Kevin Farron

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posted in: General

June 2, 2016

Filling Social Feeds With the Adventure, Freedom, and Possibility of Public Lands

Our new Western field associate explains why he’s #PublicLandsProud as we kick off our summer photo contest

As the TRCP’s newest staffer, I’ve been getting to know my colleagues and fielding a lot of questions about what I like to do outside, especially on public lands. It’s not an easy answer, because it all depends on the season.

Right now, the trout fishing is really picking up and I might spend the weekend backpacking, often without seeing another soul. But ask me in autumn and I’ll talk about hunting on public lands, and what it means to me to harvest my own food. I like to snowshoe to remote Forest Service cabins during the winter, and search for mule deer antlers shed on national forest or BLM lands in the springtime. By May, when morel mushrooms start popping up, I’m scouring areas that were recently burned (but good luck getting anything more specific on that from me!)

Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

None of these activities would be possible without our public lands, which, to me, are all about possibility, freedom, and adventure. Like Theodore Roosevelt, I was born and raised in the eastern half of our country, then ventured out West later in life. With this transition came an even stronger appreciation for public lands. I did not grow up surrounded by, nor did I take for granted, the public lands that we enjoy in the Western states.

These lands keep me humble, healthy, and constantly in wonder. I like to imagine myself following in the footsteps of those intrepid outdoorsmen who experienced these lands, and the critters that rely on this habitat, for the very first time. It helps me see our country’s public lands the way they should be viewed, with reverence and awe, and with a sense of vulnerability. These are wild places where anything can happen. And hunting public land is no cakewalk, but it’s a challenge that comes with a greater reward—in fact, nothing gives me more pride.

Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

I think that at the root of many threats to our public lands today is an ignorance toward wild places, especially as we grow more and more separated from the outdoors. It’s easier for people to take our privileges for granted, and to devalue outdoor opportunities, if they’ve never experienced these landscapes for themselves. And even though outdoor recreation represents a $646-billion industry, the third largest in the United States, the value of our public lands cannot be reduced to mere economics.

I know that it’s a right and a privilege to have access to our public lands—and for each of us as Americans to have ownership of 640 million public acres—so I’m willing to do anything I can to safeguard these experiences for future generations. Public lands have given so much to me, and to all of us who enjoy them. These lands are part of our American heritage, but they are also finite. They need, and deserve, our attention.

So, help us shine a spotlight on all the ways that sportsmen value our public lands by sharing your photos with the hashtag #PublicLandsProud.

In the second year of our #PublicLandsProud photo contest, we’ll offer prizes and kudos for the images of public lands and waters that make us want to be out there. Take us along as you scout, hike, hunt, fish, or introduce your kids to our national forests, national parks, and BLM lands. The majority of American sportsmen rely on these areas for our hunting and fishing opportunities, and there’s no better way to show lawmakers (and other indoor creatures) exactly what’s at stake—our sporting heritage, priceless experiences in our natural world, and the wonder of encountering the wild. Learn more at sportsmensaccess.org.

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Rob Thornberry

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posted in: General

June 1, 2016

The Three Kinds of Hunters Competing for the Best Tags of the Season

Win, lose, or fail to draw, everyone has his own wish list for the perfect fall season on public lands

This Sunday is the deadline to enter the lottery for Idaho’s finest deer, elk, and pronghorn tags, and I am like a child on Christmas Eve. Instead of the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog of my youth, I endlessly thumb through the Idaho hunting regulations booklet, looking for the present I most want this year: a hard-to-draw controlled hunt that could help me plan a few dinner menus or even result in the trophy of a lifetime. My ultimate wish list includes an elk for the table and a muley for the wall.

But since I’m blessed to live in a state that is 62 percent public land, I can enter drawings for everything from wolves to mountain goats to turkeys. I have public access to world-class moose, sheep, and mountain lions, too.

So do I want an Oct. 1 bull tag? Or would a late cow hunt be better to fill the fridge? If I hunt cows in late November, I will have to wait until next year to chase whitetails in north Idaho. It is a tough call on an embarrassment of riches. With so many possibilities, it’s sad that there are so few fall days (and so many demands that come with earning a paycheck.) But choices need to be made. Santa won’t fill the tags.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

I flip the pages back and forth, checking for conflicts, considering my odds, and searching for that rare hunt that perhaps hasn’t been discovered by other hardcore hunters.

I am not alone celebrating this important date. Conversations with friends this time of year are without customary salutations. We cut to the chase: “You apply for tags yet?” Paul Kniss has his sights on a 14-inch pronghorn buck. Jimmy Gabettas is after a fat cow. Mike Clements is after monster bucks.

Idaho sells more than a quarter million hunting licenses in a given year. More than half of those who buy also spend the extra money for a chance in the lottery. Idaho Fish and Game offers 22,365 elk tags, 16,916 deer tags, and 2,345 pronghorn tags.

In my experience, hunters who apply for those tags generally fall into one or more of three categories:

  • Trophy hunters, who want a chance at a record and by nature pursue the most sought-after tags. In one eastern Idaho trophy hunt, only 2.5 percent of applicants are rewarded, because conservative limits allow only a tiny number of hunters to chase trophy animals when they are most vulnerable. The 20 who are lucky enough to draw are spread across thousands and thousands of acres.
  • Parents trying to get their children interested in hunting. Fish and Game has created a wide array of youth-only hunts that offer the highest odds of success. They normally start before the general seasons or run later, giving youngsters a chance to become lifelong hunters.
  • Specialists, or those who treasure the hunt itself, and have little interest in filling the fridge or the scrapbook—at least not anymore. They limit themselves to traditional gear, such as exposed-cap muzzleloaders, trading lower success rates for the alone time.

I basically fall into two categories and my lottery choices tilt, as always, against the odds.

Image courtesy of Roger Peterson/USFS.

If all goes as planned, I will hunt pronghorns with a muzzleloader in August and September on the Bureau of Land Management land near the High Divide. I have a 50-50 chance of drawing that tag. In early October, I will hopefully hunt for my trophy mule deer on public ground atop Idaho’s highest ridges, tucked far away from roads and other hunters. I missed a bruiser during my teen years and it would be rewarding to erase that memory. My chances of drawing that tag are one in six. In late November, I will return to the High Divide and tote a muzzleloader in the snow for elk. It is an either-sex hunt, offering that rarest of opportunities to harvest a trophy bull or a tasty yearling. I have a one-in-five chance of drawing that tag.

My wish list is set. Tag Day is near. I have been good (I promise), so my optimism is high. Still, my heart has been broken before. More years than not, I fail to draw a tag. But I still have a gift to treasure: a chance to hunt.

And that privilege is one that we’d be well-served to focus on, even without the promise of a tangible reward in the next few months—or even years. The critical conservation of the West’s most wild and intact backcountry areas might not impact this year’s tag selection, but ultimately we are all responsible for which critters will be in the lottery for those kids who are just starting to get hooked on that Christmas-morning feeling.

Here in eastern Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management is in the first stages of rewriting management plans for 3.14 million acres of critical wildlife habitat from Sand Creek to Salmon and Challis. Sportsmen have an important role in deciding how this wonderful area, and our public lands across the West, will be protected for decades to come.

The TRCP is here to help you stay informed on this process and the ways that all sportsmen can contribute to better conservation and land management policies. That’s actually the stuff that makes our wallhanger, freezer-busting wishes come true.

Steve Kline

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posted in: General

May 26, 2016

Watchdog Report Indicates Checks Were Written But On-Farm Conservation Was Never Verified

USDA’s Inspector General points to botched implementation of compliance checks that ensure real benefits go to fish and wildlife habitat on private lands

After thousands of hours of work, hundreds of meetings with Congressional staff, and three years of shared effort with colleagues that had become like family, I poured a tall Maker’s Mark when the president signed the 2014 Farm Bill at a special ceremony in Michigan. The law included bipartisan language that extended conservation compliance to the federal crop insurance program, the importance of which would be difficult to overstate. Was it the perfect compliance provision? Honestly, no. But politics is still the art of the possible, and I believe it was the strongest provision possible.

After all of that effort from so many folks, it is more frustrating than usual to hear from the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) watchdog agency that the provision the TRCP prioritized over all others has not been implemented with the vigor it requires. This should not only alarm sportsmen-conservationists but also the American taxpayer.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

For the uninitiated, conservation compliance can be explained like this: It’s a way for taxpayers to be sure that, in exchange for farm support payments, farmers are meeting a minimal threshold for avoiding environmental harm. Conservation compliance has applied to almost all USDA support programs since 1985, and the 2014 Farm Bill expanded compliance requirements to the federal crop insurance program, which has grown over the years to be the biggest farm support program. Conservation compliance is not onerous for farmers, most of whom have been subject to the requirements for years.

But a report issued in March by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which serves as the internal watchdog at the USDA, outlined a serious problem with the enforcement of conservation compliance. Many tracts of land that were subject to compliance were not being included in the random checks performed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In fact, in 2015, the first year after the new Farm Bill was passed, ten states—including major agricultural hubs like Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota—had zero tracts subject to random compliance checks. That’s right. Zero. In Iowa!

The report mostly points to a lack of coordination between several USDA agencies, and it cites the need for a “Memorandum of Understanding” between those agencies to ensure a better universe of data and that an actual human being at each agency is held responsible for appropriate implementation. Frankly, these are typical shortcomings of a large bureaucracy that no one would describe as nimble. But what is at stake is critically important: water quality and the health of potentially innumerable wetlands, not to mention the continued defensibility of these financial support programs to the American taxpayer.

But let’s get to the main thrust of the problem: a bureaucratic lack of desire. The USDA is a department that for a hundred years has been in the business of writing checks to producers. Its stock-in-trade is financial incentives that smooth out the inherent risks of agriculture, making life more predictable for American farmers—and that is a laudable thing. This incentive-based business model is why the USDA is still a relatively popular federal entity; as a result, USDA finds it difficult to risk losing the popularity that comes with spreading the wealth. It is nice to be loved.

But the law must be enforced, and the USDA has a responsibility—not just to agricultural producers, but also to the American taxpayers who have invested billions in farmland conservation and expect plentiful clean water in return.

We work hard on Capitol Hill to make sure that the laws passed by Congress aim for the best results possible for fish and wildlife habitat. That can be an all-consuming task. But we cannot forget that the job continues for years after the ink on those laws is dry. For the duration of this five-year Farm Bill, and as we turn our attention to the next one, the TRCP will continue our work; we must close the gaps in compliance enforcement that are unnecessarily costing us our wetlands, water quality, and hard-earned wages.

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posted in: General

May 25, 2016

Despite a Policy Victory, Another Year Without Clean Water

Why aren’t we celebrating the one-year anniversary of better protections for headwater streams and wetlands?

Today marks one year since the EPA and Army Corps finalized and signed the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies, after nearly 15 years of confusion, exactly what waters are—and are not—protected by the Clean Water Act. The rule has huge importance for cold-water fisheries and the majority of waterfowl habitat in the country, yet we’re still not able to move forward with implementing it.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

Sadly, almost before the ink was even dry on the final rule last May, the courts upended the decision and blocked the agencies from rolling out protections for these waters and wetlands. We have been forced to wait for a court decision while fish and wildlife habitat remains at risk of pollution and destruction.

Meanwhile, headwater streams, which make up 60 percent of stream miles in America and support our trout fisheries and salmon spawning grounds, are in limbo. These waters feed into warm-water fisheries and drinking water sources downstream.

While this widely-celebrated rule remains blocked, wetlands that provide high quality waterfowl habitat go without clear protections. And the rate of wetlands loss in the United States increased by 140 percent between 2004 and 2009, the years immediately following the Supreme Court rulings the created Clean Water Act confusion.

Today, nearly half of the nation’s river and stream miles are in poor biological condition while one-third of U.S. wetlands are in poor condition. We will need a clear and effective Clean Water Act to realize sportsmen’s desire for clean cold streams, healthy wetlands, and the ability to share these resources with our kids. Of course, court-issued roadblocks to implementing the Clean Water Rule are mostly out of our hands. But it’s important for sportsmen to note that many in Congress seem intent on preventing the EPA and Army Corps from ever fixing the confusion in the Clean Water Act.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

Don’t allow Congress to dictate your sporting heritage. Sportsmen must speak up for strong, science-based protections for the waters and wetlands we care about.

On May 27, 2016—the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Clean Water Rule—contact your lawmakers to say that you want clean water for fish and wildlife. Tell them you support the Clean Water Rule and urge them to oppose any legislation that would stand in the way of this victory for sportsmen. Let’s flood their offices with support for healthy headwaters and wetlands.

>>TAKE ACTION FOR CLEAN WATER<<

Jonathan Stumpf

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posted in: General

Glassing The Hill: May 23 – 27

The Senate and House are both in session this week. Next week, the chambers will be in recess.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The odds seem stacked against an energy reform package with sportsmen’s priorities. On Friday, the House dropped a revised energy bill that they are seeking to conference with Senate-passed energy legislation. However, with the clock ticking and the window of opportunity most definitely getting smaller, the House has added several provisions that seem to complicate the way forward for the energy package, including a controversial drought bill, a critical minerals package, and “The Resilient Federal Forests Act.” The House has also added their version of the sportsmen’s package, “The SHARE Act,” which will need to be conferenced with the key sportsmen’s act provisions in the Senate energy package. The House must still pass its amended legislation, but House-side conferees are expected to be named this week. There will be a House Rules Committee hearing on merging the House and Senate bills, as well.

The Senate has not yet named conferees, but would-be conference leader Chairwoman Murkowski has expressed interest in coming together quickly on next steps. Still, with so much discord between the two chambers, it could be a tall order for any conference committee to reconcile on a package that will pass.

Congress is also chipping away at appropriations bills. Last week, the Senate combined “The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” and “The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” into H.R. 2577, which passed with a 89-8 vote. The House passed their version of the military construction spending bill, too, with a 295-129 vote.

This week, the House will move to “The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act,” which would provide adequate funding—a marginal increase from the President’s budget request—for the WaterSMART program to help keep water in our rivers for fish and wildlife. The increase goes to grants, a water recycling and reuse program, and the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, which would provide financial assistance for promotion of local water management solutions. However, the House bill includes language that would block the administration’s Clean Water Rule and does nothing to address Western drought. The Senate energy and water spending bill includes $100 million earmarked for a response to the lack of water in the West.

Then, on Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies will mark up appropriations bills for the U.S. Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Forest Service. Language has not yet been released, but the bill will likely address the costs of fire suppression, endangered species listings, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

A wary eye goes to the Senate NDAA. Last Wednesday night, the House passed its version of “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA), including provisions that would effectively halt federal conservation plans to restore and protect greater sage-grouse habitat, with a 277-147 vote. This week, the Senate will consider its version of the NDAA, which does not currently include any controversial language about the imperiled grouse. We could still see a similarly worded amendment offered before the Senate votes and leaves for the Memorial Day recess.

We’re also pulling for naturally-occurring water infrastructure to be emphasized in important water legislation. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released its version of the “Water Resource Development Act,” (WRDA), which would address national water resource projects managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. During the committee mark-up, Congressman Sanford (R-S.C.) is expected to champion language that would promote naturally-occurring infrastructure to enhance fish and wildlife habitat over traditional metal structures.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee already passed its version of WRDA, providing $9 billion in funds for water resource projects. The same appeal for natural infrastructure over new construction is expected when WRDA reaches the Senate floor sometime this summer.

What Else We’re Tracking

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Research, monuments, and facilities on public lands, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing

Water rights and agreements up for authorization in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing

Appropriations impacting federal fisheries, headed for a House Appropriations Committee mark-up on the commerce, science, and transportation spending bill

An inquiry into DOI ethics, to be explored the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in a hearing

Implementation of the Clean Water Rule, to be discussed in a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife hearing

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mining safety and technological innovation will be explored in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing

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