Scott Laird

September 4, 2017

The Missouri River Breaks, Vibrant and Unbroken

Why conservation is our best bet at keeping central Montana unspoiled

The Missouri Breaks region of central Montana is one of the most unique landscapes in the West. The unusual topography and eroded soils—shaped by the river below and centuries of severe weather—make it a land of extremes. Yet it provides some of the best views, most outstanding recreation, and most abundant wildlife habitat in the country. Rough and rugged coulees descend into dense pockets of ponderosa pine and juniper stands before gradually reaching the cottonwood galleries that line the Missouri River.

These undeveloped backcountry lands still mirror what Lewis and Clark saw as they pushed their way upriver in 1805. We have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to ensure that they remain that way.

All images courtesy of Charlie Bulla.
A Critical Time to Speak Up

Wildlife and wild places are being increasingly pressured through the loss and fragmentation of quality habitat from energy extraction and residential development. This trend needs to be halted to protect our highly valued undeveloped landscapes. Already, much of the western and eastern stretches of the Missouri have been industrialized, dammed, or otherwise developed. But the central portion of the river—roughly from Fort Benton to Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana—remains largely untouched.

The region supports world-class habitat for elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep, and the Missouri provides scenic multi-day fishing trips for anglers. Camping, hunting, hiking, and biking in the Breaks region are hard to beat, and stargazers will tell you that it’s difficult to find a place with less light pollution.

Most of this landscape is made up of public land that belongs to all of us and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On the south side of the Missouri, where the breaks climb and meet the rugged grasslands, the BLM is in the process of updating its resource management plan.

Conservation of this unique landscape in central #Montana won’t happen on its own. #publiclandsproud Click To Tweet

This is a planning document that outlines the management of several hundred thousand acres of BLM lands for the next 20 years or more. This is also a public planning process that provides a unique and critical opportunity to protect some of the best wildlife habitat and most remote public lands in the country from further fragmentation and development.

Momentum Grows

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership recognizes the importance of these lands to wildlife, outdoor recreationists, and sportsmen. The political landscape and threats to the region have changed since the last resource management plan was written some 30 years ago, and sportsmen and women are ready to act.

Nearly 1,000 individuals and local stakeholders have delivered collaborative support for the adoption of a common-sense approach for conserving high-value public lands through backcountry conservation management. By utilizing this tool, the BLM would safeguard large intact habitats from development, maintain and improve important dispersed recreation opportunities, and focusing management on the conservation, restoration, and enhancement of key habitats, all while sustaining traditional uses of the land that help support local economies.

Recent wildfires have devastated several hundred thousand acres of rangeland and wildlife habitat in this region. It’s important to note that the proposed backcountry management tool would encourage restoration activities that would benefit the wildlife and the people who depend on this landscape.

What’s Next?

The draft of the resource management plan is expected to be released for public comment in late 2017. Visit TRCP.org/join to be the first to know about your opportunity to get involved.

Conservation of this unique landscape won’t happen on its own. It takes strong voices to protect these areas from future fragmentation and development. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “a nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.” Here’s a great chance for us to do just that.

3 Responses to “The Missouri River Breaks, Vibrant and Unbroken”

  1. JOHN ROBIE

    ALL OF THE LAND THAT IS SO IMPORTANT TO PRESERVE TO NATURE IS NEEDED TO SEE TO IT THAT WE ALL GET FRESH WATER & FOOD SOURCES FOR US OR CHILDREN & THEIR CHILDREN & ALL IN THE FUTURE ……….

  2. Edward W Christoffers

    It is critical that conservation of these critical fish and wildlife habitats be managed to maintain and enhance there natural resource values. In the past many of our most important wild lands have been impaired do to mismanagement. This trend must not be allowed to continue and the Missouri Breaks are a fitting starting point for more conservation based management to begin.

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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.

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.

Kim Jensen

August 24, 2017

Why Sportsmen Support the Clean Water Rule, In Their Own Words

We asked sportsmen and women to take action and more than 1,000 have submitted comments to the EPA in support of clean water—here are some of our favorites

One of the cool things about our democracy and the North American model of conserving fish and wildlife as a shared resource is that we as citizens often have the opportunity to take part in the public process of decision making. That’s why we let you know when you have the chance to speak out for your hunting and fishing access and opportunities—it’s our responsibility and a privilege.

We’ve seen it: When sportsmen and women take the time to tell their stories, it makes a difference.

A few years ago, Americans had hundreds of days to submit their feedback on a rulemaking that would help end the confusion around which streams and wetlands receive Clean Water Act protection. The final Clean Water Rule helps safeguard 20 million acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of headwater streams—that’s 60 percent of the country’s flowing waters.

But the current administration has started the process of repealing this rule meant to lift headwaters and wetlands out of regulatory confusion.

Without the rule, we risk seeing streams polluted and wetlands destroyed. Failing to recognize wetlands and headwaters as critical to clean water downstream means we’re fighting a losing battle in nearby watersheds, and making decisions on a case-by-case basis overburdens state and local water quality personnel.

Many sportsmen from across the country have already made their voices heard by submitting comments to the EPA about why they support the Clean Water Rule. We love that these folks have taken the time to make this issue personal—because it is. Here’s why they want decision-makers to stand up for our headwaters and wetlands.

Missouri native Jonathan took the time to write the EPA while deployed with the U.S. military, and from what he’s seen, our outdoor traditions make our country different from anywhere else. He told us that he feels a responsibility to stand up for the wise use of our country’s natural resources that are so noticeably absent in many other places in the world. He writes to the EPA:

I send this while deployed with the US Army. One of many things I look forward to about coming home is being able to resume enjoyment and utilization of the natural resources so abundant in the US. Please do the right thing and listen to those of us who took the time to write. As a sportsman, conservationist, and, above all, as an American, [I urge you to] please work to keep our natural resources secure.

For Alex from California, the sole objective of hunting and fishing is not the taking of an animal; it’s to feel connection with our natural world and see all your preparation and efforts pay off. He believes that these traditions are not only important, but also that they help build better people. He writes:

I will have my first son this November. I hope he has the opportunity to come of age hunting and fishing on public lands. I don’t want to have to explain to him that there was once a time where our wetlands and flowing water [were] protected and how we had access to them.

It seems that thinking about the future of clean water inevitably leads people to wonder about the future of hunting and fishing—and what their own children will experience. James writes:

I grew up fishing and hunting with my family, and now that I have children of my own, I’m worried that they won’t have access to the opportunities to spend time enjoying the streams, wetlands, and headwaters that I love if the Clean Water Rule is repealed. The thought of future generations in this nation missing out on one of our greatest resources is horrifying.

Other sportsmen remember a country without the Clean Water Act. Thomas from Michigan writes:

Every waterway matters. When I was a child, I had the unfortunate luck to become seriously ill after accidentally swallowing a gulp of water while swimming in Lake Erie. The town that I grew up in used to be called the Ecorse Creek or Ecorse River. Sixty years ago it had the distinction of being the dirtiest and most polluted river in the USA. We must not have those kind of distinctions ever again.

There is Still Time to Make Your Voice Heard

When the federal government creates or repeals a rule that government agencies and the American people will have to follow, they are required to have a comment period. When the Clean Water Rule was created in 2015, sportsmen and women had more than 200 days to comment on the proposed rule. Even with a recent extension of the current comment period, sportsmen and women will only have 60 days to make their voices heard.

This rule could impact our access and traditions, and we only have until September 27 to speak up.

Click HERE to tell the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to tell your story and urge decision-makers to uphold Clean Water Act protections for the headwater streams and wetlands that matter so much to our wildlife and traditions. If we want to preserve hunting and fishing opportunities for the next generation, we need to act now.

 

 

SFRED

by:

posted in: Habitat & Cleanwater

August 16, 2017

Three Lessons for Balancing Wildlife Habitat and Responsible Energy Development

In Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico, careful planning seems to be the key to keeping productive hunting and fishing alongside thoughtful energy development

Energy development can coexist with healthy habitat and quality hunting and angling, but it doesn’t happen by chance. Responsible energy development requires careful planning and commitment from stakeholder groups, the public, and decision makers to get it right. Only through collaboration can we strike the appropriate balance. And it is critical that our public land management agencies—the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service—have the right policies and procedures in place to facilitate both energy development and the conservation of healthy fish and wildlife habitat.

A recent report led by the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition and supported by 16 other hunting and fishing groups points to examples on different types of landscapes: examples of responsible development, areas where energy development has not been balanced with fish and wildlife habitat, and places where the potential remains to do things right.

Energy development and fish and wildlife habitat need not be mutually exclusive, but it will take leadership and sound policy from our decision makers to strike the right balance. The approach to these three landscapes could be instructive.

Vermejo Park Ranch: An Exemplary Balance on Private Land

The 585,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico spans from the Great Plains to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The ranch and its surrounding landscape are known for their natural beauty, high-quality wildlife habitat, and status as a model for responsible energy development. While privately owned by Turner Enterprises, there are many lessons that lawmakers, the Bureau of Land Management, industry, other stakeholders and the public can learn from Vermejo, especially when looking to develop our energy resources responsibly on America’s public lands.

Vermejo is situated in some of the finest elk country in North America, near the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains, with the Carson National Forest to the west and private land to the east. Between 8,000 and 10,000 elk live on the ranch, as do mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The property is primarily managed as a guest ranch where hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, Nordic skiing, horseback riding, and other activities are the primary uses. The ranch is known for trophy bulls and scenic vistas, and its business model depends on the area’s world-class natural amenities.

Vermejo is also rich with natural gas—972 producing coalbed methane wells are scattered across the ranch. To preserve the land’s character, wildlife habitat, and guest services, park managers and Atlas Resource Partners, LP, the energy company that owns the oil and gas rights, have established a Mineral Extraction Agreement.

“We have established a shared vision with an energy company that is focused on developing energy resources while protecting the world-class wildlife habitat and natural amenities of Vermejo,” says Gus Holm, Vermejo Park Ranch manager. “I hope that the lessons learned and examples set here can be applied to public lands where similar opportunities for responsible development exist.”

The goal is to develop and implement an approach for energy development on the ranch that both enables extraction and protects the ranch’s natural resources and amenities. This shared vision has shaped the model energy development project since 1998. Among the stipulations in the agreement and development plan between Atlas Resource Partners and Vermejo are:

  • About one-third of the property is closed to development to protect areas of special sensitivity.
  • There is a limit on the total number of wells and pads that can be producing at any one time, limiting the overall footprint for development.
  • Well spacing is limited to one well per 160 acres.
  • Impacts to the scenic views are minimized by siting wells carefully.
  • At the conclusion of the project, all surface features, wells, and compressors will be removed from the property.
  • A reclamation bond is required for an amount equal to 125 percent of Atlas Resource Partners’ total reclamation responsibilities.

Although privately-owned, lessons from this project can be applied across the West. Many areas of BLM land in states like Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah possess similarly important scenic and wildlife values, and they also hold rich reserves of oil and natural gas. If oil and gas development is proposed for landscapes where the wildlife and recreation values are high, sportsmen and women expect federal land management agencies to work closely with stakeholders to find a shared vision. For this to happen, the BLM must do thorough upfront planning that plots a clear path for development to be balanced with other resources that are equally important for the American public.

Pinedale, Wyoming: A Cautionary Tale

The 198,000-acre Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming has long been known by sportsmen as an area rich in wildlife values and sporting opportunities. It is also known as the quintessential example of how older drilling technology coupled with poor planning can adversely affect critically important habitats. The Anticline sits in the upper Green River valley area, adjacent to the Jonah Field and serves as crucial winter range for the migratory Sublette mule deer herd. It also intersects one of the longest migration paths for pronghorn antelope in North America.

In 17 years, the Pinedale Anticline has gone from largely undeveloped to a fully industrialized landscape. The original authorization of 750 wells increased later to 4,400 additional wells. Currently there are 3,049 wells in the Anticline and 2,037 wells to the south in the Jonah Field with additional wells authorized to be developed in the next 15 to 20 years.

Since 2001, mule deer populations have declined by 36 percent on the Anticline, forcing the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to shorten the hunting season by a week and reduce the number of deer tags available to sportsmen. Recent research on this area has demonstrated that mule deer go more than a half-mile out of their way to avoid well pads and that “behavioral effects of energy development on mule deer are long term.” The Wyoming and Salt River ranges are known to offer some of the best high-country mule deer hunting anywhere, but the long-term impacts of poorly planned energy development in mule deer winter range could be significant for animals, hunters and Wyoming’s outdoor recreation economy. We should learn from these lessons as we look to develop our energy resources elsewhere.

South Park, Colorado: A Collaborative Plan

In the backyard of the Denver metro area lies a sportsmen’s paradise of Gold Medal trout waters and high-elevation “parks” that serve as a haven for wildlife. Nestled in the headwaters of the South Platte River basin, the area known as South Park attracts visitors from around the country to fish along the “Dream Stream,” known for its trophy trout and stunning Colorado scenery. Energy development has not made inroads into this corner of Colorado—yet.

But the area sits atop the Niobrara oil and gas formation and oil and gas companies have eyed South Park in the past. So, a forward-thinking group of sportsmen and women joined local government officials, businesses, water providers, and federal agency officials to plan for the future. What began as dialogue initiated by those who care deeply for the region has morphed into a collaborative planning process, bringing together diverse stakeholders to ensure energy development is done right and does not adversely affect the water and wildlife resources of the area.

The end goal is to provide certainty for all, give industry a roadmap for responsible development, increase economic opportunity and keep South Park an amazing place to fish, hunt and live. The South Park process is shaping up as a win-win solution and could serve as a model for collaborative planning.

Want to learn more about the balance between energy development, habitat, and sportsmen’s access? Read about other lessons learned in Colorado’s Piceance Basin and the Greater Little Mountain Area of southwest Wyoming. Or download the full report here.

The Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition is led by the National Wildlife FederationTrout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

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