For this week’s “Wednesday Win,” we’re going back to our roots. Leave a comment on the blow photo of TRCP’s co-founder and compass, Jim Range, and we’ll pick our favorite on Friday. The winner will receive a TRCP camo hat.
From the standpoint of conservation, 2012 will be remembered more for what did not happen than what did happen.
Justifying its place in history as the least productive Congress of all time, the 112th Congress failed to consider the needs of hunters and anglers in a number of big ways. Let’s look at some of the lowlights:
The Farm Bill
Regardless of the strong bipartisan support enjoyed by the Farm Bill, the full bill died in the Senate at the end of 2012. Congress instead passed a nine-month extension that jeopardizes many of the bill’s key conservation programs. If a full Farm Bill fails to pass by October 2013, the Conservation Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and other key conservation provisions will lose billions in conservation dollars.
The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a near party-line vote by Senate Republicans (the exception being Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine) on a procedural motion effectively killed the bill that had drawn broad bipartisan support throughout the legislative process.
Why did this happen? Because Senate Republicans used the bill to make a political point on a totally unrelated issue (filibuster reform) at the expense of sportsmen. Seeing that others were willing to use the bill to make political statements, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) objected to the bill’s provision on lead ammunition. As a result of these political detours, the clock ran out on the Sportsmen’s Act. Now sportsmen have to start all over again in 2013
Congressional inaction was actually a good thing for conservation funding. Instead of passing the House budget bill, which would have gutted most important conservation programs, Congress passed a continuing resolution keeping in place current funding levels through March of 2013.
Similarly, by punting sequestration down the road, sportsmen were spared across-the-board cuts that would have been extremely damaging to programs upon which our outdoor traditions rely. We now must make the case for these important programs as the 113th Congress considers a broader budget deal later in the year.
The 112th Congress succeeded in being the first congress in nearly 70 years to fail to pass a single public lands bill.
After the carnage, a few highlights emerge. Congress passed the RESTORE Act, ensuring that 80 percent of damages from the BP oil spill go back to the Gulf states for restoration. And Congress passed the Billfish Conservation Act, a small but important measure that bans the importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish.
Unfortunately, Congress was not the only disappointment in 2012. The Obama administration has yet to implement many of the oil and gas leasing reforms announced in 2010, and millions of acres of public lands continue to be leased without proper consideration of fish and wildlife and hunting and fishing.
The administration also failed to issue new regulations to affirm that the Clean Water Act applies to isolated wetlands and intermittent streams, an inaction that contributes to massive wetland conversions in the Prairie Pothole region and elsewhere. To its credit, the administration did launch a major new program to work with private landowners to conserve sage grouse and six other species.
Despite the bleak year that has ended, the sporting community is setting new priorities for working with Congress in 2013. Be ready to join in and make your voice heard – our outdoor traditions will depend on it.
While campaigning in Milwaukee, Wis. Theodore Roosevelt was was shot in the chest before a scheduled speech. Roosevelt continued on to give an hour speech, with the bullet still in his body, before being rushed to the hospital.
I was already way behind schedule when I arrived at the trailhead in the middle of nowhere in central Nevada for my first archery mule deer hunt. A blown radiator had left me waiting several hours for a truck to tow me 60 miles to the nearest town for repairs. By the time I hiked the four miles to camp, it was 2:30 in the morning.
Needless to say, first light came quickly. After a bite to eat, I hiked up to a steep vantage point overlooking the canyon where I would be hunting.
I had seen a group of bucks in this canyon a few weeks earlier with my good friend and mentor Larry Johnson with Nevada Bighorns Unlimited. After three days of hunting, neither Larry nor I had gotten close enough to make a kill, and we both left empty handed. I had come back alone with the hopes of filling my tag.
After glassing a bit, I spotted some bucks feeding on a hillside several hundred yards up the canyon. I watched for a while and figured they would bed down in one of several stands of mahogany trees scattered throughout the canyon. I sat tight, hoping to intercept the bucks as they came to bed down.
As the sun rose higher, the group went downhill to some trees about 200 yards below where I sat. There was no way to sneak in on them without being seen, and at this point my lack of sleep was catching up to me. I took a rest, hoping the bucks might move later in the day.
When I awoke, I crept back up to check on the bucks. They were gone. Trying to stay calm, I scanned the canyon and eventually spotted the deer disappearing into trees on a ridge a thousand feet above me on the opposite side of the canyon. I wasn’t exactly sure where they were headed but figured they were going to bed down again somewhere where the afternoon breezes would be cooler.
Grabbing my pack and bow, I began the long hike across the canyon. A light rain was falling by the time I reached the other ridge. The sound of the rain masked my footsteps, and a steady southwesterly wind allowed me to move into the trees and search for the deer undetected. I moved slowly through the mahogany, stopping every few steps to glass. I was looking for movement – an ear twitch, antlers or the silhouette of a bedded buck.
I made several passes through the area with no luck and began to think that the deer had outsmarted me again. Finally, I glanced uphill and saw the unmistakable shape of a deer. I pulled out my rangefinder to check the distance: 32 yards.
Nocking an arrow, I moved to get a better look and see if antlers were attached to the deer. Just then, deer began standing up one by one in surrounding trees. They had seen me.
I froze as a buck stepped out into the open. He was a shooter. I instinctively drew my bow and released the arrow. I heard the thwack of the arrow hitting as the buck jumped and ran across the rocky hillside. After 20 yards he slowed, then stopped, began to stumble and fell to the ground. I later discovered that the broadhead had gone through his heart. It was over very quickly.
My first Nevada archery mule deer hunt makes me extraordinarily thankful for the abundant and unique hunting opportunities that abound in the West. Mine was the type of hunting about which every sportsman dreams – a spectacular setting, far from any roads or signs of civilization, lots of deer and few hunters. I was able to hunt in some of the greatest remaining mule deer habitat in the nation. Nevada has a lot of undeveloped backcountry, but even here, mule deer habitat is threatened.
Mule deer need large areas of undeveloped backcountry in order to thrive. As we lose habitat throughout the West, mule deer numbers decline as do our hunting opportunities.
Sportsmen recognize the importance of conserving these areas, but in order to ensure healthy wildlife populations, hunters and anglers must spread the word. Sportsmen must let federal land management agencies know what is at stake and that we are paying attention. High-quality hunting opportunities on public land comprise the backbone of America’s sporting heritage. It is staggering to think about how much great habitat has been lost in the last 30 years – and the ramifications if this trend is allowed to continue.
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.