Mia Sheppard

February 27, 2017

Elliott State Forest: The Poster Child for What Could Happen to America’s Public Lands

There can be no confusion—Western states are in the business of selling public lands to make ends meet

Last week, the Oregon State Land Board voted to sell 82,000 acres of one of the most celebrated public lands in Oregon—the Elliott State Forest. The sale was on and then off and then on again in an ongoing saga, but now its fate seems relatively sealed: The Elliott is the poster child for what could happen to America’s public lands in the hands of individual states.

For Sale: One Public Lands Legacy

The Elliott is considered one of the best recreation areas on the Oregon coast, as it borders Loon Lake and is very close to the BLM’s Dean Creek Elk Management Area and Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area, providing unmatched experiences for local hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts. The lush forest and steep hillsides are layered with tall fir and cedar trees that provide phenomenal habitat for Roosevelt elk. Wild trout, steelhead, and salmon can all be found running the cool waters within the forest as well.

In support of the Common School Fund—established in 1859 to benefit Oregon’s public education system—state trust lands like the Elliott are used to generate revenue, mostly through sustainable timber harvest. However, recent restrictions and lawsuits have limited logging, and ownership of the forest has actually been a financial drain on the state, rather than a source of income. The state started talking about selling back in June of 2014.

The Elliott State Forest provides phenomenal habitat for Roosevelt elk. Image courtesy of Dean Finnerty. Header image courtesy of Oregon Department of Forestry.
A Lose-Lose for Our Kids

As a mother, I can speak for the Oregonians caught in the middle—we want to raise our kids camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing in the outdoors, but we also care deeply about our state’s school system and whether it’s properly funded. I would very much like to find a solution for public education, but not at the risk of robbing our kids of valuable time spent on public lands.

For Dean Finnerty, a longtime hunter and outfitter—and a father—what’s happening with the Elliott is personal, too. Last year, I explored some of his favorite parts of the forest with him. As we drove down gravel roads, twisting and turning through stands of trees, he explained the situation from a hunter’s perspective. “The forests surrounding the Elliott are mostly privately owned and during archery season each and every year, all of the private lands are totally closed off to public access. For a sportsmen like myself, the only game in town is the Elliott!”

Dean and I came to a road blocked by a gate with a ‘No trespassing’ sign nailed to a tree. “The land behind the gate is one of several parcels sold by the state early on,” Dean explained. “It used to be a part of the Elliott State Forest, but is now owned by a private timber company. My boys and I used to hunt fall and spring black bear and pursue elk during archery season on that land. Not anymore.”

“The forests surrounding the Elliott are mostly privately owned and during archery season each and every year, all of the private lands are totally closed off to public access.” Image courtesy of Dean Finnerty.
Don’t Hand Over Our Land

With the sale of the Elliott now official, many other sportsmen will have similar stories to tell. At this point, there is no clear action to prevent the sale. The best thing we can do—both as parents and as Americans who care deeply about the future of our hunting and fishing traditions—is to stay engaged to prevent the mismanagement and sale of other public lands.

A good first step will be keeping our lawmakers from handing more of our national public lands over to the states. After all, Western states have proven over time that they are in the business of selling land to make ends meet. Oregon alone has already sold all but 776,000 acres of the 3.4 million acres it was granted upon statehood. Learn more and sign the petition supporting public lands at sportsmensaccess.org.

It’s up to us to make sure this example ends with the Elliott.

Mia Sheppard

February 15, 2017

No Trespassing Signs on Public Lands? It Isn’t What You Think

These days, it seems that everybody wants a piece of America’s public lands all to themselves. But the strategists behind the land transfer movement aren’t the only ones creating confusion to keep you from your public lands.

This fall, we received the following inquiry from a hunter in Oregon.

Q: What should I do when I find a “no trespassing” sign on public lands?

To whom it may concern,

I have a question regarding the posting of ‘No Trespassing’ signs on public land. I hunt late-season blacktails on public land in the Soda Mountain Wilderness of southern Oregon. The wilderness is adjacent to BLM lands and private lands.

I use the OnXMaps mapping service on my phone, and I always make sure to stay off of private land while I’m hunting, so I thought it was weird when I saw ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted within the wilderness boundaries. Even though I assumed the signs were incorrectly placed, I stayed off of the so-called private property and headed down the hill to my truck. At the trailhead, there was a landowner trying to find who had been hunting on his property. He threatened to have the trailhead closed and to prosecute the alleged trespasser to the maximum extent of the law. He wasn’t specifically accusing me, but was heavily insinuating it.

I pursued the issue and looked up BLM and wilderness maps online; they all showed that the landowner had placed ‘No Trespassing’ signs well into public lands.

It seems like there should be a significant penalty for this misconduct, but I cannot find any information regarding this issue.

Any tips or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

-Jason Y.
Coos Bay, OR

The line between public and private lands must be respected, from both sides. Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

We thought it was an excellent question because, as in the fight against state takeover of national public lands, we don’t believe the hunting and fishing public should get locked out so that a select few can benefit.

A: Let officials know, and be courteous.

From my point of view as a fellow Oregon public lands hunter, I can understand why you’d want to avoid this kind of confrontation and get to the bottom of things. It’s hard to say whether this landowner truly was mistaken about his property line or putting on an aggressive show. I reached out to Sean Carothers, a former BLM law enforcement officer in central Oregon, for his take on what to do next.

“I would contact the appropriate BLM district—I believe that’s the Medford District—and ask to speak with the law enforcement staff there,” says Carothers. “The BLM has regulations about ‘Interfering with Lawful Use’ and posting public lands as private is a classic example of that.

“At the very least, a ranger will go out and remove the signs. If it’s possible to identify the person who put the signs up, they will contact them and clear up any confusion about where the boundaries are and document the conversation so if it happens again, there’s a record for future enforcement. It could be a simple misunderstanding or it could be someone claiming public lands as his own. Either way, if the land truly is public, the signs are illegal and the district should do something,” he says.

The way I see it, in these vast landscapes interwoven with public and private lands, the improved mobile mapping technology we have at our disposal is now more accurate than what we had decades ago, but that doesn’t make them flawless. Fences or ‘No Trespassing’ signs may be misplaced, but we as sportsmen need to be respectful, and give the landowners the benefit of the doubt.

If you have any question, please take the higher ground and heed Sean’s advice: Call the BLM and let their law enforcement experts handle it. Be sure to take note of the precise location as well. Screenshots of your maps, pictures of the fences or signs, as well as the coordinates of your whereabouts are all good to pass on. The BLM can take it from there.

“Fences or ‘No Trespassing’ signs may be misplaced, but we as sportsmen need to be respectful, and give the landowners the benefit of the doubt.” Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

Part of being public lands proud and an original conservationist is being a good steward of the land—this includes respect for both public and private boundaries, even when you’re in the right and someone else might be mistaken. Someday you might need to knock on that landowner’s door to ask his permission to retrieve lawfully taken game that crossed onto his accurately marked property.

It’s important to remember that we’re all doing PR for hunting and fishing, in every social media post and every interaction with a non-sportsman. And we’ll come to rely on the image and relationships we’ve built as we work to uphold Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy and our country’s rich history of public lands access.

Mia Sheppard

June 29, 2016

We All Benefit From Public Access, But Are You Willing to Step Up to Defend It?

The loss of a popular public access point hits home for our Oregon field rep, but luckily this story doesn’t end with a locked gate

At the TRCP, we’re always talking about the importance of sportsmen’s access to the strength of our outdoor recreation economy and the funding that eventually goes back into conservation. Access is a galvanizing issue for so many hunters and anglers because it’s tangible—it’s how we get on the water. It’s where we take our kids hunting or where we harvested our first mule deer. These special places are fully formed in our minds. They’re places that we’d fight to protect and be heartbroken to lose.

If you ask me what’s at stake when I think of public access, I picture a river in central Oregon, where a solo float or walk along the ridges leaves you mesmerized by rim-rock canyons full of mule deer and bighorn sheep and smelling of juniper. It’s the third-longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states, and while the river is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, much of it is surrounded by private land, limiting access to just a few spots. In fact, until a few years ago, there wasn’t a day-long float to be had in the lower 137 miles of the river.

Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that a major point of access—one that I use regularly—was closed by the county and state park. They just put up a locked gate. It kicked me into high gear to find out what was happening and if I could do anything to reverse this shocking decision.

Luckily, these issues are of public concern, and the county commissioners held a public meeting to address the closure. Local sportsmen, ranchers, and other groups turned out in support of public access and shared why this particular put-in was so important to the community. One sportsman said, “I’ve been fishing this river for 30 years and this access point allows me to float the river in a day.” In the end, the county agreed that a plan needed to be put in place to make this access point a legal boat ramp, where anglers had some assurances that they wouldn’t arrive to find a locked gate. In the end, all local agencies agreed to temporarily open this ramp until a permanent solution could be implemented.

Leaving the room, I felt like we’d won a small victory, but I also recognized that my voice in the public process is more effective than I thought.

Yours is, too. We’re all busy—school’s out and our kids have camp and music lessons and we just want to get out on the river before sundown. But, from this experience and many others, I can’t stress enough how important it is for sportsmen to show up, and speak up, for our access to public lands and waters.

Image courtesy of Mia Sheppard.

Anglers, hunters, boaters, and outfitters need these opportunities, and we all need quality habitat once we get out there. Without it, hunting and fishing can’t contribute to our rural economies, and our traditions could be in serious jeopardy. Just one access point or parcel of public land means countless jobs, dollars, and hours afield for sportsmen and women.

If just one of us speaks up for our way of life, why shouldn’t it be you? Let your voice be heard and speak up for sportsmen’s access on public lands.

Mia Sheppard

March 31, 2016

Compassion: A Surprising Ingredient in the Recipe for Cool, Clean Water

Our Oregon field rep hangs up her waders for a high-profile public-speaking opportunity in D.C., where she discovers a spirit of hope for water solutions

Last year, Oregon experienced the worst drought on record, with many adverse effects on our rivers and fish. I saw firsthand the results of drought and dam regulations in my own backyard on the Deschutes River, renowned for its native Redside trout. Water temperatures reached up to 74 degrees as salmon arrived, searching for a cooler refuge from the Columbia River—but the cooler water wasn’t there. The rising water temperatures caused an algae bloom that clung to the banks and rocks. Warm-water macroinvertabrates, such as water skippers, were abundant, but the expected cool-water mayflies and stoneflies were few and far between.

The river I knew was almost unrecognizable.

Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

Access to suitable water resources seems like a human right, but our fish and wildlife have rights to clean, cool water, too. As an angler, I know that salmon, steelhead, and trout need the right water conditions to thrive. While there are some policies in place that begin to help during a drought crisis, we need federal decision-makers to prioritize actions that invest long-term in better water quality for healthy, viable rivers and our outdoor recreation opportunities.

I recently hung up my waders to walk the halls of the Eisenhower building, part of the White House complex, in a navy blue suit. And I felt the energy of change, as people hustled around me.

In celebration of World Water Day, the White House convened a water summit where innovators, policy-makers, advocates, and media were gathered to discuss our country’s water future. I was honored to attend and share my personal connection with water through fishing, especially as one of the only representatives of the sportsmen’s community. I had three minutes to reflect on the importance of considering fish, wildlife, and outdoor opportunities in concert with infrastructure challenges, human consumption, and water use for agriculture and forestry. I talked about the Deschutes and found myself getting choked up as I told the crowd, “When fish lose, we lose.” I guess that was the moment that I really felt the impact of what I’d seen during the drought and dam regulators were drawing  the warmer surface water of Lake Billy Chinook

Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

I felt confident and composed, however, when I shared that the TRCP’s petition recognizing serious threats to rivers and streams and calling on federal decision-makers for action has been signed by more than 1,000 sportsmen and women. It was nice to know these kindred spirits were standing with me, in a sense, at the podium.

As the summit came to a close, Pueblo Tribal Councilman Nelson Cordova from Taos, New Mexico, recited a prayer in his native tongue asking for the wisdom, strength, and compassion to deal with our water issues. Compassion, which was the last thing I expected from a D.C. crowd in suits and heels, was certainly what I heard from longtime colleagues, strangers, and local anglers after my speech. I’d shown more emotion than I’d intended, but many people assured me they felt the same way.

If you want to learn more about the changing water conditions on the Deschutes River, click here.

Mia Sheppard

January 19, 2016

An Ode to Oregon, Access, and My Dogs

For our Oregon field rep, the events of the last three weeks are personal. So is her story

Oregon is my home, and it’s an incredibly special place, where I have access to hunting and fishing in rugged country with the most spectacular views, including more than 10 million acres of public land. Practically out my back door, I can float, fish a run, catch a steelhead, and then go for a hike with the dogs and gun searching for chukars on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) backcountry land. I’ve hunted places like the Deschutes River  for years, so I know exactly where to go to find the spots where sagebrush and bitterbrush intermingle and birds are abundant. I’ve crossed many a rusty fence and watched chukars dive from the breaks to escape #6-shot pellets by the dozen.

Image courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

This is the ultimate opportunity to experience wide-open, undisturbed landscapes and watch my dogs work. Cedar, our 10-year-old veteran Pudelpointer, does most of the work while Eddy, the new Munsterlander pup, plays. We’re not even 15 minutes from the boat, at times, before Cedar smells the air vigorously and starts following the scent.

His tail starts wagging faster and faster, his shoulders drop, he points, and starts creeping in. Maybe he stops, moves in a little closer, and suddenly the birds flush, just out of range. No shots taken. We’ll keep working the sagebrush flat while the wind is in our favor. In the distance, I’ve noticed mule deer watching our every move. We hike back and float to the next corner, where we can cover new territory, that hasn’t been hunted today.

These areas—where muleys and bighorn sheep are more likely to be found than reporters and news-trucks—they’re mine and they’re yours. That’s why the last few weeks have been so frustrating. The disruption caused by the extremists occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is taxing for the people who live and recreate here. The Refuge is typically open to hunting and fishing—but not today. What they’re doing is at odds with everything I love about a day like the one I’ve just described.

I’m anxious to get back to the boat, and float to the next corner. I think we all are.

Mia Sheppard

September 24, 2015

Why Fishpond Founder Supports Land and Water Conservation Funding

As an angler and a bird hunter, I cherish opportunities to float Oregon’s beautiful rivers and explore my state’s wide open spaces. Part of that exploration process is poring over maps or using my GPS to navigate the polygons of privately- and publicly-owned land to find the places I can access. Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t know that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is responsible for some of our state’s best public access. Now that I understand what LWCF does, and why it’s so important to fish and wildlife, I’ve been working to rally support for reauthorizing this critical fund, which is due to expire at the end of the month. And I’m not alone. Recently, 114 hunting and fishing industry business leaders voiced their support for the LWCF. Read on to find out why Fishpond founder Johnny LeCoq felt so strongly about signing our letter to Congress.

First, a brief history. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established in 1965 as a bipartisan commitment to a simple idea: Invest a small portion of federal offshore drilling fees towards protecting important land, water, and recreation areas for all Americans to support the outdoor economy. Since its inception, the fund has been used to invest over $16 billion in conservation and outdoor recreation, including the establishment of new public fishing areas, new corridors into previously inaccessible public lands, conservation easements and the acquisition of new public land parcels for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and the sporting public.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Stumpf.

Find out about projects funded in your state by clicking here.

This fund is due to expire, and without reauthorization from Congress, we will lose critical conservation dollars. This July, I attended IFTD to build business support for LWCF. At the show, I met Johnny LeCoq, founder and CEO of Fishpond and Lilypond, which are brands designed and manufactured for the fishing and outdoor enthusiast. Johnny has created his company with the philosophy that innovation, design, and a responsibility towards the environment are critical to the success of his business.

Johnny knows why LWCF is so important and why Congress needs to fully fund it. This is what he had to say at the North American Wildlife Conference last year:

“The economics behind LWCF demands that we get the full funding appropriated for our natural resources. It is critical to my own business that depends on our watersheds, and just as important to every individual that values our open space, and public access for so many forms of recreation and enjoyment. The public access component of LWCF is crucial for the future of our hunting and fishing industry,” he said.

Here’s the vision Johnny shared for the next 50 years of conservation work in America: One of collaboration. No longer can we look to Washington or our state governments to pave the necessary path for a sustainable future. We need to create private-public partnerships that leverage the strength of both sectors. From businesses like Fishpond to the private landowners who are willing to place their farmland or ranchland into conservation easements, we need to find valuable partners who will help tell the story of how our public lands and waters are linked to a growing economy and uniquely American way of life.

Image courtesy of Fishpond.

Johnny encouraged the entire Outdoor Recreation Industry, where thousands of companies are represented, to help lead the push for full funding of LWCF—and not to stop there. “It is the responsibility of these American businesses to use the power of their consumer reach to raise additional funds to augment a shortfall of the hundreds of millions of dollars in conservation needs,” he said. “Government funding and taxes alone will not be enough to get us through our environmental challenges, and it will be important for companies like Fishpond to creatively join forces with government and non-profit groups to collaboratively reach our goals.”

If you’re like me and Johnny, please tell Congress to fully and permanently reauthorize the LWCF and protect hunting, fishing, and the recreational industry for years to come. It’s easy to do. Just click here.

Recently, 114 hunting and fishing industry business leaders, voiced their support for the LWCF. Read on to find out why Fishpond founder Johnny LeCoq felt so strongly about signing our letter to Congress. 

Mia Sheppard

December 2, 2014

Experiencing the John Day River in Oregon – and addressing threats to public lands

Southeast and central Oregon are known for vast landscapes of sagebrush steppe and basalt rim rock. This wide open country provides important habitat for numerous species of big game, upland birds and trout. It also offers access to outstanding public lands hunting.

As a sportsman, outfitter and mother, I believe that one of the most important challenges of our time is to ensure that these places are conserved so that when my daughter grows up, she can enjoy the same experiences and opportunities that I have had.

Some of the state’s best hunting for mule deer and chukar, as well as fishing for steelhead, trout and smallmouth bass, occur on rivers and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

Photo by Mia Sheppard.

For example, the John Day River is the third longest undammed river in the Lower 48. It also is a stronghold for wild steelhead. The John Day is in my “backyard,” and, as a local fishing outfitter, I take pride in sharing this river with visitors and other anglers.

My husband and I have outfitted on the John Day River since 2001 and annually bring close to 180 people to the local area where they fish, shop, stay in hotels and eat at restaurants. Visitors are mesmerized by the rim rock canyons, the smell of juniper and the solitude experienced on a John Day River float. These experiences connect visitors with something greater than themselves while supporting a major component of Oregon’s rural economy. Public lands are a boon for those who travel from across the country and world to enjoy them, as well as those who call these places home.

As ardent public land users, we know firsthand that public lands in Oregon are faced with increasing pressures. Growing demands for renewable energy resources, uncharacteristic wild fires, fire suppression, invasive species, loss of public access, excessive road and trail densities, and contentious political debates have the potential to diminish the value of public lands for fish, wildlife and sportsmen.

Photo by Mia Sheppard.

These issues aren’t easy to deal with, but it’s our duty as sportsmen and recreational users to be a smarter, more powerful voice in the natural resource policy debate in order to ensure that the special places where we recreate are conserved, restored and enhanced. We must communicate to state and federal decision makers that the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat – and high quality hunting and fishing –  needs to be a management priority.

Intact and unfragmented public land habitats offer some of the best remaining hunting and fishing available on federal lands in the state of Oregon. These unique areas are valuable national resources that should be managed and conserved for future generations. Our hunting and angling heritage, as well as Oregon’s $12.8 billion outdoor recreation economy, depend on it.

Contact the BLM and let them know your public land is important for your hunting and fishing opportunities. 

Mia Sheppard

September 30, 2014

Opportunity taken

The author with her bounty.
Image by Mia Sheppard.

I love the game of chasing chukar and watching bird dogs work the sagebrush of arid ranges in my home state of Oregon. Earlier this month, I decided to take my chances on another upland bird: the greater sage grouse. With the controversy surrounding the bird and its possible listing in 2015 under the Endangered Species Act, I decided to apply for a controlled hunt permit with the hope that this wouldn’t be my last opportunity to pursue the bird.

The sage grouse is a Western icon, known for its unique, breast-inflating courtship dance. It inhabits sagebrush rangelands throughout the West. State and federal agencies, ranchers, environmentalists and sportsmen are working diligently and cooperatively to prevent the bird’s ESA listing, which would eliminate any future opportunity for sportsmen to hunt sage grouse – and would have significant implications for other resource uses across 11 states.

The sagebrush ecosystem where these magnificent birds thrive is also home to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including many pursued by sportsmen. Mule deer, pronghorn, elk and other species all need healthy, intact sagebrush habitat for their survival. If we imaging a huge tent or umbrella with all these species protected beneath it, conserving sage grouse habitat translates into good wildlife and rangeland conservation. Sagebrush conservation is good for our nation’s economy, too, especially in rural communities.

Sustaining and enhancing large, intact sagebrush ecosystems is vital for sage grouse and conservation of more than 350 species of plants and animals that rely on these habitats.
Image by Mia Sheppard.

Oregon is one of the few states a person can hunt sage grouse with a controlled hunting permit, with a two-bird limit per permit. In 2013, 659 people hunted sage grouse throughout Central and Southeast Oregon. Each of these sportsmen spent money on gas, food, lodging and gear for each hunt, and those dollars get distributed across rural areas all across the state.

After the postcard arrived in the mail validating that I drew a permit, the pre-planning began. My shotgun had not been fired for months and needed to be fitted, so I delivered it to a local gunsmith. Next, I had to decide where to go. The area I drew was in the Lakeview Bureau of Land Management district. Within that unit there is more than 1 million acres of public land available for hunting. I called the district biologist and a couple ranchers for their recommendations on places to go. I studied the BLM district maps for access roads and coordinated meeting a friend who also drew a tag. The trip was coming together.

Image by Mia Sheppard.

With my gear packed and the dog ready to go, I began the five-hour journey to my destination. Some might wonder why I would hunt a bird that only has a bag limit of two and only a weeklong season. I see this as an opportunity to hunt a new place, experience wide-open spaces and watch bird dogs do what they do best – find birds!

The next morning we woke up early to get the dogs ready and drink that first cup of joe. Driving down the bumpy road anticipating the first bird, the dogs could sense our excitement. We parked near a spring, got the collars on the dogs and dusted off the guns. The sagebrush aroma filled my lungs, and Cedar, my pudalpointer, started working like a veteran. Though he never had hunted sage grouse before, he worked with authority searching for birds. This wasn’t his first rodeo.

We walked miles covering a flat, and after a few hours, we saw movement in the distance. It was a covey of sage grouse. The cover was low, and we were exposed, just like the birds, so we decided to walk a wide circle around them and approach them up wind. Keeping our eyes on the birds, we slowly moved in. They quickly spotted us and started walking. Soon they were out of shooting range, eventually flying off, splitting in two directions and landing a couple hundred yards away.

We decided to break apart and ambush the birds. Cedar and I worked the near side while Mellissa and her dogs worked in the distance. We eventually spotted the birds and moved in. They held, and Cedar crept in. The sage grouse looked at us. I moved in closer and closer. Finally they took wing. I took a shot, and a bird fell. Cedar circled around for the retrieve and pranced back with the smile of success.

Image by Mia Sheppard.

Sportsmen can’t afford another loss of opportunity if the sage grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act. Nor can sportsmen remain silent – our voices must be heard, and we must advocate for solid state and federal conservation plans for sage grouse that also will protect other species we enjoy pursuing. With hunter participation declining across the West, we must act and get involved to ensure sage grouse habitat is conserved and a listing is avoided. Sportsmen must define our own destiny and help conserve wildlife to retain all our opportunities – as well as those for future generations.

Mia Sheppard

August 19, 2014

Fire Management Needs Funds

Oregon is known for vast landscapes of sagebrush steppe and lush forest. These wide-open countries provide both access and important habitat for numerous species of big game, birds and trout and, consequently, offers outstanding public lands hunting.

These open spaces are at risk with continued spread of noxious weeds that contribute to frequent fire events. Invasive weeds such as cheatgrass a Eurasian exotic, dry quickly, are highly flammable and degrade habitat. This year, dry weather, lightning and fuel sources like cheatgrass has currently resulted in nearly 600, 00 acres burning across Oregon’s landscapes, the cost to fight fires is great for agencies and taxpayers. 2013 was the second most expensive wildfire year on record for the state, with an estimated $183 million going to fighting Oregon’s wildfires.

Courtesy of OR Dept. of Transportation/Kevin Halesworth

According to Oregon Forest Resource Institute; fire suppression, while beneficial in the short term, can have long-term negative effects. The exclusion of natural wildfire can, result in dense, overstocked forests with an overabundance of understory that would normally be removed by natural fires. The cost of thinning one acre of overstocked forestland is $500 while the cost of fighting a fire on that same acre of forestland is $5,000. Also, vital habitat projects are delayed because of lack of funding such as a culvert project in the Siuslaw National Forest. The project cost was $192,000 needed to replace two undersized and failing culverts but deferred to cover suppression cost.

A bipartisan measure sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden and Mike Crapo and cosponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley called for a vote on the Wildfire Disaster Funding that would shift excess fire suppression costs away from the Forest Service budget. Not only would this restore appropriated dollars to programs vital to proper forestry management and wildlife conservation, it would reinvest needed dollars into wildfire prevention programs which would mitigate the risk of these “catastrophic” wildfires.

With persistent droughts, dry forest conditions the West is experiencing a harsh fire season. Currently there are active fires burning in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and California. The administration already estimates that this year’s funding for firefighting will fall short of the costs. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act can help shift those cost. Contact your senators today and ask them to support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.

Mia Sheppard

April 25, 2014

Three things you need to know about catch and release fishing

Mia releasing summer steelhead
The author releases a summer steelhead in British Columbia. Photo courtesy of Mia and Marty Sheppard.

When our daughter was three she watched her dad harvest a hatchery steelhead; it was the first time she had ever seen one of us kill a fish. Horrified, she almost started to cry. We had to console her and explain that it was OK, that the fish was from a hatchery and was produced for take. In her mind, all fish should be catch and release, and to this day she still believes all fish should be returned to the water.

I practice catch and release, but don’t take me for a purist. I love to eat fish! I commercial fished in Alaska for three years, harvesting millions of pounds of crab and salmon for consumption. I indulged in eating the catch of crab, sockeye, kings, cod and halibut.

The decision to catch and release is a personal choice. Sport fishing isn’t just about the catching; it’s an excuse to see beautiful places, fish new water and, when I’m lucky, feel the take of a curious fish, watching my reel spin and hang on for the ride. It’s the experience of connecting with a life form that is powerful and mysterious.

Catch and release is also about healthy returns for future anglers. I believe every fish returned is an opportunity for another angler. Returning fish also gives that species a chance to spawn, and more spawners contribute to more angling opportunity and healthier runs. Plus, older fish produce more offspring.

As a sportswoman, I want to see more fishing opportunities in the future, and if releasing fish will increase my opportunity for healthier runs then it’s one less fish in the cooler and one more fish for the future.

Techniques for catch and release:

Pinch down the barbs on all of your hooks

I pinch down all my barbs and have found that I do not lose more fish. You’ll be surprised how few fish you lose using barbless hooks. Barbless hooks allow for a quicker release with less damage to the fish’s mouth. You can use pliers to pinch down the barbs or you can carefully file them off large hooks.

Keep the fish in the water

Lifting fish out of the water stresses them. Remove the hook with your hand or with pliers and let the fish swim away. This should go without saying but do not drag your fish up onto the shore or riverbank. Research has shown that keeping a fish in the water dramatically increases its chances of survival. You can get beautiful photos of the fish still in the water.

Keep your hands wet when handling fish

If you do handle a fish and you do it with dry hands, it can cause some of the protective coating or “slime” on the fish’s skin to come off. This coating is designed to protect fish from disease. Wet hands reduce this risk and can actually make it a little easier to handle your catch. Some anglers prefer soft wet gloves.

Learn more about catch and release practices. Happy angling!