Whit Fosburgh

November 11, 2016

Public Lands Are Where We Can All Heal, Hope, and Harvest

At a critical time for America’s public lands, hunters and anglers—the country’s original conservationists—are asking everyone who enjoys outdoor recreation: Will you go outside with us?

It’s safe to say that, as Americans, we’ve been through a lot in this election cycle. From the 24-7 media circus to the contention between the two candidates, no one would blame you for feeling overstimulated or just plain exhausted.

Sounds like it’s time to go outside.

The outdoors have a true healing effect on the mind and body, and the hunting and fishing sports, especially, have an ability to transport. Whether you’re brought back to your earliest memories of watching the woods wake up at dawn or so lost in listening for the footfall of approaching game that you’ve completely forgotten your worries, the natural world provides us with serenity. Out there, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s where we are challenged, and as we find ourselves capable, we feel validated.

That’s why the TRCP is proud to join a growing coalition of more than 400 groups who, inspired by outdoor retailer REI’s movement to #OptOutside the day after Thanksgiving, are finding unity and purpose in the outdoors.

As we come back together as a nation, the question of where we go to spend time outside is an important one. The abundance of public lands in our country, and the right to access them for recreation, makes the U.S. unique in all the world. All Americans are richer for being able to share in their ownership. And the landscapes that are appealing to hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, climbers, and American families drive spending and support jobs in adjacent communities. Still, a movement to offload or privatize national public lands continues to find traction in Western states and on Capitol Hill.

This is not just unacceptable, it’s a threat to our national identity. Hunters and anglers who follow our blog know this—it has been a central fight for TRCP and our conservation partners since January 2015, and more than 35,000 sportsmen and women have signed a petition opposing threats to our public lands legacy.

But, to anyone else who heads outside to escape, heal, sweat, bond, or breathe a little deeper, I’d like to say to YOU that we can’t do this alone.

For every benefit that public lands provide, there’s an interest group ready to seize upon the opportunity. Even within our broader outdoor recreation community, there’s admittedly some mistrust between niches—those who ride versus those who run, those who watch wildlife versus those who harvest. With so much at stake, we cannot allow these unspoken hierarchies to divide us—it weakens the base of support that is absolutely critical to America’s public lands legacy.

Speaking for hunters and anglers, I hope that the rest of #OptOutside nation—at more than 1.3 million strong—will unite with us in the outdoors, celebrate the camo AND the climbers that you see in your social feeds, and check politics at the trailhead. If we can’t come together, we may just find ourselves united outside a locked gate.

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Julia Peebles

November 10, 2016

In a Divided Nation, This Conservation Program Connects Sportsmen to Critical Access on Private Lands

The story of an important conservation program, one that helps to supply critical public access in states with mostly private land, started right here at the TRCP

While American sportsmen and women are in the midst of an important fight for our national public lands out West and across the country, many hunters and anglers have a completely different access challenge. Leasing or buying land, or knocking on doors to gain permission to cross, hunt, or fish someone else’s private land, are some of the only options in states with very few public acres. That’s why we’re proud to work on strengthening conservation and access programs, many funded by the Farm Bill, that help level the playing field by bringing public access to private-lands states. In fact, TRCP’s co-founder, the charismatic Jim Range, was one of the creative minds behind a voluntary public access program that continues to change the game.

Once commonly known as “open fields,” the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) was created to expand hunting and fishing opportunities across our nation by encouraging landowners and operators of privately held farms, ranches, and forest lands to not only provide public access, but also to conserve valuable habitat. In the early days of the TRCP, Range saw that the need for access and quality habitat go hand in hand.

Range always wanted to share our great outdoor heritage with others, and he was known for saying that we need to protect the things we love, because nobody else is going to do it. In 2007, he was instrumental in drafting legislation with our conservation partners in the Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group—groups like Pheasants Forever and the Association of the Fish and Wildlife Agencies—to establish VPA-HIP and open new sporting access that would allow our traditions to continue. Former Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), former Congressman Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), and Senators Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) sponsored the VPA-HIP legislation and were influential in adding the provision in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills. From 2008 to 2012, the Farm Bill made $50 million in grants available to states and tribes, and the 2014 Farm Bill authorized another $40 million to be granted through 2018. All told, 29 states have been able to open public access to private lands and waters since the creation of this program.

Unfortunately, Range passed away in 2009 after a fight with kidney cancer, and he didn’t get to see many of the successes for sportsmen’s access and fish and wildlife habitat, nor the ripple effects on the outdoor recreation economy, that he helped to make possible. For instance, in just the first year after VPA-HIP was created, the national outdoor economy grew by $41.7 million and supported over 300 new hunting- and fishing-related jobs. And in 2011, Iowa generated an additional $1.82 in revenue for every dollar invested into the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP). This is important to celebrate as a win for sportsmen, landowners, and the rural economy as we look ahead to the 2018 Farm Bill, especially since conservation and access are very much on the line.

Range used to quote former Senator Howard Baker when he told the staff to ration our good ideas. There will be no shortage of ideas about how to make the most of the conservation funding and incentive programs baked into the next Farm Bill, but we think that voluntary public access, the “open fields” of Range’s imagination, is still a very good one.

Celebrate with us the possibilities inherent in this idea that private lands can benefit all hunters, anglers, and the species we love to pursue. This month, we’ll look at the merits of VPA-HIP and why it has been a keystone effort for the TRCP since the organization’s inception, instilling everything we stand for—access, quality fishing and hunting habitat, and economic productivity.

Check back next week for more, and learn about our agriculture and private lands programs and partners, right now. If you would like to donate to the Jim Range Conservation Fund, please click here.

Joel Webster

November 2, 2016

Moving Forward from the Malheur Standoff Decision

Three ways you can turn shock and anger into proactive solutions for our public lands

Like many sportsmen and women, I was shocked and angry when I first learned that the seven armed outlaws who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days earlier this year were acquitted of any wrongdoing. These radicals trashed public property and blocked public access to land that belongs to all of us, and they did it while brandishing weapons and talking tough. It is impossible to comprehend how some people, armed from head to toe, could seize a federal facility and not face any consequences for their actions, but that’s exactly what happened just last week. (Hatch Magazine points out that the verdict came down, in a cruel twist, on the birthday of conservation’s patron saint.)

While it feels satisfying to place blame—on the quirky nature of the charges, an incompetent prosecutor, or a weak jury—doing so won’t change the situation. The decision is made, and anti-government fanatics are likely emboldened as a result.

However, as sportsmen and women who love and rely on public lands, we can’t sit around and accept this outcome as some part of an inevitable future. More than 72 percent of Western hunters depend on access to public lands, and millions of anglers do, as well. Complacency and discontent will only serve to benefit those who wish to steal our heritage, and we need to make sure that this decision stands as an anomaly, one at odds with the course of history.

To that end, I’ve outline three active steps that public lands hunters and anglers can take to defend our public lands legacy moving forward:

  • Most immediately, sportsmen and women should let lawmakers know we need assurances that lawbreakers and extremists cannot take away our lands and our facilities. Congress should give land managers and law enforcement personnel the tools they need to protect our public lands legacy. Sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition—or share it with family and friends who may not have signed—to send a clear message to decision-makers at home and in Washington.
  • Second, be prepared to hold lawmakers accountable for their votes in 2017, as state and federal legislators will be considering a new list of proposals designed to seize your public lands. For our part, we will keep you informed on the best ways to make your voices heard on this and other conservation issues. Sign up for TRCP email alerts and check in with the leading state-based sportsmen’s group in your area, to ensure that you receive a complete picture of upcoming challenges.
  • Finally, get outside and enjoy your public lands this fall. Hunting and fishing opportunities abound this time of year, and it is important that we all get out there to reenergize and remember what we are fighting for. Take plenty of photos and share them with us on social media using the hashtag #PublicLandsProud. Meanwhile, we’ll make sure that lawmakers get the picture—hunters and anglers support and value public lands, and we’re proud to keep them that way.

The Bundy boys aren’t out of the water yet. They’re currently awaiting their next day in court, this time tied to the standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada, in 2014. We’ll be watching and hoping that the rule of law is applied through these proceedings and a clear message is sent to anyone considering attacks on our public lands and our way of life: These lands will not be bullied away from us.

Kristyn Brady

October 19, 2016

State Report Confirms What Sportsmen Already Know About the State Takeover of Public Lands

A study mandated by Wyoming state legislators finds that the realities of public land management make transfer an unworkable idea

A new state-mandated report on the feasibility of transferring management authority for 25 million publically owned acres to the state of Wyoming concludes that the process would be a financial, administrative, and legislative burden.

Ultimately, the report prepared for the Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) says that the state would inherit costly land management issues, like wildfire and litigation, if it were to manage the lands that currently belong to all Americans. The report also cautions that any transfer of land ownership would mean local governments would lose important federal funding sources, such as Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

“We’re not surprised by the findings, although sportsmen in the West should be heartened by the independent confirmation of what experts have been saying for years—the transfer or sale of America’s public lands to individual states would be a financial disaster for local governments and would threaten our access to hunting and fishing,” says Nick Dobric, Wyoming field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. The organization has been calling for lawmakers to oppose state takeover of public lands since January 2015 and has collected more than 34,000 signatures—2,200 of which are from Wyoming hunters and anglers—on a petition.

The report echoes the concerns that sportsmen have raised about the fundamental differences in the way state and national lands are managed. It reads:

State trust lands are in no way required to be managed for multiple use. In fact, the fiduciary obligation to generate sustainable revenue may be mutually exclusive of the ability to manage for multiple use, and this dichotomy significantly affects program revenues and associated costs. As an example, the OSLI issues grazing leases based on market value and has the ability to exclude other uses on the property (i.e., hunting or camping) because they do not generate revenue and could have a negative impact to the livestock producer.

Cheyenne sportsman Earl DeGroot, one of the local hunters responsible for the popular Wyoming Sportsmen for Federal Lands page on Facebook, hopes this will be the last talk of public land transfer from state lawmakers. “I hope the legislature will consider the findings of this report, and the overwhelming opposition that Wyoming sportsmen have expressed, and finally put an end to this effort,” says DeGroot. “I feel very fortunate to have hunted elk, deer, antelope, and even bighorn sheep and black bears on federal public lands in Wyoming, and sportsmen are tired of seeing our access jeopardized. The focus of our legislators should be on the real land management solutions and partnerships that will benefit our state.”

A rally in support of public lands, organized by the TRCP and many other hunting, fishing, and outdoor organizations, will take place in Casper on November 5, 2016. Featured speakers will include Chris Madson, conservation writer and former editor of Wyoming Wildlife Magazine, and Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

For more information on the would-be impacts of land transfer in Wyoming, and a record of meaningful opposition from elected leaders and counties in the Cowboy State, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

For the full OSLI report, click here.

Rob Thornberry

October 18, 2016

A Private-Land Pronghorn Hunt Built on Stewardship, Trust, and a Budding Bromance

Getting permission to hunt private lands can be a win-win situation for you and a conservation-minded landowner

The walk to a private landowner’s door to ask permission to hunt on his ground is always a quiet one. Today’s is no different, except for the crunch of gravel under my hunting boots. I fidget with my keys as I rehearse my opening line.

“Hello, sir. Can I have a minute to ask for permission to hunt on your property?”

I don’t get to the door. Craig Bare is sitting on a deck, enjoying drinks with company. His smile is friendly, his hands calloused. I botch the introduction, racing through my speech like a nervous teen asking for a date.

At its core, asking for permission like this is very intrusive. You are interrupting a person at their home—in my case, somehow, always during a meal—and asking to use their roads, gates, and crops. You offer little in return unless they’re charging a trespass fee. From their perspective, at best, you are an early-morning or late-night commotion in their quiet part of the world. At worst, you are the prospect of open gates, litter, and boorish behavior.

Their reception can easily be warm or hostile, especially if the landowner has been ill-treated in the past. Fortunately, on this windy September afternoon, Bare is all smiles. He said he is celebrating fall, Idaho style: well dressed and in the wind.

I’ve been hunting for pronghorn with a muzzleloader west of Idaho’s Mud Lake. I hold a unique tag, available to keep pronghorn from taking up residence on alfalfa fields that abut a 900-square-mile property owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), so I’m restricted to traditional weaponry only. The vast majority of the site is closed to hunting, giving elk, mule deer, and pronghorns a massive desert sanctuary, outside of which trophy-size animals can be found—so can conflicts between wildlife and landowners.

I ask Bare if I can cross his land and set myself up where the ever-skittish antelope leave the DOE property to feed in his green field. He not only gives permission but starts outlining the pronghorn routes he knows of and his neighbor’s boundaries. I meet three landowners during my hunt and all have the same basic instruction: Don’t clean the animals in the fields, park out of the way of heavy equipment, and if you have any problem with my neighbors, tell ’em I sent you.

Bare’s warm reception is especially encouraging because pronghorn have plagued Mud Lake farmers for decades. The relationship got so bad that in the late 1980s, agriculture interests lobbied the state legislature to overrule the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s management plans and started a massive effort to trim antelope numbers.

Cooler heads ultimately prevailed. Fish and Game increased harvest limits and designed hunts, like mine, to keep pronghorns at bay. Programs to compensate landowners for crop losses were also bolstered. And the site expanded its trespass rules for hunters, allowing sportsmen to hunt just within the site’s boundaries.

Bare knows the history well, but he doesn’t see hunters—or antelope—as a problem. I thank him for the warm welcome and the access. “We want the same things,” he says as we prepare to part. “We want Idaho to stay Idaho.”

That night’s hunt is nearly perfect, except for the fact that the largest buck stays out of range. The chance is ultimately spoiled by my impatience. But I head back to the truck with the reassurance that hunters have powerful allies as we look to protect our heritage for decades to come. That is, perhaps, just as important as all the public land access in the world.

Later, my friend Jim Hardy teased me about my budding bromance with the farmer. All jokes aside, I am glad I mustered the courage to ask a favor of a private landowner. It could have ended poorly, but that day’s interaction was perfect. I made a friend and represented the best of hunters and anglers.

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