Whit Fosburgh

July 24, 2012

Can Energy, Fish, Wildlife and Sportsmen Coexist?

Pronghorns
Photo by Dusan Smetana.

We know citizens of our nation need energy. But how do the needs of fish, wildlife and wild places fit into the equation?

Like energy, these natural resources are important – a fact that sportsmen know to be true. Yet, as forms of energy development such as oil, gas, solar, wind and geothermal continue to increase, the threats to public-lands hunting and fishing opportunities across the country can be overlooked or outright ignored.

While energy development is a legitimate use of our public lands, projects must be planned and pursued in a way that balances commodity production with conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and upholds the public’s opportunities to access and enjoy these lands, including for uses such as hunting and angling.

Balance. Let’s think about that concept for a moment. A recent study by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development illustrates several key facts of which sportsmen and all citizens should be aware:

  • While energy development, mining and other extractive industries remain an important part of the Western economy, employment in those sectors has been cyclical.
  •  Counties with a higher percentage of public lands managed for conservation and recreation report higher levels of job and population growth than those with higher percentages of lands managed for commodity production.

Think about it this way: Would you want your entire retirement portfolio in one company’s stock or even one mutual fund? Most people seek a balanced portfolio to weather economic storms and cycles. This is exactly what balancing energy and wildlife can provide our nation’s economy.

Sportsmen fuel an estimated $821 billion dollar per-year economy that provides reliable jobs and economic stability across the country, especially in rural communities. This reality must be a factor when we contemplate energy development that jeopardizes fish and wildlife habitat and our sporting opportunities.

Other recent studies have documented dramatic effects to fish and wildlife when the balance is upset. For example, after a decade of intensive oil and gas development in the Pinedale Anticline region in southwestern Wyoming, once-abundant mule deer populations plummeted more than 60 percent. Sage grouse and pronghorn also have sustained negative impacts in the region, resulting in fewer opportunities for sportsmen – and diminished economic benefits for communities.

Yet  some state and federal legislators are moving to eliminate or hinder bedrock conservation laws and programs that have benefited fish, wildlife and sportsmen for decades and sustain some of our best remaining habitats.

Federal energy legislation recently passed in the House of Representatives would undermine responsible public lands energy management and jeopardize our American sporting traditions by prioritizing energy development over other land uses and stifling the public’s ability to participate in decisions regarding the administration of our public resources. Moreover, the House bill is a solution in search of a problem: There are almost 40 million acres of public lands that have been leased for oil and gas development in the last decade. The energy industry is sitting on most of its drilling permits, waiting for prices to increase.

The TRCP is working to safeguard our sporting traditions and ensure that energy development is balanced with the needs of fish and wildlife. Our FACTS for Fish and Wildlife defines principles for balanced development. The TRCP Sportsmen Values Mapping Project utilizes your input to identify high-value areas – with the resulting maps demonstrating to decision makers where energy, fish and wildlife, and sportsmen’s values are or are not compatible.

The TRCP’s Center for Responsible Energy Development will continue to promote sportsmen’s values in land planning processes and in policy debates. We are committed to assuring that energy project planning and execution is balanced with – and not prioritized over – fish, wildlife and the economic benefits supported by you, the American sportsman.

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Whit Fosburgh

July 17, 2012

Putting Sportsmen on the Map in Wyoming

TRCP’s Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard talks about the mapping project.

Maps can be a sportsman’s best friend; sportsmen look for those blank areas – devoid of roads – perhaps where two ridges might funnel game. Even land managers love maps, which allow them to plan out land use. They have unit maps with GIS layers ranging from vegetation type to core habitat for threatened and endangered species. Thanks to the TRCP’s Sportsmen Values Mapping Project, sportsmen now have a say in the development of these valuable maps.

The TRCP’s core mission lies in guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish – a mission that compelled us to launch the first of our state-based mapping project in Montana in 2007. Last year, we took our efforts on the road again and kicked off a similar project in Wyoming.

The Sportsmen Values Mapping Project captures hunter and angler input to delineate specific lands and waters important for hunting and fishing. Combined with critical habitat maps already in use by federal and state agencies, this information gives decision-makers an up-to-date look at the places sportsmen value the most.

Neil Thagard, TRCP’s Western outreach director, leads the TRCP’s engagement with sportsmen and mapping activities in Wyoming. Neil spent the past year traveling throughout the Cowboy State and meeting with sportsmen to gather input on the exact areas where they love to hunt and fish – areas they would like to see managed for continued use of hunting and fishing.

The TRCP’s ongoing collaboration and engagement with the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission resulted in the commission offering its support – and last year’s official endorsement – of the project and the TRCP’s efforts to involve Wyoming sportsmen in the mapping effort.

More than 20 meetings and 1,000 sportsmen later, a highly valuable set of maps is available to land managers – both at the state and federal levels – to help guide management decisions regarding resources important to hunting and angling. Neil unveiled the final maps to Wyoming officials, the news media and sportsmen last week. These maps will help accomplish the following:

  • identify trends in hunter or angler usage
  • further maintain or enhance access opportunities throughout the state
  • identify areas needing special conservation strategies to help preserve important game and fish resources

As anyone who has ever spent time in the backcountry knows, a map is only useful if you know where you want to go. The challenge now is to use the input to ensure the conservation of these key areas.

In coming years, the TRCP intends to expand the mapping project throughout the West.

What areas would you like to see conserved for future hunting and fishing – and where should the TRCP travel next to implement the Sportsmen Values Mapping Project? Leave us a comment.

View the map.

Whit Fosburgh

July 10, 2012

Sportsmen and the Farm Bill: A Match Made in Heaven

Iowa Barn
Photo by Scott Bauer/USDA.

Not long ago, I was graphically reminded of the critical importance of the Farm Bill to conservation of privately owned lands in the American West.

A map of our federal lands I saw during a presentation depicted the western half of the country largely in various shades of green, showing public ownership in one form or another. Lands east of the Great Plains, however, remained largely devoid of color, indicating areas under private ownership. I realized that here – on these lands that provide key habitat to fish and wildlife species prized by sportsmen, offer unmatched outdoor recreational opportunities and feed the world – the Farm Bill’s central role in our sporting heritage becomes paramount.

The current Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2012. In its present iteration, the bill has assisted farmers and landowners in conserving millions of acres of fish and wildlife habitat and making improvements to farming operation that have reduced soil erosion and nutrient runoff. If the bill is allowed to expire, private lands conservation in this country may come to a screeching halt.

By keeping nutrients and topsoil out of streams and rivers, Farm Bill conservation programs reduce the need for costly, often ineffective, water quality mitigation efforts. By conserving and restoring wetlands, these also can help reduce the impacts of downstream flooding as well as restore groundwater aquifers.

In places like the Chesapeake Bay and in Montana and Wyoming, Farm Bill programs help farmers reduce their potential regulatory burden. The Chesapeake Bay watershed initiative incentivizes farmers to reduce their nitrogen runoff to improve the health of the nation’s largest estuary, and the sage grouse initiative in the Inter-Mountain West assists ranchers in keeping this iconic bird off the endangered species list. As these conservation goals are met, farmers, ranchers and landowners can focus on making a living and not on the threat of new or expanding regulations.

For sportsmen, the list of benefits we derive from the Farm Bill is a long one. The bill’s conservation programs restore and conserve habitat for a litany of waterfowl and upland game birds, and the Voluntary Public Access program is the only federal program aimed at increasing public access to private lands for hunting and angling, thereby enhancing the quality of our days afield.

Learn more about Farm Bill programs.

Watch an episode of “TRCP’s Conservation Field Notes” in which Steven Rinella discusses key benefits of the Farm Bill.

Whit Fosburgh

July 2, 2012

Sportsmen to Congress: ‘Our Jobs Count, Too’

US Capitol
Photo courtesy NPS.gov.

When “jobs, jobs, jobs” seems to be the refrain coming from the halls of Congress, you’d think these elected officials would embrace the economic importance of our nation’s conservation programs. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives proved last week that it is not ready to give these programs the respect they deserve.

Funding levels and policy riders approved by the House Appropriations Committee in its fiscal year 2013 Interior appropriations bill would slash operating budgets for agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Numerous programs critically important to the sportsmen’s community, such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, face deep cuts and damaging impacts from policy riders in the bill. State and tribal wildlife grants, which support cooperative projects with states and private landowners to keep species from being listed under the Endangered Species Act, would be cut by 50 percent.

If the proposed cuts – including a $50 million reduction for the National Wildlife Refuge System – advance, look for major layoffs of biologists and law enforcement personnel, closures of visitor centers and reductions in such activities as managed hunts.

Ironically, the committee’s action comes on the heels of a report by the Outdoor Industry Association that documents the substantial economic contributions of hunting, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation. The report shows that outdoor recreation in the United States is big business, to the tune of $646 billion in direct consumer spending, $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue and $39.7 billion in state/local tax revenue each year.

Our recreation economy creates 6.1 million American jobs that cannot be exported overseas. Unfortunately, these facts were lost on members of the House Appropriations Committee, as it cut the very programs upon which the recreation economy depends.

While sportsmen are willing to help shoulder our share of the nation’s economic burdens, the fact remains that conservation programs did not create the budget deficit, and slashing conservation funding cannot solve the problem. As a percentage of federal spending, conservation has decreased from about 2.5 percent in the 1970s to about 1.25 percent today.

Congress could eliminate every conservation program and barely make a dent in the deficit. Moreover, as all of us who work on conservation projects in our communities know, every dollar of federal funds is leveraged several times over by state and private funds as well as volunteer labor.

The House can and must do better. All sportsmen need to make their voices heard: Conservation is a fundamental part of what makes America great, and it is central to our economy. Congress ignores this at its own peril.

Sign up to receive action alerts on these important issues and consider supporting our work on behalf of your sporting heritage.

Whit Fosburgh

A Win for Wild Sheep

Bighorns on John Day
The removal of the rider marks a victory for wild sheep and a win for good science. Photo courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

Common sense and the best interests of Western wildlife prevailed last week when Representative Mike Simpson withdrew his policy rider to the House appropriations bill for interior, environment and related agencies. The amendment would have prevented the implementation of a management plan in the Payette National Forest in Idaho that would separate bighorn sheep from domestic sheep grazing on public lands.

Keeping the two species apart is critical in the effort to prevent the transmission of a fatal respiratory disease from domestic sheep and goats to bighorn sheep. The respiratory disease has devastated populations of bighorn sheep throughout the West.

Not only was the removal of the rider a victory for wild sheep, it was a win for science-based policy and the consensus on grazing that’s been forged between wildlife professionals, range managers and the hunting community.

The TRCP,  Wild Sheep Foundation, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies and others look forward to working with Representative Simpson and others to conserve wild sheep in Idaho and other western states.

Learn more about the issue on WAFWA’s website.

Steven Rinella, host of “MeatEater” addressed issues with exotic and invasive species in a recent episode of “TRCP’s Conservation Field Notes.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

Learn More
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