Joel Webster

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posted in: General

May 18, 2016

Sportsmen, Here’s Your Chance to Help Shape Future Use of BLM Lands

From river breaks to high mesas, and from sage coulees to semi-arid mountain ranges, America’s 245 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands are some of the best places to hunt and fish left on the planet. These lands are “Sportsmen’s Country” and their future management is currently being reevaluated by public land managers.

Image courtesy of Eric Petlock.

If you depend on these BLM public lands for access to hunting and fishing, now is your chance to shape how these lands are managed for the next 20+ years. With many sportsmen in the West dependent on publicly-accessible, highly-functioning BLM public lands—the ones essential for producing quality big game, robust fisheries, and sustainable hunting and fishing opportunities—it’s critical we speak up to ensure our sporting heritage.

The BLM is currently requesting public input on their proposed rules to revise the agency’s national land use planning strategy for these public lands located primarily in the West. Dubbed “Planning 2.0,” the process represents the first substantial revision to the BLM’s land use planning process since 1983. This action will address the land use planning process that shapes landscape-level management through the creation of Resource Management Plans (RMPs). All local areas of BLM land are managed through RMPs, and these plans are the basis for every action and approved use on BLM managed lands. RMPs help to determine how and if fish and wildlife habitat conservation and management will be carried out, and they direct the agency to manage for outdoor recreation.

So how will this benefit sportsmen?

More (and hopefully better) public involvement: Successful land use planning includes early and frequent communication with the public, including sportsmen and women. Under the current BLM planning process, the public submits comments at the scoping period, those comments seem to disappear into the hands of the agency, and years later the BLM comes back with a proposed draft land use plan. The public then submits comments on the draft land use plan and the BLM disappears for another year or more before issuing a proposed final plan. This long timeline with little communication from the agency makes it difficult for the public to remain interested in the process, and the lack of transparency makes people question how and if their comments are being used.

Planning 2.0 is focused on fixing these problems by increasing the transparency of the land use planning process by creating a “plan assessment” process and “preliminary alternatives.” The plan assessment stage would enable the public (as well as agencies and elected officials) to provide information about the planning area before the agency begins considering how the lands should be managed. The preliminary alternative stage would offer draft management alternatives to the public for feedback before the draft land use plan is formally proposed. These additional steps would help to maintain increased public interest in the planning process and help to ensure that the draft RMP more closely meets the expectations of stakeholders.

Image courtesy of Coby Tigert.

Landscape level planning: As hunters and anglers, we know that mule deer and steelhead don’t stop and turnaround at the county line. Neither should land use plans. The BLM planning rules are also proposing to revise RMPs at the landscape level, such as across multiple BLM Field Offices at one time. Right now, land use plans are created along artificial jurisdictional boundaries, often at the Field Office level of the BLM within a particular state. This current system doesn’t account for resources that move beyond the lines on a map. By integrating landscape level planning into BLM management, the agency should be able to better care for fish and wildlife species that migrate and depend on different habitats throughout the year. Numerous fish and wildlife species should benefit from this change.

Managing for modern resource needs: Times have changed since the last time the BLM made significant revisions to its planning regulations. Over the past 33 years, the US population has increased by 85 million people, driving with it an increased thirst for natural resources and an increasing demand for outdoor recreation. Advancements in science and technology have given land managers an improved understanding of how fish and wildlife species use the landscape. As proposed, Planning 2.0 would better enable the BLM to manage for modern challenges and opportunities, by balancing resource development with habitat and recreation, allowing for the conservation of intact habitats and migration corridors, and providing for high-quality dispersed recreation, like hunting and fishing.

Now is your chance to help see these important changes integrated into BLM lands use planning. Take action today to ensure a positive future for fish and wildlife and your sporting heritage on America’s public lands.

6 Responses to “Sportsmen, Here’s Your Chance to Help Shape Future Use of BLM Lands”

  1. Diana Hawkins

    These lands should be left alone. Business interests should keep out of the public lands – they belong to the American people. Do not hunt on public lands: public lands are sanctuaries for our wildlife and the last foothold of the planet. Leave it be for future generations to admire.

  2. Garrett Janes

    I personally think that the BLM should turn down all requests for coal and fossil fuel production and mining on our public lands. These lands were conserved to protect vital habitat for wildlife, not to be torn apart by drilling. Also wildlife migration corridors should if not already be installed to ensure safe travel for wintering wildlife.

  3. shirlwy Hnderson

    these lands should be manageed by the states. the local hunters,ranchers and states know more what is needed than the Federal government. as aan example they shut down oil drilling in Jan is wyo. for shage grouse nesting and no bird in his right mind does anything in Jan in Wyo. Washington should sttay out of these issues.

  4. Dennis Deibert

    Here in Washington state. The blm has gated so many roads that we use to get to areas where we used to hunt mushrooms, and other pursuits. I’m not so sure they are the best ones to manage the land. I believe that they need to take a long look at that policy. The BLM lets logging company’s come in and harvest the timber and than close of the gates. that is not right as it is our land and we should be able to use it. The excuse they use is that people dup garbage and they don’t have the funds to clean it up. Only our government officials can straighten this out, but they to have to many self interest in graft and corruption for themselves to do anything. maybe that is why our election is going in the direction it is. We need to clean house.

  5. Dan B. Smith

    I respectfully disagree with the above comments. BLM lands are and should be managed as multiple use lands. They were not set aside as wildlife habitat but are available to the American people for any number of uses. Mining, timber and grazing are allowable uses and should continue to managed in conjunction with Fish and Wildlife habitat. BUT these uses should be strictly managed to best conserve the lands they occupy. Grazing is especially sensitive in riparian and areas of special concern with high values for certain species. I also disagree with the statement that ranchers and state know best. I’ve seen way too many situations where the states or locals have sacrificed our public lands for short term profits using highly disruptive management. And I don’t trust the States to manage these lands as well as the fed currently do. Not that federal management can’t improve. I would highly recommend a congressional rewrite of the Equal Access to Justice Act to preclude the many lawsuits generated that keep our highly skilled land managers from using their best management practices on our public lands. The EAJA has many unintended consequences that are paralyzing our planning processes on BLM and other public lands. NEPA is also in need of an overhaul so that all our public lands are managed in a similar manner. I fully support the BLM professionals who manage our Dept of Interior lands.

  6. Laur Skelly

    For decades, our ‘public lands’ like our National Forests have been used for intense logging (The Tongass, in SE Alaska); mining, and grazing of livestock in the west, AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE, with negative financial gain for the American Government (us). While BLM land is different than Dept. of Interior Forest or range lands; the concept is similar. Name a mining operation that has NEVER polluted; drilling? I suspect there are none. Lets keep as much of our BLM land as wild and ‘natural’ as we can, yet use it for hunting, fishing, photography, hiking, camping, education and research (such as archeological, paleontological digs); outdoor camps for disabled citizens; possible wind power or solar power generation where feasible if it does NOT impact the natural landscape and wildlife. Would that be possible? Why the question survey? Is there a threat from corporate interests?

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Chris Macaluso

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posted in: General

May 17, 2016

Gulf Snapper Anglers See Red, Experts Look To Improve Angling Opportunity

Constructive solutions the key to improved fisheries management and more certainty for recreational fishermen

Duck hunters in Louisiana have known for a month their season will begin in early November and last for 60 days. For the last 20 years, duck seasons in the Bayou State have consistently started either the first or second weekend in November, ended in late January, with a bag limit of six ducks.

Coastal anglers across Gulf States and beyond who pursue popular sportfish like speckled trout and redfish have year-round seasons and can take advantage of good weather and time off from work to catch a few fish and even take a couple home for dinner – all while maintaining healthy, sustainable stocks.

Image courtesy of Amanda Nalley/Florida Fish and Wildlife.

Consistency and certainty is vital to duck hunters, anglers, and the businesses that support those activities. However, achieving that level of certainty enjoyed in waterfowling, other hunting, and in state-based fisheries management has proven to be very difficult to maintain at the federal level where conservation measures required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act have forced managers to shorten fishing seasons for many popular reef fish such as red snapper and grouper. This problem has been compounded by imprecise data collection methods even despite recovering populations and stock sizes at record levels for many of these species.

In many cases, management approaches for these popular fish were established to allow a maximum amount of commercial harvest while maintaining barely sustainable stocks. Recreational fishing has been forced into the same management structure despite obvious differences in culture and approach to the resource by commercial and recreational fishermen.

The 2014 report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” released by the TRCP and the foremost angling advocacy and conservation organizations in America made six recommendations to improve federal fisheries management for recreational fishing, including “adopting a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management.”

These groups will take that recommendation a step further over the next two months by convening workshops comprised of experts in fisheries management, biology, and policy at the state and federal level as well as recreational fishing advocacy groups and conservation organizations. They will all discuss what works well in fish and game management, where the deficiencies are in achieving certainty in federal management, and how better data collection efforts and alternative approaches to current federal management can be incorporated into laws and policies that govern recreational fishing.

This is not an effort to simply launch attacks on current federal approaches and those responsible for their implementation. It is a cooperative effort by the TRCP, the American Sportfishing Association and other concerned sportfishing and conservation groups to try to constructively address management shortcomings that even NOAA Fisheries officials recognize as well.

Image courtesy of Amanda Nalley/Florida Fish and Wildlife.

The first workshop was held May 17-18 in Tampa, Fla. and facilitated by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Fisheries Management Director Jessica McCawley and Deputy Director Jim Estes. Representatives from NOAA Fisheries gave overviews of current federal management policies and data collection efforts. This was closely examined and compared with state inland and coastal fisheries management approaches and to the cooperative effort by state and federal waterfowl biologists to balance conservation and access to duck and goose hunting. The workshop will also feature efforts by states like Louisiana and Florida to collect more accurate data on angler harvest in federal and state waters.

The second workshop will be in Washington, DC in June and will tackle how the management approaches discussed in the first meeting can be used to improve federal management through policy recommendations and legislative changes. Policy experts from the recreational fishing and conservation community will participate in the discussion alongside congressional staff who are working to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act and advance other fisheries management legislation.

The goal at the end of this process is to have a concise set of recommendations that can help Congress, state and federal fisheries managers, and anglers work together toward common goals of achieving long-term fisheries conservation and sustainability. By doing so in a constructive and collaborative way, we can allow the economy and the culture of recreational fishing to thrive as fish stocks across our coasts continue to grow larger and healthier.

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posted in: General

May 16, 2016

Glassing The Hill: May 16 – 20

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

The Senate and the House are both in session.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

One appropriation bill passed, 11 more to go. Last week the Senate passed a $37.5-billion Energy and Water Appropriations Bill on a 90-8 vote. The TRCP supported passage of this bill because it increased funding for water conservation and did not include harmful language blocking the administration’s Clean Water Rule that clarifies the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.  The House has yet to take up its version of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.

This week the Senate will consider “The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” and combine it with “The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.” The Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up legislation that affects the U.S. Department of Agriculture funding levels.

The House is expected to begin considering appropriation bills this week by starting with the military construction spending bill.

While Congress is making progress processing appropriations bills, many of the appropriations bills likely won’t be signed into law until Congress passes a continuing resolution or an omnibus bill in the lame duck.  It took the Senate three weeks to pass the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. The chamber only has 29 legislative days before the national party conventions and 46 legislative days before the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

The National Defense Authorization Act is no place for attacks on critical conservation programs for sage grouse. The House begins consideration of its version of “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) this week.  The House bill includes language that would block conservation of critical habitat for greater sage grouse. Democrats are expected to offer an amendment to strike the language about sage grouse and two other endangered species provisions related to the lesser prairie chicken and burying beetle.

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed their version of the NDAA last week. This version did not include language regarding the greater sage grouse, but we’re anticipating that it could be offered as an amendment on the Senate floor as early as next week.

What’s the summer forecast look like for Western states?  On Tuesday, two drought bills offered by Senators Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Flake (R-Ariz.) will be debated by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. Sen. Feinstein’s bill would primarily focus on California’s drought and change the state’s water facility operations, while Sen. Flake’s legislation would be directed at the Army Corps of Engineers to update a better forecasting plan for water storage. This will be the first time the Senate will consider comprehensive drought legislation that is directed toward Western states’ concerns.

Hearings and mark-ups:

Tuesday, May 17

Fisheries: Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife hearing on marine debris

Fish: House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Ocean hearing entitled; “The Implications of President Obama’s National Ocean Policy”

Conservation: House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry hearing entitled; “Focus on the Farm Economy: Impacts of Environmental Regulations and Voluntary Conservation Solutions”

Water: House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers chief’s reports

Water: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power hearing on drought legislation

Federal Regulations: House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law hearing on judicial review

Agriculture, FY17 Spending Levels: Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture mark-up on the agriculture spending bill

Wednesday, May 18

Energy: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee mark-up on coal ash, nuclear bills

NOAA, FY17 Spending Levels: House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies mark-up on the Fiscal Year 2017 commerce, justice, and science related spending bill

Public Lands: House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs hearing on legislation about transferring land to an Alaskan tribe

Thursday, May 19

DOI: House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing on the U.S. Department of Interior’s economic development opportunities

Agriculture, FY17 Spending Levels: Senate Appropriations Committee mark-up on the agriculture spending bill

Energy: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to survey the OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program

 

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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.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

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.

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