Nick Dobric

June 1, 2017

TRCP Staff Spotlight: A Day in the Field with Nick Dobric

Follow our Wyoming field representative as he works within local communities in the Cowboy State

Recently, you heard from my colleague Julia about what it’s like to be a full-time conservation advocate in D.C.—from cab rides to Capitol Hill to reading hundreds of pages of legislation. Well, things look a little different out West.

As a part of our Western Lands team, I’m responsible for advancing the TRCP’s policy priorities for wildlife and public lands conservation here in Wyoming. Like other field reps in Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, and other states, I’m the main contact between TRCP and hunters, anglers, partners, and decision makers in my state. This makes partnerships with other sportsmen’s groups and volunteers integral to our success. Pulling off this level of collaboration and attending hearings, meetings, and events across the state means I spend my fair share of time on the road too.

Here’s what my typical day looks like:

9:30 AM

I start most days studying my calendar, reading emails, and reviewing notes to lay out the priorities for the day. Today I have to hit the road by late afternoon for an evening meeting in our county seat of Lander, about an hour-and-a-half away, and there’s a lot to get done before I go.

First, I reluctantly visit the mess left over from our table at the Wyoming Outdoor Weekend & Expo. The topic we focused on at the Expo was the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative, a collaborative, county-led process intended to address the status of the Wilderness Study Areas around our state. Representing sportsmen, I sit on the Fremont County committee, and this event was a great opportunity to educate people on the process and how they can engage.

Even though it means I’m on the road on the weekend, I value speaking with local sportsmen and women about our mission and the most pressing conservation concerns where they live—some of which might not be on our radar just yet. I was lucky enough to sign up 65 new TRCP members at the expo, so now I transcribe their names and emails so they can start to hear from us on important issues.

11:15 AM

Once I get all my outreach materials organized and put away, I return to my desk to figure out logistics for the next few days. The plan is to stay over in Lander tonight after the meeting and then continue to Rock Springs the next day, where I’ll meet with stakeholders and partners to discuss our work with the Greater Little Mountain Coalition and other issues. Even though I just got home on Saturday night, I pack for a few more days on the road.

Wyoming Public Lands Initiative meeting in the Fremont County Courthouse. Image courtesy of Jessi Johnson.

I print tonight’s agenda, review the minutes from the last meeting, and get some emails out the door. I forward an article to Earl DeGroot, TRCP’s Wyoming Ambassador, about Utah’s plans to double the cost the Division of Wildlife pays for the public to access state land. I hear from my New Mexico colleague that their state is dealing with the same issue: costs went from $200,000 to $1 million dollars per year to maintain public access on state-owned lands. This could trickle down to sportsmen through license fees and possibly even jeopardize access in the future—all the more reason to keep our national public lands in public hands.

Earl is dedicated to educating Wyoming sportsmen about the pitfalls of transferring public lands to the states, and he replies that he’s shared the news on a Facebook site he manages. He also sends me a trail-camera photo of a black bear he’s been watching on public land in anticipation of the spring bear hunt. Conversations about hunting and fishing are a regular and welcome part of my work since dedicated conservationists live and breathe this stuff.

3:00 PM

I head out the door and drive south en route to Lander. I won’t hit a single stop sign or stoplight for 75 miles, Welcome to Wyoming! The new episode of my favorite podcast, The MeatEater, keeps me company as I settle in for the beautiful drive.

Windshield time is a big part of the job for the TRCP team out West. When I’m not at home in Dubois, I’m traveling to Lander, Jackson, Rock Springs, our state capital, Cheyenne, and other communities spending between a hour-and-a-half and five hours behind the wheel each way.

Photo of Sweetwater Canyon Wilderness Study Area. This and header images courtesy of BLM/Flickr.
5:50 PM

I grab dinner in Lander before heading to the Fremont County Courthouse for our Wyoming Public Lands Initiative meeting. Eight other committee members sit around the large table—only our agriculture representative is missing since, like most ranchers dealing with the extended wet spring season, he’s way behind on work. Behind us in classroom-style rows are staffers from the Bureau of Land Management and Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments, a commissioner from a neighboring county, a reporter, a rep from Wyoming Wildlife Federation that I work with often, and a few interested community members

The main focus of tonight is filling in our outline for the Sweetwater Canyon Wilderness Study Area. Anglers are deeply invested in the area since the river with the same name holds various trout species, and its remoteness coupled with the lack of development provides a great backcountry fishing experience. We already conducted a field trip to the area last summer and heard from the agencies on current management, as well as the needs of other stakeholders. After hearing public comment, agreeing on some dates for future meetings, and working out logistics for our next field trip, we spend the next two hours working through all the comments that the committee members provided prior. We discuss activities like recreation and grazing in the canyon and adjacent landownership to condense our outline down in order to create a baseline understanding prior to making a recommendation for the Canyon’s future.

8:40 PM

Once the meeting wraps up, I’m finally done with a very full workday. I head for my hotel to crash before another day on the road. It’s not always easy to be away from home and my family, but I think back to everyone I talked to at our expo booth over the weekend—the Wyoming sportsmen and women who care deeply enough about our public lands, waters, wildlife, and the future of our hunting and fishing opportunities to stop by and tell me their stories—and I feel lucky to work for something I believe in.

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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.

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