Carl Erquiaga

July 7, 2016

Nevada’s Desert Bighorns and How Ewe Can Protect Them

TRCP’s Nevada Field Representative goes back on a promise to himself, for the sake of the sheep

The Carson City BLM district holds some of the best desert bighorn populations in Nevada today. Because of the efforts of sportsmen working with Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), this area is now home to more than 2,400 desert bighorns, and this year, 83 lucky hunters will be hunting rams in this part of the state. More than 350 rams have been taken by hunters in the Carson City district in the last decade—just imagine all those stories filtering down to 350 sets of grandkids, who are raring to get outside and hunt!

Image courtesy of Carl Erquiaga.

With a little extra effort from the BLM, plus conservation-minded volunteers and advocates, wildlife can continue to thrive for this new generation of hunters. That’s why I recently found myself doing something that I said I would never do again—building fences.

I grew up on a ranch and spent plenty of days unrolling and stretching barbed wire in the hot Nevada sun. They’re not exactly part of my happiest memories outdoors, but wildlife fences could have been responsible for a few hunts that were. The livelihood of our wild bighorn sheep depends on barriers that keep wild bighorns away from domestic sheep, which carry diseases the bighorns aren’t resistant to. I recently volunteered to build a fence between some private property and a two public hunting units that hold some amazing sheep—also thanks to sportsmen.

The Excelsior Mountain Range in Nevada’s Mineral County has been the focus of NDOW’s program to re-establish bighorns since the 1980s. Natural water is lacking in these arid mountains, so there has been an ongoing water development effort parallel to the release of these sheep. More than a dozen guzzlers were funded by sportsmen’s dollars and built with nearly all volunteer manpower, particularly by groups like Nevada Bighorns Unlimited (NBU) and Mineral County Sportsmen. As a result, the current population estimate for bighorn sheep in units 206 and 208 is more than 300 animals.

Image courtesy of Carl Erquiaga.

The most recent release of bighorns was carried out in Garfield Hills on the northern edge of these units this January. These were pregnant ewes that are being followed as part of a doctorate research project focused on desert bighorn lamb recruitment and resource selection during the lambing period. There is hope that this research will provide greater insight into causes of pre-winter mortality in lambs and the effects of translocation on lambing activities.

As wild sheep often do, some of these recently released ewes are developing an affinity for the part of the Garfield Hills near the private property and its farm flock. To address these concerns, NBU offered to provide the materials and manpower to strengthen the property owner’s fence and rebuild sections that were in disrepair. Discussions are also taking place to secure an easement and build a second fence inside the private property, parallel to the existing one, to provide a buffer zone and hopefully prevent nose-to-nose contact between the wild and domestic herds.

My involvement with NBU spans nearly 30 years, and in that time I have volunteered on many water developments, including some in this hunting unit. When the call for volunteers went out to repair this fence, I put aside my disdain for handling barbed wire and made the two-hour drive on a Saturday morning in March. There, I met many familiar volunteers, plus some new faces who were eager to help. After a long hot day, we were even treated to a steak dinner, so everyone went home with full bellies, knowing we’d made a difference.

Image courtesy of Carl Erquiaga.

When I’m trying to paint a picture of a special place, one with a conservation success story that’s worth doing some work to improve or preserve, I think of the Excelsiors and those bighorns. The area holds large expanses of intact habitat that needs to be protected and could be enhanced through active management practices, such as continued water development and protection, pinion-juniper removal, and management of the feral horse and burro populations.

As active as Nevada sportsmen have been in bighorn releases, raising funding for conservation, erecting wildlife watering structures, and, yes, building fences, we need to be just as active about urging the BLM to manage these special places with the best tools available.

Backcountry Wildlife Conservation Areas (BWCA) are new tools at the agency’s disposal, and there’s an opportunity to apply this management concept on at least200,000 acresin the Excelsior Range and the Gabbs Valley Ranges, as well as in other high-value habitat. Conservation of intact backcountry areas is needed to maintain the hunting opportunities that are found there today. And every hunter’s voice matters. Contact the Carson City BLM district and state BLM Director John Ruhs and let them know you want to see these areas included as BWCAs in the final Resource Management Plan for the area.

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Kristyn Brady

June 23, 2016

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.”

Image courtesy of Sage Lion Media.

Sportsmen, Westerners, and the media will also find the real facts on what state takeover of public lands would look like in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Each state page contains a link to download a fact sheet, plus an exhaustive list of public statements of opposition from elected officials, local leaders, and the 115 organizations that stand with sportsmen. An infographic about the threats to multiple use of our public lands, a mandate that keeps fish and wildlife on the landscape, is also available for download.

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.

Delivering the Sportsmen’s Access petition to Donald Trump, Jr. at the TRCP’s Western Media Summit.

“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.

Rob Thornberry

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.

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.

Learn More
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