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September 16, 2015

Locked Out: Utah’s Book Cliffs

In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds. This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.

In Part Eight of our series, we stop in at Utah’s Book Cliffs.

Image courtesy of Joel Webster.

Stretching almost 200 miles from Price, Utah, to Palisades, Colorado, the Book Cliffs comprise the longest continuous escarpment in the world. High plateaus of ponderosa pines, firs, and aspen groves, and staggered lines of towering cliffs and isolated canyons, open out onto arid plains. Because the terrain and the vegetation changes so much with altitude, it is near-perfect mule deer and elk country, where summer range and winter range are closely connected.

When American sportsmen began restoring the wildlife lost during the settlement of the West, it was BLM public lands like those in the Book Cliffs that made the experiment the most successful wildlife recovery on earth. Today, there’s a limited draw hunt for trophy elk and mule deer here. Colorado River cutthroat trout, wild bison, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have been restored, and pronghorn numbers are strong. All of these success stories were written almost entirely using sportsmen’s dollars on healthy public lands accessible to all Americans.

In 2012, the Utah legislature passed H.B. 148, “Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study,” a demand for 31 million acres of public lands like those in the Book Cliffs to be given to the state. You see, the cliffs are also a rich source of natural gas, coal, oil, helium, and potentially new reserves of oil.

Energy development under federal management has already been extensive enough here to pose real threats to big game and other wildlife resources. Federal management under the principles of multiple-use and sustained yield has forced the BLM to create management plans that at least lessen the impact of development on wildlife.

Image courtesy of Joel Webster.

As reported in a recent Utah study, the transfer of public lands would mean that the state would face huge new expenses for land management—an estimated $280 million per year. Utah has already sold 4.1 million of the 7.5 million acres it was granted at statehood, and millions of acres of the most valuable public lands could still be sold to foreign companies and billionaires, cutting off public access forever. If the state were to retain energy-rich lands like the Book Cliffs, it would need to aggressively develop mineral resources in order to cover the enormous costs associated with the management of its other lands. Energy-producing landscapes like the Book Cliffs would be industrialized at a scale that far exceeds levels under federal management, leaving nothing behind worth accessing.

Utah remains the epicenter of the land seizure movement, and two bills were passed during the 2015 state legislative session that are aimed at undermining America’s public lands heritage. Fortunately, Utah’s fervor for public lands seizure is not matched in most other states, and sportsmen will continue working to keep it that way.

Here are three ways you can support sportsmen’s access on public lands. 

Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.

3 Responses to “Locked Out: Utah’s Book Cliffs”

  1. There are a number of reasons to keep the lands in question under federal control, however, the federal government doesn’t efficiently oversee most of these lands unless they fall under very specific, very high nationally distributed traffic, e.g., Yellowstone. If there is not a large draw for people from all over the country to visit then the federal government oversight is very limited but they won’t allow the states to control and make improvements while following federal guidelines.

    There are a number of parks and recreational areas in Utah and the other immediately surrounding states that are under-developed and not well kept due to a lack of interest on the part of the federal government because of the lack of national traffic. It seems that the federal funds are only directed to the larger parks that get consistent national coverage from a campaigning point of view. There are a lot of land areas that are of interest only to hunters and shooters so they get no federal funds. Laws in the states deny access for shooting sportsmen, ATVs, and other types of activities that would use the land. Since we’re banned by our activities from these areas there is next to no traffic on the lands. The governments look at the lack of use and determine that the lands are unimportant to us. Once the lack of importance is determined they decide the lands can be better put to use for energy development, housing, or other privatized use.

    So in response to David Allan Cole above all of us ‘land grabbing conservatives’ want control of our lands back so we can put them to use. You have no idea how much I would love to get out on the central Utah and Idaho prairies and do some long range target shooting or explore gullies and washes in the middle of nowhere for semi-precious stones and photography opportunities.

    In response to John A. Musgrove it’s not discriminatory to deny improving specific public lands to the point of wheelchair access. It’s not possible without destroying the ecosystem, or at the very least the picturesque nature, of parks to put in miles and miles of pavement or elevated wood construction paths. What’s more who would pay for it? It seems that very few people are willing to look at the ecological or economic impact of these types of improvements. I’m partially disabled myself. Both of my knees are functional but I can’t hike the rough trails I did as a young adult due to significant damage. But I don’t bemoan the fact that 20-somethings are able to get out and climb what are relatively mild trails. I understand what my limitations are and push myself when I can but I also understand that there are some places I simply cannot get to and I refuse to request or allow such destructive ‘improvements’ as would be required to allow access for the disabled. It’s an unfortunate situation but it’s a disability. People, particularly the PC police, really need to accept that it’s not a judgement, just a realization and a statement of fact.

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Kristyn Brady

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September 15, 2015

Where Do Arizonans Love to Hunt and Fish? We Want to Find Out

Image courtesy of SVM Coalition.

Arizona’s sportsmen and sportswomen will have an opportunity to help conserve their favorite public hunting and fishing destinations by participating in the Sportsmen’s Values Mapping Project, a statewide effort being launched by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Arizona Game and Fish Department, in cooperation with several state sportsmen’s groups.

The department soon will be mailing postcards to a random sample of individuals who have purchased Arizona hunting and fishing licenses, inviting them to participate in the survey and directing them to a website that allows them to draw their favorite areas on a map.

“The department is pleased to present a scientifically-sound method for outdoor enthusiasts to tell us what areas of the state are important to their wildlife-related recreation,” said Loren Chase, human dimensions program manager for Game and Fish. “This is an opportunity for Arizonans to participate in some innovative citizen-science research, so I would encourage anyone who receives a postcard in the mail to take a few minutes to participate.”

That input will be combined and assembled in a geographic information system (GIS), where it will be overlaid with maps of critical habitat, migration routes, land ownership, and other data. The resulting maps will provide important and previously unavailable data to state and federal agencies for the following purposes:

  • Balance other land uses with the needs of fish, wildlife, and sportsmen
  • Identify areas needing stronger conservation efforts, or expansion of hunting and angling opportunities
  • Identify key high-use areas warranting special conservation strategies, because of their value to sportsmen
  • Justify actions and funding requests aimed at conserving highly valued wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing areas
  • Identify areas where public access needs to be maintained or improved

“Access to some of the most valued public hunting and fishing areas in Arizona is at risk because of deteriorating habitat conditions and increased development pressures,” said John Hamill, state field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We are seeking the help of sportsmen and sportswomen to identify lands that are cherished for their hunting and fishing values, where the conservation and restoration of habitat and the enhancement of public access should be a priority.”

The Sportsmen’s Values Mapping Project is a national initiative that was launched in 2007 by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. The project was completed in Montana in 2008 and Wyoming in 2011. Arizona is now front and center, with mapping efforts expected to be finished here, and in Idaho, later this year.

The project has also been endorsed by the Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, an alliance of 22 Arizona sportsmen’s groups, as well as the state chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Trout Unlimited, Arizona Elk Society, and Arizona Antelope Foundation. 

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September 14, 2015

Glassing The Hill: September 14 – 18

Starting Tuesday, the Senate will be in session, and the House begins legislative business on Wednesday.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Congress continues to debate President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, and a scant eight legislative days remain before Congress needs to agree on funding legislation to keep the government from shutting down on October 1.  Controversy involving Planned Parenthood funding continues to delay budget talks and compromise, and neither the House nor the Senate are slated to consider funding legislation this week.  That leaves Congress just three working days in the last week of September to reach a funding agreement.  A short-term continuing resolution seems likely, but the obstacles to such an agreement are still high.  September 30 will also see the expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

On the Floor:

The Senate will continue consideration of the President’s Iran agreement.

Starting Wednesday, the House will consider three bills: Rep. Black’s (R-TN) H.R. 3134 to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for a year; Rep. Smith (R-TX)’s H.R. 758 to provide more oversight over attorneys; and Rep. Franks’ bill regarding abortion laws.

Hearings:

*Energy*

House Natural Resource Committee field hearing on energy production and economic growth in the Gulf

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at 9:00AM located at 400 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana

*Agriculture, Conservation Funding*

House Agriculture Committee hearing on USDA organization and program administration review – Part I & Part II

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at 1:30PM in Longworth 1300

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 at 10:00AM in Longworth 1300

*Public Lands*

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act

Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 10:00AM in Dirksen 366

*EPA Spill*

House Natural Resource Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the EPA’s Animas spill

Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 10:00AM in Rayburn 2154

Kristyn Brady

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September 10, 2015

114 Outdoor businesses in 23 states have one message for Congress about LWCF

Hunting outfitters, fishing guides, taxidermists, publishers, and gear manufacturers from more than 100 outdoor industry businesses in 23 U.S. states have sent a letter to House and Senate leadership asking for the speedy reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is set to expire on September 30. The fund has been instrumental in improving habitat and providing public access for hunting and fishing across America for 50 years.

The letter urges Congress to continue to allow the fund—which is supported by off-shore gas royalties, not taxpayer dollars—to provide quality places for Americans to hunt and fish, thereby helping to grow an outdoor recreation economy that currently provides millions of jobs and drives $646 billion into local communities each year.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Stumpf.

“It is up to those of us who care deeply about these resources, and depend on them for our businesses, to demand that Congress reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” says John LeCoq, founder and CEO of fishing brands Fishpond and Lilypond in Colorado. “The diverse landscape of America personifies our nation, and we have a responsibility to protect and enhance the natural resources from which we draw so much inspiration. Both sides of the aisle should be able to see that the LWCF is a tool that makes economic sense and that fish, wildlife, and future generations will continue to benefit from it.”

Since its inception in 1964, the LWCF has been used to invest over $16 billion in conservation and outdoor recreation, including the establishment of new public fishing areas, new access into landlocked and checkerboarded parcels of public lands, and the acquisition of new public lands for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and the sporting public.

“The success of our company depends on the ability of everyday American sportsmen to be able to find quality places to hunt,” says Ryan Callaghan, marketing manager with First Lite, a hunting clothing manufacturer based out of Ketchum, Idaho. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a success story in funding conservation and access and in providing quality opportunities for sportsmen to hunt on public lands. If you hunt, hike, fish, or birdwatch, you want the LWCF reauthorized as soon as possible.”

“Where conservation so often loses out in the federal budget, it wins big in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, without being a burden on taxpayers,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the group responsible for spearheading the business letter. “Congress has enough to debate before the end of the fiscal year. Reauthorization of this successful program should be a no-brainer.”

LWCF supporters can contact their lawmakers through the TRCP’s action alerts page.

Get the latest news and share the message on social with #LWCF.

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A New Incentive to Keep Hooves on the Ground and Grassland Habitat Intact

Grassland bird populations in America—including northern bobwhite quail, ring-necked pheasants, lesser prairie chickens, upland nesting waterfowl, wild turkeys, and others—are facing a conservation crisis. There simply isn’t enough habitat.

It wasn’t always this way. For much of our history, grassland birds lived in harmony with farmers, ranchers, and foresters, taking advantage of hedgerows and grazing lands. Even before that, birds coexisted with native grazers like bison, which naturally maintained the plains. But over the last several decades, aggressive farm policies, surging land and crop prices, and modern technologies have driven producers to favor planting row crops—or selling their land to developers—rather than leaving their land in grass-based agriculture. As a result, over 70 percent of our nation’s grasslands have been lost. This dramatic shift has raised serious concerns that grassland ecosystems, and the species they support, could be at risk.

Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

That’s why we’re excited to report that the USDA is currently accepting applications for a new, nationwide Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands initiative, which incorporates elements of the old Grasslands Reserve Program, repealed in 2014. The agency is looking for farmers and ranchers who wish to conserve working grasslands, rangelands, and pasturelands, while maintaining the areas as livestock grazing lands. The CRP-Grasslands program will provide rental payments and cost-share assistance to producers as incentive to keep native grasslands intact. And unlike other CRP lands, these enrollments do not require a cropping history.

This is especially good news for livestock producers, who are increasingly concerned about the declining availability of grassland. According to the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, their state lost more than 200,000 beef cows in response to the growth of other industries, like corn and soybeans, in the last 12 years. Since each cow requires and provides economic justification for about eight acres of grassland, that means that in just over a decade 1.6 million acres of South Dakota grasslands stopped supporting beef and are now likely planted with row crops.

Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

Considering the importance of South Dakota’s prairie habitat to pheasant and duck populations, that should sound an alarm among sportsmen: No cows = No grass = No birds!

A recent drop in crop prices and high prices for beef cattle have helped to slow the conversion of grassland to cropland, but farmland economics are complex and the situation could reverse at any time. It’s important that cattle ranchers and conservationists take advantage of programs like CRP-Grasslands that will help keep these native landscapes intact.

Although the incentives aren’t huge (and they vary across the country), CRP-Grasslands may help to level the playing field by allowing landowners two chances to earn revenue on each acre: once through CRP, and again when renting their land for grazing or when cattle go to market. For some—whether on an expansive Dakota ranch or on a few Maryland acres supporting bobwhite quail—this could mean the difference between producing cattle or corn.

There’s also a third potential source of income associated with the new program, and this is where things get exciting for hunters of grassland-based wildlife: Landowners with grassland habitat can often open their properties for recreation, bringing economic benefits to their local communities in the process. Sportsmen, private landowners, and rural economies all win when habitat is improved and sustainable.

Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

This year, CRP is turning 30. It has been one of the most successful soil, water, and wildlife conservation programs in the history of the country, and one of the largest available to private landowners. But CRP is shrinking—currently 24 million acres are enrolled, down from a high of 37 million just a few years ago. CRP works for sportsmen, but it also has to work for farmers and ranchers in order to remain viable. We hope that the CRP-Grasslands initiative will help balance the needs of the farm and rural communities with the needs of fish and wildlife, and provide better opportunities for sportsmen to access private lands in the process.

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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