A New Conservation Paradigm
As we continue to witness negative impacts on fish and wildlife habitats resulting from our planet’s changing climate, new perspectives always need to be considered to reduce these impacts by any measure possible.
Fly Fishers International proposes a new vision that acknowledges conservation of fish and wildlife habitats as an important commitment to protecting our planet from the impacts of climate change. Agencies charged with managing our natural landscapes and the plant communities they represent have historically done a commendable job, when given the financial and policy support necessary for success. But higher priority needs to be placed on preserving the health and function of these natural landscapes for their global value. For this reason we’ve released A New Conservation Paradigm. This white paper outlines recommendations for accomplishing this new approach. It is our hope that others, especially those involved in conservation work, will recognize the critical role these habitats play and join us in our efforts to preserve them.
President & CEO, Fly Fishers International
Chairman, Fly Fishers International Board Conservation Committee
Senior Advisor – Conservation
A New Conservation Paradigm
Conserving Fish and Wildlife Habitats for the Planet
Tom H. Logan, Chairman, FFI Board Conservation Committee
Kathleen A. Bergeron, V.P. Conservation, FFI Southeastern Council
Brad W. Eaton, Vice Chairman, FFI Board Conservation Committee
Executive Committee of Fly Fishers International
March 27, 2023
Fly Fishers International and 27 other Policy Council partner organizations participated in a Climate Summit hosted by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) in February 2020 to consider best available science associated with the topics of “Climate Change” and “Global Warming”. The TRCP includes approximately 62 partners representing fishing, hunting and conservation organizations and their respective memberships. Attendees generally concluded, consistent with the opinions of climatologists and other scientists around the world, that a “Climate Issue” does exist that is adversely affecting climate and our everyday lives.
This is not a new topic though. Dr. Carl Sagan testified before Congress in 1985 that carbons and other gases are accumulating as an abnormal atmospheric layer around the earth and affecting climate unnaturally. He explained that the earth warms naturally by absorbing some rays from the sun, while radiating those not absorbed. The problem he cautioned is that the accumulating layer of gases is trapping rays that would normally radiate from the earth; thereby, causing otherwise normal temperatures to rise, warming waters and air around the earth. He referred to this as having a “greenhouse effect” .
The science is compelling. Warming is, indeed, occurring. Fly fishers understand this because we see the waters we fish, from coastal bays to mountain streams, getting warmer than “normal” and affecting our fishing. These observations of fly fishers and others who enjoy the out of doors was further confirmed in 2022 by the firm of New Bridge Strategy, when they conducted a survey for TRCP. They interviewed a random sample of 603 sportswomen and men selected to represent the general population with respect to gender, age, outdoor interests and political affiliations. The survey found that, regardless of demographics, approximately three quarters of those surveyed agreed that “climate change” or “global warming” is happening and these changes are human-caused . These findings are particularly relevant because our group tends to spend more time outdoors than average Americans and sees changes first hand through our personal experiences. More importantly, the surveyed group confirmed overwhelming support for conserving grasslands, forests, wetlands and coastal landscapes as a remedy to these climate issues.
The surveyors also tested several messages among the hunters and fishers they interviewed and found the message that most resonated was “We need to take action to protect future generations’ quality of life and ensure that our children can enjoy outdoor traditions like hunting and fishing the same as we do.” The implication of these findings further suggested to focus on solutions, rather than debate further whether a problem exists or not.
Solutions fall into two fundamental categories of actions, both of which ultimately reduce the “greenhouse” layer described by Dr. Sagan. Emissions from burning of fossil fuels accumulate as the greenhouse layer of gases; therefore, alternatives that reduce some uses of fossil fuels are necessary. The other action is to understand and invest in the already existing natural processes that sequester -- that is, remove and store -- carbons from the atmosphere. Both solutions are necessary but improving sequestration of atmospheric carbons is an action we can embrace immediately and it is affordable and achievable. It’s simple! Plants that grow in our parks, forests, prairies, wetlands and lakes, even our backyards, remove and store carbon from the air. We appreciate these plant communities as fish and wildlife habitat but their ultimate values are their abilities to sequester CO2, store carbon and transpire oxygen and water vapor for benefit of all life! Plant communities of coastal and ocean environments are especially important in this regard. Mangroves, sea grasses and coastal marshes, for example, sequester and store carbon in their organic soils at rates up to 5 times that of tropical forests. And kelp, a macroalgae, can grow 2 feet per day, sequester carbon 20 times the rate of upland forests and store carbon infinitely in plant parts that transport far from inshore. These marine plant communities are sometimes referred to as “blue forests” or “blue carbon” systems in comparison to land-based “green forests”.
Conserving the health and function of natural landscapes and plant communities as habitat for fish and wildlife is our most important commitment to protect the well-being of the planet and our human quality of life. The plants, soils and waters forming fish and wildlife habitats throughout the world naturally sequester or remove carbons from the atmosphere. Photosynthesis converts atmospheric CO2 and water into sugars for food, forms and stores cellulosic carbon in the woods, roots and soils and transpires oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. We learned in our grade school biology classes that plants require carbon dioxide, animals require oxygen and they both require fresh water for life. Management of fish and wildlife habitats assures these processes and natural relationships are met and continue.
Fish and wildlife management, and more specifically management of their respective habitats, has been practiced, taught and funded in the United States since early in the previous century. Gifford Pinchot, father of American conservation, who served as the first head of the U.S. Division of Forestry, spoke to these practices in A Primer of Forestry in 1900 . The Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Program was established in 1935 to offer graduate education in fisheries and wildlife sciences and to facilitate research and technical assistance between natural resource agencies and universities. Management programs have substantially improved since those early years. Millions of acres have been set aside in the United States that are dedicated and managed for fish, wildlife, forests, grasslands and wetlands. This has been accomplished with broad public support that includes successful funding sources for conservation programs. A nearly trillion dollar per year outdoor recreational industry has developed around this success and our enjoyment of public lands and waters.
Managers have learned a great deal from our experiences and research about the biology of fish, wildlife, plant communities and their relationships. We also have improved our understanding of how to better manage their conservation and even recovered several iconic species from near extinction. It now is time we expand our philosophy and purpose for management for fish and wildlife habitats and move forward under a “New Conservation Paradigm” that embraces the broader values of our natural landscapes. We must do this, not just as fish and wildlife habitat, but with the added understanding and conviction that plant communities naturally remove carbons from our atmosphere to process food for themselves, foods and oxygen that animals require and fresh water for all life. Landscapes of high value to sequestration of carbon for the planet support healthy populations of fish and wildlife.
It also is important to consider the different ways plant communities store a large portion of the carbon they remove from the atmosphere but do not process into sugar or transpire as oxygen and water vapor. Grasses, for example, store much of the carbon they sequester in their roots and soils, while trees store carbon in their wood. Wetlands store carbon in their highly organic soils. Stored carbon in grasslands is relatively secure but carbons stored by trees return to the atmosphere when trees are killed and wood burned during catastrophic wildfire. Prescribed fire, a managed simulation of natural fire, is one of our most important management tools for sustaining the health and production of grassland and forest plant communities but it also protects trees and their stored carbons from wildfires. Carbons stored in the organic soils of wetlands also are relatively secure as long as wetland soils remain wet and are not dewatered for extended periods of time.
Writers and philosophers have for centuries told us of the spiritual value of wild lands. It is easy to romanticize about spending time in the woods. But given our current understanding of climate and the essential value of preserving landscapes of plant life in the form of parks, forests, prairies and wetlands, our need to care for these areas goes far beyond a soothing of the spirit. We now realize that our very future depends on it. Thoreau’s oft-quoted line that “In wildness is the preservation of the world” carries an even more literal meaning.
The New Conservation Paradigm does not require redesign of established methods of fish, wildlife and habitat management. It does require though, that policy makers, agencies and land managers embrace a more comprehensive awareness of the roles and added value natural plant communities play in sequestration of atmospheric carbons to improve overall health and function of the planet for humans and other species. It also is essential that management and funding priorities be adjusted accordingly. Moving forward now under the New Conservation Paradigm is one of the most affordable and achievable conservation actions for solving the growing problem Dr. Sagan described to Congress in 1985.
Those of us who personally experience and enjoy the out of doors understand the benefits and importance of conserving natural landscapes as habitat for fish and wildlife. We individually must play an important role in supporting how we move forward with implementation of the New Conservation Paradigm. The solutions represented by the recommended conservation actions that follow will only happen if we embrace the New Conservation Paradigm as personal philosophy and represent to our policy makers, agencies and land managers that this is how conservation-minded Americans want the lands and waters of the United States to be managed. This will serve as a global model for preserving natural landscapes and plant communities to improve and sustain health of the planet and our qualities of life. It is in this way that the Legacy of Fly Fishing will endure for generations. Fly fishers and others who enjoy the out of doors in the many ways we do have everything to gain.
Recommended Conservation Actions
The following conservation actions are recommended as a comprehensive strategy for conserving natural landscapes as fish and wildlife habitat and their added value to sequestration of carbon for the planet. Managing agencies, policy makers and those of us who enjoy our vast state and federal public lands and waters in the United States must embrace and invest in the understanding that the diverse plant communities they support…forests, grasslands, wetlands and waters…are of added and essential value to all life for their natural sequestration of atmospheric carbons.
- The processes by which different plants store sequestered carbon must be considered in how differing communities are managed. Grasses, for example, store carbon in roots and soils and prescribed fire that benefits their growth and reproduction does not release the carbon grasses store. Trees, on the other hand, store sequestered carbon in their wood and return carbons back into the atmosphere when burned by catastrophic wild fire. Our forests, therefore, should be protected with prescribed burning or logs should be removed unburned when damaged or killed by wild fire, drought and/or disease. Highly organic wetland soils store tremendous amounts of carbon and must not be permanently dewatered and allowed to oxidize.
- These natural landscapes of diverse plant communities must be protected as “public policy” from practices that degrade their added values; such practices include but are not limited to clear-cut logging, new road construction, overgrazing, surface mining and de-watering of wetlands.
- Wetlands, riparian and coastal communities should be restored and protected as natural buffers and protection from flooding and storm events.
- Definitions of Waters of the United States must not be modified in any way that compromises the health and function of wetland communities and their watersheds.
- High priority must be placed on agency collaboration and funding to meet needs for fully embracing the New Conservation Paradigm for retention, addition and management of natural landscapes. Such collaboration must focus on community added value, function and connectivity.
- New narratives should be developed to inform and maintain public support for embracing the New Conservation Paradigm to conserve natural landscapes in the public interest.
- The New Conservation Paradigm for natural landscapes in the United States should be messaged as a model for global application.
- Plant communities of marine environments that include mangroves, seagrasses, salt marshes and kelp are very important components of this worldwide conservation topic because they sequester many times more CO2 than upland forests. These “blue carbon” systems must be included in our broader conservation strategy of conserving natural landscapes as carbon “sinks” that support populations of fish and wildlife.
- Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Policy Council Climate Summit – A Summary of Presentations and Discussions, 2020, 55 pp.
- Sagan, Carl, PhD, “Carl Sagan Testifying before Congress in 1985 on Climate Change,” recorded by C-SPAN.
- New Bridge Strategies, PowerPoint presentation, 2022. “Key Findings from a Survey of Hunters and Anglers”. Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
- Pinchot, Gifford, A Primer of Forestry, Bulletin No. 24, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry, 1900, Second Edition, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. p. 15-17.
- Fly Fishers International, “Fly Fishers International Policy on Public Lands and Waters of the United States,” 2017.
- Fly Fishers International, “Fly Fishers International Policy on Climate Change,” 2020.