Whit Fosburgh

August 23, 2017

Public Lands for All Americans: The Best Deal Going

Why Theodore Roosevelt saw public lands as fundamentally democratic—not something to be sold off for a quick buck

Like zombies, many bad public policy ideas are difficult to kill. Just when you think they are finally discredited, those bad ideas stagger from their graves under a new administration and once again require a unified effort to be put down.

So it is with the notion of privatizing public lands. In his column “The Best Deal Going: Privatize U.S. Public Lands” for Forbes, Steve Hanke opines that this misguided idea could again gain traction if President Trump is willing to take his Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, “to the woodshed” for his full–throated support of America’s public lands.

Good luck with that one. Zinke was not chosen as Interior Secretary in spite of his public lands stance; he was chosen because of it. Candidate Trump came out firmly in favor of keeping public lands in public hands, and for good reason.

The modern public lands system dates back to the days of Theodore Roosevelt, who set aside about 230 million acres of national parks, refuges, and forests during his presidency. He did it to conserve wildlife, protect water quality, ensure that the nation had sustainable supplies of raw materials (like timber), and give all Americans the ability to get outside and test themselves in nature, which he credited for making him the man he was.

Roosevelt did not see this as socialism; he saw it as fundamentally democratic. When speaking of the need for conserving our natural resources, Roosevelt stated:

“Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.”

Today, America’s public lands system is the envy of the world and part of what makes our nation unique. Every American, regardless of class or economic status, can fish, hunt, hike, bike, camp, or paddle on the 640 million acres that they collectively own. These lands form the backbone of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy, employing more than 7 million people and generating more than $100 billion in tax revenues every year. Thanks to the excise taxes and license fees that all hunters and anglers pay, America boasts the best-managed fish and wildlife in the world.

The American people know what they have and will not give it up without a fight. When Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced legislation earlier this year to sell off 3.3 million acres to help balance the budget, the outcry was immediate and severe. Chaffetz then took to Instagram, wearing camo and holding a hunting dog, to announce that he was withdrawing his bill. Shortly thereafter, he resigned from Congress.

Instead of concocting schemes to sell off or dismantle America’s public lands systems, our academics, think tanks, and politicians should focus on ways to improve the management of public lands.

Let’s commit to giving the agencies the resources they need to better manage these lands. Let’s figure out ways to improve access so that more Americans can experience them. Let’s improve the way we handle energy development on public lands, so we can have energy independence and world-class wildlife and recreation. Let’s create better partnerships between the states and the federal government when it comes to managing lands and species. And, because water flows downhill and fish and wildlife do not read ‘posted’ signs, let’s incentivize private landowners to do what is right for conservation and manage entire ecosystems for future generations.

America’s public lands are not something to be sold off for a quick buck. They are, in the words of Wallace Stegner, “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

Let us embrace that.

4 Responses to “Public Lands for All Americans: The Best Deal Going”

  1. Lake County Conservation District, Montana is taking comments on a proposal to transfer management of 60,000 acres of Flathead National Forest land to the state of Montana for 100 years. Comment period ends Aug 31, 2017. Comments can be made at the web site, http://www.lakecountyconservationdistrict.org, under Swan Study. These lands belong to all Americans, not just local residents. The more comments we can get opposing this idea will help to defeat it.

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Guest blogger Debbie Hanson

August 14, 2017

Five Things Your Fishing License Does for Conservation While You Catch Fish

These are your license dollars at work for fish habitat, water quality, and the next generation of anglers

When you’re buying or renewing your fishing license, you’re probably only thinking about the possibility of the new season or exploring a promising new stretch of river. But are you aware of just how hard your fishing license is working on your behalf of your future days on the water?

Here are five examples of how the dollars spent on your fishing licenses, boat registrations, and excise taxes on fishing gear and boat fuel purchases go back to conservation and public access. And at $1.1 billion that’s a sizeable down payment on the next generation of anglers in America.

Improving Fishing and Boating Access

First, funds from license sales go toward fishing and boating access projects. One example is the Ramps & Pier Program in Mississippi, which helps pay for repairs to existing access points and the construction of four to six new boat ramps each year. The state of Oregon also has an excellent model of involving state and federal agencies in adding and upgrading new boating facilities.

Enhancing Water Quality

Boat registration funds help implement clean water projects that benefit fish habitat and improve the experience of anglers and boaters. The Clean Vessel Act program in Hawaii, for example, helped use these funds to construct a new sewage pump-out station and three new floating restrooms at the Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor—all in an effort to protect the sparkling turquoise waters of Hawaii for future generations.

 

Maintaining Fish Habitat

The excise taxes on your fishing gear go toward fisheries maintenance projects that help manage our state sport fisheries. For example, in New York State, biologists collect data through creel surveys and work to restore fish habitat for native brookies, American shad, river herring, and striped bass largely thanks to the taxes paid by the manufacturers of your fishing rods, reels, lures, baits, and flies. In Massachusetts, these funds are used to map fish habitat with GPS technology, sonar, and underwater vehicles through the state’s Fisheries Habitat Program. The more these experts learn, the better prepared they are to spot habitat issues and plan for improvements.

 

 

Teaching and Recruiting New Anglers

Fishing license funds also go to work for educational and recruitment programs that introduce new anglers to the sport. As more people take up fishing, there is a greater need for education on topics like species identification, conservation, regulations, and proper catch-and-release techniques. The state of Texas offers free workshops for first-timers or anyone who wants a refresher on the basics, and the saltwater angler education programs hosted by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have been so successful that they hope to extend courses to all coastal areas of the state.

 

Planning for Long-Term Conservation

With an eye toward investing in our marine and freshwaters resources, as well as the next generation of anglers, fishing license fees support long-term conservation plans for our rivers and streams. This robust funding, which has nothing to do with the federal balance sheet, is critical to ensuring an adequate quantity and quality of water to maintain the natural balance of aquatic ecosystems. Texas has used this money to fund its River Studies Program that addresses long-term water development, water planning, and water quality issues.

 

Whether state agencies are studying rainbow trout populations or repairing boat ramps, your license fees are put to excellent use. Want to get started on your next fishing trip and give back to conservation?  Buy or renew your license here.

Sportsmen and women have a long history of giving back to conservation through our purchases. Read about the federal program responsible for that funding model and the hunters in one Western state who wholeheartedly supported raising license fees earlier this year to do even more for fish and wildlife.

TakeMeFishing.org contributor Debbie Hanson is an outdoor writer and avid angler who has written articles on fishing and boating for publications such as USA Today Hunt & Fish and Game & Fish Magazine. She is a member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Read her blogs at takemefishing.org/blog and visit her personal blog at shefishes2.com.

Photos courtesy of Canstock Photo.

Julia Peebles

August 3, 2017

Congress Wants to Boost Renewables and Fund Conservation

A bill moving through the House could create a rare win-win scenario for energy and wildlife

The Trump administration and Republican leadership in Congress have an aggressive agenda for the next few years: To reform the tax code, balance a federal budget, increase funds to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border, and pass a one-trillion-dollar package that addresses America’s crumbling infrastructure while providing stability for rural communities. The infrastructure package is going to be decorated like a Christmas tree with bills and amendments, but some ornaments will light up more than others.

One of these may be the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act, which unanimously passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee last week. The bill, which was introduced by Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and co-sponsored by 38 representatives from both sides of the aisle, would promote economic growth in the energy development sector while providing for conservation from a portion of the leasing revenues.

Here’s How PLREDA Would Work

The bill would achieve a win-win scenario by thoughtfully balancing renewable energy development and habitat needs through a robust permitting system and creating a consistent stream of revenue to fund essential fish and wildlife management projects in proximity to renewable energy projects.

PLREDA would boost the incentive for local stakeholders to support renewable energy projects, because 25 percent of the leasing revenues would go back to counties and states. Another 25 percent of leasing revenues would be dedicated to a fish and wildlife conservation fund, the Renewable Resource Conservation Fund. These funds could help open up access to public lands, enhance clean water resources, and improve habitat for elk, wild trout, mule deer, sage grouse, and other important game species.

TRCP strongly supports this bipartisan bill, which illustrates a balanced, common-sense approach to energy development on public lands. At a time when lawmakers have many legislative priorities, it’s heartening to see investments in America’s infrastructure and economic health that also create new revenue streams for conservation.

Learn More

Want to hear the latest on PLREDA and other legislation that could affect the places where you hunt and fish? Become a TRCP member (it’s free) and we’ll keep you informed.

Top photo by BLM/Flickr.

Ed Arnett

August 2, 2017

Here Are the CliffsNotes on Why Everyone’s Still Talking About Sage Grouse

From signs of decline decades ago to a definitive moment for sagebrush country—catch up and learn what’s at stake for sage grouse and the sportsmen who depend on them.

I had hiked for what seemed like hours and endless miles through the central Wyoming sagebrush, working my dogs in every place I’d ever found sage grouse in years past. I was a bit dumbfounded as these areas usually produced birds in fairly short order, but it seemed that all those honey holes were dry this year. I wondered what happened, as I kneeled down and poured some water into a bowl for the dogs and then took a sip myself.

All of a sudden, my chocolate lab, Deke, perked up his ears, began wagging his tail, and briskly walked toward a line of sage that we had yet to push through about 20 yards away. Apparently, the wind had shifted into our faces, and he was finally on some birds. No sooner had I grabbed my 20-gauge when a half-dozen sage grouse erupted from the brush. I dropped one, fired again and missed, and then hit a second bird with my last round. Just like that, we were done for the day—and the season, as it turned out. There were no birds the next day, no matter how far we wandered.

That hunt took place in 2012, just as I had started working in the complex world of policy and management of the greater sage grouse with the TRCP. It was also during a crippling drought, the likes of which the West hadn’t experienced for several years.

I wasn’t the only hunter to get skunked, either. The second-lowest number of male sage grouse since 1965 were counted on their breeding grounds that year, following decades of sagebrush being degraded or lost to urbanization, crop conversion, energy development, fire, and invasive weeds. In total, the West had lost nearly 50 percent of its sagebrush country by the new millennium, and grouse numbers followed suit, declining about one percent each year on average since the mid-1960s.

A lot has happened since then. Though state agency biologists put forth a range-wide conservation strategy in 2006, it took a petition to list the species—and ultimately a court order mandating that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determine whether the species warranted protections under the Endangered Species Act by September 2015—to send most states and federal agencies into action.

Wyoming led the way in this effort, bringing multiple interest groups together to craft a balanced approach to conservation and knowing full well that a listing would cripple the state and much of the West. As the September 2015 deadline approached, 11 Western states had all developed some sort of conservation plan for greater sage grouse, and the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service finalized their own plans for conservation on public lands just before the USFWS’s final decision was announced.

Private landowners jumped in, too. The Natural Resource Conservation Service, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, created the Sage Grouse Initiative to help landowners get technical advice on tailoring their operations to help grouse and their rangeland and poured hundreds of millions of dollars into habitat improvements, like removing invasive trees to improve grass and forb (sage grouse food) production. It was mutually beneficial for ranchers and the iconic dancing birds—as one rancher from Oregon has famously said, “What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.”

Sage grouse aren’t the only game species that rely on the sagebrush habitat. Image courtesy of Nick Dobric.

When this historic collaborative work paid off, and the Department of Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the range-wide population of greater sage grouse did not warrant protections under the Endangered Species Act, a collective sigh of relief could be felt across the West.

I’ve been a professional wildlife biologist for almost 30 years, and for me and most of my colleagues it is clear that the work to benefit sage grouse over the last several years has been the greatest landscape-scale conservation effort undertaken in modern times. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, has stated that the unprecedented and extraordinary collaboration we’ve seen sets forth a model for the future of conservation in America.

But the work has only just begun. One thing we all need to keep in mind is that the decision to keep sage grouse off a threatened or endangered species list was predicated on the promise of implementing both federal and state conservation plans simultaneously and without interruption, all while conservation efforts on private lands continue. No single effort can stand alone to deliver the necessary conservation benefits or regulatory certainty to avoid a future listing.

But major amendments and lengthy disruptions could drastically alter the course for habitat conservation and undo years of hard work—years that sage grouse don’t have to waste.

There’s simply no denying that long-term conservation measures will benefit everyone in the end.

So why do we think it’s so important for sportsmen and women to understand all of this, even after the not warranted decision for sage grouse was issued? We depend on public lands for quality habitat that allows fish and wildlife populations to thrive. And we know that sagebrush provides habitat for more than 350 species of plants and wildlife, including many beyond sage grouse, like pronghorns, wild trout, mule deer, and elk.

Major disruptions in #sagegrouse plans could drastically alter the course for habitat #conservation. Click To Tweet

These iconic species define the Western landscape and our days afield. Meanwhile, the extraordinary outdoor recreation opportunities in sagebrush country help drive spending in our local communities, supporting the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy and more than 7.5 million jobs. These pursuits mean big business, and the places where we are free to hunt and fish define us as Americans.

This is why we need to keep this historic collaborative conservation effort moving forward, while continuing to work with the states and all stakeholders on thoughtful improvements. It is critical to our outdoor heritage, economy, and Western way of life.

Steve Kline

July 27, 2017

Why This Sportsmen’s Bill is About More Than Just Wolves

Let’s not allow the strongest legislative package of conservation priorities in years to be overshadowed by controversy

Yesterday, for the second time in as many years, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to advance a package of conservation provisions that have long been a priority for the sportsmen’s community. The legislation would reauthorize programs to benefit fish, waterfowl, wetlands, big game habitat, and sportsmen’s access across the country.

Since 2012, sportsmen have been trying to get these provisions across the legislative finish line, and each time, we’ve failed. Good legislation has been mired in generally unrelated partisanship and political games, with good ideas held hostage by process and bickering.

Where a few years ago sportsmen-advocates in Washington looked to our Sportsmen’s Act lobbying with fairly enthusiastic promise, I will admit that it has been hard to get excited about yet another run in the 115th Congress, especially as the window of opportunity has seemed even narrower than usual. But Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have assembled the “HELP for Wildlife Act” (S.1514), which has breathed new life into this effort.

We called it the strongest package of sportsmen’s priorities in years, because right from the outset, it deals with meaningful conservation measures for fish and wildlife populations, habitat, and access. The bill would reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to enable strong partnerships and funding for conservation. The bill also includes what would be the first ever statutory authorization for the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, a program that funds on-the-ground fish habitat restoration projects across the country.

It also addresses the needs of the Chesapeake Bay Program, which provides grants to the six states in the bay watershed, not only improving water quality on the main-stem Chesapeake (and my own home waters) but also the health of small streams and rivers throughout the watershed.

Free from the controversial and distracting provisions of past iterations, this is a legislative package unfettered by poison pills, and sportsmen should be eager to see it move to the Senate floor. But, in these days of often blistering partisan warfare, it seems nothing is completely free of controversy. In the case of HELP, provisions meant to delist the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Great Lakes from Endangered Species Act protection seems to be overshadowing the very real conservation benefits of the bill.

Photo by Herbert Lange c/o Wisconsin DNR/Flickr

Just the mention of endangered species usually sends folks running for cover, but in this case, the TRCP supports the gray wolf provision as grounded in sound science. This is an idea whose time has come. Generally we don’t support legislative meddling in species-level management, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that it is time for wolf management to be returned to the state fish and wildlife agencies, and we have full confidence in USFWS science and the state agencies’ ability to manage the wolf population.

This package is about way more than wolves. Unfortunately, the bipartisan passage of this bill out of the EPW Committee this week—which should be celebrated—is just the start of a long process before the package can be presented to President Trump for his signature. There is currently no companion version of this legislation in the House of Representatives and no clear path for consideration by the full Senate.

So sportsmen simply must engage; hunters and anglers must make their voices heard now. In the absence of that outreach, sportsmen, and our legislative priorities, might once again wind up on the cutting room floor at the end of the 115th Congress next December.

It has happened before, and it can happen again.

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