John Cornell

July 20, 2017

Sportsmen Remain Locked Out of Thousands of Acres of Public Land in New Mexico

How Secretary Zinke can help unlock the nation’s only designated wilderness with no public access

Designated in 2009, the 16,030-acre Sabinoso Wilderness, located in San Miguel County, is a remote area in the northeastern portion of New Mexico that is home to a number of game species such as mule deer, Barbary sheep, New Mexico dahl sheep, Rio Grande turkeys, and migratory waterfowl. Yet, right now, the only way sportsmen and others can enjoy the high, narrow mesas and cliff-lined canyons is with permission from a private landowner.

The Sabinoso Wilderness is the only designated wilderness in the country that does not have any public access. We’re just one step away from correcting that, and local hunters are itching to get in this season. Here’s what has to happen.

A Gift for Public Access

After more than four years of intensive work by conservation organizations and local sportsmen and women, along with Senators Heinrich and Udall, a private foundation now owns the key to public access—the 4,176-acre Rimrock Rose Ranch.

The ranch lies between the nearest county road and the publicly owned wilderness and cost more than $3 million. The purchase was made with the understanding that the property would be conveyed from the foundation to the American people and the BLM, so that the parcel would eventually become public land, thereby connecting the county road and the Sabinoso. In other words, the private foundation’s generosity would open up more than 4,000 acres of private land as well as 16,000+ acres of landlocked public lands that have belonged to all Americans for nearly a decade.

This and the cover image courtesy of Joel Gay.
Cutting Through the Red Tape

The BLM has completed the evaluation of the wilderness-eligible parcels and is ready to accept the donation. A 60-day congressional review period mandated by the Wilderness Act concluded on March 20, 2017 with no action taken by Congress. So we’ve passed these first hurdles.

The only thing holding up the transaction is Secretary Zinke’s unwillingness to approve it.

The New Mexico State Office of the BLM had completed its realty process (all good there), but then Secretary Zinke instructed the BLM to pause work on the transaction.

Local sportsmen’s organizations have pushed hard for the BLM to complete its work in time to open the area for this fall’s hunting season. Any further delays in the process could endanger that timeline and leave hunters locked out of the area for yet another season. The only holdup now resides with Secretary Zinke’s instructions to pause the process, an order that only the Secretary can rescind, though presumably quite easily.

And if another recent Secretarial order is any indication, Zinke is all for unlocking checkerboard public lands.

In fact, sportsmen across the West are applauding Secretarial Order 3347, in which Secretary Zinke has directed the BLM to identify, inventory, and find all possible ways to provide access onto our public lands that are now landlocked and inaccessible. Here in New Mexico, Zinke has a golden opportunity to put the good intentions of S.O. 3347 into action, making public access to the Sabinoso a shining example of landlocked lands being made available to the public.

Image courtesy of the BLM/Flickr.
What Happens Next?

Access to the newly created Sabinoso Wilderness will be an integral part of economic growth locally and regionally, and local leaders have joined the TRCP in asking Secretary Zinke to help see this through.

Stage is set for @Interior to open access to 20,000 acres of landlocked #publiclands; will they? Click To Tweet

The Sabinoso Public Access Plan we are supporting is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to open spectacular hunting and outdoor recreation opportunities to the public for the very first time. Sportsmen, local residents, and small business owners are eagerly awaiting the day that the public can visit this unique landscape.

By completing the final step expeditiously, Secretary Zinke can ensure that this fall will be the Sabinoso’s first hunting season with guaranteed public access, something he has publicly advocated in the past. Now is his chance to stand behind his words and open more than 20,000 total acres of public land to the American people.

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Chris Macaluso

July 13, 2017

Solutions for the Biggest Pain Points of Frustrated Anglers

Modern federal fisheries management should recognize the value of recreational fishing to local communities and conservation in America—here are three ways to do that

Frustration among anglers is at an all-time high. Overall, recreational and commercial fishing are still being treated the same, despite being fundamentally different activities that require different management approaches. Federal fisheries managers are also employing inherently imprecise data on recreational harvest in a system that requires great precision. Combined, you have a situation where it’s common for anglers to lose access and lack trust in federal fisheries managers.

But there are policy solutions, and the sportfishing, advocacy, and conservation communities continue to work with federal and state policymakers to improve saltwater recreational fishing management and ensure there are healthy stocks of forage fish and gamefish in America’s coastal waters. Here’s what we want to see.

Modernizing Federal Fisheries Management
ICAST 2017, TRCP Media Summit

 

Currently, federal fisheries managers set catch limits for recreational and commercial fishing using quotas to harvest stocks up to maximum sustainable yield. While this may be an ideal management strategy for commercial fishing, where harvesting the maximum biomass is desired, it is not an effective management tool for recreational fishing, where abundance, size, and opportunity are more important. We get out on the water to catch fish for food or catch and release fish as a way to enjoy the outdoors—our motivations and tactics are different than the commercial sector.

In the past year, the recreational fishing community has explored the technical aspects of incorporating more management techniques appropriate for recreational fisheries into federal approaches, and our groups worked with decision makers to develop pieces of legislation to implement these ideas. “The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017” was introduced in the House of Representatives in April and in the Senate this week.

The bill requires an examination of allocations in mixed-use fisheries, allows for the use of alternative management approaches for recreational fishing, and requires federal managers to work more closely with state fisheries agencies and research facilities to incorporate data on fish stocks and improve angler data collection on harvest and effort.

A Short-Term Fix for Red Snapper

 

In May, state fisheries management agencies joined Gulf-region elected officials and the Department of Commerce to address the historically embattled red snapper season for federal waters, set for just three days in 2017. Gulf-state fisheries agencies traded red snapper fishing days in state waters for a 39-day red snapper season on weekends through Labor Day 2017. A high level of cooperation and coordination was needed to have all five states agree to this deal with the federal government, and the extended season has calmed anger and frustration among Gulf anglers.

However, it is a temporary fix. A long-term solution will require more cooperation, improved data collection, and continued efforts from Congress to address federal laws that manage recreational fishing based on the values of commercial fishing.

Managing Menhaden

Forage fish like menhaden serve as the foundation of the food chain, supporting sportfish such as striped bass, bluefish, red drum, speckled trout, and other species enjoyed by recreational anglers. Improving forage fish management and the conservation of these stocks is critical to the health of these economically important game fish.

Currently, the Atlantic menhaden fishery is managed as a single species, but this approach fails to account for the little fish’s critical role as an essential food source. In November 2017, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will vote on whether to transition menhaden to an ecosystem-based model, which would account for predator-prey relationships and bring forage fisheries management into the 21st century. The TRCP, ASA, and CCA are working with sportsmen and conservation groups to support this landmark decision, and sportsmen and women will have a chance to weigh in this fall.

Want to be the first to know about your opportunity to take action? Sign up for the Roosevelt Report.

Cover photo and above courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Dani Dagan

July 12, 2017

Four Life Lessons From a Year of Conservation

One of our staffers says goodbye and reflects on what our work to enhance habitat and access for American sportsmen and women has taught her

Last spring, I drafted a cover letter that would ultimately land me my job at the TRCP. At the time, I hadn’t hunted or fished much, but I explained that my experience with wildlife science and policy had granted me respect for the mission and work of the organization. I wrote that I believed “pragmatic conservation approaches depend on hunters and anglers.”

In the little more than a year since, I’ve been proven right. Amid challenges that come with the close of a congressional session and start of a new administration—not to mention blatant bills and incremental changes threatening to undermine our public lands, fish and wildlife habitat, and sporting traditions—sportsmen have had, and will continue to have, a unique seat at the table in Washington. We have the opportunity to moderate change in a way that creates balance and benefit for America’s fish and wildlife.

And that’s not all that I’ve learned in my time here.

A Win Rarely Looks Like a Victory
Sorted by darkness of roast.

Once, not long after I started at TRCP, I walked into the office kitchen to find Steve Kline, our government relations director, intensely focused on organizing the coffee pod rack. He told me, only half-jokingly, “This is the most visible work product I get to see all day.”

I think about that moment often. No matter how many meetings we have, conservation doesn’t really have an end point. We may never be able to declare a definitive victory. And when we do engage in discrete battles, success can be hard to see, especially in the federal policy sphere where the TRCP operates (and where Steve often leads the charge.) Sometimes it’s clear, and we either gain ground or lose ground. But often, winning just means we held the line.

Last fall, we shared a list of the top four things lawmakers could do for conservation by the end of 2016, with the second item being “let sage grouse conservation plans work.” That’s it, just don’t mess up what we’ve already got. Yet decision makers continue resurrecting attempts to dismantle conservation plans. Whether it’s a dangerous rider on a defense bill or a secretarial order that threatens to shift focus away from habitat, each time a risk emerges, we round up the troops to defend the good policies already in place. And at times we’re able to celebrate an invisible win: the fact that nothing changed at all.

It’s Better to Be a Bridge Than an Island

Conservation should never be red or blue—and as far as sportsmen are concerned, it’s not. Hunters and anglers agree that clean water, sportsmen’s access, wetlands protections, wildlife-friendly infrastructure, and federal funding for conservation should be supported and prioritized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

But in the wider political climate, these issues can become partisan, as we saw last year in a House Natural Resources Committee vote on a bill to sell public lands for the primary purpose of timber production. The vote came down almost entirely on party lines, except for a ‘nay’ vote from then-Congressman Ryan Zinke.

That’s why sportsmen’s voices are especially important. We understand that taking good care of our natural resources is an American ideal regardless of one’s political affiliation, and that helps bridge hard political divides and ultimately gets good, bipartisan conservation policy done, like the recent sportsmen’s package. The key is that we have to keep reminding lawmakers that we’re here, we’re paying attention, and these issues are important to us.

Sportsmen can moderate change in a way that creates balance and benefit for America's fish and wildlife. Click To Tweet
The Things You Don’t Hear About Can Be the Most Important

Earlier this year, when Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced H.R. 621 to dispose of federal public lands, opposition went viral largely because we didn’t have to explain what the bill meant. The intent was explicit right there in the title. And while the volume of grassroots backlash has largely quelled overt attempts at wholesale transfer or disposal, bad public lands bills aren’t gone for good. They’re just dressed a little differently.

If you ask me, the most important work we do isn’t as flashy as combatting the H.R. 621s of federal policy. More often, we strive to turn your attention to the wonky, technical issues that might slip by you if following them isn’t your full-time job.

Take the Farm Bill, for example. At nearly $5 billion in funding for habitat, technical assistance, and sportsmen’s access, it’s the largest driver of conservation on private land, which makes up 70 percent of the country. There’s a lot to keep track of, but along with our partners we make it our mission to follow what’s going on with the many farm-bill conservation programs (CRP, RCPP, VPA-HIP, EQIP, and more) that you may have never heard of.

Because at the end of the day that big bowl of alphabet soup can make or break your opportunities to hunt and fish.

Don’t Shun the Non-Believer
With a little help from new friends, their homemade slate call, and support (read: gear) from TRCP coworkers, I’d say my first turkey hunt was a success.

I wasn’t raised among sportsmen, and most of my friends and family see hunters as the antithesis of conservationists. In their minds, it doesn’t make sense that people who kill cute woodland creatures also want to protect them.

When I joined the TRCP team and began considering myself a part of the sportsmen tribe, I fielded this reaction over and over again. And, yeah, it was pretty irritating. I tried to explain how hunters and anglers have a very tangible reason for wanting to sustain critter populations, and how they’re willing to invest their hard-earned money to do so. But despite having the words to explain, I could tell my friends weren’t getting it.

Gradually though, that started to change. When I shot my first turkey and my friends asked me what it was like, I didn’t shy away from explaining the part where I killed an animal, even though I knew it made them uncomfortable. But I also told them about hours spent sitting serenely in silence, the experience of getting out before dawn, and the satisfaction of eating what I’d harvested.

A good friend of mine was genuinely angry when I started working at TRCP, thinking I was somehow betraying conservation ethics. But now, a year later, she’s supportive of my entry into hunting and even asked me to take her clay shooting. She may never kill game herself, but she surprised me in her ability to open her mind to a different perspective.

Hearts and minds can be changed, if only we speak to them with honesty and integrity. And when it seems like there’s bad conservation policy everywhere we turn, that gives me hope for the future of America’s outdoor heritage.

Geoff Mullins

July 3, 2017

Independence is Celebrated Every Day by American Sportsmen

Our freedoms, public lands, and outdoor heritage provide the foundation for unique opportunities and experiences found only in America

Independence. Liberty. Freedom. These powerful words and concepts are inherent in the DNA of every American. But nowhere are they felt more viscerally than in the outdoors.

As kids, we learn about the Founding Fathers and the “Spirit of 76.” We swell with pride when we think about the sacrifices made in our nation’s history and this grand experiment called the United States of America. There is no other place like it in the world.

This holds true for our outdoor legacy and hunting and fishing traditions as well. Nowhere else offers the opportunity for everyone to pursue the happiness felt by getting outside and far afield to explore, hunt, fish, and experience our natural wonders. Going back through our history—from those who first settled on our shores, to the pioneers who moved west, to the modern-day sportsmen and women who take on the challenges of the backcountry—testing oneself against nature is part of who we are.

More than one hundred years ago, our 26th president turned out to be a force of nature. Theodore Roosevelt spoke often about the values of living a “strenuous life” and a “life of the open.” We have him and his vision to thank for establishing much of our current public lands system and the fundamentals of conservation that help us keep those lands thriving.

The basic principles of the North American model of conservation and wildlife management establish the democracy of hunting and maintain that our fish and wildlife are a public resource belonging to all Americans. Nowhere but in the U.S. does one have the freedom to just go hunt or fish on some 640 million acres of public lands that belong to all of us.

That is special and worth celebrating.

Nowhere are American independence, liberty, and freedom felt more viscerally than in the outdoors Click To Tweet

Recently, I have been fortunate to spend some time traveling, during which the unique value of our natural resources and privilege of access really hit home for me. I crossed off a bucket list item by taking an epic road trip from Florida to Las Vegas, and as I drove this great country, the vastness and variety of landscapes and resources we have—and how they shape our national character—made a distinct impression.

There is a striking dichotomy of seeing iconic natural wonders, like the Mississippi River or the Grand Canyon, juxtaposed with wonders of manmade ingenuity, like thousands of wind turbines on the plains west of Amarillo or the Hoover Dam. For the most part, we have tamed the land since our founding and discovered how to use the blessings of our vast natural resources to make this the most prosperous nation on Earth. With that prosperity comes a great responsibility to use these resources wisely, conserve them for future generations, and maintain some of the country’s most unique qualities—the abundance of our national public lands and fish and wildlife populations that make America so great.

There are those who have proposed selling off our public lands or transferring their ownership to make a quick buck, or because they don’t like how things are being run. Some have undercut our public lands by failing to provide government agencies with the proper financial resources, personnel, or leadership to effectively manage them. Both tactics are shortsighted and discount the great value these lands provide as the foundational infrastructure for a robust $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.

Each time we take to the woods or water, we are enjoying freedoms found in few other places in the world. On this Independence Day, l, for one, am thankful for that freedom and for our unique outdoor heritage. And, like the architects of our democracy and its conservation principles, I will not stand idly by as this independence is stripped back or chipped away.

You can support our heritage and safeguard the responsible management our public lands by signing the petition at sportsmensaccess.org.

Kristyn Brady

June 28, 2017

Sportsmen Unite Around Recommendations for Access and Habitat in the 2018 Farm Bill

Hunting, fishing, and wildlife partners reveal top priorities for conservation of private lands ahead of what may be the only Senate hearing to address the topic ahead of the next Farm Bill

In advance of the Senate Committee for Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s June 29 hearing on the future direction for the 2018 Farm Bill, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has announced its “Sportsmen’s Priorities for Conservation and Access in the 2018 Farm Bill,” developed over months of consensus-building discussions with 24 organizational members of the TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group.

These priorities will serve as the rallying point for the community of hunters, anglers, and conservationists whose outdoor traditions depend on the policies and funding provided through the Farm Bill.

“When it comes to conservation of fish and wildlife habitat in this country, you can’t ignore that 70 percent of American lands are privately owned, and a majority of that acreage is in some form of agriculture,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our community’s priorities for the next Farm Bill underscore the point that in order to guarantee quality places to hunt and fish, sportsmen need to work with our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and foresters to ensure productive habitat and clean water. Early on in these debates, we must be united around providing adequate funding and policy tools to support voluntary conservation activities on private lands, and we’re optimistic that tomorrow’s hearing—possibly the only Senate hearing that will address sportsmen’s 2018 Farm Bill priorities—will put a spotlight on these issues.”

The hearing takes place at a time when Congress and the administration are discussing ways to tighten an already trim conservation budget for the Farm Bill. Changes in the 2014 bill resulted in $4 billion in cuts from the conservation title alone. But the sportsmen’s community is urging Congress to restore some of the funding for private lands conservation—for programs including the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Conservation Reserve Program, and Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program—in 2018.

“Private and working lands are crucial to the conservation of soil, water, and fish and wildlife resources, and as the largest source of federal funding for private lands conservation, the Farm Bill has far-reaching effects on fish and wildlife populations across the country,” says Ron Regan, executive director of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. “AFWA is looking forward to tomorrow’s hearing on conservation and forestry in the 2018 Farm Bill, and we are committed to working with the Senate Agriculture Committee and others in Congress to pass a new Farm Bill that reflects the priorities of the Association, as well as those of the wider sportsmen’s and conservation community, in order to promote recreational access and healthy fish and wildlife habitat for the benefit of all Americans.”

Several of the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing will be speaking about forestry in the Farm Bill, which is also a top priority for hunters and anglers. The forestry provisions of the Farm Bill are unique among the legislation’s conservation programs in that they address both private and public lands, which is critical to taking on landscape-scale concerns, including habitat connectivity and recreational access.

“We appreciate the committee’s bipartisan efforts to continue to improve farm bill programs for forest landowners,” says Becky Humphries, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Forestry in the Farm Bill is about partnerships—between USDA and individual landowners, the states, and organizations like NWTF. We’re eager to hear from tomorrow’s witnesses on the successes and strengths of those partnerships, and on ways to advance them in 2018. The sportsmen’s and wildlife communities have long argued that long-term conservation and active management of our nations forests are critical to the future of wildlife habitat, water quality, and rural economies across much of our country, and the Farm Bill offers us a great opportunity to incentivize better practices on both private and public lands.”

View “Sportsmen’s Priorities for Conservation and Access in the 2018 Farm Bill” and the full roster of contributors here.

Learn more about the TRCP’s agriculture and private lands work here.

Header image courtesy of USDA/Flickr.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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