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.

Glassing the Hill: April 13 – 17

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

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

After a two week break, both chambers are in session this week—the House from Monday through Thursday, and the Senate from Monday through Friday.

It’s cherry blossom season in the rest of D.C., but inside Congress it’s appropriations season. After passing its budget resolution last month, Congress is back in session with the intent to pass its twelve annual spending bills for fiscal year 2016. A memo from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated that the first appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year will make it to the floor during the last week of April, leaving plenty of work to be done. During the recess, House and Senate negotiators drafted a compromise budget between the two chambers, and lawmakers are expected to reconcile this in the coming weeks.

Appropriators must come to a final agreement to provide guidelines for spending limits by May 15, and neither the House nor Senate can move forward to floor consideration of appropriations bills for fiscal year 2016 until the final budget is adopted. The first two measures headed to the floor are the easiest of the twelve to pass—but the process allows for members to offer an unlimited number of amendments during this time.

Fish and Wildlife Under Review

The Senate regulatory oversight subpanel of the Environment and Public Works Committee panel will meet Tuesday to examine the management of several environmental agencies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as part of the Department of the Interior, will be among those under the microscope, and the focus will likely be on management of federal programs that provide grants to restore and manage sport fishing and wildlife. The hearing will provide Republicans, who have been highly critical of the Obama administration’s management and leadership, an opportunity to scrutinize agency practices.

A New Move to Derail Clean Water Protections

Hearings in both chambers this week could derail the process for clarifying protections for headwater streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. Sportsmen, including opponents of Pebble Mine, are urging Congress to let the rulemaking process play out, rather than slam the efforts of hunters, anglers, farmers, and business owners who have submitted more than one million comments on the original proposed rule since last March.

Also this week:

Tuesday, April 14

Wednesday, April 15

 

I Traveled from Colorado to Washington, D.C. to Stand Up for My Public Lands

Congress has been deciding on appropriations for the national budget, including line items that are way over my head. I don’t understand everything about this process, but I do know that it can shape the discussion of how our public lands are managed for years to come. This was my reason for traveling 1,900 miles to be in Washington, D.C., to stand up for sportsmen’s access to public-lands hunting and fishing. With help from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the National Wildlife Federation, and Trout Unlimited, I met with my representatives from Colorado, Sen. Gardner and Sen. Bennett, witnessed the process, and now I better understand how to fight for our outdoor rights.

Photo courtesy of Dan Harrison.

While we were in with Senator Heinrich, I also helped to deliver a petition against the sale or transfer of public lands. I have been guiding and outfitting for well over 20 years, almost entirely on public ground and in wilderness settings. During this time, I have hosted people from every corner of the U.S., and some from across the big water, whoseopinions and political leanings are all over the spectrum. (As much as I try to stay away from discussing religion and politics around the campfire, you can’t spend a week on the mountain without learning a little about people’s views and ideas.) Many see something going wrong and, as much as they may care, assume that there is nothing they can do—they’ll most likely be overridden. This assumption has gotten sportsmen in so much deep water that we are about to lose our uniquely American outdoor heritage that we love so much. The hunting industry alone is over 28 million strong, bringing billions of dollars to the economy. If you combined the hunting and fishing community with the outdoor enthusiasts who hike,raft, and cycle on public lands, it seems to me that you’d have one of the largest organizations in the U.S.

Photo courtesy of Dan Harrison.

The organizations that want to sell off our heritage are masters at getting their word out to our elected officials, and they have an advantage overus, because their only focus is to lobby in D.C. The organizations I belong to, many in life membership, do great work in most respects, but their fundraising dollars are spread verythin, because they’re focused on conservation, education, and habitat. We have to lend our support with individual voices.

Outdoorsmen are the original conservationists. We are the ones generating funds for our wildlife and youth education. We have to protect our outdoor heritage and lifestyle, too. So, when was the last time you picked up the phone or picked up a pen and actually voiced your opinion to a decision-maker in your hometown, home state, or in Washington? Your voice and opinion will count as long as we stand together and show how big our piece of the pie really is. Start flooding their offices with opinions. I don’t mean just write one letter, or make one phone call; be persistent. Harness the passion you have for the hunt to stand up for the places you go afield. Because once we lose them, we won’t get them back.

Dan Harrison is a resident of Colorado’s Western Slope, longtime public lands supporter, co-host of Remington Country TV and Owner/Partner of Colorado Mountain Adventures.

Partnerships Power Conservation in Pheasant Country

The crowd was awash with blaze orange—on hats, t-shirts, and even one necktie—at the grand opening of Pheasants Forever’s new regional headquarters in Brookings, S.D., earlier this year. Perhaps the neon hue was a bright indicator of just how eager folks are to stand united for conservation.

Pheasants Forever’s Dave Nomsen addresses the crowd of conservation advocates at the grand opening of “the habitat organization’s” new regional headquarters in Brookings, S.D. Photo courtesy of John Pollmann.

This cross-section of the community, made up of hunters, state and federal wildlife officials, conservation leaders, and more, is exactly who needs to be at the table to help Pheasants Forever preserve and enhance habitat in South Dakota. “We live in a different world today, and there are new challenges to conservation on private lands that we can’t solve the way we have before,” Pheasants Forever president and CEO Howard Vincent said at the event. “We have to think differently. We have to bring in new resources and partners. And we’re going to have to bring together the entire state of South Dakota—agriculture, transportation, tourism, and hunting interests as well as private landowners and state and federal agencies—for one reason: to deliver more conservation.”

Habitat loss brought Pheasants Forever to South Dakota, where nearly 2 million acres of grassland habitat have been lost since 2006, and collaborating with partners across the state is how the organization plans to reverse that trend. “We know we can’t do it alone,” says the group’s vice-president of governmental affairs, Dave Nomsen. “Partnerships are how conservation happens today. A group of stakeholders comes together to pool resources and knowledge in order to meet a common goal of keeping habitat on the ground.”

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a partner-based program which creates vital grassland habitat while also providing public access for hunting and fishing. Photo courtesy of John Pollmann.

The time is right, Nomsen says, to bring new support to the issue by championing the role that habitat plays in maintaining a healthy landscape and benefits to the general public.

“The value of this work extends beyond heavy game bags,” Nomsen says. “And as an increasing amount of pressure is put on the land to produce food, fuel, and fiber, it is vitally important to that we communicate how the conservation programs that we work to implement—those that provide stream buffers, protect wetlands, and maintain large blocks of grasslands to benefit pheasants, quail, ducks, and other wildlife species—also help protect water resources, maintain healthy soils, and improve air quality for everyone. The key is to find a balance.”

Tom Kirschenmann, chief of terrestrial resources for South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, believes that South Dakota’s private landowners are conservation’s most valuable partner in reaching that balance. “We couldn’t achieve any success in conservation without the commitment and cooperation of families who live on the ground, care for the ground,” Kirschenmann says. “And part of our job is connecting these landowners with the programs that will help them provide quality habitat for pheasants and other wildlife, while still benefitting their operation’s bottom line.”

Partnerships for conservation in South Dakota will play a vital role in combating the loss of grassland habitat, including those acres of ground previously enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. Photo courtesy of John Pollmann.

There is perhaps no better example of this than the success of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in the James River Valley of South Dakota, where 82,000-acres of marginal cropland have been enrolled and restored to grassland habitat. Kirschenmann says that nearly all CREP contracts, which vary in length from 10 to 15 years, were signed with the help of a Farm Bill biologist, a position made possible by Pheasants Forever in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks. Landowners who enroll ground in CREP receive a 40 percent higher rental rate than traditional Conservation Reserve Program contracts, and every acre enrolled in CREP is open year-round to hunting and fishing.

“The program is a win-win situation all the way around,” Kirschenmann says, “and it is all made possible by partnerships involving local landowners, state and federal agency funding, and the work of a private conservation organization.” Continuing to leverage the power of these partnerships will be crucial to finding solutions to the challenges facing conservation on private grounds in South Dakota, adds Pheasants Forever’s Nomsen. “And the key element we need to focus on together—Pheasants Forever, the state of South Dakota, landowners, and everyone else involved—is keeping quality habitat on the ground. Preserving the pheasant hunting culture of South Dakota depends on habitat.”

Author John Pollmann is a life-long bird hunter and freelance outdoor writer from South Dakota. A 2012 recipient of the John Madson Fellowship from the Outdoor Writers Association of America, Mr. Pollmann is a regular contributor to the Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader; provides a bi-monthly report on South Dakota for the Minnesota Outdoor News; and is the waterfowl columnist for the Aberdeen (SD) American News Outdoor Forum. Other writing credits include the pages of magazines for Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, and American Waterfowler.

 In addition to outdoor writing, Mr. Pollmann holds an advanced degree in music and currently teaches at Pipestone Area School in Pipestone, MN. He is an active member of Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and was named to the country’s first conservation pro-staff with Vanishing Paradise.

 Mr. Pollmann lives in Dell Rapids, SD with his wife Amber, their son Miles, and a yellow Labrador named Murphy.

We’re One Step Closer to Restoring Protection for Trout, Salmon, and Waterfowl

Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took a critical next step toward finalizing a clean water rule that clearly defines protections for headwater streams and wetlands important to trout, salmon, and waterfowl, while keeping farming practices exempt. Taking into account the genuine concerns of hunters, anglers, farmers, manufacturers, and business owners, who submitted more than one million public comments between April 2014 and November 2014, the agencies sent the most recent draft of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review. “The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership would like to commend the EPA and Army Corps for their continued commitment to this rulemaking process and to clarifying legislation that will benefit fish, wildlife, habitat, and anyone who values clean water,” says TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh.

Photo courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

Without any corrective action, 60 percent of stream miles and nesting habitat for the majority of the waterfowl in America are at risk of being polluted, compromised, or destroyed. “The seasonally-flowing streams clearly protected by the proposed rule are often where trout and salmon go to spawn and where juvenile fish are reared,” says Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s Vice President for Government Affairs. “All anglers benefit from the water quality and fish habitat provided by these streams, and we applaud the agencies for moving forward to restore protections to these incredibly important waters.”

As much as this review process is a behind-the-scenes step, it marks a milestone in the evolution of the clean water rule, especially for the growing coalition of organizations fighting to restore protection of our headwaters and wetlands. “Although the full draft hasn’t been released, from what we’ve seen, the comment period has had an impact and the final rule will be better than the proposal from last year,” says TRCP Center for Water Resources Director Jimmy Hague.

According to an April 6 blog post penned by U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy, the new draft of the rule will clarify how protected waters, like streams and wetlands, are significant, and how the agencies make this determination. It will also better define tributaries and protect farming practices. Special consideration has been given to “other waters”—including prairie potholes, the regional waters where 50 to 80 percent of North America’s duck production takes place—that qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act. “We’ve thought through ways to be more specific about the waters that are important to protect, instead of what we do now, which too often is for the Army Corps to go through a long, complicated, case by case process to decide whether waters are protected,” McCarthy and Darcy wrote. The TRCP was one of 185 sportsmen’s groups to address agency leaders in a letter of support for the rulemaking process on the heels of the Clean Water Act’s 42nd Anniversary in October 2014.

Photo courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

“Sportsmen have been actively engaged on this issue and will continue to combat efforts to derail the clean water rule,” says Fosburgh. “Anyone concerned with the rampant loss of wetlands, the health of spawning areas for trout and salmon, or the future of our hunting and fishing traditions should be pleased with the effort to restore protections for these resources.”

Under normal procedures, the Office of Management and Budget has at least 90 days to review the draft. It can recommend changes or leave the rule as proposed, at which point the rule can be finalized and put into effect. Read more about the original rule proposal, public feedback for the rule, and the letter of support from sportsmen’s groups across the country.

Critter Madness highlight reel: 2015 Champion

We started out with 32 of America’s game species. Now we have one.

After four weeks of voting, hunters and anglers from across the country have crowned the elk as the king of American fish and game. The elk steamrolled its early competition, trouncing Team Moose and Team Muley with 70% and 75% of the vote, respectively. After gaining momentum in an upset win over whitetail, the elk faithful built up enough steam to topple the wild turkey. In the end, the Cinderella run of the brook trout didn’t stand a chance and the elk took home the distinction as the 2015 Critter Madness Champion.

We’ve had many other champions along the way and you can check out some of our past winners here and here. We gave away great prizes in every round from a killer line of sponsors, including Remington, Yeti Coolers, Costa Sunglasses, Abu Garcia, Orvis, Berkley Fishing, and Buck Knives.

Missed out on the action? Check out the final results via the Bird’s Eye View tab on our Critter Madness page or read our recap of Round 1, 2, and 3 here.

Is there a species you want to see in the next Critter Madness? Leave your nominations in the comments section and you could be driving the cous deer bandwagon next year.

Thanks for taking part in Critter Madness and keep it locked here for more great ways to support quality places to hunt and fish.

Snapshot of success: The Missouri River confluence

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 four from the Missouri River:

The Missouri River Confluence: Where hunters, landowners & rivers meet

The Challenge

Photo courtesy of Missouri/Mississippi Rivers Confluence Conservation Partnership.

As St. Louis grew from a Midwestern frontier town to a city of 2.8 million, the area around the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers (known as the Confluence Region) lost 90 percent of its natural wetland habitat.

But it wasn’t the fear of growth—and its impact on the floodplain—that prompted the 14-year, multimillion-dollar success story of the Missouri Confluence Conservation Partnership. It was a passion for ducks. If local hunters and birders didn’t sound the alarm, they knew the ducks would disappear.
The Confluence Region is now a revitalized wetland habitat in the heart of the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. The area is home to millions of migratory waterfowl and holds up to 260 billion gallons of water during the high flood season.

Photo courteys of Missouri/Mississippi Rivers Confluence Conservation Partnership.

“Building on and developing this floodplain has enormous impacts on wildlife habitat and neighboring communities,” says Jim Blair, chairman of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance. “Ill-fated attempts to continually manipulate rivers, solely for commercial interests, ignores the needs of wildlife and the cultural values sportsmen treasure greatly. As has always been the case, it is sportsmen who protect and work to preserve precious habitats and the species that rely on them. Sportsmen are important allies in protecting our resources, and we knew we had to get them involved to find a solution.”

The Solution

In the early 2000s, a group of local landowners voted to take action, and it prompted a domino effect. Ducks Unlimited and the Missouri Confluence Collaboration Partnership used numerous private and federal grants, notably from the Doris Duke Foundation and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) to leverage additional land protections in the area.

Photo courtesy of Missouri/Mississippi Rivers Confluence Conservation Partnership.

To date, thanks to the enthusiasm and momentum of local landowners and hunters, by early 2015, the Partnership expects to secure 9,194 acres of protected private property via 28 easements through Ducks Unlimited. Thanks to matching funding from NAWCA, the Partnership will ultimately protect and enhance a total of 43,000 acres of public lands in the region.

What’s Next

The Missouri Confluence Conservation Partnership hopes to acquire an additional $2.1 million to protect and enhance another 15,000 acres of habitat. If secured, the money will be used for easements on what is regarded as “highly expensive potential real estate.”