Monthly Archives: March 2015

Sportsmen-Led Efforts on Watershed Conservation Featured in New Report

TRCP unveils ‘Snapshots of Success’ highlighting collaborative local efforts that rely on federal funding

Discussions of water conservation issues do not have to be filled with gloom and doom drought scenarios or water pollution. So says, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in a new report released February 27 entitled “Snapshots of Success: Protecting America’s watersheds, fish and wildlife, and the livelihoods of sportsmen.” The report features prominent water conservation efforts from around the country led by sportsmen that are models of success in achieving on-the-ground results.

Projects such as those featured in the report share important characteristics and can be replicated for future meaningful success. In examining these success stories led by sportsmen and conservation partners, one clear theme emerges: locally led, collaborative efforts do work but they must have a broad base of support including federal financial and technical assistance.

“All across the country, sportsmen are improving their local streams and hunting grounds through projects designed to restore stream flows or enhance wetlands, but they couldn’t be as effective without the support of federal conservation programs,” said TRCP’s Center for Water Resources Director Jimmy Hague. “This report documents ten examples where sportsmen are having a real impact and the federal programs that make it possible. At a time when the threat of drought looms over a good portion of the country, it’s important to remember that sportsmen solutions are having benefits locally, which will accrue downstream with the proper support from Congress and the administration.”

The TRCP and its partners seek to educate elected officials and other policy makers about the importance of the federal role in prioritizing water conservation programs and maintaining a strong financial commitment in supporting local solutions that ultimately impact national priorities. The report highlights projects led by TRCP Partner organizations the American Sportfishing Association, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited.

“Through the American Sportfishing Association’s FishAmerica Foundation, we strive to achieve balance,” said the foundation’s Grant Manager Ruth Jackson. “In the case of the Mississippi bayou, it’s balancing the survival of an endemic fish population while encouraging sustainable land use practices among ranchers. We are proud to support projects like this because incremental, on the ground improvements are what help to create healthy fish habitat. Our recreational fishing industry members and anglers nationwide can appreciate and benefit immensely from these conservation efforts.”

“Successful conservation projects need good partners,” said Mike Leahy, conservation director for the Izaak Walton League of America. “Whether cleaning up a polluted creek or restoring a large watershed, volunteers like local fishermen or students get a big boost from federal programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is helping Izaak Walton League volunteers clean up Beartrap Creek near Syracuse New York.”

“Communities continue to come together to solve real problems and invest in improvements that benefit people and nature,” said Mark P. Smith, deputy director of North America Water for The Nature Conservancy. “As these projects show, we can have a healthy environment, a healthy economy and healthy communities. By working together, from individual landowners to federal agencies, we can find solutions that provide real benefits to real people and communities.”

“Partnerships are at the heart of TU’s brand of pragmatic conservation,” said Scott Yates, director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project. ”Meeting the looming challenges to our rivers and fisheries in the West—including changing climate, drought and development—will take cooperation, not conflict. For TU, federal conservation programs have played a vital role in encouraging local stakeholders to work together to find innovative, win-win solutions to meeting our diverse water needs, from agriculture and communities to fisheries and healthy rivers.”

 

 

USDA Opens Comment Period on Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Interim Final Rule

 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U. S. Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments on its interim final rule for the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), designed to help producers protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated three previous conservation easement programs into ACEP to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives.

“Since 2009, USDA has worked with producers and private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs. This interim final rule takes into account recommendations from agricultural landowners and conservation stakeholders about how to better streamline and enhance conservation easement processes, ” Vilsack said.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers ACEP, a voluntary program created in the 2014 Farm bill to protect and restore critical wetlands on private and tribal lands through the wetland reserve easement component. ACEP also encourages farmers, ranchers and non-industrial private forest landowners to keep their private and tribal land in agricultural use through the agricultural land easement component. ACEP also conserves grasslands, including rangeland, pastureland and shrubland.

Under ACEP’s agricultural land component, tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with USDA to purchase conservation easements. NRCS easement programs have been a critical tool in recent years for advancing landscape-scale private lands conservation. In FY 2014, NRCS used $328 million in ACEP funding to enroll an estimated 143,833 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through 485 new easements. In Florida, NRCS used ACEP funds to enroll an additional 6,700 acres in the Northern Everglades Watershed, supporting the restoration and protection of habitat for a variety of listed species, including the Wood Stork, Crested caracara, and Eastern Indigo Snake. In Georgia, NRCS used these funds to complete the Roundabout Swamp project by enrolling 270 acres of the Carolina Bay to help restore and protect the entire bay ecosystem to historic hydrology and vegetation.

ACEP’s agricultural land easement component offers many benefits to landowners and citizens. The easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. Other benefits include environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space.

Under ACEP’s wetland component, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect and enhance wetlands through the purchase of wetland reserve easements. NRCS helps restore, protect and enhance enrolled wetlands to provide habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals; reduce damage from flooding; recharge groundwater; protect biological diversity and provide opportunities for educational, scientific and limited recreational activities. Under the wetland reserve easement component, eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts that are available only for lands owned by American Indian tribes.

The official notice of the proposed ACEP interim final rule can be found in the Federal Register. Electronic comments during the 60-day comment period must be submitted through regulations.gov. Comments also can be hand carried or mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. NRCS-2014-0011, Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, Strategic Planning and Accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 1-1112D, Beltsville, MD 20705.

Please visit the ACEP page or Farm Bill Program Rules page for more information on the ACEP statutory changes.

Jim Strine, Northwest District Director

JimStrineHometown: Hays
Occupation: Retired forester with the Kansas Forest Service.
Leadership roles: Chair and committee member of the Great Plains Society of American Foresters, past coordinator for the Forestry Section of the Kansas state Ecomeet, state coordinator for the Kansas Champion Tree Program, and Hays Beautification Committee adviser.

 

Phil Taunton, Southeast District Director

TauntonHometown: Emporia
Occupation: Volunteer, retired BNSF railroad employee, freelance writer, host of the weekly radio show KVOE What’s in Outdoors (www.kvoe.com), and outdoor-related activities instructor at Flint Hills Technical College  through its Community Connections series.
Leadership roles: Lyon County Hunter Education Area Coordinator, National Archery in the School NASP, 4-H archery shooting sport instructor, Prairie Walk tour leader for Symphony in the Flinthills, board member of Southeast Kansas Hunting and Fishing Expo and Missouri-Kansas Region of the National Shoot to Retrieve Association, rules and judging instructor for the Mo-Kan. Region of NSTRA, and active in environment education programs such as ECO-Meets and Environthons as well as  No Child Left Inside and Green School initiatives.

Spring turkey hunting atlas mega-map of where to hunt

You’ve got your turkey permit purchased, your slate call packed, and you’ve brought your tom and hen decoys out of hibernation – all you need is the perfect place to hunt. Lucky for you, there’s the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s (KDWPT) 2015 Spring Turkey Hunting Atlas. Available online now at www.ksoutdoors.com and soon to be in print wherever licenses are sold, this 66-page atlas provides the locations of nearly 200,000 acres of Walk-in Hunting Access (WIHA) areas, as well as state and federal public lands open to spring turkey hunting.

From sunrise and sunset tables, to information on where to camp, the free 2015 Spring Turkey Hunting Atlas is a must-own for every turkey hunter looking to make the most of the season.

In addition to electronic and printed copies of the atlas, hunters also have access to file downloads on ksoutdoors.com that can be loaded onto Garmin GPS units, and Android and iOS devices that can be used with Google Earth, making locating areas easier than ever.

The 2015 spring turkey season will kick off with the youth/disabled season April 1-14, followed by the archery season April 6-14, and regular firearm season April 15-May 31. Spring turkey permits for Units 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 are available at ksoutdoors.com and at any license vendor through May 30. Buy the spring turkey permit combo by March 31 and save $7.50. A valid Kansas hunting license is required of all residents age 16 through 74 and all nonresidents, except persons hunting on their own land.

To purchase your turkey permit and optional additional game tag today, visit www.ksoutdoors.com and click License-Permits.

15TH annual Council Grove youth turkey hunt

Youth age 11-16 who have an interest in learning how to hunt turkeys are eligible to apply for one of the coveted spots in the 15th Annual Council Grove Youth Turkey Hunt. Lucky young hunters will hunt with experienced mentors on April 4, during the youth turkey season. Deadline for registration is March 20. The hunt is sponsored by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), area chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, and Ducks Unlimited, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The event is part of KDWPT’s “Pass It On” program, designed to recruit young hunters.

“Kansas turkey hunting prospects are good, and the excitement of the spring hunt can spark a passion for the outdoors many young Kansans have never experienced,” said KDWPT public land manager Brent Konen.

Participants will pattern their shotguns, learn about turkey hunting techniques and scout for turkeys on the evening of April 3. On the morning of the hunt, hunters and their accompanying adults will be guided on public and private land. In addition to a memorable outdoor experience, participants will also receive door prizes, breakfast and lunch the day of the hunt, and one lucky hunter will get their bird mounted free, courtesy of JD Taxidermy of Alta Vista.

Lodging is available in nearby Council Grove, and camping is available at Council Grove Reservoir. Register by March 20 by contacting Konen at (620) 767-5900.

Kansas paddlefish season opens March 15

 

Have you ever considered paddlefish snagging? Whether you answered yes or no, consider this a “sign” that this is your year to try it. Hooking one of these pre-historic-looking giants on the end of your line is one of the most unique fishing opportunities Kansas has to offer, and if you’ve yet to give it a go, it’s time to change that. Here are some things you need to know to get started.

The Kansas paddlefish season runs March 15–May 15 during the annual spring spawning run. Paddlefish permit-holders can snag up to two fish per day, and six for the season, from designated areas on the Neosho and Marais des Cygnes rivers. Paddlefish permits, which include six carcass tags, are $12.50 for anglers 16 and older and $7.50 for youth 15 and younger. Unless exempt, paddlefish snaggers must also have a Kansas fishing license.

Paddlefish may be taken inside Chetopa and Burlington city parks on the Neosho River; on the Neosho River at Iola, downstream from the dam to the city limits; on the Marais des Cygnes River below Osawatomie Dam, downstream to a posted boundary; on the Marais des Cygnes River on the upstream boundary of the Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area, downstream to the Kansas-Missouri border; and the Browning Oxbow of the Missouri River (Doniphan County).

While the snagging season will open at these locations, certain conditions are necessary for paddlefish to be present. Water temperatures of 50-55 degrees and an increase in river flow will start paddlefish moving upstream out of reservoirs. The Neosho River at Chetopa is the most popular snagging site in Kansas, but for paddlefish to be present there requires a significant increase in river flow. It’s a good idea to call local Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism offices or area bait shops for river and angler updates before traveling to a site.

Paddlefish may be snagged using pole and line with not more than two single or treble hooks. Barbless hooks must be used in Chetopa City Park. Catch and release is allowed in Burlington, Chetopa, and Iola, except that once attached to a stringer, a fish becomes part of the daily creel limit. On the Missouri River boundary waters, there is a 24-inch minimum length limit. On the Marias des Cygnes River there is a 34-inch minimum length limit.

Immediately upon harvest, anglers must sign a carcass tag, record the county, date and time of harvest, and attach the tag to the lower jaw of the paddlefish. Paddlefish caught out of season or in non-snagging areas may be kept only if they are hooked inside the mouth.

For information, consult your 2015 Kansas Fishing Regulation Summary, or visit www.ksoutdoors.com and click “Fishing/Fishing-Regulations/Paddlefish-Snagging.”

Great Backyard Bird Count sets new species record

 

 Nearly half the world’s species identified in four days  

Participants from more than 100 countries submitted a record 147, 265 bird checklists for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count and broke the previous count record for the number of species identified. The 5,090 species reported represents nearly half the possible bird species in the world. The four-day count was held February 13-16, the 18th year for the event which is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.

The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale made possible by using the eBird online checklist program. A sampling of species found by intrepid counters include Ibisbill in India, Bornean Bistlehead in Malaysia, and Magellanic Plover in Chile, complete with amazing photos. GBBC participants even reported two species, Millpo Tapaculo and Santa Marta Screech-Owl that have not yet been described in the official scientific literature.             Bitter Weather

The bitter cold, snowy weather in much of the northeastern United States and much of Canada was a major factor in this year’s count. In much of the Northeast, Sunday was particularly frigid and windy, and the number of reports showed an obvious dip as some counters were forced indoors. As one participant in Quebec noted, watching birds came with a price as wind chill temperatures rarely topped -20 degrees Celsius (zero degrees Fahrenheit).

For those who did brave the cold, the GBBC data will help to better understand the impact of the cold on birds and bird populations. For example, scientists will be able to compare the abundance of some so-called “half-hardy” species, such as Carolina Wren and Yellow-rumped Warbler, to see if this cold winter has affected their populations.

Snowy Owl Echo

Snowy Owls are one of the most charismatic and emblematic birds of winter. They breed in Arctic regions worldwide and drop south in some winters (“irrupt”), depending on food supplies and their breeding success in the previous summer. The winter of 2013-14 was a huge year for these owls which appeared in amazing numbers across the Great Lakes states, Northeastern U.S., Atlantic Coast, and southern Canada. GBBC reports for 2015 also show a surge in Snowy Owl sightings across the same range, though the frequency of reports is about half of last winter’s. This is a well-known phenomenon with Snowy Owls, with the year after a very large invasion often being referred to as an “echo flight.”

Winter Finches

Winter finches—such as Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, redpolls, and crossbills—are popular among GBBC participants. These birds also “irrupt” south of their usual haunts depending on food supplies, so their numbers in a given region may change widely from year to year.

2015 was a banner year for Pine Siskins which are reported on 10.5% of GBBC checklists so far. Compare that to 1.2% of checklists in 2014 when most siskins stayed far north in Canada. Siskins will likely be hanging around through April and May, especially if the feeders are stocked with their favorite nyjer (thistle) seed.

GBBC Top 10 Lists

Surprisingly, a Eurasian species, the Brambling, appears on the Top 10 list of most reported species for the first time ever. Since November, some of these birds have been spotted on the West Coast and others strayed even farther by turning up in Montana, Wyoming, and Ontario, with one 2015 GBBC record in North America from Washington state. But the Brambling’s appearance among the Top 10 can be traced to one checklist from Germany reporting a flock estimated at one million birds. Up to three million Bramblings have been known to gather at that site.

In North America, California sits atop the leader board with the most checklists submitted and the greatest number of species, followed by Pennsylvania and New York. Ontario, Canada, is in the Top 10 for the second year in a row, nudging past Ohio and Georgia.

Outside of the U.S. and Canada, India was once again a star performer, nearly doubling the number of checklists submitted to more than 6,800 and reporting the greatest number of species so far with 717.

 

Top 10 most frequently reported species (number of checklists reporting this species):

Species Number of Checklists
Northern Cardinal 59,083
Dark-eyed Junco 59,074
Mourning Dove 48,313
Downy Woodpecker 45,399
Blue Jay 41,671
American Goldfinch 39,880
House Finch 39,241
Tufted Titmouse 38,191
Black-capped Chickadee 36,363
House Sparrow 34,564

All Top 10 species are North American, reflecting high participation from this region.

Top 10 most numerous species (sum of how many individuals were observed across all checklists)*:

Species Number of Individuals
Snow Goose 1,494,937
Canada Goose 1,110,946
Brambling 1,000,047
European Starling 630,610
Mallard 579,330
American Coot 501,152
American Robin 488,063
Dark-eyed Junco 465,939
Red-winged Blackbird 432,513
American Goldfinch 364,963

* All Top 10 species are North American, reflecting high participation from this region. Top 10 states/provinces by checklists submitted

State/Province Number of Species Number of Checklists
California 376 8,453
Pennsylvania 141 7,120
New York 163 6,615
Florida 309 5,478
Texas 366 5,256
Virginia 180 4,672
North Carolina 201 4,497
Ontario 137 4,216
Ohio 125 4,190
Georgia 200 4,017

Top 10 countries by checklists submitted

Country Number of Species Number of Checklists
United States 671 108,396
Canada 241 10,491
India 717 6,810
Australia 524 812
Mexico 653 425
Costa Rica 559 303
Portugal 197 193
New Zealand 126 161
Ecuador 784 138
Honduras 353 133

 

Explore what’s been reported on the Great Backyard Bird Count website. See what species are being reported and how many checklists are being turned in at the county, state/province, and country levels. Check out a sampling of the photos submitted for the GBBC photo contest.

The GBBC is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.