The TRCP’s 4th Annual Saltwater Media Summit: Day Two

This week, more than 50 journalists, policy makers, conservation experts, and business leaders will gather in Cape Coral, Florida, for the TRCP’s fourth annual Saltwater Media Summit. At this yearly meeting of the best and brightest in marine fisheries conservation and sportfishing, we will be focusing on habitat restoration in the Everglades, the recovery of Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and saltwater recreational fisheries policy, including the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Check in throughout the week for updates on the summit, background information on these key marine policy issues and plenty of fishing photos.

Thursday morning, Oct. 23

Well before dawn, more than three dozen attendees from the TRCP Saltwater Media Summit headed to the hotel’s Tarpon Point Marina for a morning of fishing. As the first threads of blue sky cracked the horizon, a fleet of small boats carried the fishermen to fishing spots near Pine Island and Sanibel Island and along the Caloosahatchee River. After four hours of fishing under blue skies, 78-degree weather and a brisk wind, the summit attendees returned. The morning’s haul included several snook over 24 inches, flounder, trout and snapper.

TRCP’s Geoff Mullins found this nice snook.

 

TRCP’s Geoff Mullin takes a breather after catching a large snook.

 

TRCP’s Brian Clow examines his snook with charter Captain John Conway. Clow snagged his fish a few hundred yards from the hotel.

 

Twenty minutes after the break of dawn, fishermen from TRCP’s Saltwater Media Summit already had their lines in the water.

 

Thursday afternoon, Oct. 23

Following a morning of fishing, TRCP Saltwater Media Summit attendees listened to panels devoted to the restoration of the Everglades and the funding of Florida’s fish and wildlife habitat management. Luncheon speaker Sen. Bill Nelson talked extensively about his love of the recreational opportunities that abound in Floridian waters.

“We’re blessed here with the abundance of nature,” Nelson said. “It keeps us alive and helps us enjoy a good quality of life. Theodore Roosevelt’s words come to life when you take your children fishing and they feel the excitement of the tug of a fish. That’s why we need to do a better job protecting our natural resources.” The senator called the TRCP “a prestigious organization” and urged journalists in the room to educate the public and politicians about important conversation issues impacting Florida’s economy.

Panel: Everglades Restoration Policy: State and Federal Perspectives

Sen. Bill Nelson called the restoration of the Everglades “a multigenerational effort.”

 

Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army – Civil Works: “It’s great to be here and look at the ongoing efforts at restoration. I’ve had the privilege of going to the ground-breaking ceremonies for several of the projects.”

 

Col. Alan M. Dodd, Army Corps of Engineers: “How do we protect the water for 7 million people who depend on it for drinking?”

 

Doc Kokol, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: “Pythons are hard to manage even when you catch them. And a bounty system does not work.”

 

Dane Eagle, Florida House of Representatives: “The No. 1 issue that I hear about from my constituency [southwest Florida] is water quality.”

 

Panel: Funding the Management and Conversation of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Habitat

Terry Gibson, Senior Editor, Fly & Light Tackle Angler: “We should be finding kids who like fishing in college and help them enter a career in politics.”

 

Ray Judah, Coordinator, Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition: “I’ve been shouting from the roof to try to educate the people of Florida about good stewardship. The cavalry is on the way but it’s not the Florida legislature.”

 

Thursday night, October 23, Bass Pro Shops, Islamorada Fish Co.

Matt Draper (left), GAFF Magazine, Katie McKalip, TRCP, and Matt Miller, The Nature Conservancy, pause for a photo opportunity before entering Bass Pro Shops for the Salt Water Summit’s second dinner. After a buffet dinner, Rae Waddell, Director of the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network spoke. She was followed by shark researcher Chris Fischer.

 

Chris Fischer, OCEARCH Expedition Leader and Founding Chairman: “People are so unplugged when it comes to knowing what’s going on with the oceans. My mission is to plug them back in,” he affirmed. Fischer criticized the needless slaughter of sharks, which he pegged at 250,000 a day. “Sharks are the lions of the ocean,” he said. “They are the balance keepers.”

Learn more about our fourth annual Saltwater Media Summit here, catch the day one recap here, our photo gallery from our fishing outing here, and keep checking in for updates throughout the rest of the week.

The TRCP’s 4th Annual Saltwater Media Summit: Fishing Report

This week, more than 50 journalists, policy makers, conservation experts, and business leaders will gather in Cape Coral, Florida, for the TRCP’s fourth annual Saltwater Media Summit. At this yearly meeting of the best and brightest in marine fisheries conservation and sportfishing, we will be focusing on habitat restoration in the Everglades, the recovery of Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and saltwater recreational fisheries policy, including the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Check in throughout the week for updates on the summit, background information on these key marine policy issues and plenty of fishing photos.

Photo recap of Day Two fishing:

Morning on the water at the TRCP Saltwater Media Summit.

 

TRCP’s Geoff Mullins found this nice snook.

 

Powered by Yamaha.

 

Moha Bensofia of FishBrain with his morning catch.

 

Beautiful morning on the water near Cape Coral, Florida.

 

Ben Holtzclaw of Fishtrack getting down to business.

 

Chris Fischer with OCEARCH (left), Sue Cocking with the Miami Herald and Capt. Gary heading to the honey hole.

 

Learn more about our fourth annual Saltwater Media Summit here, catch the day one recap here, and keep checking in for updates throughout the rest of the week.

The TRCP’s 4th Annual Saltwater Media Summit: Day One

This week, more than 50 journalists, policy makers, conservation experts, and business leaders will gather in Cape Coral, Florida, for the TRCP’s fourth annual Saltwater Media Summit. At this yearly meeting of the best and brightest in marine fisheries conservation and sportfishing, we will be focusing on habitat restoration in the Everglades, the recovery of Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and saltwater recreational fisheries policy, including the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Check in throughout the week for updates on the summit, background information on these key marine policy issues and plenty of fishing photos.

Whit Fosburgh, TRCP president and CEO.

Whit Fosburgh, TRCP president and CEO, welcomed attendees and guests to the TRCP Saltwater Media Summit to Florida’s Gulf Coast following an opening reception that was held outdoors despite threatening skies.

“The goal of the TRCP Saltwater Media Summit is to mix recreation and education,” said Fosburgh. “We want you to leave our 2014 gathering with a better understanding of the complex issues impacting saltwater recreational experiences.”

Eric Eikenberg, CEO, Evergrlades Foundation

The evening’s guest speaker was Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, who discussed the current state of the Everglades and efforts to restore and improve the habitat throughout south Florida. “Water is the new oil,” he affirmed. “We have to ensure that we have a good, clean supply.” Eikenberg noted that the Everglades supplied water to 8 million Floridians, nearly half the state’s population. “It must be protected,” he said.

Eikenberg talked at length about excess phosphorous that plagues Lake Okeechobee and the impact of that phosphorous on the Everglades. He cited figures estimating that the cost of a lake cleanup could top $15 billion.

 

More photos from Day One:

The Fort Myers area from the air.

 

Despite overcast skies and the threat of rain, a lively cocktail party was held on an outdoor terrace at the Westin Cape Coral Resort Hotel before the TRCP Saltwater Media Summit’s opening night dinner.

 

The Westin Cape Coral Resort Hotel, where the TRCP summit was held, is flanked by water.

Learn more about our fourth annual Saltwater Media Summit here and keep checking in for updates throughout the rest of the week.

The TRCP’s 4th Annual Saltwater Media Summit: Resources

This week, more than 50 journalists, policy makers, conservation experts, and business leaders will gather in Cape Coral, Florida, for the TRCP’s fourth annual Saltwater Media Summit.

At this yearly meeting of the best and brightest in marine fisheries conservation and sportfishing, we will be focusing on habitat restoration in the Everglades, the recovery of Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and saltwater recreational fisheries policy, including the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Check in throughout the week for updates on the summit, background information on these key marine policy issues and plenty of fishing photos.

Image of the Everglades. Photo courtesy of Esther Lee.

Interested in learning more about the TRCP’s 2014 Saltwater Media Summit? We’ve compiled some resources on the summit’s focal topics.

Everglades Restoration Policy

Progress of comprehensive everglades restoration plan – National Academy of Sciences

Background on the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir project – Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan

Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative

Background on the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 – Ballotpedia.org

Amendment 1 would commit state money to conservation – WTSP 10 News

Gulf of Mexico Habitat Restoration and Recovery

TRCP report on Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries – TRCP

BP carries most blame for Gulf of Mexico oil spill, judge rules – Nola.com

Background on Phase III early restoration projects – NOAA

Project list and report for Phase III early restoration projects – NOAA

Magnuson-Stevens Act

A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries – TRCP

Protecting recreational fishing in Louisiana – Nola.com

Getting fishing act together – Outdoor Channel

Recreational Fishing Policy

Share your opinion on National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries policy – NOAA

NOAA Fisheries commits to develop a national recreational fishing policy – Keep America Fishing

Learn more about our fourth annual Saltwater Media Summit here and keep checking in for updates throughout the rest of the week.

The TRCP’s 4th Annual Saltwater Media Summit: Preview

Image courtesy of Take Me Fishing.

Since 2003, TRCP Media Summits have brought together journalists, writers and other communicators with policy makers, conservation experts, business leaders and other partners for one purpose:  to educate America’s hunters and anglers on today’s most pressing conservation issues. Educating sportsmen is a critical component to effecting long-term policy changes. Though our summits may look far different today than the first one held around a fireplace in Craig, Montana, the spirit of camaraderie relationship-building, and passion for the resource continue as the common thread.  This week, we continue that rich tradition as we return to Florida once again from Wednesday, Oct. 22 to Friday, Oct. 24 for our fourth annual Saltwater Media Summit.

We will convene in Cape Coral, Florida, a setting that is particularly fitting for our summit agenda. To the west lies the Gulf of Mexico, a fishery that is still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill almost five years ago. To the east lies the greater Everglades ecosystem, one of the most important wetland complexes in the world and a vital ecosystem for hunters, anglers, and residents of Florida alike.

The Everglades. Photo courtesy of Esther Lee.

TRCP media summits topics are always informative and relevant – and we’ll be focusing on three main subject areas at the event: Everglades and Gulf of Mexico habitat and restoration, saltwater recreational fisheries policy, including the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. These issues can change forever our ability to fish and otherwise have quality saltwater recreation experiences in Florida and across the country.

This year’s attendees represent a diverse mix of leading news and outdoor publications including the Miami Herald, the Baton Rouge Advocate, Fly Fisherman magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. They will be joined by top policy makers such as U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, Sylvia Pelizza of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Russ Dunn of the NOAA Fisheries. Conservation and policy experts from the Everglades Foundation, the Harte Research Institute, The Nature Conservancy, the American Sportfishing Association and Berkley Conservation Institute will be present to inform the discussion and provide their insights.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

Of course, none of this would be possible without generous support of our corporate sponsors, especially our presenting sponsor the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and gold sponsors Bass Pro Shops and the Everglades Foundation. See the entire sponsor list here.

We’ll be covering our Saltwater Media Summit throughout the week.  Check back here for daily updates, fishing photos, policy insights and much more. You also can follow us on Facebook and Twitter or use the hashtag #TRCPsummit to find more information.

Get some background on the policy issues that we’ll be covering here.

Check out a recap of Day One here.

On its 42nd anniversary, the Clean Water Act has an identity crisis

On October 18, the Clean Water Act turns 42. When Congress passed the Act in 1972, it set a national goal to make all of our waters fishable and set a national policy that prohibits the dumping of toxic pollution into our waters.

If, like me, you were born after 1972, you’ve never lived in a world where America wasn’t committed to these noble ends. So it can be easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago that our rivers were so polluted they caught on fire and we were losing up to a half million acres of wetlands each year.

Despite its successes, for the last third of its lifetime, the Clean Water Act has had an identity crisis. That’s because two Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 and subsequent federal agency actions left us without a clear understanding of which bodies of water the Act protects.

It’s not clear, for example, whether headwater trout streams and salmon spawning grounds fall under the Clean Water Act. These types of waters make up 60 percent of the stream miles in America and contribute to the drinking water of 117 million Americans – that’s one out of every three of us.

It’s also not clear whether waterfowl habitat like that in the Prairie Pothole region of the upper Midwest makes the cut. These waters are the nesting grounds for the majority of waterfowl in North America.

This confusion has reversed some of the remarkable gains our nation has enjoyed as a result of the Act. Of particular importance for sportsmen is a stunning 140 percent increase in the rate of wetlands loss, which translates to the destruction of critical waterfowl habitat and decreased hunting opportunities – an impact that grows with each passing year.

Earlier this year the federal government started a public rulemaking to resolve the problem. This should not have been a controversial step. Stakeholders of all stripes – not to mention the Supreme Court – asked for just such a rulemaking.

Unfortunately, before the ink on the proposal was even dry, critics began spouting hyperbolic misinformation designed to undermine the very rulemaking that they had asked for. This criticism culminated in a bill supported by 262 congressmen that would kill the rulemaking. These congressmen have effectively buried their heads in the sand and agreed to perpetuate the confusion that hinders effective use of the Clean Water Act.

Everyone acknowledges there’s a problem with Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Instead of reflexively and obstinately standing in opposition, let’s use this once in a generation opportunity to come up with a solution. Hunters and anglers have engaged in the process from the beginning and universally stood on the side of problem solving.

A suitable Clean Water Act anniversary present would be for all of us to recommit to completing the process to clarify the Act, improving the proposed rule and finalizing a rule that provides clarity and certainty to the regulated community while conserving fish and wildlife and sustaining America’s outdoor traditions.

Act now!

BP ‘gross negligence’ means billions for the Gulf

Image by Louisiana GOHSEP.

The phrases “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct” were likely not given much thought by fishermen across the Gulf Coast before April 2010.

But, any angler who has followed the ongoing case being made by the Department of Justice against BP over the Deepwater Horizon spill certainly read the newspaper articles in early September littered with those two phrases. According to U.S District Judge Carl Barbier, who is presiding over the civil trial against the companies responsible for the largest oil spill in America’s history, BP committed a litany of negligent acts and used unsafe practices causing millions upon millions of barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf and subsequently across beaches, bays and marshes, some of which are oiled still.

How many millions are still to be determined by Barbier.  The Justice Department is making the case that 4.2 million barrels came through the bent drill pipe nearly one mile below the Gulf’s surface. BP, of course, says it’s responsible for about half that amount while maintaining the spill was a series of unfortunate accidents it had little control over.

The finding of gross negligence means BP’s penalties under the Clean Water Act will swell to $4,300 per barrel, making the determination of how many barrels were released of extreme importance in settling what the ultimate civil fine will total. The fine could have been as low as $1,100 a barrel had BP not cut so many corners with willful disregard for the safety of its workers and the health of the Gulf. If BP’s estimate for barrels spilled is accurate, the fine will be about $10 billion for its gross negligence. That total could be in excess of $18 billion if the Justice Department is right.

Image by NASA.

Barbier is expected to rule on the spill’s totals in early 2015, weeks before the five-year anniversary of the accident that took 11 men from their families and sent the Gulf’s ecosystem and economies into a tail spin from which some have yet to recover. That decision is being anxiously awaited by state and federal agencies, conservation groups and coastal communities because it will determine how much money the RESTORE Act Council, states, counties, parishes and research institutes will have to spend on ecosystem and economic restoration efforts.

Every milestone, public engagement opportunity, judge’s decision and project announcement is an opportunity to reflect and be reminded of how the Gulf’s anglers, commercial fishermen, business owners and communities got to this point. Those who revel in the Gulf’s recreational bounty and make their living off its resources don’t need to be told by a judge BP was grossly negligent. The images of oil-soaked pelicans, beaches and marshes and the ongoing uncertainty about the future of fisheries remain fresh in many memories. The wounds that have healed are likely to be reopened for some next April as media attention focuses on the state of the Gulf five years since gross negligence caused tragedy.

There is also opportunity to reflect on how so many concerned about the impacts of the oil spill and the decades of habitat loss in the Gulf joined together to implore Congress to make sure that the penalties from the spill came back to repair the ecosystems and communities damaged the most. Recreational fishing and hunting certainly suffered at BP’s hands, which is why so many sportsmen across the country united to push for passage of the RESTORE Act.

Trips were made to Washington by avid outdoorsmen to talk directly with Congressional staff. Businesses that support hunting and fishing joined arms and talked about how healthy habitats throughout the Gulf are essential for them to thrive and be capable of employing millions of Americans. Sportsmen’s organizations found common ground with environmental groups who also wanted spill fines to improve fishing habitat and restore ecosystems.

Despite Congressmen from outside the Gulf(even some in the region) and some state officials insisting the RESTORE Act had no chance of passing, hunters and fishermen leaned harder and harder until Congress made the prudent choice and passed the bill.

Image by Louisiana GOHSEP.

More than two years since the bill passed, the time has come again for hunters and fishermen to continue to be actively involved in the recovery and sustainability of the Gulf. The states are soliciting project ideas this fall that they can begin working on and can submit to the Restore Council for consideration for funding.

All of the projects and initiatives needed to make Gulf fishing better, from restoring marshes, mangroves and barrier islands to better management and science to education programs to needed repairs and expansion of docks, boat launches and artificial reefs are all eligible for funding. The states have asked for recommendations. They recognize how important recreational fishing is to coastal economies.

As the picture becomes clearer about how large the funding source may be, there is certainly time for recreational fishermen to reflect and appreciate the work it took to secure the funds. However, the harder task is ensuring the needs of fish and fishermen are addressed with those funds.

Anglers Supporting Conservation through Participation

This guest post was provided by Stephanie Vatalaro, Director of Communications, at the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.

You may not realize it, but as an angler, you play an important role in the protecting our nation’s aquatic natural places and the wildlife that lives there. Each time you buy a fishing license, register your boat, purchase fishing gear or boat fuel, you’re contributing to state conservation efforts to keep our waterways clean and fish populations healthy. Take Me Fishing calls it ‘conservation through participation,’ and our mission is to get more people involved in fishing and boating to support these critical funds. Working alongside groups like TRCP, who work to protect and maintain quality places to fish and accessibility of our marine resources, we hope to preserve our nation’s fishing resources generations to come.

Here’s how your participation in fishing helps support conservation:

infographic Take Me Fishing

Stripers and sage grouse

I was in an overcrowded and overheated hotel conference room in St. Louis, Missouri, talking about sage grouse when I started thinking about Chesapeake Bay striped bass.

What do sage grouse have to do with striped bass?

Image by George Halt.

Well, both are iconic species, the very essence of the habitats they occupy. And both are widely sought by American sportsmen. Yet the future of each is uncertain, which should give hunters and anglers of all stripes a reason for pause: Increasingly it seems that the very species that define us as sportsmen find themselves in dire straits.

Just a couple weeks ago, in another hotel conference room in Annapolis, Maryland, the director of the Maryland Fisheries Service assured attendees at a symposium organized by the Coastal Conservation Association-Maryland that there is no striped bass crisis. But that does not mean fishery managers and fishermen aren’t worrying about the state of the Atlantic striper population.

When it comes to managing striped bass, officials care most about two factors: fishing mortality (i.e. the removal of fish from the stock due to fishing activities) and the spawning stock biomass (the number of female fish old enough to reproduce). When the spawning stock biomass drops, fishing mortality needs to drop with it; the arithmetic for a thriving fishery couldn’t be much clearer. For a decade, the striped bass spawning stock biomass has been falling, with a variety of factors, including habitat quality, nutritional issues and disease, all playing a role. But fishing pressure has not followed the downward trend. This means that striped bass may be subject to a fishing pressure that is unsustainable, promising very real problems for the fishery in the not too distant future.

A flyer for the Coastal Conservation Association’s striped bass symposium.

There is no better way to ensure a crisis than by seeing one coming and doing nothing. While perhaps not a crisis today, a problem exists in striped bass country that requires action. Some combination of bigger minimums, reduced creels and/or shorter seasons are all on the table as fishery managers attempt to get out in front of a catastrophe in a major recreational fishery. The most aggressive steps will likely assure the best results, putting the fishery back on track in the shortest order. Of course, in exchange for maintaining the status quo today, some will champion a tepid response that kicks even tougher choices further down the road. Recreational anglers should reject this short-sightedness and support what the science indicates needs to happen.

And that is where we come back to the sage grouse, a species that is truly on the brink. Once widely hunted with long seasons and liberal bag limits, the federal government and 11 Western states are wringing their collective hands over a potential listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. In striper country, we actually have the chance to write a different kind of story for our own iconic species.

Opportunity taken

The author with her bounty.
Image by Mia Sheppard.

I love the game of chasing chukar and watching bird dogs work the sagebrush of arid ranges in my home state of Oregon. Earlier this month, I decided to take my chances on another upland bird: the greater sage grouse. With the controversy surrounding the bird and its possible listing in 2015 under the Endangered Species Act, I decided to apply for a controlled hunt permit with the hope that this wouldn’t be my last opportunity to pursue the bird.

The sage grouse is a Western icon, known for its unique, breast-inflating courtship dance. It inhabits sagebrush rangelands throughout the West. State and federal agencies, ranchers, environmentalists and sportsmen are working diligently and cooperatively to prevent the bird’s ESA listing, which would eliminate any future opportunity for sportsmen to hunt sage grouse – and would have significant implications for other resource uses across 11 states.

The sagebrush ecosystem where these magnificent birds thrive is also home to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including many pursued by sportsmen. Mule deer, pronghorn, elk and other species all need healthy, intact sagebrush habitat for their survival. If we imaging a huge tent or umbrella with all these species protected beneath it, conserving sage grouse habitat translates into good wildlife and rangeland conservation. Sagebrush conservation is good for our nation’s economy, too, especially in rural communities.

Sustaining and enhancing large, intact sagebrush ecosystems is vital for sage grouse and conservation of more than 350 species of plants and animals that rely on these habitats.
Image by Mia Sheppard.

Oregon is one of the few states a person can hunt sage grouse with a controlled hunting permit, with a two-bird limit per permit. In 2013, 659 people hunted sage grouse throughout Central and Southeast Oregon. Each of these sportsmen spent money on gas, food, lodging and gear for each hunt, and those dollars get distributed across rural areas all across the state.

After the postcard arrived in the mail validating that I drew a permit, the pre-planning began. My shotgun had not been fired for months and needed to be fitted, so I delivered it to a local gunsmith. Next, I had to decide where to go. The area I drew was in the Lakeview Bureau of Land Management district. Within that unit there is more than 1 million acres of public land available for hunting. I called the district biologist and a couple ranchers for their recommendations on places to go. I studied the BLM district maps for access roads and coordinated meeting a friend who also drew a tag. The trip was coming together.

Image by Mia Sheppard.

With my gear packed and the dog ready to go, I began the five-hour journey to my destination. Some might wonder why I would hunt a bird that only has a bag limit of two and only a weeklong season. I see this as an opportunity to hunt a new place, experience wide-open spaces and watch bird dogs do what they do best – find birds!

The next morning we woke up early to get the dogs ready and drink that first cup of joe. Driving down the bumpy road anticipating the first bird, the dogs could sense our excitement. We parked near a spring, got the collars on the dogs and dusted off the guns. The sagebrush aroma filled my lungs, and Cedar, my pudalpointer, started working like a veteran. Though he never had hunted sage grouse before, he worked with authority searching for birds. This wasn’t his first rodeo.

We walked miles covering a flat, and after a few hours, we saw movement in the distance. It was a covey of sage grouse. The cover was low, and we were exposed, just like the birds, so we decided to walk a wide circle around them and approach them up wind. Keeping our eyes on the birds, we slowly moved in. They quickly spotted us and started walking. Soon they were out of shooting range, eventually flying off, splitting in two directions and landing a couple hundred yards away.

We decided to break apart and ambush the birds. Cedar and I worked the near side while Mellissa and her dogs worked in the distance. We eventually spotted the birds and moved in. They held, and Cedar crept in. The sage grouse looked at us. I moved in closer and closer. Finally they took wing. I took a shot, and a bird fell. Cedar circled around for the retrieve and pranced back with the smile of success.

Image by Mia Sheppard.

Sportsmen can’t afford another loss of opportunity if the sage grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act. Nor can sportsmen remain silent – our voices must be heard, and we must advocate for solid state and federal conservation plans for sage grouse that also will protect other species we enjoy pursuing. With hunter participation declining across the West, we must act and get involved to ensure sage grouse habitat is conserved and a listing is avoided. Sportsmen must define our own destiny and help conserve wildlife to retain all our opportunities – as well as those for future generations.