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posted in: General

May 12, 2016

The Biggest, Burliest Grazer on the Plains is our New National Mammal

The bison joins the bald eagle as an official American icon with an equally inspiring conservation success story

Earlier this week, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law, officially designating the American bison as our national mammal. This species has a special place in American history, especially in the West, and we’re pretty proud of the sportsmen, including our organization’s namesake, who worked to bring the bison back from the brink—without them, we’d be celebrating a different mammal today.

In 1883, Roosevelt traveled from New York to the Badlands of the Dakota Territory for a guided bison hunt, where he expected to find plenty of bulls. Unfortunately, he found that the great bison herds, which once boasted about 40 million animals, had been nearly exterminated from the prairies. Roosevelt endured grueling hunting conditions for two weeks before he finally laid eyes on a 2,000-pound bull grazing alone.

Image courtesy of Andy Dombrowski/Flickr.

TR successfully took down that bison, but the end result for him wasn’t just about the trophy. He became angry at the thought of losing bison from the landscape, and the trip sparked a fresh outlook on conservation as a whole. From then on, he strongly advocated for policies to curb market hunting and conserve big game species and Western habitat.

In 1887, Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club to proactively save big game populations, and in 1894, he encouraged Congress to pass the Lacey Act to make it illegal to kill wild animals in National Parks—at the time, one of the few remaining bison herds lived in Yellowstone National Park, but was being jeopardized by poachers. He also conceived and led the “New York repopulation plan,” a brand-new conservation initiative through which bison were bred in the Bronx Zoo, and then released across the West to repopulate the Great Plains.

As soon as 1911, bison were no longer considered endangered, and this was critical to the rest of the prairie ecosystem. Their grazing habits are essential to keeping shrubs and trees from taking over grassland habitat that is necessary for games species, such as mule deer, pheasants, and waterfowl to survive. If Theodore Roosevelt did not take action to benefit these beasts, and the places where they roam, the nation’s fish and wildlife landscape would have been drastically different today and for generations to come.

One Response to “The Biggest, Burliest Grazer on the Plains is our New National Mammal”

  1. Chuck

    I am only aware of 3 Yellowstone bison killed in 2014 by a poacher, but no others in recent history. Are there more? Because otherwise it would seem hyperbole, exaggeration, or intentional misleading to say that the Yellowstone herd was “jeopardized” by poaching. Using the word “jeopardized” implies that the survival of the entire herd was at risk. Three animals killed out of 4,000 would not, did not, put the herd’s survival at risk.

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Kristyn Brady

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If Lawmakers Want Better Management of Public Lands, They Should Give Planning 2.0 a Big Thumbs-Up Today

Stakeholders call on House subcommittee to support ‘Planning 2.0’ when county commissioners voice their concerns today

Sportsmen, Western landowners, and other public-lands stakeholders are expressing clear support for the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed land-use planning rule, dubbed “Planning 2.0,” as House lawmakers convene an oversight hearing today to discuss county commissioner concerns about this revision to the planning process.

“We appreciate the careful and thoughtful approach BLM used in revising its planning regulations,” says Ed Shepard, president of the Public Lands Foundation, which represents a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience in public land management. “This rulemaking makes clear that the BLM, the public, and others have matured in their approach to planning, based on results achieved on the ground. It will be critical to garnering valuable public input.”

Bruneau River. Image courtesy of BLM.

The effort to update how the agency creates Resource Management Plans (RMPs), which are the basis for every action and approved use of BLM-managed lands, represents the first substantial revision to the land-use planning process since 1983.

“Many Western landowners depend on BLM-managed public lands to make a living,” says Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance. “We believe that the BLM Planning 2.0 proposals are a positive step forward, because they would create more transparency and opportunity for public involvement when decisions are made about the management of our public lands. Enabling earlier and more meaningful participation by stakeholders in assessing resource values and management needs should result in higher quality information, better plans, and better outcomes.”

The proposed rule would also see that the BLM is planning at the landscape level to account for resources that span jurisdictional boundaries, like a mule deer herd that might migrate beyond the borders of a local BLM field office. “The agency should be able to take into account the landscape conditions, not just what they see inside the drawn lines on a map,” says Joel Webster, director of Western lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

According to the oversight hearing memo, some county commissioners are concerned that landscape-level planning will move decision-making out of their communities, reducing their influence over the process. Yet, some commissioners have questioned the agency’s recent move to create additional opportunities for the public to comment, saying that it undermines their special cooperator status.

“If county and federal lawmakers are truly interested in creating better management of our public lands and increased community involvement on land-use decisions, they should be giving Planning 2.0 a big thumbs-up at this hearing,” says Webster. “The proposed revisions would increase public engagement and satisfaction with the use of our public lands, while also giving local, state, and tribal governments more chances to participate in BLM land management decisions.”

The comment period for the proposed BLM planning rule closes on May 25, and the final rule is expected to be published later this year. Many public-lands stakeholder groups are encouraging their members to comment in support of the overarching principles of the proposed rule.

Rob Thornberry

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posted in: General

May 11, 2016

Stoneflies: A Gift to Anglers and a Vigilant Monitor of Water Quality

The hatch that defines a season, drives local spending, and indicates the health of our trout fisheries

I roll over a riverside rock and smile. The stone’s now-exposed belly teems with life. Dozens of stonefly nymphs—at least three varieties—squirm. Some hunker down and twist into a circle to avoid detection. Others crawl for cover, diving back into the cobble and cold, pristine water of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River.

The annual stonefly hatch is near, perhaps only days away. The nymphs have lived in the river for three years, and over the next two weeks they will emerge, molt, mate, lay eggs, and die. Trout will abandon caution and feast, putting on the weight they need for survival. Rainbows, cutthroats, browns, and brookies will shed their varying levels of suspicion and target adult stoneflies. It is a visual experience: Browns and bows savage the fly, cutthroats lazily pick them off, and brookies dart and dash.

Nate Rolston holds a brown trout he caught on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River on a dry stonefly. Image courtesy of Jim Hardy.

It is a simple, enduring life cycle built on the availability of clean water.

Because of the vagaries of temperatures and runoff, the stonefly hatch plays out across two months as Western rivers seemingly take turns showing off their hatch, but the first is always here on the Henry’s Fork in late May. Then, like dominoes, other rivers follow: the Big Hole, the Madison, the South Fork, the Teton, the Gunnison, the Green, the Deschutes, the Yellowstone, and the Middle Fork.

A stout, well-provisioned angler can chase adult stoneflies for two months and not visit the same water twice. (Trust me: I’ve tried, but that is a story for another time.) The trout feeding frenzy brings anglers from around the world to the West in May, June, and early July. It is a semi-crazed, sleep-deprived tribe of fishermen in search of the big fish that single-mindedly hunt for stoneflies.

The hatch is not only a harbinger of summer but also a boon to local businesses, from fly shops to truck stops. Local fishermen complain about the crowds on “their” rivers as business owners cheer. Anglers eat and sleep in restaurants and hotels. Fly shops are full. Guides are booked. Shuttle drivers are flush. An Idaho Department of Fish and Game study claims the Henry’s Fork alone generates $40 million in recreation spending annually. And as long as we take care of the headwaters of our western rivers, it is a self-sustaining resource.

What joins all these rivers together is the cold, clean water that comes from public lands high in the Rockies. Near my Idaho Falls home, it is the flanks of Yellowstone National Park’s Pitchstone Plateau, the spine of the Wyoming Range, and the runoff from central Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Trout especially rely on consistent conditions in these headwaters, as pure as they can be in an environment influenced by man.

Image courtesy of Bob Henricks/Flickr.

Since stonefly nymphs spend three years in water, they are an excellent—and accepted—measure of stream health. They require cool, well-oxygenated water and are susceptible to pollution, making them a low-tech monitor for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s Beneficial Use Reconnaissance Program. They are also used as an indicator species by the Environmental Protection Agency.

So, when I flip the rock again, and re-submerge the writhing pile of stonefly nymphs, I’m reminded that the hatch is our reward for thoughtfully managing our public lands, with an eye to the best-available science, and never backing down when it comes to threats that would compromise the fish and wildlife we treasure.

My friends and I launch our boat, hoping that at least a few bugs and a few fish are getting started early this year, and it is the opening move of a two-month ramble with stoneflies and trout. We journey through some of the best public lands the West has to offer.

Water rushes by as we fish. It is destined for use, agricultural or otherwise. Here and now, the water is a renewable resource and a business driver, the lifeblood of this magical time of year. We need to protect our public lands and waters to keep it that way.

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posted in: General

May 9, 2016

Glassing The Hill: May 9 – 13

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

The Senate and House are back in session after a weeklong recess. Here’s what’s in and what’s out of the bills currently up for debate, with only 50 days left on the legislative calendar.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

IN: Provisions to transfer a popular wildlife refuge. On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee is expected to release new language to address the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s financial problems. The rewritten bill is likely to include a modified provision to transfer the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to Puerto Rico. Transfer of the refuge could mean loss of public access for Puerto Ricans whose government is in disarray and presumably ill-equipped to properly manage the refuge’s habitat. The Committee plans to mark up the bill at the end of the month.

OUT: The mission to muck up sage grouse conservation. The Senate Armed Services Committee and subcommittees will hold a three-day mark-up on their version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which does not include any language that would halt state and federal collaboration on critical habitat conservation plans for the greater sage grouse.

Before the recess, Congresswoman Tsongas (D-Mass.) offered a motion to strike this type of language from the House NDAA, but the motion failed along party lines. The House Armed Services Committee passed the NDAA with a 60-2 vote, and the legislation is expected to be considered on the House floor next week.

OUT: Using wetlands to address water quality. Before the break, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee marked up and passed “The Water Resources Development Act” (WRDA), which would address water resources that are administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The TRCP and its partners are encouraging lawmakers to include language that promotes the use of natural infrastructure, like wetlands, to benefit fish and wildlife while addressing other water resource issues, when the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee marks up their version of WRDA on May 19. That language was not included in the Senate version.

IN, still: A controversial amendment that is keeping Senators from regular order on appropriations. Two weeks ago, “The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” failed to pass on the Senate floor, due to controversy over Senator Cotton’s (R-Ark.) amendment that would block the U.S. Energy Department from purchasing heavy water from Iran. On Monday evening, the Senate will try again to pass the energy and water spending bill with a 60-vote threshold, but it’s unlikely that the Senate will pass the legislation.

Next week, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up the agriculture appropriations bill. The House will begin considering appropriation bills on the floor next week, too. “The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” is anticipated to be considered first, followed by the energy and water development and agriculture spending bills.

Also IN… town to testify: County commissioners concerned with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Planning 2.0 Rule. A House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing will focus on the proposed extension of the public input period and suggestion that 2.0 will lead to a decline in local input on developing land-use plans.

What Else We’re Tracking

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Legislation impacting public lands in California, Oregon, and South Dakota, up for debate in this House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing

The rising costs of natural disasters, to be discussed in a House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management hearing

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. 

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