Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Wildlife should benefit from stimulus

We are all reading or hearing about the economic stimulus package that President-elect Barack Obama and Congress will be working on. Whether you think it is a good idea or not, the likelihood that some form of stimulus package will become law is pretty much a certainty.

Last month, 31 hunting, fishing, conservation and environmental organizations jointly sent a letter to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, supporting additional funding for habitat conservation and green infrastructure projects.

What I found very interesting and frankly refreshing about who had signed the letter was that these 31 groups have not always been willing to work together.

Environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society and the Wilderness Society joined with the American Sportfishing Association, the Boone and Crockett Club, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in support of specific conservation funding.

The letter stated, “The attached recommendations represent a unique consensus among a wide range of organizations specifically aimed at habitat-oriented projects that benefit fish and wildlife while stimulating local economies, particularly through job creation.”

This is a remarkable turn of events. Hopefully one that will become a pattern and not an exception.

Like many, I am not sure the answer to our nation’s economic woes is more government spending. But, if taxpayer funds are going to be used to stimulate the economy then using that money for habitat conservation, public access and recreational opportunity makes sense.

Investments in our natural resources offer a variety of economic benefits. Hunting, fishing and other recreational activities are economic engines that provide tax revenue, conservation dollars and jobs for local economies.

These organizations point out that investments in conservation projects provide job-creation opportunities in engineering, landscaping, hydrology and other biological fields. These types of projects need specialized equipment operators, construction crews and many other skilled laborers.

The group noted, “Our estimates indicate that over 160,000 jobs would be created through this funding request. This figure represents direct job creation as a result of the proposed stimulus investments and does not include secondary job creation. Most of these programs and projects would be initiated and jobs created within 3-6 months, with the goal of completing obligations within one year.”

When you add it all up, these groups are recommending an investment of nearly $9 billion. Seems like a lot of money doesn’t it? Sure does to me.

But if you look at it as part of the whole and if the current $700 billion being discussed is close to the final amount, then these programs will only get a bit more than one and a quarter percent of the total.

I think our natural resources, fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities deserve that and more.

Let’s take a look at some of the specific recommendations.

For the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, they recommend increased funding for Habitat Restoration Programs like the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, the Fish Passage Program and the Coastal Program. Because of the project backlog in each of these programs increased funding would immediately lead to more jobs.

Another U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program that could use more money is the North American Wetland Conservation Act grants program. NAWCA has a great track record of success. Demand for these grants is growing and exceeds current funding levels.

New funding would mean engineering and construction related jobs. Given the importance of wetlands and the continued projected losses of this critical habitat, more NAWCA grants make sense.

The National Park Service is another important agency in desperate need of funding. Estimates of the operations and maintenance backlog are somewhere north of $8 billion, more than half of that amount is needed just for road and trail repair.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a number of important conservation programs at the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The groups making the recommendations point out that U.S. Forest Service could use funding assistance for sustainable forests. Funds would be used to improve water quality and wildlife habitat while ensuring a supply of wood and forest products.

Programs like Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation with a backlog of more than $400 million, would use the funding to improve recreational access and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

Wildfire is a growing worry. More than 100 million acres of state, private and national forests are at risk across the nation. Funding for hazardous fuels reduction and post-fire restoration would help make our rural communities safer, provide jobs, support local economies and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

Valley residents and visitors know what an asset our National Parks and National Forests are. Using new funding to improve these important recreational venues is a smart investment.

Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor recreations are important contributors to our national economy. Hunters and anglers spend $76 billion each year to enjoy their sports. They are an economic engine with a “ripple effect” of $192 billion.

That ripple effect means people have jobs and local economies thrive. Besides the direct hunting and fishing jobs, other businesses benefit – businesses like gas stations, retail, restaurants and hotels in every state and congressional district.

As taxpayers we have a right and duty to express our views on how the government spends our money. If we are going to spend the money, then these programs and projects are worthwhile investments.

Take the time to tell our elected officials that hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation are important to our economy and deserve financial support.

You can read more of my columns in the News Virginian.

Learning from the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture

As a fisherman and hunter I have learned to appreciate the interconnectivity of the natural world.

Like many, I have come to see the wisdom in the quote often attributed to John Muir, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

By the way, what he really said was, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

But the point remains.

One of the prime examples of this interconnectivity is the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture.

The Joint Venture began in 2002 when a small group of us got together to see if we could take advantage of the emerging interest in fish habitat conservation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Service had launched the National Fish Habitat Initiative and a few of us were interested in seeing if there might be some common interest to do something for the Brook Trout habitat.

The original group of fish heads included the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Larry Mohn and Steve Reeser, Hannibal Bolton from the USFWS, Dave Cross from the U.S. Forest Service, Steve Moyer from Trout Unlimited and Gordon Robertson from the American Sportfishing Association.

We all felt that the National Fish Habitat Initiative, later known as the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, was a good idea. Using regional partnerships modeled after the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, joint ventures made good sense to us.

What we worried about was the spectra of “process” getting in the way of progress. The folks managing the Action Plan wanted to build a program first. We wanted to put our time, money and energy into “on the ground” projects.

Over the next few months we reached out to the fish and game departments in the 17 states that encompassed the Eastern Brook Trout’s native range from Maine to Georgia.

Most of the states contacted agreed with our enthusiasm for protecting, restoring and enhancing Brook Trout habitat. Many agreed to participate in an initial planning meeting the following year.

At that meeting the participants formed a steering committee (I currently serve as the vice-chair) to manage the effort. The participating organizations then divided the work among five working committees; Conservation Strategy, Data, Outreach and Education, Science and Research and Grants and Development.

Over the next two years the EBTJV did a range-wide assessment of Brook Trout populations and threats to Brook Trout and Brook Trout habitat in the Eastern United States.

Each state drafted conservation strategies to improve water quality and restore Brook Trout habitat and populations using local, incentive-based, non-regulatory programs.

“Once the partnership recognized the threats facing Brook Trout within its historic eastern range, we developed regional and range-wide strategies to take swift and deliberate steps to conserve strong populations and restore weaker ones,” said Steve Perry, Inland Fisheries Division Chief for the NH Fish and Game Department and Chair of the Joint Venture. “We created a model for fish conservation — a large-scale habitat-focused conservation strategy for a species at risk. This strategy provides us with a roadmap to significantly improve Brook Trout populations by 2025.”

Last year, the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture was recognized as one of the first partnerships under the National Fish Habitat Action Plan. The list of partners supporting the joint venture now includes fish and wildlife agencies from all 17 states, federal agencies, conservation organizations and academic institutions.

Brook Trout are state fish. They are the only trout native to the streams and rivers of the eastern United States.

Once abundant throughout their historical range, Brook Trout populations are declining as land use changes alter their habitat. “Brookies” need cold, clean water to survive. They also serve as excellent indicators of the health of the watersheds they inhabit.

Virginia has received funding for two projects, both of them here in the Shenandoah Valley, one on the North River and another on Smith Creek.

The North River Brook Trout Habitat Restoration project was one of the first to receive funds set aside by the USFWS for the EBTJV.

The North River project is restoring the original stream contour to a five-mile section above the Elkhorn Dam. VDGIF is working with the U.S. Forest Service to restore this historic Brook Trout habitat.

Larry Mohn at VDGIF told me that the project has tremendous potential for Brook Trout restoration. He also said because of the size of project it would take a while to get it completed.

Mohn is a pretty laid-back guy but he was visibly excited about the potential to restore this low in-stream flow habitat for Brook Trout.

The Smith Creek project is in Rockingham County. Working cooperatively with ten diverse partners, the project is helping restore riparian habitat at the headwaters of Smith Creek.

This project connects to Mountain Run in the George Washington National Forest as well, providing additional spawning habitat for those Brook Trout.

The connection the EBTJV has to our everyday life is not hard to see. Clean water is important in so many ways here in the Valley, in Virginia and across the country.

As part of the EBTJV we all benefit from the work to protect our watersheds and aquatic habitat. Whether you fish or not, when we tug at a single thing in nature, we indeed find it attached to the rest of the world.

You can read more of my columns in the News Virginian here.

Seat at the table

This is a follow up to my column on 12/04/08.

Hunters and anglers now have even more reason to offer their ideas to the incoming Obama administration.

On Friday (12/05/08) the President-elect Barack Obama’s Transition Project announced that documents from official meetings with outside organizations will be available for review on Change.gov.

Now you can see what various groups have given to the transition team at meetings and offer comments about those meetings and the materials.

Sportsmen and -women need to be engaged now more than ever. This is another easy opportunity to do.

Future for the Forest Service

My good pal Chris Wood wrote a great piece for Writers on the Range recently.
He offers some good advice for the future of the U.S. Forest Service.