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SHOT Show floor. By Lew Carpenter

I work in conservation because I love our lands, waters, fish and wildlife.

I am a sportsman.

When I think about the incredible opportunities I have in America to fish and hunt on public lands and waters, I feel strong, proud and grateful. But protecting what I – and tens of millions of other sportsmen and women around the country – value isn’t easy.

Yet it should be.

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SHOT Show panel. Photo by Kristyn Brady, TRCP

So when the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) asked me to be part of a panel reviewing the Trump administration’s first year of conservation at the 2018 SHOT Show last month, I gladly agreed to speak in front of representatives from across the shooting and hunting industry. After all, this industry relies on healthy habitat, clean water and vast public lands, and supports wildlife conservation through excise taxes and investment.

It’s a symbiotic relationship where a healthy environment drives economic gain, fueling opportunity, access and large and small businesses. These basic values and tenants emerged during the SHOT Show panel, including the current threats to sporting values and wildlife health that continue to grow at a pace that should concern all sportsmen and women. Read on for an overview of what the panel discussed, focused on public lands policies, the recent withdrawal of Clean Water Act protections to headwaters and wetlands, and restoring the Mississippi River Delta.

Public Land Access and Energy Development

Enacting policies to expand sportsman access to public lands is not just popular, it’s also critical to the future of hunting and fishing. A staggering amount of public land is landlocked, surrounded by private lands, and in many cases efforts to close easement access to these lands is ongoing. Great victories, such as the Sabinoso Wilderness effort by New Mexico Wildlife Federation (NMWF) and TRCP – working with both senators in New Mexico to garner funding and purchase private land – allowed a donation to the federal government for access to that pristine wilderness.

With hundreds of NMWF members signing a petition telling Secretary Zinke to open up this wilderness, this was a landmark example of what happens when sportsmen and women fight for their access, and was a huge victory years in the making.

Discussion turned to energy development and dominance on public lands, where energy development and mining can coexist with healthy habitat and quality hunting and angling. But this balance does not happen by chance.

Responsible energy and extraction development requires both careful planning and a commitment from decision makers to get it right from the start. It is, therefore, critical that our public land management agencies – the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service – have the right policies and procedures in place to facilitate both energy development and the conservation of healthy fish and wildlife populations.

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Waterfowl hunting on public land. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Withdrawal of Clean Water Act Protections

Moving on to water issues, we touched on the EPA’s decision to withdraw Clean Water Act protections for headwaters and wetlands impacting fish, waterfowl and businesses that rely on quality places to hunt and fish.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency have begun the process of rescinding the 2015 provision that clarified protections for headwater streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, despite broad public support for the rule and its benefits for fish and wildlife habitat. This is the first step in a two-step process to replace the rule, set into motion by an executive order in February 2017.

The repeal and replacement plan is likely to roll back Clean Water Act protections for a majority of the nation’s streams and wetlands, including the headwater streams that are so important for fish and game, plus millions of acres of seasonal wetlands that store flood waters and provide essential habitat for more than half of North American migratory waterfowl. Areas like the Prairie Potholes and Louisiana wetlands are at tremendous risk.

As the panel came to the end of its time, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt took the podium. His prepared words of admonishment were designed to minimize any panel criticism of the administration, which was disappointing in its anticipation of our healthy, but brief dialogue.

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Deer hunting the Piceance Basin north of Rifle, Colorado. Photo by Henry Byerly

I spoke to the Deputy Secretary afterward about the place he grew up — Rifle, Colorado – and the collapse of the deer herds north of there in a place once called the “Deer Factory.” Fifteen thousand new oil and gas wells are proposed for that area in the coming years – an example he disregarded. However we shifted back to the Gulf Coast wetlands and the need for his administration to ensure that the coordination of sediment diversion project-permitting in Louisiana happens efficiently, which was something he expressed interest in supporting.

Restoring the Mississippi River Delta

It’s easy to understand getting behind restoring the Mississippi River Delta. A football field of wetlands continues to disappear every hour along the coast of Louisiana, and with those wetlands goes vital fish and waterfowl habitat.

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6.5-pound flounder in the Bird Claw of Louisiana’s wetlands. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Later that week Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and other state and federal agencies to collaborate on permitting for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion under the guidance of Trump Executive Order 13807. Located in Plaquemines Parish, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is a Louisiana Coastal Master Plan project that would direct sediment, freshwater and nutrients from the Mississippi River into nearby wetlands to build and maintain land in Louisiana’s Barataria Basin.

The Vanishing Paradise campaign was pleased to see this firm commitment to adhering to the two-year timeline for project permitting in an environmentally and legally responsible manner.

Looking Ahead

We can’t continue to simply hope our politicians on both sides of the aisle protect our public lands, waterways and wildlife. We have to hold them all accountable every day, or the opportunities that drive our sporting legacy, heritage and businesses will disappear.

At every turn, our fundamental values are being challenged – in some cases on a grand scale, and others by a thousand small cuts. Access and opportunity rely on robust public lands that allow wildlife and people to move freely. They rely on clean water, clean air and healthy soil. We shouldn’t have to continually fight for these basic tenants, but instead spend our energy addressing other critical challenges impacting our wildlife.

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“It is one of the most diverse fisheries in the world and it offers anglers of all abilities a place to have one of the most memorable fishing experiences of their lives,” Jesse Simpkins, director of marketing, St.Croix Fishing.

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Fished without a blade, these Z-Man Swimmin’ Trout with Trout Eye jigheads fish well in dirtier water and have excellent action played on the drop and off the bottom. Photo by Shane Clevenger

Targeting redfish in the Mississippi River Delta is one of life’s great joys. Anglers lucky enough to spend time here are greeted with thousands of square miles of prime habitat for chasing this dynamic species. Its big shoulders, voracious appetite and tasty flesh make the redfish (Red Drum) one of the world’s great game fish. Those that hunt reds soon find the pursuit and harvest make for an addiction rarely forgotten.

I’m fortunate enough of spend plenty of time in the marsh and, following 16 years of incredible success due to the help of great friends and industry colleagues, some solid techniques have emerged.

This past October, one week before Hurricane Nate crashed through the Delta, I hit the water with anglers both new and old to the area. High winds put us off the mouth of the Mississippi at Southwest Pass, where we normally target massive schools of big reds. The Roseau cane offered relief from the wind and epic, action-packed results.

“When red fishing in Venice, Louisiana, one of my favorite marshland vegetations to target are the Roseau cane,” said Shane Clevenger of Z-Man Fishing Products. “Bait fish will hide in this cane to evade predators such as redfish, largemouth, sheepshead and flounder. Similar to the Spartina grass I’m accustomed to in Charleston, SC, the redfish will actually get up in the cane chasing shrimp and other small bait. This can make sightfishing for them a blast as long as you know not only what to look for but how to present your bait.”

Clevenger explains that small baitfish will make tighter wakes while redfish will make a more substantial “V” wake while swimming, also known as a “push.” He likes to look for these pushes along the edges of the Roseau cane and cast his Z-Man ChatterBait 5- to 6-feet in front of the tip of the “V” “As soon as your bladed jig hits the water start burning it back to the boat,” he said. “The sound and flash of the ChatterBait will drive the reds out and away from the cane so when they hit you can fight them in open water with less chance of breaking them off. Unlike the spookier reds we’re used to seeing in Charleston, these South Louisiana Delta reds can be re-targeted if they miss the bait the first time. Just like when fishing for largemouth, recast near where they first hit the bait and more times than not you’ll find yourself in a skinny-water fight!”

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Modern iterations of the spinnerbait include this highly effective Z-Man Chatterbait which provides action and sound to attract reds. Photo by Shane Clevenger

When the tide is high and you’re finding the fish to be a little more lethargic, often a larger profile bait is a overkill. This is an ideal time to downsize your tackle and throw a 3-inch grub. “This is where I’d go with a Z-Man 3.5-inch Swimmin’ Trout Trick pegged to a 3/16th oz Trout Eye jighead,” Clevenger said. “Fried Chicken seemed to be a deadly color for us with a generously flaked, muted tan body and chartreuse tail. The contrast of the tail with the body and the oversized 3D eye on the jighead make it easy for reds to pick this bait out in the dingy water. As a bonus, as long as you don’t break it off, you can fish this one bait all day due to the durability of Z-Man’s ElaZtech.”

“Remember, we’re not fishing this bait as aggressive as the ChatterBait,” he continued. “With this smaller profile paddle tail, the key is casting as close to the edge where the water meets the cane and letting the bait sink. The tail on this bait has some of the best action of any paddle tail bait out there so while this bait sinks the tail is doing all the work for you. Once the bait rests on the bottom the buoyant ElaZtech material, common in all Z-Man soft plastics, will cause the tail to float up and undulate in the current. This perfectly mimics a shrimp or small minnow foraging in the mud and is irresistible to hungry predators. After letting it sit for a few seconds, give a small pop of the rod tip to hop the bait up a couple feet and let it sink once again. Nine times out of ten the fish will hit the bait on the fall.”

Pro Angler Brian Latimer agrees with those techniques and fished the shallowest canes he could find in the Redfish pass and Spanish pass area, yielding prolific days (see his video “Redfish Booty” here [https://youtu.be/ZC-vEghSs-A] for live action)

“The key when blind casting was anywhere current was restricted by either a cane point or small guts leading to backwater ponds,” Latimer said. “I exclusively used a green pumpkin Z-man original chatterbait tipped with a purple demon Z-man minnowz. I tied my bait directly to Seaguar 50-pound flipping braid. I also sight fished a few reds using the same set up but letting the bait rest on the bottom.”

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Tried-and-true spinner bait with a dark body and Colorado blade are tough to resist for active and curious reds. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Great modern baits aren’t the only road to success, and old tried-and-true spinnerbaits with a black body or other dark patterns and chartreuse tail have brought plenty of fish to the boat, as well as targeted Rat-L-Trap crank baits.

As for fishing rods, I prefer a 7-foot bait cast model rated around 15- to 20-pounds that is both sensitive for pitching close to the cane and also powerful for taming those bruiser reds. I’ve been using a St. Croix rod like that for decades and currently the St. Croix Legend Tournament stick is perfect. As the saying goes, if I could only have one rod in the marsh…this is the one.

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A powerful, sensitive 7-foot bait casting rod like St. Croix’s Legend Tournament stick is perfect for flipping, long casts and conquering shouldery reds.

Pair that rod with a low profile or round bait cast reel, which all the reel manufacturers are making (think bass-fishing reels), loaded with today’s great mono or fluorocarbon lines from makers like Seaguar and you’ve got a perfect setup. Some folks feel if you’re casting crank baits it’s better to have some braided line (pulls from the cane easier….sometimes) so the treble hooks don’t nick through the mono during windy casts, but I have tended to simply pay attention to my line when using crank baits and cutting off nicked sections when I find them.

I’m hard pressed to find a better place for wide-open fishing action like we have in the Louisiana marshes. It’s a place I journey to at least once a year. It’s also a place that needs to be both protected and restored. The loss of these wetlands on a daily basis is staggering. But I feel fortunate that great folks in the fishing and hunting community are paying attention and working hard to help reverse the loss of this world-class fishery and waterfowl habitat (11 million ducks and geese winter here, too).

Our group of anglers, entering 20 years of annual fishing together in these wetlands, is led by Eric Cosby of Top Brass tackle. Cosby has been an incredible advocate for wetlands conservation, allowing a conservation voice at the event, and by his personal commitment to wetlands restoration as an Advisory Council member for Vanishing Paradise and a veteran visitor to Washington D.C. to directly advocate to lawmakers. He creates a great nexus between conservation and the fishing industry, and Vanishing Paradise is grateful to be a part of a classic event that brings outdoor writers and industry folks together to experience this awesome fishery.

Artemis and NWF release report highlighting link between mule deer and sage-grouse

Just as mule-deer hunters are getting ready to head into the field for hunting season, members of the sportswomen’s group Artemis are releasing a report to raise awareness that anyone who cares about deer should care about greater sage-grouse and the remarkable effort across the West to save the iconic bird.

Artemis and the National Wildlife Federation, today released the report “Living on Common Ground – Sportswomen speak out to save the mule deer, sage-grouse and sagebrush country.”

Mule deer and sage-grouse have been in decline across much of the West. Sage-grouse used to number in the millions, but now less than a half million remain. A recent study in Pinedale, Wyo., found that mule deer herds have declined by 40 percent in the heavily developed gas fields of the region. The report explores what for sportswomen is impossible to ignore – sagebrush lands throughout the West provide vital habitat for both species and those lands are steadily disappearing.

“Mule deer and sage-grouse are the canaries in the coal mine for sage steppe health,” says Jessi Johnson, Artemis coordinator and Wyoming Wildlife Federation public lands coordinator. “If we fail to listen to the warnings they are giving us with their dwindling numbers, we will lose not only two iconic Western species but a host of dependent flora and fauna and the very essence of what makes living in the West so special.”

Hearing that warning, a diverse group of stakeholders from across the West, including the sporting community, came together to build conservation plans aimed at saving sage-grouse. Completed in 2015, these sage-grouse conservation plans allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that the bird didn’t need to be added to the endangered species list. The conservation plans instead represent a balanced approach to management of the bird’s habitat on our nation’s public lands that would also accommodate other careful uses.

However, changes being considered by the Trump administration could now derail implementation of the plans, threatening the fate of sage-grouse and the more than 350 species, including mule deer, which depend on the West’s sagebrush lands. Interior Secretary Zinke seeks to weaken safeguards meant to accommodate responsible development on sagebrush lands while preserving their value as habitat. Instead, the Secretary continues to drift away from conserving healthy habitats, continuing to explore instead unsound schemes relying on population numbers and captive breeding.

“Where will those captive-bred birds find homes,” asks Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director. “The sage-grouse conservation plans are the result of long, hard work of stakeholders across the West who spent years finding common ground and a pathway to the future for both people and wildlife. It would be an ominous blow to sage-grouse and mule deer and all of us who live in the West if we can no longer safeguard the lands where they find food and cover.”

Artemis understands that hunters will be key to ensuring that both the species thrive into the future and is urging support for the sage-grouse conservation plans.

“As an avid hunter of mule deer on public land, I feel it’s of the utmost importance that their breeding and feeding grounds are maintained and protected,” says Artemis co-founder Cindi Baudhuin. “I hope that ‘Living on Common Ground’ will help drive home the important link between mule deer and sage-grouse for hunters.”

Artemis and NWF continue to move forward by reaching out to hunters, local communities, and other wildlife advocates to ensure everyone understands that the future of mule deer and sage- grouse are inextricably linked.

“As hunters, anglers and wildlife conservationists, now is the opportunity to work to ensure these populations exist for future generations,” says Sara Domek, Artemis Co-founder. “Sustaining and enhancing seasonal movement corridors and stay-over habitat of wildlife need to be a priority, and the conservation plans provide tangible measures to protect mule deer and sage-grouse habitat.”

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Artemis is a group of bold sportswomen creating fresh tracks for conservation and an initiative of NWF. Mule deer are a particular species of concern for Artemis. Follow Artemis on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization, uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – As part of a nationwide celebration of August as National Shooting Sports Month, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is hosting shooting events around the Southeast Region.

The next event is scheduled on Saturday, Aug. 26 when CPW’s Area 13 staff hosts shooters at the Chaffee County Shooting Range in Salida.

The Area 13 staff will welcome everyone novice to experienced shooters at the range from noon to 4 p.m.

Shooters will have the opportunity to fire .22-caliber rifles and 20-gauge shotguns. Firearms will be provided along with ammunition, paper targets and clay pigeons.

The Chaffee County Shooting Range is located at the Chaffee County Landfill at 16550 U.S. Highway 285 north of Salida.

The next day, Sunday, Aug. 27, CPW’s Area 12 staff will host a “rimfire challenge” from 1-5 p.m., at the Mike Higbee Shooting Range at the Higbee State Wildlife Area, four miles east of Lamar on U.S. Highway 50.

The rimfire challenge is a timed event where competitors shoot five steel plates with small caliber rimfire firearms. Registration will begin at 1 p.m.

These events are part of the inaugural National Shooting Sports Month which celebrates shooting sports organizations of all genres – trap, skeet, sporting clays, long-range and F-class rifle, silhouette, bull’s-eye, single-action cowboy, 3-Gun, IDPA, USPSA and many more.

CPW is partnering with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to encourage participation in recreational sport shooting and emphasize firearms safety. It is designed for everyone from experienced competitors, to hunters to those just becoming interested in acquiring a firearm and learning how to shoot. Visit http://www.LetsGoShooting.org to learn more.

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ABOUT NSSF

The National Shooting Sports Foundation is the trade association for the firearms industry. Its mission is to promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports. Formed in 1961, NSSF has a membership of more than 13,000 manufacturers, distributors, firearms retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen’s organizations and publishers. For more information, visit http://www.nssf.org.

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CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily on license sales, state parks fees and registration fees to support its operations, including: 41 state parks and more than 350 wildlife areas covering approximately 900,000 acres, management of fishing and hunting, wildlife watching, camping, motorized and non-motorized trails, boating and outdoor education. CPW’s work contributes approximately $6 billion in total economic impact annually throughout Colorado.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today released its report on 2017 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, based on surveys conducted in May and early June by FWS and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Overall duck numbers in the survey area remain high. Total populations were estimated at 47.3 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, which is similar to last year’s estimate of 48.4 million and is 34 percent above the 1955-2016 long-term average. The projected mallard fall flight index is 12.9 million birds, similar to the 2016 estimate of 13.5 million.

The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes of the Prairies and the Boreal Forest. Conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2017 breeding population survey were generally similar to last year with a few exceptions. The total pond estimate for the United States and Canada combined was 6.1 million, which is 22% above the 2016 estimate of 5.0 million and 17% above the long-term average of 5.2 million.

“The surveys indicate that wetland conditions and populations of most frequently harvested ducks remain above the long-term average, and for most species, populations were at or above those from last year,” said DU Chief Scientist Tom Moorman. “This is great news for waterfowlers who can now turn their attention to preparing habitat, tuning up dogs and relentlessly watching the weather forecasts for the onset of fall and winter weather that will push the birds on their annual southward migration.

“DU remains concerned about northern pintails and scaup in particular, as the survey information continues to indicate these two species remain below their long-term average populations. Both species have struggled to regain desired populations. We will continue to work with our many conservation partners to understand what drives populations of these two species. If science points to habitat limitations as contributing factors, we’ll rely on the science to develop conservation solutions to help restore populations of these birds.

“Hunters may notice in the report that mallards declined 11%, or about 1.3 million birds, from 2016.  The bulk of that appears to be related to drier conditions in the Canadian parklands region, where the surveys detected about 0.6 million fewer mallards. Overall, mallard populations remain in great shape, and FWS estimates the mallard fall flight will be similar to last year.

“Hunters should always remember that habitat and populations are going to vary over time, so we must keep focused on habitat conservation efforts over the long term. Ultimately, we need to maintain landscapes so that when precipitation and other conditions are right, the ducks will respond, produce more ducks and provide us all with a nice return on our conservation investments.”

Although most migratory game bird populations remain abundant, when and where birds will be encountered depends on many factors. Food availability, habitat and weather conditions, and other factors all influence local bird abundance, distribution, behavior and, ultimately, hunter success.

The spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent, including hunting regulations. Individual states set their hunting seasons within a federal framework of season length, bag limits and dates. Hunters should check the rules in their states for final dates and bag limits.

Species estimates are:

Mallards: 10.5 million, 11% lower than 2016 and 34% above LTA

Gadwall: 4.2 million, 13% above 2016 and 111% above LTA

American wigeon: 2.8 million, 19% below 2016 and 6% above LTA

Green-winged teal: 3.6 million, 16% below 2016 and 70% above LTA

Blue-winged teal: 7.9 million, 18% above 2016 and 57% above LTA

Northern shovelers: 4.4 million, 10% above 2016 and 69% above LTA

Northern pintails: 2.9 million, 10% above 2016 and 27% below LTA

Redheads: 1.1 million, 13% below 2016 and 55% above LTA

Canvasbacks: 0.7 million, similar to 2016 and 25% above LTA

Scaup: 4.4 million, 12% below 2016 and 13% below LTA

Black ducks (Eastern Survey Area): 0.5 million, similar to 2016 and 12% below LTA

*Long-term average

View all the data and get a species-by-species breakdown at www.ducks.org/DuckNumbers.

Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Supporters, Partners and Friends:

National-Assembly-of-Sportsmens-Caucuses-ColoradoThe National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses invites you to attend Sportsmen’s Day at the Capitol in Denver on Thursday, April 20th. Sportsmen’s Day provides an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to hunting, fishing, the shooting sports as well as the Centennial State’s fish, wildlife and land resources by joining together with allied individuals and organizations in support of Colorado’s outdoor heritage. Thanks once again to the efforts of the Colorado Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chairs, interested sportsmen’s organizations will have an opportunity to host informational booths and tables on the first floor of the Capitol. In addition, the Sportsmen’s Caucus will also host a hot dog picnic and wild game feed on the East lawn of the Capitol.
** Please wear camo and/or blaze orange to show your support for Colorado’s outdoor traditions **
Find additional information and instructions below. Organizations, businesses and individuals interested in sponsoring Sportsmen’s Day at the Capitol are encouraged to contact andy@sportsmenslink.org.

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