TRCP Expands Western Operations, Opens Office in Montana

Organization magnifies its reach to advocate on behalf of hunters and anglers

After more than a decade of conservation work and advocacy on behalf of sportsmen in the western U.S., the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has hired several new field staff in the region, and the group is opening a Western office in Missoula, Montana. The new regional headquarters will support the organization’s ongoing efforts to improve fish and wildlife habitat, protect and expand public access to hunting and fishing, and conserve the outdoor resources that power businesses and communities in the Western states.

“This is not only a big deal for the TRCP, it’s a big deal for the future of hunting and fishing across the West,” says Joel Webster, TRCP’s Western lands director. “We now have more capacity to fight for our public lands, fish and wildlife habitat, and sportsmen’s access, so the collective power of hunters and anglers will resonate from our local communities all the way to the halls of Washington, D.C.”

Image courtesy Evan Lovely/Flickr.

The TRCP’s presence in the West has grown significantly over the past few years: Currently, field staff in eight Western states are working collectively with more than 100 sportsmen’s groups, 200 outdoor businesses, and thousands of rank-and-file hunters and anglers to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. The organization recently hired four field representatives in Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming.

Scott Laird joined the TRCP as Montana field representative this month, after working for more than 25 years in natural resource conservation work with the state of New Mexico, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the American Prairie Reserve. Laird, Webster, and a soon-to-be-hired field associate will be based out of the new office in Missoula.

Rob Thornberry joined as the Idaho field representative this month, after three decades of reporting on outdoor issues for the Idaho Falls Post Register. Rob works from Idaho Falls. Coby Tigert, who served as Idaho field representative and a regional field manager in his three years with the organization, has been named deputy director of Western lands.

Nick Dobric became the Wyoming field representative in October 2015, after working as a hunting guide and wildlife biologist. Nick is based in Dubois, Wyo.

Carl Erquiaga, who also joined the organization in October, is the Nevada field representative. He comes to the TRCP after serving on various state wildlife committees and as a director of the Fallon Chapter of Nevada Bighorns Unlimited. Carl works from Fallon, Nev.

Learn more about the TRCP’s work to conserve public lands access, backcountry areas, and wildlife migration corridors.

Why We Do This: Because This Arizona Mom Needs Quality Places to Hunt with Family

She wins our mapping project prize, while all Arizona sportsmen benefit from the data we’re collecting

When Jennifer Comer from Tucson, Ariz., put in for her first-ever big-game tag, she was hoping to join her husband and teenage son in the field. They’d started hunting just four years earlier, and her son bagged his first deer last year. While she didn’t draw an elk tag, she won a new Kimber rifle and became part of something pretty special in the Grand Canyon State.

Image courtesy of Jennifer Comer.

Last summer in Arizona, the TRCP partnered with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and the Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, an alliance of 25 regional sportsmen’s groups, to gather input from sportsmen and women about the state’s most valued places to hunt and fish. We asked a random sample of adults who purchased Arizona hunting and fishing licenses to visit a specially-designed website where they could outline their most valued hunting and fishing areas on a map. As a little incentive, we offered participants a chance to win a Kimber Classic 7mm Remington-08 rifle.

Jennifer weighed in and won, and we’re pretty excited to see this prize go to a family that has a new, deepening interest in our sports. You see, the Sportsmen’s Values Mapping Project was created to protect important wildlife habitat and maintain public access to highly-valued hunting and fishing areas with the hope that we can defend these opportunities for the next generation of Arizona outdoorsmen.

The TRCP launched the Sportsmen’s Values Mapping Project in 2007 in Montana, before expanding to Wyoming, Idaho, and Arizona. What made the project special in my home state was the ease of the survey app, which the AZGFD experts in computer mapping were pivotal in designing to bring the project online—the best way to yield scientifically defensible results.

AZGFD is currently in the process of analyzing all the survey results from more than 1,200 hunters and anglers. Later this year, Sportsmen’s Values Maps will be assembled in a geographic information system (GIS), where they will be used, along with other data, to develop conservation and management strategies. The final maps will be accessible to sportsmen and key decision-makers through the TRCP and AZGFD websites. We’re hopeful that the maps will also be used to help prioritize management actions and funding requests aimed at conserving and restoring high valued wildlife habitat and expanding access, and we’re certainly committed to using this information to insure that Jennifer and her family will have quality places to hunt for many years to come.

For more information about the Sportsmen’s Values Mapping Project in Arizona and across the West, click here.

She wins our mapping project prize, while all Arizona sportsmen benefit from the data we’re collecting

Congress Should Take a Page from Obama’s Proposed Budget

House and Senate should support increases for conservation funding that would benefit fish, wildlife, and sportsmen

On Tuesday, President Obama unveiled his final budget proposal, a $4.1-trillion total ask for fiscal year 2017, which includes proposed increases for conservation projects across the country. Though largely symbolic, these requests indicate that conservation of natural resources, including the fish and wildlife species important to sportsmen, is a key priority for the administration. As decisions about 2017 funding levels now move to Capitol Hill and the Congressional appropriations process, sportsmen will be looking to Congress to also commit to robust funding for fish, wildlife, and our unmatched American public lands system.

Image courtesy of 401kcalculator.org/Flickr.

“Investment in conservation is actually an investment in our economy. These funding proposals by the president are positive benchmarks that we hope will kickstart an earnest discussion about investing in conservation through the appropriations process,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The TRCP is also thinking about the next administration and making it clear that sportsmen and women want a president who is prepared to make these investments in conservation. We won’t stand for seeing wildlife agencies bled dry while habitat suffers.”

Obama’s FY2017 budget reinforces the value of conservation and wildlife management across a broad spectrum, including such sportsmen’s priorities as State Wildlife Grants, conservation of sage steppe landscapes, private lands conservation through USDA, water conservation and resiliency efforts through the WaterSMART program, and data collection improvements at NOAA Fisheries. Notably, this budget proposal includes full funding at $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a strategy for permanent reauthorization by 2018. Here’s the list of proposed projects for LWCF dollars.

The President’s budget released today represents the next step in what has been a positive trend for conservation funding, building as it does off of the comprehensive budget deal Congress and the President agreed to in December that made key investments in conservation for fiscal year 2016. Sportsmen need to see this trend continue—especially considering that conservation spending has been cut in half in the past 37 years. This will continue to be a long-term effort, and will require the full engagement of future administrations and future Congresses.

To learn more, review the budget fact sheets for the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Commerce.

Glassing The Hill: February 8 – 12

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate and the House will be in session this week.

Flint could derail a sweeping energy bill while Obama delivers his last budget request. The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 enters its third week on the floor of the United States Senate this afternoon, after a Thursday cloture vote to end debate on the measure failed and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) held negotiations over the weekend. Hundreds of amendments have been filed, but the real question is whether the water crisis in Flint, Mich., will hold things up indefinitely. If an agreement on providing aid to Flint can be reached, the Energy Bill is expected to move forward, with a slew of votes and final passage tomorrow. However, without an agreement on Flint, the Senate may be forced to move on to North Korean sanctions later in the week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, has also emerged as an issue in the wide-ranging energy bill. Senator Murkowski has offered only the half of the Sportsmen’s Act that passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee as an amendment (reminder: here’s what’s in that half), an action that leaves the other portion of the bill, recently passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee, on the cutting room floor. This would prevent a clear path forward for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or the Fish Habitat Conservation Act. We expect all of these issues to be resolved, one way or the other, by the end of the day Tuesday.

On the same day, President Obama will publicly announce his final presidential budget request, for fiscal year 2017. It was revealed last week that the budget proposal will include full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million. Read more about that here. You may remember that Congress passed a two-year bipartisan budget agreement back in October 2015, so the expectation is that Congress will move directly to appropriations measures for FY2017.

What We’re Tracking

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Collaborative fish and wildlife management, to be discussed in a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife hearing regarding interaction between the feds and the states

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Updates to flood protection and water studies, in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Water Resource Development Act

Invasive fish species, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing regarding “The Costly Impacts of Predation and Conflicting Federal Statutes on Native and Endangered Fish Species”

Environmental and energy rules, in a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing

The Flint, Mich., water crisis will be the subject of a House Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee hearing

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Modifying public land boundaries for monuments, to be discussed by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands

EPA outreach to farmers and ranchers—the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy will testify before the House Agriculture Committee hearing

Funding for private lands conservation, on deck for a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Department of Agriculture’s budget

Funding for water conservation, on deck for a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Bureau of Reclamation budget

Homegrown Sportsmen’s Pride in Kentucky

What we learned from Louisville locals at last week’s Deer & Turkey Expo

Everyone likes a day out of the office, but we really cherish opportunities to be in the field, chatting one-on-one with sportsmen and women who have deep personal connections to the conservation issues we work so hard to drive, fund, or promote.

Late last week, we got the chance to do that in Louisville, Ky., at the Field & Stream/Outdoor Life Deer & Turkey Expo. This was the first of five regional expos this year and our very first time participating in one, and we were blown away by the people we met—hunters from the Upper South and Midwest, representatives from 150 exhibitors, and experts running workshops on everything from calling and decoying gobblers to hunting for shed antlers with dogs.

Image courtesy of Cyrus Baird.

We were thrilled (but not surprised) to find that so many sportsmen in the region share our feelings about access, habitat, and quality days afield. Here’s what was important to the folks we talked to:

  • Access: Kentucky—and much of the region—is mostly locked up in private lands, so it’s fairly obvious that sportsmen do much of their hunting on private property. But we kept hearing that even private land access is disappearing as landowners face down liability issues and encroaching development. This raises the stakes for the few public lands, like wildlife management areas, available to local hunters. Although these local WMAs can’t hold a candle to the vast public lands out West, they are in some cases the only viable option, especially for budding outdoorsmen who aren’t ready or able to invest in a lot of travel to hunt or fish. We talked with one ten-year-old boy, already an avid hunter, who called himself “privileged” and “blessed” to have access to public lands in his home state. At that moment we couldn’t have been more proud of the work we do to ensure all sportsmen have quality places to hunt and fish.
  • Image courtesy of Cyrus Baird.

    Healthy habitat: Access means nothing without decent cover or a hardy food source for the game we pursue. We traded tips and tricks for turning private lands habitat into a honey hole—everything from planting quality food plots to taking advantage of state and national programs that can cover the cost of attracting game. For instance, many landowners that we spoke with didn’t know that CRP works for sportsmen and for wildlife by paying cost-share for food plots, tree plantings, or field and stream buffers—all things that make whitetails and wild turkeys fat and happy.

  • Quality days afield: Everyone loves a “big fish” story, and we heard many deer-woods equivalents as we swapped hunting stories from the past season with expo attendees. Even when hunters told us about going home empty-handed, they still told a terrific tale. As our partners at the Quality Deer Management Association say: “We measure success in memories made, not inches of antler.” That said, there were many inches of antler on display, too! The trophy deer contest was one of the highlights of the event, and we gladly congratulated hunters on their trophy mounts—another reminder that solid resource management on public and private lands means bigger, better harvests for sportsmen.

All in all, it was a fantastic event, and we’re looking forward to swapping more tips and tales later this year. We’ll be at the Deer & Turkey Expos in Madison, Wis., from April 1 to 3 and in Bloomington, Ill., from August 12 to 14. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll stop by our deer camp and talk conservation with us. See you there!

Louisiana Biologists Are Tracking Potential Monsters in the Depths of Lake Pontchartrain

How telemetry tag data could improve the odds of redfish and trout reaching trophy size 

Ashley Ferguson may not be a fish surgeon, but she’s become pretty handy with a scalpel and sutures over the last four years. Ferguson is one of a half-dozen fisheries biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who implant telemetry tags in redfish, speckled trout, sharks, and—hopefully—tarpon in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

Each tag sends a unique signal in the form of a “ping” to a series of yellow buoys anchored in strategic locations throughout Louisiana’s largest brackish-water lake. Analysis of data from the buoys is helping biologists better understand how fish use different types of habitat and react to changes in temperature, forage, and salinity.

“We have a buoy on every artificial reef, on each of the major bridges, and in the passes leading into and out of the lake,” says Ferguson. “If one of our tagged fish swims within 500 yards of a buoy, we can download the information and establish a pattern of where those fish are moving—and why.”

The study was launched in 2012 as a cooperative effort between Louisiana State University and the department, but it has been run by Wildlife and Fisheries in the last two years, thanks to grants from the angler-driven Sport Fish Restoration Fund.

Avid Lake Pontchartrain anglers are in on the project in a hands-on way, as well. For three to four days each year, anglers aim to catch trout that are longer than 18 inches and redfish that are longer than 21 inches and keep them in their live wells for the journey to the Percy Viosca, Jr., a converted aging shrimp boat where fish are held in oxygenated tanks.

That’s where Ferguson and her team get to work cutting and stitching.

Once a telemetry beacon is inserted, the fish’s backs are marked with a light blue tag to help anglers recognize them as part of the study so they can be released. From the launch of the project through the end of 2015, the team tagged 244 trout, 64 redfish and 18 bull sharks.

On a rare windless day in early January, I joined biologists and a handful of anglers on Lake Pontchartrain to add to the trout and redfish totals. Gulls diving on hand-sized white shrimp pointed to the location of huge schools of trout and redfish along the south shore. By noon, more than 20 new tags were pinging silently from stomach cavities.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

Biologists were particularly interested in capitalizing on the ideal fishing weather because of the changes coming to Lake Pontchartrain this winter and spring. Just 48 hours after the fish were tagged, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway, a relief valve that directs sediment-laden flood waters from the Mississippi River into the lake when river levels threaten to overtop levees in New Orleans. Bonnet Carre’s gates only open about once a decade, but this year’s opening comes just five years after record flooding that forced the opening of spillways throughout the Mississippi River Basin.

“This year is the first time since we started the study when we’ve had a spillway opening, and we want to see where the fish go, if they leave, and how long it takes them to come back,” says biologist and fish tagger Craig Gothreaux. “Usually, a spillway opening causes a temporary displacement, and the saltwater fish return when salinities come back up a couple of months after the gates are closed. But, do the redfish behave differently than the trout? Does opening the spillway this early in the year have an effect because the water is colder? Hopefully we can figure that out by looking at what we get from the tags.”

What biologists have figured out, spillway open or not, is that many of the area’s renowned trophy trout leave the lake in early June to spawn in the saltier adjacent waters of Mississippi Sound and Breton Sound. Buoys in the passes leading to and from the lake light up again in early fall as trout return to feast on annual crops of white shrimp and menhaden—which get even larger after a spillway opening.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

“If they leave the lake or just stay here and find the pockets of salty water, we’ll be able to read the buoy data and know,” Ferguson says. “Even if they go to Mississippi or Alabama by chance, we’ll know because researchers there use the same equipment and each tag sends a unique signal.”

Ferguson adds that the data shared among Gulf States is helping track other species, like the endangered Gulf Sturgeon, and will allow for an expansion of tagging efforts across the region on fish like red snapper, grouper, and even highly-migratory king mackerel and tuna.

The TRCP and its conservation partners have recommended expanding on projects like Louisiana’s telemetry tagging effort, which will be essential to the long-term monitoring of fish stocks in the wake of the 2010 oil spill. The data collected will help biologists establish baseline information vital to understanding how future disasters and weather events affect fisheries. The tagging efforts also give anglers an opportunity to be more involved in helping scientists gather important information—consider it a normal day of fishing with a little biology lab thrown in.

Want a peek at the travel routes of these fish? Click here.

To learn more about the TRCP’s work in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, visit our website: trcp.org

This post originally appeared on Costa’s Watery Rave blog

Glassing The Hill: February 1 – 5

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Snowcation is over. Both the Senate and House are back to work this week.

It’s primary caucus day in Iowa, y’all, and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton hold leads in the Hawkeye State. Next Tuesday, February 9, is the New Hampshire primary, where Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders hold polling leads.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Meanwhile, back in D.C., the Senate will continue floor consideration of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015. This bipartisan energy bill has been subject to an open amendment process, resulting in hundreds of amendments being filed on such controversial issues as drinking water contamination in Flint, Mich., the administration’s recent halt of new coal leases on federal lands, and the ongoing financial crisis in Puerto Rico. Senator Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Senator Cantwell (D-Wash.) will need to navigate the amendment process in a way that does not erode support for the underlying legislation, which, as it stands, is widely supported. Senate leadership expects the comprehensive energy bill, the first on the Senate floor since 2007, to be concluded by the end of this week.

One widely-supported amendment is the bipartisan Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act, filed by Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) to create a renewable energy permitting program and expedite project permitting in areas identified as having the best renewable potential and lowest conflicts for wildlife and recreation. The amendment would create a revenue stream from public lands renewable energy generation that would be divided to pay into permit processing fees, counties, states, and a fund for wildlife, land, and water conservation projects. Many sportsmen’s groups have gone on record in support of this important amendment, which may come up for a vote this week in the Senate.

The House will be attempting to override the President’s veto of an Obamacare repeal measure, although the vote is expected to fall short of the two-thirds requirement. The House will also vote on legislation that would prevent the Obama administration from lifting sanctions on Iran.

What We’re Tracking:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Northeast coastal fisheries, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing regarding the EEZ Clarification Act and legislation on exempting importation and exportation of sea urchins and sea cucumbers

Energy infrastructure, in a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing regarding this legislation

The 2016 Water Resources Development Act—legislation that authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out navigation, flood control, shoreline protection, hydropower, dam safety, water supply, recreation, and environmental restoration and protection activitieswill be discussed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Water crisis in Flint, Mich., in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing

Water quality and the Endangered Species Act will be the subject of a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Stream Protection Rule and how it impacts bedrock conservation legislation, like the ESA and the Clean Water Act

National Parks and other public lands, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Committee markup of legislation impacting the National Park Service

Emissions regulations on the docket in a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing regarding two EPA bills, including one that would ease up on emission requirements for coal-burning power plants

 

Big Game Migration Corridors Are Getting More Consideration in Wyoming

Here’s how mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn will benefit

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has approved policy updates that will benefit big game animals along migration corridors. Last week’s decision came after more than a year of developing new science-based conservation strategies for these important movement corridors between winter and summer habitats for species like elk, mule deer, and pronghorn.

“No different than migratory birds, big-game animals must have access to quality habitat where they can rest and nourish themselves along their migratory journey,” says Ed Arnett, senior scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Migration corridors and stopover areas have not received much attention or priority in conservation decisions, and we’re pleased to see that tide turning.”

Image courtesy of Nick Dobric.

Migration corridors are already recognized by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s policy as “vital” habitats, meaning they should be managed to ensure no net loss of population or habitat function. New data has introduced the need to define migratory bottlenecks—where animal movement becomes constrained, perhaps by a highway or fence—and stopover areas where animals feed and rest during migration. These policy definitions become important as the Game and Fish Department coordinates with federal land management agencies and other state agencies on common goals and decisions regarding energy development, mining, or recreational activities that may impact wildlife health and survival.

Updates to the policy were prompted by recent studies of mule deer migrating from Wyoming’s Red Desert to Hoback in the western half of the state. Mule deer are an icon of the American West and highly sought after by sportsmen in Wyoming and beyond. “Healthy populations of mule deer and other big game are a key economic driver for Wyoming’s economy,” says Josh Coursey, President and CEO of the Muley Fanatic Foundation. “The Commission’s decision will begin benefiting the wildlife and people of our state today and provide a model for others to follow in the future.”

“Sportsmen support multiple-use management, energy development, grazing, and other uses of our western landscapes, but we believe that all uses must be balanced with wildlife habitat needs,” says Joy Bannon, Field Director for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, who added that collaboration made the new strategy possible. “Meetings between sportsmen, wildlife managers, and other stakeholders enabled us to collaboratively formulate a reasonable strategy for protecting our migrating elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn.”

Streambank Restoration on Private Land is Putting More Brookies in Your Favorite Fishing Hole

Why CRP works for trout and other freshwater fish

The national Conservation Reserve Program is 30! The CRP was signed into law by President Reagan as part of the Farm Bill on December 23, 1985, to help agricultural producers to voluntarily conserve soil, water, and wildlife. The TRCP and our partners are celebrating the 30th anniversary of CRP throughout 2016, by highlighting the successes of this popular bipartisan program—regarded by many as the greatest private lands conservation initiative in U.S. history. Here on our blog, we’re devoting a series of posts to the critters that have seen tremendous habitat benefits: upland birds, wild turkeys, waterfowl, and freshwater fish. CRP works for wildlife, and it works for sportsmen.

On this blog, we’ve written a lot about the Conservation Reserve Program and how it benefits wildlife. Because the program incentivizes landowners to use their land for conservation instead of for crops, it makes sense that a lot of the program’s results would visible on the landscape itself, where pheasants, turkeys, ducks, and the other wildlife benefit from upland and wetland cover. But CRP is also working beneath the surface, and improved water quality downstream is giving brookies and other fish a serious boost.

CRP enhances the watershed

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, anglers are counting on a CRP initiative known as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which targets high priority conservation projects on a local, rather than a national, level. Federal resources for CREP are often augmented by the state where the project takes place, meaning more funding is available for landowners to implement conservation.

The various Chesapeake Bay watershed states each have their own version of CREP, but they share a goal of helping to “Save the Bay,” which has been degraded over time by runoff from agriculture, industry, and cities. All throughout the watershed, landowners are voluntarily enrolling thousands of acres along waterways large and small to help make the Bay fishable and swimmable.

When it comes to agricultural land, one of the most important things the CREP can do is keep cattle out of farm streams by paying farmers to build fences. When they wade around and into the water, cows eat the plants that shade banks and provide cover for critters and insects. Plus, cattle hooves quickly erode stream banks, allowing farm nutrients and sediment to flow into the water. Cows also defecate in the water, further affecting the biology of the stream.

Image courtesy Scott Robinson/Flickr.

The end result is terrible for native fish like brook trout. Lack of shade can dramatically raise the temperature of the water, which, aside from generally causing fish stress, lowers oxygen levels. Where trout spawn, heavy sediment and cow pies turn gravelly stream beds to muck, making it impossible for fish to lay their eggs. Brookies need consistently cold, clear water with a high level of dissolved oxygen to live, feed, and reproduce, but cow pasture streams tend to be hot, muddy, and suffocating.

That’s why groups like Trout Unlimited have rallied around a special CREP effort in the headwaters of the Potomac River, which flows into Chesapeake Bay. The resources that TU can deliver to farmers through CREP are often greater than what other state or federal conservation programs can offer, which means the infrastructure these projects create, like fences and bridges, is often higher quality and has a long shelf life—often as long as a 10- to 15-year CREP contract. And because CREP offers a rental payment for each acre of land taken out of agricultural production, farmers can afford to commit more acres of streamside land to the program and place cow fences further back from the stream bank—at least 35 feet, but sometimes as much as 300 feet on both sides. Given this room to breathe, floodplains can replenish the natural ecosystem over time.

Aside from fencing for cattle, TU’s dedication to this program has helped farmers to plant mature trees and native grasses along waterways, stabilizing the banks and providing the shade that is absolutely critical to regulating water temperature. Cooler streams are more fishable. And Chesapeake Bay farmers want that as much as anglers do.

Healthy Systems, Not Just Healthy Pools

Many farmers have inherited land from family, and they remember their grandfathers teaching them to fish on a particular bank—they want to be able to teach their grandchildren to do the same, and maybe reclaim a little bit of their own childhood in the process. To date, tens of thousands of acres of stream buffers have been applied throughout the watershed, and brookies are returning as a result. Of course, privately-owned stream banks, no matter how well restored, may not be accessible for most anglers in the region. But every step in conservation is incremental, and the impacts multiply both upstream and downstream.

Image courtesy USFWS.

Restored headwaters, even if they are private, serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for the entire river system. Work that has been done over the last twenty years has helped to restore large, healthy populations of native brook trout to the system, greatly reducing the need to stock the streams each spring. These native trout tend to grow larger, live longer, and travel farther than their stocked cousins. In fact, they have been tracked swimming from their West Virginia headwaters to popular public fishing areas like Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Potomac River flowing straight through Washington, D.C. Of course, each restored acre will ensure that those downstream waters will be cooler and cleaner, too, thanks to the fast-flowing, gravelly headwaters upstream.

Programs like CREP incentivize healthy systems, not just isolated healthy pools, and brook trout are an indicator of that health. If a headwater stream has brookies, the top-level native aquatic predator, its river banks will also have good habitat for a variety of wildlife and be full of fish food like frogs, mayflies, and crickets. There will be sufficient shade from mature trees, and the stream bed will be gravelly and have places for young fish to hide. The CRP, with its local habitat enhancement program, can’t accomplish this alone, but it is certainly an important tool for helping farmers and landowners to do the right thing for fish and sportsmen.

Read how the CRP works for other game species.

Real Conservation Has Been Blocked at Malheur: Who Will Foot the Bill?

A legislative tool could make criminal fines work for wildlife 

For much of the last four weeks, while extremists have occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, we have focused on how sportsmen and women are being robbed of their access to hunt and fish on the refuge and how the militants’ views on public lands management are inconsistent with that of the Burns community. Now, information is being released on just how much damage the incident could inflict to ongoing conservation efforts. With refuge staff barred from the site, years of progress and millions of dollars spent combating invasion species, like common carp, could go to waste.

Image courtesy of Carla Burnside/USFWS.

Fisheries biologists had already installed screens and traps that prevent the carp from moving between bodies of water to spawn in unwanted areas, but the militants’ stakeout interrupted routine maintenance of the screens. Flooding from winter weather has permitted carp again to move freely between these waters. What’s more, the growing carp population could kick up mucky water that would keep sunlight from reaching other aquatic vegetation that is a critical food source for migratory bird species like waterfowl. And when all this is over, taxpayers, including sportsmen, will pay for these losses.

Agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service operate under a law called the Resource Protection Act (RPA), which allows them to benefit from fines collected after an incident like Malheur. The Fish and Wildlife Service is not eligible for RPA funds to help restore damage to the refuge, but it could be.

Image courtesy of Carla Burnside/USFWS.

A bill to divert criminal fines back into the National Wildlife Refuge System has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress, but as of now, the penalties from criminal activity at Malheur will be placed directly into the National Treasury, leaving the Fish and Wildlife Service to pay for the restoration efforts without additional funds. The Malheur occupation is not the first time the refuge system has dealt with criminals jeopardizing conservation efforts. In 2005, a pipeline excavated without permission on the San Bernard NWR in Texas resulted in $7.6 million of damage to fish and wildlife habitat and $11,000 in fines went straight to the Treasury. Eleven years later, the refuge still hasn’t seen the funds to perform the necessary restorations.

Let’s not allow Bundy’s gang to leave a similar legacy at Malheur. If there’s any benefit to their attention grabbing, let it be the discussion of real solutions for funding repairs and mitigation at the refuge and for ongoing land management issues in the West.