Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

June 7, 2016

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

Board of Supervisors supports sportsmen’s access and local economies over short-term economic gain

Big news today as the Coconino County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution formally opposing wholesale efforts to transfer America’s public lands to the state of Arizona or local governments. The vote was held amid efforts by an Arizona State Legislature committee to examine processes for transferring or disposing of public lands within the Grand Canyon State.

The final resolution recognizes that:

  • Tourism related to federal public lands and recreational amenities accounts for more than $1.1 billion in annual economic impact in Coconino County, 40 percent of which is comprised of federal public lands.
  • Coconino County has productive and effective working relationships with local, state, and federal partners that have allowed for collaborative development and implementation of critical initiatives, such as the response to the 2010 Shultz Flood, the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Program, and the Four Forest Restoration Initiative.
  • Arizona currently lacks an adequate budget to fully support and manage its own state lands, including state parks, forests, and other areas—the state often relies on federal support for wildfire and flood emergencies.
  • There is broad consensus on the need to improve public land management and public access by focusing on effective and cooperative management of our federal public lands that includes the appropriate federal, state, tribal, county, and private agencies, plus other local stakeholders.
Image courtesy of USFS/Coconino National Forest.

“Coconino County’s resolution positively recognizes and places value on our traditions of access, recreation, and the application of multiple-use principles on our public lands,” says Art Babbott,Coconino County commissioner for District 1. “It is clear that efforts to transfer or sell our public lands will negatively impact our citizens, communities, and the regional economy. Access and management of our Western landscapes would be significantly altered if the state government attempts to take control of these public assets.”

The resolution emphasizes that the state does not have the financial resources to responsibly manage public lands—and sportsmen’s groups agree. “While federal land management certainly isn’t perfect, transferring these public lands to the state is not a viable solution, especially considering that the vast majority of Arizona sportsmen and women depend on public lands for hunting and fishing,” says John Hamill, Arizona field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Arizona simply does not have the funds to maintain roads and recreation facilities, prevent and fight wildfires, restore damaged wildlife habitat, and enforce laws or prevent abuses. Ultimately, the state would be left with no choice other than to sell these lands, which, once privatized, would be off-limits to hunters and anglers forever.”

County support for public lands has been crucial at a time when the state legislature is considering a study of land transfer. “Coconino County appreciates the importance of federal public lands to the citizens of our state,” says Tom Mackin, the Regional Director for the Arizona Wildlife Federation. “In 2012, voters here and throughout Arizona overwhelmingly rejected the idea of transferring ownership of public lands to the state by a two-to-one margin. Today the Board of Supervisors recognized this fact and affirmed that the latest attempt to circumvent the loud voice of public opinion is a bad idea.”

A growing number of Western counties in states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado have recently taken formal positions to oppose the sale or transfer of national public lands. To learn more about the land transfer movement across the country, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

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Jonathan Stumpf

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posted in: General

June 6, 2016

Glassing The Hill: June 6 – 10

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

The Senate and House are both in session this week, after a week-long recess. Congress has just about six weeks left until lawmakers leave town for an extended recess that spans both party conventions in Cleveland (RNC) and Philadelphia (DNC).

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Conservation groups continue to be wary, but so far no riders have been filed to ruffle feathers on the Senate NDAA. This week, the Senate will continue consideration of its National Defense Authorization Act, and although a sage grouse amendment modeled after the House language was rumored, no such amendment has been filed. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed a desire to wrap up the bill this week, so any threat to sage-grouse conservation plans would likely move along with the House bill to the NDAA conference.

But summer pool parties and BBQs are on hold until lawmakers get the finances (of the country) in order. It seems likely that individual funding bills may come back to the Senate floor after the chamber clears their NDAA, and that process may take the rest of the summer to complete. The Senate funding bill for the Department of the Interior—a big one for conservation funding levels—has yet to be publicly released.

The House may also try to get the appropriations train back on track this week, after several funding bills were derailed before the Memorial Day break. They have room on the calendar for the Legislative Branch Operations bill, which may be considered under a closed rule to help ensure its passage and avoid contentious amendments (ahem, like the ones that have sunk other spending bills recently.) We got a look at the House FY2017 Interior Appropriations bill, and there are rumors that the bill could be marked up by the subcommittee next week. As of posting this, there is no formal time scheduled for that subcommittee mark-up.

The House could also consider the Puerto Rico debt bill this week, the latest version of which no longer includes a provision allowing the transfer of Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the commonwealth for short-term economic gain—a win for sportsmen on both sides of the Caribbean.

Here’s what else we’re tracking:

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

EPA’s unfunded mandates, such as the clean water rule, will be discussed in a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight hearing

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Wildfires and management on tribal lands will be the subject of a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Clean Power Plan, under scrutiny in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing

Friday, June 10, 2016

Efficiency standards at the U.S. Department of Energy, to be discussed in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing

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.

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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