Kristyn Brady

December 18, 2017

New Senate Legislation Would Help Boost Sportsmen’s Access on Private Lands

Sportsmen applaud proposed enhancements to a popular Farm Bill program that opens public hunting and fishing access on private lands and attracts outdoor recreation spending to many rural communities

Today, Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced new legislation to reauthorize and expand the popular Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program—the U.S. Department of Agriculture program that incentivizes landowners to open their property for public hunting and fishing access. The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2017 received praise from 32 sportsmen’s groups that want to see this valuable federal program continued in the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Nothing beats spending time outdoors hunting, fishing, backpacking—it’s the Montana way of life,” says Sen. Daines. “The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act will strengthen Montana’s outdoor recreation economy and open up more space for families and sportsmen to enjoy local wildlife in Montana and across the country.”

“This program has rewarded Colorado’s farmers and ranchers for providing new opportunities for the next generation of sportsmen and women and improving wildlife habitat across our state,” says Sen. Bennet. “As we work on the next Farm Bill, we’ll continue to prioritize funding for this successful program.”

VPA-HIP is the only federal program aimed at enhancing access and opportunity on privately owned farms, ranches, and forest lands. The program grants money to states and tribes to support landowners who enroll in the program. Since its reauthorization in the 2014 Farm Bill, wildlife agencies across 29 states and tribal lands have received $40 million to expand public access and enhance wildlife habitat on more than 2.5 million acres.

“Loss of access is one of the top concerns for American sportsmen and women, especially considering the recent decline in hunter numbers,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program has been a signature issue of ours since the TRCP was founded, and we have worked to see it introduced, implemented, and expanded over the past two Farm Bills. Given its popularity among landowners and sportsmen, we are thrilled that this bipartisan legislation now seeks to provide more funding to enhance the program and keep up with demand.”

“When you combine the Farm Bill programs that help enhance habitat, soil health, and water quality with a stronger, more effective vehicle for opening sportsmen’s access in states that are predominantly private land, it creates a ripple effect in our rural economies,” says Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “Landowners and sportsmen see a benefit, but more access to healthier fish and wildlife habitat also drives outdoor recreation spending across small communities, from gas stations and diners to motels and sporting goods stores.”

This bipartisan bill supports one of the “Sportsmen’s Priorities for Conservation and Access in the 2018 Farm Bill” agreed upon by the TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group—a coalition of 24 diverse sportsmen’s groups working to enhance conservation in the next Farm Bill.

Read all of the AWWG’s recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill here.

Learn more about the TRCP’s agriculture and private lands work here.

5 Responses to “New Senate Legislation Would Help Boost Sportsmen’s Access on Private Lands”

  1. I applaud the thought process, however will not work. For starters, every viable piece of property, which is private and then becomes public, can’t be regulated. When I define regulation, I define it as a 160 acre piece of property which has cattails, sloughs, or areas which would hold birds. These piece of property will be walked continuously for the duration of the pheasant season (could be 2 1/2 months in the state of ND); giving no rest for birds or the ability for birds to have the chance to reproduce because all the roosters are shot in the area or areas where there is public access.

    We also have the problem in ND of people who guide on private land also get the ability to hunt public land. So during the first couple of weeks of guiding, they take their clients to all the public land. Once those birds are all shot on public land, they then can hunt their private land; huge problem and unfair to those who do not have access to private land.

    Habitat- The government needs to badly bring back the CRP program. In the early 2000’s until about 2011ish….we had more pheasants and deer in the state than I can ever remember. Since the CRP programs have diminished (habitat) so have the birds and deer. This is just a common sense approach. Habitat such as sweet clover and most natural grasses have disappeared over the last 7 years. I also get the fact that grain prices have been extremely good for farmers; I can’t blame them for farming as much ground as they can, they too have a family to support. I don’t expect them to farm for free.

    In closing, I have hunted for 36 years of my life. I find that hunting is starting to become a rich man’s sport…very sad indeed. Groups and clubs can do what they want, but someone has to organize and be part of these clubs. Who then gets to hunt? Well, in my experience, it is the members of these groups and clubs who have priority or know where the best spots are. So in reality, no one has changed a thing. It is virtually impossible for a person who would like to take up hunting, just to go out on a country road to find a pheasant or two, and have an OPPORTUNITY to shoot a bird….that just doesn’t exist anymore because of the control of land. At least when it comes to fishing public waters, there are no regulations on access to lakes because of state laws. We wonder why fishing is starting to become more and more popular? Well it is simple, you can’t tell me I can’t go fishing in a state lake. At least I know our game and fish department stocks lakes on a yearly basis, which in turn, gives me just as good a chance as anyone to catch fish. I wish I could say the same for hunting.

  2. Jim Bates

    Great legislation and program. However, it has to have the cooperation of private landowners, and there are just way too many of them that are not willing to cooperate. Wildlife, and access to it, is now a valuable commodity, and landowners know it.
    Part of the solution to all of this is for everybody to take a step back and recognize that non-migratory wildlife is “held in trust” (i.e. “owned”) by the people of each state. In other words, it is “public property” and is therefore subject to rules and regulations protecting public property rights.
    You want to solve the problem of private property owners locking out the public from public lands they control? Simply institute laws that stipulate that private landowners will either allow access to public lands or they will forfeit the privilege that is granted by the public to hunt on their private lands (as well as the public lands which they control access to).
    Similar regulations can be implemented on private lands, to a degree. While it is true that private landowners control their property, they do not own the wildlife thereon. If landowners wish to convert (i.e. hunt, harvest) publically-owned wildlife to private ownership by killing them, they will abide by reasonable regulations established that allow for the fair and equitable use of that wildlife by the public. If they don’t want to abide by those established regulations, then they don’t hunt the wildlife on their properties,…simple as that. If they wish to “control” wildlife populations, they either fence it out, or they allow some form of equitable hunting opportunity to the public that owns that wildlife.
    The bottom line is that all of us have become so enamored with the ideology of “private property rights” that we have completely forgotten the same ideology regarding “public property rights”. It is time to give both equal consideration.

    • I agree with Margo, 100%. Ban hunting once and for all . Also part of the text says..”and improving wildlife habitat across our state” If the animals that live there are being killed,who is there to “inhabitate”??
      “Sportsmen” what’s is sporty about taking a life? They are just plain killers.

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Mia Sheppard

December 4, 2017

It’s Time to Put the Most Engaged Public Lands Advocates Back to Work

RACs, the regional groups that help land managers balance multiple uses of public land, are allowed to start meeting again after a half-year hiatus, but there is a catch

Having partial ownership of 640 million acres is a unique privilege that comes with a huge responsibility, and that’s why you’ll often hear us say that sportsmen and women need to do more than simply keep public lands public. Quality management of America’s public lands requires balancing all the diverse demands on these lands.

This land belongs to all of us, and each stakeholder group—from hunters and anglers to ranchers and commercial interests—has its own distinct goals. This makes the grand ideal of multiple-use management pretty complicated to carry out on the ground. So, to make this juggling act work, land managers need to hear directly from local and regional interests.

Up until recently, one of our best channels for communication between locals and public land managers was temporarily shut down—we’re slowly getting back to the table to have meaningful discussions about how public land management impacts locals, but things have changed. Here’s what you need to know.

The RAC Pack
Above and top photo by Greg Shine.

Public-land resource advisory councils—commonly known as RACs—are collaborative committees made up of individuals from diverse interest groups, usually with relevant professional knowledge, who provide input on management of the natural and cultural resources on public lands. Having served on the RAC for Bureau of Land Management lands in Southeast Oregon since 2015, I’ve been a part of a developing recommendations on land-use planning, motorized vehicle access, sage grouse conservation, recreation fees, wild horse and burro management, grazing, and fire projects.

The Department of the Interior oversees more than 200 individual advisory committees, including 38 RACs that meet with the Bureau of Land Management—the largest public-land management agency in the country. There are two other TRCP field staffers serving on full RACs in Idaho on New Mexico and weighing in on issues affecting BLM lands. Or they did, until their meetings were suspended.

Per instruction from the Department of the Interior, the BLM notified all RAC members in May 2017 that meetings would be postponed until at least September in order for the agency to review the “charter and charge of each Board/Advisory Committee.” Members could not meet to discuss pressing local issues, like sage grouse conservation, or get clarity on public lands issues of a national scope, like the review of certain national monuments.

In short: Those of us who have been passionate enough to devote our free time to collaborating on the best use of our land were effectively asked to stand down during a time of important decision-making.

Slowly Returning to the Table
Photo by Larisa Bogardus.

In October, the suspension was lifted, and in Southeast Oregon, our full RAC has been able to have our first meeting back. But there’s a catch: Our subcommittee meetings are still not being scheduled, and since we can’t meet without approval from the national BLM office, our hands are tied.

Subcommittees might sound like a trivial thing, but they are where the action happens. These groups collaborate and compile detailed information and research on specific topics and pass recommendations along to the full RAC and district managers. Continued delay of the subcommittee meetings could mean a less effective RAC overall.

For example, I serve on the Lands with Wilderness Character Subcommittee. Before the suspension, we began some thoughtful discussions on land-use planning and possible management approaches to the district’s revised Resource Management Plan, a draft of which is expected in January. Our subcommittee’s feedback is not likely to appear in the draft, since we haven’t met to finalize any of our initial thoughts and recommendations—the final plan will guide the management of our BLM public lands for 20 years or more.

Put RACs Back to Work

RAC members care about our public lands and public participation. This is a platform where diverse users come together, talk about our differences, and, more often than not, find common ground to forge agreements. The longer we go without proper meetings, the harder it is to say that federal land management agencies value our local perspective.

Really, we just want the chance to get back to work for public lands.

Like all members of the public, there is something we can do in the meantime—let our decision makers know where we stand. A great place to start is the Sportsmen’s Country petition to support responsible management of public land and wildlife habitat.

Once you’ve signed, tweet this: It’s time to do more than #keepitpublic. Add your voice at sportsmenscountry.org Click To Tweet

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.

Nick Payne

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.

Dani Dagan

November 9, 2017

Farm Runoff and Why It Stinks for Sportsmen and Fish

Does it seem like you’re reading more and more headlines about algal blooms, dead zones, and water crises across our country? Here’s why

Water is always moving. The Lake Erie waters dripping off a just-landed walleye contain billions upon billions of molecules that traveled untold miles over time, picking up all kinds of chemical hitchhikers, which include nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus—from farm fertilizer. The word “nutrient” is often associated with positive effects on human health, but they can become dangerous pollutants in our watersheds.

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency released a memo renewing a single call to action: reduce nutrient pollution. Why? Because it “remains one of the greatest challenges to our nation’s water quality and presents a growing threat to public health and local economies.” In other words, nutrient pollution makes our water toxic to drink and costs communities millions of dollars to treat.

Nutrient pollution comes from many sources, including storm runoff from cities, but a lot of it drains into our water via poorly managed agricultural land. Nutrients in fertilizers make farms more productive, but when rain washes over those fields, nutrients can pollute entire watersheds. The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, which was perhaps the biggest legal action on water quality in decades, specifically addressed pollution caused by nitrogen, one of the major components of fertilizer. The downstream impacts are bad for human health, sportfish, waterfowl, and even your Labrador retriever.

While the nutrients themselves can be toxic, the effects of added nitrogen and phosphorus can ripple out with devastating effects. Nutrient pollution leads to algal blooms, which decimate fish and wildlife populations not only near the agricultural lands where nutrients are sourced, but also downstream at some of the best freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, and hunting spots—on both private and public lands and waters.

That’s why sportsmen and women should care deeply about this problem and work with landowners to support solutions.

What’s Feeding the Beast

Nutrients facilitate algae growth, just like fertilizer on a farm facilitates crop growth, and the algae need little else to survive. While there is typically more than enough light and water to keep algae reproducing, the presence, or lack, of nutrients in water is the limiting factor keeping algae populations in check. Reduce nutrients and growth stops. Add them, and growth explodes uninhibited.

The critters that we love—fish, ducks, and more—thrive in conditions with low levels of algae. When we add fertilizer to the equation, everything gets out of whack, and resulting algal blooms become a big, big problem. Here’s why:

Graphic
How nutrient pollution impacts fish and waterfowl. Up arrows indicate an increase in amount or population, and down arrows indicate a decrease.

 

First, and most simply, some types of algae are toxic if consumed by fish, wildlife, and humans. When these toxic algae bloom, they can create dire scenarios for public health. This has led to states of emergency in cities and towns across the country, including parts of Florida, the Great Lakes, and Utah. In 2014, half a million residents of Toledo, Ohio, were banned from drinking the city’s water, or using it to cook or brush their teeth, for three days. Similarly, algal blooms are also toxic for fish, wildlife, and pets (including your bird dog) and can cause massive die-offs.

Second, algal blooms lead to a depletion of oxygen. As algae dies it decomposes, and the business of decomposition requires a lot of oxygen. All that oxygen consumption leads to hypoxia, the absence of dissolved oxygen in water, which causes sportfish such as trout and salmon to literally suffocate. This is what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay dead zones.

Third, mats of algae block sunlight from entering the water, harming aquatic plants by limiting their ability to convert sunlight into energy. This causes vegetation to disappear from wetland and coastal areas, removing an important food source for fish and waterfowl and a source of oxygen that is urgently needed in water where algae are decomposing.

All of this is to say that when you read or hear about clean water initiatives, you should be as concerned as you would about a threat to your public access, because toxic water means losing opportunities to hunt and fish. And when you think about conservation, remember that watersheds often start on private lands and that landowner conservation practices—like restoring wetlands, maintaining stream buffers, and planting cover crops—are critical to maintaining healthy fish and wildlife habitat.

Farm Bill Solutions

The Farm Bill already supports some of the most successful programs for improving water quality and reducing harmful nutrient runoff from private lands, but the 2018 bill provides an opportunity to bolster water quality efforts where they’re needed most. For example, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program was introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill partly to allow landowners to partner with organizations to improve soil, water, and wildlife habitat conditions, but enrollment has been cumbersome so far. The TRCP and our partners are urging decision makers to clarify this funding arrangement in the next farm bill and create more flexibility to promote conservation innovations at the landscape scale.

Learn more about our vision for the 2018 Farm Bill here. And visit CRPworks.org to take action for one of the most successful programs for conservation on private lands.

 

This was originally posted October 12, 2016, and has been updated.

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