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Hunters encouraged with progress to conserve winter range and migration corridors in the West
The Department of Interior has released a report showing that progress is underway to preserve big game habitat in the West.
The report highlights progress in implementing an Interior policy to improve habitat quality in Western big game winter range and migration corridors.
Secretarial Order 3362, signed on February 9, 2018, has been lauded by sportsmen and women for giving more attention to land management and planning in habitats where mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and other species migrate, rest, and spend the winter months.
“Not all federal policies yield quick results on the ground, but this one has already delivered so far for big game and hunters,” says Madeleine West, director of Western lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We know that much work needs to be done to ensure the long-term conservation of our iconic wildlife species and migrations across the West.”
Since the enactment of the Order on migration, the Department has provided 11 Western states with $6.4 million to address state-defined priority research projects and the mapping of elk, mule deer, and pronghorn migrations and habitat use. Additionally, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program have provided nearly $10 million, matched with more than $30 million from other partners, for habitat improvement and fencing projects.
“The resources provided to the states for research have advanced the science on migration across the West,” said Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The data emerging from those studies, coupled with investments in habitat improvement and restoration, will boost big game populations and ultimately improve sustainable opportunities for hunters in the future.”
The report also highlighted that long-term success will require strong partnerships and diverse funding sources.
Top photo by Gregory Nickerson/Wyoming Migration Initiative.
Sportsmen and women were a crucial part of defeating an uninformed effort to weaken disease response
In a complete reversal, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Commission recently voted to table discussion of altering the state’s chronic wasting disease management zones, focus areas where wildlife officials are responding to the rapid spread of this fatal disease in wild deer.
Even if you never plan to hunt in Mississippi, this is a win for you and all deer hunters. Here’s why: In May 2020, the Commission had already decided to proceed with changes that could have undermined the battle against CWD transmission. But the outcry from the hunting community—in state and across the country—made them reexamine the move and hold another vote.
The TRCP joined more than a dozen organizations representing millions of hunters, conservationists, and wildlife professionals in urging these decision-makers to follow national best practices and maintain the current structure of the state’s CWD Management Zones. Supplemental feeding of wild deer is banned in these areas, where CWD-positive animals have been identified, to prevent concentrating groups of deer that could then transmit the disease far and wide.
Thousands of individual sportsmen and women also commented on the Commission’s move to shrink these zones and change management tactics—which have been recommended by MDWFP biologists and follow the guidance of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies—within.
Advancing chronic wasting disease solutions will take prolonged effort, and some battles—for increased investments, better science, and more coordination—began years ago. It’s encouraging to see at least one example of our voices making a tangible difference in a matter of months.
The lesson: Keep taking action and speaking out for fish, wildlife, and habitat. Decision-makers are listening.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously today to improve management strategies for Atlantic menhaden, by requiring consideration for the small baitfish’s impact on fish up the food chain. Economically important sportfish such as striped bass rely on healthy menhaden populations for survival.
After recreational anglers weighed in, the Commission adopted the new ecological management system, which considers the needs of predator species and will begin the process of allowing fish like striped bass to meet population targets. Menhaden is the first fishery on the east coast to shift to an ecosystem management approach.
“This landmark decision represents a new era in fisheries management,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We are grateful for the Commission’s support of comprehensive strategies that support the entire Atlantic ecosystem. This decision will spur healthier menhaden and gamefish populations while supporting the recreational fishing economy along the eastern seaboard.”
The Commission has worked diligently for over a decade to thoroughly vet several ecosystem models that led to the development and implementation of these ecological reference points for Atlantic menhaden. The selected model includes important predator species like Atlantic striped bass and bluefish as well as alternative prey such as Atlantic herring. Ultimately, these reference points can be used to set quotas that will help ensure enough menhaden are left in the water to help Atlantic striped bass, bluefish and Atlantic herring rebuild from overfished conditions.
“Today’s decision is a critical step towards acknowledging that forage fish like menhaden are ecologically important to recreationally important species like striped bass and bluefish,” said Mike Leonard vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “A healthy Atlantic menhaden stock, and quotas that account for the needs of predators, is the science-based management we look for to help support a healthy ecosystem and the sportfishing opportunities it provides.”
“As recreational anglers, we commend the board for adding this new tool to the tool box which allows for a more holistic approach to managing the coast’s most valuable forage for striped bass and many other important recreationally caught gamefish species,” said David Sikorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland.
“The implementation of the ecological reference points for Atlantic menhaden represents a significant step in advancing science-based fisheries management,” said Chris Horton, senior director of fisheries policy of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “For the first time, we now have a model that can account for the need to leave menhaden in the water for the benefit of other important fisheries and the marine ecosystem as a whole.”
“Recreational boaters and anglers stand behind science-backed conservation efforts to maintain the health of our nation’s fisheries,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, government relations manager of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “This is why our community has come out so strongly in support of the approved Atlantic menhaden management plan, which would support the whole ecosystem and begin the process of bringing back populations of prized fish like striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish.”
According to a recent scientific study, menhaden reduction fishing contributes to a nearly 30 percent decline in striped bass numbers. The striped bass fishing industry contributes $7.8 billion in GDP to the economy along the Atlantic coast.
Top photo by David Blinken.
With today’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act fully funding nation’s most important access program, new report details the extent of inaccessible public lands in the Upper Midwest
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX announced today that more than 303,000 acres of public land in Minnesota and Wisconsin are entirely landlocked by private land and, therefore, inaccessible to hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationists.
The new report is an expansion of a two-year effort to analyze the amount of landlocked public lands in the Pacific and Intermountain West, which to date has shown that nearly 16 million federal and state acres have no permanent legal access because they are isolated by private lands.
The report’s publication is timely in the wake of one of the biggest conservation wins in recent memory. Just today, President Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act, securing full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the federal program best suited to improving and expanding outdoor access to public lands across the country.
Using today’s leading mapping technologies, the collaborative study found that more than 248,000 acres of public lands in Minnesota and more than 55,000 acres in Wisconsin are landlocked and inaccessible to the public without private landowner permission. The detailed findings are now available in a new report, “The Upper Midwest’s Landlocked Public Lands: Untapped Hunting and Fishing Opportunities in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” which also unpacks the stakes of the problem and its historical roots.
“Through our ongoing collaboration with onX, we have been able to identify parcels of land that belong to taxpayers, yet they are unable to take advantage of the vast outdoor opportunities on these lands,” said Joel Webster, Senior Director of Western Programs at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It is our hope that with this information, policymakers can see the problem, identify solutions, and work to ensure that sportsmen and sportswomen can access the lands that belong to them.”
“We know how important public land access opportunities are to hunters and anglers all across the country,” said onX access advocacy manager Lisa Nichols. “Especially in places where the majority of the landscape is privately owned, GPS technologies have enabled outdoor recreationists not only to find new opportunities on public lands, but also to notice landlocked parcels that could offer more of these opportunities if there was a legal way to access them.”
While the analysis looked at public lands managed by different levels of government—including federal, state, county, and municipal—the majority of landlocked acres in both Minnesota and Wisconsin were state lands, followed by combined county/municipal acres. Ranging in size from just a few acres to nearly 4,000 acres, the landlocked acres identified by the project could potentially offer outdoor recreationists in the region new opportunities to get outdoors both in urban and rural areas.
“When it comes to landlocked public lands, even small access projects can make a big difference,” adds Nichols. “Finding collaborative solutions to open some of these lands could offer new opportunities to residents of nearby communities where access to public lands and waters might currently be limited.”
Improved public access is also a driver of the $778 billion outdoor recreation economy. Leading brands in the hunting and fishing industry have long recognized the importance of public lands to their customers and their businesses.
“As a family owned, American sports optics company that is based in Wisconsin, we personally understand the value that public lands provide to our customers and employees for outdoor recreation,” said Paul Neess, conservation/education support specialist with Vortex Optics of Barneveld, Wisconsin. “Landlocked public lands in our state and any other state represent missed days and lost opportunities afield for sportsmen and women, and we support all cooperative efforts to open these lands to the public as they were intended to be.”
With the recent passage of the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will now provide a guaranteed $27 million in annual federal funding for public access work. Additionally, at least 40 percent of the program’s overall $900 million budget must be used for state-driven projects.
The onX-TRCP report further highlights several important programs in Minnesota and Wisconsin that help to create new access for public land users.
Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funds efforts to conserve habitat and water quality, and also prioritizes expanding opportunities for outdoor recreation. Significantly, the program is set to expire in 2022 unless state lawmakers act to renew the program. Given the program’s 2019 budget of $33 million, its expiration could result in lost or reduced opportunities to expand access in Wisconsin.
Established in 2008, Minnesota’s Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund supports projects that protect, enhance, or restore prairies, wetlands, forests, or other habitat, and—when it meets those primary goals—can also be used to open or expand access to inaccessible wildlife management areas managed by Minnesota DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division.
“Pheasants Forever is actively working to unlock access to public lands across western Minnesota and in other areas of the Midwest, which translates to increased and improved hunting opportunities,” said Eran Sandquist, Minnesota state coordinator with Pheasants Forever. “We work with partners like Minnesota’s Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to not only conserve wildlife habitat, but also to expand public access, so more sportsmen and women can enjoy quality days afield.”
Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Strategic Land Asset Management program ensures that the state’s public land holdings reflect its conservation, recreation, and economic values and needs. In an ongoing evaluation process, proposed land acquisitions are measured according to the program’s priorities, including increasing access to public lands.
“In Minnesota, we are very proud of our Strategic Land Asset Management (SLAM) Program and the SLAM framework we have built to ensure public access is evaluated and prioritized on an on-going basis,” said Trina Zieman, the Minnesota DNR’s land asset and school trust administrator. “We appreciate the work done by this collaborative to bring awareness to this issue and identify options that will continue to unlock our public lands for generations of recreationalists.”
Given the level of interest from the public, support from the outdoor industry, and the commitment of state and federal agencies, conservation groups like the TRCP anticipate a bright future for improved and expanded public land access.
“Both states featured in this project have innovative programs for conserving habitat and improving access for hunting and fishing,” said TRCP’s Webster. “It’s our hope that this report highlights the importance of this work to decision makers and the public, especially given the positive effects that it has for families, communities, businesses, and the future of outdoor recreation”
A companion website, unlockingpubliclands.org, unpacks the issue in more detail and provides links to additional information about landlocked public lands. Visitors to the site can download the report as well as the previous reports published by onX and TRCP in 2018 and 2019.
Earlier this year, onX also launched a new crowd-sourcing initiative, Report a Land Access Opportunity, with the help of partners including TRCP. The program provides the public with a platform to share on-the-ground knowledge about locations where access to outdoor recreation has been threatened or could be improved. The information received by onX is then provided to the relevant nonprofits and land management agencies that can help.
Top photo: The Hunting Public
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More