Steve Kline

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posted in: General

May 5, 2016

A Brief History of the Tenuous Connection Between One Game Bird and Military Readiness

Must-pass legislation that funds our military is no place for attacks on critical conservation plans

Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

One doesn’t often think of the United States military and the greater sage grouse in the same breath. But for a small number of politicians in Washington, linking the bird with the armed services has become a tactic for undoing solid conservation on millions of acres of national public lands, while attempting to erase the first few chapters of a great conservation success story.

Because of a whole slew of factors—habitat fragmentation, invasive species, wildfire, and energy development, just to name a few—populations of greater sage grouse, a bird once widely hunted during long seasons with liberal bag limits, have been on a worrisome path of decline. Indeed, things for the bird were looking dire enough that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) considered listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act—a decision that would have had significant implications across the West.

But facing a listing decision led the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to revise dozens of land-use plans across the 11-state range of the grouse and prioritize the durable conservation of sage-grouse core habitat. At the same time, many of the states across the range crafted their own plans for non-federal portions of the bird’s habitat, and the Department of Agriculture prioritized funding for ranch and rangeland conservation efforts on private land. This mix of coordinated efforts proved robust enough that in September of 2015, the FWS decided that the bird did not warrant a listing.

Make no mistake, the conservation of core habitat included in the federal plans was the sine qua non of the agency’s unwarranted decision. Some lawmakers in Congress have bristled at the tough conservation initiatives that are required to keep the bird off the list, but they ensure that the bird continues to be managed by the states. So, in the summer of 2015, before the unwarranted decision had been made, several of those lawmakers made the case for including language in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have given the states nearly unfettered veto authority over sage-grouse conservation plans on national public lands, while freezing the bird’s conservation status for a decade.

If this mashup of national defense and birds on the lek still has you scratching your head, consider this: The NDAA is pretty important, given that it keeps our military funded and functioning, and Congress has passed this bill every year for as long as anyone cares to remember—it’s as close to ‘must-pass’ as we have these days in Washington. So, the sponsors of this short-sighted effort made the tenuous claim that a listing of the bird would have dire impacts on military readiness, and they got it included in the House version of the NDAA in 2015. Thanks to a lot of common sense and distaste for including something so beyond the pale, the Senate did not include similar language in their own version of the bill, and the NDAA ultimately signed by the President did not include the offending language either.

Conservation groups quietly celebrated a victory that few Americans really heard about.

Image courtesy of Jeannie Stafford/USFWS.

But bad ideas are pretty hard to kill in Washington, and this one’s no exception. Despite the fact that the bird was not warranted for listing, some in Congress are obsessed with undoing what might be the greatest achievement in Western public lands conservation in a generation. And we are gearing up for another run at keeping this bad language out of the NDAA.

The TRCP and many of our partners have already started the process of letting our lawmakers know that the best thing they can do for sage grouse is pretty easy: Simply see that adequate funding goes toward implementation of federal plans, that necessary resources go to the states, and that private lands conservation continues.

If implemented, these plans would be a windfall for the habitat of species like mule deer and pronghorns, not to mention a boon to sportsmen. And the plans keep the responsibility for the management of sage grouse in state hands. Undoing those conservation plans might be the best way to ensure a listing—bad news for just about everyone.

Be the first to know about sage grouse and the NDAA. 

2 Responses to “A Brief History of the Tenuous Connection Between One Game Bird and Military Readiness”

  1. john w. deter

    I have had the pleasure of hunting these wonderful creatures for the past 20 years. It is getting rarer and rarer to see them in the wild places where they used to be. The encroachment of man and machine continues in their home range. Predators from above and below, fracking, roads, broken land tracks, oil towers for avian attacks. Nature and man have been very unkind to this ORIGINAL NATIVE AMERICAN. They need to be preserved and I know that MR> ROOSEVELT would agree with me. Please help!!

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posted in: General

May 4, 2016

Pounding the Pavement to Safeguard Days on the Water and in the Woods

Our government relations associate describes the outdoor experiences and family traditions that drive her to work for better conservation policy in our nation’s capital

Image courtesy of Julia Galliher.

When it comes to skill in the outdoors, I didn’t have the most auspicious beginnings. In fact, on my first family fishing trip at the age of five, I ended up hooking my mom—not dinner. Fortunately, I’ve learned to watch my backcast, and I’ve grown from a girl with a Goofy rod and reel into a person who feels passionately about advocating for legislation that improves sportsmen’s access and benefits the fish and wildlife habitat we rely on. That’s why I’m here in Washington, D.C., working with my colleagues at the TRCP to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.

In this town, I think it’s easy to get caught up in what we have on our to-do lists, and lose sight of why we’re doing it. To remind myself, I recently gave my dad a call. Since 2006, he has been involved with the Red-tail Land Conservancy, a not-for-profit land trust in Muncie, Indiana, that has conserved over 2,600 acres of private land. He’s also the person who taught me everything I know about the outdoors.

Image courtesy of Julia Galliher.

At 15 years old, I recall being aware of his participation in restoration projects and other volunteer work to further conservation, but until now I’d never asked him why he felt so compelled to give back. Like so many sportsmen and women, Dad credits our country’s fish and wildlife habitat for the best experiences of his childhood. His father—my Gramps—and grandfather took him fishing on the West Coast of Florida and many of the rivers and lakes in Indiana. Gramps taught him firearm safety and set him up with a BB gun and targets made from hanging acorns and fat flower blossoms. Dad grew up training his English setter, competing in field trials, hunting upland birds, and fishing whenever and wherever he could.

He jokes that he started taking us kids out so he’d have an excuse to take time off work or get out of household chores, but of course he wanted us to have these memories of family time in the outdoors, too. And I have many. Before hanging up, we chatted about our deep-sea and back-bay fishing trips in Florida, the walleyes and northern pike we caught in Manitoba, and our hunting expeditions for wild quail in Illinois.

All that time, Dad was showing me how to be a good sportswoman and steward of these resources, too.   Our most unforgettable stories aren’t about the biggest fish or the trophy-size bucks—they’re about connection and tradition. So, while there are times that I feel helpless and frustrated with Congress, whether for lawmakers’ actions or inactions on conservation priorities, I’m armed with the understanding that quality places to hunt and fish are worth fighting for.

Image courtesy of Julia Galliher.

What was important to Gramps and my dad is now what drives me to do this important work of advocating for habitat and access. So, the next time I’m headed into a meeting with a Congressional staffer, or rushing across town to attend an event hosted by one of our conservation partners, I’ll be thinking about my family, our cabin, Muncie’s White River and, yes, even Mom’s shriek as I tried to reel her in on that first cast.

If you’re hooked on the thrill of the outdoors, we want to hear from you. Who first taught you that being a hunter or angler means taking responsibility for our fish and wildlife? What do you want our lawmakers to know about the value of the outdoors

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May 3, 2016

Bringing back Lees Ferry

Back in the 1970s, the 15-mile stretch below Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River known as Lees Ferry was renowned as one of the finest tailwater fisheries in the world. Anglers flocked there to catch monster rainbows fattened on Gammarus scuds to the 10- to 20-pound range amid cold, clear river flows and spectacular desert canyon scenery.

The fishery has experienced ups and downs over the years. Today, the Lees Ferry trout fishery, while still good, is a shadow of its former self. Arizona Trout Unlimited and other partners would like to bring the fishery back to some semblance of its glory days.

Image courtesy of John Hamill.

Joe Miller of TU’s Arizona Council says managing flows from Glen Canyon dam is a key. “The Lees Ferry fishery has so much more potential than we’re realizing now,” he told me, “But we need to fine-tune the dam releases to find more sustainable and optimal conditions for the trout.”

The massive dam, completed in 1964, helped create a recreational coldwater fishery in a desert environment. But managing those flows over the years has proved tricky. Water releases and temperatures impact everything from the survival of juvenile trout to aquatic bug and food production.

In recent years, dam operations have led to a decline in bug life on the river and water conditions that fall short of a quality trout fishery. Gammarus scuds are greatly reduced, and main food base is now only midges and very small black flies. Several of the most common bug orders found in every other quality tailwater fishery in the West—mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies—are totally absent from the Lees Ferry trout buffet.

Moreover, frequent High Flow Events (HFE’s) in the fall may be adversely impacting the rainbow trout fishery and the aquatic food base.

For the last 5 years, the Bureau of Reclamation, the dam operators, and the National Park Service have been developing the Glen Canyon Dam Long Term Experimental and Management Plan EIS (LTEMPEIS), which will determine how the Glen Canyon Dam operates for the next 20 years.

It’s a prime opportunity for anglers to have a direct say in how fishery is managed—but public comments for the EIS are due by May 9.

Some of the key LTEMPEIS recommendations from TU and other groups include:

  • recognize the Lees Ferry rainbow trout fishery as a priority resource “value” to be enhanced by dam operations.
  • test the use of sustained low and steady flows to increase the production and diversity of the aquatic insects in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam.
  • modify the HFE protocol to shift more high flows from the fall to the spring to benefit a variety of resources besides sediment/sandbars, including aquatic food base and the rainbow trout fishery.  HFE’s should only be conducted in the spring if/when the condition of trout or the aquatic food base in Lees Ferry is poor.
  • reintroduce historic mayfly, caddis and stonefly species in the Lees Ferry reach.
Image courtesy of John Hamill.

These and other science-based recommendations (read the full report here) are supported by a wide range of conservation organizations and outfitters and guides, including Trout Unlimited and its Arizona Council and chapters, International Federation of Fly Fishers, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Arizona Fly Casters, Desert Fly Casters, Orvis Company, Lees Ferry Anglers, Marble Canyon Outfitters and many more.  The Arizona Department of Fish and Game has issued a formal Lees Ferry Fisheries Management Plan based on those recommendations.

It’s time to get Lees Ferry back on track – go to the National Park Service LTEMPEIS website and express your support for trout-friendly dam operations and aquatic habitat restoration at Lees Ferry.

And please comment before May 9, 2016!

If we miss this opportunity, it could be decades before we get another shot at restoring Lees Ferry to its glory days.

Randy Scholfield is Trout Unlimited’s communications director for the Southwest region.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

April 28, 2016

Toasting to conservation: Three champions for the sportsmen’s community recognized at our annual gala

Conservation philanthropist Louis Bacon, Sen. Martin Heinrich, and Sen. James Risch recognized at eighth annual awards dinner

At its eighth annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner last night, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated three honorees building a legacy of support for fish and wildlife on Capitol Hill and across the country: Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), and conservation philanthropist Louis Bacon.

Image courtesy of Kristyn Brady.

The gala event, held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., brought together policy-makers, conservation advocates, and outdoor industry leaders.

Bacon received TRCP’s 2016 Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award after more than two decades of supporting efforts to conserve threatened habitat, protect open spaces, and safeguard clean water through The Moore Charitable Foundation, which he founded in 1992.

In his opening statement last night, TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh extolled Bacon’s remarkable work with former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create the 170,000-acre centerpiece of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, the nation’s 558th unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the efforts of all the honorees to embody Roosevelt’s words: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”

“Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy is one of great environmental success, but conservation success today requires as much, or more commitment than in Roosevelt’s time when tens of millions of acres of natural wildlife habitat could be set aside with the stroke of a pen,” said Bacon. “Conservation success today is also about tackling the issue of environmental justice. We must guarantee that all citizens have access to clean water and clean air as well as access to the outdoors that we all love.” 

Sen. Heinrich and Sen. Risch were presented with the 2016 James D. Range Conservation Award—named for TRCP’s co-founder, a conservation visionary, and presented to one Democrat and one Republican each year—for their dedication to protecting what sportsmen value in Congress.

As he accepted his award from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Heinrich lauded the overwhelming bipartisanship of last week’s Senate vote to pass sweeping energy modernization legislation including big conservation benefits for fish and wildlife. “Marble halls and concrete are certainly not my natural habitat, but I’m motivated to be here and ensure that the outdoor experiences I’ve enjoyed all my life are possible long after I’m gone,” said Heinrich.

In his time as senator, Risch has co-sponsored legislation designed to reauthorize key conservation programs and put an end to fire borrowing, and as governor of Idaho, he was instrumental in creating the state’s roadless rule—a fact highlighted by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a 2013 honoree who presented Risch with his award. “We can accomplish conservation in America if we all come to the table and enter the collaborative process with a spirit of goodwill,” said Risch.

Learn more about the TRCP’s Capitol Conservation Awards.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

April 27, 2016

Barbecue, Beer, and Sportsmen: Celebrating Conservation with Secretary Jewell

Jewell discussed the power of hunter and angler voices in Washington and her dedication to public lands access and sage-grouse restoration at annual barbecue on the Potomac

Last night, at a celebration of her final year in office, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell thanked American sportsmen and women who speak up for conservation funding, habitat management, and the protection of public lands access. The event was hosted by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership at the Potomac Boat Club.

Image courtesy of Kristyn Brady.

After chatting over barbecue and beer with conservation community leaders from across the country, Jewell addressed the crowd and was candid about her remaining goals related to conservation, hunting, fishing, habitat restoration, public lands, and youth and minority engagement.

“We’re going to keep our good momentum going,” said Jewell, who highlighted the landscape-scale conservation effort on behalf of sage grouse and the need to look to the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. “Every day is a tricky balance between the here and now—non-renewable resources, fish and wildlife habitat, the livelihoods and heritage of the tribes and ranchers—and what we leave to future generations. People expect us to be in the forever business.”

Jewell also had advice for conservation advocates: “Never stop talking about how much sportsmen and women contribute to the economy. You represent a constituency that is Republican, Democrat, Independent, hunting, fishing, Latino, Caucasian, new generations waiting to get outside, and people like me, who grew up in the outdoors. All these people can help to make progress on the things we care about,” she said.

“We have a great conservation ally in Secretary Jewell, who understands the clout of the outdoor recreation industry and the restorative power of spending time on our nation’s public lands—in solitude or with family and friends,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “Throughout her term, she has been a champion for many of the things sportsmen stand for, including making better investments in conservation, improving fish and wildlife habitat, balancing multiple uses of America’s public lands, and securing access for all. We’re anxious to work with her this year and see these priorities through.”

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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