Nick Dobric

January 16, 2018

Where Public Lands Are in Limbo, Local Sportsmen Help Find a Path Forward

For decades, 500 Wilderness Study Areas in the West have awaited individual acts of Congress to resolve how they should be managed, and those closest to the land are finally helping to make the call—wilderness or something else?

When archery hunter Harvey Dalton drew a coveted bighorn sheep tag for the Dubois Badlands in Wyoming, he knew he was in for a hunt of a lifetime. After all, he’d been applying and collecting preference points for 40 years before drawing the tag.

Unlike most bighorn hunting units where it takes hours in the saddle or on foot to get into the backcountry of rugged northwest Wyoming, the Badlands has plenty of road access. But it certainly wasn’t flat hiking further into the steep draws where sheep are often tucked away. The sweat equity Dalton put in over four weeks made connecting with a big ram even more meaningful, but he was troubled by evidence of ATV and dirt bike use he saw in areas where there should have been none.

Unfortunately, while the Dubois Badlands remains a Wilderness Study Area—one of more than 500 parcels of public land across the West set aside decades ago as potential wilderness—there continues to be confusion from public land users, and even land managers, about what kinds of activities are allowed there.

Bighorn sheep rams prepare to spare on the sheer cliffs of the Dubois Badlands. Courtesy of Bill Sincavage @jakeysforkwyoming
What Is a Wilderness Study Area?

In 1976, legislation directed the Bureau of Land Management to inventory undeveloped public land for areas that could be managed as wilderness, for the opportunities to find solitude or pursue traditional outdoor recreation. This resulted in almost 13 million acres identified as Wilderness Study Areas, but they weren’t meant to stay in limbo forever. It takes an act of Congress to change the status of these areas, by either designating them as wilderness or releasing them to be managed for other uses, so the process of reaching a final resolution has been slow—as in decades long.

Wyoming has yet to resolve any of its 42 Wilderness Study Areas encompassing 570,000 acres, including the Dubois Badlands. Sportsmen and others are hoping to finally make some progress through the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative—a process where stakeholders, including the public, can weigh in on how the land ought to be managed and make recommendations to legislators.

From Local to Legislation

Here is how the WPLI works: Counties have the option to join the initiative and develop citizen advisory committees made up of hunters, ranchers, energy industry representatives, and other public land stakeholders. Committees listen to public comment and data from agencies, spend time on the ground, and work to reach recommendations for whether Wilderness Study Areas in their county should be designated wilderness, released to be managed for multiple-use, or given some other type of designation. Recommendations from across the state go to elected officials and, if all goes according to plan, eventually become law. It’s no simple task.

This collaborative, local approach has worked well in other Western states. Nevada has been a leader in addressing Wilderness Study Areas since the 2000s—compromises came out of the counties and eventually resulted in bipartisan bills from Congress that struck a balance between conservation and development needs. Some of these efforts were successful within just a few years; others took public land users on a decades-long rollercoaster ride.

It was always worth it, but it had to be done thoughtfully, one study area at a time. One-sided proposals that either designate all areas as wilderness or release all of them get introduced in almost every legislative session—and die as fast as an antelope shot through the heart.

In fact, right now in Wyoming, proposed legislation that would release many of Wyoming’s Wilderness Study Areas is causing confusion and could undermine the work that locals have accomplished through WPLI.

Dalton with his hard-earned ram in the Dubois Badlands. Courtesy of Harvey Dalton

 

More Than Lines on a Map

While we currently know them as Wilderness Study Areas, these are also the places where we’ve enjoyed epic fishing with friends, camping in remote canyons with more deer sign than human tracks, or the sheep hunt of a lifetime. These areas matter and we owe it to them to follow through on what we started in 1976. The WPLI effort is an opportunity to clarify the future management of these lands and provide certainty to all who rely on them.

This is why the TRCP is representing sportsmen on the Fremont County committee and collaborating with our local partners—like Bowhunters of Wyoming, where Dalton serves as vice president—in other counties to finally resolve the status of these public lands. We want to make sure that the best possible path forward for management of fish and wildlife is clear, not confusing, and that areas like the Dubois Badlands continue to provide quality backcountry hunting and fishing opportunities.

But we can’t do it alone. Sportsmen and women are some of the most active users of our public lands and, as such, perhaps some of the most knowledgeable about current conditions. We also have a lot at stake in management changes. If you want to share your input with the WPLI committees or attend a meeting, learn more here.

You can also encourage our decision makers to advocate for responsible management of public lands, especially through initiatives that bring locals to the table, by signing the Sportsmen’s Country petition. It’s our latest effort to safeguard public-land hunting and fishing opportunities by not only keeping public lands public, but also keeping them well-managed. Help us get to 10,000 signatures this year!

 

Top photo courtesy of Bill Sincavage @jakeysforkwyoming. 

5 Responses to “Where Public Lands Are in Limbo, Local Sportsmen Help Find a Path Forward”

  1. Mark Pantuso

    I am 52 years old and live in New Mexico I have slowly watched our way of life come under attach . I wish our government would make more area wilderness we owe it to our kids and the wildlife I am willing to do whatever I can to help

  2. Chuck krueger

    I love the Wyoming back country, but would never support making more wilderness area until the laws are changed. As it stands, non residents can’t hunt wilderness area without a guide. By supporting this measure, as a nonresident, I would be unable to hunt huge areas of land that are currently accessible to DIY hunters like myself.

      • Nick Dobric
        Nick Dobric

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the guide law Chuck. I didn’t bring it up in the blog because I thought the topic was complicated enough without layering that on top. But we are trying to figure out a solution. And Darrin, the guide law Chuck is referring to is a state law, not federal.

Do you have any thoughts on this post?

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

January 5, 2018

Six New Year’s Resolutions We Wish Congress and DOI Would Make

These conservation policy priorities, if accomplished, would ensure that America’s fish, wildlife, public lands, and sporting traditions all prosper in 2018 and beyond

It’s the time of year when many of us, to the point of a cliché, personally examine our priorities and plan for future improvements. And since we’re in the business of safeguarding America’s fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and outdoor recreation economy, we’d love to see our country’s decision makers resolve to create or move policies forward that will allow hunting and fishing to thrive.

Here are the New Year’s resolutions we wish that Congress and the Department of the Interior would make for conservation.

Fix Our Forests

A looming budget deadline offers a great opportunity to finally fix the way we pay for catastrophic wildfires—and reform forest management to help prevent fires in the first place. Lawmakers should pass a comprehensive fire funding fix in the next budget deal to stop taking funds from forest restoration programs like prescribed burning and removal of invasive species and diseased trees. Make sure your decision makers hear about this by using our quick and easy Twitter tool.

 

Bulk Up Water Quality Efforts in the Farm Bill

In 2018, Congress will need to pass a new Farm Bill—and we hope it’s one that strengthens and maintains funding for USDA conservation programs. The work done with these funds keeps tons of pollutants out of rivers and expands water conservation on farms, which improves river flows that support healthy fisheries, strong outdoor recreation businesses, and flourishing rural communities.

 

Invest in Access on Private Land

With legislation as massive and far-reaching as the Farm Bill, there’s also a unique opportunity to boost hunting and fishing access in areas where there are few, if any, public lands. If Congress can 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 improved opportunities for hunters and anglers would create a draw in some rural communities that desperately need an economic boost.

 

Defend the Clean Water Act

Congress should not let the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers pass a rule that guts the Clean Water Act. Americans overwhelmingly support protecting headwater streams and wetlands, which are critical to fish and waterfowl populations. Trimming down on regulation doesn’t have to mean leaving these foundational waters and rapidly disappearing wetlands vulnerable to pollution or destruction.

 

Modernize Marine Fisheries Management
Image courtesy of Amanda Nalley/Florida Fish and Wildlife.

 

For the last five years, the leading advocates of recreational fishing and conservation have worked with policy makers to improve federal recreational fishing management by modernizing data collection and allowing more involvement from state agencies and anglers. These badly-needed changes were included in legislation that passed the House Natural Resources Committee in December and will now head to the House floor. But the Senate has the opportunity to improve upon this legislation and ensure that the vital contributions—cultural, economic, and conservation efforts—of the recreational saltwater fishing industry are finally recognized in federal law and policy.

 

Champion Conservation and Access Equally

Some of the best news of 2017 came out of the Department of the Interior on new hunting and fishing access on previously landlocked public lands and national wildlife refuges. While this is to be celebrated, we’d like to see the DOI define a “conservation vision” for valuable habitats and hunting and fishing areas, to work in tandem with the vision that they have already established for expanding sportsmen’s access. This should include clear measures to recognize and conserve wildlife migration corridors, avoid or minimize impacts to habitat from development, plan locally to safeguard our best hunting and fishing areas, and let the conservation plans for greater sage grouse work as intended.

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.

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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

SCRAPE TOGETHER A FEW BUCKS FOR CONSERVATION

Without the efforts of hunters and anglers, whitetails wouldn’t be a part of the modern American landscape. But we can’t stop there. Support our work to represent all sportsmen in Washington.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

Be The First To Know




  Please leave this field empty

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

Be The First To Know




  Please leave this field empty

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Join the TRCP for free!

Sign up below to help us guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. Become a TRCP Member today.

Be The First To Know




  Please leave this field empty

You have Successfully Subscribed!