Joel Webster

May 31, 2017

Public Land Transfer is Dying in the West, But Evolving in D.C.

Sportsmen have largely stamped out the public land transfer movement in the West, but it’s not enough to simply keep it public now that a new kind of threat is emerging in the nation’s capital

It was just two years ago when our hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands fell under siege across the West. In 2015, a total of 37 individual bills were proposed in 11 Western states, all aimed at taking away our public lands and handing them over to the states to be industrialized or sold off.

At first, sportsmen and women may have been blindsided by the intensity and breadth of this onslaught, but our community quickly reacted by organizing rallies, testifying at committee hearings, and writing elected officials about the value of public lands. These methods were effective, but in some cases, too little too late. When the dust settled on the 2015 state legislative sessions, six bills had passed in four states.

Luckily, only the federal government has the authority to sell or give away our national public lands, but this was six bills too many. Sportsmen were even more informed and vocal the following year, isolating land transfer legislation to the state of Utah in 2016. In 2017, all of these state bills have died, an indication that state legislators understand land transfer is a toxic idea, having been bombarded by the sporting community and other constituents.

Though talk of transferring public lands continues, we’ll go ahead and say it: We’ve won in the West

It’s Not Over Yet

Sportsmen and women deserve to crack open a beer in celebration of recent victories, but we should do so with eyes wide open about the next threats to our public lands: The special interests and lobbyists have brought this fight to Washington, D.C., where they are working to take over our public lands in many carefully constructed, covert ways.

The people who want to take our 640 million acres of public lands ultimately just want control of how these lands are managed, so they can open them up to unfettered development. Management—not ownership—was always the ultimate goal, and there are three primary ways to gain it:

The wholesale transfer or sale of national public lands to the states, what we’ve been fighting since 2015, was just the first attempt and some are still pushing it. Cover image courtesy of the BLM/flickr.
Transfer Ownership

The wholesale transfer or sale of national public lands to the states, what we’ve been fighting since 2015, was just the first attempt and some are still pushing it.

It’s not enough to simply #keepitpublic now as a new #publiclands threat emerges in D.C. Click To Tweet
Transfer Management

Giving local or state agencies the authority to manage America’s public lands while they remain in federal ownership may sound better, but it will have essentially the same outcome as giving away our lands. By handing states management authority, national public lands would be managed like school trust lands, where profit is king and outdoor recreation, like hunting and fishing, is an afterthought.

Negating the multiple-use mandate on federal lands would mean losing the carefully crafted balance between hunting, fishing, timber, grazing, and energy extraction. We’ve recently seen versions of this model proposed through the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act, which would enable states to take over the management of national public lands for industrial forest production, and a proposal from Congressman Rob Bishop that would give states veto authority over the management of sage-grouse habitat.

This method is basically land transfer disguised in more subtle packaging, and lawmakers are counting on the fact that you won’t understand their true intentions. But we see right through it.

Rewrite the Rules

If special interest groups don’t like the rules for balancing the many uses of public lands or taking local input into account on land management decisions, well then why not just change them? That’s essentially what they’re trying to do right now. Each week, it seems that the Trump administration is rolling out a new executive order to review or revise the rules guiding the management of our public lands. This includes an Executive Order that focuses on eliminating ‘burdens’ to energy production and an Executive Order that calls for evaluating 11.3 million acres of existing national monuments, possibly to proceed with rescinding or reducing their size.

These processes may create opportunities for special interests to rewrite the rules of public-lands management, removing conservation standards for fish and wildlife, while smoothing the way for industrial development. It’s imperative that sportsmen remain closely involved when the rules are being evaluated or rewritten to ensure that our interests and the needs of fish and wildlife get a fair shake in the process.

How Sportsmen Can Win

Land transfer is bad news on its face—it’s always been easy for sportsmen to recognize that and say ‘no way.’ Attacks on how our public lands are managed are sneaky and lower profile, cloaked in confusing policy, yet every bit as dangerous.

The good news is that America’s public lands are still ours—they are a part of what makes our country unique and we still have a say. For one thing, you can submit comments of support for our national monuments, many of which were created to safeguard fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation opportunities, right here. We can remain as fired up as we have been about keeping public lands public and use that energy to hold lawmakers accountable for subtle attacks on public land management.

These threats aren’t always easy to explain and don’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker, but that’s why we’re so committed to keeping you informed. You’re going to hear a lot more from the TRCP about the not-so-obvious challenges we face on our public lands. Expect to hear us say, too, that it’s not enough to simply keep public lands public. Access means nothing without opportunity. Ownership of public lands is meaningless without quality habitat and abundant wildlife to pursue when we’re out there.

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16 Responses to “Public Land Transfer is Dying in the West, But Evolving in D.C.”

    • Aaron Redman

      I remember LaVoy. I certainly know about Bundy. The were and are con-men leaching off the taxpayers for their own financial gain. True welfare queens if such a thing exists.

  1. Frank

    While I know its important to keep our lands as pure as possible, I am dead set against government owning any land more than it needs for itself. Remember, the beast once released is insatiable. Remember LaVoy? Remember Bundy? Government is NOT our friend and should be leashed at all times.

    • Jim Boone

      Hi Frank, don’t forget that we the people are the government, and we the people own the land. Taking land away from the government is taking land away from we the people. Reread the article and don’t be fooled.

  2. Gail Moses

    Transfer of Public land to the States will be the end of our National Monuments and land accessible to sportsmen. State control means profit comes first and protection of the land is secondary…or forgotten. As a country we can’t let these protected areas become income streams for states through development or misuse. I want my grandchildren to be able to enjoy these wondrous places as I have since childhood.

  3. Curt Rosman

    I volunteer for the Lake County Conservation District. A few years ago our chairperson began working to have 60,000 acres of the Flathead National Forest be managed by the State of Montana DNRC for 100 years, with LCCD receiving the profits. We have a 7 member board, and only I and one other have been actively opposing this proposal. Information at: http://lakecountyconservationdistrict.org/

  4. Aaron Redman

    Neither I nor millions of other Americans like me can afford to pay to hunt, fish, and recreate on private reserves. This is the beauty and the gift of our national parks and national forests: they are open to everyone, largely for free or just a nominal charge at the most. This would certainly change if our federal lands were transferred to the states. At best, large tracts of wilderness would be divided up and at worst, the high cost of maintaining the property would force my home state of Georgia and other states to sell the land to the highest bidder, especially in times of economic downturn.

    Doing so would be irreversible and would run counter to the values and ideals of our country’s early conservation leaders like Teddy Roosevelt, just as he stated here:

    “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

  5. Donald Kromer

    I have an e-mail from Ohio Senator shared Brown on this matter, and you are correct this is not over. How can I forward you a copy of this E-mail letter?

  6. Jon Patterson

    I live in the Southeast, and our Fish and Game folks do a good job managing public hunting and fishing grounds. We don’t have as much at stake as you good folks out West. The Feds tried this monkey business some years ago when there was talk of selling off the Uhwarrie Forest. It was stopped and there’s been no more talk about land transfer since. Thank you for keeping us all updated, and rest assured that even if I never get the chance to hunt elk on public land out West, I’ll do all I can to make sure my fellow sportsmen West of the Big River can.

  7. Joan Turpin

    I’m all for keeping all National Monuments and National Parks as they are. Simply put, I do not want my descendants to have to see The Great Wasteland instead of The Grand Canyon. I have hiked through most of Utah’s Canyonlands and some of the Bears Ears area and the entire area is amazing, stunning and surreal. To lose that to mining, drilling, fracking and other earth killing industries is unthinkable and irresponsible. Leave the public lands alone.

  8. Ellen Jordan

    Private McMansions, golf courses, and stockholders exporting our timber and minerals , also locks out the sportsmen from the very lands our forefathers fought to defend.

  9. Neils wright

    I see alot dealing with access but what of those that lose their rights?? In the recent disgnation, I have family loses access to their own lands! In spite what has been published, they were given notice to prepare to vacate. The dwelling my great grandmother lives in was dated by BYU at 1400 years old (carbon dated from some of the original logs). She was born there as was her great grandmother. I have never seen this organization comment on this part of these fights and I have been a member for some time. Out side this area Noone seems to be looking at this part of the equation.

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Joel Webster

May 18, 2017

Groups Created to Provide Local Input on Public Land Management Are Told to Stay Home

The suspension of the BLM’s local advisory committees threatens transparent and collaborative management of America’s public lands

In a world that seemingly becomes more polarized and political by the day, public-land resource advisory councils—commonly known as RACs—have represented a last bastion of cooperation in public land management. These collaborative committees are made up of individuals from diverse interest groups, including ranchers, local agency representatives, environmentalists, commercial interests, and sportsmen-conservationists. RACs serve the important purpose of bringing diverse local perspectives to the table to find agreement over competing demands on our public lands, like grazing, development, recreation, and conservation. They have been very successful in shaping positive public-land management outcomes.

The Department of the Interior oversees more than 200 individual advisory committees, including 38 RACs that meet with the Bureau of Land Management—the largest public-land management agency in the country, responsible for 245 million acres of our public lands. In fact, three TRCP field staffers serve on full RACs in Idaho, New Mexico, and Oregon, and weigh in on issues affecting BLM lands.

That is, until their meetings were indefinitely suspended.

Per instruction from the Department of the Interior, the BLM recently notified all RAC members that future meetings will be postponed until at least September in order for the agency to review the “charter and charge of each Board/Advisory Committee.” In the meantime, local decisions about the management of our public lands will continue to be made, but without input from local stakeholders who are trying to find common ground and who are actually out there using the lands.

Resource advisory councils – commonly referred to as RACs – have been suspended until at least September. Pictured here, the Idaho Falls District RAC. Image courtesy of the BLM. Cover image of the Southeast Oregon RAC courtesy of Larisa Bogardus.
The Local Success of RACs

As a part of these committees, sportsmen and women have helped to shape the future management of world-class fish and wildlife habitat in places like the High-Divide of east-central Idaho and the Owyhees of southeast Oregon. These are places that we depend on for our hunting and fishing opportunities, and when ranchers, business owners, environmentalists, and sportsmen are all on the same page about how these lands should be managed, we all win.

Our Oregon field rep, Mia Sheppard, serves on the Southeast Oregon RAC, where recently they’ve made collaborative recommendations to state and BLM-district managers about everything from fire management to handling wild horse and burro populations. Mia has witnessed their recommendations having a real impact on the ground and sees her RAC’s involvement as critical to finding balanced solutions on Oregon’s public lands. To remove RAC members from the process would further disconnect and delay resource policy and planning.

Groups created to provide local input on #publicland management told to stay home Click To Tweet

Down south, our New Mexico field rep, John Cornell, serves on the Las Cruces District Southwest New Mexico RAC. Currently, they are helping to shape a plan for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, focusing on improving access and maintaining sensible restrictions around historical sites—part of the reason this monument was designated. Stakeholder representation and input from hunters and anglers, specifically, is crucial and could be cut out entirely if these meetings are postponed until at least September.

In Idaho, Coby Tigert, deputy director of our Center for Western Lands, serves on the Idaho Falls District RAC, where they’ve been actively involved in management decisions that will affect more than four million acres of BLM lands. “In addition to upcoming land-use plans,” says Tigert, “the Idaho Falls District manages grazing, sage grouse habitat, and extensive phosphate mining leases on public lands. The diverse membership of our RAC helps balance the interests of the public with the BLM’s multiple-use mandate.” The postponement of RAC meetings could put all of this into question.

The Idaho Falls District RAC. Image courtesy of the BLM.
Keep It Collaborative

These are just a few examples of the collaboration and public input that would be lost if RACs were disbanded across the West. Moreover, the suspension not only threatens the responsible management of our public lands—it could further build disdain for the federal government.

RAC members have committed their precious time to do what’s best for our public lands, and now the agency risks sending the signal that it may not value their opinions or, in some cases, their years of hard work. This is the kind of action that encourages discontent and adds to the misguided sentiment that transferring public lands to the states may be a better alternative.

At a time when the public’s trust in the federal government is at an all-time low, the Dept. of the Interior and administration should be holding up RACs as the standard for how we should be working together to best utilize our natural resources in a way that benefits the most amount of people. We encourage the agency to restart the RAC meeting process as soon as possible.

In the meantime, watch for more from the TRCP on how the threats to public land management are just as real as the movement to transfer or sell off your public lands access—enthusiasm for public lands is at an all-time high, but it’s not enough to simply keep it public.

John Cornell

May 11, 2017

The True Story of a National Monument From the Hunters Who Helped Create It

An unprecedented review of 21 years of national monument designations appears to be about rolling back government overreach, but could it also roll back hunting and fishing?

For more than 50 years, my friends and I have hunted what is now the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. I remember quail hunting before the monument designation thinking to myself that this place was special. A decade before this half-million-acre parcel was designated as a national monument, I was actually one of the many local sportsmen who joined conservation organizations in calling for the assurances that a monument would bring to fish and wildlife habitat and public access for outdoor recreation.

I’m proud of the role sportsmen and women played in this designation. We were critical to the effort, representing the more conservative side of the community, and helped to bridge any gaps between conservation groups and people who might otherwise oppose the monument. The ranching community, for example, thought that the monument would threaten their livelihood. It did not, however, as grazing is still allowed in the monument. From Doña Ana County to D.C., we—the locals—fought for this and we were heard.

It was an appropriate use of the Antiquities Act because there was a great need to protect these areas, but after many years of repeated attempts in Congress, we weren’t getting anywhere. Now, my buddies and I can continue to hunt these lands for mule deer, Gambel’s, Mearn’s, and scaled quail, and ducks and doves, when there’s water in the playas.

“Now, my buddies and I can continue to hunt these lands for mule deer, Gambel’s, Mearn’s, and scaled quail, and ducks and doves, when there’s water in the playas.” All images courtesy of David Soules.

Initially, some sportsmen were skeptical of a monument designation, until they realized that national monuments managed by an agency with a multiple-use mandate—such as the Bureau of Land Management—allow hunting and fishing. There would be no locked gates or closed roads. The only thing the designation would change is the threat of these lands being pulled out from under sportsmen and other recreational users.

Once sportsmen understood this, it was easy to get behind.

Now, President Trump’s recent Executive Order on the review of monument designations under the Antiquities Act could potentially put these hunting lands—and other national monuments created in the last 21 years—at risk. This is something sportsmen cannot support, and we’ve asked President Trump that any changes to monuments be made carefully by Congress, not the administration. The TRCP and our partners would like to see the administration take actions to protect the integrity of the Antiquities Act and recognize it as the valuable conservation tool that it is.

When used appropriately, the Antiquities Act can expand opportunities for hunting & fishing. Click To Tweet

That said, monument designations must be pursued in a way that addresses the priorities and values of the community, including its sportsmen. This means a process that is locally driven, transparent, incorporates the science-based management and conservation of important fish and wildlife habitat, and upholds continued opportunities to hunt and fish within the boundaries of a proposed monument. This is exactly the process used to obtain the OMDP National Monument designation.

Along those lines, 28 hunting and fishing groups and businesses developed a set of tenets that we believe should be followed when new monuments are created in areas important to hunters and anglers. These tenets, which we sent to Trump back in April, include the following:

  • The monument proposal must be developed through a public process—one that includes hunters and anglers—as well as appropriate state and local governments.
  • The monument proclamation should clearly stipulate that any existing state management authority over fish and wildlife populations will be retained by state fish and wildlife agencies with the coordination and flexibility necessary to fulfill public trust responsibilities to conserve fish and wildlife and achieve wildlife management objectives including the ability to establish seasons, bag limits, and regulate method-of-take.
  • BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands must remain under the authority of a multiple-use-focused land-management agency.
  • Reasonable public access must be retained to enable continued hunting and fishing opportunities.
  • The input and guidance of hunters and anglers must be included in management plans for national monuments.
  • Important fish and wildlife habitat must be protected.
  • The proposal must enjoy support from local sportsmen and women.
  • Sporting opportunities must be upheld and the historical and cultural significance of hunting and fishing explicitly acknowledged in the monument proclamation.

When used appropriately with support of the sportsmen community, tools like the Antiquities Act, can successfully safeguard high-value public lands that are important to fish and wildlife, and expand opportunities for sustained high-quality hunting and fishing.

The greatest conservation president of all time, Theodore Roosevelt, established the Antiquities Act 111 years ago this June. Since then, 16 presidents—eight democrats and eight republicans—have used the act to protect lands important to our hunting and fishing heritage.

Some monument designations have been controversial, but instead of considering the repeal of national monuments, we’ve asked President Trump to set an example for how the Antiquities Act should be used responsibly, so that all future presidents may follow in his footsteps and uphold the conservation legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.

Certainly, here in New Mexico, the hunters I know would be left scrambling to find a new spot to hunt mule deer, javelin, pronghorn, and a trio of our favorite quail species. The other 170,000 annual users of OMDP National Monument would be out of luck as well.

Kristyn Brady

April 27, 2017

Rinella and Western Governors Receive Top Honors for Conservation Achievement

Meateater‘s Steven Rinella, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper were celebrated for their leadership and advocacy to advance policy outcomes for wildlife and access

At the ninth annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner last night, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated three honorees for their leadership in ongoing collaborative conservation efforts and advocacy: Meateater host and author Steven Rinella, Republican Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming, and Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

The gala event, held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., brought together policy-makers, outdoor industry innovators, and conservation group leaders. Tucker Carlson, host of FOX News Channel’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, served as co-masters of ceremony and set the tone for the evening with their opening remarks on the inclusive, non-partisan nature of hunting and fishing. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke made closing remarks emphasizing the value of America’s public lands.

Rinella received TRCP’s 2017 Conservation Achievement Award for his demonstrated willingness to raise awareness about habitat and access issues while spurring hunters and anglers to take action. His outreach to fans and readers about Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s H.R. 621, a bill that would have disposed of 3.3 million acres of America’s public lands, was integral to rallying opposition on social media that ultimately pressured Chaffetz to withdraw the bill.

“Steven Rinella is not only an excellent ambassador for hunting and fishing, he’s dedicated to advancing conservation so that our sports can prosper long-term,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “His influencer status makes Steve the ultimate sportsman’s role model, and his willingness to use that platform to bring clarity to complex policy issues and urge rank-and-file sportsmen to become informed advocates is incredibly meaningful to the American conservation movement.”

After accepting his award from Sen. Martin Heinrich, a 2016 Capital Conservation Awards honoree, Rinella restated his commitment to demystifying the public land transfer issue, and other conservation imperatives, for the average sportsman. “I grew up within a couple of miles of the Huron-Manistee National Forests in Michigan, and as a kid it was as if that public land just appeared there for me to use—I never thought about why, or how it was a part of a great American legacy of conservation,” he said. “I work to open the eyes of guys like me, who just never thought about it before. It’s not an easy to poem to write, but it’s critical.”

Governors Mead and Hickenlooper were presented with the 2017 James D. Range Conservation Award—named for TRCP’s co-founder, a conservation visionary, and presented to one Democrat and one Republican each year—for their collaborative efforts to help restore sagebrush habitat as co-chairs of the Western Governors’ Association Sage Grouse Task Force. They are the first state governors to receive the award, which is typically given to one Democrat and one Republican in Congress.

Gov. Mead shared credit with his task force colleagues and cited Wyoming’s unique outdoor-recreation-driven economy and future generations of outdoorsmen and women as his inspiration. His award was presented by Jim Ogsbury, executive director of the Western Governors’ Association.

Gov. Hickenlooper accepted his award from Sen. Michael Bennet and addressed the many benefits of public lands for Coloradans—including hunting and fishing access—and “the magic” of the simplest outdoor experiences.

Learn more about the TRCP’s Capital Conservation Awards here and here.

Watch Steven Rinella’s acceptance speech here.

Joel Webster

April 20, 2017

Public Lands Are Managed to Balance Many Uses, But That May Change

New under-the-radar administration policies would alter public land management, and this has major implications for hunting and fishing

Efforts to dispose of public lands may grab headlines, but a subtle shift in the management of public lands could present an even greater risk to the future of hunting and fishing. With the spotlight shining brightly on recent proposals to sell off our public lands, the White House and the Department of the Interior quietly set policies in motion last month that have the potential to change the way our public lands are managed.

In tandem, Executive Order 13873 and Secretarial Order 3349 would initiate a few specific processes that could change the way public lands wildlife habitat is valued and managed, especially when it’s at odds with energy development. All Americans—including sportsmen—depend on energy resources, but we want to see development carried out in a balanced way, not at the expense of fish and wildlife habitat or our best hunting and fishing areas.

There are absolutely ways to ensure all of the above, but these orders have the potential to put at risk the critical balancing act carried out by the BLM and other federal agencies. Here’s how.

“Would balanced land management as we know it be altered so that developers can do as they please without being ‘burdened’? Only time will tell.” Image courtesy of Cameron Davidson. Top image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.
Diluting Pro-Habitat Policies

Mitigation has long been used to accommodate development in ways that avoid or minimize impacts on important resources like wildlife habitat, and then compensate for unavoidable impacts. Mitigation has been used to avoid or minimize the fragmentation of mule deer winter range from energy development, for example.  In some cases, if habitat suffers while accommodating energy development, funds from resource extraction are then put back into conservation of habitat, there or elsewhere.

These executive and secretarial orders eliminated the existing department-wide policy for mitigating impacts to wildlife from development on public lands. They also set a process for evaluating, replacing, or eliminating agency actions taken to implement mitigation. Without good mitigation policies, assurances for fish and wildlife get thrown out the window and accountability for maintaining habitat becomes an afterthought, rather than a requirement.

Energy development should be balanced & not at the expense of fish & wildlife habitat... Click To Tweet
Vaguely Referencing ‘Burdens’

Second, these two orders establish a process for all federal agencies—including the BLM—to review all existing policies to identify potential “burdens” on energy development. The agencies have been ordered to make recommendations for changing or rescinding policies to remove those burdens, though what exactly constitutes a burden is subject to interpretation. Could it be that managing world-class big-game habitat or outstanding wild-trout streams are perceived as a burden to an energy developer? And, if so, would balanced land management as we know it be altered so that developers can do as they please without being ‘burdened’? Only time will tell.

Reviewing policies in an attempt to eliminate unnecessary regulations and increase efficiencies is one thing, but sportsmen and women will not support actions that undo the fish and wildlife conservation achievements our community has worked for decades to achieve. We are hopeful that a balance can be found.

“Would balanced land management as we know it be altered so that developers can do as they please without being ‘burdened’? Only time will tell.”
Keeping Public Lands Public is Not Enough

At TRCP, we’re on the front lines to sound the alarm on sweeping threats to public lands, like H.R. 621 and other legislative attacks. But it’s not enough to keep public lands in public hands if wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation do not rank with energy development or other uses of the land. Executive Order 13873 and Secretarial Order 3349 were introduced with little fanfare, and with so much of the sportsmen’s community focused only on the most outrageous and obvious public land issues, low-profile actions like these are more likely to fly under the radar and become foundational policies.

Don’t let that happen. Not every threat will come with a catchy hashtag or fit nicely on a bumper sticker, but your voice will be just as critical in the fight against these subtle policy moves. And TRCP will be there to let sportsmen and women know when there’s a chance to take action.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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