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posted in: Sportsmens Access

January 30, 2017

An Uncertain Future for Public-Land Bear Hunts Like This One in Montana

Here’s what’s at stake in Montana’s Flathead National Forest if our public lands are managed for short-term financial gain

By Guest

On a rock outcropping, I sat perched over a large canyon in the Swan Valley, with my eyes glued to a pair of binoculars, scanning the adjacent mountainside. Montana’s spring bear season had only been open for three days, and typically doesn’t produce this early, but I was too excited not to be out there.

Just a few hours prior, I had been sitting at my kitchen table working on a term paper, but my mind kept wandering back to the thought of snowless foothills, fresh mountain air, and the chance of finding an early-season, public-lands black bear. I had to get out here. It couldn’t wait until tomorrow.

I’d have to reckon with my procrastination later, but my decision to spend that time in the Swan Valley paid off. After glassing for less than an hour, a color phase bear ambled out of the timber to feed. I watched for nearly an hour, long enough to determine that the bear was alone, unaccompanied by cubs, and therefore legal.

The wind spoiled my chances of sneaking in close enough for a shot that night, but I’d be back the next day.

Image courtesy of the US Forest Service


A Shortsighted Proposal

Just a few months later, right down the road from that spot, the Lake County Conservation District (LCCD) pitched a too-good-to-be-true proposal to the locals that would transfer management of these public lands to the state for the next 100 years.

Instead of public lands being managed for multiple-use, the proposal would take a strictly short-term, for-profit approach that would benefit a few at the expense of the rightful owners of these public lands: every single American. Approximately 60,000 acres of the Flathead National Forest would be utilized purely for its available timber commodities, with no regard for the long-term health of the forest or watershed.

Wildlife, like the bear I’d been watching, would surely be an afterthought.

A proposal like this wouldn’t just be bad for today’s sportsmen and women, but for every future generation of public-land users, as well.

The LCCD is now asking for public comment on their proposal, so there is an opportunity for hunters and anglers to put a stop to this. Allowing a proposal like this to move forward sets a dangerous precedent for other transfer initiatives to find footing throughout the West.

Luckily, there is something you can do.

Back to the Bear

When I returned to find the same bear less than 400 yards from where I’d seen it feeding, I moved quickly to get into range before the winds shifted, and I was able to harvest an impressive public-lands bruin.

After field dressing the bear, I sat next to a small fire and admired the thick, full, chocolate-colored hide of a unique black bear. Beside me, spaced out across a log to cool, lay four game bags full of bear meat. Another bag sat full of bear fat, which I’d render down for cooking oil and pie crusts. The bear had wintered extremely well, and none of him would be wasted.

Around midnight, my roommate Eli arrived to help with the heavy pack-out. We raced the sunrise back to the trailhead and were able to make it home with just enough time to shower and rush to campus. I made it to my first class on time, with baggy eyes and a wide, accomplished grin.

“The bear had wintered extremely well, and none of him would be wasted.” Image courtesy of Trey Curtiss.


Time to Take Action

If the LCCD prevails in obtaining land-management control, public-land stories like mine won’t come out of Swan Valley for a long time. And this isn’t just about my ability to hunt this specific spot; the issue of transferring national public lands to the state could play out across our entire country. Every American who takes part in our shared public-land heritage needs to pay attention and take action. Hunters and anglers truly are the #originalconservationists, and now is the time to prove it.

It can’t wait until tomorrow.

Trey Curtiss is a native Montanan and lifelong hunter. He’s currently wrapping up his final semester at the University of Montana, where he’ll graduate with a bachelor’s degree in resource conservation. When he’s not pulling all-nighters packing out big game (or writing term papers) Trey works as an intern for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers in Missoula, Mont.

4 Responses to “An Uncertain Future for Public-Land Bear Hunts Like This One in Montana”

  1. Shaun Pfund

    The use and ownership of public lands will be an on – going debate across our nation, each state supported by numerous hunting, fishing and outdoor enthusiasts must work together to achieve a goal that supports all interests and calls into all accountability our timber, water and mineral interests in these areas and the benefits derived from the concept of “development”.

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posted in: Sportsmens Access

January 18, 2017

Our Public Lands Are Classrooms That Are Too Valuable to Lose

Lessons from a youth hunt in the public lands around Oregon’s Elliott State Forest have a major impact on father and son, but opportunities like this are at risk

The subtle click of the safety disengaging made my heart race. Every emotion, logical thought, and sense focused like a laser to the moment. To say I was a nervous wreck was an understatement.

Chase was a lot calmer than I was. He’d already passed on a shot that he said didn’t feel right, but it was clear he’d made up his mind about this plump little forked horn buck standing across the cut, just east of the Elliott State Forest. As a dad, I prayed for a clean shot, as I have personally experienced the ramifications of a poor one and hoped Chase wouldn’t have to go through that with his first youth tag. But I could almost taste the backstrap, too, so I struggled to keep my cool.

I heard the crack of the .270 and watched the buck fall in its tracks. Emotions poured out of both of us, and a sacred bond had been made between father and son. Chase and I were now of the same make, the same tribe.

Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

This story plays out for families across the U.S. every year. Young men and women learn lessons that only the realities of the outdoors can teach: Patience, perseverance, responsibility, success, and disappointment are what this lifestyle is all about. Such lessons can only be taught outdoors, but our classrooms—our public lands—are under the threat of being locked up.

There is a big push in the West for states to obtain the federal lands within their borders. On the surface, this might seem like a good idea, but state governments have a long track record of selling off land to meet budget shortfalls.

This issue is very personal to me here in Oregon, where the sale of the Elliott State Forest has been playing out at the expense of taxpayers for years. That sale appears to be tabled for the moment, as our governor has asked to explore ways to keep the lands public, or at least to make a private sale more appealing to the public. But, at one point, there was a long list of buyers, topped by some private companies known for closing public hunting and fishing access. That’s how state ownership goes.

Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

Outdoorsmen—and our sons and daughters—stand to lose much more than access if our national public lands are handed over to the states, which have a mandate to make revenue off these lands. Our outdoor heritage depends on the wild places where it can be lived out.

As a volunteer TRCP Ambassador here in Oregon, I’m willing to fight to protect our heritage. If you’d like to join me in safeguarding our public lands, so kids like my son Chase can grow into confident, resilient, conservation-minded hunters, sign the petition at sportsmensaccess.org.

Nate Bailey is TRCP’s volunteer ambassador in Oregon. When he isn’t exploring the wild public places of southern Oregon, you can find him guiding clients down the Rogue and Williamson rivers. See what makes him #publiclandsproud by following his adventures on Instagram at @southern_oregon_outdoorz.

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posted in: Sportsmens Access

January 12, 2017

My First Hunt Made Me a Public Lands Believer

A woman’s first mule deer hunt in Oregon takes her from hunting skeptic to #PublicLandsProud convert

This fall, I did something I never thought I would do—I went hunting.

I didn’t grow up with hunting traditions. In fact, five years ago, my opinion of hunting was probably more aligned with a stereotype than it was based on an actual person or group of people I knew who hunted.

Then I met Kevin, and suddenly found myself dating a hunter. You know him as TRCP’s Western field associate.

Through Kevin’s passion for hunting and the outdoors, I found myself immersed in a new world. We cooked wild game together, and I sat in on fascinating conversations among his friends regarding hunting ethics, outsider perceptions, and conservation.

I began to see hunting as a culture, and it changed my perspective enough that I thought about giving it a try myself.

The author on a beautiful, but chilly, public-lands opening morning. Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

A Humbling Hunt

This fall, against all odds, I drew tags for a mule deer buck and cow elk in Oregon—something that I hadn’t totally prepared for, especially since we wound up moving to Missoula, Mont., right before the season started. On the long drive back to the Beaver State, I studied YouTube videos on how to quarter a deer and pondered if there were any quick car exercises that could make up for my woeful lack of preparation in the physical fitness department.

We met up with Alex, a friend from Oregon, and made camp. This was Alex’s third year hunting mule deer, though he had yet to harvest one. Still, I remained confident—how hard could it be?

Sitting against a tree on opening morning, I listened to the forest waking up all around us as the sun rose over the mountains, and I felt a sense of awe. The landscape was breathtaking. If it weren’t for the tag in my pocket, I wouldn’t have seen that sunrise or experienced any of the lessons I learned that day. I was starting to understand what Kevin and his friends had been going on about.

“If it weren’t for the tag in my pocket, I wouldn’t have seen that sunrise.” Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

I had no luck on opening day, but each encounter with an animal renewed my sense of excitement. As we crept up over a hill in late morning, Kevin stopped abruptly and whispered, “I see one.” I craned my neck to spot the animal he was looking at, adrenaline pumping. The deer was resting under a tree, partially obscured, but when its head turned, we both saw that it was a doe. That night, I remember having vivid dreams of seeing a buck instead and pulling off the perfect shot. When I woke up the next morning, I was giddy, ready to try again.

The next weekend, as Kevin and I were trudging up yet another steep hill while glassing the opposite hill for movement, our radio went off—Alex had shot a forked horn mule deer, his first! With no regard for any unseen animals that might be nearby, we whooped and hollered over the radio, sharing in his excitement. We got his coordinates and headed his way for the pack out.

I watched as Alex and Kevin field dressed the buck, seeing it transition from being an animal on the ground to different cuts of meat hanging from the trees. Alex kept the hide and cut out the ribs, wanting to savor each bit of his trophy and show full respect to the animal. By the time we loaded our packs and headed out with headlamps aglow, only a pile of guts and a few bones were left behind. For me, a big part of why I wanted to hunt was being able to provide my own meat and know where it came from. In today’s world where so much of our food processing is out of sight, this experience was the circle of life made tangible—an eye-opening experience of hunting for food and wasting nothing.

Lessons Learned

“On my first hunting trip, I learned that sometimes all you get is to see the sun come up and go back down, and sore legs.” Image courtesy of Laura Sligh.

Although I never did pull the trigger, being a witness to Alex’s achievement was enough to get me hooked, though I don’t know if I’ll ever be obsessed with it the way Kevin is. Hunting is humbling in a way that I hadn’t expected. I went into it with starry eyes, thinking I would punch my tag on opening morning, but it wasn’t easy. I came back to camp at night tired, hungry, and cold. I can only imagine how difficult conditions would be without healthy habitat, plentiful big game, and access to public lands. So, you could say I learned the value of conservation at the same time that I was paying my dues in the field.

All in all, I was refreshed by the beauty and adventure of public lands, no matter the outcome. I’m aware now more than ever of the incredible bounty that public lands can provide, but I’ve also witnessed their fragility. The adventures I had this fall would not have been possible without them. Public lands are ours to enjoy, but first and foremost, they are ours to defend. I now truly know what it means to be #publiclandsproud, and I can’t wait to try again next fall.

Laura Sligh grew up in the tiny town of Holland, Mich. and currently lives in Missoula, Mont. When she’s not adventuring on public lands with her boyfriend, TRCP’s Western field associate Kevin Farron, and black Lab Leo, she’s knitting baby hats with their cat on her lap, or trying to master a new wild-game recipe.

 

Kristyn Brady

December 21, 2016

The Wild Ride That Was Conservation in 2016

A look back at the highs and lows for habitat, clean water, access, and conservation funding

I think we can all agree that this year has been a political roller coaster ride. Election antics aside, there were a lot of peaks and valleys for conservation in 2016 that may have a major impact on fish, wildlife, and America’s sportsmen and women for years to come.

Image courtesy of Donkey Hotey/Flickr.

Looking back on 2016, we’ll always remember:

If you’d like to help us work on positive solutions for fish and wildlife, consider making a donation to the TRCP right now.

Happy holidays! We hope you have excellent hunting and fishing next year.

Kristyn Brady

December 15, 2016

Trump’s Pick for Interior is the Best Cabinet Nominee for Sportsmen, So Far

Congressman Ryan Zinke has been solid on public lands and outdoor recreation

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership affirms that America’s hunters and anglers can be optimistic about the management of public lands and sportsmen’s access under President-elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior. After days of rumors, the transition team confirmed Trump’s intent to nominate U.S. Congressman Ryan Zinke in a statement today.

“Zinke is someone we can work with,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “He’s shown the courage to buck his own party on the issue of selling or transferring public lands that provide 72 percent of Western sportsmen with access to great hunting and fishing. He’s a lifelong outdoorsman, who we’ve found to be receptive to sportsmen’s interests in Montana and D.C. We won’t agree with him on everything, but we think he’s someone who will listen and has the right instincts.”

Image courtesy of Ryan Zinke.

In June, Zinke was the only member of the House Natural Resources Committee to cross party lines and vote against a bill that would allow states to acquire up to two million acres of national forest lands to be managed primarily for timber production, locking Americans out of our public lands. Later this summer, he resigned as a delegate to the Republican nominating convention because of the party’s position on the transfer of federal public lands to the states. Zinke is also in favor of full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenues from offshore oil and gas production to conserve important natural resources and open public access.

The Secretary of the Interior oversees management of public lands, minerals, and endangered species. Senior officials nominated to lead other Cabinet departments will be just as critical to the future of hunting and fishing.

“The Secretary of Agriculture is another leadership position that will drive habitat and access improvements in America through Farm Bill programs, and we simply cannot have someone in that seat who is hostile to conservation,” says Fosburgh.

Learn more about the value of public lands and Farm Bill funding for conservation on private lands.

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