Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

March 15, 2016

Thank a Farmer Today—Here’s Why

A national holiday to recognize and celebrate agriculture producers who do plenty of good for wildlife, fish, and sportsmen

You may not know that each American farmer feeds more than 144 people, while growing fiber for our clothes and fuel for our cars. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack likes to point out that just three million U.S. farmers and ranchers grow freedom for 320 million Americans: Because of their abundance, the rest of us are untethered from the farm, free to pursue our dreams and passions. Earlier this month, Vilsack also said that “we are the greatest nation on earth, for one simple reason…because we have the greatest farmers.”

Image courtesy of USDA.

It’s an overwhelmingly patriotic, positive, and optimistic message—one that’s quite appropriate today on National Ag Day, “a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture.” Today we’d like to take a page from the Secretary’s book and point out some of the amazing reasons that sportsmen should celebrate America’s agricultural producers.

Farmers grow habitat.

Great hunting spots require purposeful management, and no one knows better how to manage the land than those who work it every day. Many farmers control for invasive species, maintain healthy wetlands and streams, and continually strive to improve their soil. Thoughtful ranching can create and sustain incredible grassland habitat. And timber forests, when they are properly harvested, can support wildlife in need of a wide range of cover and food.

Farmers help recover threatened species.

Just last week, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the Louisiana black bear was being removed from the endangered species list, thanks to two decades of hard work by farmers who restored difficult-to-farm cropland back into forested wetlands to create bear habitat. In 2015, we also learned that at least two other species wouldn’t be needing Endangered Species Act protection—the New England cottontail and the greater sage grouse—because of farmers, ranchers, and foresters who understand that for any landscape scale initiative to succeed private landowners need to lead the way.

Image courtesy of Linh Nguyen.

Farmers provide access.

Over two-thirds of America’s land is in private hands. Unless you’re lucky enough to live near a great expanse of public land in the West (and even then), chances are you’ve knocked on your neighbor’s door once or twice to hunt their property. Chances are also good that your neighbor makes at least a partial living off their land. Whether you negotiatied access with a handshake and a six pack, or through a program like North Dakota’s PLOTS or Missouri’s MRAP, agricultural producers are often to thank for our quality days afield.

Farmers are sportsmen.

A 2015 survey of farmers showed that 83 percent of respondents hunt at least once a year. There are certain threats to wildlife and habitat from agriculture, but 87 percent of farmers surveyed agreed with the statement, “As a farmer, it is important to develop wildlife habitat to improve hunting opportunities.” Love of the land means farmers and sportsmen share common ground.

So, in honor of National Ag Day, say “thank you” to a farmer you know. And if that farmer is you, give yourself a pat on the back. We appreciate everything you do.

One Response to “Thank a Farmer Today—Here’s Why”

  1. Bob Scheierl

    It is great that many farmers are apparently doing great things to maintain healthy wetlands and streams. Yet clearly in Minnesota we know that we are losing the battle in protecting water quality in farm country, as evidenced by widespread nitrate contamination and polluted waterways. Apparently not enough farmers are doing the right things. Efforts to address these concerns are being fought heavily by the main organizations that represent farmers. For non-farmers to believe that the farming community at large is doing a good job, farmer’s organizations must work constructively with folks concerned about ag water quality, rather than fighting any significant efforts to improve it. In the end, the real evidence of good land stewardship will be an ongoing and noticeable improvement in water quality in ag country.

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Glassing the Hill: March 14 – 18

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

The Senate is in session this week before a two-week recess for the Easter holiday. The House is back in session and won’t take recess until next Wednesday.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

There are just 80 legislative days until the end of the 114th Congress. Take that in. Kids in D.C. public schools actually have more days before their summer vacation than lawmakers have to figure out how to keep the government funded by the end of fiscal year 2016.

To that end, the House Budget Committee will meet this week to vote on a budget resolution that will cut $30 billion of mandatory spending. Much of that cut will come from Medicaid, but resistance is certain, and even if such a move clears the House, it has no way forward in the Senate. For their part, Senate leaders announced last week that they would honor the broad funding levels agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 as they craft their appropriations bills. Unfortunately, even in the Senate, successful passage of individual appropriations bills (otherwise known as the way things are supposed to be done) is far from being a certainty.

Meanwhile, many of the disagreements that were keeping the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 off the Senate floor over the last several weeks have seemingly been resolved, although a new legislative hold was placed by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who opposes an amendment to expand revenue sharing for oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Late last week, Nelson was sending very public signals that he was unwilling to negotiate–it’s not clear if those sentiments have changed over the weekend. And the clock is ticking on this energy legislation: If the bill does not hit the Senate floor by the end of this week, the start of a two-week Easter recess may close the window on it. Ouch.

What We’re Tracking

Tuesday, March 15, 2015
14 Public lands bills will be marked up by the House Natural Resources Committee over two days. More info here.  

Flint water crisis, to be discussed in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing 

Environmental mitigation, in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing entitled, “Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment

Wednesday March 16, 2016
Water policies and projects, in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Water Resources Development Act

Thursday March 17, 2016
24 National Park-related bills will be discussed in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks hearing

PLUS: Fiscal year 2017 budget requests for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental ManagementNational Park ServiceNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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March 14, 2016

Happy 113th Birthday, National Wildlife Refuge System

Today, we celebrate 113 years of kids holding their first fish, birds finding a safe haven for nesting, boots getting muddy just miles outside the city, and conservation advancing on 560 National Wildlife Refuges across the country.

Cyrus Baird banding Wood Ducks at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida’s Pelican Island as the first wildlife refuge. Having worked at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, and as a frequent visitor to refuges all across the country, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits they offer to hunters, anglers, birdwatchers, trailrunners, and every American who loves to spend time outdoors.

And National Wildlife Refuges undoubtedly play a huge role in conservation in North America. With refuges in every U.S. state, spanning more than 150 million acres in total, the crucial habitat they provide is paramount for fish and wildlife. More than 700 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 1,000 species of fish call these areas home.

While many refuges are key stopover points for migratory birds, it’s not difficult to see why sportsmen flock to them, too. Thousands of hunters and anglers rely on National Wildlife Refuges each year for their hunting and fishing opportunities. In 2011, 46.5 million visitors to wildlife refuges pumped $2.4 billion into surrounding communities, supporting over 35,000 jobs.

Elk at the National Elk Refuge courtesy of Nick Dobric.

Now, more than ever, we should fight to keep refuges funded, maintained, and open to recreation. As most of you are well aware, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, became the focus of controversy earlier this year, when extremists seized refuge facilities and called for the federal government to hand over public lands. Public access was forcibly barred and efforts to manage invasive carp populations were blocked for 41 days. The economic and ecological effects may not be fully apparent for months or years.

The best way to celebrate the National Wildlife Refuge System at a time when public lands are under duress from this type of movement is simply to use and enjoy them—find your local refuge and take advantage of the opportunities provided there!

We’d love to hear about your experiences, too. Post your pics with #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and we’ll share our favorites.

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posted in: General

March 10, 2016

This Well-Worn Turkey Vest Holds Years of Hunting Stories (And My Calls)

Talk about ‘the fabric of our lives’

When we get together as a staff, as we did last month to open the TRCP’s new Western office, discussion inevitably turns to new hunting and fishing gear and gadgets. Between us, we probably have enough inventory for a Bass Pro Shop’s store, and I’m certainly not immune to the appeal of a new camo pattern or unmarked slate call. Still, while a new spring season brings the temptation of new gear, there are a few items in my closet that I’d have trouble replacing.

Image courtesy of Cyrus Baird.

The gloves I’ll use this turkey season are the ones I stole from my dad years ago. He bought them back in the 80s, and they looked less tattered back then. I’ll hunt in the same camo jumpsuit I wore when I was a kid—also my fathers—although I don’t have to roll the legs and sleeves up anymore.

And I still use the first turkey vest I ever bought new, going on 15 years ago. An older Field & Stream model, now sporting faded fabric and some tears, it’s easily one of the most dated pieces in my spring get-up. When I first brought it home, it was two sizes too big for me—now, it’s two sizes too small. Its pockets are coated with the chalk I carry around to tune up my handmade cedar box-calls. The foam pad has seen better days and some of the zippers have stopped working, but I can’t picture setting up on a gobbler without it.

Of course, at the TRCP, we also talk a lot about preserving our hunting and fishing traditions and carrying on the legacy of one of the greatest conservation heroes in our country’s history. You see, it isn’t sentimental to look back, if there are lessons to be learned.

I was wearing my old vest when I killed my first turkey at age 13. It was a beautiful 20-pound tom that I could barely carry over my shoulder, its 11-inch beard swaying by its lolling head. I was also wearing it the time that I foolishly activated the trigger lock on my Remington 870 out in the field—the key was at home—leaving my gun functionally useless as turkeys gobbled at me all morning. (My dad still teases me for that.)

Image courtesy of Cyrus Baird.

It has seen countless spring sunrises in several states. It has been between my back and many a pine tree and creek-bottom hardwood. It has been through pouring rain and oppressive heat. It may be the reason I’m still so bad at math, since I used to skip my first-period class in high school to go hunting. The experiences I’ve had in this vest most likely drove my decision to work in wildlife conservation.

Something about wearing a worn-in article of clothing on a hunt just feels right. As I take in my surrounding with my eyes, my gear is actually soaking up the elements, bringing me closer to the places I love to be outdoors. I’m still a sucker for all the new high-tech fabrics and thoughtful improvements of contemporary gear, but it’s tough to part with my more seasoned apparel, embedded with so many memories.

So, when the last stitch on my old turkey vest looks like it’s about to unravel, I think I’ll just put it away until my own kids are old enough to slide their skinny arms into its oversized and faded frame. When that day comes around, I hope I’ll be able to tell them how today’s sportsmen helped ensure that we could rest our backs on a pine tree and converse with a wiley gobbler.

Until then, turkey season is calling.

Ariel Wiegard

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posted in: General

254 Groups Agree: Don’t Re-Open the Farm Bill

Congress needs to stay committed to funding levels set in 2014, and more sportsmen’s groups than ever before are joining the outcry. 

Yesterday, a broad coalition of 254 organizations—representing hunting and fishing, agriculture, nutrition, conservation, rural development, finance, forestry, energy, trade, local government, labor, equipment manufacturing, and crop insurance—delivered a letter to Congressional leadership urging them to reject calls for cuts to any Farm Bill program in the ongoing discussion of fiscal year 2017 spending bills. This diverse group includes a greater proportion of conservation and sportsmen’s groups than any previous coalition.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

It took Congress over three years of debate and compromise to send the 2014 Farm Bill to President Obama’s desk with bipartisan support. The result of that unprecedented effort was a Farm Bill that consolidated more than 100 programs and is estimated to save as much as $23 billion before 2024.

Many of the Farm Bill’s reforms impact sportsmen. On one hand, we saw the Conservation Reserve Program dramatically reduced from 32 million acres to just 24 million acres. On the other hand, the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program will deliver $1.2 billion through 2018 to projects benefitting clean water, soil health, and wildlife habitat.

Just as for sportsmen, there is some good and some bad in the Farm Bill for every one of the groups that signed the letter, but now is not the time to revisit the merits of the legislation. The conservation, farm, and food stakeholders all agreed to these reforms, so we want to see them preserved through the end of the current Farm Bill—not trimmed or debated again before their time.

Make no bones about it—when the Farm Bill needs to be reauthorized in 2018, all of us, including the TRCP, will fight for improvements to the programs that we care about. But, for now, we agree: Congress should uphold the existing agreement, and not re-open the Farm Bill this year.

You can read the letter here.

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