Kristyn Brady

April 11, 2019

Where Public Lands and Waters Heal Unseen Wounds

An organization that provides all-expenses-paid flyfishing trips to combat veterans ensures that participants go home with so much more than campfire stories

With the inspiring success of organizations like Project Healing Waters and Casting for Recovery, many sportsmen and women are aware of the emotional and physical healing power of the outdoors. But when Dan Cook, formerly a financial executive, set out to establish Rivers of Recovery in 2009, he wanted to prove that the act of fly fishing—not to mention the camaraderie of bringing veterans together in remote and beautiful places—actually made a biological impact on returning military service members.

“They analyzed urine and saliva samples from the program participants before, during, and in the 6, 9, and 12 months after a fishing trip,” says Amy Simon, who started out as a Rivers of Recovery volunteer before running the organization with Cook and eventually stepping into the executive director position in charge of all operations and program curriculum. “The tests showed lower cortisol levels after fishing, and the participants reported sleeping better, having lower stress, and, in some cases, going off medications they’d relied on for their mental health. Dan really wanted to go beyond starting an organization and actually prove we were making a difference.”

Thirty veterans took part in their first trip out of Dutch John, Utah, and these days the organization runs programs in eight different states, touching countless lives in the process. Over time, they discovered that building an experience within an existing community of local veterans was very beneficial, compared to flying a group out to Utah. This way, relationships could be built and maintained after the trip, and supportive local businesses, fishing guides, yoga instructors, and other volunteers remained in the participants’ community as resources.

“We found we could leave behind a footprint of support,” says Simon.

She was also instrumental in launching RoR’s first trips exclusively for female veterans, who may be dealing with entirely different issues than men when they return home. In the October 2017 issue of DUN Magazine, U.S. Army veteran Monica Shoneff explained, “A lot of female vets get out of the military and jump back into caring for a family. Self-care becomes a low priority. Where men can focus on themselves, we get lost.”

Now an RoR volunteer, Shoneff estimates that 95 percent of the women combat veterans she’s met have experienced sexual trauma during their military careers, leaving many to deal with anxiety, depression, and high rates of PTSD.

So, how does an all-expenses-paid flyfishing excursion help? “You have to focus on what you’re doing,” she tells DUN. “It takes away from time to ruminate and think about past events or worry about the future.” Simon adds that the activities on the water and in camp start to generate trust, bring vets out of their guarded stance, and open lines of communication. “By the time you leave, you feel like you’re part of a family,” she says.

In many cases, none of this would be possible without public lands, says Simon, so conservation and the healing power of the outdoors go hand in hand. “If those resources were not available, we would not be able to succeed,” she says. “How can you not want to take care of these places that give so much to someone like a wounded veteran?”

Another active volunteer and RoR Board member, Jim Mayol, says he sees public lands issues differently now that he’s witnessed the transformation of program participants. “I see them before the trip, after, and in social settings, and there’s no doubt that the outdoors has had an impact on their healing,” he says. “It’s a no-brainer for me to advocate for these places now, where I may not have given it a lot of thought before.”

To learn more about Rivers of Recovery and how you can get involved, visit riversofrecovery.org.

To support public lands access that makes all of our hunting and fishing opportunities possible, take action to call for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

 

All photos courtesy of Rivers of Recovery.

One Response to “Where Public Lands and Waters Heal Unseen Wounds”

  1. John Sweet

    All over the US there are organizations that are committed to getting veterans into the out of doors for healing and growth. But some set them apart from others– the grass-roots groups that are run by veterans for veterans. And this dynamic, veteran brothers and sisters helping one another, is the most effective method. Veterans Expeditions in Salida, Colorado gets dozens of vets out every year for non-consumptive activities in the Rockies and elsewhere. Another great vet-run organization is Colorado’s Patriot Anglers. https://www.patriotanglers.us/

    I encourage TRCP to reach out to these small yet effective organizations that are doing a lot with a little and helping to positively shape the future of outdoors recreation in the west.

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Randall Williams

March 21, 2019

New Interior Order Supports Recreational Access to Public Lands

Modernized BLM priorities for land disposal and exchange will benefit hunting and fishing access

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt today directed the BLM to prioritize public access in decisions regarding the disposal and exchange of BLM public lands.

Bernhardt signed Secretarial Order 3373, Evaluating Public Access in Bureau of Land Management Land Disposals and Exchanges, to help ensure that BLM public lands, no matter how small, remain in public hands if they are highly valued for outdoor recreation access.

“Sportsmen and women across the West will benefit from this Interior Department action to sustain and enhance recreational access to BLM public lands,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “In some places, there are small parcels of BLM land that serve as the only means of nearby access to hunting and fishing or as the only access points to adjoining public lands managed by other agencies. The Secretarial Order will ensure that key parcels are valued for this recreational access and help keep these lands in the public’s hands.”

“We are glad to see that recreational public access was identified as a top priority for the BLM when they make land disposal and exchange decisions,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “We believe this decision will bring great benefits for hunters by sustaining access and opportunity on federally owned lands. We thank the agency for their stakeholder outreach leading up to this announcement and for taking sportsmen and women’s interests to heart.”

For the past 40 years, the BLM has been required to identify small tracts of land available for sale or disposal. Until today, this frequently included public lands that offer important recreational access. As a result, the BLM has been identifying for disposal remote, yet high-value, public land parcels, including tracts in Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ famed big game hunting Region 7 and at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming.

Today’s guidance means that the agency now must consider public access when determining the value of these isolated parcels of public lands. Further, in the event that a disposal or exchange might affect public access, the order provides additional direction to help retain that public access or makeup for any losses of access through an associated acquisition.

“We express our sincere thanks to the Department of Interior for unequivocally recognizing the value of hunting and other recreational access when making crucial decisions regarding ownership of our federal lands,” said Brent Rudolph, director of conservation policy for the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society. “The conservationists that make use of these lands benefit greatly, and their activities in turn support the management of our natural resources and financial health of many rural communities.”

A recent study led by the digital mapping company onX and TRCP found that 9.52 million acres of public lands in the West are inaccessible to the public without permission from private landowners. Small, isolated parcels of BLM land often provide the only means of access to larger parcels managed by states or other federal agencies that would otherwise be similarly “landlocked.” Because of today’s directive, the BLM must now weigh such potential implications in any decision regarding the disposal or exchange of these types of parcels.

“GPS technology has revolutionized the way that Americans use their public lands, making it easier than ever before for the average outdoor enthusiast to identify and access smaller, out-of-the-way parcels,” said onX founder Eric Siegfried. “As a result, there’s been a growing awareness in recent years that landlocked or inaccessible public lands represent lost hunting and fishing opportunities for the American people. We applaud the Department of the Interior for reaffirming the importance of public land access, and for taking this step to ensure that all Americans can take advantage of the incredible experiences offered by our nation’s public lands.”

“Access is one of the most significant priorities for hunters and anglers and a real concern for new sportsmen and women in particular,” said John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Our public lands and waters provide access to all regardless of stature. We thank the administration for their leadership and foresight in elevating consideration for lands that not only support fish and wildlife habitat but provide access and opportunities to ensure that our outdoor traditions endure.”

See the TRCP’s fact sheet on BLM public lands identified for disposal.

 

Photo: Jeff Clark/BLM

Marnee Banks

March 12, 2019

The Land and Water Conservation Fund’s Future Is Secure

Sportsmen and women celebrate this watershed moment for conservation and outdoor economy

Today, President Trump signed bipartisan legislation permanently authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the nation’s best tool for increasing access to public lands and supporting fish and wildlife habitat.

“From elk habitat in the Rockies to trout fisheries in the Delaware River Basin, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided public access to our nation’s best hunting and fishing spots,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The passage of this legislation proves that conservation is above partisan politics and that by working together we can leave a lasting legacy for the next generation of sportsmen and women. We now call on Congress to fully fund LWCF, sending resources to every corner of the country to benefit hunters and anglers.”

The legislation requires that 3 percent of LWCF funding be used to establish and retain access to public lands. This could help unlock some of the 9.52 million acres of public lands in the West that are landlocked by private lands with no permanent legal access.

The public lands package also contains more than 100 local and regional public lands bills that benefit sportsmen and women. It reauthorizes the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, a conservation grant program in which dollars are typically matched three times over at the local level to benefit waterfowl and wetlands. Another provision reauthorizes the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, a critical initiative to assist private landowners who want to voluntarily restore habitat on their lands.

Leading up to the passage of this legislation, TRCP organized thousands of individual sportsmen and women to contact their elected representatives urging reauthorization of the LWCF. Now, the TRCP will rally hunters and anglers to contact their congressional delegation and support fully funding LWCF at $900 million annually.

Click here to send a message to your elected officials supporting full funding for LWCF.

Kristyn Brady

February 26, 2019

House Sends Historic Public Lands Package to President’s Desk

Sportsmen and women celebrate permanent authorization of LWCF and investments in public lands, wildlife habitat, and the outdoor recreation economy

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed S. 47, a historic package of legislation including permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, in a major milestone for public lands access, habitat conservation, and the outdoor recreation economy. The legislation now heads to the president’s desk.

“This vote marks a turning point for public lands in America, as our elected officials have shown their support for LWCF’s enduring legacy,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We no longer need to worry about kicking the can down the road as our best tool for unlocking inaccessible public lands remains in limbo. House lawmakers should be congratulated on seizing this bipartisan momentum for conservation, and Congress should continue to pursue full funding for LWCF as a next step. We look forward to working with public land agencies to unleash the many benefits of this legislation in support of the outdoor recreation economy.”

Comprised of more than 100 locally and regionally specific public lands bills, the package contains defining wins for sportsmen and women. Aside from providing long term certainty for LWCF, one of the most popular public lands programs of the past 50 years, the legislation also requires that 3 percent of LWCF funding be used to unlock isolated and inaccessible public lands. TRCP’s recent study with onX showed that 9.52 million acres of public lands in the West are landlocked by private lands, with no permanent legal access.

The legislation would also reauthorize the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, a conservation grant program in which dollars are typically matched three times over at the local level to benefit waterfowl and wetlands. Another provision 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.

More than 40 hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations signed a letter to House leadership last week urging lawmakers to prioritize and pass this important legislation. And thousands of individual sportsmen and women signed TRCP’s action alert triggering e-mail messages to their elected representatives.

These voices from across the hunting and fishing community are celebrating today’s vote:

“We’re one step closer to ensuring that our nation’s proud legacy of protecting our public lands and waters becomes permanent,” says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “Our industry is grateful for the bipartisan leadership in both the House and Senate and their determined, vital commitment to ensuring that this uniquely American hallmark will benefit each and every one of us for generations to come.”

“For too long, LWCF has been stuck in a cycle of uncertainty that limited its potential. Today’s vote changes that. This is an extraordinary victory for conservation in the United States,” says Mark R. Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “As one of the country’s most effective conservation programs, LWCF has helped protect national parks, expand trails and playing fields, and preserve important landscapes for over half a century. By using the revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling, LWCF invests in lands and waters at no cost to the American taxpayer, so it should be no surprise that a strong majority wants to continue this win-win for people and conservation. Regardless of party, nature unites us all. Ultimately, LWCF is about preserving the best of America by protecting our lands and waters, our wildlife and ways of life. The overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate to renew LWCF reflect our nation’s longstanding commitment to conservation, ensuring future generations will benefit from LWCF. We are grateful for LWCF’s champions in the House and Senate, all of whom have worked hard to achieve permanent reauthorization, and we look forward to the president signing this measure into law.”

“Today we celebrate a victory for our public lands and watersone that never would have happened without the hard work and commitment of hunters and anglers and without the willingness of our elected officials to heed the will of the people,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “We look forward to President Trump signing this critical package of bills into law.”

“By permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Congress has recognized what sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts have always known: LWCF is America’s most proven method for putting public lands conservation on the ground and facilitating access to outdoor recreation,” says Jared Mott, conservation director for the Izaak Walton League of America. “We look forward to President Trump quickly signing this important legislation and permanently protecting Americans’ access to their public lands and opportunities for outdoor recreation.”

“The House’s approval of the National Resources Management Act – following the Senate’s overwhelming vote earlier this month – is the latest reminder that conserving our public lands and waterways is an issue that unites us,” says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “We thank Representative Raúl Grijalva, Representative Rob Bishop, and House leadership for swiftly picking up the baton and passing this important legislation, and we now call on President Trump to promptly sign the bill into law.”

“Public lands bring Americans together, and that’s why Republicans and Democrats in the House voted overwhelmingly today for a bill that ensures the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be around for our kids and grandkids,” says Diane Regas, president and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. “Today’s historic vote, following a 92-8 vote in the Senate, means that more people can have access to hiking trails, city parks and wild landscapes. Americans expect their public officials to work together, and today’s vote to give more people access to public lands is something we can all celebrate.”

“We know there is a lot going on across the country right now, but everyone should pause for a few moments and take in what is happening with our nation’s public lands,” says Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association. “We are set to preserve nearly a million acres of land for protection and outdoor recreation, permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and help our young people enjoy the outdoors more, among many other thingschanging the trajectory of public land protection and advocacy for the next generation for the better. We are thankful for the tireless hours many key senators and representatives, public lands advocates, and American citizens put in to get this across the finish line. And, while it certainly is not solely responsible for all of the support and ‘yes’ votes, OIA’s work over the years to quantify the contribution of the outdoor recreation economy$887 billion per year and over 7.6 million jobshad a helping hand in bridging some of the partisan divide in Washington and getting this once-in-a-decade public lands package done.”

 

Top photo by USFWS Midwest Region.

Redefining Hunting Success When You Come Home Empty-Handed

After taking two bucks in two years, a fledgling hunter gets her first taste of how frustrating an un-filled tag can be—and comes out of a tough season more committed than ever 

It was Day Four of mule deer season, and I was sick of soggy sandwiches and protein bars. Opening weekend optimism had long since faded, and tagging out was beginning to feel impossible. The deer were spooked, and the patterns we observed when we were scouting were long gone.

I could glass up into the draws of aspens far beyond and find herds of elk, mountain goats, coyotes, and even muley bucks off in the distance, but I was too far away for a shot. October storms had pushed them back up into the high, protected meadows again—I knew where to look, but each day I seemed to be far from the right position.

I’d started the season more prepared than ever. I finally had all the gear I needed, I’d spent months scouting my unit, and I could glass any aspect and find animals. And yet, even with such careful preparation and dedication, the mountains had a different plan for me this year.

I’ve learned so much since my first big game season in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah three years ago. While still relying heavily on mentors, my awareness of all the little details that make a hunt successful had expanded. I’d learned enough to begin feeling comfortable venturing off on my own, finding animals, initiating stalks, and picking my spots.

Photo by Jay Beyer

The landscape was more alive than ever with the story of mule deer—in their tracks, through the weather patterns, and in the surrounding narrative of the ecosystem. I felt so close to them every day.

But last fall I spent nine consecutive days in the high mountains, and it was the first time I’d returned home on closing day emptyhanded.

My unfilled tag felt like an interruption to my momentum. Knowing how much I’d relied on the meat from my last two deer, I wondered if I’d be sad during every visit to the grocery store. Would the deli section trigger thoughts of what I should have done differently out there? I started to get really hard on myself—harder than I ever had when I was first starting out.

We hear courageous stories of beginners and live on inspiration from seasoned experts. But what about the role we occupy in between? This is the time when we learn the most from our mistakes, endure harsh self-criticism and doubt, and often lose momentum.

When we have our minds fixed on a new objective, everything is exciting. There is an essential naivety in the newness that keeps us from being completely aware of what it will actually take to be successful.

I’ve found this to be true not only for hunting, but also in business ventures, relationships, and any goal that requires us to learn something new. People often think that taking the leap is the hardest part. But it’s once you get past that point that you learn what you’re really up against.

Photo by Will Saunders

The goals I have for myself—as a hunter and an entrepreneur—have required boldness, but also digging in during moments of sheer exhaustion and self-doubt. I’ve learned that beginning is actually pretty easy, but what comes next takes endurance, maintenance, and constant recommitment.

I’m in the same place with my business, Wylder Goods, as I am in my hunting experience—several years in and aware that there’s still a very long road ahead to success and mastery. The allure of the new objective has worn off, and I’m painfully aware of the skills I lack, yet still driven to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.

I look across the plateau I’ve reached, and I can make out the horizon of where I want to be, even if I’m far from it.

It could be that my unfilled tag is just what I needed to make me even more of a hunter than I was before.

This past mule deer season taught me that I have to find my pace in the long game. I am actually capable of feeling self-doubt and a sense of progress at the same time, and I’m learning what it takes to source endurance every day.

Each morning, I have to wake up and think, ‘Today is the day,’ no matter what beating came before. Next season, I’ll scout even more, put in for additional tags, take new risks, and ensure I don’t make the same mistakes again. Perhaps, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

It could be that my unfilled tag is just what I needed to make me even more of a hunter than I was before.

 

Lindsey Elliott is the co-founder and CEO of Wylder Goods, a B-corp that sells goods for the modern outdoorswoman. Follow her @lindsey.a.elliott, @wyldergoods, and on the Wylder blog. Read more about Lindsey in our Q&A.

 

Top photo courtesy of Jay Beyer.

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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