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.

Sage Grouse Translocation Reverses Population Decline

Published at Harvesting Nature, November 26th, 2021.

Think you’ve heard it all when it comes to greater sage grouse conservation? Think again. When an icon of the sagebrush ecosystem becomes imperiled, conservation dollars flow to the far corners of habitat and population research to find solutions to species sustainability and persistence.

Mary Meyerpeter and colleagues with the US Geological Survey and Idaho State University are currently studying translocation to stabilize or even grow two declining sage grouse populations on opposite fringes of their North American distribution. The “Bi-State” population on the California-Nevada border was selected as a small, isolated group facing low hatch success and overall decline. A North Dakota population was selected after a suffering a severe West Nile Virus outbreak, reduced the population.  

Wildlife translocation has been a tool in the scientific toolbox longer than the words “science” and “research” have been in existence, and with this tool comes many benefits to imperiled populations. Declining genetic diversity and abundance of reproductive individuals are two challenges recipient populations typically face that may be overcome by translocation. Precisely what Meyerpeter et al. had in mind, coupled with estimating the population-level effects of introducing new individuals to the imperiled populations, and removing individuals from the donor populations.    

From 2017 through 2019, the Bi-State population received 68 adults and 125 chicks from a nearby source population, while the North Dakota population received 137 adults and 66 chicks from an interior Wyoming population. The populations were monitored across the translocation period and continue to be monitored.

Photo by the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Preliminary study results suggest that translocation efforts have been successful for the recipient populations. The Bi-State population increased 160 percent with egg hatch success increasing from 31 percent to 86 percent. Similarly, the North Dakota population increased 188 percent compared to pre-translocation estimates.

The Bi-State donor population declined 31 percent following translocations, which may have been attributed to that population also being relatively small, among other potential factors. The Wyoming donor population showed no change.

Translocation results are considered preliminary until a monitoring period of up to five years has documented population responses, but the results appear promising. Additionally, successful translocation coupled with habitat restoration can perpetuate the species and play a role in range expansion into historic habitats.

Can Hunting Keep us Human?

Paula Young Lee poses the question in the High Country News. If this strikes you as a philosophical diatribe, you may be correct. But in an era where hunting is increasingly despised (read: misunderstood), the deeper meaning behind such ecosystem interaction at the human level of cognizance is indeed ponderous.

Hunting’s broader importance to human existence reconnects the severance between human life-history and the complex society we have developed. Humans operate under the disillusion that humans are superior to the natural ecosystem, having no association with the natural world or ecosystem function. But the hunter views things differently.

DSC_1124

⇑⇑ Above: the author with a cow elk, his first, taken on the Idaho winter range, December 2018. Hard earned and well respected. The tags for this special draw hunt have since been stripped from the public and given to private landowners as depredation tags. ⇑⇑

“It may seem like sophistry to argue that hunting protects wildlife, but the act of hunting encompasses far more than shooting a wild animal, and it neither starts nor ends with a death. The hunt itself is part of a much larger continuum.”

Diving deeper into the meaning of the hunt, Lee discusses the spiritual connection between hunter and prey, and that the hunter views wild game as a blessed gift. Lee reinforces her point of the larger continuum through an economics analogy related to the gift of wild game.

DSC_0018a

⇑⇑ Above: A successful valley quail hunt with two hens falling to a pointing dog and swift gun work. This interaction with the canine and upland bird plays a crucial role in spiritual rejuvenation for the hunter, who, in turn, gives back to conservation. ⇑⇑

“In a gift economy, the act of giving compels the person who receives the gift to reciprocate. A gift can be refused, but that refusal has consequences. Hence, ethical hunters reciprocate by protecting the wilderness, giving of themselves to ensure that the forest stays the forest….”

Hunting maintains our connection with and works to conserve our place in the ecosystem, and the ecosystem itself. The preservation of human nature.

Upland Stewardship Begins at Home

What’s the #1 threat to habitat on undeveloped public lands? If you guessed invasive plant species, you get a gold star for the day. Overall, habitat lost to civil development is a critical threat to fish and wildlife, putting tremendous importance on conservation and management of those precious public acres still intact.

Managing public land is important to provide habitat suitable for wildlife species and is accomplished through taxpayer and sportsman’s funds. For federal lands, this means congressional appropriations must be approved for specific geographic areas and funding limits.

While public lands, both state and federal, are at much lower risk of civil development, the economics of habitat management is a major driver in our ability to maintaining high quality habitat, and here is why.

Invasive species are incredibly competitive and successful at overtaking desired native species. With no natural predator controls (i.e. herbivory and parasitism) and an adaptive edge to the climates in which they occur, many species can create monocultures in short order. What’s more is that the increasing cost of invasive species control detracts from government ability to fund general habitat management and enhancement.

Picture2

Once established, eradicating an invasive plant is incredibly difficult and extremely costly, in the billions of dollars nationwide, annually. Our ability to control invasive species on public lands can change dramatically with political leadership. And when natural resources budgets are cut, our ability to effectively maintain habitat is hamstrung.

Early Detection and Rapid Response is the normal mode of operation for habitat managers, but budget cuts cause vulnerability in on-the-ground effectiveness. Labor cuts can reduce the number of employees and hours spent afield performing Early Detection monitoring. Supply cuts can reduce the available tools to implement Rapid Response once invasive species are detected, as well as reduce the overall time or acreage that biologists can treat.

High-quality habitat is not just nice to have for an easy, clean hunt. It’s a must for sustainable upland bird species and hunter opportunity. Its easy to assume that habitat management and controlling invasive species lies in the hands of qualified biologists, but make no mistake, quality habitat starts at home with you, the general public.

20191020_122336

⇑⇑ The seat cover in my Tundra harbors a number of invasive species ⇑⇑

As our talented canines careen across the grasslands searching for sharptails or cut through brush following a running grouse trail, their fur picks up invasive weed seeds that can be easily spread to otherwise weed free areas. Tailgate checks and post-hunt spa treatments (for those of us who own long-haired pups like setters and Munsterlanders)  are necessary to remove to potentially harmful grass awns and bur-like seeds.

Most importantly, uplanders that embark on rooster road trips would be remiss if they failed to clean the nooks and crannies of their bird hunting chariot prior to driving half way across the nation. A single germinated seed from a nasty invader like cheat grass (Bromus tectorum) can quickly threaten native species and impact habitat suitability.

Be sure to clean out the truck bed, pet crates and blankets, truck seats and seat covers, spray down floor mats and vacuum the crevasses that can harbor seeds.

20191020_121840

⇑⇑ Cleaning vests, kennels, truck beds, and interiors is critical ⇑⇑

If your truck cap has a carpet liner, inspect it with scrutiny. Your dog will shake in the truck bed, flinging weed seeds onto the ceiling and anywhere else they may attach, simply waiting to be offloaded in an otherwise clean area 1,000 miles from where they were picked up.

And the cleaning spree should not end with the truck and kennels. Our vests and clothing can trap a terrifying number of seeds. When was the last time you check your hunting vest pockets for seeds? Hundreds of grass seeds can gather in vest pockets as we traverse the prairies. Dog vests can capture a number of species as well, like bur chervil (Anthriscus caucalis), which wreaks havoc on native grasses and even competes with yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis) in the arid west.

20191020_121913a

⇑⇑ A water bottle pocket of my hunting vest captures many seeds and plant debris ⇑⇑

Conservation and habitat management are influenced by each and every one of us. Its your duty as an uplander to exercise your stewardship abilities and battle the spread of invasive species. The future of our public natural resources and habitat depend on it.

From Raghorns to Riches

A special draw elk hunt in Idaho’s Unit 37, Big Lost Wilderness, gave us four seasons with warm summer sun, frigid winter temps, gale-force winds, snow and fog, forty-five miles of steep mountain terrain, botched stalks, and sleepless nights. What we took from it? Incredible scenery, solitude, mental and physical health, and in the end, a hard-earned, beautiful raghorn bull elk and heightened sense of respect for the wilderness.

Read the full story in the Spring 2019 edition of Strung Magazine. Available on Amazon and at most general bookstores and magazine retailers.

Raghorns to Riches (2)

 

Raghorns to Riches (3)