Joel Webster

August 29, 2017

It’s Time to Do More Than Just “Keep It Public”

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Not Over Yet

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

They want what they’ve always wanted—control of how these lands are managed, so they can open them up to unfettered development. Management, not ownership, was always the ultimate goal, and there are three primary ways to gain it:

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

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

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

Giving local or state agencies the authority to manage America’s public lands while they remain in federal ownership may sound better, but it will have essentially the same outcome as giving away our lands. Let me be clear, we fully support existing state authority over fish and wildlife management, and we do not want to see that authority eroded. What we are talking about here is control over the management of your public lands, an entirely separate issue. By handing states management authority over public lands, BLM and national forest lands would be managed like school trust lands, where profit is king and outdoor recreation, like hunting and fishing, is an afterthought.

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

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

Rewrite the Rules

If special interest groups don’t like the rules for balancing the many uses of public lands or taking local input into account on land management decisions, well then why not just change them? That’s essentially what they’re trying to do right now.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration seemed focused on rolling out a new executive order weekly to review or revise the rules guiding the management of our public lands. Now, a review of 11.3 million acres of existing national monuments is in (though details are still thin) and DOI has until September 27 to complete a study focused on eliminating ‘burdens’ to energy production.

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

How Sportsmen Can Win

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

The good news is that America’s public lands are still ours—they are a part of what makes our country unique and we still have a say. But our job is more difficult now. We need to remain as fired up as we have been about keeping public lands in public hands AND hold lawmakers accountable for subtle attacks on public land management.

These threats aren’t always easy to explain and don’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker, but that’s why we’re so committed to keeping you informed. We’re reaching out to the hunting and fishing community this fall to engage sportsmen and women around the not-so-obvious challenges we face on our public lands. Expect to hear us say, too, that it’s not enough to simply keep it public.

Access means nothing without opportunity. Ownership of public lands is meaningless without quality habitat and abundant wildlife to pursue when we’re out there. If we rally around one and ignore the other, it’s possible for decision makers to make access promises while voting to undermine everything we want access to.

Are you with us? Sign up to be the first to know about threats to our public lands.

This was originally posted May 31, 2017, and has been updated.

26 Responses to “It’s Time to Do More Than Just “Keep It Public””

    • Stephen scribner

      No Bad Work!! The western states sure as hell can do a better job of managing public lands than the feds have. The state also aren’t out to industrialize or sell off the lands. Simple answer would be not allow any sales. Look at the lousy condition of our forests in Montana and Wyoming with all the dead trees. Every time WWS or CBD sue the USFS or BLM and win , 3 things happen; 1) enviro groups make money 2) irreparable damage is done to the resource 3) The people of the US pay for this either directly as a resource user or indirectly as a taxpayer. Thanks, SS in Windy Wyoming

    • Aaron Redman

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

  1. Frank

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

    • Jim Boone

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

  2. Gail Moses

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

  3. Curt Rosman

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

  4. Aaron Redman

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

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

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

  5. Donald Kromer

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

  6. Jon Patterson

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

  7. Joan Turpin

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

  8. Ellen Jordan

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

  9. Neils wright

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

    • Let’s try some facts here. List some examples of this supposed mismanagement. The first time a state agency is faced with paying for a massive wildfire fighting bill, they will come begging to the Feds to pitch in and pay for it. You are ill informed if you think the Feds are taking private land. THIS IS FALSE! The feds are not taking private lands. Get it through your thick head. Leases are for predetermined lengths of time, not perpetuity. They can and do change! Those lease holders knew what they were signing. They do not own the leases….WE DO!

  10. Stephen scribner

    let’s try some honesty here, the fed Govt has grossly mismanaged the public domain for years. The Western states certainly are more qualified and already have the staff necessary to the job. Also quit trying to divide land owners and sportsmen. Private property rights are inviolate and public access can’t super cede this right

  11. Keeping land in the hands of liberal government, is to put the land in the hands of special interests that refuse to share with other. It is my understanding that those of disability have not access to many of these so called public lands that are held by the federal government. And why must the government hold 50% of the land in the west while it is less than 10% in the eastern 2/3 ds. of the U.S.?

  12. John R. Gibson

    I am a 34 year retired Forest Service employee. I served all over the west from Alaska to Montana. I recall several occasions where poligticians have tried to i nfluence localForest service policy. In every case theForest Service employee under attack was backed up by the agency .Usually these were District Rangers that had acted to protect public land and resources on the National Forest. Recently, however, a District Ranger who had acted to ensure public ac cess to theGa.llatin National Forest on a trail that had existed for over 50 years was posted by a local landowner.The Ranger followed directions and reopened the trail. A Senator from Montana and the recently appointed Secretary of Agriculture attack this Ranger and he was removed from his position. The Office of General Council or the U.S. Attorney refused to intervene. Now it is up to the public to support that Ranger. For years the Republican Party in Montana has a plank in their platform that says they want the National Forests in Montana to be turned over to the state to manage. This would be a disaster. The National Forest Land cut off by this trail closure is presently used by private land owners to sell public trophy elk tp wealthy customers. Tbe Montana FW&P could stop this practice by issuing permits issued by random drawing but they wont. The hunting unit has far too many elk but nothing is done about it. My point is that ownership transfer is not the only threat to our public land.
    John Gibson

  13. I recently traveled to one of Scotland’s National Parks. I asked a local about fishing in one of the rivers. I was told that IF you could get access to the river from the owner, the charge would be about $1,200 per DAY! This will be our fate if the States are allowed to own OR dictate the management of OUR public federal lands.

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Ariel Wiegard

August 28, 2017

The Farm Bill Debate is Heating Up at a Unique Moment for Rural America

The stars seem to be aligning around a major opportunity for sportsmen and women to unite with landowners, who want conservation assistance more than ever, and the decision makers who are focused on revitalizing rural America

Since the first modern Farm Bill in 1933, when Congress took action to address the Dust Bowl, this key piece of legislation has made conservation happen across our rural landscapes. But with the current five-year Farm Bill expiring next year, the upcoming debate over private land conservation and revitalizing farm businesses may coincide with one of the most auspicious times for rural America.

We’ve posted often about the ways that the federal Farm Bill helps improve private lands for the benefit of all Americans, especially sportsmen—after all, it’s the single largest pot of funding for conservation on private lands, and programs authorized by the Farm Bill make it one of the largest national drivers of conservation overall.

We want these trends to continue long into the future. Sportsmen and women have an extensive history of joining our allies in the farming community to work collaboratively on advancing conservation in the Farm Bill, and we’re committed to making it happen again in 2018. At this unique moment for America’s rural economies, we may have even more non-traditional partners rooting for our success.

A Shared Connection with the Land

No one knows the Back 40 better than the farmer who harvests his crops there, or the hunter who harvests a buck there each fall. So it’s no surprise that we also share opinions about making sure that private land can do good things for wildlife and fish without undercutting a farmer’s bottom line.

TRCP’s sportsmen’s poll, released earlier this summer, shows that 75 percent of sportsmen and women support providing financial incentives—such as those authorize by the Farm Bill—for farmers and ranchers to conserve land for habitat and clean water, open public access for hunting and fishing, and to practice sustainable farming and ranching methods.

A 2015 survey of farmers showed that 87 percent of farmers agree that it is important to develop wildlife habitat to improve hunting opportunities. There’s no doubt that many of them use Farm Bill programs to help do that work.

So, we agree that conservation is necessary and we need programs to help landowners make it happen.

A Jobs Bill for Rural America

When it comes to the vitality of rural America, the astounding $887-billion impact of the outdoor recreation economy can’t be ignored. According to the USDA, 228 rural counties are economically dependent on outdoor recreation.

Meanwhile, the farm economy is struggling, as crop prices have remained at devastating lows for the last few years. While you and I rely on our farmers to provide our food, fuel, and the fiber that makes our clothes, the simple act of hunting and fishing on and around private lands can provide a key source of revenue in agricultural communities.

With the potential for a ripple effect from conservation and voluntary public access to private land, the Farm Bill could be thought of as a jobs bill—not just for agricultural producers who need and want the support more than ever, but also for the outfitters, gear manufacturers, and service industry workers in areas where hunting and fishing becomes more vibrant.

pheasant hunting Farm Bill 2018
Image courtesy of YoTut/Flickr.
Make the Farm Bill Great Again

This is why we’re all taking a seat at the table to hammer out a better Farm Bill. The presidential campaign and resulting dialogue has put rural America in the white-hot spotlight, and politicians on both sides are leveraging that fact to score wins back home. The upcoming bipartisan, must-pass Farm Bill is the best tool we have to improve rural economies and maintain a truly American way of life for sportsmen and farmers. Hunters and anglers are ready to make deals to get good habitat, clean water, and public access for hunting and fishing on the ground.

We brought this message to a group of 25 reporters in Minnesota this week, just as the renowned state fair was wrapping up and on the cusp of hunting season. We visited farmers and outdoorsmen to illustrate what these critical conservation programs mean at a local level, and what we saw was passion for healthy landscapes, sustainable livelihoods, and enduring traditions.

A new Farm Bill is on the way, and the connections between agriculture and recreation become clearer with every passing year. We need to tell our story and make sure that decision makers in D.C. know all of us are on the same team. With the right people at the table in this unique and critical time for conservation and rural America, we have the best possible chance of doing right by the land and the people who use it.

Kristyn Brady

August 24, 2017

Hunters and Anglers Want More Than Thin Details on Monument Recommendations

TRCP calls for a public report of findings on 27 national monuments that are overwhelmingly supported by American sportsmen and women

Today, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted a report to President Trump that outlined recommended actions for 27 national monuments, including 11.3 million acres of public land. A summary of the report released by the Department of the Interior is heavy on process and thin on the subject of the actual recommendations, including the number of monuments that might be cut back in size.

“These are our public lands, and the public deserves to know what the administration plans to do with them,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These recommendations have the potential to impact the future of world-class hunting and fishing on some of America’s finest public lands and set a precedent for the future status of all national monuments, even those created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906—but we won’t know until the results of this public process are made public.”

Although the report summary states that residents local to some monuments expressed concern over hunting and fishing restrictions, 22 of the 27 monuments reviewed are open to hunting and fishing and a number were created with the active support of sportsmen and women. Of the more than 1.3 million people who commented during the review period, more than 99 percent were in favor of keeping national monuments intact.

Similarly, a recent poll commissioned by the TRCP found that 77 percent of Republican and 80 percent of Democratic sportsmen and women support keeping the existing number and size of national monuments available for hunting and fishing.

Now that Zinke’s recommendations have gone to President Trump, sportsmen are anxiously awaiting further detail on the acres affected. Hunters and anglers will also be watching the White House. No president has ever attempted to eliminate a monument through executive action, and no president of the modern era has attempted to drastically reduce the size of a monument.

“We ask that President Trump support the legacy of sixteen past presidents from both sides of the aisle—eight Republicans and eight Democrats—by rejecting any proposal to shrink or undo any national monument through executive action,” says Fosburgh. “The future of some of America’s finest landscapes is directly tied to the health of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy, and with a major focus on jobs, the White House would do well to recognize how these public lands serve local communities as they are currently managed.”

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.

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.

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