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With countless places to roam and enjoy the great outdoors, Americans are taking advantage of these opportunities, and as they go, spending significant dollars, too. New economic reports by Southwick Associates reveal that more than 53 million Americans consider themselves sportsmen, spending over $93.5 billion in 2016 on gear, licenses, travel, clothing, gas and more. 

South Park, Colorado. Photo by Lew Carpenter

A series of reports released yesterday by the American Sportfishing Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation show that expenditures made in 2016 for hunting, target shooting and sportfishing gear and services supported 1.6 million jobs and provided $72 billion in salaries and wages. These monies also generated nearly $20 billion in local, state and federal taxes. Much of this tax revenue benefits vital conservation and educational programs that improve our outdoor areas for all who enjoy them and make hunting and shooting safer activities.

“If hunting, fishing and target shooting were a corporation, it would rank #25 on the Fortune 500, ahead of Microsoft,” says Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates. “While time spent outside may come across as something to do after the real work day is done, in reality hunting, fishing and target shooting is a critical industry, generating jobs and income for thousands of communities across the country.”

Key highlights of the reports include:



  • Each year, 35.8 million people 16 years and older take to America’s waters to fish.
  • More than 28 million people over 16 years old took to our nation’s forests and gun ranges to hunt and target shoot in 2016.
  • The number of people who participate in sportfishing, hunting and target shooting represents 16.5 percent of the total U.S. population.
  • When factoring in multiplier effects, spending by sportsmen created economic activity in excess of $220 billion.
  • Hunting, fishing and shooting adds $119 billion of overall value to our nation’s gross domestic product and generates $17.6 billion in federal taxes and $12.2 billion in state and local taxes.

Four separate reports are available: sportfishing from the American Sportfishing Association, hunting and target shooting from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (please register as a guest when asked), plus a report for all activities combined from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

Southwick Associates is a market research and economics firm specializing in the hunting, shooting, sportfishing, and outdoor recreation markets. Celebrating 28 years in business, Southwick Associates has a strong reputation for delivering comprehensive insights and statistics to strategic decision making across the entire outdoor industry. Aside from custom market and economic information, Southwick Associates provides custom and syndicated research including customer-driven new product development, outdoor media consumption insights, and equipment purchase tracking studies. Visit www.southwickassociates.com for more information.

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Udall, Heinrich Join Conservation Leaders To Celebrate New Public Access To Sabinoso Wilderness, Call For Reauthorization Of Land And Water Conservation Fund

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Image courtesy BLM, Bob Wick

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich May 29, 2018 joined the National Wildlife Federation, Wilderness Land Trust, Partnership for Responsible Business, Santa Ana Pueblo, and a number of other local conservation leaders and organizations to announce major gains towards improving access to public lands in New Mexico, including opening the Sabinoso Wilderness to the public, and the many successes of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The event was held at the Petroglyph National Monument Visitor Center in Albuquerque.

“Public lands like the Sabinoso Wilderness are essential to New Mexico’s way of life and are major economic drivers for our state. Unlocking Sabinoso’s rugged canyons and mesas to the public, for hiking, camping, horseback riding, and hunting, was a major victory for all New Mexicans. We showed that we can expand access to our public lands when we work together toward a common goal,” said Sen. Udall. “But we need to continue pushing back against the ongoing assault on our public lands coming from some in Washington. It starts with protecting the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an immensely popular and successful program which has provided funds to nearly every county in America to conserve public open space. The LWCF accomplishes so much with so little – protecting national monuments, national forests, wildlife refuges, lakes and rivers, state and local parks, and historic sites. As the top Democrat on the subcommittee that oversees funding for the Department of Interior, I will keep fighting to see that the LWCF is made permanent to support public lands in New Mexico and across the country for future generations.”

“The opening of the Sabinoso Wilderness is a major victory and will finally allow public access to this stunning landscape that we all own. I am proud to have worked hard for years alongside New Mexico sportsmen, wilderness advocates, and local community leaders to find a way to unlock this incredible place to the public. The Sabinoso will surely become an important destination for hunters, hikers and campers from nearby communities and around the nation, and contribute to our outdoor recreation economy,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I will continue working to protect and improve access to the places that we love here in New Mexico and fight for the permanent and full funding of conservation programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund that are critical to preserving our outdoor heritage for our children and future generations.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful conservation programs. Senators Udall and Heinrich have long advocated for the permanent reauthorization and full funding of LWCF. This vital program expires on September 30, 2018.

“Among the National Wildlife Federation’s top priorities are restoring America’s wildlife populations, conserving public lands, and ensuring that Americans have access to them, whether for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, paddling or watching wildlife. We’re proud of the incredible work by New Mexicans to open the Sabinoso Wilderness to public access and our celebration today is a testament to the efforts of Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and sportsmen in partnership with Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department and conservation organizations, like the Wilderness Land Trust and the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. America’s public lands belong to all of us and we must all continue to work together to protect and enhance our public lands legacy, including reauthorizing and fully funding one of our most important conservation programs–the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

“LWCF is essential to our country’s outdoor spaces—from neighborhood parks to national parks,” said Diane Regas, CEO of The Trust for Public Land. “Without it our work in New Mexico would be impossible and the future of parks and open space would be uncertain. Both Senators Udall and Heinrich set a high standard for what it means to be a leader in conservation and The Trust for Public Land is profoundly grateful for their hard work and commitment to the outdoors.”

“We’ve been working on creating access to the Sabinoso Wilderness since it was proposed for designation in 2009,” said Brad Borst, President of The Wilderness Land Trust. “We are deeply grateful to the Wyss Foundation for funding the acquisition and transfer of the heart of the Rimrock Rose Ranch to the Bureau of Land Management; to US Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico for their leadership and perseverance; for the support of the San Miguel County Commissioners; for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance volunteers for helping with site cleanup; and for the sportsmen groups who publicly advocated for this New Mexico treasure.”

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a crucial program for New Mexico’s public lands, state parks, and restoration projects,” said New Mexico Wildlife Federation Acting Executive Director Todd Leahy. “We are pleased to come together with our Senators who have long been champions of LWCF as well as public lands access, and our partners who have worked side by side for conservation projects over the years. We hope this event brings the importance of LWCF to the forefront of New Mexican’s minds and inspire our entire New Mexico delegation to support permanently reauthorizing LWCF.”

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided over $312 million to projects in New Mexico that have leveraged millions more in state, local, and private matching funds to contribute to the betterment of our state and well-being of our citizens. These investments also help sustain a network of parks and public lands that attract entrepreneurs, retirees, and tourists who strengthen our economy. Our state will suffer if the Land and Water Conservation Fund expires. Congress must not let that happen,” said Alexandra Merlino, Executive Director, New Mexico Partnership for Responsible Business.

“Latinos and all Americans in every state have benefitted from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, whether they know it or not. If you have visited a state park or played softball in your neighborhood, there’s a good chance those places in New Mexico were, in part, funded by the LWCF to the tune of over $310 million during the program’s lifetime,”said Ralph Arellanes, New Mexico LULAC Executive Director and Hispano Round Table of New Mexico Chairman.

“To grow up healthy, kids need a clean, beautiful, and accessible outdoors where they can play and discover the amazing world around them. Fortunately, New Mexico has numerous spectacular outdoor areas that have been protected thanks to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is set to expire this September. We can’t let that happen. In the bipartisan spirit that has characterized the LWCF since its inception, Congress must come together to reauthorize and fully fund this great provider of public lands access and enjoyment,” said James Jimenez, Executive Director, New Mexico Voices for Children.

“Growing up on New Mexico’s public lands, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is personal to me. As a Sportsman, I’ve seen firsthand how important LWCF is to increasing sportsmen’s access and improving wildlife habitat. If you’ve ever caught a Cutthroat trout in the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic river area, hunted in the Valles Caldera or the Gila, hiked in the Organ Mountains or seen bighorn sheep on the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument you are a beneficiary of LWCF,” said Rev. Andrew Black, Pastor at First Presbyterian Church Santa Fe. “Working with veterans, youth and families throughout the state, I’ve also seen firsthand how the lands funded by LWCF are places of great healing, wholeness and transformation.”

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One of the great things about this country is that when people come together they are very strong, and we need to come together to understand our natural resources, and how important natural resources are to future generations – Fernando Clemente, New Mexico Wildlife Federation Board Member and Wildlife Biologist

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Fernando Clemente, New Mexico Wildlife Services and NM Wildlife Federation board member with a Montezuma Quail. Photo by Lew Carpenter

I stepped in close to the desert scrub where I thought the fleeing Montezuma Quail had landed. These quail hold tight and I was right on top of one when it exploded up in front of me blasting out to my left. I pulled in line and my view suddenly clouded with a dense tree foiling my shot. I looked further left and saw Clemente smoothly and effortlessly raise his shotgun and drop the dynamic bird.

 

We were a mere 20 minutes into our Montezuma Quail (also known as Mearns Quail) hunt when the first covey had been busted. Field & Stream reporter Hal Herring had dropped a bird from that first flush and, apparently, I had become the bird dog for Clemente’s kill – both flushing and retrieving for him.

 

Our group had joined just a few miles from the US-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest of New Mexico’s bootheel, just south of Animas. We were six – plus three dogs – out to hunt Montezuma Quail and talk wildlife impacts of a proposed border wall. Sixty percent of the Chihuahua desert grasslands are gone and further fragmentation of this essential habitat and its wildlife corridors would be devastating if a border wall is built.

 

“Some animals, because of their size, avoid predators, humans, autos and structures,” Clemente said. “So when they see a structure in the distance like the proposed wall, they will not even go near. So when you talk about home range and habitat for a species, it will be totally disrupted – from California to Texas.”

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Impressive tall-grass habitat of the Coronado National Forest in New Mexico. Photo By Lew Carpenter

New Mexico Wildlife Federation (NMWF) staff member Gabe Vasquez, board member Fernando Clemente and past NMWF board chair Ray Trejo – plus Field & Stream’s Hal Herring and Tom Fowlks (photographer) – were all on site to camp, hunt and expose a magnificent ecosystem filled with tall grasslands, wooded hills, Coues deer, bear, desert bighorn sheep and…oh yes, quail.

Vasquez organized the trip. He also authored the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Border Wall policy resolution, which was ratified by 51 NWF state affiliates during the 2017 NWF annual meeting in Stevenson, Washington. He is also a Las Cruces City Councilman and heads the Nuestra Tierra conservation program for NMWF.

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From top left: Fernando Clemente, Lew Carpenter, Gabe Vasquez. Bottom from left: Ray Trejo, Hal Herring. Photo by Tom Fowlks

“Under recent Congressional bills there have been environmental waivers granted for construction of any type of structure for border security,” Vasquez said. “New Mexico Legislators this year pushed back strongly with legislation that would trigger a state-version of NEPA or EIS anytime the federal government wants to come in and do a land swap with the state of New Mexico to facilitate the construction of any property, where there are no environmental laws required (like Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act). It received strong support and passed out of a House committee.”

“So clearly here in New Mexico we place a high value on our land – and when people talk about state’s rights – well here’s a federal decision that comes with the power to decimate our state’s recreation economy, our wildlife and our culture, and we don’t want it,” Vasquez continued. “People talk all the time about state’s rights and some of these folks are the same ones who want the wall, but you can’t have it both ways. This is terrible for sportsmen and women in New Mexico and terrible for anyone else who uses these public lands.”

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Gabe Vasquez, Las Cruces City Councilman, NM Wildlife staffer and leader of Nuestra Tierra. Photo by Lew Carpenter

NMWF’s Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, a program that helps underserved and Hispanic communities connect with the outdoors, has been advocating against the border wall since its inception, and the following is from its factsheet:

 

President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a massive border wall across the U.S.-Mexico border is misguided, xenophobic, technically infeasible, and will deteriorate the country’s relationship with Mexico.

 

A massive border wall, on the scale that Trump has proposed, will also have a tremendously negative impact on wildlife and the natural environment.

 

Disrupting the flow of water

  • In many places across the border, existing fences already act as dams during periods of heavy rainfall, which cause severe soil erosion, degraded habitat for wildlife, and flooding in rural and urban population centers. A concrete wall would likely amplify these existing problems.
  • According to the National Park Service, the pooling of water against existing border fences in Arizona has already caused severe soil erosion and damage to riparian vegetation.
  • When it rains in Palomas, Mexico, which neighbors Columbus, N.M., the town’s streets, many of them dirt roads, flood badly. Engineers have concluded that the existing border fencing and infrastructure is largely to blame. Additional and larger border infrastructure could severely flood our southern neighbors by altering the course of naturally flowing arroyos, impacting both their health, infrastructure, and economy.

 

Severe disruption to wildlife habitat

  • Reinforced fencing – in particular solid walls – along the Southwest border will continue to disrupt the migratory ranges of wildlife in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts and their endangered species.
  • Current border fences have already hindered efforts to save the native jaguar, which was listed as an endangered species since 1977 and is slowly recovering from near extinction. Restricting the movement of these creatures will almost certainly eliminate their ability to reach their traditional breeding areas.
  • The current wall has seriously hampered the distribution of the ferruginous pygmy-owl and bighorn sheep and could isolate other endangered populations of large mammals, particularly in Arizona’s Sky Island region, including black bears.

 

Building a massive border wall to divide these two great nations will destroy the cultural heritage that the land represents to its modern day inhabitants and will severely impact wildlife habitat and endanger binational communities. Nuestra Tierra strongly believes that to preserve our frontera culture, and to move forward as a nation, the border wall must not be built.

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From left: Gabe Vasquez, Hal Herring and Fernando Clemente. Photo by Lew Carpenter

“We need to act, Clemente said. “We need to come together. One of the great things about this country is when people come together they are very strong. And we need to come together to understand our natural resources, and how important natural resources are to future generations. The United States has always been the leader in wildlife management and the conservation of natural resources, and I don’t understand why we would head down this route (of a border wall).”

 

Trejo fortified that notion, “We work very hard to articulate just that, on the landscape and on the border. It is our responsibility to bring people who are making decisions down (to the border), and to look at the landscape – otherwise they don’t understand. We are connected with Mexico and we have always been connected with Mexico. And that wall is going to create a barrier that impacts the ecosystem that spans the border, and what happens to the people, the wildlife, the habitat and the work between the countries?”

 

As we drove into the boot heel of New Mexico — the northern part of the Chihuahua Desert – the exotic landscape opened up with magnificent grasslands, mountain ranges and rich colors of gold, brown and green.

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Dog on point with Vasquez and Clemente. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Our campsite was at 5500 feet altitude and the temps ranged from 14 to 75 degrees.

 

Trejo, a high school administrator in these parts, brought his two German short haired pointers and Clemente, who owns NM Specialized Wildlife Services, brought his pointer as well. Both men are experts in wildlife conservation and Clemente manages wildlife populations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

“We are supposed to be a country that creates relations, and I hope that nothing will happen, but if the wall gets created, what will happen to those relations?” Clemente rhetorically asked. “And what do I mean by that? I’m going to talk about waterfowl, migratory birds, and many people say that ‘They can fly over the wall,’ but that’s not the point. The point is there are tri-lateral meetings every year between the US, Canada and Mexico.

 

“They meet to create a management plan for the migratory birds, and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of that within the Central Flyway. And they get to get together and talk about everything from habitat restoration and resting places (wildlife refuges) all the way to bag limits and how many each country harvests,” Clemente continued. “Why is that? Because they fly from Canada to Mexico and then back each year. It’s not a species that somebody owns – everybody owns them, and their habitat, and home range is from Canada to Mexico, so that’s the way it needs to be managed. So let’s say there is a break in our relationships, and now they don’t care because we don’t care about them – so we will change things to keep more birds for us. The problem is that if we start changing how we manage those migratory birds in order to keep numbers for each country, what will happen in 20 years?”

 

The same could be said about relations on Sonoran pronghorn, Coues deer, desert bighorn sheep – just a few in the game species category.

 

“We have a great population of Goulds turkeys because of releases from Mexico, and Mexico is doing great with Gould’s turkeys – almost half the country has Gould’s turkeys,” Clemente said. “So all those relationships have been created to build population sustainability with wildlife populations. If we damage that then it will be 10 times harder to be able to sustain a wildlife population. Now, with that being said, what kind of message are we sending to the wildlife biologists and ecologists about all that work from the past? When we build that wall we are saying we don’t care about the work.”

 

Heading out into the National Forest I was struck by the glowing, golden high grasses – excellent quail habitat. The quality of the landscape was like nothing I had seen further north. Un-grazed public land as far as the eye could see – challenging us as we searched for quail.

 

Tracking along a small wash, which was wooded along the southern face, we came upon that first covey and flush. Holding a Montezuma in my hand for the first time, I could easily see what the fuss was about with these birds. To detail all its beauty in words would be nearly impossible considering the diversity of colors and patterns throughout its plumage.

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Montezuma Quail. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Exploring a small slice of this incredible grassland ecosystem was a gift. Thick golden fields of grass; rocky, woodland washes and hills; and open space without structure extending well beyond sight (with occasional groups of Coues deer busting forth).

 

“Culturally we refer to this little piece on the landscape as the border, but it’s a landscape just like any other,” Vasquez said. “It is diverse, it is beautiful and to us it is our home. It is becoming more dangerous to us as we see what is happening in Congress.”

 

I admit, it’s hard to weave a hunting story with an issue as significant, deep and connected to so many people, cultures and conservation values. The hunt left a mark on me. The conversation about the wildlife impacts of a border wall left an impact on me. My life is forever changed by this type of experience, when being present in a special place merges with responsible, pragmatic dialogue about common values. And when we connect with each other physically in a place that is meaningful, one can’t help but be transformed forever.

 

And, while we sought both Montezuma and Blue (Scaled) quail, we encountered Gamble’s quail, too – all remarkable game birds. Afternoons in this area beg a hat trick. Though I didn’t shoot as well as I would like, the hunt will be one of my greatest sporting memories. The combination of epic habitat, spectacular wildlife and the best of companions (dogs included) made the trip truly special.

 

I am invested in my role with conservation, and even more invested in my relationships, but to be in a place that not only connects people and culture from two nations, and touches upon the values of wild places and wildlife, I can’t help but be transformed even further in my resolve to protect the things I love – people, wildlife, heritage and the vast beauty of the public estate.

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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.

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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.

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MigrationInitiative.org_Joe Riis photo credit

Photo by Joe Riis

There will be a lot going on with multiple games, events and prizes (including outdoor gear, guns, trips…)  Don’t get caught at home – come join in the fun!

Here’s what you’ll find:
Wall of Guns
Wheelbarrow of Spirits
Hers raffle
Kids raffle
Live and silent auctions
Shot shell pull and other games

March 5th, at the Holiday Inn/Radisson, 204 W. Fox Farm Rd, Cheyenne, WY
Tickets for Sale – go online to: wyomingwildlife.org

The Wyoming Migration Initiative will be at the WWF annual fundraiser banquet.  Learn more about the Initiative, about big game migration and about WWF’s work with the Initiative.  Make your reservations for the WWF banquet now!

Entry/dinner ticket prices:
$50 per person (kids are $25)
$90 per couple

Members, bring a friend and you’ll be entered into a raffle drawing for a fabulous prize!

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