Kristyn Brady

December 4, 2017

Executive Actions to Alter Monuments Set Bad Precedent for Public Lands Valued by Sportsmen

The authority to modify national monuments lies with Congress alone, and this path throws into question the future of all monuments—including those created with the support of hunters and anglers

Today, President Trump announced his plans to use executive authority to reduce the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership expressed serious concern about the larger implications of this decision, especially considering the importance of national monuments to sportsmen and women as part of our uniquely American public lands system.

“There is a right and a wrong way to go about this, and the administration’s decision to skirt Congress in these decisions threatens to upend 111 years of conservation in America, putting at risk the future of any monument created under the Antiquities Act dating back to 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt created Devils Tower,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. A recent poll commissioned by the TRCP found that 77 percent of Republican and 80 percent of Democratic sportsmen and women support keeping the existing number and size of national monuments available for hunting and fishing.

While adjustments to national monument boundaries were made by the executive branch long ago, no president has attempted to do so in more than 50 years, and such decisions have never been tested in a court of law, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“If a president can redraw national monuments at will, the integrity of the Antiquities Act is compromised and many of America’s finest public lands face an immediate risk of exploitation,” says Fosburgh. “The power to create national monuments under the Antiquities Act lies with the President, and that authority is to be kept in check by Congress alone. We have repeatedly asked the administration to walk a path that upholds this precedent. Instead, the legacy of 16 former presidents, and the future status of some of America’s most iconic public lands, will be thrown into question.”

The future may also be uncertain for the numerous national monuments cherished by the sporting community, like those outlined in a report supported by 28 hunting and fishing organizations and businesses. More than 20 hunting and fishing businesses recently sent a letter to the White House encouraging the administration to “set an example for how the Antiquities Act should be used responsibly.”

Top photo by the Bureau of Land Management via flickr.

50 Responses to “Executive Actions to Alter Monuments Set Bad Precedent for Public Lands Valued by Sportsmen”

  1. Peggy Smith

    This is ok for one group that uses these lands, but the complete picture of who uses,and benefits from these lands is far greater! It is part of our American cultural heritage. Many are extremely important lands for our Indigenous Peoples. This is a critical time to voice your concerns. Do we allow big oil, dirty coal and minerals to come in and destroy our most sensitive and cherished lands?

  2. ROBERT Digh

    STATES can better determine land use issues than the Fed. The State can keep it protected of they desire to do so. The people of that State and only those people have the rigjt to decide what happens in their own state, and not tree hugging hippies from the outside.

  3. What did you expect from this crew? Sadly, there will be more of the same to come. Once you start doing this it opens the door for more to come. And once you trash a national treasure there is no getting it back. Sad for America. Teddy Roosevelt would not agree.

  4. William Blount

    I disagree that there has been too much government overreach..bunch of malarkey. It is in the best interest of any nation to preserve and protect lands for not only future generations, but for all of us to enjoy today. There is not an infinite supply and we can’t make more earth. If it was not for conservationists we would see much more land in the private sector being exploited for short term gain. We are the envy of the world and many visitors from outside the USA wish they had what we have in their own country. Trump and his cronies spend each day thinking about how they can add to there bloated bank accounts at the expense of others..no vision for the future.

    • typical misleading enviro-elitist response lacking any validity. Teddy wouldn’t buy into this nonsense and neither will I. If we want the immense amount of public lands to be healthy, survive and prosper for all Americans then the states that that encompass these lands need equal control and oversight of public lands. The only people that think the Feds. are doing a good job are the themselves and the Enviro. groups that control them. Thanks, SS in Windy Wyoming

      • The argument against states overseeing the public lands is that they do not have sufficient funding to do so. A lot of states are prohibited from operating at a loss, and therefore the fear is most states would then have to sell off the public lands to private owners. Once that happens there is no getting it back. I agree with the idea of states having power, however I think this issue is complicated and isn’t as simple as a Feds vs. State argument. What are your thoughts?

    • Berta Meserve

      I agree, we need to protect these lands and not allow corporations go in and start raping the land for their wallets. We need safe havens and conserve lands for their pristine value for all generations and wildlife to inhabit. That’s right, once it’s gone, we won’t get it back. What’s wrong this this Congress? Have they lost all their balls? If it’s in the Constitution that the president cannot make a decision to change a monument without Congress approval and Congress doesn’t uphold this, then what the heck is our Constitution for? This president is the worst thing our country has ever experienced and he is undoing the protections our land needs and is threatening out climate as well with his agenda’s. We must fight back. This is serious stuff like I’ve never seen.

  5. I am greatly disappointed by President Trump’s action to reduce the size of these monuments and open them up to state despoilation. I feel he has given the middle class who use these for viewing, hunting, fishing, etc a slap in the face. I voted for him but I am disappointed in this action.

  6. Ray Beck

    When there is a question regarding the non reparability of this country’s lands we should always side with conservation then pocket pleasure of a few. The current atmosphere of political theater is a perspective to things in our past and in those times what is right was always tough. It takes people with strong character and what is right on their side to prevail. Ask Cliff Hansen what years of perspective brings in regards to our national monuments. It seems to me, we as humans are on this planet for such short periods but our lands live on through the generations that we should pass on our past when we can.

  7. The entire process needs to be handed over to congress and removed from the executive branch. The antiquities act allows the president great discretion in determining the size of national monuments and there is plenty of precedent established of presidents adjusting the size of national monuments. By placing the power entirely in congressional hands it will be much more difficult to make modifications so easily. That being said there has to be local input to the use of public land as well.

      • No, the BLM will control it and it will auction off leases to the highest bidder. These lands and those in other states were signed over to the federal government when many western states joined the union. States would do the same thing especially Utah, only they have less money to properly enforce regulations than the feds.

        • Justin Meyers

          States don’t have the budgets to properly maintain and oversee these lands plus the states are mandated to use their resources to operate a balance budget. That means they will almost be required to sell these lands to private entities which will be industrial companies that will seek to make profits from their investment. That is just business but the FED has the money to take care of these public lands. Congress is not appropriating the funds correctly to do so. We need to keep these lands public and in the FEDs oversight but we also need Congress to appriopriate the funds as they are directed to do for the purposes the funds were intended. This is NOT an issue of State Power versus National Government Overreach it IS an issue of our National Budgeting processes which need to be drastically overhauled with rationale and vision to protect our Public Lands and our future.

  8. Jeff Cunningham

    Most of the west is already federal land. Unfortunately, under the current rules, the previous POTUS overreached and unilaterally decided to enlarge land. The point really is the one made by the President yesterday – politicians in DC should NOT be making decisions the state governments are against just as people in DC and large cities without any understanding of reality make decisions about wolves. Plenty of land is set aside in monuments and parks. Local and state governments should be able to make decisions about where they live and work.

    • Jeff, this is partially inaccurate, you state that POTUS enlarged the land, all he did was convert it from BLM land to a monument. It was never in state control and there were many meetings with local communities before the action was taken.

  9. Keeping our Public Lands is favored by the vast majority of ALL Americans, not just sportsmen. These large tracts of wilderness belong to the whole country, not just to the state they are in. Wildlife need the corridors made by these large tracts of wilderness. Tourism attracts many dollars to benefit small communities that surround these beautiful places. Large tracts of wilderness are costly for states to maintain. Public Lands have been preserved in the interest of keeping them protected FOREVER–not just until some grifter or another comes into office and wants to give them away to fossil fuel development cronies. Most Americans whole-heartedly believe in the preservation and expansion of our Public Lands. I hope we will all voice our outrage to our representatives about this unwanted precedent. I hope people will support the organizations that are and will be fighting this issue in court.

  10. The land was given back to the state who can manage the property within the guideliness of their local policies It is still public land and it will be managed locally. Not a bad process. A lot of national monuments are off limits to hunters and the public. Who benefits then? If the states want them to be available to the public, they can develop policies that allow common sense use by various groups. I trust the states more to manage their lands better than the US government. That is true in the state that I live in.

  11. Jim Mcgannon

    This kind of action is simply political vindictiveness. This country (yes I was born here) has a continual sense of arrogance and self centered, short term entitlement attitude. Let’s just get rid of all the regulations and do whatever the H we want to do. Then we don’t have to worry about politics at all😳

  12. While some may feel this was acceptable ( citing overreach by govt and states rights) the truth is different: public lands belong to the public. Not just the Utah public , but ALL of us. States are poorly equipped with both staffing and money, to maintain public lands and their needed protection in these areas are usually the first things cut in state budgets. Once these areas are gone- they are gone. The local Native American tribes have banded together to file suit to prevent this decision for being enacted.
    As the world continues to destroy and use up its natural resources we need to protect what we have, not carve it into smaller pieces, or turn it over to states who then turn it over to developers, loggers, mining etc to cover the maintainence costs.

  13. Doug Kelley

    I disagree. Growing up next to a National Monument we have zero hunting rights on those lands. Turning back the illehal move made by Obama and letting the states legislate is a much better solution… Remember thousands of acres of sensitive land is still protected in these areas.

  14. Narain Schroeder

    As a member, and before I give another cent, I’d like to know if TRCP is going to fight this short-sighted move? These lands don’t belong to the State, they belong to all of us. Furthermore, if the resources were truly in desperate need, a real leader would be explaining that, as a last resort, we needed the fuel for our our military or to keep farm-tractors running. That’s not what this is about – it’s about making already wildly profitable extractive industries even richer. And most of the money (extracted from our land) will go to corporate heads, that donate to the Republican machine and keep this nonsense going. What will our children and grandchildren think when they look back at our short-sighted greed?

    • Kristyn Brady
      Kristyn Brady

      Thanks for asking, Narain. You are correct: These lands never belonged to the state of Utah, nor do they belong to the state now. These lands are still owned by the American people. It’s important to clarify, too, that every national monument is different–not all monuments restrict hunting and fishing access.

      We were prompted to reply to yesterday’s actions and the DOI review of 27 national monuments (22 of which do allow hunting and fishing) over the summer, because of the precedent this sets for other monuments to be dismantled and opened for development through executive action.

      The president’s power to designate monuments under the Antiquities Act should be used responsibly to benefit the American people by safeguarding unparalleled landscapes. (That’s why we helped develop a set of tenets for creating future monuments with the support of local hunters and anglers. Learn more at trcp.org/monumentsreport.) Congress alone has the power to alter existing monuments–to keep the executive branch in check and represent the interests of local constituents. That is what we will support.

  15. Bob Lick

    The Antiquities Act states, “…the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” This not confusing, but Presidents of both parties still have violated this mandate in the Act and opponents of President Trump’s action don’t want to talk about this detail.
    No individual should be able to lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of land. This is a function of the Congress after much public input from all stakeholders and debate. If worthy, let these areas become National Parks, National Recreation Areas, Wildlife Refuges or any other level of protection that allows this amount of acreage to be set aside.

  16. Aaron Partridge

    It seems there’s a silent battle that’s been going on for this particular land and it’s resources (of some sort) for many years now, starting as far back as the Clinton presidency. Why the secrecy? Any plans for future extraction, mining, strip mining, or what have you, should be made public and discussed publicly BEFORE any land is to be designated one way or the other. It’s the peoples land first and it’s benefits to the people should always be weighed against any possibility of destruction, or loss of public use before privatization by any sole corporation and it’s trust. Also, I find it unconscionable that OUR (as in we the people) limited resources are being removed and sold over seas to the highest bidder as fast as technology would allow, giving nothing in return but a relatively small number of jobs and leaving a wake of tainted land/water and plundered scenery. So what are “we” gaining from this? Places of solitude and uninterrupted natural beauty are getting to be a rare commodity these days, it’s why I love hunting, hiking, fishing, etc and to me it’s value is beyond a simple purchase price.

  17. Ted Eisele

    I have a huge problem with this. I live in Idaho, and fought the “Sagebrush Rebellion” alongside famous sportsman and writer Ted Trueblood (wonderful guy). Lots of falsehoods are being repeated. These lands NEVER belonged to the state! Furthermore, I can tell you when lands HAVE been given to the state of Idaho, they typically are sealed off from the public (yes, complete with no trespassing signs) and then sold to the highest bidder. The result? Idaho now has a HUGE problem with huge swaths of western Idaho being sold by a timber company (which had allowed the public to travel and hunt their lands) to 2 rich Texas businessmen. Now the lands are posted with no trespassing signs, and security personnel have challenged hunters who have attempted to drive through these lands! So prime elk and mule deer hunting terrain that had been hunted by generations of Idahoans are now apparently off limits (although the Texans’ PR people insist they want to be “good neighbors”. This is what’s in store for all of the West if this land grab approach continues. What’s more, in the case of southern Utah, we’ll also have to deal with our most pristine habitats being filled with smelly and noisy oil pumps and coal mining. TR had the right idea! Zinke says he’s the next coming of TR; No, he’s doing a lousy impression of TR.

  18. Glenn Loutsenhizer

    It is apparent that very few citizens of our country look to the past actions of states regarding public lands they were granted. Trump cares for his own gains and often uses a scratch mine I’ll scratch yours system. He appears to make decisions contrary to the public well being just to rub it in our faces.

  19. Ken Teegen

    Teddy Roosevelt spoke plainly: “Cherish these natural wonders. Do not let selfish men and greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches, or its riches, or its romance.” Teddy once knock out a cowboy for calling him “foureyes”. I wonder what his response would be for this infringement…

  20. surprise, surprise, same tired argument from the enviro crowd. The states can have equitable guidelines to ensure that any misuse or misappropriation of resource doesn’t occur. The added benefit is dollars more wisely spent and one-sided unneeded regulations are removed. Local hands-on competent management can be put in place that won’t be rotated out like the Feds do. Next decisions will be made by states involved not Washington agencies. Lastly, the resources are for all Americans and will remain that way. Go Zinke! SS in Windy Wyoming Woo Hoo

  21. Stop with the ” states rights” stuff and let’s look at this in the true political light it needs to face:
    Namely that Trumps move was 2 fold: he is desperate to keep Hatch as a sitting senator, and Hatch opposed and lobbied against the designation. If you doubt that, watch Hatch fly back and forth on Irfore 1 with Trump this weekend . He does not want Rommney running for the seat if Hatch retires which he has indicated he is thinking of doing.
    Second, Trump is out to eradicate each and every thing Obama put into place that interferes with corporations making a profit off of public lands and then moving on.
    Just because someone cares about the environment doesn’t make them a nut case or anti- rights. I don’t hunt, but have friends who do. I spend a lot of time outdoors on public lands in many states and have seen first hand what happens when these lands are turned over to the states: governments change, the rules change, the economy changes and your state public lands wind up in corporate hands. Fenced off. Closed to the public. Stripped of whatever the companies can make money from and then they’re gone. Often leaving ugliness behind.
    And to reiterate: these are all the PUBLIC lands NOT Utahs lands

  22. If any one thinks there has been too much government over reach, well its likely just getting started under the current administration. You haven’t seen nothing yet. Public lands in some other countries are no longer public. Unless you are wealthy and can buy your own hunting and fishing property, you and especially your children may have it taken away for good. Those that have money and power in many cases can afford to take what they wish. Look at human history. So, for those of us interested in keeping public lands public we best not sit back but rather write the politicians and vote for those who have all our interests in mind not just powerful individuals and certain groups.

  23. Pete Petrochko

    The trump crime family and the republican cartel are out to destroy this country piece by piece. This land theft by the traitor Benedict Donald and stinky zinke is just the beginning of their crime spree. Lock him up!

  24. An update on my previous posts:
    The Hopi, Ute Indian, ute Monument Ute, Zuni and Navajo nation filed suit on Monday to block this shrinkage of designated public lands. At the same time 2 other lawsuits were filed on behalf of Grand Staircase.
    To make mattered even worse Zinke announced his plans today to shrink the following other National areas of public lands: the Cascade/ Siskyou in Oregon/ California and the Gold Butte in Nevada with probably more to come. This fight isn’t limited to just Utah, but the whole concept of Public lands everywhere. So much for Zinkes DOI ” public opinion” website. Big Business and Corporaions speak louder.( and have bigger pocketbooks)

  25. Mike Abbott

    Most of the comments regarding local vs. fed control is misguided and uniformed. BLM (Fed) control of the monuments is primarily by local/regional BLM professionals who know and care more for the long-term health of the land than energy speculators, which is what’s driving the local/state control thing. You can still hunt in these monuments. Graze your cows, etc. The one thing you can’t do is put in a coal strip mine on the Kaiparowits Plateau (what they are planning) and sink a bunch of gas wells. And the Bears Ears received a ton of local input before being designated. Not to mention the Native American interests which go 100x further back than even Hatch’s grandparents.

  26. ken hendricks

    I have spent months of my time hiking and backpacking in the Grand Staircase and Bears Ears during my vacations in the last twenty years. What this village idiot is doing is reprehensible. I am a forester who has put the kiss of death on millions of board feet of timber. I have fought fire for 35 years all over remote areas of the west. I am a marine corp veteran. I have been a fairly conservative voter. No More! I am not a bunny hugger, or a socialist. I hunt. I hunt a lot. I believe in individual freedom. I will not ever vote for this ding dong, his chronys, or any other republican after this. No one in the history of this nation has ever shown such total disregard for wild america. May god forgive him. I worked for a state agency that managed natural resources. Did they do a better job at protecting the environment than the USFS or BLM? Not hardly! Whoever is selling that bunk must have fox news on 24/7. Wake up america. Jobs are not coming back. The wealthy in this nation have been moving to offshore business since the early 70’s. The billionaires will create nothing for the middle class by raping this magnificent wild place, except — more money for themselves!

  27. Richard Rowell

    Actually, if Congress would take the time to read the Constitution, the power of the federal government to own land is very limited. In fact, with the exception of military posts, postal offices and facilities, and a few other properties, the federal government is not allowed to own land. Therefore, they have no right to control these public lands and the BLM is unconstitutional. These lands should be turned over to the states, the BLM disbanded, and all allotted monies distributed to the states accordingly to relieve the financial burdens of caring for such lands.

  28. This does not set a bad precedent, it sets a good boundary. National Monument lands are not managed for the benefit of the majority of the people, they can be and usually are managed for the interests of small special interest groups. They’re not subject to any approval process for new rules and restrictions, and I can’t believe this organization is promoting the idea that this is against our interests as sportsmen. These expansions by Obama were his way of thumbing his nose at hunters and other outdoor recreationists, we generally didn’t support him and he hated us. NM lands can be placed off limits to hunting and recreation at the stroke of a pen, and that was the end game here. The lands remain public land but are now open to more uses and it’s much more difficult for any eco terrorist sympathizer to ban the people from their lands.

  29. Bob Lick

    Right on Richard! What you refer too is contained in the Constitution Article 1, Section 8, but that’s an “Inconvenient Truth” for some folks. LMAO! People should learn what is contained in the Constitution and simply read, and hopefully understand, the Antiquities Act. If they did less people would appear foolish.
    Thanks for the kind words Scott.

  30. Take a lesson from the 3 trolls posting here. They illustrate the strategies PLT entities spew in order to justify the transfer of control over federal lands to states. 1. Federal land is unconstitutional: Drivel. The supreme court would have decided that decades ago. 2. States can manage these lands better: States can’t even afford to manage fires or floods, let alone public uses including recreation and extraction on these lands. These lands have vast backlogs of maintenance that would force states to sell the lands almost instantly. Example Utah, the evil empire of PLT, has sold 54% of land it owned. The same is in store for any federal lands Bishop, Chaffetz and their ilk get their hands on. 3. Trump cares about hunters and outdoorsmen, because he and his sons said so. Bull! Gutting the BLM, stripping the environment of legal protections so his drilling pals can have at it (by executive order, because that would never pass even a majority Republican congress), denying science in favor of political interest, the list of his travesties against nature and Americans who value it grows daily. I belong to the TRCP in order to fight back. Do you?

    The bottom line for PLT is the Republican National Committee platform position that transfer/sale of federal lands will reduce the deficit and lead to smaller government. Why then did the Republican Congress endorse a tax plan that will increase the deficit by a trillion or more $? Pretzel logic. Public lands are what sets the United States apart. They belong to us all. We must hang on to these lands with every fiber of our being, against every assault. Public lands are our history, our home, our future. Support TRCP, BHA, RMEF and others.Write to your legislators often, never let them forget it.

  31. 1. Are Western States the only part of the US worthy of ‘protection’? The Federal Government owns 67% of Utah, 81% of Nevada with similar amounts in other Mountain West States.
    2. Utah has sold some state-owned Trust Lands to help fund education. The land was set aside at the creation of the State for that purpose as a TEMPORARY funding source until the Federal Government ceded land back to Utah as they had in every other State. That give back never happened. (See North Dakota, a state which entered around the same time with same terms and has 8% Federal Land.)
    3. I have seen the National Parks become over used, crowded, and un accessable over my 50 years of hiking and camping in them. No one in Utah visits Zion or Arches. Soon Bryce and Canyonlands will go the way of the foreign bussed in tourists as well. The Federal Government is behind $70 million in deferred maintenance at Zions, $45 million at Canyonlands, and $27 million at Bryce. When Zions closed due to the budget shutdown, Utah managed it just fine – even making money.
    4. Changing the designation back from National Monument doesn’t really solve many problems. It is still Federal Land. Utah is suing the Federal Government to change that, but that is unlikely. The only thing that really changes is that people other than rock climbers or extreme eco-tourists will be able to use it. Existing roads will be available, it will still be illegal to damage artifacts or dig up graves. Most people who have used this area for recreation over the last 150 years can not hike 50 miles to get into it, now maybe we can all still enjoy it.
    5. All people in Utah ask is “If you enjoy Federal Land for recreating so much – please push to have some set aside in YOUR area so we can come enjoy it there – oh, and please stop using the west desert as a Federal dumping ground and military range”

  32. Dr. Jarchow II

    “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The 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. Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”

    – Theodore Roosevelt

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Executive Actions to Alter Monuments Set Bad Precedent for Public Lands Valued by Sportsmen

The authority to modify national monuments lies with Congress alone, and this path throws into question the future of all monuments—including those created with the support of hunters and anglers

Today, President Trump announced his plans to use executive authority to reduce the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership expressed serious concern about the larger implications of this decision, especially considering the importance of national monuments to sportsmen and women as part of our uniquely American public lands system.

“There is a right and a wrong way to go about this, and the administration’s decision to skirt Congress in these decisions threatens to upend 111 years of conservation in America, putting at risk the future of any monument created under the Antiquities Act dating back to 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt created Devils Tower,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. A recent poll commissioned by the TRCP found that 77 percent of Republican and 80 percent of Democratic sportsmen and women support keeping the existing number and size of national monuments available for hunting and fishing.

While adjustments to national monument boundaries were made by the executive branch long ago, no president has attempted to do so in more than 50 years, and such decisions have never been tested in a court of law, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“If a president can redraw national monuments at will, the integrity of the Antiquities Act is compromised and many of America’s finest public lands face an immediate risk of exploitation,” says Fosburgh. “The power to create national monuments under the Antiquities Act lies with the President, and that authority is to be kept in check by Congress alone. We have repeatedly asked the administration to walk a path that upholds this precedent. Instead, the legacy of 16 former presidents, and the future status of some of America’s most iconic public lands, will be thrown into question.”

The future may also be uncertain for the numerous national monuments cherished by the sporting community, like those outlined in a report supported by 28 hunting and fishing organizations and businesses. More than 20 hunting and fishing businesses recently sent a letter to the White House encouraging the administration to “set an example for how the Antiquities Act should be used responsibly.”

Top photo by the Bureau of Land Management via flickr.

Kristyn Brady

November 30, 2017

105 Wildlife and Habitat Experts Urge BLM and Zinke to Stick to the Science on Sage Grouse

Former wildlife agency leaders, scientists, and other natural resource professionals warn that any changes to BLM’s sage grouse conservation efforts should be based on science and focused on the sagebrush habitat that supports 350 species

In a letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke, DOI staff, and the BLM today, more than 100 wildlife and natural resources professionals urged the administration to stick to the science when considering any changes to federal sage grouse conservation plans.

These professionals—each with ten to 57 years’ experience in wildlife and natural resources management, research, and conservation—came together to respond to the Bureau of Land Management’s intent to consider amending the current federal sage-grouse conservation plans finalized in the summer of 2015. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s landmark decision not to list greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered that same year was predicated, in part, on the effectiveness of these plans for millions of acres of the bird’s core habitat.

Many consider this to be the greatest landscape-scale conservation planning effort of modern times. “In the many years I worked as a wildlife agency director, I learned that strong cooperation between state and federal agencies is essential for successful wildlife management, and the collective compromise that kept the greater sage grouse off of the threatened and endangered species list is a shining example of wildlife management done right,” says Willie Molini, former director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “I believe that it would be best to let the existing sage grouse habitat plans work for a couple of years before any significant changes are considered.”

The letter asks that the plans be implemented and analyzed for effectiveness before they are altered. At the very least, the group would like to see the BLM exhaust all existing administrative methods of changing the plans before considering amendments that could delay or drastically re-chart the course for conservation. If amendments must be considered, they should be supported by science and maintain strong conservation outcomes for sage grouse. “We do not support weakening restrictions on development within priority habitat and feel any such actions would not be supported scientifically,” they write.

“We have a long way to go to keep that ‘not warranted for listing’ decision intact for sage grouse,” says Dr. Jack Connelly, a former wildlife research biologist with the Idaho Game and Fish Department, who spent most of his 41-year career working on sage grouse habitat issues. “Major changes, delays, or management actions that are not supported by the best-available science could threaten the entire conservation strategy that got us to this point—and that level of coordination and planning was an exceptional accomplishment.”

Hunting and fishing groups have been at the negotiating table in sagebrush country for years and recognize that some changes to the plans may be necessary. But a total overhaul of the plans would only serve a select few stakeholders in a diverse Western economy that has a lot riding on conservation outcomes.

“No land-use management plan—state nor federal—is perfect, so these plans should be improved upon over time,” says Dr. Ed Arnett, senior scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Some changes to the plans may be acceptable right now, as long as they are science-based and don’t alter the entire course for conservation. We look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Interior and BLM to ensure sage grouse conservation is effective and also works for stakeholders across the West.”

The comment period on the BLM’s intent to consider amendments closed December 1. The agency will now begin analyzing feedback.

Read the letter from 105 wildlife and habitat experts here.

Signers include six former state agency directors, former U.S. Forest Service chiefs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service directors, sage grouse scientists, habitat specialists, and wildlife biologists employed by state and federal agencies, universities, and non-profit conservation organizations concerned about the future of sage grouse and sagebrush conservation.

Top photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via flickr.

Joel Webster

This Dysfunctional Wildfire Funding Model All But Ensures More Public Lands Will Burn

The need for a ‘fire borrowing’ fix grows as the West burns

With elk and deer seasons right around the corner, I’ve been running, biking, and hiking as often as I can on the public lands near the TRCP’s Western office in Missoula, Mont. You’d think that my main challenge would be climbing a particularly steep mountain trail, but lately the real hurdle has been simply trying to breathe—the smell of smoke from the many active wildfires in western Montana clings to my clothing long after I’ve returned to my desk.

To make matters worse, many of our nearby public and private lands have been evacuated and remain closed because of the wildfires bearing down on our community. At worst, these wildfires are terrifying. At best, they’re a major inconvenience for those of us who are living for fall.

When the rains finally come and the smoke clears, we’ll look back at 2017 as being a nasty fire year in Montana and other areas of the West. It should also be the year when Congress finally fixes the wildfire funding crisis that has made it difficult for the U.S. Forest Service to do its job and has left our public lands even more susceptible to fire. It’s a cycle that’s fueling the flames.

Image courtesy of Kerry Sullivan.
How We’re All Getting Burned

Like all federal agencies, the Forest Service has an annual budget. It’s meant to underwrite maintenance of roads, trails, and campgrounds, and active management of our forests—projects like thinning trees and improving habitat through prescribed burns or other tactics. They also depend on that budget to pay for firefighting on public lands. The problem is that wildfire seasons are getting longer and more intense in the West, and when wildfire season is particularly intense, the Forest Service is required to pull money from other accounts to pay for fire suppression.

When this happens, forest management and maintenance projects get put on hold, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the agency to do its job. Since 2002, this cycle has been an ongoing issue for the Forest Service. In turn, other land-management programs have been neglected, resulting in unsatisfactory national forest management and increased frustration all around.

To put the current budget crisis in perspective, wildfire suppression costs made up 16 percent of the Forest Service’s budget in 1995. In 2015, wildfires cost the agency 50 percent of its budget for the whole year. More than 56 percent of the Forest Service budget is now spent on fire suppression, with the number expected to surpass two thirds of the budget by 2021 (four years sooner than previously predicted).

Without a fix for fire borrowing, there’s no doubt that the shortfall in funding will continue to fail us, leaving our forests vulnerable, poorly managed, or completely torched.

Image courtesy of Marc Moss/flickr. Header courtesy of USFS/flickr.
How Do We Fix This?

Fortunately, two widely supported bipartisan solutions are on the table, both of which would take steps to ensure that the most extreme wildfires would be granted suppression funding from the Disaster Relief Fund—the pool of money that is used in the case of catastrophic weather events like floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. In other words, the proposed legislation would ensure that large, dangerous, and expensive forest fires are treated like all other weather-related national disasters, which seems like common sense.

The first bill is the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which has strong support in Congress and from a diverse coalition of interests ranging from sportsmen to the timber industry and environmental community. A second bipartisan solution has been proposed by Senators Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The newest National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act includes a provision that would prohibit transferring funding away from non-fire programs and, at the same time, establishes a new source of funding for wildfire suppression through the Disaster Relief Fund.

Either of these much needed fixes directly addresses the continued erosion of agency budgets from the increased cost of wildfire fighting. This is the support we need for thoughtful, active management of our public lands—especially right now.

A Hazy Outlook

It is concerning that Congress has been unable to get a funding fix across the finish line in the last several years. It seems that the problem is forgotten as soon as fire season ends, but out-of-sight-out-of-mind conservation won’t take us far in maintaining the public lands legacy that Theodore Roosevelt helped create and that makes our country so unique.

My hope is that this year’s smoky summer will linger in lawmakers’ minds as much as the scent of it lingers on my pack. But it’s up to sportsmen and women to convince our elected officials that it’s time to extinguish the problem once and for all. With more than 2 million acres burned by September and likely millions more scorched in the months since, these solutions couldn’t come at a more pivotal time.

This post was originally published on August 15, 2017 and has since been updated.

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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