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July 27, 2014

Firefighting and sportsmen: Why we support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act – and why you should, too

There is nothing like summer in Montana for a young man with a truck and a fly rod.  Incredible fishing in any number of rivers, streams and lakes starts in the early spring and continues through the fall, especially if you’re willing to hike, wade and paddle your way into waters where the trout haven’t seen the same $1.99 foam hoppers swing by every day since June.

Norman Maclean could write a book about Montana summers today and not stray too far from the original text of A River Runs Through It. One can imagine, however, the shocked look on his face upon awakening to a Missoula valley drowned by smoke each July and August, so much so that the sun rises bright orange over Hellgate Canyon each morning. Homes burn, habitat is destroyed, and the constant thud of helicopters ferrying water to the blazes can be heard everywhere.

Image courtesy of NASA.

Catastrophic wildfires are threatening communities across the West. Now, however, Congress has the opportunity to do something about it.

Ordinary wildfires are constant in Western summers. We devour the morel mushrooms that spring up in burned areas each spring; we praise the brave men and women who dedicate their summers to cutting breaks, clearing brush and jumping out of rickety airplanes; and we bear the routine evacuations and air quality concerns without too much complaint. They are a part of life; indeed, Smokey Bear is as much of a cultural icon for us as Rosie the Riveter. Let us not forget that this is a vital ecological process. We know that fires are integral to healthy forest ecosystems. Typical wildfires eliminate weaker trees and saplings from the understory, push back the underbrush and clear the way for new plant life to emerge. This process is necessary – not only to the health of the forest but also to the game populations we prize, like mule deer, elk and ruffed grouse.

Catastrophic wildfires, which consume hundreds of thousands of acres and ravage communities, are an entirely different animal. These fires are a distinctly unnatural process resulting from climate change, insects and poor forestry management. Sen. John McCain referenced their origins recently while testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, labeling them “manmade disasters” and calling for immediate reforms to the Forest Service’s suppression and prevention strategies.

One hundred and thirty-one other members of Congress also have expressed support for commonsense reforms like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (S. 1875 and H.R. 3992) because they realize the severe ramifications of doing nothing. Indeed, the cost of wildfires today would be considerably lower if the Forest Service was able to effectively engage in its congressionally mandated activities. Legislation like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would put an end   to the practice of borrowing funds from vital programs integral to land management and fire prevention across the United States to pay for fire suppression costs.

Conservation is about doing what you can, when you can. Otherwise, the land suffers, and we who hunt and fish suffer with it. We have a responsibility to support efforts to advance sound, results-oriented conservation measures, and we cannot continue to allow the individuals we elect to play games with the lands we know and love. Check and see if your senator or representative supports a change for wildfire funding. If they don’t, make sure they know you do.

Urge Congress to take action on wildfire funding today.

 

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Joel Webster

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posted in: General

July 22, 2014

Putting a price tag on our federal public lands

Image by Joel Webster.

In 1961, my grandfather and a friend hired a public lands outfitter who took them on the hunting trip of their lives.

On this trip, my grandfather traveled into the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming where he harvested a bull elk, a buck mule deer and a bear. He wasn’t a rich man, but between all the goods and services his trip required, he spent a significant amount of his hard-earned money.

Years later, my father would allocate his discretionary income to fund his own public lands hunting and fishing adventures. Fortunately, I became the lucky recipient of a long-standing and sustainable hunting and fishing tradition. I’ve been able to spend the past thirty years of my life hunting with my father, friends and colleagues.

Last year, for a two month hunting season, I spent about $3,500 on fuel, licenses, food and hunting gear. When you look at the big picture, the recreational activity of 37 million individual hunters and anglers adds up quickly.

Today, Joel testified before the U.S. Senate on the value of America’s natural resources and the economic impact of hunting and angling. Read what he had to say to our elected officials in Congress…and learn more about the TRCP’s efforts to guarantee you a place to hunt and fish. 

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Congress Is Ignoring You

I just finished a sportsmen’s D.C. fly-in, and, boy, are my arms tired (ba-dum-chhh).

But seriously, folks.

More than a dozen sportsmen just wrapped up three days in Washington, D.C., last week talking to their elected officials about the importance of clean water to hunting and fishing. It was just in time, too. There’s a disturbing trend in Congress of members ignoring the views of sportsmen who rely on clean water to enjoy quality days in the field. For instance, on July 16, 2014, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved three pieces of legislation that undermine our bedrock water quality safeguards. TRCP partner Trout Unlimited rightly took them to task:

Image by Walker Conyngham.

“Forty years ago the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee played a leadership role in enacting one of the nation’s most vital natural resource conservation laws, the Clean Water Act,” said Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s vice president of government affairs. “Today, the Committee hammered the law with some of the most ill-conceived attacks in the history of the act.”

One of the bills would derail a Clean Water Act rulemaking that will clarify protections for headwater streams and wetlands and better define which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act and – just as importantly – which ones are not.

Sportsmen in D.C. last week told lawmakers from several states that this rulemaking is the best chance in a generation to definitively restore some protections to valuable fisheries and waterfowl habitats – protections that existed for nearly 30 years prior to 2001 – and Congress should not interfere with the process.

“Protecting America’s waters is important to anglers all across this country,” said Bob Rees, executive director, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, one of the fly-in participants. “Whether you fish for trout in North Carolina, bass in Missouri or salmon in Oregon, this is an issue that directly impacts us all.”

Signed into law in 1972, the Clean Water Act is one of our most successful environmental statutes. It has transformed rivers that once literally caught on fire into productive fisheries and vibrant aquatic ecosystems. And it slowed a rate of wetland loss that, in 1972, exceeded a half-million acres per year.

What’s been unclear at least since 2001 is to which waters the law applies. In 2001 and again in 2006 the Supreme Court issued decisions concerning Clean Water Act jurisdiction that, combined with subsequent agency guidance, actually confused the issue. What we’re left with is an administrative mess slowing down permit applications and water bodies at increased risk of pollution and destruction. The rate of wetlands loss – one of the great metrics of the success of the Clean Water Act – actually increased by 140 percent during the years immediately following the Supreme Court decisions. This is the first documented acceleration of wetland loss in the history of the Clean Water Act.

Since the Supreme Court decisions, a broad cross section of stakeholders has called for a rulemaking to clarify where the Clean Water Act applies. Many sportsmen’s groups have been asking for a rulemaking for years. So have state agencies, local elected officials, industry associations and farming and ranching groups, as well as Supreme Court justices.

Image by Walker Conyngham.

After nearly 15 years of confusion, the agencies responsible finally obliged. On March 25, 2014, a proposed draft rule was published that is open for public comment through mid-October.

“Approximately two-thirds of the 13 million Pennsylvanians get drinking water from headwater streams that would benefit from this proposal,” said Jeff Ripple, chairman of the Environmental Committee for Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited and another fly-in participant. “This is not just about fishing; the status quo is putting the economy and our way of life at risk for the benefit of a few.”

Since the draft was published, we have heard a lot from groups opposing the proposed rule and congressmen intent on derailing the rulemaking even while it is still in the public comment phase. What’s been getting short shrift in this debate are the potential benefits of a rulemaking for America’s 47 million hunters and anglers. Sportsmen, who generate $200 billion in total economic activity each year and support 1.5 million jobs, rely on clean water to pursue their sporting traditions.

To be clear, the rulemaking must be done in a way that works for our partners in agriculture. We rely on them in many of our conservation efforts and for access to places to hunt and fish.

But efforts to stop the rulemaking before the public has had a chance to review and comment on the proposal are misguided and ignore the wishes of sportsmen. Now is not the time to throw the proposed rule away and lock in the current jurisdictional confusion indefinitely. It is time to improve it through broad public involvement.

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July 8, 2014

A Spring Turkey Hunt with the TRCP

TRCP Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard, a Minox Optics Adventure Team member, recently got the opportunity to chase Merriam’s turkeys in Wyoming in an area where he has arrowed numerous birds. This spring, Neil (along with his wife Catherine behind the camera) experienced cold weather with high winds and snow. On the few days he was able to hunt, he found birds, though he never connected.

However, this opportunity would not have been possible without access to public lands. The cooperation of private landowners and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department through the Access Yes program provides hunters and anglers access to otherwise inaccessible lands. For every dollar donated to the program, nearly 4.6 acres of access is provided to all hunters and anglers who hunt and fish in Wyoming – residents and non-residents alike. Many other states have similar access programs.

Watch a video of Neil’s hunt below. How important is access to you? Let us know on the TRCP Facebook page.

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July 7, 2014

Background on the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014

With the clock ticking down on the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, take the opportunity to learn more about the legislation. Then, give your Senators a call to voice your support for the package. 

Image by Dusan Smetana.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act (S. 2363) is an historic piece of legislation that features some of the most important measures to benefit America’s 40 million sportsmen in years. The bill includes a number of provisions to expand public access and conserve fish and wildlife habitat for generations. S.2363 enjoys the support of many major hunting and angling organizations across the country. That support has been matched by a bipartisan cosponsor list of 45 Senators.

America’s hunters and anglers, who annually contribute $200 billion to the national economy and continue to play a vital role in the promotion of sustainable land use, deserve equal footing with other multiple uses on federal lands.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act includes the following 14 provisions:

  • Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2013 (S.738), authorizing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow any state to provide federal duck stamps electronically.
  • Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act (S.1505), exempts lead fishing tackle from being regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act
  • Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act (S.1212), enabling states to allocate a greater proportion of federal funding to create and maintain shooting ranges on federal and non-federal lands
  • Duck Stamp Subsistence Waiver, granting the Secretary of the Interior the authority to make limited waivers of Duck Stamp requirements for certain subsistence users
  • Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act (S.847), permitting the Secretary of the Interior to authorize permits for re-importation of previously legally harvested Polar Bears from approved populations in Canada before the 2008 ban
  • Farmer and Hunter Protection Act, authorizing USDA extension offices to determine normal agricultural practices rather than the Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage Opportunities Act (S.170), requiring federal land managers to consider how management plans affect opportunities to engage in hunting, fishing and recreational shooting and requiring the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to keep BLM lands open to these activities.
  • Permits for Film Crews of Five People or Less, directing the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to require annual permits and assess annual fees for filming on federal lands
  • Making Public Lands Public, requires that 1.5 percent of annual Land and Water Conservation Fund monies be made available to secure public access to existing federal lands that have restricted access to hunting, fishing and other recreational activities.

    Image by Dusan Smetana.
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (S.741), provides matching grants to organizations, state and local governments, and private landowners for the acquisition, restoration, and enhancement of wetlands habitat critical to migratory birds.
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization, reauthorizing NFWF, a nonprofit that conserves and restores native wildlife species and habitats.
  • Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act, enabling states to allocate a greater proportion of federal funding to create and maintain shooting ranges.
  • Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization, enabling the Bureau of Land Management to disburse public lands to private entities, county governments, and others for the purposes of ranching, public works, and related projects and invest the revenue received to obtain additional conservation  lands.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act is at a critical crossroads. Pick up the phone and let your Senators know that you support the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act today!

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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