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

US Forest Service Public Affairs Conference

A very nice thank you note!

Last month, my friend Steve Bekkrus asked me to come to Atlanta and give a presentation to the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region Public Affairs conference. He asked me to give a presentation on the impact of the recent election and also on how to more effectively educate and engage Congress. I was delighted to have the opportunity and really enjoyed the conference.

It was a great opportunity to talk with public affairs professionals who work hard to make our public lands a national treasure. These are sharp professionals and it was a lively discussion.

As a follow up I sent them this list of ‘Take Aways.” [Read more…]

Our Public Lands (Part 2): Elections Matter

The reelection of President Obama combined with Democrats gaining seats in the both houses of Congress and a clear repudiation of the extreme views of the GOP provide those of us who treasure our public lands an important opportunity.

The community of sportsmen, outdoor enthusiasts and public land advocates have a chance to press for those things that will secure a legacy for public lands and to defeat the agenda of the remaining right wing zealots who may see the election as a reason to double down on their assault on public lands.

The opportunity lies in showing Congress that public lands are essential to our quality of life, a critical economic contributor and that the American people value them.

Carpe’ing the old Diem

To Carpe this particular Diem public land advocates must present a united front around a common agenda. With that agenda in hand they need to present a clear and compelling message that without our public lands a important part of the U.S. economy is placed in jeopardy and the American public will lose critical recreation, health and environmental infrastructure.

The good news is a lot of groundwork has been done. Coalitions, trade associations and non-governmental organizations have been tirelessly at work gathering and sharing economic and public opinion information, creating messages that give meaning to that data and identifying congressional champions to help transform that information into legislative action.

In addition, the Obama administration has shown its support for public lands. The America’s Great Outdoors initiative is a strategic conservation and recreation agenda and provides important information about public land success and the views of the American people.

Can these groups, with somewhat different agendas, find time to sit down and craft a common and more importantly an achievable agenda? Can they agree that the opportunity to achieve durable public policy is fleeting and that if we don’t speak with one voice then our chances of success is diminished? That remains to be seen.

Now is the time for the leaders of the coalitions, trade associations and NGOs to reach out to each other and commit to a common agenda, sharing resources and working together. If that happens then durable public lands policy can be achieved.

Stay tuned! In coming posts I will write about what the agenda might include and who the champions might be.

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012

Back in June, Senator Jon Tester, (D-MT) introduced the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 and during consideration of the Farm Bill was able to get it attached as an amendment and included in the version that passed the Senate.

If you are following the news the Farm Bill has been tied up in the U.S. House and prospects for passage are very uncertain. Anyone who knows Senator Tester would not be surprised to hear him referred to as tenacious. And in this case that tenacity is serving sportsmen and conservation well. The word on the Hill is that Tester’s bill might actually get a vote in the Senate before they beat a hasty retreat to wait out the results of the elections.

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 is a smorgasbord of legislative items that can go a long way to improve the fish and wildlife habitat that makes up the prime venues for hunting and fishing in this country.  Senator Tester deserves our thanks and your Senate should hear from you asking them to support The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012. Use this link to send a message to your Senators courtesy of the folks at Keep America Fishing.

Details on The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012

Courtesy of Senator Tester’s office.

Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Access

Making Public Lands Public:   This section requires that the 1.5% of annual LWCF funding is made available to secure, through rights-of-way, or the acquisition of lands, or interests from willing sellers, recreational public access to existing federal public lands that have significantly restricted access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes.  Access is the number one issue for Sportsmen.  Finding places to recreate and the loss of access are the top reason sportsmen stop hunting and fishing.  In an agency report to Congress (in 2003) found 35 million acres of public land had inadequate access.

Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act:  This section amends the Pittman-Robertson Act by adjusting the funding limitations.  This allows states more funds available for a longer period of time for the creation and maintenance of shooting ranges.  The bill encourages federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain shooting ranges.

Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act:  This bill allows for the Secretary to authorize permits for re-importation of legally harvested Polar Bears from approved populations in Canada before the 2008 ban.

The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act:  This section specifically excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving decisions about tackle to State Fish and Game Agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, who currently regulate ammo and tackle.  The EPA has denied petitions to regulate tackle and ammo under TSCA in 1994 and again in 2011.  This codifies that the EPA does not have the ability to regulate tackle.  This includes a savings clause for local, state and other federal regulations.

Bows Transported through National Parks:  This provision clarifies the 2007 legislation, and will allow bows to be transported across national park lands.  Currently, firearms can be legally transported, but not bows.  This poses a practical problem for bow hunters who want to legally hunt on Forest Service or BLM lands, but must cross National Park Service Lands.

Billfish Conservation Act:  This section prohibits the sale of Pacific-caught billfish, except in the State of Hawaii, in order to respect traditional fisheries.  Billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) populations have declined severely due to overfishing by non-U.S. commercial fishing fleets who harvest billfish as by-catch while targeting other species. More than two decades ago, the United States banned the commercial sale and harvest of Atlantic-caught billfish.  Catch-and-release recreational angling for billfish generates many millions of dollars in economic benefits to the U.S. economy each year.

Report on Artificial Reefs in the Gulf of Mexico:  This section requires report on the Idle Iron program in order to develop more coordination between agencies and states.  This will assure that the interests of recreational fishermen are incorporated into the program.

Habitat Conservation

National Fish Habitat Conservation Act:  This section creates a national voluntary grant program to protect and improve fish habitat by improving water quality and quantity across the nation.  This section builds on current partnerships to restore waterways and provides an organic statue to authorize the work that the Fish and Wildlife Service is currently performing into one program with an advisory board.

Migratory Bird Habitat Investment and Enhancement Act: This section amends the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act so that the Secretary of the Interior, beginning in 2013 for three year periods, can set the amount to be collected for Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps.  It will require the Postal Service to collect the amount established by the Secretary for each Stamp that is sold for a hunting year.

Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act: This section would grant the Secretary of the Interior permanent authority to authorize any state to issue electronic duck stamps.  It also outlines electronic duck stamp application requirements.

Joint Ventures Authorization:  This section creates an organic statute for the Joint Ventures program housed in the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Joint Venture program was established within the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1987.  This language allows FWS to provide financial and technical assistance to support regional migratory bird conservation partnerships, develop and implement plans for the protection and enhancement of migratory bird populations to support migratory bird conservation.

Reauthorizations

North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (NAWCA):  This section reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act for another five years. NAWCA is a voluntary land-owner friendly initiative that uses incentives to provide valuable matching grants that leverage federal dollars to protect habitat that is critically important for migratory birds, such as ducks and other wildlife.  Over the last 20 years, NAWCA has completed over 2,000 conservation project to protect 26.5 million acres of habitat.  This voluntary program has over 4,500 partners and has leveraged nearly 3 dollars for every dollar spent by the federal government.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife:  This provides provision reauthorizes the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program through 2017.  This program works in a non-regulatory, cooperative fashion to help private landowners with habitat restoration on their property. This cost-share program focuses on improving wetland, riparian, in-stream, fish passage, sage-steppe, grassland and aquatic habitats that provide benefits to migratory birds, threatened or endangered species, and other sensitive and declining species.

Neotropical Migratory Birds Reauthorization:  This extends the authorization for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Act which allows for voluntary conservation of critical bird habitat with 28 Projects in 26 Countries in 2012. This program leverages four dollars of matching funds for each dollar spent by the federal government.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization:  This section reauthorizes the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a non-profit that preserves and restores our nation’s native wildlife species and habitats. Created by Congress in 1984, NFWF directs public conservation dollars to the most pressing environmental needs and matches those investments with private funds. Since its establishment, NFWF has awarded over 11,600 grants to more than 4,000 organizations in the United States, investing a total of $2 billion for conservation.

Multinational Species Conservation Fund Reauthorization: Section reauthorizes appropriations to carry out the African Elephant Conservation Act, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994, the Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997, The Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2003 and the Great Ape Conservation Act of 2000 for FY2012-FY2017.  This will also allow for a five year extension on the corresponding postal stamps.

Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act: This section would amend the Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Act of 2010 to require such stamps to be available for an additional four years; and provide five versions depicting African or Asian elephants, a rhinoceros, a tiger, a marine turtle or a great ape.

Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization (FTFLA): This section reauthorizes the BLM’s authority to sell land to private land owners, counties, companies and others for ranching, community development and various projects. This “Land for Land” approach creates jobs and generates funding for BLM, USFS, NPS and USFWS to acquire critical in-holdings from willing sellers. The sales revenue allows agencies to acquire high priority lands with important wildlife habitat value and recreational access for hunting and fishing.

Nutria Eradication and Control Act:  This section would amend the Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2003 to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to provide financial assistance to Maryland, Louisiana and other coastal states for a program to eradicate and control nutria populations.

EPA’s Draft Watershed Assessment for Bristol Bay

Hard work pays off.

The folks at TU’s Save Bristol Bay campaign and Sportsmen’s Alliance for Alaska deserve some serious congratulations. Because of their efforts the a critical milestone in the efforts to protect Bristol Bay has been reached. On May 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put out a draft scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershedand its natural resources. The study is open for public comment through July 23, 2012. Scott Hed and Shoren Brown (below) in particular have been tireless in their efforts to get us to this point and have earned a round of applause at the very least and a round of drinks next time you see them.

These guys have reason to smile

Forewarned is Forearmed

EPA has taken an important step and deserves credit for being pro-active in doing this forward-looking assessment. Knowing what the potential challenges of a project this size could be and the ecological and economic impacts it could have, allows EPA and those who have an interest in Bristol Bay to be much better informed when it comes to siting mining or other extraction projects in the region.

 Sportsmen in particular have written, spoken out and shown their concerns about the impact a large-scale mining operation could have on the Bristol Bay watershed.

What the DRAFT Watershed Assessment says

Here is what EPA wrote in their press release:

“The report assesses the watershed’s natural resources and the economic benefits associated with those resources, including the largest undisturbed wild sockeye salmon run in the world. EPA’s draft study does not provide an in-depth assessment of any specific mining project, but instead assesses the potential environmental impacts associated with mining activities at a scale and with the characteristics that are realistically anticipated, given the nature of mineral deposits in the watershed, the requirements for successful mining development, and publicly available information about potential mining activity. The report concludes that there is potential for certain activities associated with large-scale mining to have adverse impacts on the productivity and sustainability of the salmon fishery in the watershed. Potential impacts could include loss of habitat used for salmon spawning and rearing. The assessment, when finalized following the important public comment and independent peer review, could help inform future decisions on any large-scale mining in Bristol Bay by both federal and non-federal decision-makers.
The draft assessment focused on the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, which produce up to half of all Bristol Bay salmon and are open to mining development under Alaska law.

Key findings in EPA’s draft assessment include:

  • All five species of North American Pacific salmon are found in Bristol Bay. The Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. The Kvichak River produces more sockeye salmon than any other river in the world. The Nushagak River is the fourth largest producer of Chinook salmon in North America.
  • Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fishery and other ecological resources provide at least 14,000 full and part-time jobs and is valued at about $480 million annually.
  • The average annual run of sockeye salmon is about 37.5 million fish.
  • Bristol Bay provides habitat for numerous animal species, including 35 fish species, more than 190 bird species and 40 animal species.

EPA also examined the importance of Bristol Bay salmon in sustaining the traditional subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Native Villages in the watershed. The assessment includes detailed reports on Bristol Bay indigenous culture, wildlife and economics, as well as salmon and other fish.

TU’s Save Bristol Bay campaign website adds this:

“Even at its minimum size, mining the Pebble deposit would eliminate or block 55 to 87 miles of salmon streams and at least 2500 acres of wetlands – key habitat for sockeye and other fishes. EPA evaluated four types of large-scale mine failures, and found that even though precise estimates of failure probabilities cannot be made, evidence from other large mines suggest that “at least one or more accidents of failures could occur, potentially resulting in immediate, severe impacts on salmon and detrimental, long-term impacts on salmon habitat.”

What it means for Bristol Bay

This DRAFT assessment is a good first step. There is still a lot of work to be done however. EPA’s assessment is scientific and technical. It is not final, takes no regulatory action and “no way prejudges future consideration of proposed mining activities.”

Unless significant changes to the assessment are justified during the public comment and peer review period, EPA should take the next step and initiate a process under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay’s waters.

Please add your voice in support of protections for Bristol Bay; Click here to take action.

For information on public meetings and how to submit comments, visit EPA’s website:http://www.epa.gov/region10/bristolbay/.

For more information on EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and to read the assessment, visit:http://www.epa.gov/region10/bristolbay/

The Value of Public Land

Two articles, each very different in their approach, recently tackled the subject of public lands. They caught my attention not only for the subject matter, but because of the important messages they contained.

Public lands are good for the soul

Hal Herring wrote a terrific piece in Field & Stream, How Public Land Has Shaped and Defined My Entire Life. He paints a written landscape of his lifelong experience hunting, fishing and wandering this nation’s unique and varied public lands. Well worth the read and perhaps, if the opportunity presents itself, you can assist Herring in his challenge to those folks running for public office to join us on and fighting for our public lands.

“Join us, and see what free people do on the lands that visionaries set aside for us all, long ago, so that we would never lose the basic frontiersman’s edge that made this country different from all the others, so that our children would grow up strong under heaven’s blue eye and learn the ways of wildlife and wild places, and learn what it is that we fight for, when we have to fight.

Join us. We’ll show you something that you’ll want to fight for, too.”

Who cares about public lands

The second article offers a look at the strengths and weaknesses of public land supporters, defenders and exploiters. Check out Public Lands Cage Fight on Truchacabra.

This is a no-holds-barred critique that will boil the blood of some folks. Of course there will be a bunch of bitching and moaning and trying to defend one group or another. That will just prove the author’s point. The critiques are spot on and those of us who fit in to the categories are well-advised to learn from these observations.

When all is said and done, if you enjoy the outdoors then you damn well need to set a good example or as the author notes in response to a comment, “It seems ideology is more important than anything these days. Anything can spin off the right track, and there are vultures waiting whenever it happens.”

So next time you feel like the other guy doesn’t care as much as you do, think again, then share the bounty, trail or river. If not, the vultures will waste no time in taking it away from us.

At the White House Conference on Conservation

I put my AFFTA hat on last Friday to participate in the White House Conference on Conservation. The conference was excellent and while I often grouse about having to “go to DC” this was time well spent.

The theme for the conference was “Growing America’s Outdoor Heritage and Economy.” A theme that is near and dear to our heart here at Dispatches. The drum beat of “habitat equals opportunity equals economic activity” is getting louder and I couldn’t be happier. It is to the great credit that the Administration, especially the Department of Interior, is championing the economic value of the conservation and outdoor recreation.

America’s Great Outdoors

The conference was part of the on-going America’s Great Outdoors initiative. The “on-going” is important to note. Since the Obama Administration rolled AGO out under the capable guidance of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and his team, they have kept stakeholders and the public informed and engaged. This conference was the latest example.

The purpose of the conference was to “engage directly with conservation leaders from all 50 states to strengthen partnerships and identify next steps in advancing community-driven conservation and outdoor recreation initiatives that are building strong local economies and healthy lands, waters and wildlife across America.

Joining Salazar at the conference were Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Each participated in panel discussions to help frame the discussions in breakout sessions later in the day.

The three panels during the conference were (the links take you to videos of the panels):

Each panel was moderated by an administration official with remarks from folks who have experience or involvement in the subject areas. Of special note was Dave Perkins Vice-Chairman of the Orvis Company. Perkins was part of the Restoring Rivers panel and did a great job in connecting the dots to the economic contributions of river recreation and restoration. Having a major player from the fly-fishing industry was important recognition of both the economic and conservation contributions the industry makes.

The capstone to the day came with remarks from President Obama. Having the President come to Interior underscores the importance the administration puts on conservation and the impact of the recreational economy.

Focusing on specifics

In order for folks to talk about specific interests there were 11 breakout sessions:

  • Tourism and Outdoor Recreation
  • Coastal Conservation
  • Access: Recreation / Hunting & Fishing
  • Large Landscape Conservation
  • Urban Open Space
  • Rivers Restoration and Recreation
  • Youth and Outdoor Education
  • The 21st Century Service Conservation Corps, Youth Corps and Veterans Jobs
  • Historic and Cultural Preservation and Sacred Tribal Places
  • Public Lands Management and Conservation
  • National Park Second Century

These breakout sessions were used to learn from stakeholders what was working in the AGO initiative and more importantly what needed to be done.

I attended the Rivers Restoration and Recreation session moderated by Rock Salt from the Dept. of the Army (Civil Works) and Rebecca Wodder from Interior.

Wodder framed the discussion by asking, when it came to rivers, what works and what needs work.

National Water Trails

Earlier in the week, Salazar had signed a Secretarial Order establishing a National Water Trails system under the National Trails System Act.

“The order sets the framework for Secretarial designation of water trails that will help facilitate outdoor recreation on waterways in and around urban areas, and provide national recognition and resources to existing, local water trails.”

Many in the room pointed to the new National Water Trails as an important step forward and one that has great potential to provide stakeholders a way to promote water-based outdoor recreation, encourage community stewardship of local waterways, and promote tourism that fuels local economies across America.

From AFFTA’s perspective, this is a great opportunity. It really is very simple, rivers are our business, they are the principal venues for our customers and clients. There is an indisputable nexus between the health of a river and its viability as a recreational resource.

I used the case of the Colorado River and its tributaries as an example. It was one the Secretary was familiar: “It’s a mecca of economic development in outdoor recreation, and that needs to be recognized in how we manage the Colorado River System.”   I encouraged them to remind Secretary Salazar and Asst Secretary Darcy to keep those economic impacts in mind when making decisions that affect water supply and quality.

I know that my AFFTA colleagues will welcome the chance to work on making the new National Water Trails system a recreational and economic success.

National Fish Habitat Partnership

Salazar also announced that is working with the Secretary Vilsack and Commerce Secretary John Bryson on a Memorandum of Agreement to ensure that Federal resources are effectively focused in support of the collaborative conservation efforts of the National Fish Habitat Partnership.

The National Fish Habitat Partnerships provide local, public-private conservation partnerships that are the foundation of the three part equation, “Habitat = Recreational Opportunity = Economic Activity, which so important to AFFTA. Healthy habitat and clean water create the venues for AFFTA member’s customers and clients.

The National Fish Habitat Action Plan and the National Fish Habitat Partnership are strongly supported by AFFTA and this announcement that an agreement is in the works is excellent news. This is an important step to having our federal partners work together to insure the success of the partnerships and the important work they do.

As a member of the steering committee of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, one of the 18 National Fish Habitat Partnerships, I know that a well coordinated effort with the various federal agencies can only help the EBTJV continue its successful efforts to ensure healthy, fishable brook trout populations throughout its historic range.

As someone who is often cynical about the value of these types of get togethers, this one was a winner. Sure there is more to be done but the America’s Great Outdoors initiative has been a lot more than rhetoric. The President has shown his support, traveling to the Department of Interior twice and hosting a gathering at the White House. There are AGO projects in 50 states.

Now with this engagement on rivers and fish habitat there is a new opportunity for anglers and the sport fishing industry. That can only be a good thing.