Mia Sheppard

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posted in: General

May 21, 2013

My American Right: Public Access

I have second thoughts as I arrive at a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It’s more like a glorified trail that hasn’t seen a grader in years. According to the map, it’s about five miles to the river.

Hoping it won’t be too bad, I turn onto the trail and brace for the bone-jarring bumpy ride. My Ford maneuvers over sharp basalt rock, and sagebrush scrapes the sides of the vehicle. I pray the truck doesn’t get a flat or overheat in the scalding sun – cell phones don’t work out here.

Mule deer look up in curiosity; their heads twitch back and forth, and then they go back to eating wild bunch grass. This backcountry hasn’t seen a vehicle in weeks. The truck continues to creep along barely exceeding five miles per hour. After an hour, I crest a sage-covered flat and finally see the river.

In contrast to the burnt brown and yellowish hard clays of the landscape, the banks of the river are green with native grasses and willow. I analyze the river, trying to determining where a fish might lie.

There’s a small pool turning behind rocks and a soft seam hugging the bank. My first cast is upstream to the grassy cut bank. Stripping fast, I take a couple steps upriver and cast again, this time behind a rock where the current is moving at a considerable pace.

Photo by Alice Owsley

Bam!  The trout explodes, cartwheeling out of the water. She’s strong, pulling, not giving in, but her fight ceases after a few minutes. I bring her to the bank, remove the hook and release her.

These public land experiences are an American right. As a hunter and fisherman without access to private land, I take most of my trips afield on public land. I need access to the arid high-desert backcountry, which forms my playground for hunting chukar and mule deer and fishing for trout.

In southeast Oregon where the majority of my time is spent recreating, there are millions of acres to roam, and still sportsmen’s access to public lands is being infringed upon.

With the current demand for oil, gas, solar and wind energy, our public places are increasingly vulnerable to development. The TRCP is working to ensure that energy development is done in a responsible manner that balances our energy demands with conservation of core fish and wildlife habitat. Without this balance our favorite places to hunt and fish will be lost.

If you’re willing to go on an adventure, you can get lost on the endless backcountry dirt roads that lead to rim rock breaks or trout streams in the desert. These special places have no road signs, traffic lights or city congestion – just arrows pointing to dirt roads that cross an endless landscape.

I want to see these American landscapes kept the way they are so that one day I can come back to catch and release a trout again. Join us in ensuring that we keep public access an American right.

What is your favorite backcountry hunting or fishing story?

Mia Sheppard is the Oregon field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and fishing bum by night. To find out more about her work to help conserve public backcountry land, go to www.trcp.org.

 

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Chris Macaluso

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posted in: General

May 17, 2013

Saving the Delta from Disaster

I’m a very lucky guy.

I hit the fisherman’s jackpot when I was born, the son of an outdoor writer who dwelt in the expanses of marshes and swamps, bays, lakes and barrier islands of south Louisiana aptly named “sportsman’s paradise.” My dad rarely went hunting or fishing without me and my brother in the truck.

Some of my fondest memories will always be of standing, fishing rod in hand, on the deck of our modest powder blue, 15-foot bass boat. The boat didn’t go fast or look pretty, but it managed to bring us back to the dock with plenty of speckled trout and redfish for dinner.

A couple of times each year we would head offshore on the 65-foot charter boats out of Port Fourchon to fish for snapper, grouper, king mackerel and whatever else was swimming around the rigs and reefs. My dad always made a big deal when we caught a red snapper, sneaking the first few into a small ice chest he kept away from the crowd to make sure we got a couple to take home for dinner.

Taking the big boat rides to the deep water and watching the older fishermen muscle in amberjack or an occasional shark was an adventure. But those days were no more special than the ones spent simply walking the surf at Grand Isle, casting top water Mirr-O-Lures and gold spoons at speckled trout as they busted shrimp on the Gulf of Mexico’s lightly rippled surface.

As I got older, I began paying close attention to the changes happening to my childhood fishing haunts and my ability to access the fish. My marshes were washing away and sinking. Bayou banks and marsh ponds where I had caught redfish and watched teal fly past by the thousands became open water seemingly overnight, while more and more of Louisiana’s coasts fell victim to saltwater intrusion brought on by manmade canals and the isolation of the Mississippi River’s water and sediment from its delta.

I watched commercial fishermen use purse seine nets off Louisiana’s coast to harvest brood stock redfish by the hundreds of thousands in the late 1980s. At times so many fish were brought to the dock that they rotted in the baking late-summer heat before they could even be processed. Recreational fishermen lost an entire year of fishing for reds, and limits were severely curtailed as state biologists scrambled to recover stocks.

I watched as regulations on my dad’s beloved red snapper became ever more restrictive, limiting access and breeding distrust of fisheries managers at all levels of government among recreational anglers.

I watched hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike carve up my beloved marshes and barrier islands and devastate towns from one end of Louisiana’s coast to the other. And I saw the region get slugged in the gut again two years later by an oil spill that coated my speckled trout surf and took away an entire spring and summer of fishing from Gulf anglers.

My state did not deserve these injuries and injustices. My fellow fishermen across the Gulf didn’t deserve them either.

Recreational fishing in the Gulf has a $10 billion impact on the region’s economy every year. But more importantly, it builds relationships between friends, families, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. It teaches us how to respect our surroundings and where our food comes from. It teaches us to appreciate a perfect sunrise and how to make others appreciate it as well.

Limiting access to the fishery, whether due to habitat loss, manmade disasters or unnecessarily restrictive regulation not only threatens communities and jobs; it also jeopardizes our ability to raise the next generation of sportsmen and conservationists. This trend of access loss for recreational anglers is happening not just in the Gulf of Mexico, but across our nation’s coasts.

We can do better. We must do better.

That’s why I am honored to have the opportunity to work with fishermen across the Gulf and throughout our coastal areas to try and unite those who want to make our fishing and our fisheries more sustainable. Fishermen must use their collective might to advance positive change, but we must reach consensus on what we want that change to look like – and we must be willing to compromise when needed.

My dad taught me well. Now that I have a son of my own, I’d like him to have the chance when he’s my age to remember the red snapper he caught and took home for dinner when he was 10. Join us in making this a reality.

Do you have a favorite stretch of coastline or a favorite fishing memory? Post it below.

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posted in: General

May 10, 2013

Whit Fosburgh

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posted in: General

May 7, 2013

We Can Do Better

Normally I post deep thoughts about matters of conservation policy. Today I will rant.

Just over a week ago I met two friends, packed up the car in Washington, D.C., and headed for Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River, one of the best trout rivers in the East. The fabled Grannom caddis hatch was on, and it had been six months since I’d stood in a river chasing trout.

As has been my tradition for most of the last 15 years, we left town early to hit Spruce Creek Outfitters, an excellent fly shop where we could buy licenses, stock up on the latest bugs and hear fish tales before hitting the river for the afternoon. Unfortunately, the fly shop no longer sells licenses. Instead they told us to use our smart phones to buy the licenses online.

We set off for a high spot on the road where we could get cell service. After about 30 minutes, my friends succeeded in their efforts. I was unable to complete the transaction but decided to put my friends on the river and then complete my purchase at some other high point along the river.

After sending off my friends, I again found a spot with service and tried to purchase my license, each time reaching the final stage (after entering my credit card information) before receiving the message that the server was busy and to try again later. About 15 minutes into this process I called the toll-free help line and was put on hold to wait for the next available agent. Surely, I thought, between my continued efforts with the Pennsylvania website and help from a live person, I would succeed.

Nearly an hour later I had yet to speak to an agent and was still without a license.

Approaching a murderous rage, I gave up, drove back to the river, put on my waders and walked out to live vicariously through my friends, watching them catch fat brown trout on dry flies. After dinner that night I was finally able to complete my transaction and fish the next day.

Across America, conservation groups work to get kids outdoors and pass along the traditions of hunting and fishing. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation spends millions of dollars encouraging people to rejoin fishing or try it for the first time – and with remarkable success. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, participation was up 11 percent in the last five years, reversing a 20 year decline.

Photo by, Dusan Smetana

To ensure that we have quality places to hunt and fish, conservation groups also are restoring our lands and waters. Look no further than the Little Juniata, which 40 years ago was an open sewer devoid of most fish life.

Groups like the TRCP work to implement new programs, like the Open Fields program of the Farm Bill, to open private lands and waters to hunting and fishing. Since Open Fields launched in 2010, approximately 3 million acres have been opened to the public.

All this work on engagement, habitat and access falls by the wayside if sportsmen must struggle to obtain the proper licenses and tags. The responsibility for licensing falls to the states. According to a recent RBFF study, only five of the 50 states offer mobile friendly websites and only two of the 50 states offer mobile friendly license sales.  Really?

Folks, our sports depend upon participation. Fish and game agency budgets depend upon license sales. Conservation groups depend upon engaged members who will work like dogs for the resource but who deserve to be able to enjoy that resource with as little hassle as possible.

I’d like to think of my experience with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as an exception, but the RBFF numbers indicate otherwise. We can do better, and all sportsmen and -women should make sure that their states join the 21st century and make it as easy as possible for people to enjoy their resources.

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Former Aide to Colo. Sen. Udall Becomes Advocate for Conservation Group

Story courtesy of E&E News

Scott Streater, E&E reporter

Published: Friday, May 3, 2013

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today announced the hiring of a top aide for Colorado Sen. Mark Udall (D) to lobby on water resource issues on Capitol Hill.

Jimmy Hague had been Udall’s primary adviser the past four years on various conservation and natural resources issues, focusing among other things on water and conservation sportsman issues, said Mike Saccone, Udall’s spokesman in Denver.

Saccone said Hague was instrumental in helping Udall work with U.S. EPA to clarify liability protection for independent groups that pitch in to help clean up the thousands of abandoned hardrock mines that litter the landscape across the West.

EPA in December released a memorandum clarifying that so-called good Samaritan groups don’t need a Clean Water Act permit for certain discharges connected to abandoned mine cleanups under the federal Superfund law. That move came after years of lobbying by conservation advocates and supportive lawmakers like Udall and fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D) (E&ENews PM, Dec. 12, 2012).

Hague this week took over as director of the newly established TRCP Center for Water Resources and will be working to advance policies addressing water scarcity issues and the federal role in water management, allocation and conservation in Washington, D.C., the group announced today.

“I am thrilled to be joining the talented and dedicated team at the TRCP,” said Hague, a West Virginia native who received a master’s degree in environmental policy from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“The TRCP recognizes the importance to the hunting and angling communities of comprehensive, forward-thinking water resources management. Our shared water challenges impact all of our conservation efforts and will do so even more as climate change and population growth exacerbate our immediate water problems,” he added. “I look forward to leading the TRCP’s efforts to find pragmatic solutions to the problems facing our most precious natural resource.”

TRCP’s conservation policy agenda released in January highlights a commitment to water policy issues, which it says in the document is “a new policy area for 2013” and “one of the most important issues facing the conservation community and the country.”

Hague will help guide TRCP’s Water Working Group, which among other things will provide a forum to examine water quality and quantity issues associated with hydraulic fracturing. The working group includes Trout Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy and the American Sportfishing Association.

The addition of Hague is part of an effort by TRCP to expand its influence on water policy issues in Washington that affect the conservation and sporting communities.

Along those lines, TRCP also announced that Steve Kline has been appointed TRCP director of government relations and is overseeing the development and implementation of TRCP’s advocacy efforts both on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch. Kline was director of the TRCP Center for Agricultural and Private Lands.

Kline also managed TRCP’s work on the Clean Water Act, which Hague is now taking over, the group announced.

“We’re thrilled to have Jimmy join the TRCP team and to have Steve expand his role within the organization,” TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh said in a statement. “These two policy experts have the knowledge, experience and personal qualities to leverage the power of our partners — in support of legislative solutions that support fish and wildlife conservation and that advance the interests and values of hunters and anglers everywhere.”

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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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