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posted in: General

June 3, 2014

Conservation Dollars Are Being Burned

Wildfire in the Pacific Northwest
Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Wildfires are becoming an escalating threat in the Western United States. With each passing year, wildfires are increasing in frequency, burning more acres and proving more costly to suppress. Despite the escalation of wildfires and wildfire-associated damage, however, very little has been done to assist the Forest Service in its efforts to pay for wildfire suppression and prevention. Suppression costs are responsible for more of the Forest Service budget each year, forcing cuts to programs vital to conservation, forestry management and sportsmen.

Why is this happening?

A combination of factors is responsible for the increase in frequency and severity of wildfires, the most important of which is climate change. Higher temperatures across the United States make America’s forests drier through increased evaporation rates, decreased precipitation and subsequent drought. As a result, the fire season is two-and-a-half months longer now than in the 1970s. It’s very simple: drier forests are simply more likely to catch on fire.

A decrease in proper forestry management practices plays a role, as well. Ironically enough, this in part results from the increasing costs associated with wildfire suppression. Because suppression and prevention dollars come from the same budget, money used to suppress wildfires means fewer dollars available to prevent them. Suppression costs accounted for 13 percent of the Forest Service budget in 1991 but have risen to 47 percent in 2012, leaving very little left to engage in programs vital to fire prevention.

>>Check out The TRCP’s infographic on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act here.<<

What needs to change?

Before suppression costs consumed nearly half of the Forest Service budget, the agency could afford to implement a variety of forestry management programs proven to mitigate the risk of wildfires, such as hazardous fuels reduction. A healthy, properly managed forest is far less likely to burn catastrophically.

Another important factor in the increased costs of firefighting has to do with the “Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).” This refers to development along areas prone to wildfires. The proximity between manmade structures and such areas has increased as development increases along national parks and other wild areas, forcing the Forest Service to prioritize property protection in its fire suppression and prevention activities.

How are conservation dollars being burned?
Click the image for the full infographic

But in recent years, the increase in wildfire frequency and longer fire seasons, combined with the higher costs associated with fighting fire in the WUI, has forced the Forest Service to annually engage in “fire borrowing” to pay for suppression – meaning it must take dollars from other forestry management programs to pay for the debilitating costs associated with putting out wildfires.

Why should this matter to sportsmen?

Without budgetary reform, the Forest Service cannot afford to put out wildfires and effectively engage in forestry management at an appropriate scale. This means that forests across the United States will become less healthy and more prone to catastrophic fire. As a result, forests and habitat will suffer, affecting people and wildlife throughout the United States.

How can sportsmen help fix this problem?

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167 and S. 235), a bill introduced in both the House and Senate, would put an end to the problem of fire borrowing – and do it without increasing federal spending. For budgetary purposes, the legislation would classify the most extreme wildfires as natural disasters, a designation previously reserved for tornadoes, hurricanes and flash floods. This would allow the suppression costs for America’s largest and most expensive wildfires to be paid using federal emergency dollars. While the Forest Service still would be responsible for suppressing wildfires, the money to do so would be drawn from another, more appropriate source.

This simple yet effective measure would permit hundreds of millions of dollars in the Forest Service budget to be used as Congress intended, allowing the agency to resume forestry management and fire prevention programs. If passed, this legislation would make America’s forests and wildlife habitat healthier while simultaneously mitigating the risk of future wildfires.

While the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act has received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, more congressional support is needed to ensure its passage. If you care about the future of American hunting and fishing and your representatives are not signed onto this legislation please TAKE ACTION here and help make a difference.

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posted in: General

June 2, 2014

Five Ways to Celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week

NFBW Fishing Family
Image courtesy of Take Me Fishing.

June 1, 2014, kicks off the yearly, weeklong celebration known as National Fishing and Boating Week.  Each year during NFBW, boating and fishing organizations and enthusiasts alike work to extol the benefits of recreational boating and fishing on environmental preservation and quality of life.

Why should you choose boating and fishing?

  • De-stress: Boating is ranked as one of the top three of all stress-relieving activities
  • Connect with nature: 90 percent of Americans live within an hour of navigable water
  • Help conserve: The funds from your fishing licenses and boat registrations go toward the conservation of our natural aquatic areas

Want to go boating and fishing during NFBW? Here are some great ways to get started:

Try fishing for the first time. Many states offer free fishing days that coincide with NFBW. These days allow individuals to fish without having to purchase a fishing license. What better time to try out fishing than when it’s free? For a full list of states’ free fishing days, visit TakeMeFishing.org. Make sure to check out the “How to Fish” section on TakeMeFishing.org so you can learn all of the basics before you head out on the water.

Attend an event. Besides free fishing days, many states hold special events during NFBW. These events may include boat parades, fishing derbies, family festivals and how-to clinics. Head to the Events Page on TakeMeFishing.org to find events close to you.

Mentor a new angler or boater. Use the week as an opportunity to get someone new out on the water.  NFBW offers an excellent chance to mentor a new angler or boater and teach him or her the importance of the activities and their benefits both to the environment and the public. Teach them to hook their first fish and they may just be hooked for life.

Promote fishing and boating. Use NFBW as a way to show your friends and family how important fishing and boating is to you! On social media, you can use the #NFBW hashtag to tag your tweets, pictures and posts in celebration of National Fishing and Boating Week. You also can share photos of your big catch or your relaxing day on the boat with us by adding them to the Big Catch Photo Gallery.

Celebrate conservation. By simply participating in the activities of fishing and boating, you are helping to conserve your local and national waterways. A portion of every fishing license, boat registration and boating and fishing equipment sale goes toward keeping our waterways clean, safe and full of great fishing through the Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Want to find even more ways to get involved? Visit TakeMeFishing.org/nfbw for ideas.

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posted in: General

May 22, 2014

TAKE ACTION! – Promoting liberty through conservation

Hunter with decoys and dog. Photo by Dusan Smetana.
Clean water gives us the liberty to pursue our hunting and fishing passions. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

SPEAK UP for clean water for hunting and fishing.

What does clean water have to do with liberty? Over at Field & Stream, our friend Hal Herring has a fascinating piece answering this question. Perhaps taking inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt’s adage that “there can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country,” he argues that clean water is the investment we make in America, the dividend of which is the liberty to pursue our hunting and fishing passions. “[W]hen we fail to conserve” our natural resources, “and protect them from those who would do them harm…not only do we lose our fishing and hunting, we also endanger our prosperity and liberty.”

Hal’s article is worth reading in its entirety.

Rounding out the one-two punch from Field & Stream, Bob Marshall writes about an action you can take right now to ensure clean water for hunting and fishing and promote liberty. The Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency are taking public input on a proposal to clarify what federal safeguards are in place for water quality. With just a few mouse clicks, you can add your voice to the chorus calling for strong protections for headwater streams and wetlands.

Former Republican Congressman Sherwood Boehlert also highlighted the connection between clean water and liberty when he wrote an op-ed in favor of the Corps and EPA’s action, reminding us of a time when Republicans were leading the conservation movement. (Case in point: the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and EPA were all created under President Nixon.) Congressman Boehlert quotes President Reagan, who succinctly captured the importance of conservation to liberty:

“The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.”  (emphasis added)

The TRCP and its partners have prepared fact sheets, videos and other information explaining the Corps and EPA’s proposal. Visit the “Sportsman’s Tackle Box for Understanding the Clean Water Act Rule” to learn more, then TAKE ACTION so that decision makers in Washington, D.C., know you want clean water for hunting and fishing.

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posted in: General

May 19, 2014

The tortoise and the … javelina?

Sometimes a hunting trip may be more about what you don’t tag and take home.

Desert tortoise rescue
With his fate still unsure, Catherine holds a tortoise that was trapped in the abandoned mine pit you see in the background. Photo by Neil Thagard.

Earlier this year my wife Catherine and I were in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona bowhunting javelina. This ecosystem is one of the most strikingly unique anywhere, and any adventurous soul willing to explore this environment will find him or herself rewarded with a seemingly endless display of plants and wildlife.

As our adventure commenced we were hiking to one of the many high, rocky outcroppings to glass, carefully weaving our way through the ocotillo, saguaro, fishhook barrel cactus and jojoba. These prickly obstacles, while impeding our progress considerably, are common and essential sources of food, cover and nesting sites for Sonoran Desert wildlife such as Coues and mule deer, numerous bird and bat species and the desert tortoise, as well as the javelina we were pursuing.

We were carefully making our way during the early morning light and came upon the nearly vertical edge of an old mining pit. The area was heavily mined for copper, gold, silver and lead during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and these remnant exploratory mines are common, reminding us of those hardy souls who settled this harsh landscape in days gone by.

While we observed the pit, which was only about 6 feet deep, we noticed two objects crowded tight in opposite corners of the pit. Catherine and I blurted to one another, “tortoise!” It was obvious that the two tortoises had tumbled down the steep sides into the pit and were unable to escape. After some quick examination in hopes of ensuring that the ground in the bottom of the pit was safe for me to stand on, I climbed down to aid these timeless desert dwellers. Unfortunately, the first one I examined had succumbed to the elements, as there was no water or food available in the pit – there was no way of knowing how long she had been down there. This tortoise, a female, was probably 30-40 years old based on her size. I moved to the opposite corner to examine the other tortoise and realized this male, probably about the same age as the deceased female, was still alive. I gently picked him up and handed him to Catherine, who was standing on the rim of the pit.

Tortoise and cactus fruit
Though initially the tortoise had defensively withdrawn himself inside his shell, he could not resist the meal we had put in front of him. Photo by Neil Thagard.

I climbed out, and we carried the surviving tortoise to a spot away from the pit hoping to prevent him from ending up in it again. We provided him some much needed water (from the supply we carried) and food – the fruits from a nearby fishhook barrel cactus. Though the tortoise had defensively withdrawn himself inside his shell, he could not resist the meal we had put in front of him. He slowly poked his feet and head out of the shell to check us out, and, realizing we were not a threat to him, he proceeded to enjoy the fruit and water.

After polishing off several cactus fruits and some water, he slowly began his solitary trek back into the desert and appeared to be recovering well from his ordeal, all things considered. The desert tortoise is a resilient creature with evolutionary adaptations that allow his survival in the harsh demands of his desert home. Unfortunately, it is the human-induced factors in his environment that have that have landed him a threatened listing under the Endangered Species Act. Though he is not a critter that we as sportsmen and –women pursue, the tortoise and other keystone species’ well being indicate the future for the species we do hunt. It is not coincidental that President Roosevelt often referred to hunters as the “original conservationists” – in my experience sportsmen are keenly aware of their obligation to be stewards of the land and all its species!

Whether it is abandoned mine pits in the Arizona desert, punching gas wells in sage grouse habitat or paving roads through elk calving grounds, this experience underscores the importance of mitigating the human-induced factors that we impose on the inhabitants of our wild places.

Neil Thagard and Javelina 2014
Whether or not you believe in karma, we were rewarded later that day with a 30 yard shot that resulted in filling our javelina tag for 2014. Photo by Neil Thagard.

Though this adventure started out as a pursuit of javelina, it became one about providing a hands-on conservation act for a desert tortoise that would have been doomed without a helping hand. Whether or not you believe in karma, we were rewarded later that day with a 30-yard shot that resulted in filling our javelina tag for 2014.

I don’t find it strange that the memories of this hunt are as much about the tortoise as the javelina. It certainly validated to Catherine and me that sometimes our outdoor experiences are not just about what you bring home, but what you don’t.

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posted in: General

May 15, 2014

Planting season in America’s heartland

Sprouting spring wheat. Photo by Ryan Wagner.
Sprouting spring wheat. Photo by Ryan Wagner.

Greetings from beautiful Day County in northeast South Dakota! After a long cold winter, spring is finally upon us, and it is planting season on my family’s corn, soybean and spring wheat farm. With this post I hope to give you a brief look into one of the busier times of the year on the farm.

Spring can be equal parts exciting and frustrating as the thrill of planting can quickly give way to the disappointment of a weather delay. We were fortunate enough to start seeding spring wheat on April 15 and finished on April 22. This year seeding conditions were about as good as we have seen for quite some time, and it was especially encouraging considering last year we did not begin seeding wheat until May 4.

As often happens, a good run of planting and hectic activity was brought to an abrupt halt as the first of many rounds of rain showers came through last week. This time of year farmers turn into amateur meteorologists, checking the radar and forecasts regularly, so I knew we would be going into wait mode because this weather system was predicted to hang around for a while (10 days and counting). Patience is a virtue – one that I do not possess – but I know this moisture will be very valuable later in the year, so for now all we can do is wait. A bonus of this rain delay is I will be able to attend my 5-year-old son’s second career soccer game tonight. I plan on bottling up some of the energy the Chickadees are sure to display and use it when I’m getting worn down later.

Planting wheat. Photo by Ryan Wagner.
Planting wheat. Photo by Ryan Wagner.

Soon enough, it will be full speed ahead at 4.8 mph. That may not sound very fast, but as the planter lumbers through the field at about that speed, there is a lot going on. Like many modern planters, ours is electronically controlled and monitored, so I have most planter functions and a view of its performance at my fingertips in the tractor cab. The GPS on board that automatically steers the planter tractor also teams up with various sensors on the planter to create “as planted” maps of many important planter operations. All this information is displayed in real time on a monitor and iPad in the tractor cab. My job is to make sure all these systems are working together to allow the planter to do its job of placing every seed exactly 2 inches deep and 6.2 inches from its neighbor. At more than 300 seeds per second, this is no small task! The first day is always the most stressful as we work out the bugs, but once we get into a groove and things start clicking, the sense of accomplishment is hard to beat.

Ag ap on the tractor iPad. Photo by Ryan Wagner.
Ag ap on the tractor iPad. Photo by Ryan Wagner.

Of course the end goal is to grow a crop and sell it (preferably at a profit), and an increasingly large part of my time is spent analyzing the profit margin for each crop and watching for selling opportunities. Today’s technology allows me to see the Chicago Board of Trade market prices live, not only in my office but in the tractor on the iPad as well. CBOT prices can be particularly volatile in the spring, so there is a lot of money at risk on a minute-by-minute basis, but tracking profit margin is always on my mind regardless of the season.

Farming has certainly come a long way since the days of open cab tractors, as technology continues to improve our productivity and our profitability, while reducing our impact on the land and water. It’s a great time to be an American farmer.

Ryan Wagner operates a family-owned farm near Roslyn, South Dakota. He and his wife Kerri participated in the 2013 TRCP Conservation Exchange Program.    

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