Travis Cooke

October 19, 2018

How Maintenance Backlogs Could Affect Your Hunting Season

Deferred maintenance projects without suitable funding crop up on more than just national park lands, and it could waste your precious daylight hours afield—here’s everything you need to know about the backlog issue, proposed solutions, and why it’s personal

Picture this: You draw a special deer tag in a unit you’ve never hunted before, and like most people, you’re busy. So, you study maps and satellite imagery to mark roads and trails on your GPS, but family and work obligations prevent you from being able to get out there and scout in-person.

You could be pulling into camp the day before a six-day hunt, with your entire strategy reliant on being able to use access that you’ve never laid eyes on. It’s not ideal, but it happens. And there is a real possibility that you’ll be confronted with washed out roads and deep ruts that make passage difficult or impossible by vehicle, while some non-motorized trails are so overgrown that you can’t even find them to hike on.

No one wants to burn up half their hunt frustrated by road and trail conditions that fall short of their expectations. But this kind of access to public lands has become more difficult for America’s sportsmen and women because of the massive maintenance backlogs at many federal land management agencies—not just the National Park Service. It’s time to recognize the breadth of this challenge and how it plays out during your hunting and fishing season.

Know the Numbers

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 36 percent of American hunters depend on public lands for some or all of their access. In the West, where the BLM oversees 245 million acres of multiple-use public lands, 72 percent of hunters rely on public lands. When the roads and trails on these lands become difficult to navigate, these are the sportsmen and women who waste their precious time afield and get frustrated with land managers.

Currently, the Interior Department has a maintenance backlog totaling roughly $16 billion. While the bulk of that figure—or $11.6 billion—is tied to national parks, America’s sportsmen and women remain concerned about the backlogs at the Bureau of Land Management and the National Wildlife Refuge System, which have a combined backlog of $2.2 billion. Meanwhile, at the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service has a backlog totaling more than $5 billion, an issue further exacerbated by the practice of “fire borrowing” before this fix.

Combined, these agencies manage public lands that provide some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in the country. But nothing is more frustrating than having to ground-truth every route to make sure it’s accessible as presented on a map. Especially in today’s world, when time is precious and most people don’t have extra days to spare.

Loss of access is often cited as the number-one reason hunters quit the sport. With hunting numbers already in decline, creating a ripple that reduces funding for state wildlife conservation, we can ill-afford to let a backlog of repairs put negative pressure on hunter retention and recruitment.

Finding a Solution

The deferred maintenance backlog across federal agencies and Americans’ access to public lands appears to be top-of-mind for the administration. In his infrastructure proposal earlier this year, President Trump offered a new funding stream to address the maintenance backlog on lands managed by the Interior Department, including our nation’s parks and wildlife refuges. And Secretary Zinke has been outspoken about the maintenance backlog issue, even as he has urged agency staff through two Secretarial Orders to prioritize public access to outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing.

Creating a solution will be critical, but it can’t come at the cost of other important conservation programs. While the TRCP supports initiatives to address the significant maintenance backlog on our nation’s public lands, we are opposed to efforts to restructure programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund with an aim of shifting funding from one important need to another.

Instead, we need an all-of-the-above strategy: Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund to continue creating access where there is none, recognize that the maintenance backlog issue is meaningful for more than just national park visitors, and identify new funding sources to deal with it.

Fortunately, the House Natural Resources Committee recently showed strong bipartisan support for doing just that. In September, they advanced two pieces of critical public lands legislation that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide dedicated funding to address the maintenance backlogs in our national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands, and National Wildlife Refuge System.

Now, sportsmen and women need Congress to see these solutions through before the end of the year, when all good intentions are left on the cutting room floor and a new Congress begins. If you agree, voice your support for the public lands that we call Sportsmen’s Country—sign the petition now.

 

This was originally posted March 27, 2018, and has been updated to reflect recent events.

3 Responses to “How Maintenance Backlogs Could Affect Your Hunting Season”

  1. Preston Honeycutt

    I understand that there is a funding shortage but at the same time how those funds are being spent exacerbates the problem. For example the recent decision to build a trail system into the Crazies to deal with the lack of access is great. However there is no reason 8 miles of trail should cost 180k. I’ve built hiking trails and designed forest roads for a living and that figure is insane. It’s thousands of dollars more per mile than it cost to build a full blown road per mile. Think of where that excess money could be of benefit.

  2. David winters

    This is nothing new. The Forest Service and BLM have always had a tremendous backlog in maintenance of roads and trails. This reality is due to 2 primary factors 1. They receive funding to build roads and trails with little focus on maintenance. 2. Timber sales, mining claims and cattle allotments require roads. They are not returned to natural conditions but are either elevated to a higher transportation level or taken over by the public and ignored. President Clinton understood the vast backload of road maintenance. However, when he tried to implement a “no net gain” in roads and trails and increase maintenance the parochial thinking of some the publics resulted in not implementing a program of maintenance that many of us hoped woul happen.

    The cumulative impacts that have occurred on our public lands has resulted in extensive erosion, poor vegetation quality and aquatic and terrestrial habitat. Closing access Ito hunters is ludicrous unless these agencies can answer to the multitude of harmful management activities they have allowed

  3. There is no funding given “to build roads”. Any funding is used to close roads. Trails are a separate pot of money from roads and are often built with grants and use volunteers. The only new roads being built are temp roads which are supposed to be returned to original state. Timber sales have road appraisals, that is the only “money involved in most sales. The monies are credited to the purchaser for road work. Cattle grazing uses existing roads and ranchers can be authorized to go off roads on a limited basis for fence repairs and fixing other infrastructure. Some timber roads are “forgotten”. Those roads also service the thinning and fuels work and sometimes firewood and pole sales. This could be 5 years after the original sale and can be tough to track. The biggest issue is user created roads/trails and violated closures. It is a constant battle to try to keep on top of those.. The funding is so bad right now it is hard to cover permanent salary for all the folks. When FS budgets are tight, less seasonals are hired. Those folk are the ones out in the summer checking those things.

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>

October 5, 2018

Five Must-Download Conservation Podcasts for the Weekend

Grab your earbuds and download some serious knowledge about landlocked public lands, chronic wasting disease, the Everglades, and more

Whether you’re looking forward to a three-day weekend road trip or just a long walk to a treestand, here are some of the best podcast episodes on conservation to hit the internet lately.

If you’ve always wanted to land a tarpon in paradise…

You need to hear from Capt. Daniel Andrews, executive director of Captains for Clean Water, on this episode of Tom Rowland’s podcast over at The Saltwater Experience. We’re going back into their archives just a bit, but Dan lays out all the facts on the ongoing fight for better fish habitat in the Everglades.

If you rock a #keepitpublic bumper sticker…

This episode of the MeatEater Podcast, featuring TRCP’s Joel Webster and onX founder Eric Siegfried, is a no-brainer. Learn more about the 9.52 million acres of public lands you own but can’t use.

 

If you are ready to get schooled on the deer disease that is changing the way we hunt…

Tune into this episode of Hunt Talk Radio, where Randy Newberg is joined by Kelly Straka of Michigan DNR and Krysten Schuler of Cornell University, two hunters who know way more about chronic wasting disease than you do.

 

If you’re contemplating a career shift to make more of a difference…

Set aside just half an hour for this episode of the Itinerant Angler podcast to hear about Robert Ramsay’s journey from local fishing guide to leader of a conservation organization that is trying to secure dedicated funding for land and water stewardship in Georgia.

 

If you’re about to drop some serious money on gear…

This three-hour episode of Beyond the Kill is worth putting on in the background as you surf the web for a whole new setup. Host Adam Janke interviews the extremely knowledgeable Jared Frasier, executive director of 2% for Conservation, a non-profit that urges outdoor brands to give at least 1% of their time and 1% of their profits to conservation. Janke calls this the best episode of the year (and possibly the longest episode ever.)

 

Top photo by Rhett Noonan on Unsplash

Kristyn Brady

October 1, 2018

Lapsed LWCF Is a Lost Opportunity to Improve and Enhance Hunting and Fishing Access

Congress avoids a federal shutdown, but allows the best tool for opening landlocked public lands to expire

Midnight last night marked the end of fiscal year 2018 and the expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that makes critical investments in fish and wildlife habitat and sportsmen’s access on public land. This lapse in authorization effectively represents a loss of potential for millions of dollars in important conservation funding.

“Despite strong bipartisan support for the LWCF, congressional gridlock has effectively created a one-two punch for outdoor recreation opportunities in America—continued inaction would stall efforts not only to conserve key fish and wildlife habitats, but also suspend our best tool for opening access into 9.52 million acres of existing public lands that are entirely isolated by private holdings,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

In August 2018, the TRCP released a report with leading app-makers onX to quantify the scope of the landlocked public lands problem in the 13 Western states.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used for more than 50 years to invest billions into the acquisition of lands and enhance access to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation. Thousands of Americans who enjoy our public lands have reached out to Congress to express overwhelming support for a renewal of LWCF. Despite this, Congress still failed to act on what may be the most significant and bipartisan public lands conservation initiative in the country.

“Congress will have opportunities after the mid-term elections to not only reauthorize LWCF but make that authorization permanent with full funding, so that generations of Americans can continue to benefit from this sensible and long-standing investment,” says Fosburgh. “Lawmakers must avail themselves of those opportunities.”

Urge Congress to support swift reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund here.

September 27, 2018

New Study: Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife Watching on BLM Lands Generates Billions in Spending

BLM public lands are critical to our hunting and fishing access, but a new study finds that they also support outdoor recreation businesses and local economies in a big way

Total direct spending for hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing on the 246 million acres of America’s public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management in the western U.S. totaled more than $2 billion in 2016, according to a new study on wildlife-related recreation spending unveiled yesterday.

Visits to BLM public lands also supported 26,500 jobs, generated more than $1 billion in salaries and wages, and produced more than $421 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.

The research was conducted by the independent firm Southwick Associates Inc. with support from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Wildlife Management Institute, Trout Unlimited, Archery Trade Association, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

Southwick’s analysis found that visits in 2016 to BLM-managed lands in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming for the purpose of wildlife-related recreation resulted in more than $3 billion in total economic output.

“Our research found that recreation associated with fish and wildlife on BLM lands is a significant jobs generator, providing income for rural communities for decade after decade with minimal investment compared to other industries,” says Rob Southwick of Southwick Associates. “Smart business and planning call for managing BLM’s fish and wildlife-related resources as important economic assets.”

“These findings confirm what many of us have known all along: BLM public lands are critically important for public hunting and fishing in America, and these activities are good for businesses and local communities alike,” says Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This report should be a foundational resource as decision-makers consider the economic effects of wildlife habitat conservation on BLM public lands.”

“Hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching are long-standing traditions in the U.S., and public lands and waters offer some of the best places to enjoy these pursuits,” says Matt Skroch, an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts. “The report underscores the importance to communities in the West of wildlife and its associated public lands habitat and provides a strong economic argument for conserving our wildlife heritage on BLM lands.”

Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, adds, “This study shows that our public lands provide not just incredible places to hunt and fish; they also boost the economies of local communities while contributing billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.”

“You can’t put a price on the importance of public lands for our outdoor traditions, but this study shows that you can put a price on the economic impact of these special places,” says Corey Fisher, Trout Unlimited’s public lands policy director. “We’ve long known that public lands are critical to the health of our trout and salmon fisheries, and we now know just how valuable fishing on these lands is for the bottom line of businesses large and small.”

Photo by Eric Coulter, BLM via Flickr.

“As advocates for the fly-fishing industry on conservation, access, and business issues, we see firsthand the benefits public lands bring to local economies. As a nation, we must continue to protect access to our public lands; they are an invaluable asset to the people of the United States and our economy,” says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

“This study shows that the West’s sporting heritage on public lands, including bow hunting and other archery-related recreation, is a significant driver of jobs and revenue for local communities,” says Dan Forster, president of the Archery Trade Association. “Maintaining this heritage, along with the habitat that our wildlife depend on, is an important priority for our community as well as public land agencies.”

Southwick Associates calculated the economic contribution generated by the spending of visitors who engaged in wildlife-related recreation activities on BLM lands in 11 western states and Alaska. The researchers based their calculations on 2016 visitation data from the BLM and spending data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation.

Read the full report and methodology for this study here.

 

Top photo by Michael Aleo

Joel Webster

September 20, 2018

Here’s Another Side to the Landlocked Public Lands Story

Only recently has LWCF funding been specifically purposed with unlocking our inaccessible public lands, meaning that we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to establishing access to isolated parcels

When the TRCP and onX began the research for our recent inaccessible public lands report, “Off Limits, But Within Reach,” the primary goal was to produce the most accurate calculation of landlocked public lands possible. But in addition to determining that the thirteen Western states contain more than 9.52 million acres of landlocked federal public lands, we also uncovered another startling finding: the work to open access to these inaccessible public lands has largely just begun.

As part of the report, we wanted to highlight successful examples of acquisition projects that provided public access to the two different types of landlocked public lands: checkerboard and isolated parcels. Checkerboard lands are remnants of a bygone era when the federal government gave railroad companies alternating sections of land that met corner-to-corner, whereas isolated parcels are tracts of public land entirely enclosed by surrounding private holdings.

Checkerboard BLM lands in Oregon. Red striping indicates landlocked parcels.

Searching for these real-world examples, we called every expert we could imagine within the land trust community and the federal land management agencies. There was no shortage of great LWCF-funded checkerboard consolidation projects, but we were shocked by how difficult it was to find an example of a LWCF-funded project that opened access to an isolated parcel. In fact, our research turned up only one isolated parcel access success story nationwide: Western Rivers Conservancy’s Thirtymile Project along the John Day River in eastern Oregon.

As we came to realize, isolated parcels haven’t been prioritized for access acquisition in the past because of the way that LWCF projects were traditionally “scored” by the federal agencies when being considered for funding.

While the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been around since 1965—using revenue from offshore oil and gas development to fund outdoor recreation projects—the Fund has primarily been used by the federal agencies to benefit public lands by conserving resources like wildlife habitat, clean water, and special places. Acquisition projects that consolidate checkerboard lands not only improve or establish new access to public lands, they also prevent habitat fragmentation and the future development of intact landscapes, and thus often check the necessary boxes to score highly under the traditional rating system.

An isolated parcel of USFS land in Idaho. Red striping indicates landlocked parcels.

While the long-term use of LWCF dollars has benefited millions of Americans and advanced countless projects that were worth their weight in gold—including many that benefitted access— it wasn’t until 2012 that Congress mandated an annual portion of the Fund be used exclusively to address the issue of limited or nonexistent access to public lands. The timing of that change made sense, given that private land access issues weren’t a major concern when the fund was originally created—in decades past, most sportsmen and women could obtain landowner permission without too much difficulty. And so acquisition projects to unlock isolated parcels of public land for hunters and anglers only very recently became a priority for LWCF funding.

As a result, our research found that in places like the BLM Miles City Field Office of eastern Montana, nearly one million acres of federally managed public lands sit entirely inaccessible to the public, yet not a single LWCF project has been completed in the area to fund public access. The story is much the same in other areas with a similarly high concentration of landlocked lands, such as the BLM Buffalo Field Office in eastern Wyoming.

Sportsmen and women should not see this situation as a failure, but rather as a sign that this important work is now just getting started and that we still have much to do. In fact, many lawmakers appear to recognize the need to fund access acquisition and on September 13, the House Natural Resources Committee passed HR 502, a bipartisan and well-reasoned LWCF-reauthorization bill that includes up to $27 million annually for access acquisition—twice the amount that has been previously available.

While last week’s development represents an encouraging opportunity, the House committee’s actions on LWCF were just one of many needed steps to save this vital program before its scheduled expiration on September 30. With no clear resolution in sight, there’s a very real risk that sportsmen and women will lose the best available tool to open access to landlocked public lands across the West when we need it most.

Take action today to encourage your lawmakers to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund with full, dedicated annual funding before it expires on September 30. Your future ability to access more than 9.52 million additional acres of our public lands depends on it.

Photo courtesy of BLM Wyoming

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

Learn More
Subscribe

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!