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July 11, 2016

Glassing the Hill: July 11 – 15

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

The Senate and House are both in session this week. They will return on Tuesday, September 6.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

This is the last week before a lawmakers leave for a seven-week recess, and they are concentrating on appropriation bills. On Monday, the House Rules Committee will vote on “The Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.” They will consider more than 150 amendments to it, including one that would prohibit the Land and Water Conservation Fund from being used in wetland restoration projects, and decide what will be considered on the House floor. All amendments that have been filed to the Interior bill can be found here. The underlying bill includes other poison pill provisions, such as blocking the administration’s Clean Water Rule, halting federal and state governments’ collaborative efforts to conserve greater sage-grouse habitat, and a 90-day delay on the implementation of the Bureau of Land Management’s Planning 2.0 Rule.

Meanwhile, Senate leadership continues to clash on spending bills. Last week, the defense appropriations bill did not reach the 60-vote threshold needed to invoke cloture. Democrats failed to support cloture because the bill breaks the bipartisan budget agreement from October 2015, and because Democrats have long pledged to oppose a defense funding measure that had increases for military spending, without equal increases in domestic funding. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to bring the defense spending bill back to the floor for another go-round this week.

Leadership hoped to pass all 12 appropriation bills before members leave for the seven-week recess and prepare for their respective national party conventions. However, more and more lawmakers believe a continuing resolution will need to be passed before September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Public land renewable energy development is up for discussion on Wednesday. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will meet to discuss Rep. Paul Gosar’s (R-Ariz.) “Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act,” which would provide modern approaches to energy development and conserving fish and wildlife habitat on public lands.

Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s vice president for government affairs, will testify on behalf of the sportsmen’s community and our support for the bill.

Other legislation on the floor include a bill that would extend the authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration programs; the Senate bill that would require genetically modified food to be labelled; a bill that would address the concerns about health care providers offering abortion services.

The Senate will consider a House passed bill that would combat the opioid epidemic.

What else we’re tracking:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

  • Public lands legislation will be discussed in at Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup hearing
  • Changing demands and water supply uncertainty in California are up for debate in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing
  • Opportunities and challenges of developing the Mancos Shale resource will be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing
  • The Securing Energy Infrastructure Act will be discussed at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing
  • Conservation-related legislation is on the docket at a House Natural Resources Committee full committee markup

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

  • The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act will be debated at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy oversight hearing
  • The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of 2015 will be the subject of a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing

Thursday, July 14, 2016

  • The Status of Ivanpah and Other Federal Loan-Guaranteed Solar Energy Projects on BLM Lands will be deliberated at a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing

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Carl Erquiaga

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posted in: General

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.

We’ve made it easy—click here.

Dani Dagan

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posted in: General

July 6, 2016

While Forest Service Chases Down Wildfires, the Solution Gets Away From Us

TRCP’s new communications and operations associate grew up in wildfire country—now in D.C., she’s experiencing the impacts of fire in a completely different way

It was 4am on a school night when I woke up to sirens wailing in the streets. Firefighters were shouting into megaphones, informing us that our neighborhood was being evacuated. I couldn’t even finish brushing my teeth before first-responders were knocking on our door, making sure we were awake and on our way out. My family had already packed our SUV full of photo albums, social security cards, and sentimental odds and ends, so we piled in and headed across town to my aunt and uncle’s house.

Image courtesy of Anthony Citrano/Flickr.

Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, we didn’t really have winter, spring, or autumn. We didn’t have tornadoes, hurricanes, or blizzards. We had TV pilot season—and we had wildfires.

I still remember hiking around my old neighborhood and stumbling upon the last line of fire—that charred boundary between the thriving chaparral and its blackened mirror-image. It was about a quarter-mile from my house, and just a few hundred yards from a friend’s. It was jarring to see how close we were to the flames. Though I never lost my home to fire, I knew people who did. Last month a single wildfire in California took two lives and more than 250 homes.

Our wildfire epidemic has always felt personal to me, but now that I live in Washington, D.C., safely removed from immediate danger, I’m realizing that we all feel the burn—and the enormous costs—of fire suppression.

The U.S. Forest Service’s budgetary allocation for wildfire management has been soaring, siphoning money away from critical activities such as wildlife and fisheries habitat management. Meanwhile, the Service’s maintenance backlog has exceeded $5 billion. That’s because over half of the Service’s budget is now dedicated to wildfire management—up from 16 percent in 1995.

Even the remaining 48 percent of the budget, the portion not dedicated to wildfire management, isn’t secure, because “fire-borrowing” is crippling non-fire programs. Essentially, when firefighting costs exceed what’s been budgeted, the Service is forced to dip into other unrelated program budgets and spend cash meant for habitat restoration, water quality improvements, and new public access points for hunters and anglers.

Image courtesy of Kansas Sebastian/Flickr.

The result of all of this is dramatic—instead of investing in preventative measures that benefit forest health, as well as suppression and rehabilitation efforts, we’re scrambling to control the damage as it’s happening. We’re chasing the problem down, instead of getting in front of it.

Living here in our nation’s capital, my relationship with wildfire has changed. I’m no longer worried about my house burning down, but I’m worried about the wild places that are at home in my heart and memories—the lands we all inherited from Theodore Roosevelt that are full of trees and wildlife and unrelenting beauty.

So, no, it’s not just the people within view of the fire line who should be paying attention to this problem. We need a wildfire funding fix, and we need it soon.

Here’s a possible solution. 

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

County Officials Support Proposed Changes in BLM’s Land-Use Planning

Western county commissioners and supervisors go on-record supporting the BLM’s land-use planning update after seeing pilot programs in action

Top county officials from Colorado, Montana, and California say the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed Planning 2.0 rule, which would update how the agency revises land-use plans in the West, will provide additional opportunities for public involvement earlier in the planning process and result in Resource Management Plans (RMPs) that better reflect the diverse needs of county citizens. They sent letters of support for Planning 2.0 to BLM Director Neil Kornze ahead of a House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing on the rule.

The county commissioners and supervisors hail from the three BLM planning areas where the agency is piloting Planning 2.0 measures. The three early adopter land-use plans are the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, the Missoula Resource Management Plan, and theNorthwest California Integrated Resource Management Plan.

Image courtesy of Eddie Claypool.

“We’re seeing that, in places where Planning 2.0 improvements have already been rolled out, there is support from elected officials and the public,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These are the people who will benefit from having more input on land management decisions and enjoy better hunting, fishing, and outdoor experiences because of it. After two oversight hearings in the House and one in the Senate, we hope this is finally made clear.”

The Board of County Commissioners for Missoula County, Mont., wrote to commend the BLM for its efforts to better address the diverse interests in their county and communities across the West. “The proposed rules continue to provide for coordination with state and local representatives” and “early public involvement will help resolve conflicts and produce a Resource Management Plan that better reflects the needs of our citizens as well as others who use public lands and have a stake in their future,” they wrote.

Similarly, Mike Brazell, chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Park County, Colo., writes that he and his colleagues support, in particular, the provisions that plan for additional public involvement earlier in the planning process, “including the chance to review preliminary resource management alternatives and preliminary rationales for those alternatives.” Writing on behalf of Humboldt County, Calif., supervisors from two districts (here and here) emphasized that encouraging public involvement early and often would be especially important given that the BLM’s Arcata Field Office will be using this more inclusive approach as it revises its existing RMP, which dates back to 1995.

Montana’s Lewis and Clark County, though not an early-adopter plan area, has also written a letter in support of Planning 2.0.

As House lawmakers continue to examine the states’ role in Planning 2.0 tomorrownearly 8,000 hunters and anglers have signed a petition and sent letters of support for better BLM land-management tools that prioritize public access, conserve and enhance habitat, and balance energy and other development with the needs of fish and wildlife. More than 500 hunting and fishing businesses, sportsmen’s groups, and wildlife professionals have backed the idea that BLM lands are “Sportsmen’s Country” and should be managed in ways that support sportsmen’s values, including habitat conservation and access.

To learn more, visit sportsmenscountry.org.

Nick Dobric

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posted in: General

June 30, 2016

There’d Be No Thrill in Drawing a Rare Tag Without Quality Habitat

On a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, this Wyoming couple had a revelation about the value of the backcountry

Image courtesy of Josh Coursey.

Some lucky hunters just learned the draw results for coveted elk, deer, and antelope tags in Wyoming, but hope hasn’t been dashed for the rest of us. Wyoming locals don’t look at the draw as make-or-break for the season. The truth is that the over-the-counter tags available to any Wyoming resident still promise pretty incredible hunting.

As a friend told me recently, “I get to hunt big bulls and big bucks in the places I did as a kid. I can go hunt a legendary mule deer unit in western Wyoming. I drew nothing and I am stoked!” He’s not alone.

This embarrassment of riches defines hunting in Wyoming. And this is why the TRCP and our partners are working so hard to grow support for Backcountry Conservation Areas (BCAs), a new management tool the Bureau of Land Management can use to protect essential areas of intact and undeveloped fish and wildlife habitat. By implementing BCAs and placing a strong emphasis on restoration to address modern management challenges, the BLM can ensure that all who visit these lands can experience a quality hunt, today and well into the future—no matter their luck in the lottery.

This is of special concern for the public lands around Rock Springs, where the BLM is revising plans that will affect the way these lands are managed for the next 20 years. It’s home to Unit 101—an area recently featured as one of Guy Eastman’s top five Wyoming deer hunts—where only a handful of mule deer tags are in such steep demand, there’s only a two-percent chance of drawing.

Patricia Hettick of Laramie, WY., beat those odds a few years ago, and she and her husband Buzz enjoyed a limited-quota, once-in-a-lifetime hunting experience in a unique area of our state. I asked Buzz to tell the tale, which illustrates just what’s at stake in Wyoming’s backcountry:

Right off the bat, we glassed up the big buck we had seen while scouting the night before. But, after several close calls, that buck walked into the vastness of the Red Desert, and out of our lives forever. Several days later, Pat connected on a great buck, but, for both of us, what we found out in the Red Desert was more than just a successful hunt. We had an opportunity to spend time in perhaps one of the most unique landscapes in Wyoming. At first blush, the landscape looks rather desolate, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is alive with all kinds of wildlife. We observed sage grouse, golden eagles, and prairie falcons. Nearly every day we saw large bull elk, multiple mule deer bucks, and dozens of pronghorns. We also saw coyotes, bobcats, badgers, and swift foxes. 

The one constant on this hunt was that the areas that held the most wildlife were the areas that contained the least amount of development and roads. The remaining areas in the Red Desert that are somewhat free of development, need to be retained and afforded some kind of protection from further development. We owe it to future generations to enjoy the Red Desert, as it truly is one-of-a-kind.

Image courtesy of Buzz Hettick.

The areas like Rifes Rim of Unit 101 where these wildlife are healthy are exactly what we all need to work to protect through Backcountry Conservation Areas. Luckily, the BLM’s planning process is a public one, and the TRCP has made it easy to get involved: Click here to make your voice heard today to secure the future of some of our greatest hunting opportunities in Wyoming.

Give yourself a reason to keep putting in for those tags. There’s no thrill of the draw without quality habitat to produce big bucks.

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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