Randall Williams

May 16, 2019

BLM’s Proposed Plans for Montana Public Lands Should Reflect Sportsmen’s Priorities

Plans to conserve popular elk hunting destinations are among the various options in the draft plans, but not at the top of BLM’s list

Today the Bureau of Land Management released draft plans that – when finalized – will guide land management decisions for more than 800K acres of public lands over the next 20 years or more. This includes some of Montana’s most scenic and recreationally important public lands overseen by the agency’s Lewistown and Missoula field offices.

This is a key step in a public process of land-use planning, which helps determine how habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, and development are balanced in a particular area. The BLM proposes a variety of management options for a planning area and names one preferred alternative—in these plans, the agency’s preferred paths forward lack important measures that would conserve some of Montana’s best hunting areas.

Specifically, hunters, anglers, and other stakeholders have been calling for sportsmen-friendly conservation measures on intact and undeveloped lands with outstanding big game habitat in both the Missouri River Breaks as well as in the Garnet and John Long Ranges just east of Missoula.

“After an initial review of the two plans, we’re encouraged to see that conservation measures for key backcountry hunting areas are among the options, but it is disappointing that they were left out of the BLM’s preferred alternative,” says Scott Laird, Montana field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “At the start of these processes, the BLM received reasonable proposals to conserve some of Montana’s finest elk and deer country—measures that had broad buy-in and support from the governor’s office, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council, timber interests, local business owners, and public land users of all kinds. We now ask that the BLM adopt sportsmen-oriented management for our best hunting areas in the final Missoula and Lewistown plans.”

Numerous outdoor-related businesses and conservation organizations support revising the two Resource Management Plans to better serve the interests of Montana’s hunters and other outdoor recreationists. “The Garnet Range is an often overlooked but important hunting destination just a short drive from Missoula and other surrounding communities,” says Casey Smith, owner of Straight6Archery in Missoula. “The BLM has an opportunity to do right by sportsmen and businesses through the Missoula resource management plan, and we are depending on them to incorporate measures in the final plan that will safeguard our best backcountry hunting areas near Chamberlain and Marcum Mountains.”

Popular public lands in central and western Montana help fuel the state’s $7.1-billion outdoor recreation economy, provide important wildlife habitat, and support various traditional uses of the land. These include Montana FWP Hunting Districts 410, 412, 417, 426, 281, 291, 292, and 298.

“The BLM has an opportunity to safeguard some of Montana’s best hunting areas and wildlife habitat through these land-use plans, and do it in a balanced way,” says John Borgreen, a Great Falls-area hunter who has been engaged in local conservation efforts for more than 45 years. “It’s a potential win-win for the varied wildlife we love to pursue, and will help ensure that our valued hunting heritage, outdoor traditions, and way of life can be enjoyed by future generations.”

“Sportsmen and other stakeholders will continue to speak up as these planning processes move forward, and we hope the BLM will listen,” says Laird. “We are talking about common-sense management provisions that would benefit our sporting traditions and wildlife habitat, while providing the flexibility to manage for other uses of these lands. It should be a slam dunk for the agency.”

 

Photo: Charlie Bulla

One Response to “BLM’s Proposed Plans for Montana Public Lands Should Reflect Sportsmen’s Priorities”

  1. Randall Knowles

    Agriculture provides 1 Billion Dollars less than Tourism in 2018, a million Montanans contribute 46% of Tourism dollars and 12 million Tourists contribute 54% of tourism dollars. The only citizens who spend more time out doors than Montanans is Vermont. Out door recreation defines the life style of Montanans. As the numbers reveal, Montanans are outdoor lovers which means that Montanans need access to the land. Montanans don’t stand and view the beauty of the Biggest Sky of All. Montanans are doers and must have access so they can do.

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Randall Williams

May 14, 2019

Sportsmen Applaud Senate Committee for Considering Ruby Mountain Protection Act

Hunters and anglers call for swift passage of this critical public lands legislation

The Sportsmen for the Rubies, a coalition of 14 hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation groups representing thousands of individual sportsmen and women, expressed appreciation for a subcommittee hearing Tuesday on the Ruby Mountain Protection Act (S.258). This development, which took place in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining, marks the first progression for the bill since its introduction by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

If passed into law, the act would conserve Nevada’s Ruby Mountains by permanently withdrawing from oil and gas exploration 450,000 acres in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s Ruby Mountain Ranger District.

“Hunters, anglers, and a wide array of stakeholder groups have been vocal supporters of the bill from its inception,” said Joel Webster, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Western Lands. “The Ruby Mountains, known as the Swiss Alps of Nevada, contain some of the region’s finest outdoor opportunities and serve as the foundation of a $165 million outdoor recreation economy in Elko County.”

Last week, the Sportsmen for the Rubies coalition sent a letter to the committee chair and ranking member, urging a speedy vote on the bill so that it can proceed to the Senate floor.

The groups highlighted the importance of the area as fish and wildlife habitat in addition to its tremendous economic value as a recreational destination. The Ruby Mountains are home to a number of unique species such as the Lahontan cutthroat trout and the Himalayan snowcock, as well as Nevada’s largest mule deer herd.

“The Rubies are an incredible fish and wildlife resource as well as an economic engine for rural Nevada, said Pam Harrington, Nevada field coordinator with Trout Unlimited. “We are pleased the Nevada delegation is working with the sportsmen’s community to protect the Rubies.”

“Sportsmen and women throughout Nevada appreciate the subcommittee’s timely hearing on this bill,” said Tom Smith, the vice president of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife. “We hope that leadership will commit to a markup and move this legislation to the floor for passage, so that future generations can enjoy the Ruby Mountains as we do today.”

 

Photo: USDA Intermountain Forest Service via Flickr

Kim Jensen

May 10, 2019

Picky About Pine: These Forests Are Better for Wildlife and Water

Restoring longleaf pine forests improves wildlife habitat and drought resilience in the Southeast

Longleaf pine trees once dominated large swaths of the country’s landscape, covering more than 90 million acres—or roughly the area of Montana—from Virginia to eastern Texas. But this all began to change around the beginning of the 20th century, when longleaf pine was found to be excellent building material for ships and railroads. By the 1920s, most of these trees were gone, and many foresters replaced them with other types of pine that were thought to grow faster and offer a quicker return on investment.

Today, only 3.4 million acres of longleaf forests remain, and much of this is spread sparsely across the Southeast. This poses some serious challenges for game species and communities that are at risk of extreme weather events.

Here’s why.

Longleaf Is a Lifeline

With the potential to support roughly 100 types of birds, dozens of species of mammals, and nearly 200 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, longleaf pine forests are some of the most diverse ecosystems in North America. Sportsmen and women know them best as critical habitat for bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, and whitetail deer.

Longleaf, even as a seedling, is highly resistant to wildfire, and its wide-set leaves create a more open forest canopy so more sunlight can reach plant life on the ground. With a little help from strategic prescribed burning, longleaf forests can have incredibly healthy underbrush with native grasses and vegetation that offer food and shelter for wildlife.

But we need longleaf pines for more than just great habitat—they are master adapters that can survive the harshest weather events and a wide range of climates. A study conducted after Hurricane Katrina found that longleaf pine trees were better able to withstand hurricane winds than other types of pine trees. More storm resilience means less costly damage to wildlife habitat and forestry businesses.

As if that wasn’t enough, these trees are also more resilient to drought, can better withstand pests and most diseases, and store carbon more effectively than other pine species. All of this makes longleaf a win for our critters and for communities that face major storms and drought.

Photo by Randy Tate/Longleaf Alliance.
We Need Millions More

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that by 2060 the South will lose up to 67,000 square miles of forest to development and other habitat challenges.

But there is hope. The federal agencies that carry out conservation in America, along with dozens of non-governmental partners—including key TRCP allies, such as the National Wildlife Turkey Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and National Wildlife Federation—have joined forces on the “Million Acre Challenge” to add one million acres of longleaf pine to public lands in the coming years. This would go a long way toward helping the Forest Service complete its goal of putting 8 million total acres of longleaf pine habitat on the landscape by 2025.

Photo by Randy Tate/Longleaf Alliance.

Recent passage of the 2018 Farm Bill could help, too. Programs such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Conservation Stewardship Program help to coordinate landscape-scale conservation projects and reduce the cost for private landowners to restore or enhance their longleaf pine forests. With more than $5 billion in conservation funding to support private land efforts, the Farm Bill is a big win for habitat, but we also need strong funding for the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to help take on forest restoration.

The TRCP is committed to ensuring that the federal agencies have what they need to maintain and enhance our forests across public and private lands. And a powerhouse habitat-creator and wildfire-defender like longleaf pine is a great way to invest those dollars. It’s a critical down payment on the future of hunting and fishing in the Southeast.

Top photo by Andy Wraithmell/FWC. Quail by flickr user leshoward.

Chris Macaluso

May 9, 2019

Where There’s Grass, There’s Bass… and Redfish and Specks

Restoring vegetation on the Gulf coastline is helping to improve your chance of landing bigger trout and redfish

Freshwater anglers have long understood that finding grass means finding the bass.

In the last decade, saltwater fishermen in Louisiana have begun to understand that it’s not just largemouth bass that love to live, lurk, and feed in submerged grass beds. Popular brackish-marsh dwellers, like speckled trout and redfish, utilize this subsurface vegetation, as well.

Throughout the late summer and into the spring, speckled trout cruise the edges of grass beds in marshes, coastal lakes, and bays eating shrimp, mullet, menhaden, crabs, and even bluegill, shad, and other freshwater forage. Juvenile trout spend much of their first few months in the grass, as well—eating and hiding from predators.

Redfish from two to 25 pounds live in and around the submerged vegetation, too, using clumps and pockets in the grass as ambush points. In fact, they are usually sharing these same dents and pockets with largemouths.

Few things in angling match the excitement of a 10-pound redfish demolishing a topwater frog or a buzzbait meant to lure a bass from a grassy shoreline.

In addition to the enormous benefits for sportfish, forage fish, and migrating waterfowl, submerged grasses help to break up wave action, filter out suspended sediment, and infuse dissolved oxygen into the water. This protects sensitive marshy shoreline while improving water quality.

Submerged grass beds had become scarce in many of the marshes of Southeast Louisiana in the 1980s and 90s.

Annual flooding of the Mississippi River had been largely cut off from coastal marshes by levees and canals—like the ill-fated Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) in St Bernard Parish and the Barataria Waterway in Jefferson Parish—while hundreds of oil field canals were allowing saltwater to intrude deep into brackish and freshwater marshes and swamps.

The salt water killed off hundreds of thousands of acres of grass beds, along with large expanses of coastal oak and cypress forests, reducing the productivity of coastal fisheries, weakening already-loose marsh soils, and making coastal communities more vulnerable to the winds, waves, and storm surges from hurricanes and tropical storms.

This vulnerability was on full display during Hurricane Katrina, as storm surge flowed freely through the MRGO, across the degraded marshes and dead cypress swamps, and straight into the heart of New Orleans communities.

This redfish was caught in scattered submerged grass in a small marsh pond near the mouth of the Atchafalaya River in Terrebonne Parish. (May 2019)

Fortunately, efforts over the last 20 years to restore Louisiana’s coast and control salinity levels have facilitated the return of submerged grass beds, especially in the marshes east of the Mississippi River and around Lake Pontchartrain. Marshes that held a few redfish and some seasonal speckled trout have become incredibly productive bass fisheries, while still offering excellent opportunities to catch speckled trout from early fall until the early spring and to land trophy reds year round. Ducks have returned to some of those spots too.

Lower salinity levels have also provided an opportunity for Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and non-profit groups, like the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and America’s Wetland Foundation, to replant cypress trees to replace the ones killed by saltwater intrusion and timber harvest in the last century.

Louisiana’s ongoing efforts to divert sediment and freshwater from the Mississippi into coastal marshes and rebuild natural coastal barriers will go a long way toward allowing submerged vegetation to return—further improving fish and waterfowl habitat and protecting coastal communities.

Our fisheries will change, and so will the way we fish, as freshwater and sediment is reintroduced. But, as many Louisiana anglers have found out in the last two decades, it will be a change for the better.

To learn more, watch our video on the importance of vegetation to the health of Louisiana marshes.

To advocate for the construction of diversions to restore the Mississippi River Delta, please log on to www.coastal.la.gov.

Whit Fosburgh

May 7, 2019

Remaining Nonpartisan Does Not Mean Sitting Out the Tough Fights

When it comes to safeguarding the future of America’s hunting and fishing traditions, we can’t afford to be silent

You might think that to be nonpartisan in today’s deeply polarized political climate you’d have to avoid taking sides altogether. But hunters and anglers have no hope of creating conservation solutions if we sit out the tough fights.

Even as many groups slide into one camp or the other, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has stayed true to its principles, regardless of political pressures. This is outlined in our latest Annual Report, where we detail the bad conservation policy we criticized, the positive steps forward for habitat that we praised, and the major TRCP priorities we were able to see through in 2018.

Report design by Pete Sucheski. Cover photos by BLM, Kyle Mlynar, and Dusan Smetana.

For example, we worked across the aisle to achieve huge successes for wildlife, water quality, and hunting and fishing access in the Farm Bill. Our staff and partners secured long-overdue recognition for the value of recreational fishing and the need for critical updates to fisheries management in the Modern Fish Act. We exposed challenges with public land access, but we also offered meaningful solutions.

And, of course, we continued to do the hard, inglorious work of defending conservation, as plans to restore greater sage grouse habitat got a second look and Clean Water Act protections for  headwaters and wetlands were put at risk.

The TRCP doesn’t toe a party line or take positions based on red or blue. And, no matter how daunting, we’ll never back away from an issue that threatens fish and wildlife—from our best big game down to the tiniest forage fish.

We remain true to the notion that conservation should never be partisan. That’s why we will continue to provide the forum to bring disparate sides together for the benefit of future generations of American outdoorsmen and women.

We’re glad to have you in our camp.

Download TRCP’s 2018 Annual Report here.

 

Top photo by Dusan Smetana.

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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