Joel Webster

January 31, 2018

Public Access Is a Bright Spot in Interior Department’s Agenda

Opening more public land to hunting and fishing is something we can all agree on—and to leave a truly sportsmen-friendly legacy, Interior must match access achievements with a vision for habitat and conservation funding

As we round the corner into year two of the Trump administration, there is plenty to debate about the Interior department’s track record on conservation and how the agency plans to safeguard some of our best places to hunt and fish. It can be said with a straight face that we haven’t yet seen a conservation vision from the department, and what we have seen is predicated on addressing roadblocks to energy development.

I think what we can agree on is that DOI is moving things in a positive direction on public access to our nation’s public lands.

The Interior department’s focus on expanding access has been building since March of 2017, when Secretary Ryan Zinke signed the first of two hunting-and-fishing-focused Secretarial Orders. The first order, SO 3347, directed the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service to develop reports that (among other things) would identify ways to expand recreational access to public lands. Those reports can be accessed here and here, and they include some good ideas that would be positive for hunters and anglers.

Then, in August, DOI went forward with acquiring 4,176 acres of private land adjacent to the 16,000-acre Sabinoso Wilderness Area in New Mexico, which until that time was completely landlocked by private ranches. Because of this acquisition, the Sabinoso area is now open and accessible to all Americans. In November, the department finalized a process to open an additional 132,000 acres across 10 national wildlife refuges to recreational hunting and fishing.

Sabinoso Wilderness Area. Image courtesy of Joel Gay.

Perhaps most significantly, Secretary Zinke issued his second secretarial order on hunting and fishing in September—SO 3356. Among other things, it directed the BLM, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce plans to expand access for hunting and fishing AND identify lands where access is currently limited. This might include areas that may be impractical or effectively impossible to access under current conditions via public roads or trails, but where there may be an opportunity to gain access through an easement, right-of-way, or land acquisition. The agencies will need to provide a report detailing such lands to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior.

Sportsmen know firsthand that just because public lands are public, it doesn’t guarantee that they’re accessible. Plus, many roads and trails have fallen into disrepair, barring further access. We believe that the action plans being developed by the agencies could help make major progress toward securing access to inaccessible lands.

We applaud what these orders stand for and would like to see them implemented thoughtfully and collaboratively with the locals who understand their public lands challenges best. However, if the administration is truly interested in seeing their access vision reach fruition, they must step forward and make sure that there is federal money to support these projects. This includes reauthorizing and funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund by the end of the 2018 fiscal year.

The LWCF is a federal program that uses royalties from offshore oil and gas development to finance land acquisitions and easements aimed at providing public access and conserving valuable habitats. Without this program, most acquisition projects aimed at expanding public access would not be possible. The 54-year-old program’s authorization will expire at the end of September, throwing into question DOI’s ability to secure access to landlocked parcels of public land.

Everglades National Park is conserved with help from LWCF. Image courtesy of NPS.

There has been a lot of talk between Congress and the Administration about striking a budget deal for the remainder of 2018, and the president is expected to release his proposed 2019 budget by February 12. These budget processes represent a golden opportunity for the administration to not only support strong funding for LWCF, but also demonstrate a commitment to road and trail maintenance projects that benefit public land users.

Beyond expanding our access, American sportsmen and women are depending on the administration to create a parallel vision for habitat conservation on public lands. After all, access doesn’t matter if we don’t also have strong conservation policies to ensure that we’ll find healthy fish and game populations once we’re out there.

The TRCP remains committed to persuading the Interior department to do just that. If you want to add your voice, visit Sportsmen’s Country.

 

5 Responses to “Public Access Is a Bright Spot in Interior Department’s Agenda”

  1. Seaholm Malcolm

    We do not want hunting in nat’l parks/monuments . Monuments & public lands should not be diminished in size ! Purchase of inholdings should take place. Expand access where appropriate.

  2. Jim O'Donnell

    I think Don Jr and Jason Hairiston are doing a good job of identifying and promoting these issues within the administration. Based on the success so far, including the good news on the Pebble Mine, I expect great things from this administration on conservation.

  3. g clemson

    Respectful hunters and fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts respect intact and functioning eco-systems and everything that lives within. Supposedly, the farthest you can get from some type of road in the lower 48 is only c. 22 miles. I LOVE the fact that there are areas HARD TO GET TO and largely left for nature with all its living beings and natural forces. As human population and pressure continue to grow, I refer to what I call the ACCESS “RULE” (which refers to an all too prevalent human TREND, not a requirement or actual “rule”) about what seems to always happen to the beautiful wild spaces we are intrinsically drawn to. Our myopic HABIT is to now publicize these places online, thereby more quickly increasing visitation than ever before, and then make the harder-to-get-to areas more “accessible” by “improvements” such as more “improved roads”; this practically guarantees (based on these current human trends) such areas will be chipped away at until they too are “Disneyfied” by well-meaning but short-sighted humans. “Oh…more people go there so we need to add and “improve” it all…the road, parking, marquee signage, the trails, the restroom facility, the concession stand, etc, etc. We can’t really control ourselves with a chainsaw and a bulldozer and the amazing things we can create!” Yogi Berra nailed it (albeit referring to urban areas)… “No one goes there anymore; it’s too crowded !” I love the fact that a fellow in Colorado used HIS OWN land to build a boardwalk for handicap access and camping in the mountains. However, making all lands accessible to all is a recipe for NO wild spaces. Humans need to learn to leave wild spaces un”developed” and un”improved” and accessible only by those can actually manage to get there without mechanized vehicles. Once it is gone and “improved”, it’s NOT coming back. It is fine and wonderful to me that there exist places I myself and others might not even be able to “access”! I hope we better ponder the future of the natural heritage we leave for our kids and grandkids.

  4. Anthony J Meerpohl

    The ” Wilderness ” designations and regulations on access should remain intact. True sportsman do not mind non motorized or seasonal access to “Wilderness” areas so creatures have places of sanctuary. Encroachment on Habitat needs to be prevented whenever possible.

  5. Tom Chambers

    While i agree that more public access is needed to many of the landlocked parcels we have I also believe that “access” does not mean paved roads, concession stands, and restrooms as some have feared will happen. There doesn’t need to be a road at all for some of these parcels, just a trail corridor would suffice. Having said that I would also like to say that multiple access points tends to diffuse the over use of a single trail or primitive road. And finally, I am a very firm believer that if we allowed hunting(under stringent conditions) in Yellowstone when the elk overcrowding was foreseen instead of the (re-)introduction of wolves we would not be seeing the indiscriminate slaughter of wildlife and domestic animals not only near the Park but now throughout the West. The North American Conservation Plan, which includes wildlife management as an integral part, should be followed everywhere.

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Alex Maggos

January 30, 2018

This Is the Number One Question Midwestern Sportsmen Asked Us About the Farm Bill

Right now, Congress is drafting the 2018 Farm Bill and sportsmen want to be a part of the conversation

There is no greater opportunity for conservation in America than the prospect of a new Farm Bill, especially considering that it accounts for nearly $5 billion in nationwide spending on soil health, water quality improvements, and on-the-ground habitat for the wildlife we love to pursue. But in agriculture-dominant states, the stakes are particularly high for landowners, sportsmen, and surrounding communities.

This is why the TRCP recently joined forces with the Illinois Conservation Foundation to speak with hunters and anglers in three local forums about the Farm Bill conservation programs that help create better habitat and access on private lands in the Prairie State. For me, it also meant that—not long after joining the TRCP as the new director of agriculture and private lands in D.C.—I was going home.

Why Illinois?
Photo courtesy of Kevin Chang.

Illinois is 95 percent private land, and—as in many Corn Belt states—access for hunting and fishing is increasingly limited. It’s in places like my home state that the Farm Bill can be a game changer for the college kid who can’t afford a deer lease or parents who are looking for a place to take their kid hunting or fishing for the very first time. Through federal funding made available by the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, the Illinois Recreational Access Program has opened up 17,600 acres of private land to the public for hunting and fishing. That’s a big win for sportsmen, but also the small businesses we rely on to keep us fueled, fed, and geared up for our adventures.

Illinois also boasts 87,110 miles of rivers and streams within the state and another 880 miles of river along its borders. This means that Illinois has a tremendous opportunity to utilize the conservation tools within the Farm Bill to improve water quality across the rest of the Mississippi River Basin. As farmers are incentivized to convert less productive croplands to habitat, the great side effect of creating better conditions for deer, ducks, and pheasants is capturing sediment, fertilizer, and pesticide run-off before it enters local waters.

As I can personally attest, Illinois is a very special place to grow up hunting and fishing. Like most, I started with a 4-10 shotgun and squirrels. When I wasn’t exploring the woods looking for greys and reds, it was blue gill with a cane pole. With coaching from my father and brother, I graduated to taking white tail with a bow and largemouth bass with a bait caster- all without ever leaving Southern Illinois.

Hunting and fishing is a critical component of the economy in Illinois. In total, the outdoor recreation economy accounts for $24.8 billion in consumer spending and directly supports 200,000 jobs. Sportsmen in Illinois also have the unique advantage of having three Representatives and one Senator on the House and Senate Agriculture committees that will craft the next Farm Bill.

We’re Glad You Asked

After walking through the complex alphabet soup of Farm Bill programs and their benefits with nearly 100 sportsmen from Alton to Peoria, we expected (and encouraged) questions. But I was surprised by the most common thing we heard: How can we make our elected officials understand how important this is? Sportsmen and women were sold, and they wanted to carry the message to the people who needed to hear it.

At TRCP, we’re working to make it as easy as possible. For one thing, we share everything we know about the Farm Bill and how it can impact your hunting and fishing on our blog­—click HERE to get the latest right in your inbox. We also give you as many chances as possible to contact your lawmakers directly on the issues that matter. Start now by sharing your story about the value of access and enhancing sportsmen’s opportunities to hunt and fish in the next Farm Bill. 

If you’d like to learn more about the 2018 Farm Bill or talk about additional ways to get involved, contact me directly at amaggos@trcp.org.

 

Kristyn Brady

January 20, 2018

Hunting and Fishing Access Closed and Conservation Work Halts as Government Closes

UPDATED 1/23/2018: On Monday, Congress ended the three-day government shutdown by passing a short-term funding agreement through February 8. Congress now has just a few legislative work days to figure out a more durable and bipartisan path forward on a host of issues before facing another shutdown crisis. By that time, the federal government will have been funded by short-term agreements for at least one third of fiscal year 2018, which began on October 1, 2017.

Posted 1/20/2018:

Congress’s failure to pass a stopgap spending bill means on-the-ground conservation professionals across the federal government won’t be reporting for work

This morning, the federal government will begin the process of closing, after the Senate was unable to pass a stopgap spending bill Friday night.

The effects of a government shutdown will be felt most acutely by sportsmen and women who were planning late-season hunts on national public lands and those who fish on lakes, rivers, and reservoirs administered by the Army Corps of Engineers or Bureau of Reclamation. Conservation projects will come to a standstill as federal land management agency staff are furloughed until Congress can reach an agreement.

“Although there’s less disruption to hunting and fishing opportunities at this time of year, we’re still disappointed to see this inability to find common ground and keep funds flowing to agencies that administer conservation and public access to America’s best fish and wildlife resources,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The closure of national forests, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands during the 16-day shutdown in October 2013 sparked outrage and prevented licensed sportsmen from accessing hunting and fishing areas, while many outdoor recreation businesses were forced to cancel client bookings at the start of the lucrative fall season. This time around, the Interior Department has said that public lands will remain “as accessible as possible,” but that some areas could be closed without staff, campground maintenance crews, or rangers to patrol culturally sensitive or backcountry areas for visitor safety.

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware, where a late-season deer hunt was planned for January 20. Photo by flickr user Jeffrey

The impacts of a federal shutdown are not limited to national public lands and waters. Private lands conservation professionals at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will be staying home instead of helping farmers and ranchers write conservation plans or prepare for the critical spring planting season. And everything from fish passage projects to chronic wasting disease research will be on hold.

“Hunters and anglers have a long list of things that Congress needs to address, including a much-needed funding fix for catastrophic wildfires,” says Fosburgh. “The continued brinksmanship on Capitol Hill serves no one; it only locks in problems and pushes real solutions further down the road. The public deserves better from its elected leaders.”

 

Top photo by Wisconsin DNR via flickr

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. 

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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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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.

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