Joel Webster

October 4, 2012

National Forest Roadless Lands Conserved as Big-game Seasons Commence

As sportsmen head to the fields, forests and streams this fall, we can be assured that some of America’s finest public lands fish and wildlife habitat will be conserved into the future. On Oct. 1, the Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal of a lower court ruling upholding the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule as the law of the land for the management of 45 million acres in 36 states.

This determination effectively ends all legal uncertainty for the 2001 roadless rule and assures its permanence into the foreseeable future.

The roadless rule represents a balanced and reasonable approach for the management of high value, undeveloped public lands. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Areas managed under the roadless rule include renowned big-game hunting destinations such as the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, the Elkhorn Mountains in Montana and the Warner Range of Oregon and California.

These large blocks of undeveloped public lands provide the habitat security necessary for wildlife managers to provide substantial public hunting opportunities for game such as mule deer and elk.

The great thing about the roadless rule is that it represents a balanced and reasonable approach for the management of high value, undeveloped public lands. The rule conserves roadless areas while providing management allowances to protect communities from wildfire, restore habitat and ecosystems and even develop oil and gas, as long as this development is done in ways that maintain the areas’ backcountry values.

Over the past decade, wildlife managers, sportsmen’s organizations, and hunting- and fishing-dependent businesses across the nation have spoken in favor of the management assurances and high quality habitat provided by the roadless rule. The TRCP has been working alongside our partners to advance this popular policy since our organization was founded in 2002.

With big-game hunting seasons commencing across the country, sportsmen can celebrate by grabbing our gear and setting out in pursuit of deer, elk and other critters on America’s national forest lands. This Supreme Court decision represents an unqualified victory for our community.

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Whit Fosburgh

September 25, 2012

With Economics, Access and Conservation, Sportsmen’s Act is Easy to Love

Early Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate voted to advance the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 – a package of more than 20 measures that promote public hunting and fishing access, habitat conservation and strongly funded resource management—toward final action when Congress returns to session after the November elections. To describe the bill, authored by Montana Sen. Jon Tester and supported by a bipartisan coalition of senators, as friendly to public hunting, fishing and conservation is an understatement.  The act promotes values central to the TRCP and other hunting and fishing organizations vision of guaranteeing every American a place to hunt and fish.

You may have heard grumblings about how this bill is bad—mostly from those who oppose the current law, which would be reaffirmed by the bill – that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate lead ammunition and fishing tackle. Instead, the bill leaves those decisions to state fish and game agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which currently regulate ammo and tackle.

Driftboat by Dusan Smetana
The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 has a broad economic and social impact, improves access and supports habitat conservation. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

But the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 offers a lot more to like than criticize. And in a Congress marked by partisan conflict and divisiveness, the fact that a bill aimed at expanding public access for recreational opportunities – including hunting and fishing – passed by such a wide margin confirms the importance of these activities to our nation’s heritage and our economy.

Why is the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 important?

It has broad economic and social impacts. Sportsmen and -women have a long history of promoting species and public lands conservation. This bill embraces that legacy. A national survey undertaken in 2011 found that more than 90 million Americans participate in hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. Hunters and anglers alone account for close to $100 billion in annual economic activity and support more than 900,000 sustainable U.S. jobs.

It improves access. Sportsmen cite the loss of access as the No. 1 reason they quit hunting or fishing. This bill reauthorizes the Federal Lands Transaction Facilitation Act, which uses a “land for land” approach to improve access. It also sets aside 1.5 percent from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to specifically address access issues by purchasing in-holdings on existing public lands and securing easements to access-restricted acreage.

It supports habitat conservation. Sportsmen and -women are significant financial contributors to habitat conservation. The bill continues other critical habitat investment programs that have expired, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the work of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. In total, these programs leverage $4 of private investment for each dollar from the program.

After the elections, we’ll reach out to you with an opportunity to contact your elected officials in the U.S. House and Senate to complete work on the Sportsmen’s Act. In the meantime, the Senate’s leadership deserve a “thank you” from all sportsmen. 

Whit Fosburgh

September 18, 2012

Making Lands Work for Wildlife

Photo by Dusan Smetana.

This Sunday, Sept. 16, Dave White and Dan Ashe, the heads of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, respectively, attended the TRCP’s annual Western Media Summit and briefed participants about a groundbreaking species conservation plan that was formally unveiled this week.

In summary, the plan provides long-term (up to 30 years) regulatory predictability to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participating in USDA’s Working Lands for Wildlife initiative. Under the agreement, participants voluntarily implement proven conservation practices designed to protect fish and wildlife habitat, including habitat for several at-risk species and vulnerable game species on private lands. The plan initially identifies seven species, including sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken, as targets.

What makes the agreement unique? First of all, it recognizes that species conservation works best when private landowners are active partners in the process. To make this happen, the agreement recognizes that (a) funds must be made available to help implement important projects and (b) landowners must have assurance that the government won’t keep moving the goal line.

Certainty is key. If a landowner undertakes conservation projects that work and a listed species moves onto his or her lands, or if a resident non-listed species like sage grouse becomes listed under the Endangered Species Act, he or she must be confident that these lands won’t suddenly be subject to new land use restrictions or penalties.

Such “safe harbor” agreements are not unique – they have become a tried and true part of implementing the Endangered Species Act on private lands. What is unique about the new plan is its duration and scope.

For example, sage grouse habitat runs from Northern California east to South Dakota and from Canada south to southern Colorado. Second, 30 years is a long time, allowing landowners to make long-term decisions about managing their lands. Finally, the NRCS allocated $33 million in its 2012 budget for the WLFW initiative (the funds will go to private landowners to implement agreed-upon projects), so this is not just another empty federal program with no funding to back it up.

Yes, some questions remain. Does the agency or agencies have the resources to monitor implementation over time, especially as their budgets are likely to be shaved when and if Congress ever gets serious about deficit reduction? Will future administrations share this commitment to cooperative private land conservation? And while $33 million is a good start, it’s only a fraction of what will be needed long term to conserve wildlife species that are sensitive to management practices on private on private lands. But it takes a step toward addressing a huge problem.

Why should sportsmen care? First, the seven species listed in the agreement are surrogates for many other species. Protecting and restoring sage grouse directly benefits mule deer and pronghorn, which share the same habitats.

Second, about half of all Americans hunt only on private lands. It’s in everyone’s interest to make sure these lands are as healthy and productive for fish and wildlife as possible – and that landowners have the resources and long-term regulatory certainty to keep farms and ranches together and working

Finally, in-your-face fights about endangered species, from wolves to spotted owls, help no one. They divide and breed resentment from private landowners about the federal government and conservation.

Expect to hear carping from extremists on both sides about this either being a new intrusion of the federal government into the lives of private landowners or an abdication of federal regulatory authority. Ignore such rhetoric. These parties have made a living feeding the flames of paranoia and sowing dissent and seem to care far more about keeping fights alive than recovering species.

The bottom line: the new agreement is a common-sense and innovative step forward that explicitly recognizes the important role of private landowners in species conservation. Secretaries Vilsack and Salazar should be commended.

September 12, 2012

Take Action: Sportsmen Need a Farm Bill Now

Time is running out for the single most important piece of legislation for private lands fish and wildlife conservation in the nation. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Despite its name, the Farm Bill isn’t just for farmers; the legislation benefits Americans of all stripes, including sportsmen like you. The conservation title of the Farm Bill directs more than $5 billion each year to key private lands conservation initiatives in all 50 states.

These programs help restore and conserve fish and wildlife habitat, improve the quality of our air and water and reduce soil erosion. The Farm Bill helps our nation’s farmers and ranchers responsibly steward the American landscape, an investment that boasts fantastic returns.

Passed every five years, the current Farm Bill is set to expire on Sept. 30. Congressional inaction on the Farm Bill puts billions of dollars of cost-effective conservation funding and millions of acres of incredibly productive fish and wildlife habitat on the chopping block. These are the very places on which hunters and anglers across the country depend for quality experiences afield.

On Sept. 30, the federal Farm Bill will expire, along with billions of dollars for conservation funding. Contact your representatives and urge them to pass a Farm Bill now!

Contact your representatives and urge them to pass a Farm Bill now!

September 11, 2012

Corn, Sunflowers and Power Lines: Making a Case for Federal Appropriations During Dove Season

This time of year always reminds me of corn, sunflowers, soybeans and power lines. Dove season is upon us.

For wingshooters across the country, early September dove hunts represent the beginning of a season full of great days afield. In my mind, nothing quite beats the excitement of a morning spent drinking coffee, gathering gear and heading out to a familiar dove field. And of course, the chance to hassle your buddies for missing speedy doves!

In D.C., another kind of excitement is in the air right now: Congress is back in session. This is the time of year when legislators return from summer recess and work to make final headway on policy issues before election mania takes over.

Just as the beginning of dove season brings excitement to hunters, the return of Congress from summer session generates similar anticipation in D.C. Photo by Ed Arnett.

This Fall will be particularly challenging as Congress has not yet agreed on funding for federal agencies and programs with only a matter of weeks before the end of the fiscal year. Our elected officials are facing pressure to cut budgets from all sides; however, common ground on where and how much to cut remains elusive. Interest groups confound this process further, complicating choices over the soundest federal investments.

For sportsmen, the outcome of the federal funding process —  also known as the appropriations process —  is critically important, as funding levels for nearly all federal programs that support conservation on public and private lands are decided through federal appropriations bills. From the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which provides match grants to groups like Ducks Unlimited to restore and protect wetlands, to conservation programs in the Farm Bill, which provide financial incentives for landowners to forgo cultivating ecologically valuable lands, the good conservation work on which we depend to keep game on the range and ducks in the air would not happen without healthy federal funding.

Unfortunately, Congress recently has been more than willing to pass bills that massively cut conservation programs. The House Interior appropriations bill reported out of committee not long ago included a 22-percent cut in funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a 37-percent cut to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund and a whopping 80-percent cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which directs a portion of oil and gas leasing revenues to fish and wildlife conservation and increased public access for recreation. As sportsmen, conservation funding is our lifeblood. We have a responsibility to be part of the conversation to keep funding levels as strong as possible.

What is the TRCP doing? The TRCP has continued its work with America’s Voice for Conservation, Recreation and Preservation, a coalition that earlier this year delivered a letter to congressional leaders signed by more than 1,200 groups advocating for programs that support habitat conservation, outdoor recreation activities, and the preservation of historic places.

The AVCRP coalition will work not only to hold the line during the yearly appropriations cycle but to elevate conservation as a congressional priority in the long term. Learn more about the role that conservation funding plays in the economy and in your next trip into the field.

You also can check out the Outdoor Industry Association’s study on outdoor recreation (which includes hunting and fishing) and the economy.

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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