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January 4, 2016

Glassing The Hill: January 4 – 8

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The House returns to work on Tuesday. The Senate is not in session this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Let’s hold Congress to these New Year’s resolutions. As we reported before the holidays, Congress concluded its business for 2015 with a widely-applauded omnibus funding bill that increased investments in many conservation priorities. Lawmakers did leave some important issues for the second session of the 114th Congress, kicking off this week.

In 2016, we’re anxious to finally see a fix for fire borrowing, forest management reform, and final passage of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, a mark-up for which may occur in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as early as Wednesday, January 13.

Gun control and the latest incendiary push from public lands transfer advocates will also be top-of-mind in Washington and across the country this week.

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Joel Webster

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posted in: General

December 17, 2015

Your Must-Do List for the Off-Season

A big-game hunter should do more than just dream of next fall

Image courtesy of Joel Webster.

If you’re like me, you live for the fall. But now that the meat is cut up, packaged, and stacked high in my freezer, I’ve entered the post-big-game-season lull. My bow, rifle, and other gear have all been cleaned and put away. I’ll likely get out this winter to call in a few ducks and pull some fish through the ice, but my heart is in the mountains, and I’m still daydreaming about high-elevation basins full of bucks and bulls.

But a true big-game hunter should never stop preparing for the hunt. Here’s what I consider to be the key elements of the off-season:

Staying in shape. Climbing ridges and mountainsides is hard work, and it will wear you down if you keep skipping your workout. I like to stay on top of my fitness regimen throughout the year. If I need a break from the gym during the winter and summer months, I get outside and glass for deer and elk. It’s actually a great way to stay motivated—you literally keep your eyes on the prize.

Researching and applying for tags. One of my favorite things to do during the winter and spring is research hunting units and apply for special hunts. I don’t have the best luck when it comes to drawing special tags, but my bonus points are adding up, and I know that I’m bound to draw a coveted bighorn sheep or trophy mule deer tag at some point. This is also time I use to investigate new public hunting areas that have peaked my interest throughout the year. Opening day is no time to make fresh tracks in an area I’ve never researched.

Attending to equipment. From broken bootlaces to torn pants, it seems like something wears out every season. Now is the time to take care of this stuff, and make a few gear upgrades I’ve been dreaming about, so I’m not scrambling the night before a big trip. Many manufacturers and retailers mark down their gear this time of year, too.

Being an advocate. The wildlife we pursue depend on functional habitat, and sportsmen depend on access and opportunity. If we don’t get involved and advocate for these resources, other interest groups might soon be writing the rules. I like to encourage hunters and anglers to get involved at three levels: national, state, and local. At the national level, the TRCP is the best group to keep you posted on major opportunities to get involved and actions that could impact the entire country. We try and make it as easy as possible for sportsmen to engage, and when you do, it is meaningful—lawmakers do listen.

It’s also a good idea to join an organization that focuses its attention on the proceedings in your state’s legislature and fish and game commission. And, especially if you’re a public lands hunter, it is important that you keep an eye on how public lands are managed in your area. You can do this by taking a look at the local BLM field office or national forest website every month or two. Usually that’s where proposed actions are listed under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, log—this could be anything from proposed changes impacting access to discussion of industrial development, and the agencies are required to allow you an opportunity to provide comments. At this level, it is easy for proposed management actions to fly under the radar, and sportsmen wake up to what is happening after all of the decisions have been made.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to the TRCP staff if something requires our attention, or if you have any questions about getting involved. Want to do something today? Visit sportsmensaccess.org and support our public lands. You won’t regret that you did when you down that big buck or bull on public land next fall.

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Wildlife Habitat is About to Get a $3.5-Billion Boost

No matter how you like to spend your time outdoors, Congress just stuffed your stocking

Congress will likely pass a budget bill this week that will make significant investments in conservation and begin to reverse a decades-long decline for funding that impacts fish and wildlife habitat. Whether you hunt public or private lands, and whether you fish freshwater or saltwater, this is good news for hunters and anglers. ‘Tis the season of giving, and there’s something for everybody.

Image courtesy of Eric Petlock.

For Public Land Hunters

Our national public lands, like the Missouri Breaks and Arizona Strip, have been underfunded for decades. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has lost 12 percent of its workforce in the last four years alone. The Forest Service has had to cut 39 percent of its personnel working on land management, timber production, and recreation since 1998.

This budget deal starts to reverse the trend. With funding increases across the board—12 percent for the Forest Service, 10 percent for the BLM, and 5 percent for the Fish and Wildlife Service—our public lands managers finally have the resources they need to protect and improve habitat.

For Private Land Hunters

As part of the omnibus deal, Congress permanently authorized a tax incentive that helps farmers and ranchers place conservation easements on their land. This provision will drive over $3 billion worth of easements to be created in the next ten years, which will translate into at least three million acres of conserved habitat that benefits big game, birds, and water quality.

For Freshwater Anglers

This week’s spending deal is also notable for what it didn’t include. Certain members of Congress, at the behest of developers, were pushing hard for a policy rider to block the Obama Administration’s clean water rule. This rule clarifies that the Clean Water Act does indeed—and always has—apply to 200,000 miles of headwater streams that provide irreplaceable habitat for trout and salmon. And this rule is also meant to combat wetlands loss, so it’s good for ducks, too.

For Saltwater Anglers

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is home to the National Marine Fisheries Service, will receive $325 million for in 2016. That’s a 6 percent boost to improve fisheries data collection and management.

For Everyone Who Loves to Be Outdoors

The spending bill also includes a three-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a hugely successful tool for improving everyone’s access to national, state, and local lands, and boosts its funding next year by $100 million. These are dollars that forest rangers and state fish and game agencies can use to purchase inholdings and easements to create better access for sportsmen, but you’ve probably also seen LWCF dollars put to work in your local parks and state forests.

Sportsmen have always believed that we have a moral responsibility to pass on America’s great outdoors to our kids and grandkids a little better than we found it. Thanks to this bill, we are giving our kids better days afield in the New Year and beyond. 

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

The Top Conservation Stories and #WildlifeWins of 2015

These are the stories that had sportsmen talking and tweeting—some even made us fighting mad—this year

Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

Endangered Species Act protection is not warranted for sage grouse

The greater sage grouse was not listed as an endangered species back in September, thanks to epic collaboration among federal agencies, state land managers, Western businesses, and local volunteers.

Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

Sportsmen flood lawmaker offices with letters opposing the transfer of public lands

After Senators went on record as supportive of public land transfer by passing a non-binding budget resolution in March, it took us all a minute to understand what that would mean—that the sale of our public lands was more possible than ever. Thanks to hunters and anglers across the country, lawmakers are starting to understand that we won’t sit idly by and watch this happen. As of July, sportsmen like you had sent 174,000 letters to their local, state, and federal decision-makers opposing this bad idea—that number is now up to 218,000 letters.

Image courtesy of Louisiana GOHSEP.

Habitat restoration is top priority for $18.7B oil spill settlement

A little more than five years after the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, BP agreed to an $18.7-billion settlement with the five Gulf states and the U.S. government for environmental damages and lost revenues. And anglers know just what to do with all that money.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

Congress is seriously out of touch with sportsmen on clean water

In July, the National Wildlife Federation released a poll showing that 83 percent of hunters and anglers surveyed thought the Clean Water Act should apply to smaller, headwater streams and wetlands that are crucial to fish and wildlife. Congress wanted to ignore public opinion and get in the way of clean water protections.

image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

Ducks, quail, pheasants, and turkeys get a big boost from new Farm Bill initiatives

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in May that an additional 800,000 acres would be eligible for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), with a special focus on duck nesting habitat and wetlands. And in September, the USDA started accepting applications for a new, nationwide CRP Grasslands initiative meant to keep hooves on the ground and grassland habitat intact.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired—then finally had its day in Congress

The conservation fund that has effectively opened up public access to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation on national, state, and local lands for the past 50 years was not reauthorized by Congress before the September 30 deadline. We knew it wasn’t the end, but were relieved to see the LWCF could be re-upped for three years in the end-of-year spending bill being considered by Congress this week.

Kristyn Brady

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Arizona’s Pima County Opposes Transfer of National Public Lands to the State

Board of Supervisors supports sportsmen’s access and local economies over short-term economic gain

Image courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Yesterday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution opposing any effort to transfer national public lands to the state of Arizona or local governments. The vote was held amid efforts by an Arizona State Legislature committee to examine processes to transfer, manage, and dispose of public lands within the state of Arizona.

The resolution recognizes the importance of public lands for:

  • Wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, wildlife-watching, horseback riding, bicycling, and more.
  • Meeting the objectives of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan to maintain a network of interconnected lands where native habitat and natural corridors remain protected.
  • Attracting tourists and employing hundreds of county residents, who contribute in many positive ways to our community and spend their wages at local businesses.

The resolution also recognizes that the state does not have the financial capability to responsibly manage public lands—and sportsmen’s groups agree. “While federal land management certainly isn’t perfect, transferring these public lands to the state is not a viable solution, especially considering that the vast majority of Arizona sportsmen and women depend on public lands for hunting and fishing,” said John Hamill, the Arizona Field Representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Arizona simply doesn’t have the funds to maintain roads and recreation facilities, prevent and fight wildfires, restore damaged wildlife habitat, and enforce laws or prevent abuses. Ultimately, the state would be left with no choice other than to sell these lands, which, once privatized, would be off-limits to hunters and anglers forever.”

“I don’t always agree with federal policies and processes, but the Forest Service and BLM are generally good stewards and work toward conservation that’s good for Arizonans who depend on public lands for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation,” said Supervisor Ray Carroll (R-District 4), who cast his vote on the resolution yesterday. “The state is in a tough financial situation and would probably use or sell these lands to fill critical budget gaps.”

“Pima County appreciates the importance of federal public lands to the citizens of our state,” said Carolyn Campbell, executive director of the Coalition of Sonoran Desert Protection. “In 2012, voters in Pima County and throughout Arizona overwhelmingly rejected the idea of transferring ownership of public lands to the state by a two-to-one margin. The Board recognizes this fact and believes that this latest attempt to circumvent the loud voice of public opinion is a bad idea.”

A growing number of Western counties in states like Wyoming and Colorado have recently taken formal positions to oppose the sale or transfer of national public lands. To learn more about the land transfer movement across the country, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

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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