As marine fisheries legislation heats up, it’s time to revamp the federal management system

Congress is moving forward quickly to revise the federal act that governs our nation’s marine resources. The sportfishing and boating industries, along with recreational saltwater anglers, are stepping up efforts to ensure that their economic, social and conservation priorities are well represented.

As the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act reauthorization advances on Capitol Hill, Bass Pro Shops Founder Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats President Scott Deal, leaders in the recreational angling industry and co-chairmen of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, will present A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries at the National Press Club on March 26, 2014, from 9:30–10:30 a.m.

The report, introduced to fishing and boating industry stakeholders on Feb. 13, 2014, at the Progressive Miami International Boat Show, is receiving critical acclaim as an important step toward commonsense saltwater fisheries management. Now, with strong support from the boating and fishing community, the commission is taking the report to the Hill to work with Congress as the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization proceeds.

The Morris-Deal Commission assembled an expert panel of state and federal agency administrators, researchers, industry representatives and economists to promote a proactive vision for saltwater fisheries management. The current Magnuson-Stevens Act does not sufficiently address this important use of our nation’s public fishery resources. The commission’s report addresses recreational fishing specifically and differentiates the economic, social and conservation needs from those of commercial fishing.

According to NOAA Fisheries, 11 million Americans recreationally fish in saltwater each year. These sportsmen and -women contribute more than $70 billion to the nation’s economy and $1.5 billion for on-the-ground conservation of aquatic resources and habitats.

Who:     Johnny Morris, founder and CEO, Bass Pro Shops
Scott Deal, president, Maverick Boats

When:   Wednesday, March 26, 9:30–10:30 a.m. EDT

Where:  Fourth Estate Room, The National Press Club
529 14th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20045

RSVP to Lauren Dunn, National Marine Manufacturers Association, at ldunn@nmma.org; or Mary Jane Williamson, American Sportfishing Association, at mjwilliamson@asafishing.org.

Pheasants Forever hosts nation’s largest upland event

Larry and Brenda Potterfield, owners of MidwayUSA, made a significant donation to Pheasants Forever’s “Forever Shooting Sports Program.” Accepting the donation on behalf of Pheasants Forever is the organization’s National Youth Leadership Council.

Pheasants Forever and its quail division, Quail Forever, hosted more than 21,064 attendees at its National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic this February in Milwaukee. The annual event is the largest in the country for wildlife habitat conservationists, bird dog owners and upland hunters.

Highlights included:

  • $1 million for youth programs. At the organization’s Saturday evening national banquet, Larry and Brenda Potterfield, owners and founders of MidwayUSA, presented Pheasants Forever with a check for $950,000 to be used for the organization’s Forever Shooting Sports program. Pheasants Forever also accepted gracious checks throughout the weekend from SportDOG Brand and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for $25,000 each. All told, the $1 million in contributions will be used to further Pheasants Forever’s youth programs throughout the country.
  • Recognizing conservation leaders. Pheasants Forever welcomed Rep. Paul Ryan as the keynote speaker at its national banquet. Wisconsin’s first district congressman is a former co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, and he recognized eight outstanding Wisconsin conservationists for their efforts in protecting wildlife habitat in the state.
  • Bird dogs steal the show. More than 500 turned out for the unique show open: a “Bird Dog Parade” that featured nearly 40 different sporting dog breeds.
  • Wildlife habitat improvement. Nearly 140 landowners went through the process of obtaining a wildlife habitat management plan for their properties at the event’s “Landowner Habitat Help Room.” Nearly 30,000 acres stand to be improved for wildlife because of these plans, all of which are drawn up with a professional wildlife biologist.

We hope to see you at National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic next year. Stay tuned!

Paul Ryan

Strength in numbers: TRCP unites sportsmen-conservationists at SHOT Show forum

Sportsmen and industry professionals travel from across the country – and, in many cases, from around the world – to attend the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show, or SHOT Show, every year. The show, which took place Jan. 14-17, is the largest and most comprehensive trade show for the shooting, hunting and related industries.

Attendees cite a wide range of reasons for coming to SHOT, and, with attendance at this year’s show topping a record-breaking 67,000, you’d be hard pressed to generalize about why so many consider it a can’t-miss event.

But one explanation resonates throughout the show’s 635,000 square feet of exhibition space and among the more than 1,600 exhibitors: economics.

The hunting and shooting industries have never been stronger in America. Data released by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which owns and manages SHOT, shows that spending by hunters and shooters had a total impact of more than $110 billion on the U.S. economy in 2011. This supports more than 866,000 jobs.

These numbers won’t surprise many in the sportsmen’s community, including the TRCP and our partner groups, who have been responding to legislative attacks on programs important to hunters and anglers, fish and wildlife, and conservation in America by citing data that illustrates the economic value of hunting, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation.

Hunting and fishing directly contribute more than $86 billion to the U.S. economy each year and support approximately 1.5 million non-exportable jobs. Sportsmen also are integral to the broader outdoor-recreation and conservation economy, which is responsible for $646 billion in direct consumer spending annually.

There is strength in numbers. Whether those numbers are impressive economic figures or the growing number of sportsmen raising our voices on Capitol Hill, the TRCP is channeling them to promote the outdoor traditions, sporting heritage and vast economic impact of sportsmen by bringing all the stakeholders in our community “to the table” to speak together in a unified voice.

To this end, at the 2014 SHOT Show the TRCP convened our third annual “Sportsmen’s Conservation Forum,” a meeting of some of the greatest minds in conservation, including CEOs, policy experts and influential members of the media, to discuss federal policy impacting sportsmen and the top-line priorities for our community in 2014. More than 40 sportsman leaders – among them U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, Howard Vincent of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Miles Moretti of the Mule Deer Foundation, “MeatEater” host Steven Rinella and Field & Stream Editor in Chief Anthony Licata – had a wide-ranging dialogue that touched on the federal budget and sportsmen’s values, the next farm bill, public hunting access (and obstacles to access) and the prospects for passage of comprehensive sportsmen’s legislation in 2014.

While the participants are committed hunters and shooters, all of them also have a stake in responsive policy that supports these outdoor traditions. And while the prospects for sportsman-focused policy and legislation in 2014 remain unclear, our community remains unwavering in our commitment to stand strong, present a united front, and show the strength both of our combined numbers and the economic influence of sportsmen – at events like the SHOT Show and elsewhere in the crucially important time to come.

Learn more about the TRCP’s work to promote strongly funded conservation programs and legislative measures important to sportsmen.

“I Will Never Forget”

In many cultures, mountains and water have a special significance and attraction. In China, an ancient song titled “High Mountains and Flowing Water” represents cherished friendship. In the Bible, Psalm 23’s well-known verse three teaches, “He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul,” and those of us who pursue fly fishing in the mountains around moving water know the therapeutic value of a day spent on the water.

In 2007, a group in Bozeman decided that this experience would help aid in the recovery of our nation’s wounded warriors from the injuries, both physical and psychological, that they received during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From this idea sprang the Bozeman-based Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation for which I served as both the volunteer director of fly fishing operations and a board member from 2007-2010. During that time, the program grew from two five-day events to eight events that served 40-50 wounded warriors and their spouses each year.

The typical fishing experience is a five-day event that begins with equipment fitting, compliments of Simms Fishing Products, followed by a day of fly fishing instruction on a local pond; we call it Fly Fishing 101. Events typically conclude with two days of guided fishing and a sight-seeing trip into Yellowstone National Park.

Participants with injuries ranging from bilateral amputations to post-traumatic stress disorder come from military medical facilities across the U.S. and are fully equipped, accommodated and cared for during their stay by a group of dedicated Warriors and Quiet Waters volunteers.

I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters and another great therapeutic fly fishing program, Project Healing Waters, for seven years. During that time, I’ve seen first-hand the palpable impact that time spent in the mountains, around flowing water and fly fishing has on these wounded warriors and vets.

I could tell their stories myself, but the most powerful testimonies come directly from the participants themselves.

Fly fishing has given me a chance to ease my mind. There is no peace quite like being on the river surrounded by surreal beauty with only a friend, Mother Nature and yourself. When I leave the river, I feel rejuvenated and optimistic.”

- Avery, a wounded U.S. Army soldier

“I really wanted to mention the day we had at the creek. I had a great time, and even if I had not caught a single fish it would have still been tops. The scenery was great, the wildlife was awesome and I could have just sat on the bank and imagined I was in heaven. I will never forget my day on the creek. It was like a year’s worth of therapy wrapped into a single moment.”

- John C., U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class

Testimonies such as these underscore the importance of ensuring that all Americans can enjoy a day on the water or discover the camaraderie forged during trips afield. These experiences would be harder to come by if not for the groundwork laid by the forefathers of conservation like Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and others. And groups like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited help uphold our nation’s great conservation legacy.

We do this because these high mountains and flowing water experiences change lives, and, in some cases, they even save them. I will leave you with the following story from Chris, a U.S. Air Force wounded warrior:

While I was in the ICU, I died three times, flat-lined. I don’t recall much, except for the last time. The last time I flat-lined I do recall accepting it that my body just could not handle the stress of it any longer. Things were going dark for me, but I remembered a Warriors and Quiet Waters fishing trip that I took to Montana. I was fishing at the place where they filmed the movie A River Runs Through It. I saw the old train tracks, and I saw myself sitting on a rock just fishing, not trying too hard, but just relaxing. It was the most relaxing place ever for me. But, I knew I was going to die and this was it. But when this happened, I pictured my son sitting on the rock with me smiling away as we were fishing. Then, all the alarms were going off in ICU, but I accepted it and then everything went black. Four days or so later I woke up. I was out the entire time. I was told by the nurse I flat-lined three times and almost died. In her words it was a miracle I am still alive.

Images courtesy Dave Kumlien.

Seven Major Sportsmen’s Groups Call on Congress to End Shutdown

Seven major sportsmen’s groups from across the country hosted a teleconference calling on Congress to end the shutdown that has closed hundreds of wildlife refuges, Forest Service and BLM areas at the start of hunting seasons across the nation. Leaders from the sportsman-conservation community urged Congress and the administration to make habitat conservation efforts a priority.

The shutdown is limiting hunting opportunities and is hurting the country’s wildlife-related recreation economy, which in 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated at more than $144 billion. For instance, the shutdown closed more than 329 federal wildlife refuges for hunting, and more than 271 are shut to fishing, affecting local economies.

These closures compound the cuts proposed by Congress to programs that conserve wildlife habitat, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and others. The shutdown also undermines efforts to reauthorize the Farm Bill, which includes critical elements of national conservation policy.

Find out how the federal shutdown is affecting sportsmen and -women. Featuring top leaders and experts in the sportsman-conservation community including:

  • Dr. Steve Williams, President, Wildlife Management Institute and former Director of the U. S. + Fish and Wildlife Service (Pennsylvania)
  • Land Tawney, Executive Director, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (Montana)
  • Whit Fosburgh, President/CEO, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (Washington, D.C.)
  • Gaspar Perricone, Co-Director, Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance (Colorado)
  • Miles Moretti, President/CEO, Mule Deer Foundation (Utah)
  • Howard Vincent, President & CEO, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever (Minnesota)
  • Desirée Sorenson-Groves, Vice President, Government Affairs, National Wildlife Refuge Association (Washington, D.C.)

Listen to the telepresser and let us know how you are seeing the effects of the government shutdown.

Ballot Box Biology Bad for Sportsmen

At first glance, many of the issues facing hunters and anglers today seem overwhelmingly complex. On topics as diverse as ATV use to public land development, climate change to predator management, emotionally charged debates spring up at every sportsman’s gathering. None of these issues seems to have a simple answer.

I often am confronted by individuals or organizations asking about the TRCP’s position on the issue of the day. My answer is always the same: What does the best available science tell us?

The TRCP’s mission is, and always has been, to guarantee all Americans a quality place to hunt and fish. To do this we need sustainable fish and wildlife populations and habitats to support them. Our professional wildlife managers intimately understand this and implement policies and procedures to ensure it.

Where the process falls off the rails is when we start trying to manage our fish and wildlife through what is sometimes referred to as “ballot box biology” – a process by which fish, wildlife and habitat management decisions are made not by professionals using sound, supportable, peer-reviewed and published science but by public opinion. Unfortunately, public opinion can be deeply divided, fueled not by the facts but by emotional rhetoric and snappy catch phrases that fit neatly onto bumper stickers.

A good example of this can be seen in the ongoing controversy surrounding gray wolf management, an issue that has splintered the sportsman’s community. Specifically, wolves have been single-handedly blamed for dramatically reducing big game numbers to the point where the absurd claim of “the wolves ate them all” is commonly heard in reference to elk, deer, moose and even bighorn sheep.

It’s an easy bandwagon to jump on. The image of a snarling, larger-than-life predator with blood-drenched fangs can haunt even the most reasonable hunter’s dreams when he’s on a long and unsuccessful quest and not finding the animals he is used to seeing in his favorite hunting spots. But the scientific reality behind recent population declines is far more complex, and to attribute it solely to any one factor, including predation, is an unjust over-simplification.  In fact, a study sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation on the elk declines in the Yellowstone area has determined that wolves have had a minimal effect on elk populations.

Another recent study out of Minnesota, where a 69-percent decline in moose populations has put an end to moose hunting in that state, points toward climate change as the major factor. Milder winters are raising the survival rates of blood-sucking ticks that attack moose in the tens of thousands, when the animal already is stressed by a warmer than normal summer. Unfortunately, despite sound scientific support, “the ticks ate them all” just doesn’t have the same ring to it – and likewise would be inaccurate.

Predators such as wolves or ticks don’t exist in a vacuum. Undeniably, they have an impact; however, a host of other, much less glamorous causes exists, such as habitat degradation and fragmentation, fire suppression, irresponsible development, over-grazing, invasive species and disease.

As difficult as it may be, every sportsman is responsible – for the future of our own and our children’s hunting and angling opportunities – to be factual and credible to ensure we identify and address the actual challenges our natural resources are facing.

We must make the effort to look for the facts of each situation and ask ourselves, “What does the best available science and our professional wildlife managers tell us is best for fish, wildlife and their habitats?” Because ultimately, this also will be what is best for sportsmen.

The science behind sustainable fish and wildlife management is complex. But the decision to use it should be very simple.

Can Crowd-Sourced Funding Save Conservation?

When times are tough, people get creative. One TRCP partner in particular has developed an out-of-the-box strategy to cure the conservation-funding blues.

National habitat and conservation organization, National Wild Turkey Federation, has recruited the help of an online crowd-sourced funding platform called CrowdTilt to fulfill their organizational goals.

Crowd-sourced funding, or crowdfunding, is a fundraising approach that allows many individuals to make small online donations toward a common project – in this case, conserving the Black Hills of Wyoming and South Dakota.

Unable to standby and watch as a mountain pine beetle epidemic devastated the area, NWTF decided to take action. The obvious solution to hire a dedicated forester for the area was shot down due to a lack of funding for such a position.

NWTF  has turned to crowdfunding to raise money for the position. The hiring of a forest manager is a crucial first step toward ensuring the long-term health of the Black Hills and the wildlife that calls its forests home.

From the CrowdTilt page:

By helping to secure this professional forester, you can support wildlife habitat enhancement, reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, forest management planning and mountain pine beetle prevention and treatment. These improvements will cover more than 2,000 acres and be funded by cost share dollars, possibly as much as $800,000, available through the Natural Resource Conservation Service and a previously acquired federal grant.

NWTF’s CrowdTilt campaign already has raised $440 of the $10,000 needed to make am impact on the pine beetle epidemic in the Black Hills. Stay tuned to find out whether NWTF reaches their goal.

Do you think the idea will catch on?

How Much Is a Fish Worth?

From supporting American jobs to providing a healthy protein source for our food supply, commercial fishing is enormously important to the United States. Although our overall take is obviously much lower than commercial sectors, saltwater recreational fishing also provides great value to the nation.

Saltwater recreational fishing benefits the U.S. in that it:

-brings economic activity,
-connects people to the outdoors and
-provides funding for conservation.

All these benefits aside, recreational fishing often is treated as an afterthought in federal saltwater fisheries management.

Tarpon by Dusan Smetana.

Photo by Dusan Smetana.

A first-of-its-kind report recently released by the American Sportfishing Association, Comparing NOAA’s Recreational and Commercial Fishing Economic Data, makes a strong case for elevating the attention policy makers and resource managers pay to recreational fishing.

Did you know that for every 100,000 pounds of fish landed there were 210 recreational fishing jobs but only 4.5 jobs in the commercial sector? Or that saltwater landings used by recreational anglers contribute three times more to the national gross domestic product (GDP, or value-added) than commercial landings?

Figures in the report highlight the importance of saltwater recreational fishing from an economic perspective. We at the American Sportfishing Association long have argued that anglers deserve equal footing in the fisheries management process. Now we have the numbers to prove it.

Mike Nussman is president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association and a TRCP board member.

We Can Do Better

Normally I post deep thoughts about matters of conservation policy. Today I will rant.

Just over a week ago I met two friends, packed up the car in Washington, D.C., and headed for Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River, one of the best trout rivers in the East. The fabled Grannom caddis hatch was on, and it had been six months since I’d stood in a river chasing trout.

As has been my tradition for most of the last 15 years, we left town early to hit Spruce Creek Outfitters, an excellent fly shop where we could buy licenses, stock up on the latest bugs and hear fish tales before hitting the river for the afternoon. Unfortunately, the fly shop no longer sells licenses. Instead they told us to use our smart phones to buy the licenses online.

We set off for a high spot on the road where we could get cell service. After about 30 minutes, my friends succeeded in their efforts. I was unable to complete the transaction but decided to put my friends on the river and then complete my purchase at some other high point along the river.

After sending off my friends, I again found a spot with service and tried to purchase my license, each time reaching the final stage (after entering my credit card information) before receiving the message that the server was busy and to try again later. About 15 minutes into this process I called the toll-free help line and was put on hold to wait for the next available agent. Surely, I thought, between my continued efforts with the Pennsylvania website and help from a live person, I would succeed.

Nearly an hour later I had yet to speak to an agent and was still without a license.

Approaching a murderous rage, I gave up, drove back to the river, put on my waders and walked out to live vicariously through my friends, watching them catch fat brown trout on dry flies. After dinner that night I was finally able to complete my transaction and fish the next day.

Across America, conservation groups work to get kids outdoors and pass along the traditions of hunting and fishing. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation spends millions of dollars encouraging people to rejoin fishing or try it for the first time – and with remarkable success. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, participation was up 11 percent in the last five years, reversing a 20 year decline.

Photo by, Dusan Smetana

To ensure that we have quality places to hunt and fish, conservation groups also are restoring our lands and waters. Look no further than the Little Juniata, which 40 years ago was an open sewer devoid of most fish life.

Groups like the TRCP work to implement new programs, like the Open Fields program of the Farm Bill, to open private lands and waters to hunting and fishing. Since Open Fields launched in 2010, approximately 3 million acres have been opened to the public.

All this work on engagement, habitat and access falls by the wayside if sportsmen must struggle to obtain the proper licenses and tags. The responsibility for licensing falls to the states. According to a recent RBFF study, only five of the 50 states offer mobile friendly websites and only two of the 50 states offer mobile friendly license sales.  Really?

Folks, our sports depend upon participation. Fish and game agency budgets depend upon license sales. Conservation groups depend upon engaged members who will work like dogs for the resource but who deserve to be able to enjoy that resource with as little hassle as possible.

I’d like to think of my experience with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as an exception, but the RBFF numbers indicate otherwise. We can do better, and all sportsmen and -women should make sure that their states join the 21st century and make it as easy as possible for people to enjoy their resources.

Speak up to Save Critical Grassland Habitat

The TRCP joins partners Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Ducks Unlimited and others in urging sportsmen across the nation to contact their House representative and ask him or her to co-sponsor the Protect Our Prairies act (H.R. 686).

This legislation, introduced by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), would reduce crop insurance assistance for the first four years for crops grown on native sod and certain grasslands converted to cropland.

Learn more about the Protect Our Prairies Act.

Reducing crop insurance assistance so it is proportionate with the production capability of this land, rather than insuring it at the same rate as land that has been farmed for years, could save taxpayers nearly $200 million over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate from the 112th Congress.

Importantly, this legislation does not prevent producers from making their own planting decisions.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Protect Our Prairies Act.

Call your representative today and ask him or her to co-sponsor Protect Our Prairies Act (H.R. 686) and defend grasslands for pheasants, quail and other wildlife.