Federal Agencies are Planning for the Infrastructure Bill

Published April 20th, 2022 at Harvesting Nature.

In August 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684), also known as the “Infrastructure Bill”. While the $1.2 trillion dollar bill is geared toward improving roads, bridges, airports and ports, broadband internet, and water and energy systems across the nation, it also contains around $20 billion aimed at natural resources management, enhancement, education, and protection.

Projects to be funded include but are not limited to wildlife road crossings, reauthorization of the Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Funds for fisheries conservation, drought planning in the west, and other water quality improvements.

Funds earmarked for federal agencies will go toward projects of this nature, and other specific uses and programs identified by agency missions, and the agencies are thinking big. Summarized here are the funding amounts and planned uses for the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service over the next five years.

US Forest Services

  • $10 million – Decommissioning and removal of non-hydropower dams on Forest Service lands
  • $80 million – Collaborative aquatic-focused landscape-scale restoration
  • $100 million – Invasive species eradication at points of entry to Forest Service lands
  • $180 million – Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service
  • $250 million – Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program

US Fish and Wildlife Service

  • $17 million – Lake Tahoe
    • Aquatic invasive species removal
    • Invasive species monitoring pre- and post-removal
    • Bio-security infrastructure investments
    • Develop a Tribal Trust for Lake Tahoe resources
  • $26 million – Delaware River
    • Fund the Delaware River Basin program, which provides matching grants for habitat conservation in the Delaware River Basin in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
  • $50 million – Sage-Steppe
    • Build on the current collaborative process with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and other federal, state, and nongovernmental partners
    • Defend and grow high quality sagebrush habitat “cores”
    • Sustain the region’s rural, natural resources-based economies and communities, including tribes
  • $162 million – Klamath
    • Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery construction
    • Securing water for Klamath Wildlife Refuges and improving water quality
    • Implementing Tribal and stakeholder basin-wide Klamath restoration priorities
  • $200 million – Fish Passage
    • Fund the National Fish Passage Program to work with Federal agencies, State governments, private landowners, Tribes, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to restore fish passage and aquatic connectivity by removing or bypassing barriers.

NOAA – National Marine Fisheries Service

  • $77 million – Habitat Restoration: National Estuarine Research Reserves
  • $172 million – Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery
  • $207 million – Habitat Restoration: Coastal Zone Management Program
  • $400 million – Fish Passage
  • $491 million – Habitat Restoration
  • $492 million – National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund

What all of the above points to is better public lands access, fish and wildlife habitat expansion, and increased connectivity and genetic diversity for fishes at the landscape scale. Where and how the myriad projects to be funded through each of these avenues will occur remains in the works. Many will be funded through grant programs facilitating an application and award process to ensure the money is well-spent.

Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon see Record High Returns

Published at Harvesting Nature December 17th, 2021

In a year when salmon and steelhead returns were seeing historic lows across the Pacific Basin (2021), Bristol Bay, Alaska noted record high sockeye salmon returns at over 66 million fish, shattering the 2018 record of nearly 63 million. Bristol Bay salmon returns have been studies since the 1940’s and this year was only the third time a sockeye return has broken 60 million fish. Conversely, Alaska’s Yukon River saw some of the lowest Chinook and chum salmon returns on record.

While a number of anthropogenic and environmental variables currently influence Pacific salmon populations, climate change may have played a role in both the record high and low returns.

“Climate warming seems to have actually benefited Bristol Bay sockeye” said University of Washington Researcher, Dr. Dan Schindler. In cold northern climates, warmer water temperature leads to more food and better growth, and the sockeye of Bristol Bay are currently experiencing optimal conditions. The watersheds draining into Bristol Bay are undeveloped, providing optimal physical habitat as well.

Climate models predict range shifts for virtually all species of flora and fauna in North America, and while the Bristol Bay sockeye are booming, salmon and steelhead from California up through Washington are struggling from warming waters and myriad other environmental factors. Because fish populations fluctuate naturally, the sockeye returns to Bristol Bay may not persist at the present exceptional level, but fishery scientists do expect the runs to remain strong for the foreseeable future.

Thanks to habitat and genetic structural diversity in the Bristol Bay tributaries, these sockeye may prove to be one of the few future Pacific salmon strongholds, barring significant or unpredictable changes in ocean conditions.

WDFW takes Important Step in Post-fire Habitat Recovery

Wildfires that tortured the Pacific Northwest in September did a number on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area (Swanson Lakes), located about 10 miles south of the town of Creston.

Swanson Lakes is a 21,000-acre tract of native grasslands nestled among the channeled scablands of the Columbia Plateau. Shrub-steppe and riparian/wetlands comprise the dominant habitats and much of the area is rangeland, with some old Conservation Reserve Program fields. The undulating landscape is characterized by numerous pothole and rim rock lakes and one intermittent stream.

Z Lake in the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area is one example of the unique channeled scablands and shrubby habitat. Photo courtesy of WDFW.

In western habitats, wildfire threatens native vegetation in two ways. First, given our rangeland’s generally unnatural fire cycles from fire management and encroaching invasive species, wildfires often burn much hotter than they would in pristine habitats. Fires that are too hot scorch the seed bank and possibly the underground root structure of native shrubs like sagebrush, damaging the plant’s potential to regenerate. Second, invasive weeds are incredibly prolific and competitive. In the case of the earth being blackened down to bare soil, weeds can quickly flourish, outcompeting native plants, often by simply covering the area, effectively shading out the native species.

Fortunately, WDFW was poised to respond, leveraging funds in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to quickly apply native grass seed mix to the charred Swanson Lakes landscape. Aerial seed drops covered about 930 acres on October 22nd, scattering two varieties of bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, Sandberg bluegrass, and prairie dune grass across Swanson Lakes and a portion of adjacent BLM lands, said Mike Finch, WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area Assistant Manager.

Fall is not the ideal season to sow grasses, but the timing could not have been better. The WDFW and BLM made the seed drops in October to ensure native seeds were available to germinate on the exposed soil ahead of any invasive species seeds. Additionally, wet snow that fell October 23rd and 24th worked well to soak the seed into the soil surface, increasing the likelihood of establishment through good seed-to-soil contact. The WDFW plans to return with machinery in drier conditions to scratch the seeds slightly deeper into the soil surface.

Finch mentioned that Swanson Lakes was one of three areas receiving fall seed drops. The areas were prioritized for immediate reseeding due to their deeper soils, being more likely to establish and sustain healthy native grasses by allowing roots to grow down into moist soils for good summer survival. Understanding site conditions and prioritizing restoration efforts is important for project success and the best use of resources, particularly with the cost of native grass seed as high as $200 per acre, plus application time.

Native grass seed being dropped in Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area, October 22nd. Photo courtesy of Mike Finch, WDFW.

Native shrub-steppe communities are a critical part of the ecosystem in the arid west, providing food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. The sharp-tailed grouse, for example, is an iconic western prairie grouse species that thrives in shrub-steppe habitat. Precisely why maintaining quality native habitat in Swanson Lakes is of critical importance. The area was acquired by the Bonneville Power Administration, primarily as a wildlife mitigation project for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, a state “threatened” species.

By leveraging funding and relationships with the BLM, and making smart decisions on the use of available resources, WDFW can sustain unique and important shrub-steppe habitat areas like Swanson Lakes to benefit wildlife and the public user well into the future.

Sierra Gold: Striking it Rich

Our last mile of ascent traversed what appeared to be a glacial spillway. What looked like a talus slope from afar turned out to be a massive boulder-strewn drainage between two granite walls. The fisherman’s trail was no longer discernable, so in classic Chas fashion, he picked the most difficult route; straight up.

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The feeling of amazement as I gazed for the first time upon the rich auburn belly, buttery yellow flanks, olive-sized parr marks, and overall marvel of a true golden trout in the Sierra Nevada backcountry will not soon depart.

But a trip into the Sierra Nevada range has its challenges. Learn what every angler should know to be successful in the Sierra Nevada alpine at Angler Pros.

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Think Pink for Silver Salmon on the Fly

Doing your homework prior to a salmon fishing destination trip to Alaska can help cut out the guess work and manage expectations. In this post, I present some key information from an epic experience that will put you on silver (coho) salmon on the fly. The best advice? Think pink!

Read the full post here at Anger Pros.

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A Plug for Big River Walleye

In the frothy toss of the dam tailrace, the little Smoker bobbed and dodged like a duck floating down a river rapid. Luckily, the dam was spilling only a minor volume, so conditions were still safe. The game plan was to drop a couple plugs behind the boat and troll across of the unique terrain that lay below the surface of the conflicting currents.

What to Look For

On the big river, walleye are generally structure-oriented in the sense that boulders, rock piles, troughs, and other terrain variations provide velocity breaks and concealment that fish can use to their advantage as forage passes by with the flow. Our target habitat was shelves and drop-offs in a depth range of 18-25 feet.

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Read the full post here, at Angler Pros.