Celebrating Achievements of the D.C. Champions of Sportsmen, Conservation, and Wildlife

At TRCP’s seventh annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner last week, we proudly honored lifelong conservation leader Dr. Steven A. Williams, Senator Lamar Alexander, and Senator Patty Murray for their lasting commitment to real on-the-ground results for sportsmen. The gala event, held at the historic Decatur House, brought together policy makers, conservation advocates, and outdoor industry leaders.

Image courtesy of Kristi Odom Photography.

Williams received TRCP’s 2015 Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award for expanding access to sportsmen, addressing climate change, allowing science to guide management, and championing conservation funding throughout his career. He is currently the president of the Wildlife Management Institute and formerly served as director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under President George W. Bush. Williams also held leadership positions with wildlife agencies in Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. “Steve has become the moral compass of the hunting conservation community, a role we hope he won’t relinquish anytime soon,” said TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh in his opening statements last night.

Williams said he’d like to share the honor with the hundreds of collaborators he’s had in more than 30 years of wildlife conservation efforts. “No one gets anything like this done alone, so this award also belongs to them,” he said. “The people in this profession are like family, and it isn’t hard to see why. We all care about the future and where it intersects with nature.”

Sen. Alexander and Sen. Murray were presented with the 2015 James D. Range Conservation Award—named for TRCP’s co-founder and conservation visionary—for their dedication to protecting what sportsmen value in Congress.

Image courtesy of Kristi Odom Photography.

Alexander said that part of his job is “reminding our country how much the great outdoors is a part of our American character. Egypt has its pyramids, Italy has its art, and we have the great outdoors.” The third-term senator grew up hunting and fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Indicative of his unrepentant support of conservation, Alexanderbucked 51 of his colleagues to oppose an amendment endorsing the sale of our public lands, during the recent budget resolution process. His award was presented by Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho.

Sen. Murray was the driving force behind last session’s budget deal that ended sequestration and reinvested in conservation, an achievement lauded by Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who presented her award. “Patty Murray was able to forge real, lasting bipartisan compromises to make sure we didn’t give short shrift to all those things we care about as sportsmen.” Murray spoke about her love of salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest and the need to renew our efforts for conservation funding. “I’ll keep pushing for robust funding and to keep conservation and sportsmen’s access a top priority, so our children and grandchildren will have the same opportunities I’ve had to fish these unique, beautiful places,” she said.

View more photos from the evening, courtesy of Kristi Odom Photography.

Learn more about the TRCP’s Capitol Conservation Awards.

Snapshot of Success: Toledo, Ohio

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Here is lesson eight from Toledo, Ohio:

Healthy Water from Healthy Wetlands: Howard Farms Ohio Coastal Restoration Project

It’s ambitious, but we know this is 100% doable and will have fantastic benefits.

Image courtesy of USACE.

Mistakes of the past reached a boiling point in the summer of 2014 in Toledo, Ohio, where residents were warned against drinking and even bathing in local tap water.

Bright green algae bloomed across Lake Erie, fed by phosphorous- and nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff—causing extremely high levels of microcystin (which can damage the liver) in the water supply. Toxins in the water supply were so bad that fish were dying.

The incident highlights the importance of the Howard Farms Coastal Restoration Project, which is transforming nearly 1,000 acres of farmland along Lake Erie back into its original wetland habitat. The efforts will result in restoring a natural filter for polluted water.

The Challenge

More than 75 years ago, in an effort to cultivate new cropland, the Howard Farms property was drained, ditched, and disconnected from Lake Erie by levees.

As a result, twenty-eight species of fish could no longer spawn there, an important creek channel disappeared, and hundreds of acres of wetland habitat vanished along with their natural ability to cleanse water before it reached Lake Erie.

The Solution

To tackle the problem, Ducks Unlimited and local stakeholders turned to grant funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to restore the property back to its former wetland habitat. Metroparks of the Toledo Area (the local parks agency) previously had bought Howard Farms with the idea of restoring habitat and transforming the agricultural land into a world-class metropark.

What Will Restoration Look Like?

Image courtesy of Russ Terry, Ducks Unlimited.

The project will hydrologically reconnect the property to Lake Erie and restore several hundred acres of coastal emergent wetlands and nearly 7,500 feet of the historic Cedar Creek riverbed. The 28 species of fish now suffering from habitat loss will soon benefit from the restoration, which will make it possible for them to once again migrate from Lake Erie into the wetlands for spawning.

A key part of this project will be installing boardwalks around the land, opening up the wetlands to hunting, fishing and birding. The Toledo area is one of the most popular birding spots in the country, and the Howard Farms restoration project will bring back new opportunity for birders across the country.

What’s Next?

The project’s $2.8 million in grants from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will be pooled with $1 million from the Ohio Division of Wildlife and an additional $5 million from Metroparks. The plan is to finish designs and hire contractors in early 2015. Habitat restoration and installation of the recreational use amenities will run into 2016.

Big decision for a small gamebird

As 11 Western states anxiously await the end of September, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to list the range-wide population of greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), good news has emerged from Nevada and California. Today, the agency determined that a smaller population of the majestic western gamebird isolated to these two states was not warranted for listing under the ESA, indicating that, with concerted conservation efforts, a federal listing may be avoided.

Image courtesy of Jeannie Stafford/USFWS.

The decision comes after months of proactively planning a combination of regulatory and voluntary measures on federal, state, and private land to assure the birds’ future. “Today’s decision is great news for this population of sage-grouse and all the stakeholders who rolled up their sleeves and demonstrated that the states can work with the federal government to achieve a positive outcome,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We’re poised to get the same result for the remaining populations of sage-grouse, if we stay the course and don’t back away from strong conservation efforts that will benefit allsagebrush-dependent species.”

The Service must decide whether to list the broader, range-wide population by September 30, 2015. Sagebrush ecosystems that support sage-grouse are also critically important to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including mule deer, pronghorns, and elk.

“The same regulatory assurances and proactive voluntary measures that have helped prevent the listing of this bi-state population are exactly what we need in the rest of the sage-grouse’s range,” says Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Ultimately, the decision to list the range-wide population will end up in a federal court, and unless the state and BLM plans and assurances can be defended by the Service, a judge may rule that the sage-grouse must be listed,” Williams adds.

Nearly half of the nation’s remaining sagebrush habitat lies on federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and conservation measures in that agency’s new resource management plans will likely carry a lot of weight in the September 2015 decision. Private and state lands, however, are also vital to the birds’ future, and the ESA listing decision will hinge on strong state conservation plans.

“Governors simply cannot take their foot off the gas now,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “They must finalize solid plans for their states and support federal plans in order to avoid a listing later this fall. We need their leadership to embrace change, conservation, and a newly defined future for sagebrush ecosystems.”

Policy makers in Washington enacted a rider in the recently passed budget bill stating that FWS cannot “write or issue” listing rules for four grouse species, and new bills are being developed to propose delaying a listing decision by 6 to 10 years. “Politicians seeking to drag out the September 2015 deadline for listing greater sage-grouse were sent a strong message today—putting in the hard work now will pay off in the long run,” says Fosburgh. “The necessary assurances for state and federal plans don’t require 6 to 10 years to result in a positive outcome. By buckling down, stakeholders in California and Nevada have shown us a path forward for the rest of the western states.”

Snapshot of Success: Syracuse, New York

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Here is lesson seven from Syracuse, New York:

“Freaks” Breathe New Life Into Beartrap Creek: The Beartrap Creek Restoration Project

Image courtesy of Central New York Chapter of Izaak Walton League.

It all started 25 years ago when retired chemist Les Monostory discovered an unusual problem in Syracuse’s Beartrap Creek. While testing water as a volunteer with the Central New York Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, Monostory found extreme levels of chemical glycol in the water. The glycol depleted the water’s oxygen and suffocated fish. In fact, the water quality was so bad only bacteria could survive. After months of regular testing, Monostory traced the glycol contamination to de-icing fluid runoff from the nearby Syracuse Hancock International Airport.

Monostory’s discovery turned into a passion to clean up the filthy Beartrap Creek, a critical tributary to Lake Onondaga that formerly supported a healthy trout population.
“It’s not just a matter of cleaning up an eyesore in our community, it’s a matter of doing our part to clean the river in order for fish to survive and use it,” Monostory says. “That’s our responsibility and we’re proud to live up to it.”

Image courtesy of Central New York Chapter of Izaak Walton League.

Joined by volunteers of self-described “creek freaks” and armed with federal grant funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Izaak Walton League created the Beartrap Creek Restoration Project. Volunteers from the local Izaak Walton Chapter decided to adopt Beartrap Creek as their primary stream restoration project, and cleaned out trash and debris by enlisting support fromlocal town and county officials.

What Happened

Monostory’s discovery forced Hancock International Airport to install a facility to treat de-icing fluid runoff onsite. Still not satisfied with cleanup efforts, Monostory and his fellow Creek Freaks went to work rehabilitating the creek and its water. They stopped local snowplows from their practice of shoving dirty piles of snow into the creek, which littered the area with debris. They got volunteers with heavy equipment to rebuild entire sections of the creek bottom and trout spawning beds. Today, brown trout are migrating to Onondaga Lake through Beartrap Creek for the first time in more than two decades.

What’s Next

The local Izaak Walton League plans to use what’s left of its original federal grant to begin the second phase of the project in the summer of 2015. This phase will add additional habitat improvement structures along the lower Mattydale section of Beartrap Creek.

Snapshot of Success: Cascade County, Montana

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Here is lesson six from Cascade County, Montana:

Building Trust With a Smart Solution in Montana: Improving Fort Shaw Irrigation District Water Efficiency

Image courtesy of Sun River Watershed Group.

The most valuabletreasureinthe famed Treasure State doesn’t come from any mine.

“Water is liquid gold,” says Laura Ziemer of Trout Unlimited in Montana. “It’s a scarce resource we cannot live without, and we overcame our disagreements to protect it.”

Ziemer is referring to a unique partnership that uses federal WaterSMART dollars to rehabilitate irrigation infrastructure and water use along the Sun River.

The Challenge

For years, agricultural pollution and erosion along the Sun River bred animosity and mistrust among local landowners, irrigators and ranchers. As tensions neared a tipping point, stakeholders instead turned their attention away from each other and toward a much more formidable enemy: water scarcity.

Image courtesy of Sun River Watershed Group.

The new partnership to improve water usage along the Sun River began as the Muddy Creek Task Force. Members took on the challenge of restoring the polluted Muddy Creek, which dumped millions of tons of sediment into the Sun River. The Task Force eventually became the Sun River Watershed Group, a group of locals who laid the foundation for dealing with water rights issues, improving fish habitat and restoring water flow. Today, the Sun River Watershed Group provides an open forum to discuss conservation, resources and information about land management and voluntary conservation projects.

With funding from the WaterSMART program and the Coca-Cola Company, Trout Unlimited and local ranchers and landowners worked together to successfully rebuild irrigation systems, increasing water flow and restoring native fish habitat in the Sun River.

How It Worked

Two WaterSMART grants awarded in 2012 and 2013, combined with state, local and private funding and in-kind contributions, funded the program to improve habitat for wild trout and improve irrigation—especially during times of drought. The grants helped pay for:

  • A new bypass canal and pipe for water delivery
  • 2,000 feet of new lined canal and 2,310 feet of PVC pipe
  • Efficient new center-pivot irrigation systems
As a result, almost 10,000 acre-feet of conserved irrigation water will be protected and managed each year to restore flows to the Sun River for the life of the project.

What’s Next

Project leaders hope the Sun River project will serve a model for the restoration of other river basins. The significant size of the project, which involved 177 individual users, will be used as a template for even larger multi-user areas.

Snapshot of Success: Copiah County, Mississippi

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Here is lesson five from Copiah County, Mississippi:

Private Landowners Protecting a Threatened Species: The Bayoe Pierre River Restoration Project

Mississippi’s Bayou Pierre River is the only place on earth where you’ll find the threatened Bayou darter, a fish no bigger than your little finger, zipping through shallow water along a fragile, gravelly riverbed. But history has taken its toll on the Bayou darter.

Image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Bayou darter was listed as threatened in 1975 because mining operations and poor agricultural practices were hurting the species.

Through a robust education campaign and federal investment from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, conservationists and landowners are rebuilding healthy habitats.

The Problem

Erosion along the Bayou Pierre River and high water create headcuts and steep riverbanks which collapse and crumble into the water, covering fragile darter spawning beds with suffocating topsoil and silt. The problem is compounded by decades of poor management decisions related to gravel mining and livestock raising along the river.

The Solution

That’s where innovative leadership comes in. With federal funding, the American Sportfishing Association, through its FishAmerica Foundation, is working directly with people who own land next to the river.

Image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Federal investment in boots-on-the-ground work goes a long way in a project like this,” says Robert Harris, a private landowner in Copiah County who is partnering with FWS to complete this project. “We are stewards of the land and water and we have a responsibility to the species that for too long have been overlooked. We’re making good progress now and we will continue to rely on responsible federal investment.”

A recent grant from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program will allow for the installation of water control structures, fencing to keep cattle away from spawning grounds, and even the planting of cottonwood trees along the riverbank—which help stabilize the fragile riparian habitat.
This work is paying off. The latest review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggests populations of the Bayou darter appear to be stable in the lower part of the Bayou Pierre River. But biologists are still concerned about populations in the river’s upper and middle stretches.

What’s Next

Thanks to the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the American Sportfishing Association and cooperative landowners, conservation work will be completed in the summer of 2015. Stakeholders will continue to monitor success.

Five Years Later: What You May Not Know About the Post-Spill Gulf Coast

In anticipation of the five-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on April 20, as well as the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership invited a small group of local outdoor writers to Buras, Louisiana, in late March, to discuss the ongoing and lasting effects of both disasters on habitat. Buras, located near the mouth of the Mississippi River, took a direct hit from Katrina, which flooded the small town with more than 20 feet of storm surge and washed away thousands of acres of wetlands on both the east and west sides of the river. Five years later, oil coated many of the samebays, barrierislands and marshes, worsening habitat loss and jeopardizing the health and sustainability of the area’s fisheries.

Image courtesy of Louisiana Sportsman.

The group met with Chris Macaluso, the director of TRCP’s Center for Marine Fisheries and a lifelong Gulf Coast angler, as well as fisheries experts and local guides, to get a firsthand view of the post-spill state of Louisiana’s marine fishery. While all who attended are life-long Louisiana outdoorsmen, seeing the power of Mississippi River waters and sediment to heal and sustain coastal marshes seemed to be aneye opening experience for all. You may be surprised by what they learned.

Coastal Contrasts

“The presentation by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority on current and proposed projects, the potential for “buckets” of money to go into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, and what those dollars might be used for, really was an eye-opening experience for me. These are things that most of the general public is probably not aware of right now.

The tour on the east side of the river was incredible. To see firsthand the stark difference between the two habitats, and get the opportunity to ride by the terraces and see actual land that has been created—despite what opponents might argue—was a powerful testament to what role diversions could play in the state’s coastal restoration plan.

It really gave me hope that something might actually work in the long term to get the coast back on the right track.”

—Patrick Bonin, Louisiana Sportsman Magazine

Read Bonin’s story on the land being created by sediment diversions.

What’s New on the Bayou

“I cannot state in strong enough terms how valuable the TRCP media event held out of Buras the last week of March was. Although my job has me in the Louisiana marsh regularly, it was enlightening to examine our state’s wetlands with experts, who could point out examples of both marsh growth and degradation, and the reasons for each. I left with a new appreciation for the value of sediment diversions and, actually, a lot of hope for the future of the Bayou State.” 

—Todd Masson, Outdoors Editor, New Orleans Times Picayune and NOLA.com

Watch Masson’s videos on the success of sediment diversions, new growth on the east side of Plaquemines Parish, and the spring speckled trout catch.

The Way We Were

“So much has happened here in our lifetime. No one seeing southern Louisiana for the first time can understand the amount of land loss, changes in habitat, or siltation that has occurred here since the 1930s. It is my desire to keep this in everyone’s mind. I have been filming in the areas around Buras for seven years. In the beginning, we would film redfish and speckled trout shows on the west side of the river, but we haven’t done that in the last 5 years. Why? There isn’t a large enough concentration of fish on that side of the river to make it worth our while. Now, it’s almost all open water and very little habitat.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

On the other hand, filming on the east side of the river is a piece of cake. We caught and filmed largemouth bass, speckled trout and redfish in an area that’s exposed to Mississippi river water, pouring through gaps in the levee, full of silt and nutrients. When the river is high in the springtime it is hard to see how much land has been built in recent years. In the fall and winter, when we film the duck hunting season, the river is low and the tides are even lower. That’s when the new land can be seen for miles. Two weeks ago I jumped out of the boat and walked on hard ground, to film some wild iris growing in the marsh. If I remember, about 5 or 6 years ago, that spot was nothing but water and mud.

What we do today is going to be for our children and grandchildren. To save or rebuild our coastal areas could take hundreds of years, but if we do nothing we should all be prepared to move north.”

—Gary Krouse, Videographer, N-Line Production

Watch Krouse’s video for TRCP.

Specs on Specks

“The important part of this excursion to the east and west sides of the Mississippi River near Buras was to show the extent of the subsidence on the Mississippi River delta and the lack of sediment flow into the marshes. The east side is flourishing due to natural diversions. The west side of the Mississippi River is starved of sediment by levee projects during the last 100 years. This starvation process has also allowed the effects of the April 2010 BP-Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to linger, if only because there’s no freshwater sources to cleanse this area, from the Yellow Cotton Bay throughout the Barataria estuary.

I’ve interviewed charter boat operators from the Mississippi River delta area and the Lafitte, Leeville, and Grand Isle areas, and there has been a noticeable decline in speckled trout catches during the last three years and a decided decline in the catches of minnows for live-bait use in the Barataria estuary.”

—Joe Macaluso, Outdoors Editor, The Advocate in Baton Rouge

Read Macaluso’s reports on the current effects of the spill, building marshes the natural way, and Mississippi River sedimentation, and watch his videos on where coastal conservations projects stand and how natural diversions are helping.

Five Years Later: Oil Spill Penalties Are No Anniversary Gift—But They Can Have Benefits

A Gulf Coast angler and fisheries conservationist reflects on the days following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—and the ongoing recovery efforts.

A longtime charter captain and friend, Darryl Carpenter, called me from Grand Isle at about noon on Tuesday, April 21, 2010. I was sitting at my desk at the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. It’s a conversation I will never forget.

“That rig explosion last night is very, very bad,” he said. “I heard they can’t find some of the crew and the rest have been brought back to Fourchon. The rig is still on fire and there’s oil all over the water. What have you guys heard?”

The truth was, despite my office’s firm grasp on the happenings along Louisiana’s coast, we didn’t know much at that point about the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform about 50 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico. I only knew what I’d read on some oil and gas trade websites and the little information that had trickled in from some local news reports and the Associated Press.

“I can say now that I had absolutely no idea of the scale of the accident or the amount of oil bellowing out of an unchecked drill pipe a mile below the Gulf’s surface—none of us did.”

The phone rang steadily all that day. Some calls were from charter captains and fellow fishermen, wanting to know if I had any “inside” information. A handful were from reporters, asking what our agency was prepared to do. I was the media relations director, so I should have known, but how could I? Our agency built wetlands and levees; we didn’t fight oil rig fires. We didn’t contain oil spills. The oil spill coordinator’s office should have those answers, I thought. I truly hoped it did.

Image courtesy of Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

By Thursday, the trickle of calls from reporters had become a flood. The next day, I reported to the state’s emergency operations headquarters, along with media relations staff from agencies for environmental quality, natural resources, wildlife and fisheries, and health and hospitals. It was like a family reunion when all of us trudged into a windowless 12-by-12-foot room, sparsely appointed with folding tables and chairs, a couple of TVsets, and about two dozen telephones. We had all worked shoulder-to-shoulder in similar quarters just 18 months before, when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike bared down on Louisiana’s coast, flooding towns from one end of the state to the other. Sadly, Louisiana had become well-seasoned in dealing with extreme weather, having endured and already started to recover from Katrina’s and Rita’s destruction in 2005.

The oil spill was much different. There was no end in sight. No way of predicting when the end would come or when the recovery would begin.

“We had no idea how long we’d be in that room. I suspected it would be more than a week, maybe more than a month.”

For 97 of the next 100 days, I sat there, sometimes 18 hours a day, answering the phone, writing situation reports, and poring over thousands of photographs to try and determine what we were seeing. On my three days off, I went fishing. I thought about how much I wanted to be fishing on every single one of the other 97 days and wondered where I would even be able to go. I wished I could do something on the water to combat the spill. Even if there was nothing I could do, I wanted to be anywhere but that room.

Image courtesy of Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Innumerable calls came in from reporters around the world. They wanted to know howmuch marsh would die, how many fish were being killed, and what Louisiana was doing to stop the threat. Charter captains, desperate for information or looking to work on the cleanup effort, asked if I could help. Friends who were unable to access their favorite waters called to ask where they could go. I could answer some of these questions, but on some days I was ordered not to.

Having fished many of the areas the spill was threatening, I could identify each of the islands and shorelines in the volumes of photographs coming in. Three weeks after the rig exploded, the first tar balls, looking like melted candy bars, arrived on Louisiana’s beaches. A week later, images of oil-covered birds on Grand Terre Island, including Louisiana’s iconic brown pelican, were sent to me. I had fished that very same beach less than a year before. I was sick at the sight of it, and many other beaches, coated in thick, black or rust-colored crude.

Image courtesy of Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

At the time, I also hosted a weekly hunting and fishing radio show. On a Thursday night in early June, I passionately conveyed my disgust to my listeners. I told them that our communities didn’t deserve this. I said that the Gulf of Mexico, its fish, fishermen, beaches, and birds didn’t deserve this either. Oil and gas has played a vital economic role in my state for the better part of a century, and the industry provides jobs for our people. Louisianans have also taken a lot of pride in supplying the nation with domestic energy. Oil and gas has given a lot in revenue and job security, but taken a lot as well, by carving up coastal wetlands with canals. Still, we had a level of trust with that industry that was shattered by BP’s negligence. It took 11 workers from their families, cost Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf access to its precious waters, worsened what was already tremendous coastal habitat loss, and jeopardized the future of the region’s fisheries and wildlife.

This was not fair. It should not have happened, and we must insist that it never happens again.

The future of the Gulf’s habitat and fish is still uncertain exactly five years later. Since 2010, we’ve had fat and lean years. In 2011 and 2012, the speckled trout fishing was incredible. In 2013 and 2014, it was not. We had an abnormally cold winter in 2013. Absent the spill, that could have easily been the culprit. Because of the spill, there’s an ever-present suspicion that it’s not weather’s fault alone.

Beaches are still oiled. More than 10 tons of tar was removed from East Grand Terre Island just a few weeks ago. Contrary to BP’s assertion that the Gulf is returning to normal, 10 tons of tar on a beach that I fish is not normal.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

It’s hard to draw a positive from the nation’s largest ecological disaster. But, the Gulf was far from a pristine ecosystem before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, and the spill attracted attention to that fact. Sportsmen and the environmental community, often at odds, were united around the common goal of making sure habitat, science, wildlife, fish, and anglers would be priorities in the recovery effort. That unity helped motivate Congress to pass the Restore Act in June 2012—a landmark bill that directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties to the Gulf, to help restore ecosystems and economies. In all, more than $15 billion could be available from Restore and other recovery funds.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has worked with the Center for Coastal Conservation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the American Sportfishing Association, The Nature Conservancy, and many others to identify and advance priority habitat and fisheries sustainability projects that should receive oil spill recovery dollars.

Broadly, these priorities were identified in a 2013 report, “Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries: Recommendations for Restoration, Recovery, and Sustainability.” Specifically, we identified 25 projects all across the Gulf that can help get habitat, fisheries data collection, and access to quality fishing opportunities on the right track.

It’s a good first step, but the reality is that the process of recovery has only just begun. It is imperative for sportsmen to remain highly involved and engaged in ensuring fish habitat and fishing are a priority for those deciding how to spend the money.

“If we can do that, we should see achievements—rather than wish lists—for improved habitat, better science, and more sustainable fishing, by the tenth anniversary of the spill.”

Ultimately, the penalties against BP for its gross negligence must be painful enough to ensure that my state and my fellow Gulf anglers never have to experience another spill like the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Though nothing will ever fully compensate the Gulf’s fishermen—or its fish and wildlife—for what the spill took away, it is possible to make a good down payment on a productive and healthy fishery using the penalties.

The danger now is in complacency. I try to remind myself of the uncertainty—and my disgust—in the days following the spill, and of the hope I found in fishing. This was not fair. It should not have happened, and we must insist that it never happens again.

Sportsmen to Congress: We Won’t Stand Idly By if You Sell off our Public Lands

Photo courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

More than 100 hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Trout Unlimited, Dallas Safari Club, Pope & Young Club, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, and more than 80 state-based groups, have released a letter to local and national decision-makers opposing the sale or transfer of federally-managed public lands. Recipients include House members meeting Wednesday, April 15, to discuss federal land acquisition, and its impacts on communities and the environment, and Senators who recently passed a budget resolution that could encourage the sale or transfer of public lands.

“We’re calling on lawmakers to end this conversation now,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO, whose recent blog post addressed the Senate amendment, which passed 51-49 on March 26. “Nothing galvanizes sportsmen like the loss of access for hunting and fishing, and continuing to indulge this controversial idea is keeping us from the real task of managing our public lands.”

America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands—including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands—provide hunting and fishing opportunities to millions of sportsmen and women. Since late last year, efforts to wrest public lands from the federal government and put them under state ownership have been matched by the unanimous outcry of sportsmen across the country. “Decision-makers need to know what they are stepping into,” says Joel Webster, director of western public lands for the TRCP. “Over 72% of western hunters depend on public lands for access, and sportsmen are not going to stand idly by as they’re sold away.”

Sportsmen from across the West are speaking out on this pivotal issue:

  • In Arizona: “Can you imagine driving up to the Kaibab National Forest, home to world-class elk and mule deer habitat, only to be greeted by ‘road closed’ signs, indicating that the new uranium company owners have prohibited entry?” asks Tom Mackin, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation. “Such a scenario absolutely could occur if the transfer of public lands gives Arizona the opportunity to sell or lease this former National Forest to the highest bidder.”
  • In Colorado: “Desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep rely almost exclusively on federally managed public lands for habitat,” says Terry Meyers, president of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society. “It’s hard to imagine any good coming from the sale or transfer of these lands, especially for a sensitive species like bighorns.”
  • In Idaho: “Almost every Idaho hunter and fisherman relies on public lands for their recreation, whether they’re pursuing elk in the Lemhis, mule deer near Bear Lake, chukars in the Owyhees, or steelhead on the Clearwater,” says Tad Sherman, president of the Idaho State Bowhunters, which, with its affiliated clubs, represents more than 5,000 Idaho sportsmen. “Idaho without public lands is not the Idaho that should be passed on to future generations. It’s time to end the discussion of transferring or selling America’s public lands legacy.
  • In Montana: “Decision makers are toying with our Western way of life,” says Tony Jones, president of Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association. “Sportsmen see those who want to take away our public lands no differently than those who want to take away our guns. This bad idea will not be tolerated.”
  • In Nevada: “I choose to live in Nevada specifically to enjoy access to its vast unspoiled public lands that are at the very heart of our Western heritage and way of life,” says Larry Johnson, president of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife. “If transferred to the state, Nevada would go bankrupt trying to manage these lands without selling off the best. This would seriously impact all of us who thrive on outdoor recreation.”  •
  • In Oregon: “The loss of access to public lands has a negative effect on Oregon’s $2.5-billion outdoor industry, one that is a leader in Oregon’s economy,” says Ty Stubblefield, field administrator for Oregon Hunters Association. “We simply cannot afford to lose our public lands.”
  • In Utah: “Here and throughout the western states, federal public lands are the lifeblood of our American sporting traditions,” says Ernie Perkins with the Utah Chukar and Wildlife Foundation. “The proposal to transfer or sell these lands has to be one of the worst ideas to surface in America in my lifetime.”
  • In Wyoming: “The move by some of our decision makers to transfer or sell off federal public lands is an insult to the birthright of all Americans,” says Josh Coursey, president and CEO of the Muley Fanatics Foundation. “Not only do Wyoming’s public lands, like the Shoshone National Forest, provide suitable habitat for fish and wildlife and critical access for sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts, but these places also provide economic balance to local communities, where visitors pour in to spend time hunting for elk, fishing our blue-ribbon trout streams, or simply enjoying wildlife in these splendid places.”

Read the letter to lawmakers here.

If you agree with our message, please visit sportsmensaccess.org and sign the petition or share the website through your social media channels.

A New Affront to Clean Water Protections Brewing in the House

Tomorrow, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will vote on recently-introduced legislation from Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) that will harm our ability to protect coldwater fisheries, indispensable waterfowl habitat, and drinking water for one in three Americans. If this legislation becomes law, it will derail a deliberative rulemaking effort that’s been nearly 15 years in the making.

Photo courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

Hunters and anglers everywhere are counting on this rule to clarify Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and headwater streams. Over 200 hunting, fishing, and sporting groups from across the country have said that the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers need to take action to better protect America’s wetlands and headwater streams.

Efforts to derail the rulemaking at this point will do a major disservice to the hunters, anglers, farmers, and business owners who have submitted more than one million comments in order to improve a version of the rule proposed in March 2014. The EPA and Army Corps have said that these comments have made a definite impact on their clearer and more predictable final rule, and Congress should reserve their judgment until we can evaluate this impact.

Delays caused by Rep. Shuster’s bill are unnecessary. Confusion around jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act can be traced back 15 years but, since then, legal issues have been hashed out, the science has been analyzed, peer-reviewed, and compiled, and the public and key stakeholders have weighed in. Simply put, the agencies have all the information they need to make an informed decision. Let’s not kick the can down the road any further.

This is the best chance we have to clarify the Clean Water Act, and sportsmen should urge their legislators to vote against this bill.