Kevin Farron

September 28, 2017

Public Lands Move People

A new study looks at booming population growth around Montana’s public lands, which help drive commerce and community values—this could be an indication of the West’s changing economy

Missoula, Montana, home of the TRCP’s Western outpost—is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Folks from all over the country choose to live or vacation here because of the fishing, hiking, mountain biking, camping, rafting, and hunting that waits just a hop, skip, and a jump from your front door or hotel room.

When it came time to move from my previous home in Bend, Ore.—also an outdoorsman’s paradise—Missoula was on the short list of places my fiancée and I were willing to live next. Our criteria are simple: It can’t be too big or too small of a town, and there must be ample access to hunting, fishing, and recreation in the outdoors. In other words, access to public lands is a deal breaker for us.

And apparently, we’re not alone: According to a recent study from Montana nonprofit Headwaters Economics, public lands in Montana attract and move many. The results show that counties with a high percentage of national public lands have experienced a population increase of 2.87 percent, while counties with less than the median share of public lands have experienced a total population decline of 2.22 percent. The western half of Montana—the part with the most public land—is growing most rapidly.

This seems to be a trend across the West: The data show that counties with the most public land are outpacing the counties with the least public land in population, employment rate, and income growth.

With so many flocking to the “Last Best Place,” Montana’s economy is booming. From 2000 to 2015, the state has outpaced the rest of the U.S. in terms of employment and income growth. What sets Montana apart from most other states? Well, for one, 29 percent of the state is public land, creating quite a large hunting and fishing playground.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, more than four in five Montanans engage in outdoor recreation each year, and this booming sector supports 71,000 direct jobs. For comparison, that’s more jobs than construction and manufacturing in the state. The $7.1 billion netted annually from outdoor recreation spending is significantly more than the entire statewide value of agricultural crops, livestock, and poultry. And considering that our state has the second-lowest population density in the lower 48 and just over a million people, the $286 million in state and local tax revenue created by outdoor recreation means a whole heck of a lot to Montanans. Very little of it would exists without the state’s expansive public lands.

Public lands are the main attractant, and the service industries that cater to new residents and visitors are thriving. Everything from hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores to realtors and lawyers now account for 60 percent of total earnings in Montana. Things are changing.

And the outdoors don’t only nurture outdoor-related and service careers. Many businesses and individuals now have the luxury of setting up shop wherever they can get reliable Internet access. It’s no wonder that public-land-rich towns like Bend, Ore., Boulder, Colo., and Missoula, Mont., are seeing the tech industry settle in.

This is all to say that the P&L sheet for America’s public lands can’t be based solely on property taxes and extracted resources. To fairly value these public lands (something some lawmakers would prefer not to do) we need to take a step back and measure all the economic impacts—the service industry businesses that benefit when hunters come to town, the attraction for big employers, and maybe even the tech company CEO’s desire to live somewhere he can fish year-round.

5 Responses to “Public Lands Move People”

  1. Thomas Doyle

    That growth is wonderful until there are condo’s and homes built up against the borders. Try hunting with homes that you can throw a rock and hit one. That is why I have stooped hunting state land in South-East Michigan. There are also issues in some of the western states where the owner of the property that touches a waterway own that part of the river.
    Before we all rejoice lets be careful about what we consider success.

  2. Ms. Carla Compton, Advocate/Activist/Humanist

    WOW! I have to say, I TOTALLY AGREE(W/THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH/STATEMENT of Sept. 28th[2017]))! There just HAS TO BE SOME LIMITATIONS IN THIS PARTICULAR ISSUE/MOVEMENT! Sure, Montana IS another beautiful state, with MANY beautiful & wonderful (“natural”) areas where many might want to also live! I live in the (still) “generally beautiful” state of California, with “its” yet & “ever-growing” populous. If “I” was to move to a state such as Montana, I might (now) think twice AGAIN, as I certainly WOULD NOT WANT to move to yet “ANOTHER [MESSED-UP] BUILT-UP” SUBURBAN METROPOLIS! “SOMEBODY” NEEDS TO ‘GET A GRIP’! Thank you!

  3. The last thing I want to see hunting, backpacking, fishing public land is somebody’s house. Many public lands have been lost to this type of movement. Most of them have lost to subdivisions, quick shops, small strip malls. Just look at the Lake of the Ozarks 40 years ago to now. This is only one area that has lost almost all of the public land and right-a-ways. There many more.

  4. I believe that this is a wonderful testament to the importance of public lands. My son just completed a summer internship job working on snow pack data in Denver. He said that he found out very quickly not to be on the highways after 4 PM on Fridays because it was a mass exodus to the mountains. Does Denver take away from the expanse of the beautiful public lands in the area. I don’t believe so. There have been boomtowns near Nat’l Parks since Nat’l Parks. Take Jackson, WY for example. It has become a destination in and of itself. As long as western public lands aren’t sold off to the highest bidder, there will be plenty of acreage for all to enjoy without worrying about staying near the boarders.

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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.

Chris Macaluso

September 13, 2017

What Hurricanes Can Teach Us About Building Better Coastlines with Benefits for Fish and Wildlife

While the focus should absolutely be on helping victims of recent storms, there will come a time for reflecting on how to improve coastal resilience—these lessons from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have changed the way that Louisiana views wetlands

My lifelong home in South Louisiana has borne the brunt of more than a dozen hurricanes over the last 40 years. Each of them brought flooding rains, heavy winds, and storm surges that inundated coastal communities. Some of them, like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, reshaped cities and lives forever.

This is why it’s especially tough to see the devastation from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma affect friends, colleagues, and the places they call home. I’ve been there before—so have my friends and neighbors. We know it could just as easily be us gutting our homes, wondering when our roads will be passable, and struggling with seemingly endless power outages.

We understand the weeks, months, and maybe years of struggle ahead. The incredibly generous outpouring of support from fellow Americans, in the form of financial donations, volunteer hours, food, and water is critical to stabilizing the situation and beginning to rebuild. But anybody who has lived through such devastation knows only time, determination, and hard work will truly bring back a sense of normalcy for those in the paths of Harvey and Irma.

The focus for those directly affected—and for all Americans—should continue to be on aid for those who have lost their homes, vehicles, and schools or are struggling to find comfort without electricity, food, or water.

There will come a time, however, after this hurricane season is over and recovery is underway, when coastal residents, community leaders, and officials will begin to assess why the damage was so extensive.

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr
A Louisiana Case Study

That reckoning occurred in Louisiana in late 2005, after Katrina and Rita brought absolute devastation from one end of the state to the other. Building codes were analyzed. Flood plain maps were examined and updated. Evacuation plans were closely critiqued. And, perhaps most critically, scientists and engineers began examining why flood protection systems failed so miserably.

Louisiana’s elected leaders had to deal with the fact that the incredible loss of wetland habitat along the state’s coast had likely exacerbated flood damages. Combined with the poorly conceived and maintained navigation channels through wetlands, the result was a woefully inadequate flood protection system.

Louisiana acted by creating a single agency responsible for both flood protection and wetlands restoration, rather than two agencies that might need to compete for the same funds.

In 2007, less than two years after Katrina and Rita, Louisiana’s newly created Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority released the state’s first comprehensive master plan addressing coastal restoration and hurricane protection. The plan laid out a 50-year effort to create a system with multiple lines of defense, using healthier wetlands and rebuilt barrier islands as a buffer to slow wave action and storm surge before it can reach flood protection levees and flood gates. Additionally, an examination of building practices in the most frequently flooded areas, some that had experienced severe flooding seven times in ten years, led to a concerted effort to elevate homes and make businesses more resilient.

An understanding spread among lawmakers and residents that marshes and swamps are not solely places to hunt and fish. This natural infrastructure is an absolute necessity for protecting Louisiana’s largest cities as well as the smaller communities that benefit from being hunting and fishing destinations.

Photo by mammoth
Recognizing the Worth of Wetlands

For more than a century, many state and federal agencies and municipalities focused on conquering wetlands by draining them, then pumping in soils to create space for development. Wetland buffers along rivers, bayous, and creeks that once absorbed and held floodwaters were replaced by levees that force floodwaters up, instead of out. The ability of wetlands to help protect existing infrastructure was largely ignored.

It cannot be ignored any longer.

It’s true that no two storms are exactly alike: Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rain that inundated a huge swath of southeast Texas, and Irma’s enormous size and unprecedented wind ferocity set it apart. Even the healthiest coastal wetlands and the best flood protection systems would not have staved off all the destruction caused by those two storms.

However, there are parts of the Houston area that have now experienced record-setting “100-year flooding” four times in the last 20 years. In Florida, communities now devastated by storm surge and river flooding could have been spared some damage if once-present mangrove flats were there to dampen wave action, or if rivers could still flush out into the wetland floodplains that no longer exist or have been cut off.

Acknowledging these facts is not an attempt to assign blame. It’s not an attempt to use unprecedented disasters to advance a political ideology, either. I understand the crassness of using these disasters as fodder for advancing an agenda while those affected try to save what few possessions remain.

I have neighbors in Baton Rouge who still have not been able to move back into their homes after record flooding in August 2016. The house that my grandfather built, where my dad grew up just two miles from Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, still sits empty and in disrepair more than a decade after Hurricane Katrina.

What I hope is that this will be read as a plea to those who make the decisions in coastal communities that have and have yet to be impacted by a disaster. We must grasp how important it is that we live with and utilize the natural protections for our man-made infrastructure—and perhaps think of wetlands, marshes, and mangrove flats as something just as critical to the way we live on the coast.

With personal experience as our guide, I hope we rebuild smarter in flood-prone areas, so recovery isn’t quite as difficult the next time. The side benefit just might be that we support or improve habitat that makes it possible for us to hunt, fish, and live well.

John Gans

by:

posted in: Outdoor Economy

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

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