Conservation Briefs

Conservation Briefs

Conservation Briefs is a compilation of short news stories of interest to Outdoor News Bulletin readers. The stories cover a number of issues that have developed in the past month or provide updates on issues that were featured in previous ONB editions. Each story includes links to online resources for more details on each topic.

This Month:

Representatives Young and Dingell Introduce Wildlife Funding Bill

On July 7, U.S. Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced the Recovering America's Wildlife Act (H.R. 5650) that would dedicate $1.3 billion annually for state-based wildlife conservation. The bill would direct existing revenues from the development of energy and minerals on federal lands and waters to the currently unfunded Wildlife Conservation and Restoration account. The legislation codifies the recommendations made in March by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America's Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. The panel determined that the $1.3 billion in funding was necessary to provide enough funding for three-quarters of the species of greatest conservation need identified in state wildlife action plans.

"It has been proven over the decades that incredible gains in species conservation have been made with dedicated sources of funding," Rep. Dingell said. "The Recovering America's Wildlife Act builds off the successes of previous efforts including Pittman-Robertson, Dingell-Johnson, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund by giving state fish and wildlife agencies additional resources they need to proactively manage at-risk wildlife species. I am proud to introduce this legislation with my Republican colleague from Alaska, Mr. Young. We both love the outdoors and know we must work hard to protect our natural resources. To some we may seem the odd couple but together we believe we can get something done that will help bring conservation into the 21st Century and complement the other successful programs that are currently in place."

WAFWA Releases 2016 Lesser Prairie-Chicken Population Estimates

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has released the results of its annual population survey of lesser prairie-chickens and estimates that there are 25,261 birds. The population has decreased from the 2015 estimate of 29,162 birds, but the researchers state that the population is stable and is within the predicted variability based on survey methodology. It is also still significantly higher than the population of 17,616 birds surveyed in 2013 after two years of severe drought.

"Just as with last year's population increase, we shouldn't read too much into short-term fluctuations over one or two years," said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA grassland coordinator. "The monitoring technique used for this survey is designed to track trends, and both the three and five-year trends still indicate a stable population. Lesser prairie-chickens inhabit a large geographic landscape with highly variable weather patterns, so we expect to see annual and regional population fluctuations. What these numbers show is the importance of maintaining good prairie habitat for long-term population stability. Populations have responded positively in recent years to increased and timely rainfall in portions of the bird's range most affected by the 2011-2012 drought. Specifically, the population has significantly increased over the last three years in the sand sagebrush ecoregion. Voluntary conservation efforts like the range-wide plan help to ensure that suitable habitat is available so these population increases can occur when weather conditions are suitable."

Study Shows Conservation Practices Can Reduce Nitrogen Runoff Up to 34%

A new study released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that agricultural conservation practices in the upper Mississippi River watershed can reduce nitrogen runoff by as much 34%. The study combines information from USDA's Conservation Effects Assessment Program (CEAP) and the USGS SPARROW watershed evaluation program in order to assess the impacts of voluntary conservation practices. Nitrogen reductions attributed to agricultural conservation practices range from 5 to 34% and there were also reductions of 1 to 10% in phosphorus. Prior to this study, it had been difficult to determine the amount of nutrient reductions in river systems because the variability in sources of runoff can confound the results and conceal the impacts of farm conservation efforts.

"As the results of this valuable collaboration with the USGS indicate, voluntary conservation on agricultural lands is improving water quality. When multiple farmers, ranchers and working forest land managers in one region come together to apply the conservation science, the per acre conservation benefit is greatly enhanced," said USDA Natural Resources and Environment Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills. "While there are no short-term solutions to complex water quality issues, USDA is committed to continuing these accelerated voluntary conservation efforts, using collaborative science to target conservation in watersheds where the greatest benefits can be realized."

Florida Commission Halts Black Bear Hunt

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 to postpone the state's second bear hunt since stabilizing black bear populations in the state. The commission had approved the first hunt by a vote of 6-1; that hunt was held in October 2015 and was largely seen as a success. However, the state continues to face opposition to the hunt, even as the bear population increases along with human/bear conflicts. As a result of the Commission's vote, the state will not hold a bear hunt in 2016 and the Commission will reconsider a bear hunting season for 2017.

Nick Wiley, FWC executive director said, "Although hunting has been demonstrated to be a valuable tool to control bear populations across the country, it is just one part of FWC's comprehensive bear management program. I am proud of our staff who used the latest, cutting-edge, peer-reviewed science to develop a recommendation for our Commissioners to consider. Our agency will continue to work with Floridians, the scientific community and local governments as our focus remains balancing the needs of Florida's growing bear population with what's best for families in our state. I would like to thank all seven of our Commissioners for their leadership on this important issue."

July 14, 2016