Kevin Farron

February 8, 2017

A Public Land Victory in Wyoming is Overshadowed by Looming Threats

Out West and on the national stage, recent wins for public lands prove that our voices matter, but we can waste no time patting ourselves on the back

Recently, sportsmen and women in Wyoming were instrumental in keeping state legislators in line by speaking out against a constitutional amendment that would have set the stage for transfer of America’s public lands to the state. The amendment would have sent the message to D.C. that Wyoming is willing and able to take over public lands, if given the chance. (Even though, as most of you know, this is not just an unpopular idea, it’s also financially inconceivable.)

Since some federal lawmakers are working to make this happen, too, an immediate response from hunters and anglers was critical.

What Exactly Went Down in Wyoming?

The text of this legislation was deliberate: Wyoming lawmakers carefully reserved the right to exchange newly acquired lands, and even sell them, but only for “public purposes,” which, conveniently, were not defined. This was nothing more than another veiled attempt to take over the public lands that are the backbone of our hunting and fishing heritage, and sportsmen and women, the original conservationists, were not fooled.

Hunters, anglers, and other public-land enthusiasts packed two public hearings about the proposal and testified with an overwhelming No way, not our lands! In just a few short weeks, nearly 1,000 of TRCP’s advocates in Wyoming sent 1,980 letters to their state representatives, urging them to reject this bad idea. You called, emailed, faxed, and showed up in person to voice your displeasure. It took all of us to finally get the message across.

The result was empowering and an example of the clout that hunters and anglers have when we unite and take action: The Wyoming legislature dropped the land transfer amendment, and the window to propose anything similar has passed. We want to thank you for showing that everyday sportsmen and women are a force to be reckoned with and for helping us make a difference in the Cowboy State.

A packed house greeted the Wyoming State Legislature’s Federal Natural Resource Subcommittee during a December meeting to discuss the proposed constitutional amendment to transfer public lands. Image courtesy of Keep It Public Wyoming
The Tide May Be Turning

Fortunately, this pattern seems to be playing out elsewhere. A few days after we heard the good news in Wyoming, sportsmen and locals rallied at Montana’s Capitol in Helena, chanting “keep public lands in public hands.” It was impossible for lawmakers to ignore the more than 1,000 people decked out in camouflage and brandishing signs in the rotunda and stairwells.

There, Governor Bullock reaffirmed his commitment to public lands, rallying the crowd with his proclamation that “the proposals to transfer public lands have no place in this building and they have no place in Montana.” But he didn’t stop there. “Not only do we need them to hear us here in this building,” he cried, “but we need them to hear us all the way in D.C.”

His comments seemed to foreshadow the events of last week, when social media blowback forced Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz to withdraw his bill that would dispose of 3.3 million acres of our public lands. As satisfying as that was to see, it is critical that we keep our game faces on and keep speaking up, especially because not all threats to our public lands are highly publicized and obvious.

A public-land hunter in eastern Montana’s Missouri River Breaks. This and the title image are courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.
Your Opposition Checklist

We all need to stay vigilant and informed, and when called upon, hunters and anglers everywhere need to make sure their voices are heard loud and clear. Since it’s the off-season, we’re pretty sure you’ve got the time. Here’s what to do:

  • Sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition. This will send your elected officials a note letting them know that you support public lands and ensure that you’ll be the first to hear from us about developments on this issue.
  • Stand up for your voice in public lands management. You are an important part of the democratic process on our BLM lands, and your access means nothing without healthy habitat and strong fish and wildlife populations once you’re out there. Better planning for all the diverse ways we use public lands also means that detractors have less of a case for saying that land management is dysfunctional.
  • Call a friend east of the Mississippi and bend their ear about this issue. Their congressmen and women will cast votes on legislation that shapes our public lands. We won’t get very far if only half the country thinks it’s their problem to stand up for America’s public lands legacy.

We should pat ourselves on the back for our recent triumphs, and feel inspired and confident about the outcomes we helped to shape. But there will be bills that do not disappear overnight. They will get hearings and may force your elected officials to choose what side they’re on. Make sure there isn’t a choice. Make sure our lawmakers are siding on the side of sportsmen. And make sure whenever they look over their shoulder, it’s a sea of blaze orange they see looking back.

One Response to “A Public Land Victory in Wyoming is Overshadowed by Looming Threats”

  1. Paul Hoferer

    If the ranchers don’t want to graze by the rules of the Government, they can take there cattle and leave. For what they pay for leasing government ground and what the ranchers pay for in Nebraska renting private ground is a world of difference. Nebraska $350 to $450 a cow/calf pair for 5 months. They get by on Government ground for less than $25 dollars. I think if I was them, I could find away to get along. It’s nice to know that the people of the USA have some place to go hunting, fishing, hiking, or what ever on Public land.

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Dani Dagan

February 7, 2017

Still Fired Up Over H.R. 621? Here Are Ten Other Threats to Public Lands

If you were shocked and angered by Chaffetz’s bill to dispose of public lands, then you should know about these less blatant—but similarly dangerous—legislative moves

Last week, sportsmen flooded Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) with phone calls, letters, tweets, and Facebook messages about his perennially unpopular and dangerous public lands bill, H.R. 621. Shortly after, he withdrew the legislation that would have enabled the sale of 3.3 million acres of public lands.

We celebrated. We were reminded that our voices have power. Then, we went back to work.

Here’s the thing: The tug-of-war between Americans who are proud to have 640 million acres of public lands as their birthright and those who seek to undermine these lands has never been tied to one individual bill, state, or lawmaker—it’s a longstanding ideological battle that puts conservation, access, and our hunting and fishing traditions on the line.

Give them an inch and they’ll take millions of acres. #PublicLandsProud Click To Tweet

And, because D.C. politics are hardly ever as simple as black and white, the intent to transfer or sell public lands isn’t always explicitly stated in a bill’s title. Threats can take many forms, but we’re good at reading between the lines. Here are ten other legislative actions that would dismantle our public lands heritage, piece by piece.

BLM/BobWick H.R.621
Top and above images courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM
The Other Chaffetz Bill

In addition to the bill he withdrew last week, self-reported “gun owner, hunter and public lands enthusiast” Rep. Chaffetz (R-Utah) also introduced the “Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act” (H.R. 622) as a measure to pull funding for federal public-land law enforcement. This bill is still alive in Congress and has six co-sponsors.

The Forest Fire Sale Bill

The “State National Forest Management Act of 2017” (H.R. 232), introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), would take two million acres of National Forest System land away from Americans to be managed solely for timber production (read: short-term profit.) Just a friendly reminder that this could transfer management of all of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest to the state.

The Sneaky Sage Grouse Bill

Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) introduced legislation that would give state officials full authority over state and federal conservation plans to restore sage-grouse habitat. This might sound mild, but don’t be fooled—transferring control of management plans is a back door to transferring control of the land itself. This would be “an unprecedented shift of management responsibility that erodes the implementation of bedrock conservation statutes,” according to Ed Arnett, our senior scientist. Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) introduced a near-identical bill last year, too.

The One That Strips Back Public Input

Alarmingly, the House just passed a resolution that could eliminate the Bureau of Land Management’s ability to update their planning regulations ever again. Embedded in a resolution to reverse significant improvements to land-use planning, which give sportsmen more say, is the potential to strip authority and flexibility away from the BLM—a key public lands agency. If lawmakers are successful in overturning the recent updates, the BLM will be forced to revert back to a decades-old planning process that doesn’t take into account the most cutting edge science and data on critical habitat like wildlife migration corridors and seasonal ranges. It moves to the Senate next—stay tuned.

If you’re still fired up over H.R. 621, turn your ire on lawmakers who want to roll back your input on public lands. We made you this quick and easy tool for contacting your elected officials. Then, call your representatives and urge them to oppose all attempts to undermine federal public lands ownership.

The Zombie from Nevada

At the end of each year, Congress drops the bills that didn’t pass—but they often get reintroduced in the same form (H.R. 621 was actually one of these) or repackaged as something less obvious. The “Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act,” previously introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), is certain to come up again. This is an explicit attempt to transfer federal public lands in Nevada to state ownership—at which point public access could be barred. We’ll keep you updated through our newsletter and social media.

The One Where the Math Doesn’t Add Up

Last year, the “Self-Sufficiency Community Lands Act” passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, but didn’t make it to a floor vote. It never should have made it that far. Introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), the bill would have given management authority for large segments of our national forests to “advisory committees”—no previous professional experience in forest management would be required on these committees. Conservation and access would surely be an afterthought to generating revenue, but the financial burden of wildfire management would still be on the American taxpayer.

If you’re still fired up over H.R. 621, sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition and make sure that lawmakers across the country can do the math on a bill like this one.

The State Bills

Bills at the federal level aren’t the only place we see shots fired at public lands. There are clear examples of state legislators easing the skids for public land transfer in Oregon, Washington, and Utah. Even in Missouri a resolution encouraging transfer of Western federal lands to the states is making its way through the state legislature.

If you’re still fired up over H.R. 621, join your local chapter of Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, or another sportsman’s group you trust to keep a bead on your local elected officials.

Sportsmen Must Remain Vigilant

It’s easy to get complacent as long as these threats never really come to a head. But as we saw with H.R. 621, the only place for a bill that would dispose of our American public lands legacy is off the books, knocked down by public outcry and political backlash.

Give them an inch and they’ll take millions of acres. Let your elected officials know our public lands are not for sale.

 




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.

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.

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.

 

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