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For the Birds

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

Restoring Sage Grouse Habitat in Northwest Colorado

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is embarking on an essential conservation project in Colorado, focusing on wet meadow restoration and fence removal, inventory and modification in critical greater sage grouse habitat.

BHA’s ability to engage in this stewardship work came to pass thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, or BIL, passed by Congress and signed by the President in 2021. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has committed $9 million of BIL funding to the restoration and conservation of Western sagebrush ecosystems, the largest contiguous ecotype in the United States. This tangible vote of support by the federal government takes a crucial step toward conserving and enhancing the fragile habitat of the greater sage grouse and hundreds of other sagebrushobligate species.

BHA, in collaboration with Colorado Parks & Wildlife and other partners, aims to address critical challenges to the greater sage grouse, and its habitat, in the northwest part of the state. Our primary focus is on the restoration and preservation of the sagebrush habitat.

Working in cooperation with our partners, BHA will focus our project activities on the development of Zeedyk structures in Axial Basin. These structures improve habitat quality in numerous ways, such as through the enhancement of foraging opportunities, improvement of nesting habitat through increased coverage, water source availability and increased insect abundance.

Britt Parker, BHA habitat stewardship coordinator, emphasized the project’s long-term positive impact for sage grouse.

Volunteers and staff from Backcountry Hunters & Anglers assist Colorado Parks and Wildlife with a fence removal within the Rio Blanco Lake State Wildlife Area outside of Meeker. (Photo/Brittany Parker)

“By investing in wet meadow restoration and Zeedyk structures, BHA is taking proactive steps to ensure that greater sage grouse have the necessary resources and habitats to thrive,” said Parker, who lives in Gypsum, Colorado. “This work is important not only for the conservation of this iconic species; it also contributes to the overall health and biodiversity of the sagebrush ecosystem in northwest Colorado. Through careful restoration and conservation work, our project has the potential to have a significant positive impact on sage grouse populations and their habitat.”

The project includes one specific, additional component that will benefit species that rely on sage ecosystems. Building upon our extensive fence removal program in Colorado, BHA will be targeting fence that directly impacts sagebrush species, particularly sage grouse. One of the central components of this project involves the removal and modification of fences on state and federal lands within the core sage grouse range.

“The modification of existing fences to make them more wildlife friendly is a significant part of this effort,” continued Parker. “By transitioning to wildlife friendly fencing and flagging, the project aims to make fencing more visible to upland birds and big game – making it easier for big game species to jump over and crawl under, thereby creating safer corridors for wildlife movement and migration. This benefits not only sage grouse but also other critters, like the Bear’s Ears and White River elk herds, in line with the priorities set by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife's State Action Plan and the federal government.”

BHA’s newest stewardship project has the potential to significantly conserve and restore the delicate sagebrush ecosystem. BHA’s dedicated and robust volunteer base will play a key role in this project, not only to assist with project work but also to generate awareness around the challenges faced by our sagebrush ecosystems and how we can better address them. As BHA continues to expand our efforts and collaborate with various stakeholders, we hope to contribute to safeguarding this iconic species and its habitat for generations to come.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Biologist Brian Holmes took BHA volunteers to one of the largest greater sage grouse leks in Colorado before spending a day removing a fence and improving habitat for these incredible birds. (Photo/ Doug Kretzman)
To learn more about BHA’s stewardship work and to find out about events taking place in your area: backcountryhunters.org/stewardship.

The Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society

2022 Review

By Benjamin C. Jones, President & CEO

Without a doubt, we’re energized by reports of work being done in the woods and knowing wildlife benefits will follow. However, that same passion doesn’t usually accompany financial reports. Nonetheless, financials drive the business equation and as we say, “No margin, no mission!” This is an occasion to focus on funding and, most importantly, what it means for RGS & AWS habitat management now and in the future.

We’ll set the bar for this discussion, noting that, in 2022, 90% of money raised went directly toward our forest wildlife mission. Delivering 90 cents on the dollar shows we’re focused, efficient and living up to our word.

Beyond numbers on a page, I see this every day working with staff — our team is dialed in and working with a great sense of purpose.

We’re leading projects that leverage local and national funds. I recently looked back through several years of financial data leading up to 2020. At any given time, we had about $500,000 of funded agreements and grants in place (i.e., the funds we pursue for habitat work through public agencies and foundations). As this is being written, we have more than $10,600,000 of funded agreements in play. That’s a 20-fold increase representing the delta for our updated business model. Pretty exciting, but not the end of the story.

A friend and fellow RGS & AWS member recently called them “multiplier projects.” The term fits. Each agreement requires that RGS & AWS come to the table with skin in the game, the ever-important and sometimes elusive “match.” So, we need cash in hand to negotiate each funded agreement. This is where locally raised funds really shine.

Yes, we’re expanding into new funding arenas that expand mission impact — that doesn’t mean we can abandon traditional fundraising! Support from individual donors, membership and events is more important than ever. Without a strong, donation supported core, we can’t pursue millions of dollars in innovative projects that work for wildlife. In modeling our financial future, unrestricted contributions are a key catalyst (or Jake brake) for our upward habitat trajectory.

Missi-Croix Ruffed Grouse Society chapter volunteers assisted Wisconsin DNR personnel in the planting of trees and shrubs to benefit ruffed grouse in the Swede Ramble-Tulip unit of the Tiffany Bottoms WMA. The Missi-Croix RGS chapter adopted the WMA in 2020, and this is the third year of planting. These habitat projects are made possible using RGS chapter funds. (Photo/Ruffed Grouse Society)

RGS & AWS is growing, but not just for growth’s sake. Our progress is intentional and centered on habitat. Over the past year, we added 18 new positions that hit the field supported by an interrelated portfolio of new agreements, local and national contributions and generous donations.

Recruiting new staff, some of whom are just beginning their conservation careers, reminds me that our work is generational. We’re positively affecting habitat today. We’re leveraging funding for enterprises important to us. We’re ensuring access to habitat so people can share the wonders of grouse, woodcock and all forest wildlife. It’s work worth doing, and with sound financial footing, it’s a legacy that will continue for years to come. Truly generational impact.

In all these things, 2022 was another solid year, yet clearly not a time to rest on our laurels. There’s much work to do.

To view the 2022 Annual Report, visit RuffedGrouseSociety.org under the “About” tab.

Ruffed grouse in the snow.

National Bobwhite & Grasslands Initiative

Following the Waterfowlers?

By John J. Morgan, NBGI Director

It’s late season; our waterfowler brethren are often experiencing their best days of the season as ole man winter forces birds to move. Our community is also making the most of the last days afield chasing upland gamebirds where coverts are weakened by winter’s wrath. Despite lower bird numbers this time of year, good hunts can still be found as cover and food resources become limiting. The effect of winter delivers opportunities to chase birds, both webbed and unwebbed alike.

Despite the similarities of late season hunting, the conservation of each group’s cherished birds couldn’t be more desperate. A study of assessing trends in birds since 1970 revealed wetland birds were the only guild that increased across that timeline. On the flipside, grassland birds, including a bevy of upland gamebirds, experienced the greatest decline. The total loss of all American birds since 1970 was 3 billion!

Why the difference? The environmental movement of the ’60s and ’70s was a major player. The Clean Water Act began to establish the importance of wetlands to society. The regulatory and public education systems made their protection a priority. So much so that almost every elementary school science class shared this lesson with their students. Under President George H. W. Bush in the early 1990s, the “No Net Loss” policy was formalized with heavy support from the waterfowl community, establishing required mitigation for any wetland conversion — a revolutionary requirement mandating habitat conservation.

Another key provision of wetlands restoration has been the North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) enacted in 1989. This law provided funding to restore and protect wetlands into the future. It requires matching funds expanding the program’s impact. Undoubtably, this program helped wetland birds prosper over the last 50 years. Finally, grassland centric interests are more aggressively working towards the proven model of wetland conservation.

A host of conservation non-profits, including the National Bobwhite and Grassland Initiative, are working together to create a grassland equivalent to NAWCA. The bill would establish funding of $290 million to restore and protect native grasslands. Funds would support voluntary, incentive-based conservation in the form of easements, restoration, invasive species management, grazing improvements and education. Importantly, it also creates a National Grasslands Council, a national restoration strategy, and supports native seed crop system research.

The time to deliver these conservation actions for grasslands is right now. The plight of America’s grasslands is far beyond the loss of wetlands: Approximately 80% of wetlands were lost prior to modern conservation efforts, yet many states have lost 99% of their native grasslands! Both grassland songbird and game bird population losses demonstrate this truth.

As with all legislation, it is critical to generate grassroot support. The grassland act team is continuing to pursue legislative co-sponsors for this long-overdue bill. Call your senator or representative to encourage their support. The clock is ticking, and time is not on our side.

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