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April 7, 2021

New Report Shows Steeper Population Declines

The U.S. Geological Survey releases a report that shows sage grouse populations have declined 80 percent since 1965, and the annual rate of loss ticks up a full percentage point to 3 percent each year.
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April 2, 2021

Preserving Pennsylvania Streams: Monocacy Creek

This video is the second in a series detailing conservation projects powered by Pennsylvania’s Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund that benefit hunters and anglers. Since 1993, the Keystone Fund has continued to provide state-level matching dollars for a variety of conservation projects, including land acquisition, river conservation, and trail work. This series is the result of a collaboration between the TRCP and Trout Unlimited where the goal is simply to celebrate conservation success stories that make us all proud to be able to hunt and fish in Pennsylvania. The videos highlight just a few of the projects powered by this critical source of conservation funding. For more information on the Keystone Fund, you can visit: https://keystonefund.org.

Warmer weather and blooming forsythia and cherry blossoms are more than just the harbingers of spring in Pennsylvania. For anglers, these are the signals that soon the air above our best trout streams will be filled with mayflies, and the waters below will be teeming with hungry, rising trout.

Spring means the beginning of another trout season. For many, the smells, sounds, and sights of spring conjure memories of past adventures with friends and family, while simultaneously calling us back to the water.

In the Lehigh Valley, you don’t have to look very far to find quality wild trout habitat. That’s good news for anglers living in one of the most densely populated areas in the state. The Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area is blessed with some of Pennsylvania’s best limestone spring creeks—famously challenging, yet productive trout streams. Among these well-known “limestoners” is Monocacy Creek, which flows south through the heart of Bethlehem and eventually into the Lehigh River, a quality wild trout river in its own right.

The presence of wild trout in this urban gem is no accident: It is the result of decades of stewardship. Like many urban wild trout streams in Pennsylvania, the Monocacy has seen its fair share of challenges. In 1989, a nearby chemical spill killed more than 30,000 fish, many of them wild brown trout. Since then, the area has experienced a boom in development, resulting in challenges with polluted stormwater runoff and degraded streambank habitat.

Enter the Monocacy Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Monocacy Watershed Association. Members of these conservation organizations have worked hand in hand with Bethlehem municipal departments and other conservation organizations to preserve coldwater trout habitat along the creek through various projects funded by the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund and the state’s Environmental Stewardship Fund.

Many of these projects not only restore or improve habitat—they also help to mitigate the impacts of flooding and provide better access to anglers from the surrounding communities and beyond. (For a local perspective on the popularity of Monocacy Creek, check out this blog from angler Michael Evanko.)

Spring in Pennsylvania means another trout season full of making memories and forging connections outdoors. It’s also a good time to take a moment and recognize the tools, projects, and programs that gave us the places we love to fish.

Unfortunately, our work is not done. April showers may bring May flowers, but they are a reminder of the stormwater runoff challenges and need for streambank stabilization made possible by state-funded conservation. Spring is also traditionally the beginning of the state budget season, when funding in the Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund has perennially come under threat.

Take a look at what these funds mean to local angler Jose DeJesus, a member of Monocacy TU and Monocacy Watershed Association. Listen as he shares his story of chasing trout over a lifetime on the Monocacy.

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April 1, 2021

Explore TRCP’s Interactive Annual Report of Conservation Achievements

Our digital tool highlights the biggest organizational and policy successes of 2020

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is proud to announce the launch of its 2020 Annual Report in an interactive digital format that has a distinctly 2020 twist: It highlights the team’s remarkable organizational and conservation policy achievements in a platform that mimics a video conference call, a medium that has been essential to the work of the TRCP staff during the pandemic.

“As challenging as 2020 was for the country and our staff, I’m humbled to be able to share our successes and how quickly we were able to adapt as connection with the outdoors became increasingly important to Americans facing COVID restrictions,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “Conservation was a unifying force, and the TRCP and its partners are proud to have played a role in advancing solutions-oriented policy.”

Achievements highlighted in the report include securing long-awaited investments in public lands and essential habitat programs through the Great American Outdoors Act and America’s Conservation Enhancement Act; continuing to identify inaccessible public lands and support solutions for unlocking these resources; reforming menhaden management in the Atlantic; and forming a diverse coalition of hunting and fishing groups to tackle the impacts of climate change on fish and wildlife habitat.

“Even as our country seemed so deeply divided in 2020, we saw firsthand the continued ability of decision-makers to find common ground and pass legislation to improve fish and wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing access, and the outdoor recreation economy,” says Jamie Baker, TRCP’s board chair. “Buoyed by the support of our partners, sponsors, and donors, the efforts of the TRCP staff in 2020 will leave a lasting impact on the places that matter to hunters and anglers, and we look forward to building on this momentum in 2021.”

Explore the TRCP’s 2020 Annual Report here.

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March 30, 2021

New Report Highlights Even Steeper Decline of Greater Sage Grouse Populations

Conservationists call for renewed commitment to habitat restoration and other key priorities

Today, the U.S. Geological Survey released a report that raises serious questions about the future of the greater sage grouse and its ecosystem.

Report findings showed an overall 80-percent decline in sage grouse populations in the western United States since 1965, with an average annual rate of loss estimated at 3 percent, a full percentage point higher than in previously available data prepared for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

“The fact that sage grouse populations are trending even further in the wrong direction should be taken very seriously by hunters, conservationists, wildlife managers, and all citizens of the American West,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “There is no question that this deeper range-wide loss of birds is indicative of the continued loss and degradation of habitat, and stakeholders at every level need to regroup fast to determine a path forward that creates lasting conservation impacts for these iconic game birds.”

In a separate report released on March 9, the USGS found that sagebrush habitat is being lost at an alarming rate due to mining and energy development, conversion to cropland, invasive grasses, and altered wildfire cycles. Since 2000, more than 20 percent of priority sage grouse habitat within the Great Basin alone has burned.

“Sagebrush ecosystems are experiencing declines that were unimaginable just 20 years ago due to cheatgrass invasion, fire, and other human disturbances,” said Ted Koch, executive director of the North American Grouse Partnership. “We know what it takes to stem the loss, now all we need is to regain the partnerships and the collective will to do it.”

Conservation efforts also will undoubtedly need to go beyond the current management plans to address rapidly changing and degrading habitats in the West.

“Restoring degraded habitat is now more important than ever for reversing trends in habitat loss in the sagebrush ecosystem,” said Joel Pedersen, president and CEO for the Mule Deer Foundation. “The Mule Deer Foundation will continue to ensure that funding for habitat restoration and enhancement is a top priority across the West and that projects get implemented on the ground to benefit sage grouse, mule deer, and other species.”

Conservation on private lands has played a vital role in sagebrush recovery since the inception of the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010. Continuing to engage landowners and incentivize conservation in sagebrush country will be critical into the future.

“Private landowner conservation efforts were critical to the success of getting the 2015 not-warranted decision for sage grouse,” said Howard Vincent, President and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “We need continued investments in the Sage Grouse Initiative and other private land incentive programs to ensure the long-term health of the sagebrush ecosystem and its occupants, including people that live and work there.”

While deeply concerned, the hunting and fishing community believes that with adequate funding, cooperation, and conservation plan implementation – coupled with massive investments in restoration – that a future listing of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act can be avoided. But time is running out.

“These new study findings are sounding an alarm that cannot be ignored,” said Dr. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Clearly the threats to sage grouse and their habitat are not being adequately addressed in a manner that sustains the species over the long-term. There’s still time to assess the situation and reverse these trends, but it is getting more difficult for the Fish and Wildlife Service to defend and maintain their 2015 not-warranted finding for sage grouse.”

 

Image courtesy of Jennifer Hall/USFWS.

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New BLM Web App Shows Promise of What the MAPLand Act Could Do

Web Viewer for Montana and the Dakotas Spotlights Access Easements for Outdoor Recreation

In the world of policy, it can at times be difficult to show how a single piece of legislation could improve the lives of hunters and anglers. But thanks to a new digital resource from the Bureau of Land Management, we can come pretty close to showing the public what a game-changing access bill (MAPLand Act) can do.

The BLM recently released a web-viewer that incorporates a new GIS layer identifying public access routes to BLM lands in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. And this web-based tool not only presents hunters and other outdoor recreationists with a valuable resource for planning their next public land outing, it offers a glimpse of what would be available with the passage of the MAPLand Act. This bipartisan legislation is a top TRCP priority that could make a positive impact when it comes to identifying access opportunities on public land across the country.

Hard Copy Hassles

On an antelope hunt several years ago, I stopped by the local BLM field office to ask about the legality of driving on certain unimproved roads in an area where I was hoping to spend the weekend. As is the case throughout much of the West, there were large parcels of BLM-managed public lands interspersed with privately owned lands, and a tangled network of dirt two-track roads connecting them all. Without any signage on the ground, I couldn’t tell which roads were open to public access where they crossed private lands, and which roads could only be used with the permission of the private landowner.

What happened next was surprising: to provide me with this information, the agency staffer had to manually find paper maps, scan them, and email me the files, which I could then reference on my phone’s PDF viewer. The legal documents that establish the public’s right to use a road—easements—were stored on PAPER records, and so the only way I could see which roads I could use was by looking at a paper map that had been annotated with colored pens and pencils! Different colors, it was explained, indicated the particular agency in charge of the road. Where there was a circle around a piece of road spanning private land, an accompanying note specified the particular document that had secured legal access. Getting any additional information about a specific easement would’ve required a review of the hard-copy files stored in the field office’s records.

For the past few years, I’ve kept that email with the scanned maps as a reference whenever I head down to that part of Montana, which has plenty of unimproved, unsigned roads that appear as lines on the map, but don’t clearly indicate one way or another whether they can be used by hunters to cross private property.

A clipping from the scanned and annotated map shared by the BLM. The orange lines passing through the black circles represent sections of road accessible to the public via an easement, which is identified by the case file number in the center of the image.

 

A Better Way

Next time, however, I won’t need to visit the local BLM office or ask so much of busy agency personnel. With the BLM’s new Public Land Access Web App, I can simply zoom in on the part of the state I’m interested in, and the routes offering public access across private land via easements are highlighted in yellow. When a user clicks on a highlighted segment, a pop-up offers additional details about the access agreement, including the relevant case file, the type of interest acquired by the BLM, and what type of access rights exist. That road segment, and any other segments to which the open easement info apply, changes to a bright green color.

The GIS layer underlying the web app was completed in October of last year. According to the BLM, it required a tremendous volume of research on the part of the agency’s realty specialists. Staff digitized 378 easement deeds and patent reservations from casefiles and records from the General Land Office, a now defunct federal agency that was something of a predecessor to the BLM. Many of these easements date back decades, and over time they collectively established public access to more than 2.8 million acres of public lands. Now in a digital format, these records can be used more easily by the public as well as the agency itself, particularly in management and acquisition decisions that would impact access. This layer was something of a pilot project for the BLM, which, like other public land agencies, has been working to modernize its access records with limited resources dedicated to this priority. The agency is now working to expand the Web App and access layer to include additional Western states.

The same location as the map above. When a visitor to the Web App clicks on a segment of an existing road easement, the relevant information (including case file number, as above) appears in a pop-up box.

 

The Future of Access

Here’s where the MAPLand Act comes in. The Modernizing Access to Our Public Lands Act, S. 904, would provide agencies like the BLM, Forest Service, and National Parks Service with the direction and funding to establish and make publicly available the type of detailed, digital access records like those now available through the BLM Montana/Dakotas Public Land Access Web App. Not only would this include easements, which in most places are only held on paper files, but all sorts of other map-based recreational information. Such records would include information about legal easements and rights-of-way that provide public land access across private land; seasonal or vehicle-type restrictions on public roads and trails; boundaries of areas where any special rules or prohibitions apply to activities like target shooting or hunting; and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or subject to horsepower restrictions. 

Most importantly, in a digitized format this information would be available to the public in an easy-to-find and easy-to-use interface. Whether in the field on your smartphone or planning your next public land adventure from home, a click of the mouse or a tap of your finger could bring up exactly what you need to know in order to stay legal and safe on your hunting or fishing trip. In addition to helping you take full advantage of existing opportunities, the agencies themselves would benefit from these resources by more effectively managing their holdings, reducing user conflict, identifying public lands with limited or nonexistent access, and taking proactive steps to expand recreational opportunities. 

The reintroduction of the MAPLand Act in the Senate last week should be welcome news for sportsmen and sportswomen. A modern mapping system to serve the growing numbers of outdoor recreators is a long-overdue, common-sense investment. It is critical that lawmakers hear your voice on this issue.  

TAKE ACTION NOW

 

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.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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