As the end of the year approaches, focus on what’s important, and celebrate the wins (yes, there were wins!)

With the approaching new year, it’s not surprising that most of us wonder how the previous 365 days could have possibly slipped by so fast. From inboxes to social feeds, to newspaper headlines and nightly news, our annual intake of media related to the health of our waters and community has the tendency to paint a grim picture. As outdoor enthusiasts, we need to remind ourselves of an unfortunate fact – no matter the vehicle, media loves negativity.
As it relates to our country’s most prized assets being land and water, we’re okay with that. After all, without a cry for help, what’s the need for a helping hand? However, we also firmly believe that during times of chaos and strife, it becomes more important than ever to take a minute to realize, and reflect the organizations and the great work that they do to protect and preserve what we hold so dear.  

Casting for Recovery

Hats off to our friends at Casting for Recovery on a record-breaking year! Over the course of 2018, CfR hosted 60 retreats in 45 states and introduced over 800 women to the sport of fly fishing. “It has been an honor to teach so many amazing women to fish every year.” Says CfR Executive Director, Whitney Milhoan. “We are so honored to be able to connect women with breast cancer to nature with the help of all of our gracious volunteers and national sponsors like Simms, who generously support our program.” CfR’s two and a half day retreats are run by an army made up of over 1,600 volunteers across the country who are passionate about giving back and love empowering women by teaching them to become anglers and conservationists. 

Breast cancer does not discriminate, Casting for Recovery retreats are open to women of any age, and in any stage of treatment or recovery at no cost to the participant.

Courtesy Casting for Recovery

Trout Unlimited

For Kirk Deeter of Trout Unlimited, the big win for 2018 is a cumulative victory. “The 2018 numbers aren’t in just yet, but it’s safe to say TU protected over a thousand miles of river, reconnected another 700 miles, and restored over 300 more miles.” Says Deeter. What this means is, TU made over a thousand miles of river more “fishable” and protected another thousand miles of already-fishable water. This monumental task was made possible with over 730,000 volunteer labor hours worth over $17 million. To boot, TU plowed nearly $50 million into work that makes the sport of fly fishing healthier, most of which was spent specifically on projects aimed to make water better.

Bonefish & Tarpon

On the saltier side of things, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust's 2018 efforts greatly improved permit regulations in the Florida Keys, an effort that has been ongoing since 2010. The first benefit of this effort came in 2011 when FWC enacted new regulations resulting in a Special Permit Zone (SPZ) in the Florida Keys. “One of the new regulations in the SPZ was to close harvest during permit spawning season, which was identified as May through July.” Says BTT Director of Science and Conservation, Aaron Adams. “In 2018, data from Project Permit’s Acoustic Tracking Project, [a collaboration with Carleton University, University of Massachusetts, FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, and observations of guides and anglers] showed that permit are showing up earlier on the reefs and wrecks to spawn — they are actually arriving in April.” Based on this data, BTT requested that the FWC Commission expand the spawning season harvest closure to encompass April through July. The Commission voted unanimously to expand the spawning season closure, which now runs from April through July. This action by the FWC Commission shows how collaboration between BTT and collaborating scientists, FWC, fishing guides and anglers can provide the science needed to make informed management decisions that will benefit the fishery for the long term. 

Courtesy Pat Ford/Bonefish Tarpon Trust

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

With the approval of the 2018 Farm Bill, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has plenty of reason to celebrate. The Farm Bill is the single largest source of federal funding for conservation on private lands and will make it possible for farmers, ranchers and foresters to help restore and maintain the quality of our nation’s soil, water and wildlife habitat. Across the nation, private lands deliver essential habitat and public access for America’s hunters and anglers, driving a rural outdoor recreation economy worth billions of dollars. “In addition to full funding for the Farm Bill conservation title, the 2018 Farm Bill included several important policy and funding priorities.” Says TRCP Chief Conservation Officer, Christy Plumer. “Through the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group’s Sportsmen’s Recommendations for the Farm Bill, the TRCP and our partners are proud to have helped spearhead the accomplishments listed below.”

  • Agriculture Conservation Easement Program: Funding for this substantial wetlands program saw an increase of $200 million per year, with now more than $450 million in funding going to assist landowners with the protection, restoration and improvement of wetland easements. This natural infrastructure enhances fish and migratory bird habitat while mitigating flooding and boosting water quality by capturing farm runoff.
  • Conservation Compliance and Sodsaver: The 2018 Farm Bill maintains the integrity of wetland conservation compliance, known as “Swampbuster,” while strengthening “Sodsaver” grasslands protections. Combined, Swampbuster and Sodsaver provide critical safeguards for the wetlands and grasslands that comprise a significant amount of the headwaters of our nation’s major river systems as well as provide important waterfowl and upland bird habitat.
  • Conservation Reserve Program: CRP acreage grew by 3 million to a total of 27 million acres under this voluntary program, which incentivizes landowners to remove highly erodible and environmentally sensitive lands from production. This increase will provide much-needed upland habitat and water quality improvements.
  • The bill boosts the funds dedicated to wildlife habitat practices under EQIP from 5 percent to 10 percent of the program’s total funds. This will dramatically increase the amount of money available for farmers and ranchers to create wildlife habitat on working lands for species such as the greater sage grouse and monarch butterfly.
  • Regional Conservation Partnership Program: Funding for the RCPP tripled to $300 million a year to be spent on landscape scale watershed projects that increase wildlife habitat while boosting water quantity and quality. This program is used everywhere from the Chesapeake Bay to the Colorado River to build resiliency in the face of pollution and drought.
  • Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program: The 2018 Farm Bill provides an additional $10 million in funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. This is a significant victory for sportsmen and women across the country who enjoy public access to nearly 1 million acres of private land opened under this program for everything from hiking to hunting and fishing.

  • Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

    Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters continues to build a nationwide coalition of hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts united in defense of America’s most-visited Wilderness. In July of 2018, Minnesota Congressmen Tom Emmer and Rick Nolan introduced an amendment that would have barred the Department of Interior from funding any administrative action to further protect the Boundary Waters. Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and a coalition of conservation groups from across the country worked to flood Congress with phone calls, messages and citizen lobbyists to defeat the amendment just days after it was introduced. Bipartisan allies in both the House and Senate listened to hunters and anglers across the country and passed a clean bill to fund Interior. 

    Since then, anti-BWCA politicians have not been able to change existing policies governing the Boundary Waters in Congress, and agencies like the Bureau of Land Management have taken increasingly legally precarious administrative actions to build the proposed mine. In September, the administration cancelled environmental review outright in an effort to downplay scientific objections to a copper mine upstream of the Wilderness. Recently, they released a shoddy review days before the holiday break, hoping to minimize the public’s involvement in decision making and sneak mineral leases past the public. Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters aren’t letting them.

    “While 2018 has been a tough year for public lands and waters, if you look back to 2017, 59% of Minnesotans were skeptical of a mine near the Boundary Waters.” Says BWCA Executive Director, Lukas Leaf “This year, we’re proud to say 70% of Minnesota favored protecting the Boundary Waters from foreign mining interests. Seeing the support grow is exactly what we need and in 2019, the coalition of businesses, conservation groups, hunters and anglers will be bigger than ever.”

    Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Friends of East Rosebud, American Rivers and American Whitewater

    The summer of 2018 saw the culmination of years of patience, persistence and passion which resulted in Carbon County’s East Rosebud Creek being protected as a Wild and Scenic River. Anglers, crazy kayakers, contemplative hikers, family ranchers and local residents joined together and succeeded in keeping East Rosebud Creek free flowing and safe from potential dewatering projects. “The staff at the Greater Yellowstone Coalition is grateful to have been part of the team that was spearheaded by the Friends of East Rosebud.” Says Joe Josephson of GYC. “The success of this partnership showcases the value of wild streams flowing from public lands for a broad base of Montanans.”

    This is the first designation of a Montana river segment in nearly 40 years. It was bi-partisan, supported by every member of Montana’s U.S. Congressional Delegation and was passed as a standalone bill through two houses of congress by overwhelming majorities. All of this is a testament to the power of a coalition (including GYC, Friends of East Rosebud, American Rivers, and American Whitewater united around protecting a rare and cherished natural resource.  GYC’s part in this included organizing local, regional and national support as well as keeping the congressional delegation accountable to every day Montanans. This is a case where no single interest group prevailed, instead East Rosebud Creek is protected for future generations to enjoy just as we do today.

    Courtesy Greater Yellowstone Coalition

    Warriors & Quiet Waters

    To better serve the evolving needs of post-9/11 combat veterans, Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation (WQW) launched fly-fishing programs specifically for female post-9/11 combat veterans and military caregivers in 2018. 

    “This year, six female combat veterans experienced a week of camaraderie, connection, and purpose in southwest Montana.” Says WQW Community Engagement Manager, Emily Sather. “This intrepid group of women was represented as marines, soldiers and sailors, mothers and wives. One participant shared how the act of casting allowed her to forget her near-death experience in combat, and all the struggles that waited for her at home. The bonds that formed among warriors and volunteers were transformative. Empathy builds trust and hope for a better future.”  

    Courtesy Warriors and Quiet Waters

    Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska

    Scott Hed of Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska shared several significant events that took place during 2018 that had a positive effect on the long-running battle to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine.  1) The EPA decided to allow the 2014 Clean Water Act Proposed Determination to stand.  In layman’s terms, this means EPA still has the option to prohibit industrial-scale mining in Bristol Bay during Pebble’s permit review process.  2) Hundreds of thousands of Americans once again registered public comments in support of protecting Bristol Bay from the risks posed by the Pebble Mine during the scoping period on Pebble’s permit application.  3) Pebble lost another investor and potential partner when First Quantum Minerals walked away from the project.  Pebble remains in search of a much-needed major partner. 4) Businesses ranging from sport fishing product makers to food markets and restaurants helped raise awareness and financial support for Bristol Bay with a number of unique promotions across the country. As for 2019, be ready for a public comment period on Pebble’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, likely to begin in January.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proceeding at breakneck speed to rush the process and we must continue to engage at every step to defend Bristol Bay.

    Montana Trout Unlimited

    Along with so many of our fellow Montanans, we treasure the Smith River which is why we’d like to acknowledge Montana Trout Unlimited, an organization that has made great strides towards protecting this iconic waterway. “This year has been a busy year for Montana TU.” Says Montana TU Executive Director, David Brooks. “We convinced the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to get an extension on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in writing from Sandfire. This is a major victory, because it forced the DEQ to publicly acknowledge the true scope and complexity of the mine plan.” In addition, a request to withdraw federal lands within the Smith watershed from mineral claims was rewritten and resubmitted as part of the Helena and Lewis & Clark National Forest plan revisions. In preparation for the release of the draft EIS, MTU commissioned an independent, expert water model of the Black Butte mine, a model that challenges predictions about water quality and quantity being made by Sandfire. 

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