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    For the Birds

    Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Legislature Must Provide for LWCF

    Arguably the most significant component of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act (S.47), the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) marked a hard-won victory for conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups and communities nationwide. The fund’s expiration on Sept. 30, 2018, prompted a stunning groundswell of advocacy that helped drive the passage of S.47. Yet today, more than a year since enactment of the legislation, funding for LWCF remains in limbo.

    Permanently reauthorizing LWCF and then failing to fully fund it is equivalent to getting a new bird dog and not training it: It will not reach its full potential, and your hunting will suffer for it. Nevertheless, Congress has consistently fallen short in funding LWCF, which remains our most reliable resource for improving hunting and fishing opportunities on our public lands and waters.

    LWCF is designed to operate on an annual budget of $900 million, every penny of which comes from offshore oil and gas royalties. Remarkably, LWCF has conserved and opened access to millions of acres of public land in all counties across the U.S., benefiting communities, businesses and sportsmen and women. Despite this broad appeal and demonstrated track record of success, Congress has fully funded LWCF only twice in its 55-year history. This is not atypical of the federal appropriations process; federal programs are slashed all the time to pay for shortfalls elsewhere. However, the relatively small amount of money authorized to LWCF, the immense value it provides and the fact that taxpayers don’t need to pay a cent to see reliable returns have motivated tens of thousands of sportsmen and women to write their senators and representatives in support of full, dedicated funding.

    There are well-documented economic benefits to LWCF-funded projects. Across the board, each LWCF dollar invested in a local project generates $4 in economic value. That should be an effective selling point for anyone, even those who don’t spend any time outdoors. We can discuss public access and hunting and fishing opportunities until the cows come home, but the jobs, local economic benefits and fiscal sustainability of the outdoor economy are equally important.

    Backcountry Hunters & Anglers worked hard to leverage the voices of sportsmen and women in advocating for S.47 and LWCF’s permanent reauthorization. At a time when hunter numbers are fast declining and development threatens the lands and waters on which we depend, we need effective habitat conservation and public access funding. Those who quit hunting cite a lack of access as their primary reason. On the other hand, developing new public access and enhancing existing sites and nearby habitat can engage new hunters and create opportunities for future generations. This is what LWCF was designed to do — the onus is on us to make sure that can happen.

    Please join Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and all the other hunters and anglers who are advocating for full and dedicated funding for LWCF. Call your senators and representatives, write a letter to your local paper or howl about full funding on social media. Better yet, look up a local fishing access site, park or trailhead; there’s a good chance it was funded in part by LWCF dollars. Let people know what they stand to gain if we give this program the funding it deserves — and what we as hunters stand to lose if we don’t.

    Ruffed Grouse Society
    & American Woodcock Society
    Early West Nile Virus Test Results

    The Departments of Natural Resources in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan recently announced results of West Nile Virus (WNV) testing of hunter-submitted samples from the 2018 hunting seasons. Results are the first in a three-year study conducted through a partnership among the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) and each state agency. The coordinated effort was planned to better understand ruffed grouse exposure to WNV in the region. Results already demonstrate that some grouse survive exposure to WNV and are not sick when harvested in the fall.

    The hunter-submitted samples were ultimately sent for analysis to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Georgia. Blood samples were examined for presence of antibodies that suggest exposure to WNV after previously being bitten by an infected mosquito. A total of 720 samples were submitted (273 from Minnesota, 235 from Wisconsin and 212 from Michigan). Results indicated 12.5% of sampled ruffed grouse in Minnesota were previously exposed to WNV, compared to 29% in Wisconsin and 13% in Michigan.

    Prior research regarding the effect of WNV on ruffed grouse populations in other states emphasizes the importance of high-quality young forest habitat at a landscape scale. Individual ruffed grouse have a higher rate of survival — and populations recover faster and are more likely to persist — in regions with high-quality, abundant habitat.

    Ongoing WNV surveillance in the region is being coordinated during the current hunting season among agencies in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. RGS will continue to communicate with members and the public in the region as results are reported and as efforts proceed for future years of the project.

    Hunt Results Show 41% Increase

    RGS and the American Woodcock Society (AWS) held the 38th Annual National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt (NGWH) on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 10 and 11, 2019, in and around Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Throughout the NGWH history, data have been consistently collected from all harvested birds to provide historic perspective on population trends. Results this year showed increased harvest rates compared to 2018 and considerably improved grouse recruitment.

    Hunters participating in the 2019 NGWH harvested 112 ruffed grouse during the two-day hunt. A total of 261 American woodcock were bagged. Ruffed grouse harvest for the event increased 17% compared to 2018. Fewer American woodcock were taken compared to 2018, but fewer hunters participated in the event this year. A total of 5.8 birds (grouse and woodcock combined) were harvested per hunter in 2019, a 41% increase over the 4.1 birds taken per hunter in 2018.

    National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
    Missouri Sets 40-Year Record
    for Bobwhite Density

    The 25 National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) states managed 3,764,671 acres for bobwhites in 2018, according to the NBCI’s 2019 “State of the Bobwhite” report. The figure is down about 200,000 acres from the previous year due to a sizeable decline in USDA Farm Bill programs, according to state feedback. However, the report indicates a stability in management of state agency lands and a continued high level of management on private lands, whether led by state agencies or partners.

    Also featured is Missouri’s NBCI Coordinated Focal Area Implementation Program, which achieved the state-determined target quail densities on both the 5,574-acre Bee Ridge Focal Area (one bird per two acres) and the 5,242-acre 2C Focal Area (.91 birds per acre) for multiple years. NBCI’s minimum population density requirement for sustained survival is 0.2 birds per acre, while minimum density for hunting is 0.5 birds per acre. The 2C density figure is a 40-year record for Missouri.

    The 74-page report also highlights individuals and entities from 10 states who made contributions to range-wide restoration of wild bobwhites sufficient to earn them the NBCI National Fire Bird Conservation Award, explores a Tennessee state park that is not only “for the birds” but also uses the bobwhite as the key indicator species for their management activities and offers a “tip of the hat” to the historically “iconic” nature of the bobwhite with a report cover featuring the flushing bobwhite radiator cap of the Ford Model A, an option ordered and overseen by Henry Ford himself to adequately represent the quick takeoff capabilities of his new Model A.

    To examine a digital version of the 2019 State of the Bobwhite, please visit https://tinyurl.com/y479fg6c.


    NBCI Using Grant to Accelerate
    Longleaf Pine Habitat Analysis


    NBCI is using a new $147,568 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Longleaf Stewardship Fund — matched by four other sources for a total of $295,165 — to aggressively accelerate the analysis of data — and learning — from current bobwhite management efforts in the longleaf pine ecosystem.

    The four areas involved — Boggy Hollow on the Conecuh National Forest in Alabama, Silver Lake West in Georgia, Kisatchie/Vernon on the Vernon District of the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana and Big Woods/Piney Grove in Virginia — are all under the umbrella of NBCI’s Coordinated Implementation Program (CIP) for focal areas. Participation requires collection of a great deal of data from each area — and its corresponding reference/control area — at various times of the year. Information includes habitat surveys, fall bobwhite covey counts and spring breeding bird counts for various species in addition to bobwhite quail, all collected from the states and managed by NBCI’s data analyst, Molly Foley. The project will help accelerate the analysis of data and development of statistical models by James Martin and John Yeiser at the University of Georgia relating bobwhite abundance to habitat amount, landscape characteristics and management actions in the longleaf pine setting. Correlations made in this study between bobwhite density and habitat management activities may dictate what direction states in the longleaf pine region should go in order to increase bobwhite abundance more quickly on their landscapes.

    Wolfe Publishing Group