Forest Service Releases New Fish and Aquatic Strategy

30th annual Rise to the Future awards ceremony at U.S. Forest Service headquarters in Washington, DC.

On November 15, the USDA Forest Service released Rise to the Future: National Fish and Aquatic Strategy. In the 30 years since the inception of Rise to the Future, the Forest Service’s and the conservation community’s understanding of the threats and stressors that need to be addressed to achieve successful fish conservation outcomes have changed. This updated strategy provides a vision of how the Forest Service will contribute to fish and aquatic stewardship in close collaboration with its cooperators and partners.

The Forest Service has found that conserving healthy fish habitat and restoring aquatic resources is central to its mission to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Healthy streams, lakes, and rivers benefit Americans in a myriad of ways, from clean drinking water to diverse recreational opportunities.

The agency’s sustainable, long-term approach to managing healthy watersheds and aquatic habitat supports vital recreational and commercial economies, providing many benefits to local communities, downstream cities, and the public. Fish and aquatic species are among the most endangered groups of organisms in the United States. National forests and grasslands provide more than half of the habitat for federally protected freshwater fishes, mollusks, and amphibians.  More than 220,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 10 million acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds on national forests and grasslands provide a wide range of fishing opportunities for the American people.

According to Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke, “This strategy will guide the Forest Service to work with our partners to sustain these valuable resources. Our work to protect, restore, and enhance natural resources has become increasingly integrated across Forest Service mission areas and disciplines and ever more collaborative. As we carry out this strategy, we will ensure that abundant fish and aquatic resources and healthy aquatic habitats are available for Americans to enjoy both now and for generations to come.”

The strategy contains six priority goals:

  1. Conserve fish and aquatic resources.
  2. Connect people to the outdoors through fishing, boating, and other aquatic activities.
  3. Strengthen partnerships and work across boundaries.
  4. Deliver and apply scientific research.
  5. Build capacity through mentoring and training.
  6. Communicate the value and benefits of fish and aquatic resources.

Science is the foundation for collaborative fish and
aquatic stewardship.
Credit: USDA Forest Service, Center for Aquatic Technology Transfer

Each goal contains multiple objectives, providing a long-term foundation to address current and future challenges, including invasive species; impacts from drought, floods, and other extreme weather events; and increasing public demands on natural resources. The goals and objectives contained in this strategy will better enable the Forest Service to take advantage of new opportunities such as emerging research technologies and innovative and nontraditional partnerships.

The Forest Service will work in cooperation with states, especially state fish and wildlife agencies, other federal agencies, and tribal governments and in partnership with nongovernmental organizations, private businesses, landowners, and water users and others to implement these near-term priorities. Each action is associated with a clear deliverable and timeframe.

A team of nearly 60 participants updated the strategy including Forest Service personnel and representatives from the American Fisheries Society, American Sportfishing Association, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, National Fish Habitat Partnership, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, and Trout Unlimited.