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March 18, 2016

Critter Madness Highlight Reel: Upset City, Baby!

In round one of our annual tourney, the largemouth bass shut down hopes of a Cinderella sequel for the brook trout

The first round of Critter Madness 2016 has come to a close, with some very intense battles keeping us on the edge of our seat through the very last vote. So how did your favorite critter do? Let’s break it down.

Big Game Region

True to their dominant form in the field, the reigning champion elk cruised past fourth-seed bighorn sheep with ease. Elk are poised to make a run deep into the tournament and likely have what it takes to go all the way. The second match-up in the Big Game Region went to the third-seed whitetails, as the second-seed mule deer fell to their eastern counterparts. While on paper this may seem like an upset, in reality the two are evenly matched.

Round two preview: Arguably the two most sought after big game animals in the country, elk and whitetails face off with an east vs. west storyline. It’s anyone’s game to win—or lose.

Upland/Waterfowl Region

The feather-and-fowl section of your bracket brought out some exciting match-ups: The mallards didn’t have what it takes to fly past the pheasants. Though duck fans are surely disappointed, the mallards will be back next year—you can count on that. Meanwhile, the turkeys strutted their way past the sharptail grouse—no surprise there. Gobblers tend to heat up just in time for this tournament.

Round two preview: Gobblers and ringnecks face off. Experts believe this may be one of the most closely contested match-ups in round two. This rivalry plays out on CRP habitat, where both critters have a huge flock of fans.

Saltwater Region

Chinook salmon easily swam past yellowfin tuna and are eyeing a spot in the final four offshore. The match-up between the blue marlins and tarpons, though, came down the buzzer. With just a few hours left, this game was all tied up, but at the last minute, the marlins barely “nosed” past the tarpons to advance.

Round two preview: Chinook salmon meet the blue marlins, and this match-up could go either way. The marlins proved they have what it takes in a close battle, but will it be enough to swim past the top ranked chinook? It may come down to endurance for these fighters.

Freshwater Region

I’m renaming this region Upset City! These are the moments we love in March, when true underdogs prove that any critter can win on any given day. Just a year after making a historic run to the finals, the top-seed brook trout was taken down by fourth-seed largemouth bass. Experts at Bassmasters were confident in their pick, and it paid off. Elsewhere in Upset City, the third-seed rainbow trout easily swam past second-seed steelheads. The colorful competitor showed they are ready for the next round.

Round two preview: It’s a classic battle between the largemouths and the rainbows. This is the match-up that I’m looking forward to most. Could bass be a tournament one-and-done? Or do the rainbow trout have what it takes to slow their momentum? Only time will tell which fins will advance to the Final Four.

Get in on the action and vote daily for your favorite critters. You could win gear from Abu Garcia, YETI Coolers, and Mossberg Gun Co.

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Kristyn Brady

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March 17, 2016

Colorado County Opposes Transfer of America’s Public Lands to the State

This is the ninth Colorado county to pass a resolution opposing public land transfers that would block sportsmen’s access

Image courtesy of Jasen Miller/Flickr.

Today, the Board of Park County Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the effort to transfer or sell national public lands to the state of Colorado or local governments. This decision supports every American’s ability to hunt, fish, and recreate on public lands and underscores the conservation legacy of leaders like Theodore Roosevelt, who helped create a public lands system that is the envy of the world.

The county’s resolution recognizes the importance of public lands for:

  • Providing fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation—including hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife-watching, horseback riding, and bicycling—that is essential to residents’ quality of life.
  • Attracting outdoor recreation tourism that drives local spending and employs hundreds of county residents.
  • Preserving historically significant and irreplaceable cultural sites and landscapes.

“Park County is cherished for its top-notch fisheries, beautiful open landscape, and exceptional wildlife habitat,” says Nick Payne, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Colorado field representative. “There’s no doubt that the county is doing the right thing for its residents, and all Americans, by supporting one of our nation’s greatest treasures—our public lands.”

The resolution is only the most recent indication of the Park County Commissioners’ dedication to public lands and real land management solutions. Park County has also been at the table with a wide range of stakeholder groups involved in developing a master leasing plan that ensures the Bureau of Land Management develops oil and gas resources responsibly.

“This resolution highlights the immeasurable value of these lands to the county—the same value that has driven a real spirit of collaboration around the master leasing plan process,” says Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “We’re pleased to see the BLM initiate the next step in that process this summer and have this serve as a model for others to adapt.”

Image courtesy of Brian Gautreau/Flickr.

Currently, Park County joins seven other Colorado counties that have formally opposed the seizure of BLM and National Forest lands, but three counties have made moves in favor of the idea. In the Four Corners region, the Montezuma County Board of Commissioners has been outspoken in their support for land transfer and even made a $1,000 donation—on behalf of county taxpayers—to the American Lands Council, an organization dedicated to the disposal of America’s public lands, in 2015.

Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and 12 other hunting and fishing organizations and businesses sent a letter to Montezuma County Commissioners asking them to reverse their position on the idea of national public land transfer, which threatens the future of sportmen’s access in Colorado and across the country.

“My business in Cortez provides outdoor gear for outdoor enthusiasts who rely on public lands,” says Heather Mobley, co-owner of Colorado Love Outdoors, one of the businesses behind the letter. “It makes me cringe to think that taxpayer dollars have been spent on the effort to dismantle those lands and opportunities—they are critical to my business and our local way of life.”

“Most mule deer hunters rely on public lands, but beyond that, this bad idea threatens the habitat that is critical to mule deer populations already declining across the West—the state doesn’t have the resources to manage these areas or protect them from wildfire,” says Scott Hampel, director of Colorado operations with the Muley Fanatic Foundation. “Opportunities for the average hunter will be diminished if the habitat suffers and access is eventually sold off or privatized.”

A growing number of Western counties in states like Wyoming and Arizona have recently taken formal positions to oppose the sale or seizure of America’s public lands. To learn more or take action, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

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.

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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.

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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