Last week we took some time out and got to know the new Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell.
Secretary Jewell has called sportsmen “critical partners” in assuring the responsible management and conservation of the nation’s natural resources. Whether it be fly fishing in a backcountry stream, waterfowl hunting in the Chesapeake Bay, stalking big game in the Rockies or bass fishing in Oklahoma’s Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, our nation offers a diversity of outdoor opportunities that is unequaled.
Take Action: Stand up for Backcountry in the Beaver State
Oregon offers some of the best public upland game bird hunting in the West. Chukar season ended in January, but die-hard bird hunters already are thinking about next season. Last fall, I shared a particularly fine hunt with Walt Van Dyke, retired Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, and Pat Wray, author of “The Chukar Hunter’s Companion.”
The weather was warm, and the heat of the day penetrated our bones. By noon sweat dripped from our brows. Nelly, my shorthaired pointer, was unaccustomed to the heat and had drunk almost all the water I was carrying. Van Dyke, Wray and I covered territory that hadn’t seen human footprints in weeks. A breeze was blowing, and the coveys of chukar flushed wild. But hitting a bird was a bonus compared to the remarkable views and solitude we found that day in southeast Oregon.
Along with supporting populations of upland birds, Oregon’s semi-arid mountain ranges hold key habitat for mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn and elk. Small streams provide unique fisheries. As a sportsman and a mother, I want to return to these special places with my daughter and see that the landscape hasn’t changed. Better yet, I want to see to it that the habitat has been improved.
To maintain the high-quality fish and wildlife values of these lands, hunters and anglers are calling on the southeast Oregon BLM to implement a new, locally conceived land allocation called a backcountry conservation area, or BCA. As proposed, BCAs would protect public access, honor existing rights and conserve intact fish and wildlife habitat while allowing common-sense activities to restore habitat and protect communities from wildfire.
Under the BCA allocation, the BLM would uphold traditional uses of public land but allow wildlife managers to restore the rangeland and habitat. The proposed plan enables vegetation management to control noxious weeds, restore bunchgrass to benefit wildlife and livestock and reduce the risk of wildfire. BCAs also would allow ranchers to maintain agriculture improvements and continue their operations.
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana continues to make big strides for the conservation community while maintaining the trademark down-to-earth personality so common among sportsmen. Tester took some time out from tending his farm and working in the halls of Congress to answer a few questions for the TRCP.
How did you become passionate about the outdoors? I grew up fishing and riding horse in the Bear Paw Mountains in north-central Montana with my dad and two older brothers. We learned that enjoying Montana’s treasured outdoors comes with the responsibility of preserving our lands and waters for future generations to enjoy as well.
What is a favorite memory of a trip afield? Stream fishing in the Bear Paw mountains with my folks.
What is your go-to piece of hunting or fishing gear? It depends on the time of year, but right now my .218 Bee that I use to shoot gophers on the farm.
What led you to a career in Congress? I ran for the Montana State Senate in 1998 after the State Legislature deregulated Montana’s power industry, resulting in higher power costs. This change put an unfair financial burden on average Montanans. After serving as the president of the State Senate in 2005, Montanans elected me to the U.S. Senate in 2006.
What role do you see sportsmen playing in the conservation arena? Sportsmen and women know our lands as well as anyone, and they know what it will take to preserve our outdoor heritage. Sportsmen and women provide me with some of the best conservation ideas and the best ways to increase access to public lands because they use it. Lawmakers do their best work when they get good ideas from the ground and the sportsmen’s community will be critical to making sure we can preserve our lands and pass our outdoor traditions down to our kids and grandkids.
What are some ways sportsmen can become involved in public policy? Building coalitions that put forward good ideas will make sure sportsmen and women have a seat at the table. It’s also important to reach out to folks that you normally wouldn’t work with in order to find common ground. My Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is the product of conservationists and folks in the timber industry sitting down at the table to improve how we manage our forests. Each group gave a little but in the end they got a lot more. All Montanans will benefit from this legislation, whether they rely on our forests for work or recreation.
What do you think are the most important issues facing sportsmen today, and how do you hope your work in Congress will resolve these issues? Sportsmen and women tell me that their No. 1 issue is access to public lands. That’s why I’ve pushed for my Making Public Lands Public Act that will increase access to public lands. Sportsmen and women are also concerned about land and species conservation, which is why stronger protections were a major part of my Sportsmen’s Act last year.
In the simplest of terms, why do you care about conservation? As someone who works and plays outdoors, I know the importance of preserving our lands and water for future generations to enjoy. Montana’s outdoor economy is also a nearly $6 billion industry that creates jobs and strengthens our state’s economy. But more importantly, our outdoors are why we live here.
Any conservation leaders or heroes you look up to? There are many conservation heroes, including those who use our lands wisely today, but you named your organization after one of my favorites: Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a visionary. He pioneered our earliest conservation efforts and fought to change Americans’ perceptions about the land. His commitment to responsible stewardship of our lands and water is something for all of us to aspire to.
Steven addresses concerns about Texas bighorn sheep in light of exotic and invasive species introductions within the bighorn’s native range.
Bighorn sheep are what biologists call an “indicator species” – one whose presence, absence or abundance is reflective of a larger environmental trend.
After years of declining numbers resulting from unregulated hunting and disease, Texas bighorns have rebounded to their pre-settlement population levels.
Bighorns are threatened by the introduction of the exotic and invasive Aoudad sheep. Aoudad sheep compete with bighorns for habitat and risk transmitting viral and bacterial pathogens foreign to bighorn immune systems.
The greatest limiting factor in bighorn recovery, however, is disease transmission from domestic sheep and goats.
In order for Texas bighorn populations to remain robust, management practices must eliminate contact between bighorns and domestic sheep and goats and strictly manage Aoudad numbers.
Wild sheep populations in Texas may be recovering, but herds across the West continue to dwindle due to factors such as disease transmission and climate change.
The TRCP joins partners Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Ducks Unlimited and others in urging sportsmen across the nation to contact their House representative and ask him or her to co-sponsor the Protect Our Prairies act (H.R. 686).
This legislation, introduced by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), would reduce crop insurance assistance for the first four years for crops grown on native sod and certain grasslands converted to cropland.
Reducing crop insurance assistance so it is proportionate with the production capability of this land, rather than insuring it at the same rate as land that has been farmed for years, could save taxpayers nearly $200 million over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate from the 112th Congress.
Importantly, this legislation does not prevent producers from making their own planting decisions.
Watch the video below to learn more about the Protect Our Prairies Act.