Colorado Has a Plan: Scale Back on Water Use and Protect Rivers and Streams
The plan sets a precedent for improving resiliency to drought and disaster without sacrificing fish and wildlife resources
On Thursday, the final version of a statewide plan for water conservation, the first of its kind in the Centennial State, was revealed at a Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting. The Colorado water plan is the result of a comprehensive two-year process to set statewide targets for cities and towns to meet in conserving precious water resources and ensuring the health of rivers and streams. The plan also includes proposed annual funding for river restoration projects and makes some assurances that new, costly, and controversial trans-mountain diversions will be avoided.
“The final Colorado water plan is a milestone in the long-term effort to protect water resources, fish and wildlife habitat, and the needs of agricultural producers and Front Range communities,” says Jimmy Hague, director of the Center for Water Resources at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). “Hunters and anglers who submitted public feedback over the past year, during which 30,000 comments were considered, should be especially proud of their impacts on the planning process. It is clear that Colorado residents value the water resources that allow us to fish, kayak, and pursue healthy deer and elk.”
Earlier this year, the TRCP was joined by the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance, Colorado Wildlife Federation, Colorado Trout Unlimited, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers in calling for a plan that prioritizes healthy rivers and streams and discourages large new trans-mountain diversion projects. These five groups sent a letter to Gov. Hickenlooper and Colorado Water Conservation Board leadership in April 2015.
“Of course, it does no good if these precedent-setting goals are simply filed away—sportsmen must remain engaged in implementing the plan, as it was intended, and get support from Colorado lawmakers to make it a success,” says Hague.
The Crown Jewels of Sportsmen’s Country Are Mule Deer, Elk, and Trout
From river breaks to high mesas, and from sage coulees to semi-arid mountain ranges, America’s 245 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands are some of the best places to hunt and fish remaining on the planet. Sportsmen and women in the West depend on publicly-accessible, healthy BLM lands to produce quality big game, robust fisheries, and sustainable opportunities for recreation.
The Idaho High Divide is possibly the most unique and important public landscape in North America. This awe-inspiring terrain in eastern Idaho provides connectivity for species dependent on large landscapes and critical habitat for fish and wildlife species that are valued by sportsmen. Opportunity is incredibly diverse here: Hunters can pursue deer, elk, black bears, mountain lions, pronghorns, moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, while anglers can land grayling in high-mountain lakes and cutthroat trout, steelhead, Chinook salmon, and sturgeon in the mighty Salmon River.
Oregon’s Beulah Wildlife Management Unit contains Westfall and Beulah buttes in Eastern Oregon, and hunters and anglers come from all over to experience the high-quality hunting and solitude here. Of course, year-round Beulah WMU is an Oregonian’s playground. During 2010’s mule deer season, rifle hunters enjoyed a 53-percent success rate, harvesting 1,348 deer, but these are popular hunting grounds for archery hunters in pursuit of elk, as well.
Then, of course, in the heart of Oregon lies the mighty Deschutes River. This major tributary of the Columbia River on the east side of the Cascade Range wanders north through basalt cliff canyons and offers world-class trout fishing for anyone who chooses to reach the river canyon through public land.
New Mexico’s Otero Mesa provides excellent habitat and hunting opportunities for mule deer, Barbary sheep, bighorn sheep, and the state’s only remaining native pronghorn antelope herds. A large portion—about 1.2 million acres of public land—is managed by the BLM, and a resource management plan (RMP) is currently in development for the area. Now is the time to speak up for this complex ecosystem featuring many native plants and more than 1,000 other species of wildlife.
Northwest Colorado is home to the largest elk herd in North America and elk hunting is a huge part of the state’s identity. Even with a booming population and trophy bulls being harvested year after year, demand is so high for public lands elk hunts in this part of the state that it can take up to 20 years to draw a license.
Not too far away, the Piceance Basin ‘mule deer factory,’ the second-largest mule deer herd in North America, has been in decline in recent years, due to development pressures and more roads weaving through the core of the population’s range. Sportsmen continue to cherish the large bucks being produced in this area and are intimately involved in decisions being made about mule deer habitat to help ensure that this herd remains healthy for generations to come.
The Arkansas River valley remains a crucial area for fish and wildlife and a haven for sportsmen in central Colorado, providing opportunities for bird and big game hunting and world-class wild trout fishing. Even more prized by sportsmen in this valley are its Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Each year, a few luck hunters have the opportunity to pursue them in a mostly-intact and undeveloped backcountry setting—factors that are known to produce the hunt of a lifetime.
Thousands of sportsmen flock to South Park every year from the Front Range and around the country to fish the gold-medal waters of the South Platte River drainage. Great fishing access on several of these streams and rivers would not be possible without the surrounding federal public lands, state lands, and cooperation between private landholders and various land management agencies. The stretch of the South Platte known as the Dream Stream is well-known by flyfisherman across the country for consistently producing large brown and rainbow trout.
Want to contact your lawmakers and stand up for your favorite public lands? You can do it in just a few clicks—starting with this one.
Sportsmen’s Act Moves One Step Closer to Senate Floor – and to Improving Your Access
The bipartisan package of bills would prioritize recreation on federal lands and reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund
Today the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance S.556, “The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015,” which would protect and enhance public access for hunting, fishing, and target-shooting on federal lands. The legislative package would require federal land managers to consider how management plans affect opportunities to engage in hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting and that the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service keep lands open to these activities. The bill also includes reauthorization of two key conservation programs.
“Lack of access is one of the major barriers to sustaining our uniquely American heritage of hunting and fishing—one that powers local economies and provides local jobs,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, who testified before the committee in support of the Sportsmen’s Act back in March. “We’re eager to see this legislation move forward and empower our federal land managers to make these assurances for the next generation of sportsmen and women.”
The Act mandates that, barring an emergency, publicly accessible hunting, fishing, and shooting areas cannot be closed without consultation of state fish and wildlife agencies or public notice. “For recreational fishermen, guides, and outfitters who drive spending in their local communities, the weather and water conditions can be unpredictable—but access to public waterways and boat ramps shouldn’t be,” says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. Other provisions would allow the vehicular transport of safely secured bows and crossbows within federal parks and promote the use of volunteer hunters for wildlife management.
First introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Martin Heinrich in February 2015, the legislation also deals with reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act.
“It is just as important to uphold the public’s ability to access key lands and waters as it is to conserve them, so we thank Committee Chair Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell for including compromise language for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, one of our nation’s most popular and successful conservation programs, in the bill,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 is a path forward for funding conservation programs that enhance fish and wildlife habitat and secure public access for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. We appreciate the committee’s commitment to advancing their portion of this important legislation.”
Hunting, fishing, and conservation groups are calling for both chambers to make floor time for a comprehensive sportsmen’s package as soon as possible, and certainly before the end of the 114th Congress.
Meet our next #PublicLandsProud contest judge: Bryan Huskey
Bryan Huskey is a photographer and filmmaker in Boise, Idaho inspired by the mountains, rivers, and skies of the Northwest. His photography often features intimate macro and fine details of trout and steelhead along with paused moments during the pursuit of fresh sign and lofting bugles in the high country. His fly fishing, archery elk and big game hunting films have been favorites of the Fly Fishing Film Tour, Full Draw Film Tour, and Hunting Film Tour. Recent works have turned to habitat conservation and stream restoration projects in Idaho. Bryan is also the originator of the popular “Keep ’em wet” hashtag/slogan, and founder of Keepemwet Fishing.
From now through November 23, Huskey is guest judging your best big-game photos for this round of the #PublicLandsProud photo contest. He’s looking for a winning photo that calls the viewer into the moment, so make sure your big-game moments beckon!
TRCP: So, Bryan, how do you like to spend your time outside?
Huskey: I enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities that are very important to me. From fly fishing trout and steelhead to archery hunting elk, adventure motorcycling and racing to mountain biking and trail running, throughout the entire year these activities overlap and keep me busy.
TRCP: What makes a great photo of day spent afield chasing big game? What will you be looking for in winning photo?
Huskey: Any number of things make for great photos, and great images don’t need to come from great cameras. Images that capture any form of emotional expression or mood are my favorite. That may or may not include a person in the shot. Sometimes landscape photos can possess this quality, a calling to the viewer, an invitation to imagine what it would be like to be standing in the photographers shoes in that moment. Where would our next step take us if we were in those shoes? What would we expect to see if we looked to the left or right? What’s about to happen next? I like moments like these that engage us to crawl into that moment, escape the computer screen we’re looking at now, and be there in that place!
TRCP: What makes you #PublicLandsProud?
Huskey: With each passing year I become more aware of just how important public lands are. They really do shape the lifestyles so many of us enjoy. Intact swaths of public land shape communities, both short- and long-term with the kinds of jobs they support and the culture of how those lands are managed. I’m #publiclandsproud every time I’m out enjoying areas that exist because of the wisdom, foresight, and hard work by individuals and groups in the past who have established the very conditions for quality public land. Priceless resources for the entire public to keep and call their own.
Show usyour #PublicLandsProud momentand you could be featured on our blog andwin a new pair of Costa sunglasses and a copy of Steven Rinella’s new book, The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate and House are both in session this week.
More money, more… well, you know the rest. Last week, the Senate passed the first of twelve appropriations bills, the Military Construction and Veterans Affair Appropriation. This is the first step towards the creation of a Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus appropriations package from Senate and House leaders before the December 11 shutdown deadline, but spending priorities are only half the battle. Controversial riders, including those that could undermine the Clean Water Act, Clean Power Plan, and the Endangered Species Act, could threaten the path forward for a funding bill.
Now is the time to tell your lawmakers what is important to sportsmen, including clean water, conservation funding programs, healthy fish and wildlife habitat, and access to public lands. That’s why the TRCP and 27 partners sent this letter to House and Senate appropriators today.
A Senate panel will vote Thursday on the “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015,” which would improve access for hunting, fishing, and shooting on federal public lands. The legislation is considered popular. Dozens of other public-land and water bills are also on the docket for that hearing.
And keep your eye on the Highway Trust Fund—its short-term extension expires Friday and conferees from both chambers met today to begin negotiating the long-term packages each has passed. A conference agreement could come up this week, but the House is planning on passing another short extension, in case the conference doesn’t wrap up in time, especially with adjournment for the Thanksgiving holiday approaching.