We All Benefit From Public Access, But Are You Willing to Step Up to Defend It?
The loss of a popular public access point hits home for our Oregon field rep, but luckily this story doesn’t end with a locked gate
At the TRCP, we’re always talking about the importance of sportsmen’s access to the strength of our outdoor recreation economy and the funding that eventually goes back into conservation. Access is a galvanizing issue for so many hunters and anglers because it’s tangible—it’s how we get on the water. It’s where we take our kids hunting or where we harvested our first mule deer. These special places are fully formed in our minds. They’re places that we’d fight to protect and be heartbroken to lose.
If you ask me what’s at stake when I think of public access, I picture a river in central Oregon, where a solo float or walk along the ridges leaves you mesmerized by rim-rock canyons full of mule deer and bighorn sheep and smelling of juniper. It’s the third-longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states, and while the river is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, much of it is surrounded by private land, limiting access to just a few spots. In fact, until a few years ago, there wasn’t a day-long float to be had in the lower 137 miles of the river.
A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that a major point of access—one that I use regularly—was closed by the county and state park. They just put up a locked gate. It kicked me into high gear to find out what was happening and if I could do anything to reverse this shocking decision.
Luckily, these issues are of public concern, and the county commissioners held a public meeting to address the closure. Local sportsmen, ranchers, and other groups turned out in support of public access and shared why this particular put-in was so important to the community. One sportsman said, “I’ve been fishing this river for 30 years and this access point allows me to float the river in a day.” In the end, the county agreed that a plan needed to be put in place to make this access point a legal boat ramp, where anglers had some assurances that they wouldn’t arrive to find a locked gate. In the end, all local agencies agreed to temporarily open this ramp until a permanent solution could be implemented.
Leaving the room, I felt like we’d won a small victory, but I also recognized that my voice in the public process is more effective than I thought.
Yours is, too. We’re all busy—school’s out and our kids have camp and music lessons and we just want to get out on the river before sundown. But, from this experience and many others, I can’t stress enough how important it is for sportsmen to show up, and speak up, for our access to public lands and waters.
Anglers, hunters, boaters, and outfitters need these opportunities, and we all need quality habitat once we get out there. Without it, hunting and fishing can’t contribute to our rural economies, and our traditions could be in serious jeopardy. Just one access point or parcel of public land means countless jobs, dollars, and hours afield for sportsmen and women.
If Lawmakers Could Get Behind These Conservation Basics, We’d All Win
At our 14th annual Western Media Summit, hosted in Fort Collins, Colo., from June 22 to 24, we stressed the value of growing conservation champions by urging our elected officials—from statehouses to the White House—to deliver on three basic principles
Without quality fish and wildlife habitat, public access to hunting and fishing, and a balanced approach to harnessing the economic value of our natural resources, our American sporting heritage would cease to exist. Think of the costs: Our jobs, communities, and the conservation funding made possible through license sales and other purchases, yes, but I’d also add family bonding time, personal health, spiritual inspiration, mental and physical challenges, and our primal connections to the land.
It’s not enough to personally fight the fight for healthy habitat, clean water, access, and opportunity. We need to create more champions in Washington and statehouses across the country, where battles are waged every day to stamp out bad conservation policy and threats to our hunting and fishing opportunities, to stand behind this basic sportsmen’s platform.
In a presidential election year with extremely high stakes, it’s no mistake that we brought together outdoor writers and editors to immerse themselves in these issues within a swing state that identifies heavily with outdoor recreation and access to our public lands and waters. In fact, Colorado was the perfect backdrop for tough, timely conversations about drought conditions, public land transfer, the strength of our outdoor recreation economy, and where the presidential candidates stand on these topics and others important to sportsmen.
These are the conversations that are organically taking place in many a Centennial State truck cab, including the one where I sat last Wednesday, riding back to town after a half-day of fishing the Cache la Poudre River with guide JB Bruning from St. Peter’s Fly Shop. I found that JB is as well-versed in the local water issues as any policy wonk in D.C., and that night, pollster Lori Weigel shared data showing that he’s probably not alone. Water conservation is a non-partisan issue unlike any other in the region, and these highly informed westerners will be looking to the next administration to support responsible solutions for what is perhaps the new normal—high water demand, dwindling water resources, and other threats to habitat and access.
Sportsmen, of course, have some serious skin in the game—here in Colorado that includes coldwater fisheries that allow folks like JB, his boss, and his colleagues to pay the bills. Across the West, it’s access to millions of acres of national public lands that are at risk of being sold or transferred to the states. Will Trump or Clinton deliver for sportsmen? Mike Toth, special projects editor for Field & Stream magazine and our candidate forum moderator, spoke separately with campaign surrogates Donald Trump Jr. and Congressman Mike Thompson—both avid hunters—to find out.
Trump Jr. reiterated that his father has broken with traditional conservative dogma to oppose the sale of national public lands, although as a voice in the elder Trump’s ear on matters important to hunters and anglers, he would be open to giving the states more of a role in managing federal lands. “For the lands to remain federal is very important to us, because it’s all about access,” said Trump Jr. “The way the states want it is they want the transfer of these lands and they want it unrestricted. They want to be able to do whatever they want with it. So, lands that used to belong to the entire people now belong to the states, and two minutes later they can sell it to fund a deficit, because they can’t run the sort of deficits the federal government can over longer periods of time.”
According to Colorado’s Park County commissioner Mike Brazell, who weighed in on the possible local impacts of public land transfer for a panel discussion later in the day, this would surely mean residents, including sportsmen, leaving his county for somewhere with greater outdoor opportunities. “I can’t imagine what my constituents would do without these public lands—they’d likely move,” said Brazell. “It’s why people live here.” He added that state control of federal lands would strain county budgets, and Colorado State Senator Larry Crowder said he saw this firsthand when the state tried to financially support Rocky Mountain National Park for just two weeks of the 2013 government shutdown. Opposition to the bad idea of land transfer was also a theme in Dan Ashe’s remarks over dinner that night. “We have to have zero tolerance, at every level of government, for divestiture of our public lands,” said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director. “We can’t let them get away with that.” (Read his speech in its entirety here.)
Trump Jr. also addressed the efficacy of the Endangered Species Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the possibility of an assault weapons ban, before taking a personal shot at Hillary Clinton’s lack of hunting experience. (For the uncut video, click here.) On Friday morning, Rep. Mike Thompson, speaking for the Democratic candidate, said sportsmen should take comfort in the fact that Clinton is up-front about not being a hunter. “When is the last time a presidential candidate said, ‘Hey, I don’t hunt’? Most of them go out and buy a yellow coat or orange coat and hold a shotgun or something. She’s been very honest about it. She says, ‘I’m not a hunter,’ but she supports hunting, she supports an individual’s right to own firearms,” said Thompson. He believes the fact that Clinton sent a true sportsman ally to address hunter and angler concerns shows that she takes the issues seriously, and he pointed to her stance on opening access into checkerboard public lands, opposing land transfer, vetoing legislation to overturn the Clean Water Rule, and doubling funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Click here to watch the full conversation.)
Funding was certainly on many minds during a panel discussion on Western water challenges, with leaders from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, Trout Unlimited, and the Colorado River Water Conservation District pointing to an overall need for flexible federal programs. This will be integral to innovative water conservation initiatives across the drought-stressed region, some inspired by work being done in the Gunnison River Basin, not far from Fort Collins. Programs like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program are helping to coordinate federal resources across entire watersheds in ways that are producing real benefits for people, fish, and farms. But, our panelists cautioned, even greater coordination, particularly across federal agencies, is needed.
Which brings us back to the need to create more conservation champions at every level of government. We know that sportsmen like you are willing to step up. So are outdoor recreation businesses, like Eagle Claw in Denver—Mike Jackson, VP of sales, marketing, and product development for the long-tenured hook manufacturer, says the value of quality habitat to their consumers and employees cannot be understated. First Lite’s Ryan Callaghan agrees: “We couldn’t put a lot of innovation into our product if you didn’t have these places to roam.” Partners outside the hook-and-bullet sphere, like the Outdoor Industry Association, are also behind us. “The Great Outdoors is like the highway system for getting our products used,” said Amy Roberts, executive director for OIA, an organization that saw the need to gather concrete data on the strength of the outdoor recreation economy. “A lot of lawmakers get excited when they see the numbers—not jobs versus the environment, but jobs tied to the environment,” explained Liz Hamilton, president of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
When all was said and done last week, I think we saw that, as much as the looming elections could set a new course, there is a lot of hope for sportsmen, habitat, and our uniquely American traditions. Hunters, anglers, conservation experts, and outdoor business leaders are smart, strategic, and, at times, unyielding. Surely we can persuade new allies to fight for policy that does right by all of us and the next generation of sportsmen.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress.
The Senate will be in session this week and the House will be in recess until Tuesday, July 5.
The clock is ticking, as the House and Senate each only have one legislative week remaining before a six-week recess. That’s one week each before their set deadline of July 15 for passing all 12 appropriation bills. As plenty of obstacles continue to slow lawmakers down, it becomes increasingly likely that a continuing resolution or an omnibus spending package will be considered before September 30. The House recessed earlier than planned last Thursday due to a Democratic sit-in on gun control. However, the House did advance a conference report that would provide $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus in the military construction and veterans’ affairs spending bill.
Guns will likely be discussed in the Senate this week – the House is not in session – but ramifications remain unclear. Last week, the Senate halted floor activity to vote on a motion to table Senator Collins’ (R-Maine) bipartisan gun control amendment that would limit gun sales to persons on the terrorist watch list. The vote was considered a ‘test’ and the amendment may be discussed further this week; “The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” remains the business on the floor of the Senate, but cloture has not been filed on the legislation, and it is unclear how the Collins amendment might slow its path forward.
While gun-related measures may slow action on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to move on to other legislation this week, a motion to go to conference on the Mil-Con $1.1 billion package for Zika virus emergency funding; and House-passed legislation that would address the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
Lawmakers say they are ready to negotiate an energy bill—one that will not be vetoed. More closed-door meetings occurred last week with the “Big Six,” including Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). Rep. Bishop and Rep. Upton wrote their willingness to negotiate in a letter they released last week.
Even though the House is not in session this week conversations could continue, and Senate leadership could decide to bring the conference vote to the floor for consideration this week.
Greater sage-grouse conservation plans are under scrutiny. On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining will hold an oversight hearingon the implementation of the greater sage-grouse habitat conservation plans of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The subcommittee will discuss the federal agencies’ collaboration efforts with state agencies’ management plans.
Wildfires continue to be a hot topic as another bill is introduced. Introduced byChairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, “The Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act” addresses wildfire spending and forest management, including provisions such as allowing the U.S. Forest Service to expedite forest management procedures on 5,000 or less acres and providing a budget cap adjustment to fund wildfire suppression that may exceed a 10-year average cost. The bill is similar to Rep. Westerman’s (R-Ark.) legislation, which was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee after passing the House with a 262-167 vote.
A hearing on this bill have not been scheduled at this time.
Also on our radar:
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Legislation that would prevent the creation of a no-fishing zone in Biscayne National Park will be on the docket in a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee mark-up
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance Programs will be discussed in a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight hearing
Dan Ashe’s Manifesto: It’s a Make-or-Break Moment in Conservation History
In his stirring remarks to conservation leaders and journalists attending our 14th annual Western Media Summit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director challenges us to stay optimistic, fix dysfunction, and keep fish and wildlife issues relevant
It’s an honor for me to speak to you at what is truly a make-or-break moment in conservation history.
I’m going to cover three topics: First, and briefly, the nature of the challenge we face today, and will increasingly face tomorrow. Second, the growing dysfunction in the conservation community. Third, a specific part, or symptom, of that dysfunction – the growing irrelevancy of conservation.
Many of you have heard me say this: Our challenge in conserving wild creatures is human ecology. The Earth’s population continues to grow. Today, we share the planet with 7.3 billion others of our species. By mid-century, we will be approaching 10 billion. And it’s not just our growing numbers, but our expanding affluence.
The world’s population is growing to be more like us, and increasing its demands for access to things like electricity, education, transportation, and health care. These people will require more fuel, more fiber, and more food, and we will all consume more of the planet’s ecological space just to keep pace. Though we wish it were not so, that means less and less for the rest of what we collectively call biodiversity.
This exploding demand for resources is altering the biochemical processes of the planet. 2014 was the warmest year on record – until 2015. This year could eclipse even that record.
The evidence is all around us:
Scorching temperatures and rampant wildfires are bedeviling the southwest.
Record high temperatures were recorded in the Arctic in January and February—who would ever have imagined the now routine need to truck in snow for the Iditarod?
More than 90 percent of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has experienced bleaching in the past several months.
PLUS: The great prairies of North America are in crisis. Asian carp assault the Great Lakes. Burmese pythons strangle the Everglades. Elephants, rhinos, and other wildlife are decimated by a global epidemic in trafficking. State and federal refuges in California (anchors of the Pacific Flyway) are starved of water. Mule deer are disappearing from large expanses of the West. Every native trout species is imperiled. Grassland birds are declining precipitously. And on, and on.
And yet, I don’t know if we’ve ever been less prepared, as a conservation community, to cope with these enormous challenges.
And that’s a good transition to my second point. As a community, we have a significant and growing dysfunction. We seem to increasingly view ourselves as an island in a rising sea of change, seeking to armor ourselves against the momentous tides of transformation around us. We are reflexive, defensive, and increasingly angry at the growing proportion of the population that just doesn’t get it.
Easy things seem hard. Hard things seem impossible.
Case-in-point is what we call “The Sportsmen’s Bill”. And this is not a criticism of the Congressional sponsors, because they are responding to us. We are the problem. This is our dysfunction. Instead of marshalling our resources and asking for Congress’s support to confront these challenges, we ask Congress to address the import of 41 polar bear trophies, killed in 2008, all in the name of sportsmen.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund expires. But in the name of sportsmen, we ask Congress to exempt lead bullets from regulations in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), well-knowing that lead bullets are not being regulated by TSCA.
It’s a failure of imagination, vision, and unity that will continue to cost us, if we don’t address it.
Across the West, the very concept of public lands are under sustained assault from federal, state and local politicians and the special interests who fund them. The illegal occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year was just the latest escalation in an ongoing effort by armed extremists to intimidate public employees and keep them from doing their jobs.
I’ll pause here to thank the TRCP and its grassroots advocates. You stood with us during the occupation, and continue to advocate forcefully against the transfer and sale of public lands. We are enormously grateful for the support.
We need all the help we can get, because these ideologues are waging a relentless campaign to undermine the legitimacy of public lands, public resources, and wildlife held in trust for the public. They want the federal government to divest hundreds of millions of acres of public land—not for sportsmen or women—but for economic development, private use, and corporate profit.
They’re doing what we used to do so well. They’re playing the long game, and they are succeeding in their larger aim—to undercut public support and confuse the issue for voters.
The Malheur occupation didn’t occur in a vacuum. It happened because there are people, many of whom occupy positions of power and influence across the West, who share their values and beliefs, even if they recoil at their methods—for now.
Sadly, the public doesn’t seem to realize the stakes.
We’re heading into the heat of a pivotal election season, one that will likely determine the fate of those public lands and North America’s wildlife for years to come. We will need more strong voices during this election and beyond, as we see this cancer growing in Congress and state legislatures across the nation.
Which brings me to my third point. Conservation is increasingly irrelevant in today’s changing American society.
Relevance is the noun form of the adjective relevant, which means important to the matter at hand. To us—anglers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts—and our predecessors, conservation has long been relevant, because it sustains the things we care about. The matters at hand. But fewer and fewer people are fishing, hunting, and spending time outdoors. More than eight in ten Americans live in urban and suburban environments. Urbanization is accelerating, and the nation will soon be made up of a majority of minorities.
You, me, our organizations, others in our profession and our community, we do not look like America. We do not think like America. How then can we even understand, let alone achieve, what is important to the matters at hand in a changing America?
This is a crisis for conservation. We simply must address it. We must change and change rapidly. And yes, change comes hard. But, as General Eric Shinsheki teaches us, If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less. We are seeing the early stages of the irrelevance of conservation.
So, we’re facing big challenges. Here’s what I believe we need to do:
We have to break out of the disciplinary silos that we have built and that have served us so well in the 20th century. We can’t do 21st century conservation if we see the world divided into fish, wildlife, range, and forestry. We have to unite these great disciplines and see conservation in a larger context, and design conservation on a larger scale.
We have to have zero tolerance for politicians, at all levels of government, who support divestiture of public lands. No candidate should be able to call themselves a sportsmanunless they defend, loudly and at every turn, the benefits and importance of public land ownership and professional stewardship. It’s an election year, and we need a true Sportsmen’s Platform. Not platitudes about rights to hunt and fish. We need sportsmen to make it a priority to support—in every sense of the word—candidates who embody this platform. And to oppose those who do not. We need to support politicians who will stand up for clean air and water and protection of habitat, and stand behind the professional public servants—local, tribal, state, and federal—who dedicate their lives to conserving wild places and wild creatures.
We need a professional ethic that unites us as a community. President Ronald Reagan united his political party in the 1980s, and coined what he called the “Eleventh Amendment”: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. We need our own Eleventh Amendment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow conservationist. Sure, we may disagree from time to time, but these need to be professional, courteous, and respectful differences of opinion. Those in our community who sow seeds of anger and adversity must meet with what Aldo Leopold called social disapproval. If we let these people divide us, and play us off each other, then we, and the resource we love, will lose. How can we expect the faith and confidence of the public if we do not reflect faith and confidence in one another?
We must diversify our organizations, our profession, and our community. This must be a collective priority. We need to set measureable goals and attain them. We can’t just welcome families and children from urban and diverse communities to the outdoors – we have to actively seek them out and make it easier for them to experience their natural heritage. We have to recruit them at a young age and expose them to careers in conservation.
The reality is that right now, we look in all the same places, we do what we have always done—and we settle for what we have always gotten.
This has to change.
It’s an issue of leadership, and it’s time for leaders to step up and lead. There’s a new generation of potential conservationists out there. They’re in cities. They’re using iPhones and Androids. They don’t hunt or fish. They’ve never spent a night outdoors. Their skin is red or brown. English may be their second language. They are the voters and leaders of tomorrow. If we lose them, there will be no tomorrow for conservation.
We have to find them. We have to inspire and recruit them. They will become the best-and-brightest. They will make conservation relevant. We have to continue to expand our public lands and open them to new opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds to enjoy with their families.
We’ve made this a central priority in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, creating urban wildlife conservation partnerships in more than two dozen cities across the nation. These include cities where we have a land base—like Philadelphia, San Diego, Albuquerque, and Denver—as well as those where we don’t—like Atlanta, Houston, and Baltimore. Through these partnerships, we’re working with community leaders to help thousands of kids and families develop a personal connection with nature.
We’re partnering with organizations like the League of United Latino American Citizens and historically black fraternities and sororities, like Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta, to mentor young people and help them explore STEM careers.
Wherever and whenever we can, we’re expanding hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation programs on our refuges. In fact, I’m pleased to announce that we’re proposing to expand hunting and fishing opportunities on 13 national wildlife refuges across the United States. This will include sportfishing and hunting for migratory birds, upland game, and big game. Right here in Colorado, we’re proposing elk hunting for the first time in designated areas of Baca National Wildlife Refuge, as well as in expanded areas of Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.
Expanded relevance. Less dysfunction. More ambition and creativity. Those are the keys to success, and we have to start today. Most of all, we have to act together and focus on the core values that unite us, not the comparatively trivial matters that tend to divide us as a conservation community.
None of this is easy. It requires us to leave our comfort zones and take risks. But nothing great was ever accomplished by playing it safe, or accepting the status quo.
Visit the Online Hub for Western Pushback Against Land Transfer
It’s a one-stop shop for statements of opposition from local leaders in nine Western states and the seminal petition against public land transfer, with more than 28,000 signatures
Sportsmensaccess.org, the online hub where hunters and anglers can take action against the transfer or sale of federal public lands to individual states, has been updated with new resources on the would-be impacts of transfer and highlights meaningful opposition to this idea that has sprung up across nine Western states.
The homepage now leads off with the Sportsmen’s Access petition and a new video, narrated by hunting TV host and public lands evangelist Randy Newberg, which scrubs out the myths about proposed state management of public lands. “It doesn’t matter how many promises are made, the financial realities would force states to sell off our public lands,” says Newberg. “There goes access to hunting, fishing, camping, and our way of life.”
This week, we will deliver the Sportsmen’s Access petition, which recently broke 28,000 signatures, to surrogates representing presidential candidates Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton at a media event in Fort Collins, Colo. As part of a forum with journalists covering hunting, fishing, and the environment, Donald Trump, Jr., will talk about his father’s conservation priorities, and Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) will address Clinton’s policy goals for issues important to sportsmen.
“America’s hunters and anglers need more champions in Washington and statehouses across the country—lawmakers who understand that access to public lands where fish and wildlife can thrive is fundamental to our sports, our heritage, and the outdoor recreation businesses that create jobs and prosperity in local communities,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “But, beyond that, we need our elected officials to recognize that sportsmen see state takeover of our national public lands, and our inevitable loss of access, as a cold-dead-hands issue. This stack of pages containing the names of 28,000 Americans opposed to this bad idea should serve as a visual reminder.”
A diverse coalition of sportsmen’s groups and outdoor brands have rallied against the transfer or sale of public lands since January 2015, and public outcry has grown since the takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year. State legislatures in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming rejected land grab proposals in 2016, yet the House Natural Resources Committee, in a move that was out of touch with Westerners and sportsmen, voted last week to advance two bills on land transfer to the House floor.
To learn more about the latest movement on these and other bills that threaten access for hunting and fishing, visit sportsmensaccess.org.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.