the majority of Colorado’s population resides. The feedback they gather may include how to prioritize funding for water projects and maintain compliance with interstate water compacts. This will help update the nine Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs), which are locally driven documents identifying goals and actions to address regional water issues and priorities. BIPs also help to prioritize projects ranging from stream restoration to water infrastructure upgrades.
Weighing in on these grassroots-level plans will help to provide recreational and environmental benefits and build out the scaffolding for the broader Colorado Water Plan. For more information on roundtables and BIPs, check out Water for Colorado’s recent blog post.
While hunters and anglers across the country have a stake in the Colorado Water Plan and how it affects fish and wildlife across the region, it is vital that those of us who live and recreate right here in Colorado participate in this first locally led planning effort. Drafts of the updated Basin Implementation Plans are currently open to public comment through November 15.
We’ve made it easy for hunters and anglers to take action and help ensure that BIPs will sustain healthy river flows for fish and wildlife, encourage water conservation and efficiency, promote diversity and equity in the update process, and reflect other top priorities for sportsmen and sportswomen. Check out our simple advocacy tool to make your voice heard today.
This blog was collaboratively written by Jared Romero, TRCP director of strategic partnerships, and Alex Funk, TRCP director of water resources and senior counsel. Top photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via flickr.
Forage fish like menhaden, river herring, and shad are the foundation of the marine food web. These fish serve as prey for popular sportfish, such as striped bass, speckled trout, and bluefin tuna, as well as iconic species like osprey, bottlenose dolphins, and humpback whales.
Shad and river herring, in particular, used to support some of the largest and most important commercial and recreational fisheries along the Atlantic coast, but habitat loss from dam construction and stock depletion from overfishing have decreased herring and shad landings by 96 percent since 1950. Meanwhile, billions of pounds of menhaden are commercially harvested by a single foreign-owned company to be “reduced” into livestock feed, fish oil, fish meal, fertilizer, and other products.
The TRCP has been engaged in the push for better forage fish management, because these species are essential to coastal ecosystems and economies.
The bipartisan Forage Fish Conservation Act, which was introduced in the House this week, aims to address current gaps in forage fish management by amending and building upon the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which has been instrumental in addressing overfishing and maintaining stocks for anglers to enjoy over the past 50 years.
The new legislation would ensure that federal fisheries managers account for the needs of forage fish and the predator species that depend on them. It would establish management plans for river herring and shad in the Atlantic and address the needs of sportfish and other predator species in existing forage fish management plans. It would also require that managers assess the possible impacts of newly proposed commercial fishing for forage fish, including the effects on other fisheries, anglers, and the marine ecosystem. The bill would require that science-based recommendations are made on forage fish management and provide a national, science-based definition for forage fish, to help clarify future policymaking.
More abundant forage fish populations will boost sportfish and fishing opportunities. The implementation of the Forage Fish Conservation Act would sustain forage fish populations by improving management strategies, so that anglers can enjoy thriving coastal ecosystems and economies for generations to come.
Top photo courtesy of Woozy Fishing (@woozy_fishing)
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