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Only recently has LWCF funding been specifically purposed with unlocking our inaccessible public lands, meaning that we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to establishing access to isolated parcels
When the TRCP and onX began the research for our recent inaccessible public lands report, “Off Limits, But Within Reach,” the primary goal was to produce the most accurate calculation of landlocked public lands possible. But in addition to determining that the thirteen Western states contain more than 9.52 million acres of landlocked federal public lands, we also uncovered another startling finding: the work to open access to these inaccessible public lands has largely just begun.
As part of the report, we wanted to highlight successful examples of acquisition projects that provided public access to the two different types of landlocked public lands: checkerboard and isolated parcels. Checkerboard lands are remnants of a bygone era when the federal government gave railroad companies alternating sections of land that met corner-to-corner, whereas isolated parcels are tracts of public land entirely enclosed by surrounding private holdings.
Searching for these real-world examples, we called every expert we could imagine within the land trust community and the federal land management agencies. There was no shortage of great LWCF-funded checkerboard consolidation projects, but we were shocked by how difficult it was to find an example of a LWCF-funded project that opened access to an isolated parcel. In fact, our research turned up only one isolated parcel access success story nationwide: Western Rivers Conservancy’s Thirtymile Project along the John Day River in eastern Oregon.
As we came to realize, isolated parcels haven’t been prioritized for access acquisition in the past because of the way that LWCF projects were traditionally “scored” by the federal agencies when being considered for funding.
While the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been around since 1965—using revenue from offshore oil and gas development to fund outdoor recreation projects—the Fund has primarily been used by the federal agencies to benefit public lands by conserving resources like wildlife habitat, clean water, and special places. Acquisition projects that consolidate checkerboard lands not only improve or establish new access to public lands, they also prevent habitat fragmentation and the future development of intact landscapes, and thus often check the necessary boxes to score highly under the traditional rating system.
While the long-term use of LWCF dollars has benefited millions of Americans and advanced countless projects that were worth their weight in gold—including many that benefitted access— it wasn’t until 2012 that Congress mandated an annual portion of the Fund be used exclusively to address the issue of limited or nonexistent access to public lands. The timing of that change made sense, given that private land access issues weren’t a major concern when the fund was originally created—in decades past, most sportsmen and women could obtain landowner permission without too much difficulty. And so acquisition projects to unlock isolated parcels of public land for hunters and anglers only very recently became a priority for LWCF funding.
As a result, our research found that in places like the BLM Miles City Field Office of eastern Montana, nearly one million acres of federally managed public lands sit entirely inaccessible to the public, yet not a single LWCF project has been completed in the area to fund public access. The story is much the same in other areas with a similarly high concentration of landlocked lands, such as the BLM Buffalo Field Office in eastern Wyoming.
Sportsmen and women should not see this situation as a failure, but rather as a sign that this important work is now just getting started and that we still have much to do. In fact, many lawmakers appear to recognize the need to fund access acquisition and on September 13, the House Natural Resources Committee passed HR 502, a bipartisan and well-reasoned LWCF-reauthorization bill that includes up to $27 million annually for access acquisition—twice the amount that has been previously available.
While last week’s development represents an encouraging opportunity, the House committee’s actions on LWCF were just one of many needed steps to save this vital program before its scheduled expiration on September 30. With no clear resolution in sight, there’s a very real risk that sportsmen and women will lose the best available tool to open access to landlocked public lands across the West when we need it most.
Take action today to encourage your lawmakers to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund with full, dedicated annual funding before it expires on September 30. Your future ability to access more than 9.52 million additional acres of our public lands depends on it.
Photo courtesy of BLM Wyoming
First Lite is an industry leader for public lands, wildlife, and sportsmen’s access, and they doubled all donations to TRCP through their Round Up for Conservation Program in recognition of National Public Lands Day
In many respects, the history of the hunting clothing-and-accessories company First Lite is one of those classic stories of a great idea turned into a booming business. What started in 2007 as a two-man show offering only a handful of merino wool garments has grown into an industry leader with a full line of technical hunting apparel for both men and women that now employs sixteen enthusiastic hunters and anglers at their headquarters in Ketchum, Idaho.
Although much has changed in the last eleven years of operations, some things have remained constant—among them a core commitment to the cause of conservation, which is why TRCP is proud to have First Lite as a corporate partner. Like many hunters, co-founders Kenton Carruth and Scott Robinson have long felt an obligation to give back to wildlife and wild places in ways that go beyond the bare minimum of buying a license.
From their base of operations in the Wood River Valley, with views of the Pioneer range out the front door and Bald Mountain out the back, it’s plain to see why. Excellent mule deer and elk hunting can be found right outside of town in the Sawtooth National Forest, and anglers enjoy a variety of opportunities on nearby lakes, rivers, and mountain streams.
In their case, too, conservation makes good business sense. From day one, First Lite has catered to the needs of backcountry hunters, fully recognizing that the future of the company depends on the availability of quality public land opportunities for sportsmen and women. “By surveying our customer base we’ve found that over 80 % of our customers hunt on public lands with over 50% hunting public lands exclusively,” says Carruth. “If we didn’t step up and support our customer, why would they support us?”
Conventional wisdom would likely advise a growing business to shy away from controversy, but First Lite jumps into the fray when it comes to topics like public land transfer. Oftentimes leading the charge is Ryan Callaghan, the company’s full-time Director of Conservation and Public Relations, who has earned a well-deserved reputation as a tireless and outspoken public lands advocate. A Montana native who worked as a river and hunting guide until joining First Lite, Callaghan wants to make sure others enjoy the same opportunities he’s had. “My path hasn’t been traditional in any way,” he notes, “but I certainly wouldn’t be here without working on public lands. There is not a single decision I make today that isn’t rooted in some hard earned lesson guiding and playing on public lands.”
In addition to speaking out on the issues that impact sportsmen and women, First Lite has pioneered an innovative way of encouraging others to join the cause. In 2015, they launched Round Up for Conservation, a program that allows customers to round up the cost of their purchase to a specified dollar amount, with the difference directed to conservation groups such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the National Wildlife Federation, and Pheasants Forever.
These good deeds have not gone unnoticed. First Lite’s efforts in the conservation sphere have garnered awards such as the Shift Festival Award for Business Leadership, the Open Country Award from Outdoor Life magazine, and the Larry Fischer Award presented by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. In the hunting and fishing industry, their brand is second to none when it comes to conservation, which has earned them the attention of the broader outdoor recreation community as well.
Despite this recognition, First Lite continues to improve and expand its efforts to unite sportsmen around issues of habitat and access. The most recent project is a newsletter aimed at bringing more exposure to the work of their conservation partners, TRCP included. In short, they want to carry the flag for the causes they support, while also helping their customers become more informed about the current threats and opportunities when it comes to public lands and waters.
Callaghan boils it all down to a simple principle—doing the right thing. “Long before we ever had a strategy in place, we knew what was right when it comes to public lands and hunter access. We’re lucky that we can use our platform and success as a company to support the things we care so much about.”
Photo credit: DirtMyth
National Hunting and Fishing Day is like Christmas, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving for sportsmen and women—so go enjoy the many gifts of the outdoors, cherish our American traditions, and give thanks
God put us in charge. At least, that’s what the Good Book says. Our human connection to nature and wildlife is so special, because we are at once a part of it, yet differentiated from it. The experiences we have with wildlife and wild places are vital to our existence, because they help us affirm our own uniqueness and value in life.
No one understands and appreciates this relationship more than American sportsmen and women. When a hunter or angler fairly and ethically pursues wildlife or fish, he is connecting with nature at a primal level—life and death are at stake. And with a respectful harvest of that animal, he is celebrating and appreciating what it has provided and taught him.
Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the virtues of a “strenuous life.” I believe he meant that life is an accumulation of experiences, big and small. Only by pushing ourselves in this pursuit can we know our full potential. Life is all around us, and sportsmen go out to meet it! It’s in the friction of water around your legs as you step into a stream, the crunch of frosty ground under your boot, the smell of a campfire, and the sound of laughter and tales being shared.
September 22th is National Hunting and Fishing Day, and it should be celebrated and appreciated—not just by hunters and anglers, but by all Americans.
Sportsmen are the original conservationists. Our traditions and passions for wildlife support a system found nowhere else on Earth, one that benefits all. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation prioritizes professional science-based wildlife management, provides funding mechanisms through license sales and excise taxes that pay for conservation programs and, most importantly, holds that our fish and game resources are a public resource belonging to all Americans. Inherent in this truth is our democratic tradition of public lands, which goes back to the days of Roosevelt and others.
God put us in charge, therefore we are responsible. It is up to all of us, as sportsmen and women, to be vocal advocates for conservation of fish, wildlife, habitat, America’s public lands, and the sporting traditions we hold so dear.
In the spirit of this day, there are two things you can do to help guarantee that future generations have quality places to hunt and fish:
1) Go hunting or fishing. Just get out there. Live the strenuous life. Even better, take someone with you.
2) Speak up! Contact your lawmakers and elected officials to tell them why conservation and sportsmen are so important to our blessed country. Urge them to stand with sportsmen and women in celebrating our uniquely American traditions, on Saturday and every day.
This is a great place to start: Sign the Sportsmen’s Country petition at sportsmenscountry.org. Tell lawmakers that access promises mean nothing if our public lands are not well-managed for the next generation of hunters and anglers.
This was originally posted September 22, 2016 and has been updated. Top photo courtesy of Northwoods Collective.
Swift passage in the House and similar movement in the Senate would permanently secure the most critical tool for opening 9.52 million acres of landlocked public lands and address long-standing maintenance issues on public lands across the U.S.
Today, the House Natural Resources Committee took strongly bipartisan action to advance two pieces of critical public lands legislation: permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, a bill that would provide dedicated funding to address the maintenance backlogs in our national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands, and National Wildlife Refuge System.
“We want to thank Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Grijalva for rolling up their sleeves and working together in bipartisan fashion for the benefit of American sportsmen and women,” says Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the single most important federal program for conserving habitat on and expanding access to America’s 640 million acres of public lands; and the Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act provides the funding necessary to begin to ensure those public lands are being well-managed and maintained.”
The House bill would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million and dedicate 3 percent of LWCF dollars specifically to increasing public access on existing public lands. (Without further action, the program’s current authorization is set to expire on September 30.)
The TRCP and leading hunting app-maker onX recently revealed the results of a new study showing 9.52 million acres across thirteen Western states are entirely landlocked by private property. The report pointed to the LWCF as the best-available tool for policymakers to open and expand access to public lands.
“Sportsmen are depending on Congress to act swiftly and see that the LWCF is permanently reauthorized with full, dedicated annual funding and that a comprehensive public lands maintenance backlog fund is established to benefit all of our land management agencies,” says Fosburgh. “We hope this commendable move by the House Natural Resources Committee is the first step toward getting these priorities passed into law.”.
Photo courtesy: The Trust For Public Lands
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More