Rob Thornberry

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posted in: General

July 28, 2016

Ankle-Deep and as Carefree as We Can Be on Montana’s Smith River

What does the future hold for this beloved waterway, built on a history of local collaboration and respect?

The crew is spread from here to hell and gone. Everybody is happy.

Dana, Allen, Kay, BJ, Margaret, and Cinclair are lounging in camp chairs they purposely planted in the rushing water. They are ankle-deep in the Smith River, one of Montana’s jewels and one of the West’s most famous floats. The temperatures are somewhere north of 90, and the parents and grandparents are cooling off after a round of chores that come with a five-day river trip.

The permitted section of the Smith runs for 58 miles and cuts through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

Grace is trying to get Chandler and Jillian to don their lifejackets and float through a riffle. The excited squeals of a ten-year-old and a six-year-old bounce off the canyon’s walls. Sophie and Claire are hiking to a rock outcropping across the river. Their progress is monitored closely by the riverside cocktail drinkers, who worry about snakes and climbing injuries. Jake is snorkeling, trying to find the river’s famed rainbows and browns. Kendall is awaiting Jake’s report as he sorts his fly box.

Cellphones are useless and nobody is thinking about Trump or Clinton, police shootings or terrorism. Our world has been reduced to the river’s quiet rhythm, buzzing insects, and the occasional roar of upstream winds. Our cocoon is enclosed by the canyon’s alabaster cliffs, the green hues of the forest, and painfully blue sky.

Jake Thornberry looks for rising trout during a gray drake hatch. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

The Smith’s Ancestry: Cooperation
Each year, more than 5,000 people experience this public treasure slicing between the Big Belt and Little Belt Mountains in central Montana. With a permit, you can fish 59 miles of the Smith, productive trout habitat stretching through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, even though 80 percent of the river’s banks are privately owned.

Use of this beloved river is the result of cooperation, ingenuity, and patience. The Smith is an economic driver today because of the foresight of Montanans, who started lobbying for its public use nearly 75 years ago.

“The cooperation that has led to the Smith’s success as an economic driver has also created a group of people who are invested in the river,” said Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. “We are all tied by the fact that we love the Smith and we don’t want it to change.”
People, including state officials, first floated the idea of a state park in 1953, but it failed due to fears that a park designation would draw crowds who would trample the special area and impinge on private landowner rights. Undaunted, a small group of Montana officials kept working to find a way to keep the river bottoms from being lost forever to private interests.

Mergansers are one of the many wildlife species that are found on the Smith River. Other species include Canada geese, deer, elk, beavers, and a variety of raptors. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

In 1970, public use of the river corridor got a boost from the Governor’s Council on Natural Resources and Development, which recommended that the Smith River not be developed as a state park but as the Smith State Recreational Waterway. This would permit the exchange of state lands for private lands and help set aside funding for acquiring easements.

Through a series of meetings between Smith River landowners and FWP starting that same year, a collaborative was formed to manage the river’s ever-growing use. In 1989, the Montana Legislature passed the Smith River Management Act, and in 1993, FWP instituted a permit system with daily launch limits. The state also negotiated leases of private property to create camping areas.

Regulations have evolved over the years and the river’s management is now a sterling example of how disparate interests—the Forest Service, counties, private landowners, business owners, state officials, and the recreating public—can partner to use public water that is largely surrounded by private property.

Wildflowers are a bonus on the picturesque float. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

A New Challenge
But the Smith River and its legion of fans face a new challenge: The Black Butte Copper Project. Tintina Resources, a Canadian subsidiary of an Australian mining corporation, is proposing a $218-million copper mine around Sheep Creek, which provides roughly half of the Smith’s headwaters. Mine-backers tout the company’s strong environmental record, plus the possibility of job creation and tax revenue. They say $2 billion in high-grade ore is ready to be mined by more than 200 people.

Conservation groups, such as Trout Unlimited, are concerned, arguing that Montana’s long list of hard-rock mining issues—the state has 17 Superfund sites—show an industry unfit to make claims that they will be good neighbors. The “good neighbor” argument isn’t gaining traction with locals either, according to rancher Willie Rahr. “Mining companies have been saying, ‘We have the best, newest technology’ for generations,” Rahr told the New York Times in 2015, “but something always happens.”

Early efforts to slow Tintina’s progress have been mixed. The mining company is currently awaiting state approval, and if all goes according to plan, the mine could be functional as early as 2020. Montana TU’s Farling said that timeline is unrealistic, but he is keeping a close eye on the slow-moving permit process. All the while, he continues to make the argument that the Smith is a sustainable economic driver—fishing alone generates $8 million annually—while the mine is unsustainable, shortsighted, and risky.

The very handsome author of this article smiles despite a daylong rainstorm on our fourth day. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

Looking Downstream
Back on the river, our camp chairs have been fished from the water and now ring the fire pit. Stars start to pop from the darkening skies. Fly rods and snorkeling gear have been stowed and three generations of two families discuss the river’s future. As carefree as we are out here, there’s room for concern.

Naturally, our crew decides the mine is too risky, but we have faith that the people who enjoy the famed river will unite, like they have in the past, to make a case for protecting this river and its headwaters. We don’t need to mine for riches—the real treasure was realized 75 years ago.

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Scott Laird

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posted in: General

July 27, 2016

A Two-Week Adventure in the Backcountry Reveals a Lesson About Fire and Family

Our Montana field representative sits down for a Q&A with his daughter after her unique experience in wildfire country. Here’s what she learned about forestry and conservation

I remember a whitetail deer hunt where I was lying in the prone position, ready to shoot, with my young daughter Ali lying on my back. She was so excited when the deer went down! Ali is 22 years old now, and she still loves the outdoors. She graduated from Villanova University this past May and couldn’t wait to get back to Montana, where she was hired to work on a forestry crew with the University of Montana.

Image courtesy of Ali Laird.

One of her assignments recently took her on a two-week pack trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex to collect data on fire ecology. This area in northwest Montana—named for the legendary forester and conservationist Bob Marshall—was designated by Congress as part of the Wilderness Act of 1964. It spans over one million acres along the continental divide and is the fifth-largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states, attracting fishermen, hunters, and recreationists from around the world. As in other parts of the country, fires are unfortunately becoming more common in the Bob, and Ali’s crew was sent to help study how this ecosystem rebounds differently based on whether burn areas were managed or unmanaged forests before the fire.

Image courtesy of Ali Laird.

I thought this was an amazing opportunity for Ali—and I was pretty jealous that I couldn’t go along. So, when she returned from the trip, I asked her to share her experience.

Scott: Ali, I can’t wait to hear all about the trip. What was the makeup of the crew and where exactly did you go?

Ali: There were ten of us on the crew. We hiked in 40 miles and set up camp at the confluence of Gordon Creek and the South Fork of the Flathead River. We had our food packed in by a team of mules and spent two weeks hiking to our burn sites, moving camp downriver every few days. At the end of the trip, we tied our gear to the front of our pack rafts and floated down the river to the south end of Hungry Horse Reservoir.

Scott: What is the purpose of the research project that you were working on? How will this research on fire affect our public lands, and why do you think sportsmen should care about it?

Ali: Fire is playing an increasingly dominant role on our public lands, particularly as fire seasons are getting longer and hotter. We were there to learn more about the effects of fires in unmanaged lands versus fires in areas previously logged, thinned, or previously introduced to fire through a prescribed burn. With healthy forests come healthy wildlife populations for all of us to enjoy, including sportsmen.

Scott: What was your typical day like?

Ali: The daily hikes to the burn sites were long, three to six miles. We climbed our way through lodge pole stands and up steep ridges. We saw wildlife every day and heard wolves at night. One day a small herd of elk walked right by us in the early morning frost. Yes, frost, in June! We were there to conduct research, but we also got to enjoy the land and gain appreciation for this wonderful place that belongs to all of us. It was clear that the other people we ran into were enjoying the Bob as well. We saw groups floating down the river, spoke with fly fishing guides taking their guests on spectacular trips, and we met a couple scouting for their fall elk hunt.

We spent our free time reading by the river, watching waterfowl bathe and deer tug at bites of grass in stands of old-growth Ponderosa. In the cool evenings at the end of the day we were able to forget the clattering notions of work and worry that shadow us in our everyday lives, and finally enjoy a piece of land full of both loveliness and majesty—an object of awe and love, requiring attention but not toil. It was a treat being surrounded by millions of acres of wild land, knowing that this place is open to all of us. It’s a treasure to spend a quiet hour fly fishing and pull a cutthroat out of the river for dinner, while watching an osprey slope down the side of the valley towards the water, looking for that same meal. I can’t wait to get back up there.

Image courtesy of Ali Laird.

I get goosebumps hearing my daughter describe her attraction and admiration for the natural beauty of our public lands that she, like the rest of us, is so fortunate to have. Seeing this trip through her eyes makes me feel validated for my own effort in TRCP’s mission to protect and improve these resources for future generations. Our forefathers established a system of wildlife management and natural resources held in the public domain, a system that is the envy of the world. These public lands are for all of us to enjoy, use wisely, and pass on to the next generation of outdoorsmen and women.

I’m certainly glad I have a daughter who appreciates that.

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

July 26, 2016

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

County commissioners pass resolution supporting sportsmen’s access and outdoor recreation spending

After hearing support for continued federal management of public lands from a dozen residents yesterday, the Teton County Board of Commissioners voted to formally oppose efforts to transfer America’s public lands to the state of Idaho or local governments. A growing number of counties in Colorado, Wyoming, and Arizona have recently done the same.

Teton County Commission Chairman Bill Leake said yesterday’s resolution highlights the value of public lands to county residents. “The Board of County Commissioners strongly supports federal ownership and management of public lands in Teton County and the incredible value federal lands bring to our county’s economy, recreation, heritage, and quality of life,” Leake said, reading from the resolution.

Image courtesy of Jen Vuorikari/Flickr.

County Commissioner Cindy Riegel added that public lands are “a huge part of our lives, our economic health.” And that theme was reinforced by Teton County residents who spoke about the state’s inability to pay the bills for the federal public lands we all love.

“We are all supported in some way by our public lands,” said fly fishing industry leader Robert Parkins, who has lived in the valley for more than a decade and is a board member with the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

“Public lands are a key driver to our local economy,” said Jeff Klausmann, who owns Intermountain Aquatics, an environmental consulting business based in Driggs. “Hunting, fishing, bird watching, hiking, and biking attracts locals and tourists alike. The benefits to service-oriented businesses are obvious, but these lands also help anchor natural-resource-based businesses like ours through subcontracts for land management services and supplies.”

“Public lands are our economic future,” said conservationist Shawn Hill, executive of Valley Advocates for Responsible Development. “Teton County is part of a growing network of counties in the West that are pushing to protect public lands. We applaud that.”

The county’s resolution recognizes the importance of public lands for:

  • Providing fish and wildlife with habitat, while offering opportunities for outdoor recreation—including hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife-watching, horseback riding, and bicycling—that is essential to residents’ quality of life.
  • Attracting outdoor recreation tourism that drives local spending and employs hundreds of county residents.
  • Preserving historically significant and irreplaceable cultural sites and landscapes.

Public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service comprise 62 percent of Idaho and 33 percent of Teton County. These areas are cherished for their top-notch fisheries, beautiful open landscapes, and exceptional wildlife habitat, says Joel Webster, Western lands director at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Teton County for taking this stand,” says Webster. “We also look forward to working with county leadership across the West to continue building a strong base of support for America’s public lands and our access to hunting and fishing.”

To learn more about county opposition to the sale or seizure of America’s public lands, or to take action, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

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posted in: General

July 19, 2016

A Tour of Grey Towers and the Two Men Who Became Icons of Modern-Day Forestry

On a recent trip to the home of Gifford Pinchot, our conservation policy intern was surprised to learn an intriguing lesson about another conservation visionary—Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was a champion of fish and wildlife conservation because he was a champion of public lands. While TR might be most famous for adding five national parks and a big chunk of Yosemite to our public lands system, more than half of the 230 million acres that he conserved during his presidency was given to the U.S. Forest Service, an agency he created in 1905. He entrusted this land to Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service and a member of TR’s Boone and Crockett Club.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Pinchot’s home in Milford, Pennsylvania, and learn a little bit more about him, the Forest Service, and TRCP’s namesake. It turns out that the two founding fathers of conservation were close friends. Roosevelt even introduced Pinchot to his wife Cornelia.

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

Considering the role that Pinchot wound up playing in the conservation of U.S. forests, it’s ironic that his family fortune was made in the logging business. His grandfather profited from a time when it was common to purchase and clear-cut forests with no regard for the long-term health of the land. In his career as a forester, Gifford Pinchot felt a deep responsibility for correcting this misuse.

Like many of us, he grew up with an affinity for the outdoors, and his father encouraged him to turn that passion into a career. The Pinchot family even created an endowment at the Yale School of Forestry—which held summer field classes at Grey Towers, the family estate—to help future generations discover the values of the outdoor lifestyle.

Grey Towers was built in the 1880s and donated to the Forest Service in 1963. The partnership between Roosevelt and Pinchot created an agency that now manages 193 million acres of public land. Their understandings of conservation lead the Service to view forest management as “protecting lands against overgrazing, controlling and combating fire, protecting fish and game, and providing public recreation.” Proper natural resource management has kept our national forests open for public enjoyment for more than a hundred years.

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

I couldn’t help but think about all the recreational opportunities we are privileged to access because of the foresight of these two men. And what they might say about the current conversation around giving up our public lands.

I think it might go a little something like this: “Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.” – Theodore Roosevelt

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.

Jonathan Stumpf

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posted in: General

July 18, 2016

Meet Our First #PublicLandsProud Contest Judge: Marty Sheppard

Marty Sheppard is a fishing guide in Maupin, Oregon possessing an almost missionary zeal for teaching others and sharing in the pure joy of rivers. Born and raised in Oregon, Marty grew up on the banks of the Sandy River, spending much of his time devouring books, especially those written by such notable and insightful naturalists as Roderick Haig-Brown and Bill McMillan. Marty is the proud husband of three -time World Champion Spey Caster, Mia Sheppard, who is also the Oregon Field Representative for TRCP and father to a spunky little fly fisher girl, Tegan. In 2003, they purchased Little Creek Outfitters, a fly-fishing guide service on some of Oregon’s best rivers. As ardent public land users who depend on continued ability to access rivers and backcountry areas, the Sheppards understand first-hand the wide-reaching economic benefits to individuals, as well as local communities, who rely on outdoor opportunities.

Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

From now through July 31, Marty is guest judging your best summer fun on public lands photos for this round of the #PublicLandsProud photo contest. He’s looking for a winning photo that calls the viewer into the moment, so make sure your summer fun moment beckons! And watch the TRCP Instagram account this week too, as Marty will be taking over our account and giving us a glimpse into his life on public lands.

TRCP: So, Marty, how do you like to spend your time outside?

Marty: What makes me happy is that I have the freedom to explore. Without public lands, this would be extremely limited. I am thankful to have the ability to hunt, fish, hike, and investigate such beautiful places.

Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

TRCP: What makes a great photo of a summer day spent on public lands? What will you be looking for in the winning photo?

Marty: I am a huge fan of capturing light at the appropriate time. This is what makes a good photograph for me. Combine that with an activity, or more specifically, a sportsman-themed endeavor and we will have a winner!

TRCP: What makes you #PublicLandsProud?

Marty: I am proud to live in a place with the opportunity to roam on public land. I am proud to have representation from groups like TRCP, who has my back in protecting the heritage of access to these special places. I am proud to be a husband, dad, and business owner who puts public lands as a high priority in shaping our lives. I am #PublicLandsProud

Show us your #PublicLandsProud moment and you could be featured on our blog and win a #PublicLandsProud prize package. It includes a new pair of Costa sunglasses, a copy of Steven Rinella’s new book, The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game, a Simms TRCP-branded hat, a First Lite merino wool neck gaiter, TRCP/Sitka-branded YETI rambler tumbler, Orvis fishing shirt, and Bantam buck knife. 

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