Whit Fosburgh

November 28, 2017

For All We Get, Hunters and Anglers Give Back

Here’s to all the ways the outdoors inspire us to step up, grab a shovel, become a mentor, or spend with a purpose (and why it’s more critical than ever)

Having grown up in upstate New York, hunting and fishing have been omnipresent in my life for as long as I can remember. My family lived two miles back on a dirt road, with no neighbors except for the animals in the unbroken forest, complete with a native brook trout stream. When other kids went to the mall or watched TV, my brother and I were outside — often with a fly rod or shotgun in our hands.

Even as our lives progressed — college, jobs in the city, marriage, kids — those early years continued to guide us. And for all we got out of the outdoors, there came a time when we felt responsible for giving something back.

My brother and I both got jobs in conservation, but it has been my experience that most hunters and anglers feel this same sense of duty on some level. We volunteer, speak up on a particular issue, or donate money and/or labor to a group we believe in. And that continues to be critical, not only to our best conservation successes, but also to the path forward for our hunting and fishing traditions.

An Ethic That Goes Back to Roosevelt

It is no accident that hunters and anglers have always been the driving force behind conservation in America, or that Theodore Roosevelt is generally remembered as the father of conservation in our country. He credited wild places and wildlife for his development as a man, and he feared that the rugged individualism the wilderness taught him would be lost if he didn’t succeed in making conservation the nation’s highest priority.

During his tenure as president, Roosevelt protected more than 240 million acres for national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife refuges. He and his colleagues ended market hunting and ushered in a system of principles now known as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Subsequent generations have expanded Roosevelt’s legacy by creating funding mechanisms, primarily through excise taxes and license fees, to pay for the professional management and acquisition of millions of acres for the public to enjoy.

I believe that the ethic of volunteerism prevalent in hunting and fishing stems from these same ideals: We should show our gratitude for all that we take from our natural resources by providing service, and we should ensure the future of a critical conservation funding source (as much as our uniquely American traditions) by taking new hunters and anglers outside.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Those Closest to the Land Must Take Responsibility

Those who do not hunt or fish will probably never understand the draw. Unless you’ve done it, it’s impossible to know the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with catching a rising trout on a dry fly, or serving your own venison on Christmas Eve. You become part of the woods or the river, able to sense subtle changes all around and feel incredible empathy for the game you pursue — and that’s not always easy to explain. But as an outdoorsman, I was raised to appreciate the natural world that functions in an amazing, often brutal harmony, in spite of man’s alterations.

Today we all have a duty to understand and preserve this unique experience. Too often we take for granted what Roosevelt and generations of conservation-minded leaders have left us: a public lands network that is unparalleled in all the world, the best-managed fish and wildlife populations of any nation, and the ability for all Americans to hunt and fish, regardless of class or economic status. It is a system that benefits everyone, from the sportsman to the hiker to those who simply want to drink clean water or experience wide open spaces.

But Roosevelt’s legacy is under attack. For more than three decades, budgets for agencies that manage our public lands have been squeezed and shrunk. In the 1970s, conservation spending made up more than two percent of the federal budget; today it is only about one percent, and we’re projecting that piece of the pie will shrink even more in 2018.

Recreation facilities across the country are being closed or lie in disrepair. The U.S. Forest Service now spends more than half its annual budget fighting wildfires, up from less than 20 percent two decades ago. The financial crisis this creates for the agency hamstrings it from meeting the expectations of the public. There has also been a chorus of voices saying that our federal public lands—or the authority to manage them—should be turned over to the states.

We Can’t Do It Without You

Our public lands are fundamental to maintaining the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy, especially when you consider that 72 percent of Western hunters depend on public lands for their access. And those of us, like me, who spend a lot of time in the Northeast cherish our public lands, in part because we have so few of them. That’s why none of us can afford to sit back and assume that what we have been given will be here forever.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Today, on Giving Tuesday, our national day of magnanimity on the heels of a long weekend of feasting and gratitude, we’d like to thank you for all that you already do for conservation and perhaps urge you to do a little more. From buying an extra duck stamp (or two or three) to helping out at a kids’ fishing derby to reading a TRCP alert like this one and deciding to take action—it’s all extremely important work.

Support the work we do today by making a donation. And watch your email inbox for more chances to pitch in with your time or your stories. The American sportsman’s experience is valuable and worth preserving. No one else will do it for us.

 

Top photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

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Ed Arnett

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posted in: Outdoor Economy

November 22, 2017

There’s One Day Left to Speak Up for Conservation of a Western Icon

Two hunters recently followed sage grouse sign to the mule deer buck of a lifetime, but both of these species (and more) could be at risk if sagebrush conservation is set back

Sagebrush-covered hills spanned the horizon as my cousin Larry and I put a stalk on a group of mule deer we had just spotted. As we walked down into a draw, I noticed sign from a bird that many have only have read about in recent years. No sooner had I taken another step when four greater sage grouse busted from the brush. They could have spooked our quarry, but didn’t. (We still didn’t get a shot at those deer.)

The next morning, we crept through some of the best grouse habitat I’d ever seen—droppings, feathers, and birds were all around us. That’s where we got our buck, a beautiful mature muley that had been bedded down in the sage.

This is all to say that sage grouse have shared the sagebrush ecosystem with Western big game like mule deer and pronghorns for thousands of years. The same habitat that has been lost and fragmented by energy development, fire, and invasive species—decimating sage grouse populations—also supports 350 other species that could be struggling next. And the many varied stakeholders who want to see sagebrush thrive have a chance right now to make sure that the current administration stays the course on conservation plans that took years to iron out in the first place.

Here’s why we need your help by December 1.

The Conservation Compromise of a Lifetime

Once numbering in the millions, sage grouse populations have dropped precipitously in recent decades to only a few hundred thousand birds. Since the mid-2000s, this has put pressure on decision-makers to protect sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act—a potentially devastating outcome for American ranchers, sportsmen, energy developers, and others.

The shared goal of preventing a wide swath of the West from immense regulatory burden incentivized a unique coalition to agree on durable conservation plans at the federal, state, and local level to protect and restore core sage grouse habitat. These are the plans that convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the bird as threatened or endangered in September 2015—and these very same plans may be weakened if we don’t speak up now.

Balance Means You Can’t Please Everyone

Of course, lawsuits were filed in the wake of the USFWS decision: Some claimed that the federal plans do too much or too little—a reasonable indication that the federal plans actually did hit close to the mark of balance for conservation and multiple uses of public lands.

Despite this extraordinary collaborative achievement, some states remain dissatisfied, and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has ordered a review of the federal conservation plans. A report was publically released this summer outlining key issues related to energy development, grazing management, and measures to conserve habitat around sage grouse breeding sites. That report highlighted opportunities to set a clear direction on implementing plans, a reasonable suggestion, but also noted that amendments to the plans may be necessary in the long term.

These plans were signed just two years ago and have barely been implemented. Now we’re already talking about changing them, and perhaps even undoing our success.

Unfortunately, the amendment process could take years, possibly delaying time-sensitive work and creating even greater uncertainty for sage grouse habitat and all the stakeholders that are anxiously eyeing the landscape that sustains their way of life. While many problems can be addressed by the Bureau of Land Management without major changes or disruption, the administration is immediately seeking amendments to the plans rather than exhausting other options first.

No land-use management plan—state or federal—is perfect, and these plans should be improved upon over time. In fact, some minor tweaks could be acceptable now, as long as they are science-based and don’t change the entire course for conservation. That’s tough to be sure of when we’re barely on our first steps and don’t have much data to make informed adjustments.

The threat here is that opening up the plans for amendments invites mischief. Major changes, driven by the short-term desires of a few politicians and special interests, could destabilize the long-term certainty that all stakeholders need. And of course, there is a lot on the line for hunters, sage grouse, and the 350 other species that depend on the sagebrush-steppe. This is why we’re more comfortable with the BLM first using all their existing administrative options to resolve any immediate concerns.

Photo by Jennifer Strickland, USFWS
Let Sage Grouse Plans Work

One Oregon rancher coined the phrase “what’s good for the bird is good for the herd,” highlighting the fact that quality range management benefits plant diversity, wildlife, and livestock. The same holds true for the deer herd, as my cousin and I experienced this fall.

Fortunately, there is a public process around the review of the BLM’s conservation plans, but the comment period ends December 1. Sportsmen and women need to speak up to keep conservation moving forward. Delays or major changes would threaten all of the critters that depend on the sagebrush ecosystem, including many big game species that make this a special place for hunters.

Please take just a few minutes to urge Secretary Zinke not to pursue a total overhaul of widely supported conservation plans or make changes that aren’t supported by the science—send the message that the men and women closest to the landscape want to keep this historic collaboration moving forward and let these carefully crafted solutions work.

Take action now.

Jennifer Byerly

November 14, 2017

Atlantic States’ Vote on Management of Critical Forage Fish Opens Door for Better Study

Commission vote falls short of considering ecosystem-wide impacts in management of Atlantic menhaden but establishes new reference points for future decisions

BALTIMORE — Today, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted to continue its current management approach for Atlantic menhaden, the second-most heavily commercially fished species in the nation and a critically important food source for sportfish like striped bass. With this vote, menhaden will continue to be managed as a single species until menhaden-specific ecological reference points can be developed. The Commission further decided to allocate a 0.5% minimum for each state and set the coastwide total allowable catch at 216,000 metric tons for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Recreational anglers have strongly advocated for an ecosystem-based management approach that considers the menhaden’s role in the food chain and factors in predator/prey relationships when setting catch limits. Anglers, small businesses, environmentalists, and other stakeholders from all fifteen ASMFC-managed states submitted hundreds of comments and turned out for fifteen public hearings up and down the coast in support of Option E to advance a more aggressive timeline for an ecosystem-wide management approach, before the states ultimately decided to maintain current management practices.

“The recreational fishing and conservation community looks forward to working with the Commission to set and implement these new ecological reference points as quickly as possible,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership “We knew this would be a long-term process and we are ready to move forward with the best available science and are taking a long-term view. Moving to an ecosystem-based management of this important forage species is not only good for our fisheries, but also critical for our coastal economies, which get a substantial boost from reliable and sustainable recreational fishing opportunities.”

The importance of Atlantic menhaden, also known as pogey or bunker, is clear to recreational fishermen on the East Coast. As high-protein forage fish that striped bass, tuna, mackerel, sharks, drum, cobia, and tarpon depend on for food, the abundance of menhaden often determines the likelihood of a good day on the water. In addition, menhaden 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, providing a valuable service in a place like Chesapeake Bay, where nutrient runoff becomes concentrated.

Check the ASMFC’s website for the full meeting summary and latest menhaden stock assessments.

Nick Payne

by:

posted in: Outdoor Economy

November 13, 2017

Locals Helped Hammer Out a Plan for Responsible Energy Development on Public Lands in Colorado

The process checks a couple of boxes for decision-makers who want less top-down policy-making and fewer hurdles for development, but the future of the plan is uncertain

Park County is a small, rural Colorado county that finds its identity in the outdoors. Ranching, hunting, fishing, camping, and a rural way of life bring people to live and work in South Park. Home to world-class fishing waters, including several miles of the South Platte River’s Gold Medal “dream stream,” South Park attracts anglers from all over the country. The 1,000-square mile South Park valley also provides phenomenal habitat for elk, mule deer, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and many other game animals. State and BLM land in the Reinecker Ridge area supports more than 1,000 wintering elk from three different herds. These elk attract thousands of hunters to Colorado, boosting the outdoor recreation economy that generated more than $17.7 million in economic activity from hunting and fishing in 2007, and supported 207 jobs in Park County alone.

It’s no wonder that the local community cares about how this land is managed.

There’s a good chance that over the next 20 years Park County will be targeted by the oil and gas industry for development. This is why the community—including sportsmen, small businesses, agricultural producers, and other local stakeholders—has been heavily involved in the BLM’s planning process for the last seven years. We want to find a balance between a complete shutdown of extractive industries and irresponsible oil and gas drilling, which some worry will lead to long-term litigation and significant deterioration of big game habitat, greatly hampering our hunting opportunities. Surely, we can continue forward with this responsible and balanced approach that will serve the community and our fish and wildlife resources.

See It to Believe It

Last week, I led a field tour of the area for Senator Gardner’s staff, and I was joined by two of the three Park County commissioners, the CPW Area Wildlife Manager, a local cattle rancher, and representatives from the Colorado Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, and the National Wildlife Federation. As locals, we wanted to showcase all of the land’s many benefits. As stakeholders who have been engaged in the BLM planning process since day one, we wanted to make clear that we wouldn’t be happy to see all our efforts come to nothing.

The South Park plan could be a model to follow, with a coalition of the willing coming together, regardless of ideology, to hammer out a plan that will allow for extraction of the oil and gas we all depend on without jeopardizing the traditional use of the land that makes South Park the community that it is. Compromises on things like phased development, when and where to apply seasonal closures for big game, and using science to determine proper mitigation and restoration techniques are already in place. Landowner, cattle rancher, and local advocate for the plan, Terry O’Neill stated “I often hear from Park County residents how deeply appreciative of these efforts they are.” Now, it is time for our representatives to stand up and show support for this locally vetted plan as it moves up the chain to decision-makers in D.C.

Field tour participants pictured on location at the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area. From left to right: Lew Carpenter, National Wildlife Federation; Tyler Baskfield, Trout Unlimited; Samantha Gunther, Senator Corey Gardner’s office; Mark Lamb, Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Mark Dowaliby, Park County; Terry O’Neill, Park County resident. Cover photo of the author fishing on the South Platte River in the Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area by Amber Hooper.

If the current administration has been vocal about anything, it’s the need for local stakeholders to be involved in shaping the policies that affect them and their livelihoods. This planning process in South Park is a textbook example of that. Our decision-makers are also committed to streamlining development, and having local support up front is a great way to give certainty to industry, too—as long as they’re willing to come to the table.

We’re hopeful that the vision and management direction decided on by South Park’s stakeholders moves forward as intended, and potentially serves as a great example for how to get things done elsewhere. This is an open call to decision-makers across the country to step up and do what’s right for America through comprehensive, responsible, and locally-driven energy development planning. As sportsmen and women, we’re counting on your leadership and commitment to solutions that make sense for the long-term health of our economy, public lands, and hunting and fishing traditions.

Kristyn Brady

November 7, 2017

Lindsey Elliott Wants Everyone to Tell More Complex, Emotional Hunting Stories

Part Two in our series of conversations with women who are helping to shine a spotlight on habitat, access, and funding issues that impact hunting and fishing

Perhaps one of the best things to come out of recent threats to public lands has been a new kind of alliance between hunters, anglers, and other people who enjoy the outdoors, like skiers, hikers, bikers, climbers, and paddlers. Lindsey Elliott considers herself originally from this second group, but as an enthusiastic newcomer to hunting—she went on her first big game hunt last year—she’s become a very willing ambassador for our sports, especially with devotees of her business Wylder Goods, a built-by-women-for-women outdoor gear retailer she co-founded with her friend Jainee Dial in April 2016.

We talked to Lindsey about how she got interested in hunting—it involves her collecting roadkill, more on that later—and why she believes in weaving conservation stories into the marketing of a business that relies on the outdoors.

Photo by Jainee Dial.

TRCP: We first got to know you at the Outdoor Retailer show this summer, where you were on a panel about hunting and public lands with our president and CEO Whit Fosburgh. He said you had a really unique journey to discovering your love of hunting—can you share it with us?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, I was sort of the token beginner hunter on that panel, which was great because it’s such an interesting time to be joining the hunting community—there’s this bipartisan wave of support for public lands, and meanwhile women are increasingly getting into hunting as the overall number of hunters is declining. It’s part of why I’m motivated to share my story.

I don’t come from a hook-and-bullet background. I mean, I fished as a kid and I’ve gotten into flyfishing as an adult, but I don’t have any family members who hunt. I’d really never fired a high-powered rifle until last year.

I used to work in environmental education, and we’d show the kids things like primitive skills and basic firemaking. One day I found a dead fox on the side of the road—it had this really beautiful coat and it wasn’t mangled or anything, so I had an expert help me use it for a skinning demonstration. She did about half the job and talked me through the rest, and it ended up being this really incredible experience for me where I sort of felt like I was out of my body watching my hands move as if they knew where to go. I realized it didn’t matter whether I thought I could or couldn’t do it—it was biologically engrained in me.

That sort of lit a spark, and for the next eight years or so I just wanted more and more experiences like that. I got a collection permit to use other critters to teach my students, whether it was about feather design or what scavengers eat. I learned how to tan hides (not very well, because it’s super hard), and I just became the person everyone called when they had dead animals! I was like the roadkill queen of my community, which was pretty funny.

Photo by Jainee Dial.

Then I moved to Utah, and one of my friends here has been hunting for 25 years. His walls are covered in beautiful taxidermy mounts and skulls, and we’d eat these wonderful meals with wild game and I’d ask him about the stories behind all of it. He finally asked if I wanted to come along on a hunt and see for myself, so I got an apprentice hunter license.

I thought I’d just shadow him for the season, but then I got a tag and started training with a rifle, and since I wasn’t half bad it seemed like I could really go for it. Everything just kept lining up. By early fall, I’d spent about eight months reading a lot about hunting and sort of testing the conversation in my peer group, just exploring the idea. But now I really wanted to do this! I sincerely hoped I’d get the opportunity to shoot a deer—and I did.

It was a beautiful process, and one that I immediately felt aligned with. Since then, cooking that meat for friends has even deepened the spirituality of the experience. I was sure I’d know in an instant if hunting was going to be for me, and every part of my first hunt just confirmed that this is something I’m going to pursue for the rest of my life.

Photo by Abbi Hearne.

TRCP: You made a great point about this being a very big moment for public lands and maybe an opportunity for some non-traditional partnerships around conservation. But do you think that women who hunt are accepted by your customers who are adventure athletes? Is that a dated stereotype that there is mistrust between the two groups?

ELLIOTT: Coming from the climbing and biking side, I’ll say that it felt like a big risk a year ago to step out and start talking about hunting on the Wylder platform, because it can be such a divisive topic. But I have been so surprised at how interested outdoorswomen have been in my process and the stories that I’m sharing. Every time that I bring it up on social media, I get responses from a handful of women who say Thank you for sharing this, or I really want to get into this someday, or I just asked my dad if he would take me hunting for the first time. So, I do notice that there’s more genuine interest than I thought there was in a group where I was pretty concerned about broaching the conversation. That’s exciting.

Photo by Jainee Dial.

TRCP: You created Wylder because you saw a need to better serve women interested in outdoor gear made for them. Do you think the industry is evolving, and where do you think other women have an opportunity to help make a change?

ELLIOTT: The hunting industry does seem to be turning a corner, even in the short amount of time I’ve been paying attention, especially with Sitka’s women’s line coming out and there being more of an accurate representation of women in hunting magazines and videos.

Where I’m personally motivated is changing the style of storytelling, and I think that women should be a part of that: Let’s tell more complex, emotional stories about hunting, because there’s so much more to it than what a grip-and-grin photo shows you. You have this incredible moment of fear and anguish—I mean, I was buckling at the knees just watching from afar as my deer collapsed to the ground—and of course there’s a moment of relief that you finally got there, and you can eventually smile at some point for a photo. But I think a lot of that gets left out, and it could shift the public perception of what it means to be a hunter.

Photo by Abbi Hearne.

TRCP: Wylder is a certified B Corp, a for-profit company that uses the power of business as a force for good. Why is that important to you?

ELLIOTT: For us, it was part of the original conception of Wylder and really the only way we saw ourselves getting involved in business in the first place. We partner with four non-profits, donate two percent of our sales profit to them, and dedicate a quarter of our marketing to their calls to action and campaigns. Part of our goal is infusing learning and advocacy into the narrative of our online community so people feel less like visitors to wild places and more like part of the ecosystem. When I first learned about B Corps, it just struck me that we could start a business in a place where we are personally connected, where there’s a need in the market, and we can use it as the engine for driving attention toward the good work that we want to see happen in the world. It has been the biggest surprise in my career to end up doing what I’m doing.

Follow Lindsey at @lindenroams, @wyldergoods, and on the Wylder blog. If you know an amazing, inspiring sportswoman with a passion for conservation, tag us on social media and share her story. We’d love to feature more fierce females like this.

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