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If you’ve ever doubted the fragility of our nation’s wildlife resources, a recent incident in western Montana will erase those doubts. A single truck accident wiped out one-third of the bighorn lambs in the lower Rock Creek drainage, the Missoulian reported.
This accident is particularly devastating given that the wild sheep in Rock Creek and across the West already was hammered by an outbreak of pneumonia, which is transmitted to bighorns by domestic sheep and goats. In addition to the wild sheep deaths directly attributable to pneumonia, the lingering effects of the disease are predicted to reduce bighorn numbers even further. Several years of poor lamb recruitment will follow a pneumonic outbreak, making the loss of those lambs in Rock Creek particularly tragic.
Physical separation of domestic sheep and goats from wild sheep is essential to prevent the transmission of the respiratory disease. Earlier this year the TRCP, working in concert with the Wild Sheep Foundation and others, successfully removed a damaging amendment to the House appropriations bill for interior, environment and related agencies. The rider would have prevented the implementation of a management plan designed to provide that critical separation between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep grazing on public lands in the Payette National Forest in Idaho. When you consider the fragile state of bighorns throughout the West, the importance of this initiative to help protect them is clear.
Stories like this drive home the importance of proactive wildlife management and highlight the critical work of TRCP and our partners, organizations that are working to ensure healthy fish and wildlife populations through science-based management and policy. Resource management based in current science remains crucially important to strong natural resources policy – not only to wildlife like bighorn sheep, but also to sportsmen.
The tragedy in Rock Creek reminds us that we can never take our fish and wildlife for granted and we must not falter in our efforts to ensure these precious natural resources remain for generations to come.
Kim Rhode is a double trap and skeet shooter who made her debut in the 1996 Olympics where, at the age of 16, she became the youngest female gold medalist in the history of Olympic shooting. Since then she has medaled in the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Earlier this year, Kim took some time to speak with the TRCP about shooting, hunting and her Olympic experiences.
What are some of your earliest experiences with shooting?
Kim: Shooting has been passed down from generation-to-generation in my family. My grandfather was a hounds-man and an avid outdoorsman. He taught my dad, my dad taught my mom and they eventually taught me.
So you were a hunter before you ever tried skeet, trap and sporting clays?
Kim: Oh yes! I was into hunting prior to any competition. I hunted birds, deer, bear; I even went on a hunting trip to Africa. I’ve always been very active in the outdoors. I also love fishing for trout, salmon and steelhead.
Growing up we were very active. Those are some of the best memories of mine. Sitting around the campfire with my grandfathers and uncles telling hunting stories like, ‘the deer was THIS big!’ It was just fantastic. I hope to share my passion for the outdoors with my kids one day.
What was the first gun you ever shot and what are you shooting now?
Kim: Wow, I don’t even remember the first gun I ever shot. I know that when I first started competing I was using a Remington 1100 youth model. Then I went to a Perazzi.
I was so small at the time that I had a hard time getting any type of gas-operated gun to fit me. They were always too big and I was fighting the gun. The fit of your gun is something that’s so important in shooting.
What’s your favorite thing to hunt?
Kim: I have to say some of the bigger game but bird hunting is awesome too. It is super fun and exciting, especially when I get to go out with my family and friends.
I would imagine there aren’t many missed birds…
Kim: Well anyone who says they don’t miss is a liar. Everybody misses; the trick is to not miss when it counts the most.
What are some of your views on conservation?
Kim: Living here in Los Angeles, there are so many people who are completely out of touch with the outdoors. They just don’t go out and appreciate the beauty that’s out there. They spend so much time on the computer or watching television that they totally miss looking around and taking in the beauty and splendor of nature. One issue I see with our youth today is the technology factor, trying to get them off the games and get them outside.
It’s really important that children understand the heritage and the conservation side of things because it goes hand in hand with hunting and the outdoors. Hunting is about tradition and passing something on just as much as it is about land management and conservation.
Can you tell us what it’s like to win a medal at the Olympics?
Kim: It’s really about the journey. It’s not about the gold, the silver, the bronze or anything like that. Of course that is a fantastic part of it but when you’re standing on the podium, watching the American flag go to the top of the pole, you aren’t thinking about the medal. You are thinking about all the experiences that got you there. The journey is what keeps me going back – overcoming obstacles, succeeding when people say you can’t and representing your country. It’s such an honor. I’m so blessed.
We know citizens of our nation need energy. But how do the needs of fish, wildlife and wild places fit into the equation?
Like energy, these natural resources are important – a fact that sportsmen know to be true. Yet, as forms of energy development such as oil, gas, solar, wind and geothermal continue to increase, the threats to public-lands hunting and fishing opportunities across the country can be overlooked or outright ignored.
While energy development is a legitimate use of our public lands, projects must be planned and pursued in a way that balances commodity production with conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and upholds the public’s opportunities to access and enjoy these lands, including for uses such as hunting and angling.
While energy development, mining and other extractive industries remain an important part of the Western economy, employment in those sectors has been cyclical.
Counties with a higher percentage of public lands managed for conservation and recreation report higher levels of job and population growth than those with higher percentages of lands managed for commodity production.
Think about it this way: Would you want your entire retirement portfolio in one company’s stock or even one mutual fund? Most people seek a balanced portfolio to weather economic storms and cycles. This is exactly what balancing energy and wildlife can provide our nation’s economy.
Sportsmen fuel an estimated $821 billion dollar per-year economy that provides reliable jobs and economic stability across the country, especially in rural communities. This reality must be a factor when we contemplate energy development that jeopardizes fish and wildlife habitat and our sporting opportunities.
Other recent studies have documented dramatic effects to fish and wildlife when the balance is upset. For example, after a decade of intensive oil and gas development in the Pinedale Anticline region in southwestern Wyoming, once-abundant mule deer populations plummeted more than 60 percent. Sage grouse and pronghorn also have sustained negative impacts in the region, resulting in fewer opportunities for sportsmen – and diminished economic benefits for communities.
Yet some state and federal legislators are moving to eliminate or hinder bedrock conservation laws and programs that have benefited fish, wildlife and sportsmen for decades and sustain some of our best remaining habitats.
Federal energy legislation recently passed in the House of Representatives would undermine responsible public lands energy management and jeopardize our American sporting traditions by prioritizing energy development over other land uses and stifling the public’s ability to participate in decisions regarding the administration of our public resources. Moreover, the House bill is a solution in search of a problem: There are almost 40 million acres of public lands that have been leased for oil and gas development in the last decade. The energy industry is sitting on most of its drilling permits, waiting for prices to increase.
The TRCP is working to safeguard our sporting traditions and ensure that energy development is balanced with the needs of fish and wildlife. Our FACTS for Fish and Wildlife defines principles for balanced development. The TRCP Sportsmen Values Mapping Project utilizes your input to identify high-value areas – with the resulting maps demonstrating to decision makers where energy, fish and wildlife, and sportsmen’s values are or are not compatible.
The TRCP’s Center for Responsible Energy Development will continue to promote sportsmen’s values in land planning processes and in policy debates. We are committed to assuring that energy project planning and execution is balanced with – and not prioritized over – fish, wildlife and the economic benefits supported by you, the American sportsman.
Southeast Oregon high desert is rugged and compelling country with over 4 million acres for the public to access. From the breaks of the Owyhee and Malheur Rivers to the rugged mountains of the Oregon Canyon Mountains, the topography is rich with sagebrush and native grass ecosystems supporting abundant wildlife.
Big game such as mule deer, California big horn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, as well as upland birds such as sage grouse, chukar, California quail and native trout are present here.
The redband trout population in the Malheur River is thought to be derived from the Columbia Basin redband trout when a lava flow isolated the basin from the Malheur River drainage 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.
I set out to explore the countryside and fish the rivers for trout. After hours of driving, a dusty stretch of road emerges where there’s no fence line blocking an entry to the river. It’s almost dark, and I set up camp and fall asleep to the sound of the river at my feet.
The call of a western meadowlark wakes me up at 5 a.m., reminding me of my childhood days in church listening to the choir hum Amazing Grace. I rise out of bed, brew some coffee, and change my fly to a subsurface beadhead because the river is moving fast and the visibility is about two feet.
The bank is green with tall native grasses; I analyze the river, determining where a fish might lie. There’s a small pool whirling behind rocks and a soft seam hugging the bank. My first cast is to the grassy cut bank. I make a cast up stream, strip the line fast to stay with the current, take a couple steps up stream and cast again.
To find an aggressive fish, I keep covering the water. My next cast is behind a rock where the current is moving at a considerable pace. The trout explodes; cart wheeling and breaking the surface. She’s strong, pulling, not giving in. After a few minutes I get her to the bank, remove the hook and release her back to the cool waters of the high dessert. This is what I came here for.
Experiences such as this keep me coming back and fuel my enthusiasm to see these special places conserved for future generations. I’m proud to be working to ensure the conservation of these resources through my work with the TRCP.
Mia Sheppard is TRCP’s Oregon field representative. She lives in Brightwood, Ore., with her husband and daughter. In her free time, she fishes for steelhead and trout throughout the Pacific Northwest.
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CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.