John Hamill

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posted in: General

January 15, 2015

Public lands: Sportsmen’s most precious resource

Growing up in a small farming and ranching community in Central California in the 50s and 60s, I had access to private lands for hunting and fishing.  My brothers and I could literally walk out the back door of our home to hunt for doves and rabbits on our neighbor’s ranch. Larger, family-owned ranches in the area were readily accessible for deer and quail hunting and fishing for coastal steelhead.

Times have changed, and many of the lands I visited as a kid are no longer accessible. Some have been turned into subdivisions, and most of large ranches are either closed to public access, or hunting privileges have been leased to elite clubs where only the wealthy can afford to hunt. Fortunately, I have lived most of my adult life in Colorado and Arizona where there are abundant public lands available to pursue my passions.

Image courtesy of John Hamill.

Opportunities to hunt, fish and recreate on public lands are under attack in nine Western states, however, led by special interests intent on passing legislation that would require the transfer of federal lands to the states. This includes our national forests, national wildlife refuges and public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Attacks like these are not new. In 2012, the Arizona legislature passed a bill, vetoed by the Gov. Jan Brewer, that would have required Congress to turn over 25 million acres of public lands to the state by the end of 2014. Proposition 120, a ballot measure defeated by two thirds of Arizona voters, would have amended the state’s constitution to “declare Arizona’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state’s boundaries.” On the surface this may not seem like such a bad idea. However, when you dig into these proposals you find that the primary motivation can be to facilitate the sale of public lands to private interests to generate revenues and enable development.

Image courtesy of John Hamill.

Western states have a long history of selling their lands. In Nevada, nearly 2.7 million acres of state land have been sold; Utah has sold more than 50 percent of its land grant. The question of how the states would pay for the management of these lands complicates the issue further. Maintaining roads and recreation facilities, fighting wildfires and similar activities require funds that these states simply do not have. The only practical means to raise the funds would be to charge higher user fees, open more lands to development or sell the lands to private interests.

The transfer or “divestiture” of federal public lands to the states poses a threat to hunting and fishing as we know it today. While sportsmen may be frustrated with the federal government’s management of our public lands, transferring public lands to the states and making them available for sale to private interests is not in the best interest of fish and wildlife or hunting and fishing. Sportsmen need to fight to maintain control of and access to our most precious resource: our public lands.

To make you voice heard, I encourage you to write or call your elected official or support organizations like the TRCP, which is leading the fight on behalf of sportsmen. Finally, consider attending the sportsmen’s rallies in Santa Fe, Denver and Boise in the coming months. This is the time for action – not complacency!

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posted in: General

January 2, 2015

TRCP’s Top 10 Underreported Conservation Stories

Here it is – our Top 10 Underreported Conservation Stories of 2014. These stories comprise a choice cross-section of important conservation-related topics that failed to register with the public over the past 12 months.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

Right now, these issues couldn’t be more relevant to American citizens and we’d like to refocus attention on the policy debates that have the greatest potential to alter Americans’ abilities to access and enjoy our fish and wildlife, lands and waters.

Conservation of our invaluable natural resources and upholding public access to enjoy these resources is in everyone’s interest, whether you fish for bass, trout or snook or hunt deer, pheasants or ducks – or simply appreciate open spaces and clean water.

Millions of acres of public lands off limits to the American people, a world-renowned – and critically threatened – Alaskan salmon fishery, unprecedented opportunities for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico and the threat to our nation’s public lands heritage – these are among the underreported conservation stories that made the 2014 TRCP list.

ALL TOP 10 STORIES

1. America’s National Forests and Parks for Sale?
2. Money Earmarked for Conservation Gets Spent Elsewhere
3. Budgeting Restrictions for Wildfire Management Burn Up Cash
4. World’s Largest Marine Reserve Embraces Recreational Fishing
5. Regulations for Management of 245 Million Acres of Public Land Being Rewritten for the First Time
6. Public Denied Access to 35 Million Acres of Public Lands
7. Gulf of Mexico Restoration Offers Once-in-a-Lifetime Conservation Opportunities
8. Federal Red Snapper Regulations Have Anglers Seeing Red
9. ‘Not Dead Yet’: Alaska’s Proposed Pebble Mine Still a Threat
10. While California Fights, Western Sportsmen and Ranchers Collaborate – and Win

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posted in: General

December 19, 2014

Colorado maps its water future

In 2013, Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper directed the state’s water board to develop a strategy to guide water supply decision-making in the state. Fortunately, like hunters and anglers across the Colorado, Gov. Hickenlooper knows that healthy trout streams and productive habitat for elk, mule deer and other game species are essential to Colorado’s $9 billion outdoor economy and our sporting heritage. In fact, he has said that “every conversation about water should start with conservation.” (emphasis added)

Gross Reservoir, Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall

On December 10, 2014, the water board delivered the first draft of the state water plan to the governor, but not before over 7000 Colorado sportsmen spoke together in a telephone town hall about it. Callers talked about the importance and potential of conservation efforts, the risks associated with diverting more Colorado River water to the Front Range and how healthy stream flows affect hunters as well as anglers. You can listen to their discussion here.

The draft plan represents one significant milestone on the journey to a secure water future for Colorado, but there are many miles yet to go. The draft plan recognizes that we must protect healthy rivers for fish and wildlife and make more efficient use of our existing resources, but the plan needs to lay out specific directions to actually achieving those goals. Also, the draft plan leaves the door open for risky, large diversions of Colorado River water from the west slope to the Front Range.

In 2015, all Coloradans have an opportunity to tell Gov. Hickenlooper, his water board and others involved in the process exactly how important it is to protect the habitats where we hunt and fish. Visit Colorado Trout Unlimited to send a message to the governor and other officials.

Steve Kline

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posted in: General

December 17, 2014

South Dakota rancher lets the land point the way

TRCP Director of Government Relations Steve Kline reflects on his relationship with 2014 Leopold Conservation Award winner Lyle Perman of South Dakota. Read more about Lyle and the award here.

I remember the first time I met Lyle Perman.

I had been worried about recognizing him, but the worry was misplaced. His bolo tie and cowboy hat set him a world apart from the buttoned-up navy suits of downtown Washington, D.C. This was his first trip to the nation’s capital since he had visited the city with the College Republicans decades earlier. Now, the TRCP hosted his return as part of an effort to educate his South Dakota congressional delegation on the importance of conserving native prairie.

As a lobbyist, I can attest that most Hill meetings run about the same way, with little variation. But when you fly somebody like Lyle to Washington to meet with senators and representatives that he knows personally, the meetings take on an entirely different tone. First, the senator has to catch up on all the latest gossip from home, including a serious dissertation on the weather. In South Dakota, rain is still considered a blessing. Talk then turns to neighbors and church; only after a full debrief can the conversation focus on the comparatively mundane: Farm Bill conservation programs working to keep South Dakota’s essential grasslands intact.

Lyle’s farm in Lowry, SD. Image courtesy of Rock Hills Ranch.

Lyle understands that he must learn from his forebears, question the assumptions of conventional wisdom and heed the ample advice the land offers. His Rock Hills Ranch is among the last vestiges of a great American ocean of grass. Much of that epic landscape has been replaced by row crops, bit by the plow, the grass long ago turned upside down. Lyle has seen firsthand what that means for the long-term health of the place he loves, the place where he raised his family. A lifetime spent in the prairies has convinced him grass is what God intended to be here.

After showing Lyle Washington, D.C., I was thrilled just a few months later that he could show me Lowry, South Dakota, and the place he calls home. Two worlds connected by a Farm Bill and a friendship. I am thrilled that my friend Lyle and his family ranch have received this award, where two new generations (and two sets of twins!) roam the countryside and plan for the future of their grass.

The 2014 Leopold Conservation Award could not go to a  more deserving recipient. A tip of the cowboy hat from all of us here at the TRCP.

Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

Private Lands Primer: A SAFE place for wildlife

Just before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly announced an additional 86,000 SAFE acres across seven states: Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. These acres are a boon to private landowners and sportsmen. But I’d wager that most hunters and anglers, and probably many farmers and ranchers, don’t know what SAFE is or just how beneficial the program can be.

Image courtesy of Katie McKalip.

For the unfamiliar, SAFE— State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement —is part of the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. The general CRP asks landowners to voluntarily conserve large tracts of previously cropped land to achieve a wide range of environmental benefits. As a part of CRP, SAFE is also a voluntary land conservation program, but here USDA works with landowners, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations and the public to identify strategic projects that conserve land in specific parts of the country. SAFE distinctively focuses on habitat for species that are threatened or endangered, have suffered significant population declines or are considered to be socially or economically valuable.

That last phrase, “socially or economically valuable,” is key for sportsmen. SAFE authorizes your local decision makers to identify which acres will best target the needs of “high-value” wildlife, and that includes for hunting and fishing. SAFE projects have provided habitat for the plains sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, American woodcock, northern bobwhite quail, ring-necked pheasant, a wide variety of waterfowl, cottontail rabbits, black bears, mule deer, elk, salmon, steelhead trout and many other species, across 36 states and in Puerto Rico. That’s nothing to shake a tail at.

Landowners can benefit from SAFE too especially at a time when crop prices are low and land prices are high. USDA offers a signing incentive of $100 per acre to landowners who convert idle cropland into SAFE; pays landowners up to 90 percent of the cost of planting trees, forbs and grasses that benefit wildlife; and provides guaranteed rental payments on that land for the length of a contract, usually for 10 to 15 years. SAFE can improve farm income while incentivizing on-the-ground practices that benefit our favorite critters on an ecosystem-wide scale.

Image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Although the extra 86,000 acres comprise only a fraction of the 24 million acres enrolled in CRP, at the TRCP we were thrilled by USDA’s announcement. Since SAFE’s introduction in 2007, many states have maxed out their allotted acres and maintain waiting lists for landowners hoping to enroll stream buffers, restored wetlands, newly seeded grasslands and longleaf pine stands in the program. The TRCP welcomes any additional chances to provide habitat for fish and wildlife and access for sportsmen.

Landowners can enroll qualified acres in a designated wildlife project in their state at any time. We especially encourage those in the seven states listed above to take advantage of this new opportunity. For more information, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation or visit a local USDA office.

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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