Ed Arnett

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posted in: General

June 9, 2016

Why the Western Governors Are Leading an Effort to Improve the Endangered Species Act

Governors will soon reveal results of a year-long initiative to improve proactive conservation of our country’s most at-risk species

In the hunting community, the greater sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken have recently become the face of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). When these game birds were petitioned for listing several years ago, because their populations had declined dramatically due to habitat loss, it was arguably the first time in recent memory that popular game species required this kind of action.

Greater sage grouse were determined to be not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act in September 2015, based on the strength of proactive collaborative conservation efforts. Image courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Sportsmen understood what was at stake—losing the opportunity to pursue sage grouse and lesser prairie chickens would come with a full-blown listing. Industries and ranchers feared for their bottom lines, and livelihoods, too. Some pointed to the listing of the northern spotted owl, which brought a region and an industry to its knees in the 1990s. All sorts of political posturing and litigation ensued—in fact, it continues today, even after final decisions were made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened in March 2014 and to forgo a listing of the greater sage grouse last September, based on the strength of collaborative conservation efforts from sportsmen groups, state and federal agencies, and private landowners promising to take widespread protective action.

There are wide-ranging opinions on the ESA, and it’s easy to get swept up in all the controversy and ignore the original intent of this critical legislation, which is to protect ecosystems and imperiled species from human development and other threats. The finger-pointing and contentiousness could make us forget that careful management by fish and wildlife agencies and the $1.6 billion dollars that hunters contribute annually to conservation is meant to keep us from the precipice of listing species in the first place.

Many decision-makers have called for reforms to the ESA. Congress has long suggested opening the Act, and some lawmakers would certainly use Paul Bunyan’s axe rather than a scalpel on certain provisions. So, it may surprise you that the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), a group of lawmakers who definitely have a vested interest in the ESA and its influence on the states, are not answering the call of some in Congress who want to tear down the legislation entirely.

The WGA, under leadership from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and his staff, has spent the last year exploring ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the Endangered Species Act, while elevating the role of the states in species conservation. The group held several workshops across the West to bring diverse stakeholders to the table, where they shared their opinions and ideas on the ESA’s use, misuse, effects on the economy, and actual impact on the ground. The results of these workshops will be unveiled next week at the annual WGA summer meeting in Jackson, Wyo.

The author presents his views on species conservation and the Endangered Species Act at the first of four Western Governors’ Association workshops on the subject. Image courtesy of Western Governors Association.

This should be encouraging to sportsmen, because whether or not the ESA should exist is not the right question. We need legislative checks and balances to conserve wildlife and habitat while allowing for other uses of the land to continue—history has proven that. Using the expertise of the people who rely on these lands, the Western governors are exploring not only how to improve the ESA, but also this: How do we shift from reacting to conservation crises requiring need for the ESA to launching proactive conservation measures that ensure we never get to crisis mode?

I generally agree that some reasonable reforms could likely improve the effectiveness of the ESA, but I also strongly believe that the very best solution for improving the Act is to avoid having to use it in the first place. This is where sportsmen are a very real part of the process and need to engage. And conservation efforts to benefit the greater sage grouse should be the model we celebrate. The future of species conservation has to focus on proactive, collaborative conservation efforts similar to what was recently accomplished for the sage grouse.

But until sportsmen, industry, private landowners, wildlife advocates and other non-consumptive users can take the proactive initiative to prevent these threats from happening in the first place, the regulatory hammer of the ESA remains necessary to force conservation into action. Until we make conservation a long-term investment, and no longer a nice thing to do only when discretionary funds are available, we can’t give into reforms that would weaken the ESA.

Shifting from reactive to proactive action will require change. The WGA has kickstarted the conversation, and now we need to incentivize a new way of doing business for all stakeholders. A key challenge will be securing investments in conservation and engaging stakeholders early in the process, so we’re pointed toward a common goal. Sportsmen can and should help move this revolution forward. Let’s start using an ounce of prevention, rather than paying for a pound of cure.

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posted in: General

June 8, 2016

Get Your Kids Out On the Water for National Fishing and Boating Week

Our conservation policy intern has a message for parents of young anglers—the tangled reels are worth it

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

I learned to fish about the same time that I learned to walk. I’d grab my tiny fishing rod and waddle down to the dock, while my dad dutifully trailed behind me with the tackle box, net, bait, and snacks—which were arguably as important as the bait. All fishing requires patience, but teaching a particularly young child to fish is on a completely different level, so I’m thankful that my father stuck it out through all the tangled reels, the constant need for re-baiting, and the rescue missions when I managed to knock our gear into the water.

I guess it’s easier to find the patience when fishing is a family tradition. It was something my dad used to do with his father. I never got to meet him, but the lures my grandfather made by hand are still in the family tackle box. They serve as a powerful reminder that fishing is more than just a sport—it’s a means of connecting with the ones we love.

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

That’s what I hope kids across the U.S. will experience during National Fishing and Boating Week (June 4-12), which wraps up this weekend. Learn more about this national celebration of the importance of fishing and boating, not only to our families and culture but also to the American economy and our bedrock conservation funding initiatives, by visiting our friends over at takemefishing.org.

Now that I go to college out of state, I miss the time spent outdoors and appreciate all the memories I have with my family. I can’t think of a more beautiful place to be. These experiences have also fueled my appreciation for and my interest in conservation policy, which led me to an internship at the TRCP.

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

I’ve always been appreciative of our country’s fish and wildlife resources—never tired of noticing all the shades of green you can find in the woods, always dazzled when the sun reflects just right off a fish. In this country, we have incredible access to these riches. But my time in Washington is starting to make me recognize more than ever that this is a privilege, and these places require our active care. And everyone who loves to hunt and fish needs to stay informed on the issues that impact our fish and wildlife, so we can actively advocate for conservation.

I hope that, when the day comes, our generation will have put in the tough work on conservation so that my father can go fishing with my children. I hope they’ll be able to lift the lid on our family tackle box and wonder at my grandfather’s lures, before counting all the greens in the trees and tossing a worm off the dock, bound for undetermined depths—or a snag on a tree branch. Either way, it’s worth it.

Shannon Fagan is the TRCP summer intern through the Demmer Scholar Program. She is going into her senior year at Michigan State University where she is majoring in Social Relations and Policy and minoring in Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy. 

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.

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.

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