Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

February 25, 2016

First-Ever National Quail Summit Explores Models for Conservation Success

The tide may be turning for Gentleman Bob and other native species

The 2016 National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic just came to a close in Kansas City, Mo., where more than 20,000 hunters and conservationists convened at the nation’s largest upland event. As always, we were thrilled to participate in the annual Fest, which really does have something for everyone—from hunters and farmers to foodies and dog lovers.

Thorny the Spinone Italiano. Photo by Ariel Wiegard

This year’s event was particularly special, as it hosted the first-ever National Quail Summit, which brought together policymakers, upland biologists, hunters, and landowners to discuss long-term habitat solutions for the restoration of bobwhite quail populations in the U.S.

Here are a few things we learned at the summit:

  • CRP works for quail. The Conservation Reserve Program is absolutely critical to quail population success. “Bobwhite buffers,” the 30- to 120-foot-wide habitat buffers for upland birds and just one of the conservation practices encouraged under CRP, add 30,000 bobwhite quail coveys annually to the landscape. Farmers and landowners love these buffers, which became part of CRP back in 2004, and they got even more buffer options last year when the USDA began allowing farmers to enroll disconnected patches of farmland. This small change has caused enrollment to skyrocket in the last four months, and quail numbers are expected to get a big boost as a result.
  • Sportsmen can’t shoulder the conservation load alone. Here’s one good illustration of the state of the bobwhite and of bobwhite hunters: In Kansas in 1999, there were 117,000 quail hunters who harvested 1.3 million quail. In 2014, there were just 38,000 hunters and 175,000 quail harvested. That is a shocking decline on both counts, and it doesn’t bode well for a conservation model where sportsmen and shooters, by and large, pay for conservation. Less habitat means fewer quail, which means fewer quail hunters and fewer dollars for quail habitat restoration—it’s an endless and destructive cycle for game species. The state of Missouri, where the summit was held, happens to have a different model, which is held up as one of the best conservation funding mechanisms in the nation. Everyone pays for conservation through a 1/8-cent sales tax, adding about $110 million to the state’s conservation budget each year. The result? Everyone benefits.
  • But sportsmen will remain essential. That’s why states like Missouri are investing their conservation dollars in programs like the brand new Missouri Outdoor Recreational Access Program (MRAP). Just like other beneficiaries of the USDA’s Voluntary Public Accessprogram, MRAP pays landowners to allow hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing on private property, and even incentivizes landowners to improve habitat on their lands. Access to hunting land remains the biggest hurdle to hunter recruitment and retention, but by connecting outdoor recreation to private lands conservation, MRAP will help to reverse that destructive cycle we just mentioned: Having more hunters leads to more dollars for conservation, which leads to better habitat and more quail.
  • We need purposeful management on a meaningful scale. Purposeful management—whether for habitat maintenance or habitat restoration—means to provide the specific habitat components that will sustain quail populations at the landscape level. Managing explicitly for adequate amounts of nesting cover, woody cover, and food access is essential. Setting land aside and hoping wildlife will move in is less successful. In many parts of the country, this means reintroducing fire to the landscape through prescribed burning, which helps recreate the native habitat that was once present. (It’s worth noting that land managers get very excited about prescribed fire. Robert Perez from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department joked at the summit that “inside the heart of every wildlife biologist is a pyromaniac dying to get out!”)
  • Conservation doesn’t happen by accident. We make it happen through funding, legislation, and hard work on the land. The only way that we’re going to win the war for conservation—especially to benefit quail, pheasants, and all the critters we love to hunt and fish—is if we form coalitions, work together, and remind people of the famous T.R. line: “There is no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.” If that’s the only message taken to heart by every Pheasant Fest attendee, we’d be pretty happy.

Looking around at the crowd listening intently to these facts and principles made me excited for the bobwhites’ prospects. Surrounded by hundreds of vendors showcasing guns and gear and puppies and delicious food, these individuals took the time to discuss bringing back our native species from the brink. It was easy to walk away feeling like we might just succeed.

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Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

February 24, 2016

Bills Up for House Debate Are an Affront to America’s Public Lands Legacy

House committee takes up legislation that overtly attempts to undermine public lands

On Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on Federal Lands will discuss a handful of bills that promote the idea of transferring America’s public lands to individual states.

Image courtesy of Nicolas Raymond.

Two of these bills, in particular—Rep. Don Young’s H.R. 3650 and Rep. Raul Labrador’s H.R. 2316—are overt attempts to undermine public land ownership. Young’s bill is sweeping in its impact, allowing states to select and acquire millions of acres of national forests to be completely owned and operated by states and managed primarily for timber production. The Labrador bill would transfer management authority for large segments of our national forests to “advisory committees” and exempt these lands from bedrock conservation laws like the Clean Water Act, all while expecting the American taxpayer to continue to fund costs associated with wildfires on these once-public lands.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) has sent subcommittee members a letter signed by 115 national and state-based hunting and fishing organizations urging lawmakers to reject attempts to seize America’s public lands. The group has also collected nearly 25,000 signatures on a petition opposing the seizure of America’s public lands and loss of sportsmen’s access.

“Even preliminary discussion of this legislation undermines the businesses that rely on public lands to keep their doors open, ignores the very real economic contribution that hunters and anglers make in this country, and panders to private interests at the expense of the public benefit,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. The group and its partners have been calling for decision-makers to end this conversation since January 2015.

“We’ve seen this movement flare up and get stamped out this month at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation. In the last year, we’ve seen 37 bills at the state level, 31 of which were defeated. Now, this is the most overt discussion of seizing or selling off public lands to take place on Capitol Hill. At what point will lawmakers see that this is a non-starter with hunters, anglers, and American families who enjoy public access to outdoor recreation?” asks Fosburgh.

The TRCP is urging sportsmen across the country to contact members of the committee. Here’s the easiest way.

To learn more about efforts to transfer, sell off, or privatize public lands, click here.

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February 22, 2016

Glassing The Hill: February 22 – 26

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

After last week’s Presidents Day recess, both the Senate and the House are back in session.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Matters of influence and access are up for debate this week. For the first time since the unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, senators will be in Washington and able to strategize on a way forward. But the clock is ticking—President Obama is expected to send a Supreme Court nomination to the Hill any day. With the loss of a major conservative force, an ideological shift on that bench could have major impacts on all kinds of cases, including those related to conservation and the environment.

Before the recess, there was a flurry of Senate activity around including the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act in a broad energy bill, but that process left lawmakers with more questions than answers. This week, the House looks poised to move forward with their version of the sportsmen’s package, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act. This legislation would improve sportsmen’s access and enhance recreational shooting opportunities. Last Congress, the House passed similar legislation with bipartisan support. Members had to submit amendments to the Rules Committee by 10am today, and the Rules Committee will meet tomorrow (Feb 23) at 5pm. If all goes well, the SHARE Act is expected to be on the floor in the latter half of the week.

Presidential Primary Update: On Tuesday, Nevada will hold its Republican primary caucus. “The Donald” leads the Republican polls there. And on Saturday, South Carolina, where Hillary Clinton has a very wide lead for the Dems, will hold its Democratic primary.

What We’re Tracking

Budget hearings for the Department of the Interior (where Secretary Jewell will testify), Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Agriculture (where NRCS Chief Jason Weller will testify), and NOAA—the agency that manages our fisheries and restores our coasts

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard examines its successes and challenges in a hearing

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Plans for future water resources development will be presented to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment by the Army Corps of Engineers and can be streamed live here

Oversight of the Renewable Fuel Standard—the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will discuss the ongoing effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a hearing

California’s water supply during El Nino could change the outlook for restricted water deliveries. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans will discuss

Sage grouse and new mitigation regulations, as imposed by the Obama administration, will be examined in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Forest management and timber production on public lands, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing

Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

February 18, 2016

POTUS Proposes Payout for Private Lands

You heard from us last week about the final budget proposal of President Obama’s administration, including the fact that this (largely symbolic) financial framework indicates that conservation of natural resources, like the fish and wildlife species important to sportsmen, will be a key priority through the end of this presidency. Now, considering that the US Department of Agriculture administers the largest pot of funding for private lands conservation anywhere in the world, it’s worth going into a little detail on how the president’s budget would give fish and wildlife a boost in farm country.

Image courtesy of Ariel Wiegard.

For 2017 alone, the president is proposing to invest roughly $4.72 billion dollars in landowner conservation projects through just one USDA agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), for which we owe him a hearty “thank you.” This extraordinary amount of support for conservation is made even greater by the fact that this is the first time in his presidency that Obama has not proposed any cuts to the private lands conservation funding established by the Farm Bill.

You may know that every five years or so, Congress passes a Farm Bill, which sets mandatory spending amounts for a whole suite of agriculture programs, including those impacting conservation. In this case, “mandatory” means that certain funding levels are pre-determined, and so do not need to be appropriated by Congress and given to NRCS through annual appropriations bills, as is required for the Forest Service or other agencies. Despite this mandatory designation, Congress and the president have a habit of raiding the Farm Bill conservation accounts to some degree, every single appropriations season, in order to justify paying for other, unrelated programs.

Although the president’s budget proposal for 2017 is non-binding, and Congress will still vigorously debate how much money to appropriate for conservation, Obama has put an offer on the bargaining table that is too good for sportsmen to ignore. By choosing not to cut key Farm Bill programs, he is proposing to restore approximately $540 million in mandatory funding to farm country’s conservation budget. Obama is also proposing a discretionary increase of $9.5 million (total: $860 million) to help NRCS staff guide and support more farmers, ranchers, and foresters who want to put conservation on the land.

That’s something we’d like to see become more than just symbolic.

The president has sent a strong signal to Congress that the voluntary, incentive-based private lands conservation programs run by the USDA are important for rural America, wildlife, water quality, and our sporting traditions. Sportsmen want to see this trend continue, and we hope that Congress sits up and listens.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

February 11, 2016

TRCP Expands Western Operations, Opens Office in Montana

Organization magnifies its reach to advocate on behalf of hunters and anglers

After more than a decade of conservation work and advocacy on behalf of sportsmen in the western U.S., the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has hired several new field staff in the region, and the group is opening a Western office in Missoula, Montana. The new regional headquarters will support the organization’s ongoing efforts to improve fish and wildlife habitat, protect and expand public access to hunting and fishing, and conserve the outdoor resources that power businesses and communities in the Western states.

“This is not only a big deal for the TRCP, it’s a big deal for the future of hunting and fishing across the West,” says Joel Webster, TRCP’s Western lands director. “We now have more capacity to fight for our public lands, fish and wildlife habitat, and sportsmen’s access, so the collective power of hunters and anglers will resonate from our local communities all the way to the halls of Washington, D.C.”

Image courtesy Evan Lovely/Flickr.

The TRCP’s presence in the West has grown significantly over the past few years: Currently, field staff in eight Western states are working collectively with more than 100 sportsmen’s groups, 200 outdoor businesses, and thousands of rank-and-file hunters and anglers to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. The organization recently hired four field representatives in Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming.

Scott Laird joined the TRCP as Montana field representative this month, after working for more than 25 years in natural resource conservation work with the state of New Mexico, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the American Prairie Reserve. Laird, Webster, and a soon-to-be-hired field associate will be based out of the new office in Missoula.

Rob Thornberry joined as the Idaho field representative this month, after three decades of reporting on outdoor issues for the Idaho Falls Post Register. Rob works from Idaho Falls. Coby Tigert, who served as Idaho field representative and a regional field manager in his three years with the organization, has been named deputy director of Western lands.

Nick Dobric became the Wyoming field representative in October 2015, after working as a hunting guide and wildlife biologist. Nick is based in Dubois, Wyo.

Carl Erquiaga, who also joined the organization in October, is the Nevada field representative. He comes to the TRCP after serving on various state wildlife committees and as a director of the Fallon Chapter of Nevada Bighorns Unlimited. Carl works from Fallon, Nev.

Learn more about the TRCP’s work to conserve public lands access, backcountry areas, and wildlife migration corridors.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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Without the efforts of hunters and anglers, whitetails wouldn’t be a part of the modern American landscape. But we can’t stop there. Support our work to represent all sportsmen in Washington.

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