Whit Fosburgh

September 4, 2012

Pittman-Robertson: Celebrating the History of Conservation Policy

September marks the 75-year-anniversary of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, or the Pittman-Robertson Act. For sportsmen, this anniversary stands as a testament to the sportsman-conservation community and should evoke within us a tremendous sense of pride. Given the current divided state of our government, it is easy to forget the many successes that we as sportsmen have had – not only in the conservation of our fish and wildlife resources but in contributing to the well-being of our country.

To date, over $6.5 billion has been provided to state fish and wildlife agencies through the Pittman-Robertson Act. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

At the unified urging of organized sportsmen and wildlife groups, the Pittman-Robertson Act diverts an 11 percent excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition to the Department of the Interior. The department then allocates the funds to pay for state-initiated wildlife restoration projects from acquisition and improvement of wildlife habitat, to wildlife research, to hunter education programs.

A significant component of the Act requires that license and permit fees collected by a state fish and wildlife agency must stay with the agency. Neither the license revenues nor the excise tax can be diverted to any other government entity.

Prior to the act, numerous species such as wild turkey, white-tailed deer, wood duck and black bear were pushed to the brink of extinction. Through wildlife restoration projects, mostly paid for through Pitman-Robertson and state hunting license funds, these important species were able to repopulate.

Since the enactment of Pittman-Robertson, the number of hunters in the United States has more than doubled, and the number of hunting days have spiked in every state. This means that sportsmen can hunt more frequently today than sportsmen hunted in 1937.

Since 1937, several amendments have been made to the act to expand the list of items that are taxed for the benefit of wildlife restoration projects, but one thing has remained consistent: sportsmen have willingly taxed themselves to perpetuate a resource that benefits the national community. To date, more than $6.5 billion has been provided to state fish and wildlife agencies through this Act.

More impressively however, is the estimated return on sportsmen’s investment in wildlife restoration. According to a recent study, the lowest estimated return-on-investment from the excise-tax was 823 percent and the highest estimate return on investment was a whopping 1588 percent. In other words, the benefits of the tax are anywhere from 8 to 15 times greater than the cost of the tax, making it a highly successful and effective investment.

Sportsmen everywhere should be proud of the Pittman-Robertson Act, and as we reflect on this great achievement, let this anniversary serve as a reminder of the power of organized sportsmen rallying together for a good cause.

Watch a short video below about the importance of funding for wildlife conservation.

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August 21, 2012

TRCP Takes Conservation Message to South Africa

Fish and wildlife are a worldwide resource, and challenges to their responsible management – and, in some cases, their very existence – occur across the globe. This summer the TRCP sent representatives to the fourth International Wildlife Management Congress in Durban, South Africa, cosponsored by The Wildlife Society, a TRCP partner and leader in educating and informing wildlife management professionals.

The 2012 congress, “Cooperative Wildlife Management across Borders: Learning in the Face of Change,” focused on how wildlife managers can better conserve and manage wildlife resources on an international scale. The TRCP’s Tom Franklin and Steve Belinda were on hand to speak about the increase of shale gas development throughout North America and the associated negative impacts to wildlife. Their presentation described the boom in natural gas production in the United States over the last decade and the many challenges created for wildlife managers.

Kudu in Durban S. Africa
At a recent conference in South Africa, TRCP representatives demonstrated the importance of balancing the needs of wildlife and energy. Photo courtesy of Steve Belinda.

Franklin and Belinda, both wildlife biologists, explained how new technology has resulted in an unprecedented effort to find and produce natural gas in some of the most important wildlife habitats in the nation. Habitats – including those occupied by mule deer and sage grouse – have been seriously impacted by energy exploration and development.

During their presentation, the TRCP representatives demonstrated the importance of balancing the needs of wildlife and energy – an approach that includes comprehensive conservation planning, adaptive management, mitigation planning, monitoring and stakeholder involvement.

Their presentation highlighted the fact that responsible energy development can proceed while minimizing impacts to wildlife and water resources and thereby minimizing conflicts among a wide variety of user groups, including hunters and anglers.

Overall, more than 400 delegates from 35 countries attended the event in South Africa, exploring a wide range of issues including the following:

  • human dimensions of wildlife management and conservation: conflict, urban interface and land use
  • climate change
  • wildlife health and disease
  • endangered species recovery
  • invasive species threats
  • trans-border cooperation and conservation
  • natural resource use and sustainability
  • habitat restoration and modification
  • stewardship
Gemsbok -- Oryx Durban S. Africa
More than 400 delegates from 35 countries attended the event in South Africa, exploring a wide range of wildlife management issues. Photo courtesy of Steve Belinda.

The TRCP supports the responsible development of energy resources in appropriate areas. The TRCP’s set of principles on this issue, “FACTS for Fish and Wildlife,” provides guidance for responsible energy development that upholds our nation’s shared natural resources and unique outdoor legacy.

Learn more about the TRCP’s “FACTS for Fish and Wildlife” and approach to responsible energy development.

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posted in: Policy Updates

August 14, 2012

Sportsmen and Climate Change: A Long, Hard Look at Reality

Hunter Crossing River by Dusan Smetana
Science has made it abundantly clear that climate change is real, and it already is affecting our natural resources, fish and wildlife and outdoor opportunities. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the United States writhes in one of the driest and hottest summers in history, with nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states experiencing some form of drought, millions of Americans (including farmers and ranchers) are struggling from the resulting loss of income and higher prices for food and fuel.  Other recent disturbing news illustrates the practical implications this weather event can have on fish and wildlife. Millions of fish – sturgeon, large- and smallmouth bass, channel catfish and other species – are dying in the Midwest as water temperatures skyrocket to as high as 100 degrees.

What is clear:  both the human toll and the impacts to fish and wildlife caused by a changing climate and warmer temperatures have real consequences and cannot be ignored.

A new NASA report states that climate change is responsible for recent extreme weather events and that the probability of unusually warm summers has greatly increased. Now, Dr. Richard A. Muller, a physicist known for his staunch denial of global warming, has concluded that global warming is in fact real, with human production of carbon dioxide causing the world to slowly warm.

“I’m personally very worried,” says Dr. Muller. “I personally suspect that it will be bad.”

Of course, many continue to refute the science underlying climate change and indict the majority of scientists who accept its existence for promulgating a political agenda. In my opinion, as the TRCP’s climate change initiative manager, these individuals are simply resistant to accepting the reality of what science has made abundantly clear: climate change is real, and it already is affecting our natural resources, fish and wildlife and outdoor opportunities.

I recently wrote a guest article in The Seattle Times arguing that to develop an effective approach to addressing climate change, we cannot rely solely on public opinion polls. We must pay attention to those who are “voting with their feet” – the fish and wildlife that cannot debate habitability in the public square and must adapt to or migrate from changing habitat or die.

At the TRCP, we accept the growing evidence that climate change is real and that changes go well beyond disturbances driven by entirely natural forces. We regularly consult with fish and wildlife biologists in state and federal agencies throughout the United States on the habits, distribution and abundance of fish and wildlife.

The facts leave no doubt that climate change is undeniable. Here are a few examples:

  • Even before this year’s Midwestern fish kills from hot water, smallmouth bass have been migrating upstream nearly 40 miles in the warming Yellowstone River, displacing Yellowstone cutthroat that require colder water.
  • Warming winters and summers have led to an explosion in mountain pine beetle infestations over millions of acres in many Western pine forests, causing a dramatic conversion of forest cover to grass and shrub meadows in elk habitat. This leads to changes in elk populations and distribution during hunting seasons.
  • In a direct response to warmer springs and summers and elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, invasive cheatgrass has out-competed sagebrush and native grasses and shrubs throughout 100 million acres of the sagebrush steppe in the West, leading to decreased mule deer and greater sage-grouse habitat and populations, as well as diminished hunting opportunities.

What is the TRCP doing now? We are actively working to inform, educate and mobilize sportsmen by reporting timely data from state fish and wildlife agencies and federal land management agencies. Our state-specific presentations highlight the implications of a changing environment on fish and wildlife and the consequences for sustainable hunting and fishing. We’ve developed presentations for Montana, Washington and Colorado – with Oregon and New Mexico in the works.

Rather than debating specific points of air temperature or carbon dioxide data, the TRCP focuses on the cascading effects of a changing climate in the biological world, including impacts to species of fish and game most important to sportsmen. We highlight on-the-ground projects that help fish and wildlife adapt to a changing environment.

We are taking these state-specific presentations directly to sportsmen-based clubs throughout the West with the goal of providing factual evidence on climate change. Take five minutes to watch the video below and draw your own conclusions.

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.

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.

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.

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