Kristyn Brady

September 21, 2017

Three New Mexico Counties Oppose Transfer of America’s Public Lands to the State

Eddy, Harding, and Mora county commissioners join a growing list of local decision makers issuing official statements of support for the value of public lands in their communities

Yesterday, the Board of County Commissioners for Mora County, N.M., passed a resolution affirming their commitment to keeping public lands in public hands. This action underscores a local movement, with Eddy and Harding county commissions having approved similar resolutions this summer, and a groundswell of support for public lands across the West.

This local opposition to the state takeover of public lands supports every American’s ability to hunt, fish, and find solitude in the outdoors. Each county resolution recognizes the importance of public lands for basic economic activities such as:

  • Providing fish and wildlife habitat and opportunities for outdoor recreation—including hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife-watching, horseback riding, and bicycling—that are essential to residents’ quality of life.
  • Attracting outdoor recreation tourism that drives local spending and employs hundreds of county residents.
  • Preserving historically significant and irreplaceable cultural sites and landscapes.
Mestenito Canyon in Kiowa National Grassland, Harding Country, New Mexico. Image courtesy of Chris M Morris/flickr. Cover image of Pecos River, Mora County, New Mexico, courtesy of Diann Bayes/flickr.

“Public lands provide unparalleled hunting and fishing opportunities in our state,” says Jim Bates, an avid sportsman from Las Cruces, N.M. “I’m proud to live in a place where elected officials value public lands and see how unworkable and problematic the idea of state takeover is to millions of Americans. I hope that other counties across the West will take up this banner in support of our outdoor heritage.”

Mora County is home to the Mora River and Canadian River, which offer excellent trout fishing, as well as Ocate Peak and Old Santa Fe Trail, which are popular with hunters pursuing elk, pronghorns, mule deer, bears, cougars, turkeys, and various small game animals.

Eddy County—where commissioners passed a similar resolution on June 27— has approximately 2.5 million acres of public lands that are valued by sportsmen and women for their abundant opportunities to pursue elk, mule deer, Barbary sheep, pronghorns, bears, pumas, doves, quail, waterfowl, trout, and bluegills. In the northern part of the state,

Harding County passed its own resolution of support for public lands offering fishing, camping, hiking, and backpacking in the Canadian River Canyon, Mills Canyon, and Mosquero Canyon. The Kiowa National Grasslands is also a very popular deer hunting area.

Antelope in Kiowa National Grasslands, Harding Country, New Mexico. Image courtesy of Larry Lamsa/flickr.

“These elected officials have proven their commitment to America’s public lands and they should be commended by sportsmen beyond their county limits,” says John Cornell, New Mexico field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This movement of support for keeping public lands accessible and well managed, which has been echoed in county governments across the West, further proves that New Mexico can be the posterchild state for strong coordination and multiple-use on our public lands.”

A total of 29 pro-public-lands resolutions have been passed by county and municipal governments across the West in the past two years—eight have now been passed in New Mexico. For links to these resolutions and other public statements of support for public lands, visit sportsmensaccess.org.

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John Gans

September 8, 2017

Modernizing Management of the Most Important Fish in the Sea

The Atlantic menhaden sustains East Coast angling and coastal economies—but these forage fish are at a turning point

Anglers up and down the Atlantic coast know that a shortcut to finding gamefish is to follow the birds. When birds are working on the horizon, dive-bombing schools of menhaden—the meal that’s also critical to many popular gamefish—you can’t get out of the no-wake zone fast enough. It is going to be a good day of fishing.

Atlantic menhaden, also known as pogey or bunker, are high-protein forage fish that striped bass, tuna, mackerel, sharks, drum, cobia, and tarpon from Maine to Florida depend on for food. You name it, if you are casting a line to it, it’s most likely feeding on menhaden.

Menhaden also help filter water and improve marine habitats. By feeding on algae-causing plankton, an adult menhaden can filter 2.4 gallons of water per minute. Their importance to the ecosystem is clear. Remove them, and the system breaks down.

Simply put, there is no fish that means more to the East Coast than Atlantic menhaden, and their future is being determined right now.

Beyond Bait

Menhaden are also the most heavily commercially fished species in the nation, though you will never see it on a menu or in a fish market. Billions are ground up and used in products such as fertilizer, pet food, and cosmetics. More individual menhaden are caught each year than any other fish species, and they are second only to Alaskan pollock when measured by pounds harvested.

That commercial harvest could be costing sportfish a valuable food source.

Unfortunately for the “most important fish in the sea,” current management of menhaden stocks does not account for their critical role in the marine food chain. As a result, menhaden are managed in a way that puts gamefish populations, and our recreational fishing opportunities, at risk.

However, anglers now have a brief window to speak up for improvements to the immediate and future management of menhaden, which would benefit sportfishing, water quality, and coastal communities.

A Call to Action for Anglers

In November, the Atlantic States Marine Fishing Commission, will decide on proposed changes to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for menhaden.

One of the most critical issues for anglers is the development of menhaden-specific management metrics that account for the ecosystem-wide benefits they provide, including their critical role as forage fish. But we must also urge the commission to immediately move management of menhaden to a conservative harvest, while giving ASFMC experts time to develop these menhaden-specific metrics.

Our future days on the water—not to mention the $27 billion in economic activity that recreational anglers generate depends on sportsmen and women taking a big stand for this little fish. We’ve made it easy to be a part of this public review process online—share your story with decision makers now.

Support bringing forage fish management into the 21st century and ensure that future generations will have an opportunity to scan the horizon for the frenzied swoop of birds and the roiling waters of a striper blitz.

Photo credit for cover photo and first photo: Paul Dixon


Kristyn Brady

September 7, 2017

A Confirmed Decline in Hunter Participation Should Be a Call to Action for Sportsmen

It’s time for our community and decision makers to get serious about R3 efforts, adequate conservation funding, and smart policies that enhance hunters’ opportunities afield

A new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that 101.6 million Americans participated in wildlife-related outdoor recreation last year. Unfortunately, while the number of people participating in fishing and wildlife-watching is up, participation in hunting dropped by about 2 million people to a total of 11.5 million hunters. Total expenditures by hunters also declined 29 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion.

This has significant ripple effects on not only the key federal funding models that support conservation of fish and wildlife, but also the base of support for our public lands and thoughtful natural resources policy.

“It is time for our community and our decision makers to get serious about R3, or recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters, because the implications for conservation are dire if this trend continues,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The report indicates that participation in fishing increased 8 percent since 2011, from 33.1 million anglers to 35.8 million in 2016, and total nationwide spending by anglers was up 2 percent. R3 efforts geared toward fishing and boating have been successful thanks to a funding provision in the Dingell-Johnson Act, also called the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, that allows a small percentage of these excise tax revenues to be used for recruitment and retention programs.

The Pittman-Robertson Act, which created the excise tax on guns, ammunition, and archery equipment, does not permit using the funds for R3 activities.

“We must modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act so we can promote hunting the same way we promote fishing and boating, bring the hunter education and licensing systems into the 21st century, and immediately address serious threats to hunting, like chronic wasting disease in deer,” says Fosburgh. “We must also focus on expanding access and improving the quality of the hunting experience—better habitat means more animals and more opportunities for success.”

Decision makers should further support the future of America’s hunting traditions by passing a fiscal year 2018 budget deal with robust funding for conservation and crafting a 2018 Farm Bill that not only enhances conservation tools for private lands but also incentivizes private landowners to enroll acres in voluntary public access programs. It is more critical than ever that sportsmen and women continue to be engaged in the public process of planning for management on America’s multiple-use public lands, as well.

It appears the USFWS will update this page with preliminary findings on the latest five-year report.

Top photo by Tim Donovan at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission via Flickr

Kristyn Brady

August 31, 2017

Idaho Sportsmen Identify Most Valued Hunting And Fishing Destinations

New data will help state and federal agencies prioritize conservation and access projects in areas most used by hunters and anglers

Maps of Idaho’s most valued hunting and fishing areas have been made available to state and federal agencies, as well as the public, to help guide future land management decisions.

More than 400 hunters and anglers contributed to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s mapping project, and the data have been assembled in a geographic information system that can be overlaid with maps showing critical habitat, land ownership, and planned development. After hosting 20 mapping events with sporting clubs from around the Gem State, the TRCP confirmed that hunters are fiercely protective of nearby hunting and fishing opportunities and are profoundly aware of the areas with the most waterfowl, fish, upland birds, predators, and big game.

A waterfowl hunter from Coeur d’Alene identifies his favorite hunting area during a mapping event sponsored by the TRCP. From 2015 to 2017, the TRCP interviewed 400 hunters at 20 mapping events held statewide. The information will be used to focus attention on areas that need help. Images courtesy of Rob Thornberry.

“With the help of sportsmen, we’ve been able to pinpoint lands that are cherished for their hunting and fishing values, so that land managers can prioritize habitat conservation and the enhancement of public access in these areas,” says Rob Thornberry, TRCP’s Idaho field representative out of Idaho Falls.

New maps of #Idaho’s most valued #hunting & #fishing areas could help guide conservation decisions Click To Tweet

The Idaho results showed a sporting community that is loyal to public lands near home, with most residents picking favorite hunting and fishing areas within three hours of their front doors. “There was great fidelity to the public lands in our own backyards,” Thornberry says. “At the same time, roughly a third of sportsmen and women from all 20 mapping events said they still travel all over the state to pursue game and fish.”

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore participates in the Sportsmen’s Value Mapping Project in Boise in 2016. Moore said he hopes the information will help hunters guide their hunting choices. In 2016, Moore predicted Idahoans would “circle every inch of the state.” They did.

Sportsmen were interviewed in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Salmon, Stanley, Boise, Twin Falls, Moscow, and Coeur d’Alene. The resulting maps will provide important and previously unavailable data to state and federal agencies to help:

  • Balance other land uses with the needs of fish, wildlife, hunters, and anglers
  • Identify areas where public access needs to be maintained or improved
  • Identify key high-use areas warranting special conservation strategies
  • Justify actions and funding requests aimed at conserving highly valued wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing areas

“This map will serve as a useful tool for conservation and management as state and federal agencies evaluate areas for habitat improvements and hunting and fishing opportunities,” says Mark Gamblin, regional supervisor for Idaho Fish and Game in the Pocatello region.

“Knowing Idaho’s population is increasing by 20,000 to 30,000 each year, sportsmen and women need to consider this growth to ensure that wildlife and quality habitat remain abundant,” says Brian Brooks, the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. “This map highlights, quite literally, where we should focus our efforts.”

The first mapping project of its kind was launched by the TRCP in 2007. Maps have also been completed for Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona.

 

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.

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