On Nov. 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which includes $550 billion in infrastructure funding that addresses conservation and sportfishing. These investments will create jobs, conserve the aquatic environment and preserve one of our nation’s most cherished pastimes. After passing the Senate earlier this year, the bill now heads to the desk of President Biden, who is expected to sign it into law.
“These investments in fisheries conservation and access reflect the growing recognition among policymakers that outdoor recreation in general, and recreational fishing specifically, is a major economic driver,” said Mike Leonard, the American Sportfishing Association’s (ASA) Vice President of Government Affairs.
The act includes provisions that directly benefit anglers including the reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund. Funded in part by the federal excise tax on fishing equipment, the trust fund is the backbone of state-based aquatic resource conservation, benefitting all U.S. states and territories.
The bill also authorizes $1 billion for the National Culvert Removal, Replacement and Restoration Program, a landmark program that will address challenges with hundreds of culverts around the country that block upstream migrations of anadromous fish such as salmon, steelhead and sturgeon. It will substantially invest in culvert restoration and benefit recreational fishing opportunities that are dependent on anadromous fish passage and recovery efforts.
Other provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act include:
• The REPLANT Act which will help the U.S. Forest Service plant 1.2 billion trees on national forest lands and create nearly 49,000 jobs over the next decade.
• $11.3 billion for the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program, which restores mine lands no longer in use that are potential sources of hazardous materials that can leak into lakes, rivers and streams.
• $250 million for the Forest Service’s Legacy Road and Trail program, which funds activities to restore fish passage in streams at road and trail crossings.
• Funding for numerous ecosystem programs, including projects of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Chesapeake Bay Program, the South Florida Program, the Columbia River Basin Program and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.
A game-changer for wildlife
That’s according to the Wildlands Network. For the first time in United States history, there will be dedicated federal funding for wildlife crossings. The complete (IIJA), just passed by Congress is a vast collection of national infrastructure programs and spending measures designed to bring buildings, bridges, roads, water delivery systems and other infrastructure up to date and more resilient to the impacts of climate change here in the United States. The IIJA contains $350 million in federal funding for a “Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program” to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions — these hotspots contribute to the death of millions of animals annually, as well as hazardous and sometimes deadly conditions for drivers.
“This is great news,” says Berkshire Environmental Action Team president, Jane Winn. “BEAT works alongside many organizations to make it safer for wildlife to cross roads. We have partnered with The Housatonic Valley Association and the Hoosac River Watershed Association (HooRWA) in surveying stream crossings in Berkshire County.”
The Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Mass. Division of Environmental Restoration have also been quite heavily involved in stream crossing projects over the years.
“The information is collected in a North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative database where everyone can view it — including environmental advocates, town and regional planners, and transportation designers including MassDOT (Massachusetts Department of Transportation.) Now every road construction project that involves a road-stream crossing becomes an opportunity for improvement for wildlife movement, habitat connectivity, and public safety,” said Winn. “Well-designed stream crossings allow wildlife to move, meeting their daily, seasonal and dispersal needs which is especially important in this time of climate change.”
New land projects
In his October report to the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen, DFW Western District Supervisor Andrew Madden reported that MassWildlife recently completed Wildlife Conservation Easements (WCE) on two Berkshire County Properties.
Soda Creek WCE in Sheffield — 300 acres of conservation easement in cooperation with Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC). This large tract is a combination of rich wetlands and forested uplands. The property is close to the Three Mile Pond WMA and has extensive road frontage along Water Farm Road. BNRC owns the land, but Mass Wildlife’s WCE adds additional protection while ensuring public access for non-motorized recreation including hunting and fishing.
Elizabeth’s Woods WCE in Alford — 87 acres of WCE in cooperation with the Alford Land Trust. This property surrounds a calcareous fen which is an important natural community. The land, which is located between N. Egremont Road and Seekonk Cross Road, is owned by the land trust. Mass Wildlife’s WCE is focused on protecting biodiversity in this important habitat, but like all WCE’s is open to passive recreation, including hunting.
World loses 2 important voices for all things wild
Two Massachusetts outdoor sports columnists have passed away this fall.
One was Mark Mathew Blazis, of Grafton, Mass. He passed away at the age of 74 on Nov. 17. He was the weekly columnist of the OUTDOORS of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. He covered all aspects of conservation, fish and wildlife, including management, reaching out to tens of thousands of people weekly.
Mark was the recipient of the New England Outdoor Writers’ Association’s (NEOWA) highest honor, the Richard Cronin Award.
In addition to being a world safari and tour leader, scientist, writer, outdoor sportsman, passionate fly fisherman and naturalist, Mark was a Master Bird Bander. He was the Director of the Auburn Bird Banding Research Station, studying neotropical migrants and Lyme disease, with doctors at Tufts University, determining implications of Lyme disease carried by birds. His research team captured, analyzed, and released on average 2,000 migratory songbirds per year in Massachusetts, though the scope of his research has also included Connecticut and Maine.
Mark’s crusade locally was to help ameliorate the differences between sportsmen and environmentalists by organizing them both to participate with him and his assistants, working shoulder to shoulder in bird banding research at the Auburn Sportsman’s Club.
Mark had co-written and edited 10 local field guides to the fauna and flora of Massachusetts and produced an audio recording of the songbirds of Central Massachusetts.
He was chosen by the late Roger Tory Peterson as North America’s Nature Educator of the Year; and had received national awards in conservation education and research by the Massachusetts Audubon Society and The Garden Club of America.
On a personal note, I frequently peeked in on his columns and always found them well-written and interesting. Unfortunately, I only met him a few times at various sportsmen’s banquets and award nights.
Frank Sousa, of Granby, Mass., longtime sports columnist for the Springfield Republican, passed on Sept. 23 at the age of 90. Frank wrote about the great outdoors for the Republican for 60 years writing in his ‘All Outdoors’ column. His outdoor adventures, love of both nature and family events were the adventures his readers loved, through his words.
He was a lifetime member of the NEOWA, the Outdoor Writers Association of America, as well as one of the three founding-fathers and past president of OSEG, Outdoor Sports Expo Group, Inc. OSEG produced many outdoor and boat shows in the Northeast with its largest being the Springfield Sportsmen’s Show held at Eastern States Exposition.
In a tribute to Frank, The Republican wrote: “His cathedral was found in the tall pines, a smokey fire with a fat kielbasa cooking and snowflakes gently falling in fresh tracks. He could always find his way to the top of the mountain when hunting and the softest spot to nap while fishing.”
I’ll never forget his contacting and congratulating me when The Berkshire Eagle hired me to do an outdoor sports column after Ted Giddings stepped down from writing the “Our Berkshires” column after nearly 55 years. He said he and Ted were good friends and wished me luck with the column. I had read many of Frank’s excellent columns in the Springfield Republican, but had never met him. That was really nice of him to do that.
Frank’s famous column signoff was always, “The very best in health and happiness to you!”