Whit Fosburgh

May 4, 2017

Soundbites Are Great, But Solutions Are Better

In a contentious election year, it was tough to break through the noise and put a focus on conservation, but we did a lot more than just talk in 2016—read our annual report

One truism in Washington is that not much in the way of policy happens in an election year, and last year was no exception. Yet, 2016 was far from quiet for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, as we’ve outlined in our newest Annual Report. Primarily, we focused on building the strength of the sportsman’s voice in Washington and laying the foundation for campaigns to come.

To push back on the seizure or transfer of public lands that belong to all Americans, we continued using social media and old-fashioned shoe leather to organize hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreation business owners who depend on public lands. We took the fight to elected officials and, by the end of 2016, counties across the West passed resolutions opposing the transfer or sale of public lands valued by locals. Our public lands petition site at sportsmensaccess.org became the hub for activists across the country, with more than 50,000 people signing up to take action.

Annual Report designed by Pete Sucheski. Top photo: NickMKE/Flickr

At the same time, the TRCP and our partners successfully defended the Obama administration’s landmark agreement on greater sage grouse conservation from congressional attacks. These legislative maneuvers would have ultimately undone collaborative efforts to conserve 350 different species in the sagebrush ecosystem and keep this iconic Western game bird off the endangered species list.

In an effort to inform hunters and anglers, and everyone else, about where the presidential candidates stood on conservation and access issues, we hosted a forum with each campaign’s top surrogate at our Western Media Summit in Fort Collins, Colo. The resulting one-hour interview with Donald Trump Jr., moderated by Field & Stream magazine, became the definitive source of intel on our future president’s commitment to the sporting community.

We also took advantage of the legislative lull to bring the hunting and fishing community together on future challenges, including the 2018 Farm Bill. More than 20 partner organizations came together for three days at the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation facilities in Illinois to begin organizing for what will be an extremely important Farm Bill debate, one that will guide conservation on hundreds of millions of acres of private lands from Maine to Hawaii.

Our work on drought resiliency—a benefit to habitat and our fishing opportunities—continued, and by the end of 2016, more than half of the 20 priorities we’d previously identified as ways to get ahead of the next drought had been put into official policy. Similarly, to provide concrete recommendations on how the federal government could do a better job in managing marine fisheries, we organized and facilitated two workshops on “alternative management” tactics that could work better for recreational fishermen and conservation.

In addition, we worked with The Orvis Company to convene the communications leaders from our non-profit and corporate partners for a retreat to discuss new ideas for inspiring sportsmen and women to take action for conservation.

The goal of the TRCP is to unite and amplify the voices of sportsmen and women to create positive change for federal policy. We did that in 2016, both to address immediate challenges and to lay the groundwork for future success. On behalf of the TRCP board and staff, we thank you—our partners, members, funders, and many other supporters—for making this work possible.

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Whit Fosburgh

February 1, 2017

Shouting Outside the Window vs. Getting Into Their Heads

To move forward for conservation, resistance can’t be the only tactic

Add “alternative facts,” fake news, and #resistance to the major trust issues that Americans have with government, and it’s easy to see why D.C. politics is one big gray area.

An example: Rep. Ryan Zinke has been clear that he cares deeply about public lands and funding for outdoor recreation access, especially as a lifelong hunter, and he is absolutely opposed to selling off or transferring national public lands to individual states. He’s on record supporting the expansion of our public lands—and access to them—by fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We based much of our support for Zinke as Secretary of the Interior on his track record of crossing party lines to vote for support of public lands.

Image courtesy of Ryan Zinke.

Then, he didn’t. He voted along party lines on a House rules package that, among dozens of other proposed changes unrelated to conservation, would devalue federal public lands being considered for sale or transfer. The vote was procedural, and there is no indication that this action will be taken up by the Senate, but many began calling for Zinke’s head.

Critics ask how we can sit back and support him now. We’ve also been criticized for being optimistic about the nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, an avid quail hunter who instituted statewide conservation plans and funding programs during his tenure as Governor of Georgia. No, we don’t think that prayers for rain are good agricultural policy, but there’s more good than bad in his track record.

They won’t side with us on every issue, but we’d like to see true sportsmen (ones with actual conservation accomplishments) lead the agencies that are responsible for conservation in our country. There are many difficult choices ahead, and we want the opportunity to be heard by those who have walked in our boots and share many of our values.

Sonny Perdue. Image Courtesy of Bruce Tuten.

I don’t believe that Congressman Zinke’s actions were nefarious in that vote. But I can understand why hunters and anglers are frustrated with the games we see in Congress. Games like pretending that sage grouse conservation will undermine national defense readiness. Games like using obscure congressional authorities to reduce public input on land management decisions. Games like silencing scientists on climate change, yet decrying policies made by the last administration based on politics—instead of science.

It’s our job to see through the smoke screens, but our work will never be as simple as black and white.

As sportsmen, we have an opportunity to hold a middle ground and be reasonable in a time of upheaval Click To Tweet

We need to know how to work with D.C. insiders in order to reach and educate the decision makers who hold your hunting and fishing opportunities in their hands. It is incumbent on us to make sure sportsmen and women are heard by the new administration and Congress, and we can do this better in their offices than we can shouting outside their windows. As sportsmen, we have an opportunity to hold a middle ground and be reasonable in a time of upheaval and extreme resistance.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t go on the defensive when we need to. That’s why we’ve come out in opposition to a congressional attempt to roll back your say in public lands management. That’s why we continue to provide you with opportunities to oppose public land transfer proposals in your state and in Washington. And as long as sportsmen and women put their trust in us, we’ll always be transparent about our actions.

We can be optimistic and remain vigilant. We can shake hands and shake our fists. It’s not a political game—it’s our duty.





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.

Oregon’s Deschutes River. Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard/Little Creek Outfitters.

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.

Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

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.

Whit Fosburgh

October 12, 2016

Keeping Conservation Relevant in a Changing World

As we learn and grow our outdoor skills each season, we must also teach and grow our community, recognizing one fundamental truth—the next generation of sportsmen and women may not look like us

This week, at the SHIFT Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is sponsoring a workshop on the topic of cultural relevancy and being more inclusive of diverse audiences. Workshop leaders will explore, in other words, how we maintain hunting, angling, and outdoor recreation in a rapidly changing America.

This is a topic that every conservation organization is dealing with in one way or another. The future of our membership base depends on reaching new communities, and the future of conservation in America depends on our success.

According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), more than 37 million U.S. residents age 16 and older participated in hunting and/or fishing. Almost 12 million children from ages 6 to 15 also hunted and/or fished, making the overall number of hunters and anglers about 49 million. Collectively, sportsmen and women spent almost $90 billion to pursue those passions.

Every time we purchase fishing rods, tackle, motor boat fuel, guns, and ammunition, we pay a 10- or 11-percent federal excise tax that is returned to the states to pay for conservation. In 2011, excise taxes going toward sportfish restoration topped $667 million, and more than $484 million went to wildlife restoration.

Collectively, sportsmen and women provide 80 percent of funding for all wildlife species—not just the game and fish we like to pursue.

While overall hunting and fishing numbers have remained fairly stable over the last 20 years, the average hunter/angler is white, male, and getting older. Numerous federal and state studies show similar trend lines. Recognizing the long-term implications of these trends for hunting and fishing businesses, not to mention state and federal conservation efforts, many states and NGOs have launched initiatives to improve the recruitment, retention, and reactivation (collectively known as R3) of hunters and anglers.

By far the most significant is an effort by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) known as Take Me Fishing. The RBFF has also launched a parallel effort to engage Hispanics in boating and fishing with their Vamos a Pescar campaign, which is based on some simple demographic facts:

  • There are 55 million Hispanics in the U.S., representing 17 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Hispanics accounted for 48 percent of all population growth from 2012 to 2013.
  • The Hispanic population is projected to reach 65 million (or 20 percent of the U.S. population) by 2020.
  • The median age of Hispanics in the U.S. is 29, versus 43 years old for non-Hispanic whites.
  • And 24 percent of kids under the age of 18 are Hispanic, while 26 percent of kids under 5 years old are Hispanic.

While the Hispanic population is one example, our community also needs to reach out to women, African Americans, Asian Americans, and others who are not a major part of the outdoor community today. We also need to get our kids away from screens and back outside.

One positive step is the effort to modernize the Pittman-Robertson program—the federal excise tax on guns, ammunition and archery equipment—to allow a portion of what’s collected to be used for R3 activities, like Vamos a Pescar and Take Me Fishing. This is already possible on the fishing side, thanks to Dingell-Johnson legislation, but it’s not currently permitted with the P-R funds, although a bill is currently before Congress that would change this.

Beyond policy efforts, it is incumbent on all of us to welcome new constituencies into our community. We should be the ones—conservation professionals, like me, and license-carrying hunters and anglers, like you—to explain the role that hunters and anglers have played in making the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation a global success story. We need to welcome new faces to the campfire and help them understand that hunting and fishing, as well as the 640 million acres of public lands available for every American to enjoy, is our heritage and birthright.

Fundamentally, we must also embrace the idea that the next generation of sportsmen and women may not look like us. We can’t afford to be left behind.

Learn more about SHIFT here and the Cultural Relevancy Workshop here. And tune into a live feed of Steven Rinella’s keynote address, with a special Q&A session led by Whit Fosburgh, on TRCP’s Facebook page on Saturday, October 15, starting at 8:30 pm ET. 

Whit Fosburgh

September 14, 2016

Working Toward Conservation Solutions After Election Day

Fringe views on land management can’t distract from the real work that must be done as a new administration enters the White House

At the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, we do not engage in elections other than to make sure that voters understand where the candidates stand on major conservation and access issues. This is why we hosted a forum, moderated by Field & Stream, at our Western Media Summit, where surrogates for the Trump and Clinton campaigns had an hour to discuss their priorities and take questions from the sporting and mainstream media. (Watch the unedited footage of these Q&As with Donald Trump Jr. and Rep. Mike Thompson.)

America’s sportsmen and women tend to be fairly mainstream. We care about lands and waters and want America’s conservation legacy to endure for future generations. But we use these lands and choose to pursue some of the critters we work so hard to conserve. Sometimes we even kill and eat those critters. And we’re proud of the fact that our dollars and volunteer efforts have made America’s fish and wildlife some of the healthiest and best-managed populations of species in any industrialized nation in the world.

We have been critical of some right-wing politicians and their enablers in industry who would sell off the nation’s remarkable public lands, which provide the foundation for hunting and fishing in America. But there are times when the left fringe can be equally ideological and out of touch.

Image courtesy of Tami A. Heilemann/Dept. of Interior.

Take the reaction to Secretary Clinton’s announcement that former Secretary of the Interior and U.S. Senator Ken Salazar would oversee her transition team, if she is elected president. The announcement was greeted by most as a sensible and strong choice, but not from many on the left, who described the pick as a sell-out to corporate America. One blogger posted that Salazar’s selection meant “…the oil and gas industry just hit a political gusher.”

We worked closely with Ken Salazar when he was Secretary of the Interior from 2009 until 2013. During this time, he initiated major reforms in oil and gas drilling on federal lands, known as “master lease planning,” to ensure that new development would only occur in the right places at the right times, without impacting sensitive lands and species. He blocked oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home of the world’s largest salmon runs, and launched a major process to develop solar energy zones on public lands as a way to address a warming climate. These and other actions were largely criticized by the oil and gas industry.

Ken Salazar is a fifth-generation rancher from Colorado who loves the land and understands that it can and must support multiple uses. This is not just true for agricultural lands in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, but also for America’s 640 million acres of public lands. Some areas are national parks or wilderness areas. Others should be managed for wildlife and others for grazing, timber, or energy production. This is how it is supposed to work.

But for extremists on both sides, this is not the way they want it to work.

At the TRCP, we will work with whichever candidate is elected. If Secretary Clinton is elected, I know we can work with Ken Salazar, because we have done so in the past, and we understand his commitment to well-managed public lands and, more broadly, America’s conservation legacy. It is safe to say that we will not get everything we want, but that is not our definition of success.

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