Take up our rallying cry for sportsmen and women who step up and speak out about the things that matter most
If you’ve ever set up on a turkey roost in pitch darkness or stalked into a remote treestand before daylight, you’ve felt it: The woods coming alive with the first hopeful rays of sun and your own awareness starting to prickle.
It happens on the water, too—all is calm as your lure drifts, and suddenly there’s the faintest nudge, a slight tension, and you’re compelled to react. Or you’re scanning the open ocean, bobbing along peacefully, until you spot dozens of gulls diving at a feeding frenzy of stripers and you kick your engine into high gear.
The time we spend in the outdoors is split between contemplative, watchful moments and decisive periods of action—and it’s this second part that is the spirit of the TRCP’s #WakeTheWoods movement. Because there are times when it pays to be silent and stealthy, but when it comes to conservation, there are some things worth making noise about. We have to act, as sure as we do when we set the hook or squeeze the trigger.
Today, being an advocate for habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy means doing more, digging in further, and speaking our minds. No one is going to come find you on the sidelines and ask for your perspective on conservation funding or how to combat chronic wasting disease and mismanagement of public lands.
Having seen what you’ve seen in the outdoors—closer to our lands, waters, and wildlife than many Americans ever hope to be—who could say it better than you?
Sure, we all have busy lives. That’s why we choose to slow down and seek out the natural world the same way that hunters and anglers have been doing for generations. If you can take the time to watch the forest wake up, to wait for a long-legged critter to step into shooting range, or perhaps to attempt that drift for the 25th time… you can take the time to make sure the future of these traditions is secure.
That’s why TRCP makes communicating with key decision-makers far easier than calling in a gobbler or trading bugles with a ghost of a bull elk. On our website, sending a meaningful, targeted message about a legislative priority that could affect habitat, access, or funding probably takes less time and fewer steps than renewing your hunting or fishing license.
And, while we take conservation as seriously as the next NGO, we tell you how legislative and public processes work in language that you can understand. We hope you’ll trust that you can get the facts from us, but we are asking sportsmen and women to band together, whether you are a TRCP member or not.
Because we know you’re not content to sit idly by. We know you have something to say. We know that, united, we can spark change and an awakening in the dimmest corners of our policy-making system. After all, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” Let’s get loud about the things that matter most.
“Securing permanent authorization for LWCF was a significant milestone, but it means very little without predictable, robust funding to unlock inaccessible public lands and create new outdoor recreation opportunities all across the country,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re grateful to see lawmakers respond to this fact and remain committed to the success of this important program.”
U.S. Representatives Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) introduced the bipartisan legislation, which directs$900 million annually to the LWCFtrust fund account. The bill also has support from House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and the five Natural Resource Subcommittee Chairs.
When the LWCF was created, Congress intended for the full $900 million, underwritten by a small portion of annual offshore oil and gas leaserevenues, to be used for conservation projects each year. However, only about half of those funds are, in fact, allocated to conservation efforts annually. To date, more than $20 billion in potential LWCF funds have been diverted elsewhere. This legislation would ensure $900 million in funding is directed annually to the LWCF accountand expended only for projects benefitting conservation, outdoor recreation and access as Congress originally intended for the program.
Over its 50-year history, LWCF has expanded access in every state and supported over 41,000 state and local park projects.
“H.R. 3195 and Senate version S. 1081 are the final pieces we need to fulfill our conservation community’s agenda topermanently authorize LWCF with dedicated and full funding,” said Howard K. Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “We are grateful to both the House and Senate members that support this effort. If enacted, LWCF will continue to ensure a legacy of access and quality habitat for generations.”
“If you have spent time outdoors at a fishing access site, state park, public lands or local open space, there’s a good chance that you’ve directly benefitted from the Land and Water Conservation Fund,”said Corey Fisher, public land policy director for Trout Unlimited. “But to reach its full potential, LWCF needs full, dedicated funding. We thank our tireless champions in Congress for their work to fulfill the LWCF promise to the American people and ensure that this program continues to sustain our outdoor traditions.”
“The Conservation Fund applauds Congressman Van Drew and his bipartisan colleagues for introducing this bill to ensure full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “The LWCF is a tremendously successful program that provides unmatched economic, environmental, social, cultural and historical value to Americans. It is also an important tool for reducing the threat of wildfire, supporting local economies, and improving the management of our public lands. While Congress recently enacted permanent authorization of the program, LWCF cannot fully function without full and permanent funding to benefit America’s communities, the environment and the economy for generations to come.”
“There is broad agreement regarding the benefits of LWCF, and on the need for permanent reauthorization, with full, dedicated annual funding,” says Brent Rudolph, chief conservation and legislative officer with the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society. “Sportsmen and women across the nation depend on the access and habitat benefits from this critical program, and we simply cannot wait any longer for Congress to come together and get this done.”
“Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) projects have protected and expanded recreation access for all activities across the country,” said Jessica Wahl, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “Mandatory funding for the LWCF will unleash the program’s true potential – ensuring local communities and economies that depend on sustainable outdoor recreation will continue to flourish – and we stand ready to work with Congress to get this critical measure across the finish line.”
“We applaud the bipartisan leadership from Reps. Jefferson Van Drew (D-NJ), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and the many other representatives who continue to champion the nation’s most successful conservation program,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO at Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The legislation emphasizes the importance of permanently funding recreational public access for hunting, fishing, recreational shooting or other outdoor recreational activities. Think about all the public lands – currently landlocked – to which we could gain access with $900 million in LWCF funding every year. Passage of this bill would be monumental for hunters, anglers and everyone who enjoys our public resources.”
8 Places Where Will Be New Public Access to Hunting and Fishing by the Fall Opener
Updated as of Sept. 13, 2019: These changes to refuge access were finalized on September 10, 2019 after a public comment period. The Interior Department will indeed expand hunting and fishing opportunities on some national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries.
In a ceremony at Ottowa National Wildlife Refuge in Ohio this summer, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced a proposal to expand hunting and fishing access on some U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-run refuges and fish hatcheries and open new sportsmen’s access on others. This recognizes the value of hunting and fishing to the American economy and addresses one of the major threats to hunting and fishing participation—lost access.
“This announcement will benefit America’s sportsmen and women by providing access to prime hunting and fishing areas,” said Christy Plumer, TRCP’s chief conservation officer. “As public access remains a challenge across the nation, opportunities like this are a shining example of what we can do to support our outdoor recreation economy.”
These just a handful of the areas that will provide new hunting and fishing access to all Americans by the fall opener.
Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin
This series of islands in Lake Michigan, off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula, provide critical plant and wildlife habitat that would be open to hunting and fishing for the very first time. On Plum Island, once the site of a U.S. Coast Guard facility, shoreline-only fishing has been discussed, and deer hunting could be expanded to a section of Detroit Island. (According to the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands, special tags have been available since 2016 to manage the deer herd on Plum Island.)
Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming
Areas already open to some hunting on this refuge in Southwest Wyoming’s high desert plains would allow deer and elk hunting for the first time under the new proposal. Designated units are already open to fishing and hunting for mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, ducks, and sage grouse, which actually helped give the refuge its name. Seedskadee is a botched rendition of the native Crow’s name for the Green River: “sisk-a-dee-agie” or “River of the Prairie Chicken.”
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
The proposal would expand existing upland and big game hunting to additional acres on this refuge, which is home to both freshwater and saltwater marshes and some of the last remaining longleaf pine forest in the Southeast. This might include additional limited permits for deer, hogs, and turkeys.
Great River National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois and Missouri
This refuge, which straddles 120 miles of the Mississippi River along the Illinois-Missouri border, would expand its season dates for existing deer, turkey, and other upland game hunting to align with state seasons. The proposal would also offer hunters additional methods—currently there is a firearm season for antlerless deer on Fox Island and special permits for muzzleloader-only deer hunting in the 1,700-acre Delair Division.
15 National Fish Hatcheries Across the U.S.
Leadville National Fish Hatchery in Colorado and Iron River National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin would formally open lands for migratory gamebird, upland game, and big game hunting. Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Texas and Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery in Washington are proposing to formally open their lands to recreational fishing.
Always check and follow all refuge and state regulations before taking advantage of hunting and fishing opportunities on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands.
Why Public Land Grazing is So Important to the American West
As the demographics of the West change, sportsmen and women can feel good about supporting working ranches that responsibly graze their livestock on public lands—these private landowners and land managers are key partners in conservation and often facilitate hunting and fishing access, unlike the condo complexes that might pop up without them
Private lands make up about 60 percent of the U.S., while hundreds of millions of acres are grazed by livestock. And though it may seem like sportsmen and women only have eyes for public lands, these private lands can also offer critical seasonal habitats and connectivity for fish and wildlife, as well as recreation access.
Working ranches are an incredibly important part of this public-private land fabric—not to mention the Western economy and way of life. But the reliance on public lands for grazing has remained a hot-button issue even after unregulated grazing was curbed by federal law decades ago.
Some of you may immediately think of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the armed confrontation over his failure to pay grazing fees to the federal government for the use of public lands. Others may have heard groups calling for the outright abolishment of all public land grazing. But smack dab in between these opposing and polarizing views lie most sportsmen and women and tens of thousands of hardworking families who own and manage millions of acres vital to fish and wildlife.
So why does this legitimate use of public lands still get a bad rap?
A Brief History of Grazing in the West
Livestock grazing on both private and public lands dates back to the homesteading era and westward expansion. As iconic and integral as ranching is to the West’s ethos and economy, grazing has also contributed to a long history of controversy and debate over public lands management, from the era of unmanaged sheep and cattle grazing after the Civil War to the Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s into the present day.
After decades of unregulated livestock use in the West led to overgrazing and degradation of rangeland and water resources, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934. Today, livestock grazing is much more heavily regulated, yet remains a hot topic, as grazing plays into the complex multiple-use management scheme that must address increasing demands on our federal public lands from a growing human population.
At the heart of this perpetual debate lies a wide range of issues surrounding private property valuation and rights, water quality and usage, endangered species, access to public lands, and habitat for fish and wildlife, among other things. Across Western landscapes, private lands often occur in a “checkerboard” arrangement with federal and state lands, further complicating issues and creating unique challenges for multiple-use management.
Despite the complexities of multiple-use management, maintaining economically viable ranches is of vital importance. The loss of family-owned ranches might mean development on some pretty special landscapes, loss of habitat for native species, or the end of “handshake agreements” for hunting and fishing access.
Not an Either-Or Proposition
So, why is public-land grazing so necessary to keeping these private-lands ranchers in business and on the land? To remain financially solvent, many ranches rely on their own acres AND federal grazing permits. Most of the time, they can’t have one without the other.
The Taylor Grazing Act put tens of millions of acres of public land into grazing districts and smaller units, or allotments. Ranchers apply for renewable 10-year permits to graze on these allotments. Each permittee must own their own base property near the allotment to be eligible and must pay for their use. So, not just anyone can graze their cattle on public lands.
Most Western ranches need both their deeded property and their federal grazing allotments to make an operation economically viable. If ranchers can’t sustain their businesses from the land they own and federal lands they have access to, most will undoubtedly hit a breaking point and sell to a willing buyer. And the sale of existing properties can present new challenges to sportsmen and women.
Private Lands in Other Hands
Much of what happens if a ranch must be sold depends on whether it has a perpetual or long-term easement in place, who buys the land, what their objectives are, and other factors driving the purchase and existing land condition. But a great reason to support responsible ranchers with public land resources is to avoid the risk of what could come next if they sell their property.
While many chunks of land would never be carved up for parking lots, luxury homes, condominiums, commercial real estate, or other development, sub-division of large tracts of land indeed is a real and ominous threat already pervasive across the West. Subdividing private lands does not usually bode well for wildlife conservation or our hunting and fishing access.
Land may transfer hands to another ranching operation—possibly even one with a stronger emphasis on voluntary conservation—but a new landowner could also choose not to re-enroll in a public access program or might move forward with converting wildlife-friendly rangeland to cropland.
The future of private land depends on many things that wind up looking like a roll of the dice in Vegas compared to keeping working lands in knowledgeable working hands.
Partners in Conservation
Landowners are critical to conservation success and thus must be considered necessary partners in conservation. They shouldn’t have to feel threatened by species restoration plans or other resource conservation efforts. Conservation should present opportunities for landowners to keep their lands productive and thriving for both livestock and fish and wildlife.
There can be negative impacts on habitat from improper livestock grazing, and there will likely continue to be issues and disagreements among private landowners and public land users on how public land should be managed. We are all equally accountable to natural resources held in the public trust, whether you own cattle, land, or a hunting license.
Assuming the worst of landowners or attacking their interests does nothing to further conservation. In most cases, they are the worthy stewards of their own lands and our public acres. And losing working ranchlands to development would not bode well for fish, wildlife, or sportsmen in the long run.
Recent angst over sage-grouse conservation, leasing in migration corridors, and water issues should encourage us to strengthen our relationships with all stakeholders interested in finding common ground for conservation and use of our public lands. That includes ranchers who rely on public lands for grazing. The path forward for public and private land management that will sustain conservation is one of continued collaboration and partnership—not polarization.
Aldo Leopold once said: “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” As the contemporary adage goes, the TRCP supports keeping “working lands in working hands.” We will continue working with our organizational partners, plus businesses, landowners, and decision-makers, to ensure that our landscapes provide all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.
How I Got to Hunt Elk with My Conservation Idol, Steven Rinella
A smart auction bid put Brian Duncan out in the field with the MeatEater host for a dream hunt
If you listen to the MeatEater podcast or watch Steven Rinella’s show, you probably feel like you know him and his whole crew. But you’d be forgiven for feeling a little pressure if he was watching you line up on a bull. Brian Duncan gives us a taste of what it was like to bid for and win a truly unique Colorado elk hunt that brought him face to face with his conservation idol and a hunter’s hunter.
Here’s his story.
I couldn’t believe it when I won—I didn’t think I had a chance at having the highest bid, but before you knew it, I was on the trip of a lifetime with Steven Rinella. He’s someone I’ve always looked up to in the hunting and fishing world, and the information he puts out there really inspired me to get into conservation over the years.
But the last thing I wanted to be was a goofy fan, so there were some jitters about meeting and hanging out with him and Janis Putelis. In the weeks leading up to the hunt, I kept thinking, Am I going to miss or do something stupid in front of them? But those feelings went away quickly once we arrived—not only were they fantastic and welcoming, but there was little to no time to be nervous.
Together with my nephew Jon and some friends, we touched down in Denver and drove up to the ranch, where we immediately sighted in our rifles—we were hunting within hours of being on the ground. Our buddies went fishing with folks from the TRCP, while I went with Steve and Janis guided Jon.
Little did we know that this hunt would start slow and have a fairly dramatic conclusion.
At first, Steve and I were just trying to establish a pattern of behavior for this group of elk that liked to hang in a meadow. They seemed to know exactly when it was about to be legal shooting light, because they’d filter into the timber so we didn’t have a shot. It was a cat-and-mouse game to set up in the right spot with enough light left.
I was getting antsy as the days passed and I felt like I only had a few chances left. But things started heating up on our last afternoon: They’d been bugling at us all day, and I was getting excited thinking, This is finally going to happen.
But then, suddenly, we heard a shot—my nephew Jon had gotten his bull. I was excited for him, but knew I’d be disappointed if it had spooked the elk on their way to my field.
Still, they came streaming into the meadow, and we were in position. There were only a few minutes of legal shooting light left. Steve was pointing out a bull and I was trying to find it in my binos and scope, but ultimately I thought it was just too dark to risk having a near miss.
We celebrated Jon’s success that night and it would not have been a loss if we left it at that. In the evenings, Chef Andy Radzialowski prepared the most incredible meals, and the topics of discussion over dinner and coffee ranged from hunting and conservation to literature and politics. That was almost the best part, spending time with so many smart, funny, conservation-minded people and just telling stories.
Like I said, it was almost the best part.
There was a one-hour window of opportunity the next morning before everyone had to leave to make their flights, and Steve asked me if I wanted to go for it one more time. So, we got up even earlier and headed back out to the meadow.
This time, we went all the way around back to where the elk had been exiting into the timber the day before, and just minutes after legal shooting light, there was a bull right out in front of me. It was a nice 5×6 (would have been a 6×6 if one of his tines wasn’t broken off) and it was bugling its head off with a bunch of cows around him. I fired, perhaps a little rushed, and he spun around, but my second shot took him down right away.
They’re always such impressive animals, even if this wasn’t the biggest bull in the world. I already have a full shoulder mount at home, so I plan to have this bull euro mounted for the main wall in my lake house. The real trophy is what’s in my freezer—and every time I share that meat with family or friends, I get to tell the incredible story.
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.