Mia Sheppard

July 27, 2017

How the Elliott State Forest Public Land Sale Fizzled for Good

Here’s what we can learn from the four-year battle for these public lands and our outdoor recreation access

Earlier this month, Oregon legislators passed measures that will finally keep the Elliott State Forest in public hands and off the auction block. This ends a long drawn-out battle that highlights the major differences between America’s public lands and state-managed lands in the West.

Though we applaud the final outcome—achieved with the vocal support of Oregon sportsmen and women—it’s important that we look back on this saga to learn what went wrong and how we might be able to avoid this sort of costly risk to our public lands in the future.

How the Elliott Became the Poster Child for the Sale of Public Lands

Established in 1930, Oregon’s Elliott State Forest is considered one of the best recreation areas on the Oregon coast. Consisting of 82,500 acres of state land that provides unmatched experiences for local hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts, the Elliott is made up primarily of lands belonging to the state’s Common School Fund, which was created in 1859—the same year Oregon officially became a state.

Common School Fund lands are used to generate revenue to benefit Oregon’s public education system, mostly through sustainable timber harvest. So when a place like the Elliott isn’t generating a profit, selling the land outright is one way to salvage the value that remains. Just a few individuals can make this decision for state-held lands, versus federal lands that can only be sold by an act of Congress. This is a very important distinction between state-owned lands and national public lands.

And this is exactly what we saw happening with the Elliott beginning in 2013. As logging restrictions and environmental lawsuits strictly limited timber operations, ownership of the forest became a financial drain—rather than a source of income—for the state. Oregon was forced to consider selling the lands to relieve this burden.

Image courtesy of the Oregon Department of Forestry/Flickr. Header image courtesy of the Oregon Department of Forestry/Tony Andersen/Flickr.
A Slippery Slope

In 2014, the state sold three parcels totaling 1,453 acres and signaled its intent to sell the forest outright two years later. Fair market value was estimated at just $220.8 million, sparking interest from buyers, and earlier this year the state land board approved a potential sale.

Immediately, sportsmen’s groups combined forces and began working to keep the Elliott State Forest public. The pressure from hunters, anglers, hikers, and American families was effective: The state land board voted in May to pursue a plan to retain public ownership of the Elliott.

This month the Oregon Legislature reached a compromise and approved $100 million in state bonding to compensate the Common School Fund for the loss of revenue as a result of preserving conservation and public access to the Elliott. Simultaneously, the state Senate passed a bill to fund and coordinate the transfer of certain trust lands to be managed for the benefit of the Common School Fund.

Finally, an outcome that sportsmen and women can be proud of was reached: Public access and outdoor recreation will continue to thrive, while fiduciary obligations to the Common School Fund will be fulfilled.

Image courtesy of the Oregon Department of Forestry/Flickr.
The Final Hurdles

This success sets a clear and positive example: Public lands are important to all Oregonians, and when sportsmen and women unite, we win.

There are some final steps to ensure that the Elliott remains public. The acres that would be purchased to support the school fund need to be clarified and the conservation plans for important habitat need to be fully developed. But the future is much brighter for public lands and our sporting traditions here in Oregon.

Oregon's Elliott will remain public. Here’s what we can learn from the 4-year battle for #publiclands Click To Tweet

While it’s no longer the poster child for sale or disposal of public lands by a cash-strapped state, the Elliott saga is still a cautionary tale. America’s public lands are a critical part of our national identity and are managed under a multiple-use mandate to prioritize recreation, habitat, grazing, and development—a much different approach than management of state lands in the West.

Learn how the movement to transfer our national public lands to the states is actually dying out in Western state legislatures as new threats emerge in D.C.

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How the Elliott State Forest Public Land Sale Fizzled for Good

Here’s what we can learn from the four-year battle for these public lands and our outdoor recreation access

Earlier this month, Oregon legislators passed measures that will finally keep the Elliott State Forest in public hands and off the auction block. This ends a long drawn-out battle that highlights the major differences between America’s public lands and state-managed lands in the West.

Though we applaud the final outcome—achieved with the vocal support of Oregon sportsmen and women—it’s important that we look back on this saga to learn what went wrong and how we might be able to avoid this sort of costly risk to our public lands in the future.

How the Elliott Became the Poster Child for the Sale of Public Lands

Established in 1930, Oregon’s Elliott State Forest is considered one of the best recreation areas on the Oregon coast. Consisting of 82,500 acres of state land that provides unmatched experiences for local hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts, the Elliott is made up primarily of lands belonging to the state’s Common School Fund, which was created in 1859—the same year Oregon officially became a state.

Common School Fund lands are used to generate revenue to benefit Oregon’s public education system, mostly through sustainable timber harvest. So when a place like the Elliott isn’t generating a profit, selling the land outright is one way to salvage the value that remains. Just a few individuals can make this decision for state-held lands, versus federal lands that can only be sold by an act of Congress. This is a very important distinction between state-owned lands and national public lands.

And this is exactly what we saw happening with the Elliott beginning in 2013. As logging restrictions and environmental lawsuits strictly limited timber operations, ownership of the forest became a financial drain—rather than a source of income—for the state. Oregon was forced to consider selling the lands to relieve this burden.

Image courtesy of the Oregon Department of Forestry/Flickr. Header image courtesy of the Oregon Department of Forestry/Tony Andersen/Flickr.
A Slippery Slope

In 2014, the state sold three parcels totaling 1,453 acres and signaled its intent to sell the forest outright two years later. Fair market value was estimated at just $220.8 million, sparking interest from buyers, and earlier this year the state land board approved a potential sale.

Immediately, sportsmen’s groups combined forces and began working to keep the Elliott State Forest public. The pressure from hunters, anglers, hikers, and American families was effective: The state land board voted in May to pursue a plan to retain public ownership of the Elliott.

This month the Oregon Legislature reached a compromise and approved $100 million in state bonding to compensate the Common School Fund for the loss of revenue as a result of preserving conservation and public access to the Elliott. Simultaneously, the state Senate passed a bill to fund and coordinate the transfer of certain trust lands to be managed for the benefit of the Common School Fund.

Finally, an outcome that sportsmen and women can be proud of was reached: Public access and outdoor recreation will continue to thrive, while fiduciary obligations to the Common School Fund will be fulfilled.

Image courtesy of the Oregon Department of Forestry/Flickr.
The Final Hurdles

This success sets a clear and positive example: Public lands are important to all Oregonians, and when sportsmen and women unite, we win.

There are some final steps to ensure that the Elliott remains public. The acres that would be purchased to support the school fund need to be clarified and the conservation plans for important habitat need to be fully developed. But the future is much brighter for public lands and our sporting traditions here in Oregon.

Oregon's Elliott will remain public. Here’s what we can learn from the 4-year battle for #publiclands Click To Tweet

While it’s no longer the poster child for sale or disposal of public lands by a cash-strapped state, the Elliott saga is still a cautionary tale. America’s public lands are a critical part of our national identity and are managed under a multiple-use mandate to prioritize recreation, habitat, grazing, and development—a much different approach than management of state lands in the West.

Learn how the movement to transfer our national public lands to the states is actually dying out in Western state legislatures as new threats emerge in D.C.

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.

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.

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.

Learn More
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