Nick Payne

November 2, 2018

New Public Land Management Plan Should Reflect Colorado’s Values

When it comes to determining the next 20 years of management on our public lands, local sportsmen and other stakeholders have been engaged from the start—and our voices should carry weight

Our public lands. That phrase means a lot to me, and if you’re reading this, I bet it does to you too. As Americans, we’re uniquely privileged to enjoy the best that the outdoors has to offer, regardless of our income or station.

This is certainly true for the world-class elk, mule deer, wild trout, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep habitat of eastern Colorado, much of which is overseen by the BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office. Some of the other species you can pursue in this area, if you have the luck or ingenuity, include white-tailed ptarmigan, bobwhite and scaled quail, lake trout, waterfowl, moose, mountain goats, black bears, and wild turkeys.

So, when it comes to how these lands are managed, the stakes are high. And, right now, the BLM is rewriting the guidelines for the next two decades, or more, of public land management.

Photo by Royal Gorge Field Office via Bureau of Land Management on flickr
Working Together for our Public Land Heritage

In the very near future, the Royal Gorge Field Office will have a new Resource Management Plan, which guides decision making for things like public-land access, development, and management objectives. Our community of hunting and fishing groups has already invested significant time and resources to see that the final guidelines for this region reflect Colorado’s values.

Government bureaucracy can be daunting, and the policy-making process grueling, but our coalition of 23 local businesses, more than 500 individual hunters and anglers, and seven sporting organizations has been consistently engaged in planning efforts for this area for more than 11 years.

There have been some challenges along the way, but we’ve been proud to work for Colorado’s habitat, access, and outdoor heritage. It’s not hard to see that these efforts are all about upholding the public-lands legacy that we’ve inherited from the likes of Theodore Roosevelt. We are aware of both the immediate consequences and long-term significance of this negotiation, and many of us have been inspired by the work and encouraged by the progress made so far.

Photo by BLM-Colorado via tumblr

In addition to having tradition and individual commitment on our side, there are other reasons to feel optimistic about the possible outcome. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has prioritized expanding and enhancing hunting opportunities (see Secretarial Order 3347), conserving big game migration corridors and winter habitats (see Secretarial Order 3362), and supporting recreational opportunities on public lands (see Secretarial Order 3356).

Importantly, to date, the Colorado BLM has done a great job listening to the local community—particularly sportsmen and women. Preliminary drafts prioritized maintaining and enhancing hunting and fishing opportunities on some of our most-celebrated landscapes, including the South Platte River, the South Park valley, and the Arkansas River canyon.

Seeing It Through

As decision-makers finalize the plan, it’s critical that they uphold the substantive results of the long-term process by managing these lands for the benefit of fish and wildlife, habitat, and sportsmen and women. Our coalition represents just a portion of the community that is counting on the Colorado BLM to move forward with what local stakeholders have asked for and supported in the Royal Gorge Field Office plan.

Over the years, we’ve been encouraged by the collaborative spirit and consideration of local preferences demonstrated throughout this process. Continuing along this path, with everyone on board, will no doubt result in a huge victory for sportsmen and our community.

 

Main photo by BLM-Colorado via tumblr

3 Responses to “New Public Land Management Plan Should Reflect Colorado’s Values”

  1. Colorado DPW has been derelict in the execution of their assigned duties and gross mismanagement in reference to big game herds. There are less than half the number of Elk claimed for decades. In North Park this year, it is mandatory to test all Mule Deer for CWD, but DPW in their infinite stupidity, they refuse to warn hunters that CWD is transmissible between all Cervids. That includes Deer, Elk and Moose. Not a peep in the regs. Meanwhile, just to the North in Wyoming, all Cervids have to be tested. Colorado is of such poor big game hunting I will no longer purchase any tags. None. I am willing to pay non-res prices in other states for far better hunting. Two months for Elk instead of five days ! Pathetic hunting. DPW refuses to consider additional revenue streams and continually increases license prices ! DPW diverts hunting revenue to non-hunting activities. Many more examples available. DPW allows ranchers and outfitters to haze Elk onto private land for outfitters ! The hunters here accept a 10% or less succes rate for Elk ! Pathetic. Overall grade F.

  2. Keep in mind that Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages all wildlife in Colorado not the BLM. The BLM works closely with state and local government to provide, protect and enhance recreational opportunities such as hunting and fishing. BLM manages only the land and has minimal say in how the animals on that land is managed. The BLM conducts many projects designed to provide improved habitat for wildlife including big game and fishing. They conduct environment reviews to determine the effects of any ground disturbing projects and to require mitigation measures to limit disturbance of wildlife and fish. The current administration favors energy development over conservation and has cut back on the environmental review process by reducing comment times and eliminating many mitigation options which might cost a proponent anything. If considered in the planning process most mitigation measure add little or no cost to a development.
    To include the information about wildlife management here, infers that the BLM has the ability to limit or direct wildlife management. It does work to enhance habitat, and to limit the disturbance of wildlife in periods where stress could harm them. But by and large, CPW decides what is needed for wildlife management and the BLM aids those decisions whenever possible. So don’t confuse the responsibilities and duties of the two agencies as it seems you have done in the two comments provided. The BLM provides ample opportunity for sportsmen and the public to provide input on the Resource Management Plans but sadly most members of the public would rather not participate and then complain about whatever that feel is not meeting their needs. Taking part of the process, providing your input and have your say by commenting on the process is the best way to influence the decisions made by the BLM which works diligently to provide hunting and fishing by providing good quality habitat and to allow a variety of uses of public land as The Congress put forth in Federal Land Management and Policy Act of 1976 (FLPMA).

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Kim Jensen

October 31, 2018

PA Sportsmen Support Increasing License Fees to Better Fund Conservation

Sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly want state decision-makers to ensure robust funding for conservation programs that improve water quality and fish habitat

The majority of Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers want decision-makers in the state to invest in clean water and fish habitat, even if it means sportsmen and women have to open their own wallets to do so, according to polling data revealed today by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Public Opinion Strategies.

Once they were provided with basic information on how it would help conservation, nearly three-quarters of the hunters and anglers polled (74 percent) said they would agree to increase the state’s fishing license fee, which hasn’t been adjusted in more than a decade, despite the rising costs facing the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Sixty percent of respondents supported the fee increase without any additional information about how the money would be spent.

Even as the primary agency tasked with providing safe access to 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, the PFBC has been forced to scale back conservation efforts and operate with fewer wildlife conservation officers in recent years.

“This study shows that, regardless of political affiliation, sportsmen and women in the Keystone State are spurred to action by clean water issues that affect our hunting and fishing opportunities,” says Derek Eberly, Pennsylvania field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’ve always been willing to pay our fair share for conservation, but it’s time to pay a little more.”

Beyond the price of fishing licenses, 77 percent of poll respondents who hunt and fish were also willing to pay more in taxes to restore and/or maintain water quality and quantity in Pennsylvania, where healthy in-stream flows support strong fish populations. And 92 percent of the sportsmen and women polled said state lawmakers should strengthen or maintain the clean water laws and standards currently in place.

Other key results:

  • 81% of Pennsylvania hunters and anglers across the political spectrum have a more favorable opinion of elected officials with pro-conservation views.
  • 90% of voters who hunt and fish say habitat and water issues are important to them as they decide whether or not to support an elected official, with almost no distinction between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.
  • 37% went even further to say that habitat and water issues are of primary importance as they decide whether or not to support an elected official.
  • Four in five say they support fully funding the Growing Greener program, which provides grants to restore watersheds, clean up abandoned mines, and plug abandoned oil and gas wells.

To learn more about poll methodology and review the full results, click here.

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.

John Gans

October 18, 2018

Dreams of the Fabled Fall Blitz Turn Into an Industrialized Fishing Nightmare

The scene that shocked East Coast anglers who waited all year to cruise up to striped bass blitzing on an embattled forage fish

I look forward to fall fishing all year long. It is a little cooler, the days a little shorter, and the convergence of baitfish and predators feeds the fabled fall blitz and takes over my imagination. A few weeks ago, I headed out ready to fish the fall migration with coolers full, sandwiches made, and strong reports of striped bass, false albacore, and bluefish in the area. A Long Island Grand Slam was on our agenda.

We couldn’t get out there fast enough when we saw what every angler wants to see: birds dive-bombing the water above a huge pod of bunker. These Atlantic menhaden support pretty much every sportfish we care about. And they’re so critical to the ecosystem that anglers up and down the East Coast would like to see them managed with their value as a forage fish in mind.

Through binoculars, we saw an even larger flock of birds indicating some action in the distance, so we got the boat up on plane and gunned it to see what was going on. But we were not prepared to see a 200-foot purse seining boat vacuuming up millions of bunker.

I knew this was happening down in Virginia—where a single company represents the last holdout in the commercial harvest of menhaden—but what the heck were these boats doing up in New York waters? Hearing about it is bad, but seeing the scale of this type of fishing in person is shocking and demoralizing. There was a spotter plane flying above to find the fish and two smaller boats dispatched by the mother ship to surround the school with a huge net.

They were removing millions of pounds of bait that make our best days on the water possible. And, quite simply, if you remove the bait, the predators will leave, too. Imagine a fresh chill in the air and no birds on the horizon.

Courtesy: Stephan Lowy

Standing there with my rod and reel, I felt really insignificant next to this industrial operation. New York doesn’t allow reduction fishing—the practice of “reducing” commercially harvested fish like menhaden into fishmeal or fish oil—in the three miles offshore that constitute state waters. In fact, reduction fishing has been banned off the coastal waters of every Atlantic state, with the exception of Virginia. But we were just beyond that boundary within federal waters, where reduction fishing of this sort is currently permitted in what is known as the Exclusive Economic Zone. (Ironically, all striped bass fishing–both recreational and commercial–is strictly prohibited in the EEZ.)

How can removing that much forage from the marine food web be the best use of the resource for New York fishermen and our economy? These boats, run by Omega Protein, would soon be taking these fish back to Virginia to be processed and then shipped to Canada to feed farmed salmon. But what about our wild stripers, albies, and blues?

Not too long ago, menhaden were in real trouble due to overfishing. Scientists agree that the menhaden’s recovery began when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the government body that manages the species, enacted the first-ever catch limits on bunker in 2013.

But the return of menhaden has now also brought the Omega Protein fleet back to our waters with their spotter planes, and our future fishing opportunities could be left in their wake.

For decades, Omega (now owned by Canadian Cooke Inc.) has opposed a more ecological approach to fisheries management and consistently lobbies for aggressive catch increases that would jeopardize the return of menhaden populations. Why? Because their business depends on churning out more fishmeal and fish oil.

Omega’s return to New York and New Jersey has created outrage and should spark action. If menhaden populations in Virginia are as healthy as Omega says, why did they need to travel 270 miles from their home port in Reedsville to catch their quota?

Removing a critical food source for sportfish in the New York Bight and taking it back to Virginia is an irresponsible use of the resource. We need this bait for our predators and the outdoor recreation economy they support. Our policymakers should not allow local anglers to sacrifice for the benefit of one company.

All but one of the Atlantic Coast states have banned the ecologically damaging practice of menhaden reduction fishing in their territorial waters. Perhaps the time has come for the federal government to do the same.

 

Top photo courtesy: David Blinken

Derek Eberly

October 12, 2018

Conservation is Never a Bad Investment

With management and conservation cutbacks looming, the future of Pennsylvania’s fisheries depends on anglers’ leadership in footing the bill

Hunters and anglers have always stepped up to the plate when it comes to conserving our best fish and wildlife habitat for future generations. Right now, Pennsylvanians have another golden opportunity to do just that.

In recent years, fish and wildlife conservation programs at both the state at federal level have seen cuts in funding, leading to fewer quality hunting and fishing opportunities across the country. Among those agencies affected by this trend is the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which is tasked with providing safe access to Pennsylvania’s 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, the most of any state in the lower 48. The commission also handles the enforcement and regulation of boating and fishing on all waters within the Commonwealth. Revenue from the sale of fishing licenses provides the PFBC with its primary source of funding, and it receives no money from the state general fund. In short, this model means that the PFBC’s scope of responsibilities has no bearing on the size of its budget.

The last increase in recreational angling license fees occurred in 2005, thirteen years ago. Only eight years later, expenses were projected to soon outpace revenues, and in an effort to lower operating costs the PFBC planned to close two hatcheries. The announcement caused an outcry among sportsmen, and as a result lawmakers in 2013 promised to work alongside the agency toward a license fee increase.

Five years later, little progress has been made. And, still, the PFBC continues to operate with diminished funds.

The most visible consequence of this inaction is fewer wildlife conservation officers, who not only respond to waterway emergencies but also investigate pollution reports and provide resource education.

Less visible, however, is the effect of declining revenues on conservation programs, like the wildly successful Unassessed Waters Initiative, a collaborative effort by the PFBC and conservation groups. Guided by recommendations from sportsmen and anglers, PFBC staffers and wildlife science students from local colleges visit streams that have never been surveyed to document the presence of wild trout. Waters with wild trout populations often qualify for additional protections, so that these habitats and the fishing opportunities they offer will be conserved for generations to come.

Given the sheer volume of running water in Pennsylvania, this is a time-intensive effort. As of January 2017, PFBC staffers and partners had only surveyed approximately 32,442 stream miles, but a more robustly funded PFBC would allow the UWI to operate at full potential. “A license fee increase would have a profound impact on the Unassessed Waters Initiative,” says George Kutskel, an officer for the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited.

Legislation that has been introduced in the state capital could provide the agency with the license fee increase it needs to operate conservation programs currently under threat. The bill’s future, however, remains uncertain. While some have raised concerns regarding the amount of the proposed increase, the PFBC has determined that a $7 increase on the cost of an annual fishing license would allow the agency to better fulfill its mandate to “protect, conserve, and enhance the commonwealth’s aquatic resources.”

Despite the tremendous good that this license fee increase would do for fish, clean water, and the future of Pennsylvania’s angling traditions, sportsmen and women will only see progress on this front in the next legislative session if we make our voices heard. Concerned residents should let their state representative or senator know the importance—and urgency—of this issue.

Pennsylvania residents can look up contact information for their state representative and state senator at the following link:

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/

 

Photos courtesy: Chesapeake Bay Program

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.

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