Nick Payne

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posted in: Policy Updates

August 6, 2012

A Colorado Sportsman’s Perspective on the State’s New Roadless Rule

Native Trout
The Colorado roadless rule keeps some of the state’s last remaining intact public lands accessible to sportsmen and other citizens. Photo by Nick Payne.

Following numerous revisions and several years of debate, a management plan for Colorado’s 4.2 million acres of roadless national forest backcountry has been published in the federal register, cementing it as the law of the land until another politician or judge sweeps through with enough momentum or gusto for reform.

Considered in the context of the 10th Circuit Court’s recent decision to uphold the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the finalization of the Colorado rule – and the importance of maintaining a high standard for backcountry lands in the state – is undeniably clear.

The Colorado roadless rule maintains that standard by including roughly 30 percent, or 1.2 million acres of backcountry, under a higher level of safeguards (i.e., “upper tier” areas) from unneeded development. While the rule keeps these areas intact, it also allows some backcountry lands to be developed for coal mining and ski area expansion. It also allows tree-cutting and some road building in backcountry lands located within 1.5 miles of communities recognized as at risk for wildfires. Colorado’s remaining backcountry areas are managed in a similar fashion to the 2001 rule.

Sportsmen were a consistent, engaged and reasonable presence throughout the multi-year rule-making process. Recommendations from members of our community helped result in the final Colorado rule being a common-sense management tool able to assure conservation of some of the state’s best hunting and fishing grounds and most valuable fish and wildlife habitat. The state of Colorado and the U.S. Forest Service likewise deserve recognition for their efforts to refine and improve the plan for the benefit of Colorado’s backcountry traditions.

As someone who enjoys backcountry hunting and fishing throughout the state and who is well-acquainted with both the Colorado and national rules, I can celebrate the fact that much of Colorado’s most important national forest lands will remain intact and accessible for hunters and anglers into the foreseeable future.

Data from the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife demonstrates that more than 900,000 acres of lands designated as “upper tier” under the new rule provide extremely important habitat for much of Colorado’s bedrock fish and wildlife, including cutthroat and other wild trout species, elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, grouse and bighorn sheep.

Backcountry roadless areas are lands already largely devoid of roads and other development. Daily, they are becoming rarer and rarer. The Colorado roadless rule does not close any existing roads or trails. Instead, it keeps some of the state’s last remaining intact public lands intact and accessible to sportsmen and other citizens. That equals thousands of acres that I know I can depend on for a true backcountry experience, and that’s huge in my world.

2 Responses to “A Colorado Sportsman’s Perspective on the State’s New Roadless Rule”

  1. Larry Adams

    Enjoy Colorado back country immensely. I see my annual trip to Colorado back country to hunt, hike & fish, the highlight of the year. My daughter & grandkids live their and love it too! Glad it is safe from reckless, unncessary development for a while, at least!

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Whit Fosburgh

July 31, 2012

The Silence of the Lambs

Bighorn lambs
A single truck accident wiped out one-third of the bighorn lambs in the lower Rock Creek drainage. Photo by Neil Thagard.

If you’ve ever doubted the fragility of our nation’s wildlife resources, a recent incident in western Montana will erase those doubts. A single truck accident wiped out one-third of the bighorn lambs in the lower Rock Creek drainage, the Missoulian reported.

This accident is particularly devastating given that the wild sheep in Rock Creek and across the West already was hammered by an outbreak of pneumonia, which is transmitted to bighorns by domestic sheep and goats. In addition to the wild sheep deaths directly attributable to pneumonia, the lingering effects of the disease are predicted to reduce bighorn numbers even further. Several years of poor lamb recruitment will follow a pneumonic outbreak, making the loss of those lambs in Rock Creek particularly tragic.

Physical separation of domestic sheep and goats from wild sheep is essential to prevent the transmission of the respiratory disease. Earlier this year the TRCP, working in concert with the Wild Sheep Foundation and others, successfully removed a damaging amendment to the House appropriations bill for interior, environment and related agencies. The rider would have prevented the implementation of a management plan designed to provide that critical separation between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep grazing on public lands in the Payette National Forest in Idaho. When you consider the fragile state of bighorns throughout the West, the importance of this initiative to help protect them is clear.

Stories like this drive home the importance of proactive wildlife management and highlight the critical work of TRCP and our partners, organizations that are working to ensure healthy fish and wildlife populations through science-based management and policy. Resource management based in current science remains crucially important to strong natural resources policy – not only to wildlife like bighorn sheep, but also to sportsmen.

The tragedy in Rock Creek reminds us that we can never take our fish and wildlife for granted and we must not falter in our efforts to ensure these precious natural resources remain for generations to come.

Watch an episode of “TRCP’s Conservation Field Notes” concerning wild sheep management.

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.

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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION ISN’T
RED OR BLUE

But a little green never hurt anyone. Support our work to ensure that all hunters and anglers are represented in Washington.

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