Randall Williams

February 21, 2019

Public Land is Too Important for Sportsmen to Sit Out on Planning

America’s public lands agencies go through a planning process that may sound tedious, but it’s your chance to have a say in how habitat and hunting and fishing areas will be managed for 20 years or more—it’s your land, so be part of the plan

America’s public lands embody our nation’s ideals—they’re owned by every one of us and, no doubt, they offer opportunity to all, regardless of one’s background or standing. But public lands reflect our culture in yet another way: The American people themselves determine how these lands should be managed and in what condition they will be handed down to future generations.

This happens through the land-use planning process, the goal of which is to produce documents that outline how the Forest Service and BLM will balance the many demands on public lands in a particular area. Wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, grazing, timber harvest, and energy extraction each have their rightful place on our public lands, and this process ultimately determines where and when these various uses occur.

When organizations like the TRCP ask sportsmen and women to engage in the public process of planning for future public land use, it may sound like too much of a burden on your time—we ask you to read this, learn more, click here, show up, and speak out. But the land-use planning process is the American public’s best opportunity to see that our land is managed according to our values.

Here’s everything you need to know about land-use planning and how you can get involved.

The Basics

This process begins with an assessment of the resources in, say, your local national forest or your local BLM field office, and a consideration of the various ways in which those resources could be utilized. Afterward, the public weighs in on these different options and voices its opinions on how its lands should best be managed.

The resulting product, usually some combination of proposals from several plans, sets the agency’s goals for the management of a given area over the ensuing decades.

Land-use plans guide every on-the-ground action of our land management agencies. They allocate resources and determine appropriate multiple uses for our land; they outline strategies to manage and conserve our resources; and they set up a process for measuring the success of these strategies over time. Decisions such as where to build and maintain roads and trails, how to balance wildlife habitat with development, and where to prioritize active habitat management take their shape from these critical documents.

Credit: BLM/Photo by Mike Howard
Why Plan?

The agencies that manage our public lands face competing claims and requests on a daily basis from various stakeholder groups. Land-use planning emerged during the 1970s, when our public lands faced escalating demands on natural resources and Congress directed the agencies to more conscientiously manage public lands for many uses.

Planning ensures that decisions across a landscape don’t collectively undermine the values that the American people believe should guide its management. It is a forward-looking process and ultimately will determine the outdoor legacy that today’s sportsmen and women will pass on to the next generation.

Your Role in Land-Use Planning

Each federal agency has its own specific process for planning, but they are all required to involve the public in the process by rules established in the National Environmental Policy Act.

This is why formal public comment periods are typically incorporated into two phases of the planning process—initially during the “scoping” period and then again after the completion of a draft land-use plan. National forest planning includes additional opportunities for the public to be involved early on, while the BLM’s “pre-planning” for Resource Management Plan (RMP) revisions is for the most part internally focused on budgets, staffing, etc.

In the scoping phase, the agency informs the public of its intention to revise or rewrite an existing land use plan. At this point, a public comment period offers hunters and anglers a critical opportunity to raise issues of concern and provide recommendations for public land management within the planning area.

After taking into account these comments, the agency will develop a draft land-use plan that outlines several potential options for how to manage the landscape, known as “proposed alternatives” in agency lingo. Generally speaking, they will range from minimal restrictions on extractive industries to maximum consideration for conservation priorities. The agency will also recommend one of these specific options—usually somewhere in-between these two extremes—as its preferred alternative.

Here, we know which way the agency is leaning, but another public comment period allows hunters and anglers to weigh in and influence the outcome of the process. The agency can include in the final plan any of the measures proposed in the full range of alternatives, so public comments can recommend the best ideas from any of the various options.

Even though one alternative is preferred, it isn’t over until it’s over.

The onus is on the BLM and Forest Service to be transparent about this process. The agencies must formally announce the duration of each comment period, as well as where, when, and how comments can be submitted. In addition to written submissions, the scoping and draft-plan phases allow the public to voice comments in person at meetings held by the agency in local communities. Both methods of input receive the same consideration, but sharing your story face-to-face can certainly make your concerns more compelling to agency personnel.

By law, the agency must consider all of these comments as the final land-use plan develops. That document must be reviewed by the governor of that state and can be formally protested by the public before it is formally adopted through a “record of decision.”

Credit: Zachary Collier
What’s At Stake?

Although hunters and anglers have stepped up with overwhelming passion when threatened by proposals for public land transfer and disposal (remember the amazing response to Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s H.R. 621?), it’s difficult to bring that same energy to the proactive planning process.

Nonetheless, RMPs and Forest Plans couldn’t be more critical to the future of wildlife, access, and our public land traditions. These documents in large part determine whether development will be balanced with the interests of wildlife and sportsmen. They can ensure that our highest-value hunting and fishing grounds remain accessible and intact and that existing outdoor recreation opportunities will be defended—and improved—for future generations.

But that all depends on our community speaking up. You can be absolutely certain that other stakeholders will advocate for their interests during the planning process, so sportsmen and women can’t afford to sit on the sidelines.

 

Top photo: Eliot Phillips

3 Responses to “Public Land is Too Important for Sportsmen to Sit Out on Planning”

  1. Martin thenell

    Thanks. Really informative. I’m on the Washington citizens advisory council for region 4 wildlife areas and we have a similar process. I question sometimes the impact of the public comment but without it we as sportsmen/women would not have a say in management practice at all.
    I think it’s important for people to understand the process and how long it takes to adopt policy. Thanks for writing

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Melinda Kassen

February 19, 2019

A River on Fire Spurred Clean Water Protections for All Americans

A brief history of the Clean Water Act and how an EPA rule could strip many streams and wetlands of its protection

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland was so polluted by the steel mills that lined its banks the water literally caught fire. Sparks from a passing train turned into flames that billowed five stories high, causing $50,000 worth of damage, destroying a bridge, and halting rail travel. It was a national media event that spurred Congress to pass a series of landmark environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, to clean up and protect America’s water.

Since the early 1970s, the Clean Water Act has been wildly successful, resulting in the restoration of hundreds of thousands of miles of rivers and streams that are now safe for fishing and swimming. The Act has helped hold polluters accountable and prevent 700 billion pounds of toxic pollutants from entering our nation’s waters each year.

Unfortunately, 40 years later the current administration is proposing to weaken its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act by redefining which waters are protected.

If you read the debate from when Congress passed the Act, it’s clear that Americans didn’t just want to protect large rivers that can accommodate barges. We wanted a comprehensive national program that preserved places like the Cuyahoga River in the east and the smaller headwaters trout streams in the West.

We must remember that intent as we gear up for yet another fight for clean water.

Some will falsely claim the Trump Administration’s proposed clean water rule is simply undoing what the Obama Administration put in place. But in 2015, the Obama Administration protected an additional 5 percent of streams under the Clean Water Act. Now the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are proposing to undo far more than that.  The new rule would eliminate protections from more than 18 percent of the nation’s stream miles and more than 50 percent of our remaining wetlands, including critical habitat for fish, ducks, and other migratory birds.

This new proposal would reverse decades of protections that were put in place to ensure clean water would be available for future generations. If this plan goes into effect, every hunter and angler stands to lose.

So now what? As a partnership that exists to ensure all Americans have great places to hunt and fish, the TRCP asks sportsmen and women to raise their voices. With all the other threats to our nation’s waters, now is not the time for the federal government to abandon its responsibility to conserve the streams and wetlands that support healthy fisheries and flyways.

Take action today and tell the EPA its proposal puts our nation’s water at risk.

 

Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University Library. 

Kristyn Brady

February 15, 2019

Hunters and Anglers to Push Back Against New EPA Plan That Ignores Critical Habitat

Public comment period opens today on rule that would exclude many streams and wetlands from Clean Water Act protections

The Environmental Protection Agency today officially published a proposed rule that would roll back protections for 50 percent of wetlands and 18 percent of stream miles in America. This kickstarts a 60-day comment period for Americans to weigh in on the proposed rule, which does not include Clean Water Act protections for ephemeral streams—those that only flow after rainfall—and wetlands that are not connected to other waters.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is calling on individual sportsmen and women to respond by April 15 and urge the EPA not to overlook critical fish and waterfowl habitat.

“Clean water is vital to our hunting and fishing traditions and the booming outdoor recreation economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, the TRCP’s president and CEO. “This proposal disregards the importance of smaller streams and isolated wetlands and the Clean Water Act’s 40-year track record of improving America’s waterways. A rollback of this magnitude puts fish and wildlife at serious risk. The EPA must listen to the millions of sportsmen and women who rely on clean water.”

Before finalizing the 2015 clean water rule, the EPA held a 120-day comment period and ultimately allowed the public a total of 200 days to respond to the proposal. The EPA is now only giving the public just 60 days to submit feedback on the replacement rule.

“The agencies need to give sportsmen and women sufficient time to speak out, given the gravity of this rule,” said Fosburgh. “Sixty days is not enough.”

Read the rule as published in the federal register here.

The TRCP is asking hunters and anglers to take action here.

Guest Blogger Nicole Qualtieri

February 8, 2019

Reflections on Roosevelt’s Country

A visit to Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch in the Fall of 2018 inspires a young mule deer hunter

Hunting season is here in my home state of Montana, and I’m headed east to look for mule deer. My dog in the backseat, my Weatherby .308 in its case, and my pack at the ready.

Opening the atlas for a quick survey of my route, a splash of green against the white only a few hundred miles ahead grabs me. Theodore Roosevelt National Park beckons from just over the North Dakota state line, right on the edge of the map. I decide hunting can wait for an afternoon. History calls.

The further east I get, the more the flat dreariness of winter-come-early sets in. The clear, dry roads become two lines edged in white, and the moody sky envelops much of the distant horizon. I’m one of only two cars when I roll into the parking lot at the visitor’s center.

Belongings and Bulletholes

The park sits on 70,446 acres that include parcels from Roosevelt’s original cattle ranches. And although the name itself has gone through a few iterations, no national park is more closely associated with a single individual.

Cottonwoods and red willows follow the Little Missouri River’s snaking path through the otherwise broken, sage-brushed landscape. Weather shrouds the tumbling edges of the park, clouds hugging the muted tones of this northern ground.

On display at the park’s headquarters are belongings and words from our twenty-sixth president. For the most part, they illuminate the mundane aspects of his life rather than the mythical. His cabin is preserved on ground, small and humble. There’s a note written to his brother. Photographs of T.R. and his friends. And a full tribute to his passion for birding, including a snowy owl he taxidermied himself. His essence fills the room. He becomes human here.

But it’s the bullet-holed shirt in the glass case that catches my imagination.

You likely know the story: In the course of Roosevelt’s failed bid for the presidency in 1912, a would-be assassin shot him before a scheduled address in Milwaukee. Fifty pages of notes stuffed into the candidate’s breast pocket slowed the bullet before it entered his chest, where it would stay for the rest of his life. Still, Roosevelt took the stage. Announcing that he had just been shot, he quipped that he probably wouldn’t talk long. He then carried on for 84 minutes.

This is a man who knew how to create a mythology.

In contrast to the ethereal nature of the Roosevelt lore is the tangibility of the public land beneath my boots, land that once held the footprints of the man himself. It stands as a powerful totem for the miles upon miles of public land that I’ve taken in as a hiker, backpacker, hunter, and angler. The reality of it makes its way into words as I continue into the park itself: T.R.’s life molded stories that still resonate in our cultural memory, but he also created a physical continuity of place for those, as he famously declared, still in the “womb of time.”

This is the same land where Roosevelt grieved the deaths of his mother and his wife, who both passed on the same day in 1884. In his mourning, he found solace among this wild and broken country. He then saw his own sense of loss reflected in the waning numbers of bison and other wildlife vanishing from the plains. With the strength he drew from the land, he derived a sense of purpose infused with hope.

This land beneath my boots became the fertile ground for the seeds of a national conservation ethic.

A Test of Wills in the Sagebrush

Back into the cold, with daylight quickly fading. Small snow flurries land on my eyelashes and shoulders. In the distance my searching eyes catch three big bull elk, animals reintroduced to this country, now thriving. The humped silhouettes of Roosevelt’s beloved bison graze on far hills. A bounding whitetail deer disappears into the cottonwoods, white flag waving. And then I pull around a corner to face a tank of a mule deer buck walking the edge of the road.

His head is low to the ground, and his behavior is strange. As the car moves closer, another set of tines below him grows visible. I can hear the deer grunting at each other. The smaller buck pins his ears and averts his gaze, submissive. The big guy drops down the hill, circling around until they’re head on. Antlers lock for one moment. Then, the bucks crash into each other with every amount of muscle in their powerful bodies. Pummeled backwards through the sage, the little buck is outmatched. He escapes with a poke in the butt and a chase along the hilly horizon.

The drama of this high-stakes encounter seems befitting of this place—T.R. himself was fond of an old-fashioned test of wills—and all the more-so because the mule deer so perfectly embodies the sagebrush country that shaped Roosevelt’s life.

It’s also a reminder that the rut is on and I’m planning to hunt in the morning, so I best get back on the road.

History, Hunting, and a Heavy Pack

To public land I go.

The days that follow take me to a wilderness study area, BLM land, and a national wildlife refuge. Each step in the rugged breaks country is another gift from Roosevelt’s generous legacy. I barely see a thing before spotting my buck from over a mile away on Montana state land.

I walk that mile through the sagebrush slowly and intentionally. I set up within a hundred yards, prone in the cold, wet dirt. I have the wind. And I study him thoroughly. He’s everything I love in a mule deer. Thick-bodied, wildly unibrowed, and handsome. Crowned like a king.

There are only a few days left in the season, and I promised myself I’d take the first ethical shot on an animal that presented the opportunity. I wait for what seems like an eternity for him to turn broadside, but in my heart I’m telling him to run and to run far and fast. With five minutes of shooting light to spare, he steps to the side. My heart isn’t ready, but the hunter within flips to fire and pulls the trigger. The hit is solid, well-placed. I chamber another round, but there’s no need. I put down my rifle, my heart breaks, I cradle my head in my hands.

Later, kneeling beside him, I notch the date into my tag: November 20, 2018. I roll the tag, tape it onto his leg, and begin to quarter him out.

Roosevelt’s glorious heritage is now mine to hold. I take it all in. My mule deer’s coat is thick, healthy, buoyant to the touch. He smells deeply sweet, a concentrated musk of sage and this arid earth beneath us. He made a life on habitat protected for his sake. The ground that sustained him will soon sustain me.

“I do not believe that any man can adequately appreciate the world of today unless he has some knowledge of—a little more than a slight knowledge, some feeling for and of—the history of the world of the past,” Roosevelt said.

And this knowledge is what brings me out of my initial grief and back to the sinew and muscle in front of me, to the sky going navy above me, and to the sagebrush sea before me. This is what brings me back to the privilege of being here—two hands on a deer and two feet on public ground.

The passage of time has seen the roots of our public lands heritage grow deeper. Roosevelt’s country has no doubt changed over the years, yet it remains intact. Still, the conservation ethic that he upheld and turned into a physical reality for all Americans remains imperiled to this day. It, too, takes a bullet in the chest and stands tall, time and time again.

As I quarter my deer, slowly, deliberately, I know that the great central task of upholding this public land inheritance and passing it along to those who come after me is a hell of a thing to take on. The weight of this uncertain future is heavy, and it rests on the shoulders of anyone who seeks to leave this place better than we found it.

I finish quartering my deer and fill my pack to overflowing. I tighten the straps on my shoulders, braced for the work ahead.

 

Nicole Qualtieri is the hunting and fishing editor for GearJunkie.com and a freelance creative. She’s an outdoorswoman, a public lands advocate, and an amateur gourmand. When the weather warms up, you’ll find her astride her little brown horse with a border collie in tow, high in the Montana hills.

Kim Jensen

January 18, 2019

Four Questions Sportsmen Need the Next EPA Chief to Answer

As Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler is considered for the top job at EPA, hunters and anglers want a clear commitment to clean water and habitat

There is no question that the next chief of the Environmental Protection Agency will have an outsize impact on our clean water resources and hunting and fishing opportunities for years to come. Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the agency and Trump’s nominee for the permanent position, faced tough questions from senators in a confirmation hearing this week—hunters and anglers have a few more.

Will he give sportsmen and women, the original conservationists, a seat at the table?

Hunters and anglers experience the direct and downstream impacts of nutrient runoff, abandoned mines, and wetlands loss firsthand, and we have historically played a central role in the responsible conservation of America’s water, wildlife, and lands. We need to know if Wheeler will commit to including the voices of sportsmen and women in policy decisions.

Will he give the public ample opportunity to speak out for clean water?

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Water Rule and are giving the public 60 days to comment. Before the 2015 rule was finalized, comments were collected for 200 days. With Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and ephemeral streams—including many headwaters—on the line, we’re asking if Wheeler will extend the comment period so more hunters and anglers can provide feedback.

How hard will he work to help Americans understand what the new rule does?

Right now, there is only one in-person listening session planned for the public to hear from the EPA and Army Corps on the Clean Water Rule. This is such an important part of the democratic process, and in-person interaction helps to put a human face on the concerns of sportsmen and women. Will Wheeler commit to holding more listening sessions so that Americans can tell their stories and understand the true impacts of the rule?

How can we work together to improve, rather than weaken, habitat?

The agencies have proposed eliminating Clean Water Act protections for ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands in the Clean Water Rule replacement. These waters and wetlands provide important habitat for juvenile fish and nesting migratory birds. Perhaps the most critical question is simple: How does Wheeler intend to conserve these habitats that support healthy fish and wildlife populations, hunting and fishing opportunities, and America’s outdoor recreation economy?

 

Photo by 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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