Kristyn Brady

December 6, 2018

BLM’s Revised Sage Grouse Plans Continue Conservation But Create Uncertainty

The agency’s revised sage grouse conservation plans for 11 Western states will play a major role in determining the future of the sagebrush ecosystem, which supports more than 350 species

Today, the Bureau of Land Management revealed its revised plans to conserve greater sage grouse populations across nearly 70 million acres of public land in 11 Western states. The Trump administration’s approach will replace the original Obama-era plans, which helped to give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confidence that the species did not warrant listing as threatened or endangered in 2015.

While the state-specific plans maintain the basic framework of the originals, which were created through years of collaborative effort, the new plans do not provide the same safeguards for certain sagebrush habitats. There is more potential for development and mineral extraction within sage grouse habitat in the new plans. Combined with the Department of Interior’s policy shift on habitat mitigation, this could be cause for concern.

“These new plans are a mixed bag, with some changes addressing legitimate requests from the states to help align with their conservation approaches and other changes stripping back protections for core sage grouse habitat and creating more uncertainty for the West,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“Unless the impacts of development are properly mitigated to avoid further habitat loss, sage grouse could easily become a candidate for the threatened and endangered species list yet again. Success will ultimately come down to implementing these new plans to the letter, and never wavering from an approach that produces results for sage grouse populations and other species that depend on the sagebrush ecosystem. We will continue working with the BLM, the states, industry, and local partners to ensure that happens,” says Fosburgh.

Changes That Create Uncertainty

The revised plans eliminate focal areas, a subset of about 11 million acres of priority habitat on BLM land that would have been permanently withdrawn from any potential mineral extraction in the 2015 plans. The original no-surface occupancy policy remains—meaning infrastructure for development cannot be built on priority habitat—but the revised plans also give the BLM more flexibility to waive these protections in certain cases.

Mitigation also remains a sticking point, now that the Department of the Interior maintains that it lacks legal authority to require developers to pay for any negative impacts to habitat. (Quick tip: Here’s a metaphor that helps explain mitigation using beer!) This shifts the onus of regulation to the individual states, each of which has different mitigation standards and legal requirements. The states now must ensure their mitigation approaches are not only effective at curbing habitat loss, but also at holding all developers accountable on a level playing field.

“We cannot manage grouse at a level where we are only one major event away from having to list the bird,” says Steve Belinda, executive director of the North American Grouse Partnership. “Habitat, particularly on public lands, must be managed to withstand events we cannot control, like drought, fire, and disease, so conservation can be balanced with energy development, grazing, and other human activities we can control.”

Image by Mia Sheppard.
No Time to Waste

The Trump administration first initiated a review of the original conservation plans in 2017. Since that time, secretarial orders and instruction memorandums issued by the DOI set the stage for amending the 2015 plans and changing how habitat is prioritized in relation to eligibility for oil and gas leasing.
A year ago, 105 wildlife and habitat experts urged the BLM and Secretary Zinke not to deviate from what the best science indicates is necessary in sagebrush country. They warned that major amendments to the 2015 plans and a lengthy delay in implementing conservation work could drastically alter the course for habitat conservation and undo years of hard work.

This is time that sage grouse don’t have to waste.

It will be important to move forward swiftly with implementation of any plan to conserve sagebrush habitat and begin tracking the effectiveness of conservation measures. “Whatever approach we take, the outcome for sage grouse and sagebrush habitat will need to be legally defensible,” says Dr. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “If there is not enough regulatory certainty, if there is too much flexibility leading to negative impacts on habitat, and it is determined that our actions were not effective, we may end up facing a legal challenge deeper than the one we started from years ago. At that point, it’s difficult to see a future where sage grouse aren’t reconsidered for listing.”

“The scale and magnitude of sage grouse conservation planning, while extraordinary, has always been an enormous experiment, and management actions largely remain untested,” says Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We need solid research and monitoring to demonstrate that management efforts implemented in these plans are, in fact, good for grouse. Until we see conservation manifested on the ground, we still just have good intentions for habitat and birds on paper in planning documents.”

The U.S. Forest Service is finalizing its own amendments to eight forest plans dealing with sage grouse conservation in the West. The public comment period for those proposed amendments closes on January 3, 2019.

12 Responses to “BLM’s Revised Sage Grouse Plans Continue Conservation But Create Uncertainty”

  1. We can clearly see where Zinke’s loyalty is and it is not with the Interior Department or the public lands of our country. Each move he makes removes more and more of our (all Americans) public lands from our hands and further destroys habitat.

  2. Jame S McCutcheon

    I have just changed my adult lifetime affiliation with the Republican Party . I am tired of the short term gain attitude that my old party shares. I now 60 , an avid outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman Am very concerned with what my grandchildren will inherit in the way of quality , productive public lands and all that they offer and contribute to our society .

  3. Denise Black

    It appears that the government now favors killing everything that doesn’t make money for them with no consideration for the future. Kill off all as long as business improves. I believe it ultimately will destroy our country. How about improving our educational system, roads,training for out of work people, training for jobs that are open, multiple others. Why have they decided to just ignore science when science help build our country????

  4. Scott B Sojourner

    I have lived in Wyoming for over 50 years. Hunting, fishing and the outdoors are my families passion. i have watched the wildlife habitat being developed and the wildlife populations greatly diminish. We need to find ways to save the habitat and curtail the development.

  5. Roger Vernon

    As a outdoorsman I have seen first hand how the natural environment is being negatively impacted by human infringement. We need to act now in order to aggressively protect and preserve the other species that live and depend on this rather fragile environment BEFORE it is too late. Humans are a creative species and we need to find other avenues that will not destroy critical habitat.

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Kristyn Brady

November 21, 2018

We Make Time for the Outdoors, So Why Not for Conservation?

The TRCP is joining forces with REI to urge you to #OptOutside on Black Friday—and get more involved every day in the conservation issues that matter

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we’re proud to link arms once again with our friends at REI—and hundreds of global brands—to urge hunters and anglers to #OptOutside.

This year’s theme is about breaking our routines and finding time to spend in the outdoors. And this resonates with many of us, even if, as hunters and anglers, we probably go outside more than the average American. No matter how many days you log in the woods or on the water, don’t you feel the tug of your smartphone screen or the ping of a busy schedule?

This is a troubling factor in the decline of hunter participation overall, and certainly one that we need to reckon with to ensure the future of our traditions.

It never hurts to slow down, shut our devices off, and head down the trail to where true adventure is within our reach—even if we may be unreachable for a few hours. But making time to enjoy the outdoors (and derive the cortisol-lowering benefits of testing ourselves in the pursuit of game and fish) is only meeting half the need.

It’s also critical that we prioritize taking action to safeguard our outdoor recreation opportunities for the next generation.

Photo by @brettmlynar

Engaging in the fight for well-managed public lands, cleaner water, better habitat, more funding for conservation, and stronger outdoor recreation businesses looks different for everyone. You might donate to an organization you trust. (After all, Giving Tuesday is coming up—hint hint.) You might sign a petition, attend a workday, or share an article on social media that taught you something about conservation, hoping others will learn from it, too.

But how many times has something like this happened: You get an email about an upcoming meeting hosted by your local BLM field office to collect public comments on a proposed plan for managing public lands in your area. As someone who cares about the fish and wildlife resources and hunting and fishing opportunities on these lands, the stakes are pretty high for you, and your opinion carries a lot of weight in this public process. But the meeting is on a weekday night and you’re not sure you understand all the issues. You delete the email.

Or this: You’re scrolling through your Instagram feed and see a call to action about the lapsed Farm Bill. A conservation organization you trust says that we lose out every day we go without the programs that help farmers improve habitat and walk-in access for hunting and fishing, and it’s imperative that we pressure Congress to take urgent action. You click the link in their bio, but then a stream of text messages come in that you need to respond to, and before you know it, you’re late to drop the kids off somewhere.

Getting more involved in conservation isn’t always convenient, especially when it’s all we can do to carve out time to actually use our hunting and fishing licenses or the access we worked hard to secure with a landowner’s permission. Still, the routine we may need to break is the one where we tell ourselves, “I’ll do it later,” “This is not my fight,” or worse, “Someone else will do it.”

It’s up to all of us to find the time and energy to dedicate ourselves to the conservation issues that will determine whether or not our children and grandchildren have quality places to hunt and fish. We must sign up, step up, and speak out for more responsible management of public lands, stronger habitat and access incentives for private landowners, and the best possible clean water standards and conservation funding levels.

As REI reminds us, #OptOutside is about more than a company making a bold move on Black Friday. It’s about inspiring a movement.

So find the time. Stretch your legs and your mind. Replenish your soul in the outdoors. Then, when you finally head back to your screens and social networks, do whatever you can, whenever you can, to support conservation.

Need more inspiration? Watch our Wake the Woods video now.

 

Top photo by Dusan Smetana.

November 16, 2018

Together We Can Wake the Woods

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was created to bring together nonprofit partners, individual hunters and anglers, and outdoor recreation businesses to rally behind common conservation policy goals. Here’s why we do what we doand how you can help.

Andrew Wilkins

November 9, 2018

Seven Bills That Sportsmen and Women Need Congress to Pass During the Lame Duck Session

If Congress can pull off a Hail Mary pass for legislation that benefits hunters and anglers in the remaining weeks of 2018, here are the bills we want to see land on the president’s desk

Now that Election Day has come and gone, there may be as little as three weeks of worktime left in the 115th Congress—and that means we have one last window to finalize top legislative priorities for habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and conservation funding. It’s important to note that bills written, introduced, debated, and passed this Congress will head back to square one at the start of a new session on January 4, 2019.

Time is short, but it isn’t over ‘til it’s over.

Fortunately there’s already support from both sides of the aisle on crucial legislation to enhance habitat conservation and sportsmen’s access on public lands. And Congress has the opportunity to put these priorities to bed so that 2019 can be spent making more progress for conservation, not making up for lost time.

These are the seven bipartisan, ready-to-vote pieces of legislation they’ll need to carry across the finish line during the lame duck session to make that happen.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 Greg Shine BLM
HELP for Wildlife Act

Benefits for wetlands, water quality, fishing access
Last move: Passed out of Senate committee

The Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act, or HELP for Wildlife Act, is one of the strongest pieces of legislation for habitat conservation to emerge in decades—and one of the most meaningful things Congress could get done in the waning days of 2018.

Introduced and passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with broad bipartisan support in October 2017, this legislation includes reauthorization for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Chesapeake Bay restoration program through 2022. Additionally, the bill contains the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, which would improve fish habitat and expand recreational fishing access. These provisions have made it this far before, only to be left behind as Congress wraps. It’s time to get them done.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 Chuck Pyle USFWS
Pittman-Robertson Modernization

Benefits for conservation funding and swelling our ranks
Last move: Passed unanimously in the House and referred to the Senate

Another key sportsmen’s priority is the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act of 2017, which would help address the decline in hunter participation that has wildlife professionals worried for the future of conservation funding.

The original Pittman-Robertson Act is the foundation of our unique wildlife conservation funding framework, where excise taxes on the purchase of firearms, ammunition, and other hunting gear go toward funding state-level wildlife conservation work. Modernizing Pittman-Robertson would allow a percentage of funds to be used for activities related to the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters and recreational shooters, thereby improving the trust fund’s ability to support our state wildlife agencies.

This is bipartisan legislation that has already passed in the House and should definitely be in the mix if lawmakers want to be part of a long-term solution for boosting conservation coffers.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 Benjamin Carmichael
Modern Fish Act

Benefits for recreational fisheries and forage fish
Last move: Passed out of Senate committee and House this summer

The Modern Fish Act addresses many of the challenges faced by recreational anglers and represents the fishing community’s practical wishlist for updating fisheries management and data collection. The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by allowing science and technology to guide decision-making, all while placing a higher priority on the needs of anglers.

We have been operating within a system designed to manage commercial fishing for too long—our coastal economies deserve to see us build upon the bipartisan support for MFA, not head back to the drawing board in January.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 Jennifer Strickland USFWS
WILD Act

Benefits for habitat on private land
Last move: Passed unanimously in the Senate, introduced in the House

The Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act, or WILD Act, would reauthorize the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, a critical initiative to assist private landowners who want to voluntarily restore habitat on their lands, for the next five years. The program also establishes a series of Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prizes to help prevent poaching, promote wildlife conservation, manage invasive species, and conserve endangered species.

Photo license CC BY 2.0 BLM Oregon
The Land and Water Conservation Fund

Benefits for unlocking landlocked public lands
Last move: Passed out of House committee

This program has become a household name among outdoor recreation enthusiasts—and for good reason. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a critical tool for conserving habitat and opening access to public lands, but Congress allowed the LWCF to expire on September 30.

Even though the LWCF doesn’t use a single taxpayer dollar—it’s funded from a portion of offshore oil and gas fees—the program has rarely been funded to its full potential and short-term authorization cycles create uncertainty for proposed outdoor recreation projects. While majorities in both chambers currently support permanent reauthorization and full funding, the ultimate length and funding levels are matters of continued negotiation.

Still, bipartisan legislation to save LWCF has broad support in both chambers and could easily pass today. We’d be excited to see this program put to work on the 9.52 million acres of landlocked public land across the West with no permanent legal access. Take action to let your lawmakers know.

ACE Act

Benefits for states with landlocked public lands
Last move: Introduced in both the House and Senate

Sportsmen have been advocating for several bills that would fit well in a comprehensive public lands package by the end of the year. One of them, the Advancing Conservation and Education, or ACE, Act, would improve the quality of public lands and allow Western states to generate more revenue for state land-trust beneficiaries, such as schools.

ACE would facilitate land-swaps to unlock state lands entirely surrounded by federal lands, or vice versa. In both cases, these swaps are designed to improve land management in the West by streamlining jurisdiction over land parcels. (Imagine how hard it would be to manage upkeep and improvements on your land if you had to cross someone else’s property to do it.)

This bill enjoys bipartisan support from Western lawmakers who oversee a complicated mosaic of public, state, and private land. And since ACE is a winner when it comes to improving public lands management, it’s a strong candidate for inclusion in a package alongside permanent authorization and full funding for LWCF.

Chronic Wasting Disease Study Act

Benefits for wild big game herds
Last move: Introduced in the House

It’s difficult to overstate the threat that chronic wasting disease poses to the future of deer and elk hunting in America or the conservation funding generated by this powerful segment of the sportsman population. Though additional solutions must be proposed soon, legislation introduced in the House this year would kick start one critical component of a nationwide response to the rapid spread of CWD.

The bill directs the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on how CWD is transmitted between wild, captive, and farmed deer in the United States. The aim would be to identify factors that contribute to the spread of the disease and where the deeper focus of research should be. The bill also calls for a review of the best practices and standards around managing CWD in both captive and wild deer, resulting in a report of findings and recommendations.

A Senate companion bill could be introduced any day, and support for both will be crucial. But if these bills can’t cross the finish line this year, we hope they at least indicate strong interest in continuing to create solutions for curbing the spread of CWD. Our wild deer and elk herds are depending on it.

Top photo by: Dusan Smetana

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

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
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