Randall Williams

September 24, 2019

New Film Showcases Local Support for Little Mountain in Wyoming’s Sweetwater County

A community-based coalition calls for conservation measures to safeguard this one-of-a-kind recreational destination

The Greater Little Mountain Coalition released a film today highlighting local support for the conservation of its namesake area, just south of Rock Springs. The film features seven Sweetwater County residents expressing their views on the importance of the Greater Little Mountain Area, known by many as a recreational paradise for hunting, fishing, and outdoor activities.

Spanning from desert badlands to high mountain aspen and conifer groves, this area is home to productive trout streams and some of the most sought-after big game hunting opportunities in the state. Eastman’s Hunting Journal regularly ranks the area’s deer and elk units among its top five Wyoming hunts. Since 1990, conservation organizations and state and federal agencies have spent more than $6 million in on-the-ground projects to enhance and maintain these resources.

The majority of the Greater Little Mountain Area is public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management’s Rock Springs field office, which is in the process of revising the plan that guides management decisions for energy development, recreation, livestock grazing, wildlife, and other resources. The Greater Little Mountain Coalition has been actively engaged in the planning process and has proposed an approach that would ensure the region’s incredible fish and wildlife resources and open space are managed in a balanced way.

“The Coalition has been advocating for the Greater Little Mountain Area since 2008. With input from local hunters, anglers, and decision-makers, we submitted a proposal to be included in the draft Rock Springs Resource Management Plan,” said Josh Coursey, CEO of the Muley Fanatic Foundation. “This film shows the tremendous local support for our plan and we expect decision makers in D.C. to give it the serious consideration it deserves.”

For generations the Greater Little Mountain Area has been a favorite for sportsmen and sportswomen and a priority for conservation-minded hunters and anglers. The new film reveals the feelings that this area inspires in locals, as well as the thousands of others who have had the privilege to visit.

“Energy means a lot to Wyoming, and so does being able to hunt and fish in my backyard,” said Monte Morlock of the United Steelworkers. “It is possible to balance our outdoor way of life with development, and that’s exactly what we need to do in the Little Mountain area.”

The film also includes Sweetwater County commissioner Wally Johnson. “How much are we expected to produce and what are we expected to give up? Greater Little Mountain is an area I’m not willing to give up,” said Johnson.

In addition to Morlock, Coursey, and Johnson, the film also features Bruce Pivic of Infinity Power and Controls, local sportswomen Robin and Jessica Robison, and rancher Jackson Ramsay.

The film can be viewed at the Coalition’s website and on its Facebook page. The public is encouraged to express their own support for the area to decision-makers at greaterlittlemountain.org.

The Greater Little Mountain Coalition is an assembly of sportsmen conservation organizations, union members, miners, and more than 2,500 hunters, anglers and recreationists who seek to find balanced solutions that ensures the regions great hunting, fishing, and open space is conserved for future generations while supporting responsible energy development. The Coalition partners include: Bowhunters of Wyoming, Muley Fanatic Foundation, Southwest Labor Council, Steelworkers Union 13214, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trout Unlimited and Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

 

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What Exactly Is USDA’s Stance on the Boundary Waters?

Once determined to proceed with a thorough environmental review of an unpopular proposed mine, the agency now only seems willing to pass the buck to the state

It is a truism that politicians try to have it both ways, telling constituents and donors just what they want to hear while their actions tell a different story. We are seeing this play out in Minnesota, where Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters have been fighting to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from a proposed copper nickel mine.

In this case, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made and broken commitments concerning an important environmental review of the proposed mine, which has limited the use of science, the public’s input, and the ability of federal land management agencies to affect the outcome of the project.

Photo courtesy of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.

In 2017, Secretary Perdue committed to a two-year environmental review of copper nickel mining upstream of the Boundary Waters during his congressional testimony, saying, “We are determined to proceed in that effort and let it run its course. No decision will be made prior to the conclusion of that [review].” But 20 months into the 24-month study, Secretary Perdue cancelled the study, calling it “a roadblock to mining exploration.” The BLM and USDA then renewed the contested leases in 2019, which cleared the way for mining company Twin Metals to submit a formal mine plan of operation to state and federal officials.

In a long back and forth with the USDA and U.S. Forest Service, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and other conservation groups requested in May 2019 that the study be completed prior to the renewal of any mineral leases in the Boundary Waters watershed. That request was ignored. Now, it seems that Perdue is suggesting that it is up to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to stop the mine from being built and that he could do so without an environmental study.

This is not the case: The Forest Service is required to lead on all environmental reviews and NEPA analyses of projects on federal land, in this case the Superior National Forest. The former chief of the Forest Service understood this well when he withheld consent for the renewal of these leases in 2016. Secretary Perdue seems to understand the risk the project poses to the Boundary Waters, and he originally expressed real concern for making sure no harm came to the habitat.

Photo courtesy of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.

Sportsmen and women want more from federal decision-makers than acts of good faith toward conservation goals. Instead, we’re seeing a disturbing trend of leaving the states with total responsibility for any real decisions concerning environmental review, permitting, and the protection of important fish and wildlife resources.

Twin Metals is due to submit a mine plan of operation in the coming months without public input or the level of study that would have been conducted in the cancelled mineral withdrawal study. Their proposed project on the South Kawishiwi River has the potential to pollute the Boundary Waters, Voyageur’s National Park, and Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park. The remote nature of these public lands and waters makes remediation or cleanup of any pollution essentially impossible.

And the fundamental question the cancelled study was meant to answer has never been answered: Is this the right place for a copper mine?

Photo courtesy of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.

Secretary Perdue followed up his statements in Minnesota with an op-ed in a local paper, writing, “I’m confident any plan approved to move forward would preserve the high-quality fishing, wildlife viewing, recreational opportunities and wilderness character that Minnesotans and visitors from around the world enjoy in the Boundary Waters.” Hunters, anglers, and paddlers who use the Boundary Waters do not share Secretary Perdue’s confidence.

More than 180,000 people weighed in during the Forest Service’s environmental review—the one that was halted before it could be finished—and thousands of Minnesotans turned out to public listening sessions across the state. The USDA could restore the public’s confidence by committing to completing the cancelled study and halting all mining approvals, including any federal permitting related to a mine plan of operation, until the study is released publicly.

Not all development makes sense, especially where fish and wildlife actually provide a greater value to citizens who love to hunt and fish, but also to our economy. This was the exact reason that President Theodore Roosevelt initially set aside the Superior National Forest in 1909 as a place to be protected for future generations. The Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest contain 20 percent of the fresh water in the entire 191-million-acre National Forest System and a quarter of the freshwater streams in the agency’s entire Eastern Region.

To uphold Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy, we must urge our elected officials to defend our public land and water, or future generations will pay the price for our inaction.

 

Whit Fosburgh is the president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a national nonprofit working to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.

Spencer Shaver is the conservation director for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, which works to protect the integrity of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its watersheds for huntable and fishable populations of fish and wildlife, now and forever through advocacy and education. You can take action to protect the Boundary Waters by contacting your elected officials here.

 

This story also ran on the Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters website.

Randall Williams

September 16, 2019

Unlocking Inaccessible Public Lands Doesn’t Require Landowners to Give Up Their Property Rights

When it comes to improving access to landlocked public lands, we should work with—not against—private landowners

Since we first started our work with onX on the issue of landlocked public lands, we’ve heard many variations on the same question—from the comments section of our blogs to discussions with partners and decision-makers. The answer will not only set minds at ease, but it will also help lessen any harsh divide between the sportsmen and women who need better public lands access and the Americans fortunate enough to own land that borders public land.

Q: Would unlocking these inaccessible public lands require private landowners to give up their property?

A: The simple answer is no.

There are a wide variety of strategies for opening up landlocked lands that rely on the cooperation of willing landowners and pose no threat to the property rights of others. But because this is a sensitive subject, and there’s potential for misunderstanding, let’s dive a bit deeper into these solutions.

Our work on the landlocked issue has always been guided by two fundamental premises. First, we know that the future of hunting and fishing, conservation funding, and our $887-billion outdoor recreation economy depends on there being suitable public land access. At the same time, we know that private property rights—some of our nation’s most fundamental—are sacred, and landowners have always been some of the strongest allies for not only sportsmen and women but also fish and wildlife.

In bringing attention to the scope of the landlocked public lands challenge across the West, we have never suggested that solutions for public-land users should conflict with the rights of landowners. In fact, the best-available tools with which land trusts, conservation groups, and state and federal agencies can tackle this challenge depend on engaging with private property owners who are willing to work towards a solution.

After all, many Western landowners are hunters themselves and care about the future of our outdoor heritage. Many western landowners have also played important roles in opening public lands through creative voluntary efforts, including access easements, enrolling their lands into block management programs or similar access programs administered by the states, or simply saying “yes” if someone asks to access his or her property.

Though many landlocked public lands could be accessed with permission from surrounding landowners, we don’t believe that this should be all on them. Property owners shouldn’t be expected to provide access, though many generously do.

Even though the vast majority of sportsmen are ethical and conscientious, it’s important to recognize that allowing the public to hunt on or cross one’s land can result—because of the actions of an irresponsible minority—in property damage, disruptions to farm or ranch operations, and all sorts of complicated and time-consuming situations. That’s why, when we unveiled our first landlocked report at the 2018 TRCP Western Media Summit, we invited a local rancher and landowner from southwest Montana to speak about their experiences and give attendees a window into the reality of these challenges.

On the other hand, strategic land acquisitions from willing sellers, mutually beneficial land exchanges, easements of various types, walk-in access programs, and other incentive-based initiatives led by fish and wildlife agencies—all solutions featured in our state and federal landlocked report—either eliminate these challenges or help landowners manage access in a way that works best for them, without trammeling on their rights or diminishing the value of their property.

At the end of the day, even those landowners who are not themselves sportsmen and women share many of our values: clean air, clean water, healthy land, abundant fish and wildlife and the importance of getting the next generation outside. So, while it can be tempting when presented with a difficult challenge to lay blame or point fingers, we would insist that all champions of public land focus on collaborative, cooperative solutions that respect private property rights.

 

Photo: Nicholas Putz

Marnee Banks

September 12, 2019

EPA Makes Final Move to Roll Back Clean Water Protections

Conservation groups rally together to voice support for fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, and headwater streams

Conservation groups are opposing the Administration’s rollback of the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which was finalized today. The Administration’s action will leave roughly 50 percent of wetlands and 60 percent of stream miles across the country vulnerable to pollution and destruction. The 2015 Clean Water Rule had clarified longstanding Clean Water Act protections for millions of acres of wetlands and many headwater streams that protect communities from flooding, contribute to the drinking water supplies of one in three Americans, and provide essential fish and wildlife habitat that supports a robust outdoor recreation economy worth $887 billion.

“Sportsmen and women are outside every day experiencing the benefits of clean water,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Rolling back these protections for wetlands and headwater streams threatens our hunting and fishing traditions and the outdoor economy that powers our communities.”

“No one wants to fish a lake covered in toxic algae, duck hunt in a bulldozed wetland, or pitch a tent next to a creek filled with feces,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Unfortunately, this Administration is working on multiple fronts to rewrite the rules that protect our waters, hoping no one will notice. The collective impact of these changes would be devastating for public health and wildlife across the country—and we will continue to fight to protect America’s waterways every step of the way.”

“Clean water is a basic right of every American,” says Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “To be effective, the Clean Water Act must be able to control pollution at its source. Unfortunately today’s action by the EPA places the health of 60 percent of the stream miles and the drinking water of one in three Americans at risk. Trout Unlimited will not rest, and will use all of the tools at our disposal, to compel EPA to reverse course on this misguided direction.”

“More than 100 million people across the US engage in fish- and wildlife-based recreation, approximately half of whom participate in fishing,” says Patrick Berry, president and CEO of Fly Fishers International. “It is clear the opportunities available to enjoy these outdoor pursuits is directly limited by the health of our natural systems and their ability to support healthy and abundant populations of fish and wildlife. Rolling back protections of wetlands, our lakes streams and rivers—some of the most diverse and productive wildlife habitats—not only compromises our natural heritage, but threatens the cultural and economic value of recreational fishing.”

“This rule will irreparably impact wetlands in America’s duck factory—the prairie pothole region—and threaten the health of riparian habitat critical for big game and 80 percent of all wildlife species,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “Weakened protections translate to lost access and reduced opportunities for hunting and fishing. Hunters and anglers must not stand for shortsighted polices that compromise the integrity of fish and wildlife habitats that have been safeguarded for decades under the Clean Water Act.”

“EPA’s decision to repeal the Clean Water Rule is wholly unsupported by science, can’t be squared with the clear intent of the Clean Water Act, and fails the common sense test,” says Scott Kovarovics, Executive Director of Izaak Walton League of America. “To make matters worse, this is only a prelude to the second blow when EPA finalizes a new rule later this year that will further undermine protections for small streams, wetlands, and drinking water supplies across America.”

“The EPA is tossing out 50 years of peer-reviewed science and in doing so threatens to undermine the integrity of the Nation’s waters that support fish and wildlife,” says Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society. “Allowing unchecked pollution and destruction in the waters and wetlands in the upper reaches of a watershed imperils the sustainability of fish stocks in both upstream and downstream waters and places valuable recreational fisheries and endangered species at risk.”

In a 2018 poll, 80 percent of sportsmen and women said Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands. Additionally, 92 percent believe that we should strengthen or maintain current clean water standards, not relax them.

More information about the proposed changes to the Clean Water Rule is available HERE.

Randall Williams

August 22, 2019

Colorado Sportsmen and Women Welcome Governor Polis’s Action for Wildlife

New executive order on migration corridors will help conserve big game herds and protect Colorado’s investment in wildlife

Sportsmen/women organizations today gathered in Idaho Springs to support Governor Jared Polis’ executive order to preserve historic migration corridors and winter ranges, along with family hunting and fishing traditions for future generations.

The order directs state departments to coordinate with federal, state, and local governments, private landowners, sportsmen and women, and others to protect wildlife through conservation of migration corridors. The long-term effort directs state departments to explore scientific mapping, historical information, and partnerships that will streamline habitat protection efforts.

Rapid growth in Colorado has created barriers and obstacles to migration corridors for bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose, antelope, mule deer, elk, and even trout. The governor’s order allows departments to incorporate planning and public education and to use government resources more efficiently in order to both protect wildlife and prevent wildlife-vehicle traffic collisions in the future. Hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-related recreation opportunities are a large part of our healthy Colorado economy and generate more than $5 billion in annual economic output. Protecting wildlife corridors from development is good for sportsmen and our economy.

Gov. Polis’ executive order will ensure that growth in Colorado is balanced, while preserving our western sporting traditions.

Colorado sportsmen/women groups had high praise for Gov. Polis’ leadership:

“As someone who has hunted across the West, I am deeply appreciative of Governor Polis’ executive order. Protecting migration corridors protects our sporting traditions and the wildlife all Coloradans enjoy. This is a seminal moment in our state’s conservation history that will be celebrated for generations to come,” said Kassi Smith, Artemis Ambassador for Colorado, National Wildlife Federation.

“Trout Unlimited is thrilled to work with a governor so dedicated to protecting fish and wildlife. Gov. Polis’ innovative vision to dedicate funding and create partnerships to develop important wildlife migration routes and protect migration corridors and riparian areas crucial to wildlife health is lauded by sportsmen in Colorado,” said Scott Willoughby, Colorado coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsman’s Conservation Project.

“The vision and specific directives of this executive order will help spur collaboration between state and federal agencies, private landowners, non-profit organizations and other stakeholders so that Colorado’s irreplaceable big game migration corridors and winter range are maintained,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.

“Migration corridors are essential for healthy herds and wildlife habitat. Since 2001, Colorado has lost more than half a million acres of habitat due to development and our growing population. Governor Polis’ executive order has given sportsmen and women a valuable tool to protect migration corridors, and BHA thanks the governor for his leadership on this issue,” said Don Holmstrom, co-chair of the Colorado chapter of the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

“Migration corridor conservation is a significant challenge facing our wildlife and hunting heritage, and Governor Polis’ executive order sets Colorado apart as a leader on this issue. Sportsmen and women appreciate the governor’s leadership, and we stand ready to work with state and federal agencies, landowners, and industry to ensure our big game herds can continue to access the seasonal habitats they need to thrive,” said Madeleine West, deputy director of Western lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

 

Photo: floptical1 via Flickr

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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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