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November 17, 2016

Why Orvis is Committed to Conservation and Public Lands Access for All

A Q&A with vice chairman David Perkins on Montana’s public lands riches, the fascinating science of conservation, and why giving back to groups like the TRCP is just good business sense

We feel pretty lucky to have a great partner in The Orvis Company—these guys obviously love hunting and fishing as much as we do, but they’ve also built their business model around giving back to the resources that support our best days afield. And, no matter where you shop for your gear, the folks at Orvis believe in your ability to access public lands.

That’s why this month for our Public Lands Challenge, Orvis will match every new donation to the TRCP dollar for dollar. And, if you’ve donated before—we appreciate it, by the way!—they’ll also match any increase to your previous gift, doubling your impact for public lands access and enhancements.

Dave Perkins, Vice Chairman, Orvis. Image courtesy of Orvis.

David Perkins, vice chairman of The Orvis Company, explains why this effort is important enough to spend more than 5 percent of their pre-tax profits on conservation efforts, and what makes him #PublicLandsProud.

TRCP: Orvis has a donated more than $20 million to conservation since its inception—why is the company so committed to conservation values and how do you engage your customers in the process of giving back?

David Perkins: Quite simply, our bottom line depends on sportsmen and women enjoying the natural resources in our country, and organizations like the TRCP have led the way in proving that if we’re not actively working to enhance habitat or protect our access to public lands, we could lose it. It’s a personal commitment to conservation, but it’s also just good business.

TRCP: What is your earliest memory in the outdoors, and when was your first aha moment about our responsibility to the places we love to hunt and fish?

DP: When I was about ten years old, my father taught me that in order for us to hunt ruffed grouse, like I loved doing, there needed to be early successional forest—the kind of young trees that grow back after a clearing effect, like a fire. I remember being so surprised, since it seemed counterintuitive. By cutting, you actually create habitat for these birds. That stuck with me. I think, since then, I’ve always been fascinated by conservation science and how different species interact with each other and the environment. As hunters and anglers, we’re a part of that. So, people need to be educated, and we all have to be willing to give back to sustain the things we enjoy.

TRCP: Why this issue? What makes you #PublicLandsProud?

DP: Public lands are our largest landscape, and not everyone can afford to access private lands. We have to safeguard those opportunities. I hunt public lands in Montana, and enjoy the state’s generous public stream access, and that makes me #PublicLandsProud. But, it’s a cycle: If people can’t access these lands, they can’t use them and appreciate them, so we’ll have fewer people to fight for them.

Keep the cycle of support for public lands going, and help us guarantee quality places for all Americans to hunt and fish. Donate by November 30, and double your impact.

Thanks, Orvis!

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Julia Peebles

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More Funding for Wildlife Refuges is Needed, But Midwesterners Won’t Wait

The communities around these five National Wildlife Refuges won’t let their public lands fall into disrepair—they’re stepping up to make conservation happen

The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) spans more than 150 million acres in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and with 337 refuges open to hunting and 276 boasting great fishing opportunities, these federal lands are a piece of our nation’s unique and complex public lands system. Despite the value of our public lands, gifted to future generations by people like Theodore Roosevelt and celebrated by sportsmen and Americans of every stripe, the agencies that work to maintain and restore habitat in parks, forests, and refuges have been systematically underfunded by Congress, fueling discontent with federal land managers.

However, when I recently visited five refuges in the Midwest with the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) Coalition, I saw collaborative attempts to close the gap created by lack of funds. Local communities weren’t resentful of the backlogs or shortfalls—they were stepping up to help.

These partnerships illustrate the power of public lands to bring people together, and the resulting enhancements are providing habitat connectivity between private and public lands and improved outdoor recreation opportunities that help drive local spending.

this is a post
amazing!

Here’s what cool, collaborative conservation looks like:

Prairie meets pavement. One of our nation’s newest refuges, the Hackmatack NWR in Ringwood, Illinois is in the process of conserving and connecting critical wetland, prairie, and oak savanna habitat in the greater Chicago, Rockford, and Milwaukee metropolitan areas. This refuge is mainly funded by the Friends of Hackmatack and partners, like the local Audubon and Ducks Unlimited chapters, and without this financial aid the refuge staff would not be able to conserve habitat for 109 species in the area. Friends of Hackmatack and on-the-ground nonprofits coordinate on restoration projects that enhance monarch butterflies and other pollinators’ habitat, too.

Private landowners, partners, and public dollars unite. Once the site of Aldo Leopold’s vacation home, the Leopold Wetlands Management District in Portage, Wisconsin honors the father of wildlife management by safeguarding 12,000 acres of Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs). The WPAs are areas where habitat is restored using funds from the sale of the Federal Duck Stamp to restore critical wetland and grassland habitat for migratory birds. The community plays a supportive role in maintaining and conserving these lands, as well. With help from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, private landowners can receive financial and technical assistance to improve waterfowl habitat on their own land adjacent to the refuge. Traveling with the CARE Coalition, I was fortunate enough to be welcomed by landowners Dave and Shelly, who showed us habitat improvements on their hundreds of acres of property. They explained how the Leopold Wetlands Management District’s fire management team schedules controlled burns to restore lupine vegetation for Karner blue butterflies, an endangered pollinator species, and to provide cover for upland game birds, such as pheasant.

Understaffed, but rallying on. The Necedah NWR in Tomah, Wisconsin hosts stopover habitat for migratory birds, including mallards, northern pintails, and other waterfowl species. While great jobs are available, many positions remain vacant at the refuge due to lack of funds. The current staff conducts critical wetland projects that enhance habitat for these birds. They’re hurting for additional staff, but they’ve done a fantastic job providing hunting and fishing services for the local community, including whitetail, waterfowl, and wild turkey hunts. The refuge also hosts the national Junior Duck Stamp contest where youth can submit their artwork and possibly have it displayed on the five-dollar stamp. While designing the stamps, children learn about wetlands and waterfowl conservation.

Trout Unlimited restoration project in Bloomington, Wisconsin.

You break it, they fix it. During our time at the Upper Mississippi River NWR in the La Crosse, Minnesota, we saw the damage created by the Army Corps of Engineers through the lock and dams and dredging projects. The refuge staff is working on restoring the wetlands back to their original state by flooding the river and removing invasive species. The dredging of the Mississippi River in Winona, Minn., decreases sediment, but the Gulf Coast feels the burden because lands in Louisiana and other Gulf states are eroding. The importance of funding restoration projects in the river is critical for about 45 percent of the world’s canvasback duck population and for fisheries located in the Gulf of Mexico.

Vandalism creeping in. The Upper Mississippi River NWR is a great example of where people can exercise their right to access public forests, grasslands, and wetlands, even if they live in a populous city, Minneapolis. Another example, the Minnesota Valley NWR, provides education and access opportunities for Bloomington, a suburban area around the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, the refuge is understaffed and has difficulty keeping up enough of a presence to prevent vandalism, which also contributes to maintenance backlogs. Pollution, such as litter, is also a conservation challenge here, so volunteers and partners help fill the void by providing additional hands in restoring habitat.

While these collaborative efforts between local and federal agencies and organizations are something to celebrate, they can only do so much for the National Wildlife Refuge System without adequate funding. The NWRS needs more funding to help broaden collaborative efforts and not fatigue partners. When our public land managers see budget cuts, our hunting and fishing opportunities are on the chopping block. Congress has until December 9 to figure out the full funding picture for 2017 or punt these decisions to the next Congress. Whatever they decide, we’ll continue pushing for better investments in conservation as the cornerstone of our proud public lands traditions and the outdoor recreation economy that supports local spending.

Julia Peebles

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posted in: General

November 14, 2016

Glassing the Hill: November 14 – 18

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

The GOP sweeps D.C. With election results in, Republicans will hold the White House and majority in both chambers beginning next Congress. While Senate Republicans maintained their majority, things will be a little tighter in the 115th Congress, with Republicans holding 51 seats to the Democrats’ 48 seats. The Louisiana runoff is still being decided.

With turnover comes a shift in Congressional party leadership. In the next Congress, Senate Democrats will see a shift in leadership, but majority leadership will remain unchanged after a closed-door vote this week. Democrats postponed their elections until later this month.

Committee chair and ranking member seats in both chambers are also up for grabs. Both parties will make their picks in separate steering committee meetings in December. We’re keeping an eye on committees that deal with conservation funding, energy development on public lands, and more.

Here’s who’s vying for open spots:

  • Senate Minority Leader: Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is retiring at the end of the 114th Congress, and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will likely hold that position after the Senate Democratic Caucus votes on Wednesday.
  • Senate Minority Whip: Also on Wednesday, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is expected to run against Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in a potentially highly competitive race. The minority whip is the second highest minority ranking.
  • Senate Appropriations Committee: We suspect Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will replace ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) when she retires.
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: Senator Thomas Carper (D-Del.) is likely to replace ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) is expected to succeed Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).
  • House Energy and Commerce Committee: Chairmanship will be up for grabs, as Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) reaches his term limit. Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), and Joe Barton (R-Texas) are being considered to replace him.
  • House Appropriations Committee: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) may replace Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) when he reaches his term limit at the end of the year.
Image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.

Meanwhile, funding is a big question during lame duck season. As of Wednesday, November 8, Congress is sitting in a lame duck—the period that occurs after an election but before newly-elected representatives begin their terms—and the budget is going to be a critical item on the agenda. The current short-term continuing resolution holds spending at fiscal year 2016 levels, but it ends on Friday, December 9. As of Election Day, the odds are now longer for an omnibus funding agreement for the rest of fiscal year 2017—it seems increasingly likely lawmakers will pass an additional continuing resolution to maintain current funding levels through February or March. This allows President-elect Trump an opportunity to influence funding and policy priorities when he takes office.

Sage grouse conservation is still in the crosshairs. “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) continues to be negotiated in conference, and still includes Rep. Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) sage grouse provision that would halt conservation plans for the birds’ habitat on federal lands. The Senate-passed NDAA does not include a similar provision, and derailing any attempts to block the federal conservation plans is one of TRCP’s top policy priorities. The ‘big four’ (Chairmen John McCain and Mac Thornberry and Ranking Members Jack Reed and Adam Smith) are expected to resume negotiations this week.

But the Everglades may still get a much-needed boost. Senate and House public works and infrastructure staff have been working to combine their respective versions of “The Water Resource Protection Act” (WRDA) over the past month, resolving differences and creating a single piece of legislation. Both versions of WRDA included provisions to authorize $900 million in funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project and projects that use naturally-occurring infrastructure, such as marshes and wetlands. Additionally, lawmakers may decide that WRDA is the vehicle to provide emergency relief funds to combat lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, in which case it will become a must-pass bill.

Ed Arnett

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November 9, 2016

Yes, Let’s Set Politics Aside on Sage Grouse Conservation

This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill on Oct. 27, 2016. 

An Oct. 14 post on the Congress Blog (“It’s time to put politics aside on sage grouse”) gets many things wrong about greater sage grouse conservation efforts designed to keep the bird off the endangered species list. As wildlife biologists and lifelong sportsmen—a group the author attempts to discredit—we’d like to set the record straight.

First, claims that the federal land-use plans benefiting sage grouse impose restrictions that disadvantage our military are incorrect. In fact, they have been repeatedly denied by the Department of Defense, most recently in a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) confirming that the plans adopted by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service “do not pose any threat to military readiness.”

It is true that sage grouse numbers are up across most of the bird’s range, but the 63-percent increase noted in the article is compared to historic lows recorded in 2013. Many have touted these numbers as evidence that state and voluntary conservation plans are adequate, but conditions have been naturally favorable since 2014, when rain finally found its way back to sagebrush country. The whole suite of conservation plans—federal, state, and private landowner efforts—must be allowed to work in unison to reverse an overall downward trend of about one percent per year between 1965 and 2015. Additionally, successful restoration measures across the range of sage grouse must be defensible in court.

That said, there’s not yet enough evidence to show that state plans, which vary in strength and assurances, can stand alone to address all threats to the bird in the absence of federal plans. Furthermore, the legislation referenced would block bedrock conservation statutes and judicial review while allowing state gubernatorial veto power over federal land management decisions on public lands—an unprecedented shift in management authority to the states that is reminiscent of other efforts to force our public lands into state and, likely, private control.

For all the doubt cast on national and Western-based sportsmen’s groups and businesses—105 of which signed a letter to decision-makers opposing bad provisions for sage grouse in any future legislation—we strongly agree with the author about one thing: None of us want to see a Western landscape devoid of humans, responsible grazing, balanced development, or hunting. We too want to see lawmakers set politics aside and allow science-based sage grouse conservation efforts to work.

Make your voice heard to help save this iconic bird and our hunting traditions.

Dr. Ed Arnett is the Colorado-based senior scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Dr. Steve Williams is president and CEO of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under George W. Bush.

Carl Erquiaga

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November 2, 2016

A Girl’s Guide to Hunting Big Game

A chance meeting with a young hunter holding her first-ever mule deer tag inspires a lifelong outdoorsman

Sometimes the success of a hunt is measured in inches of horn or pounds of meat, but I believe it is more often measured by less tangible things like the thrill of early morning panoramic views, the camaraderie of a scouting session, the laughter of friends and family over camp chores, and, sometimes, the brief interactions with other hunters you meet out there. It’s certainly a success if you learn something, and I recently got my lesson from a young girl on her very first mule deer hunt.

I was elk hunting with my friends the morning that Nevada’s muzzleloader mule deer season opened, when a man and his daughter dressed in camo rode up to us in a side-by-side UTV. We had pulled off to the side of the road to allow them to pass when the gentleman stopped to talk to us and asked what we were hunting. We told him I had an elk tag and asked if he was hunting mule deer. “My daughter has the tag,” he responded, and the girl, who I guessed was 14 years old, smiled from ear to ear.

In Nevada, youth tags are allocated by hunt unit and set aside for kids aged 12 to 15. Young tag-holders are allowed to hunt for either a buck or doe during the archery, muzzleloader, or general season in their respective units. This was established about 20 years ago, when Nevada sportsmen and the Nevada Department of Wildlife recognized that recruiting young hunters was the best way to ensure that our sports could continue. In a draw state for all big game tags, there was an excellent opportunity to give kids a better chance of successfully harvesting a muley—and give the state a better chance at hooking a lifelong license buyer.

The girl’s father asked if we had seen many deer, and we shared what intel we could. We’d seen quite a few deer, but the bucks were mostly young forked horns. The girl gushed about wanting to hold out for something bigger and I had to smile back at her infectious enthusiasm. They described where they’d seen a couple of good bull elk that morning, and the man pulled out his phone to show us some pictures of a very nice six-point bull and one that was even bigger. “If I were you,” the girl said excitedly, “I would go there now! Seriously, right now!” We wished each other luck, and my group drove off to follow-up on her advice.

When we did, in fact, see some very nice bulls in that part of the unit, my mind wandered back to the girl with the big smile, and I wished I’d exchanged contact information with her dad, so I could have followed up on her success. What a remarkable kid—polite and kindhearted, willing to spend the day with her dad on public lands far away from social media and friends. If she’s anything like my kids—or me, the first time I went deer hunting with my dad—she’ll be forever changed by the experience of having a tag in her pocket and all the possibility in the world.

Wherever she is, I wish her happy hunting.

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