Throwback Thursday: Congress Wants to Cut Investments in Conservation Like It’s 2006

What would a 16-percent cut in federal funding do to your family’s favorite fishing hole? If Congress has its way, we’re going to find out. A House and Senate Conference Committee just released their budget for fiscal year 2016, in which funding for conservation would be cut back to 2006 levels. Accounting for inflation, this amounts to a funding cut of over 16%. A vote on the resolution could come as early as today in the House.

For hunters and anglers, this would mean 16 percent fewer dollars for public access projects, habitat improvements, road and trail maintenance, invasive species control, and hazardous fuels reduction.

Photo courtesy of National Parks.

Sportsmen have a long history of investing in conservation through our license fees, excise taxes, and sweat equity. Congress, on the other hand, spends just one percent of its budget on conservation. That’s down from two percent in the late 1970s. Clearly, federal spending on conservation didn’t cause our deficit problems, and cutting conservation won’t solve our deficits either. In fact, completely eliminating all federal spending on conservation would reduce the anticipated 2016 deficit by less than 9 percent, but Congress would still be putting about $360 billion on the annual credit card.

Conservation is one of the best investments the federal government can make. Our public lands, clean water, wetlands, and marine fish stocks drive $646 billion in consumer spending on outdoor recreation each year. To put that in perspective, Americans spend only half that amount on pharmaceuticals.

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt said, “We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so.” Congress’s budget may take us back to 2006 in terms of funding for conservation, but in terms of mindset it takes our country much further back, to the pillaging of our natural resources that Theodore Roosevelt railed against. The 20th century was unique in human history, because it saw a society flourish both economically and ecologically. Wild turkeys, bald eagles, and elk all bounced back from dwindling numbers at the beginning of the 1900s. And, to paraphrase Bill Ruckleshaus, all our rivers may not be fishable and swimmable, but at least they are no longer flammable. This double-bottom-line growth was achieved on the backs of wise policies put in place by Theodore Roosevelt and successive leaders, who knew that sustained economic growth required sustained investments in the natural resources of our country.

There are wise leaders in Congress today who care about conservation. Just two weeks ago, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership honored two of them—Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Senator Patty Murray of Washington—for their years of bipartisan work to steward the resources of our country, at our annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner. We need them and other lawmakers of their caliber more than ever.

Congress’s budget isn’t the final word on conservation funding—legislators must still pass annual appropriations bills, which write the checks for various programs and agencies. Our leaders need to come together on a fiscal deal that avoids sequestration, invests in programs that have proven bang-for-their-buck, and gives certainty to the American economy—that includes ensuring that the great American outdoors remains a viable infrastructure for our hunting and fishing traditions, which have been proven to drive the economy.

Who will lead? Who will pick up the big stick for conservation?

Up for Vote: Two House Bills Ignore the Wishes of Sportsmen Who Value Healthy Headwaters and Wetlands

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on two pieces of legislation that could hinder the ability to protect coldwater fisheries, indispensable waterfowl habitat, and drinking water for one in three Americans. A bill introduced by Pennsylvania Representative Bill Shuster (H.R.1732) and a harmful policy rider in the “Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” (H.R.2028) would derail a deliberative rulemaking effort, which hunters and anglers everywhere are counting on to clarify Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and headwater streams.

Photo courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

“These two bills represent an attempt to ignore the wishes of sportsmen and snatch this opportunity from us at the eleventh hour—just weeks away from a final rule,” says Jimmy Hague, director of the Center for Water Resources at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, one of the more than 200 hunting, fishing, and sporting groups from across the country that have asked the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take more action to protect wetlands and headwater streams. “Kicking the can down the road, without even seeing the final rule, would do a complete disservice to the hunters, anglers, farmers, and other stakeholders who submitted more than one million comments to improve the proposed rule—comments which have made an impact. Congress should reserve judgment until we can evaluate that impact.”

Trout Unlimited strongly supports the Clean Water Act rule because it will ensure protection of millions of miles of headwaters streams and wetlands, which are critically important to the health of downstream waters and fish and wildlife habitat,” says Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s vice president of government affairs. “Anglers know that better habitat means better fishing, and better fishing helps local economies across the nation that depend on recreation dollars. Congress needs to honor the public comments of hundreds of thousands of sportsmen and other Americans who have participated in the rulemaking process.”

The current confusion over the Clean Water Act began in 2001—nearly 15 years ago. Since then, the 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, and delays are unnecessary. “We hear a lot of talk in Washington about doing the people’s business and cutting red tape. Yet, with misplaced water bills scheduled for consideration this week, the House is doing just the opposite,” says Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League. “Although Americans have spoken loudly and clearly in favor of protecting clean water and healthy habitat, the House would block progress and drown EPA and the Army Corps in a sea of wasteful red tape. The constructive course is to vote these bills down and act now to restore badly needed protections for streams, wetlands, and other waters nationwide.”

“A vote to block the Clean Water Rule is a vote against restoring protections to nearly two-thirds of America’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands left vulnerable by ambiguous court decisions,” says Jan Goldman-Carter, senior manager of wetlands and water resources for the National Wildlife Federation. “There’s nothing ambiguous, however, about the support of hunters, anglers, and people across the country for clean, safe water for their communities, farms, fish, and wildlife. A vote to derail the process already under way is a vote against all of us.”

Snapshot of Success: Yakima Valley, Washington

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 nine from Yakima River, Washington:

Revitalizing a Creek, Creating Jobs: Cowiche Creek Water Users Association fish screening and barrier removal project

In Washington’s Yakima Valley, revitalizing a creek is helping to revitalize an entire community with jobs and economic activity.

Photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited.

Local stakeholders joined forces to restore Cowiche Creek in response to the major decline of endangered steelhead. A combination of low instream flows, unscreened irrigation diversions and physical habitat changes reduced the number of steelhead returning to the creek.

Today, thanks to Trout Unlimited and funding from the Bonneville Power Administration through the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program (CBWTP), steelhead are now returning to Cowiche Creek and spawning naturally.

How It Worked

Trout Unlimited helped leverage federal funds through CBWTP and other sources to work with senior water rights holders to:

  • Eliminate an unnecessary diversion dam;
  • Renovate a diversion dam to increase its efficiency and allow fish passage;
  • Consolidate creek irrigation diversions to provide an alternative water source and leave creek water instream; and
  • Support partner efforts to remove approximately 1,400 feet of dikes and over 600 cubic yards of concrete to improve Cowiche Creek habitat.

What the Cowiche Creek Project Means for Water Users

Photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited.

This project helped irrigators and ranchers access and develop alternative water sources and use these sources more efficiently without affecting the productivity of their land. By connecting farmers and ranchers with alternative water sources, the project keeps creek water in Cowiche Creek and increases fish habitat without hurting agricultural productivity.

What’s Next

While the project is complete today, Trout Unlimited and the other partners hope to use Cowiche Creek as a model to demonstrate the success of collaborative efforts between partners in the Yakima River Basin and across the West.

Glassing the Hill: April 27-May 1

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

The Senate will be in session from Monday through Friday. The House will be in session from Tuesday through Friday. (Don’t feel guilty, guys. We went fishing on Monday, too.)

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Will they have the energy? After the House Appropriations Committee announced its spending plan that funds the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency last week, House and Senate Committees will spend this week putting together the first comprehensive energy bill introduced in over a decade. Most notably, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider over 20 energy-efficiency bills from every end of the political spectrum in a two-part hearing on Thursday. One part will be dedicated to the consideration of efficiency policies and the other to the best uses of the U.S. petroleum reserve, considering increased domestic petroleum production. Details on the hearing and bills being considered can be found here.

A Last-Minute Swipe at the Clean Water Rule

This week, the House will consider an energy and water spending bill that would kill the Obama administration’s “Waters of the U.S. Rule,” a regulation that seeks to clarify which streams and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. The bill would provide Fiscal Year 2016 funding for the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies, but block them from using funds to implement the WOTUS rule. The House is expected to vote on the $35.4 billion spending bill after both chambers finalize a settled budget agreement.

Carbon Rule Roleplay

On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies will host EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will likely use this as an opportunity to heavily scrutinize the EPA’s budget, given his hardline stance on the EPA in the past. Sen. McConnell will likely attempt to undermine the EPA’s proposed carbon rule in the coming weeks by using policy riders. He and others in his camp must temper their expectations, however, as the President is likely to veto legislation that is too partisan or threatens his pivotal climate rule. More information on the hearing can be found here.

A Frack Attack?

On Tuesday, Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze will defend the BLM’s controversial new fracking rule before the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining, led by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY). A premiere critic of the rule, which was finalized in March after years of consideration and public commentary, Senator Barrasso will have the opportunity to engage the agency on its proposals, perhaps citing the fact that Wyoming’s fracking regulations are among the strongest in the country and do not require expansion or clarification. Other states are not up to Wyoming’s standards, though. The new rule is the first significant change to fracking regulations in over three decades. The focus of the rule is to address public health concerns and suspicions of fracking fluid leakage, while accounting for the dramatic increase in sophisticated fracking technology in the last 10 years.

Also this week:

Tuesday, April 28

House mark-up of bill to opt out of Clean Power Plan

Energy and Commerce Committee

Wednesday, April 29

House mark-up of fiscal 2016 appropriations bill for the Transportation Department and Housing and Urban Development Department

Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies

House hearing on national forest management

Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry

Senate hearing on offshore drilling safety improvements since BP spill

Commerce, Science, and Transportation

9:30 AM, 253 Russell

Thursday, April 30

House hearing on EPA mismanagement

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

House mark-up of Magnuson–Stevens Act reauthorization

Natural Resources Committee

Senate hearing on energy efficiency legislation

Senate Energy and Natural Resources

Senate hearing on BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule

Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining

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

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

Image courtesy of Kristi Odom Photography.

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Kristi Odom Photography.

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

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

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

Learn more about the TRCP’s Capitol Conservation Awards.

Snapshot of Success: Toledo, Ohio

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

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

Here is lesson eight from Toledo, Ohio:

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

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

Image courtesy of USACE.

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

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

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

The Challenge

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

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

The Solution

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

What Will Restoration Look Like?

Image courtesy of Russ Terry, Ducks Unlimited.

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

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

What’s Next?

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

Big decision for a small gamebird

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

Image courtesy of Jeannie Stafford/USFWS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot of Success: Syracuse, New York

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

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

Here is lesson seven from Syracuse, New York:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Happened

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

What’s Next

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

Snapshot of Success: Cascade County, Montana

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

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

Here is lesson six from Cascade County, Montana:

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

Image courtesy of Sun River Watershed Group.

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

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

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

The Challenge

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

Image courtesy of Sun River Watershed Group.

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

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

How It Worked

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

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

What’s Next

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

Snapshot of Success: Copiah County, Mississippi

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

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

Here is lesson five from Copiah County, Mississippi:

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

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

Image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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

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

The Problem

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

The Solution

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

Image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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

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

What’s Next

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