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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.
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.
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.
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.
That statement is more than just a tagline. It is the simplest way to describe the mission of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the efforts we undertake every day to unite hunters and anglers around habitat conservation and sportsmen’s access. Without quality habitat and abundant critters we love to pursue, our time in the field or on the water would be greatly diminished. And without sportsmen’s access to those quality places, our opportunities to enjoy those resources will be limited.
Conservation and sportsmen’s access are fundamentally linked. While our mission might be simple, it will take all sportsmen working together to ensure conservation and access will continue to be linked for future generations.
TRCP’s Whit Fosburgh and Bass Pro Shops’ Johnny Morris co-authored an op-ed on this important subject in anticipation of National Hunting and Fishing Day on September 27th.
In a bipartisan display of contempt for sportsmen’s priorities last week, 262 members of the U.S. House of Representatives – 227 Republicans and 35 Democrats – voted to kill a rulemaking process to clarify the reach of the Clean Water Act.
Never mind that everyone up to and including the Supreme Court agrees the rulemaking is needed. Never mind that the public comment process – where sportsmen and any member of the public can provide input on and improve the proposed rule – is ongoing. And never mind that 13 leading sportsmen’s organizations wrote to Congress as recently as Sept. 8, 2014, urging the House to oppose the bill.
The message sportsmen should take away from this vote is these congressmen believe it is better to perpetuate the confusion that hinders effective use of the Clean Water Act in this country than restore protections for our wetlands and headwater streams.
You may have thought that the appearance this summer of a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico covering an area the size of Connecticut – an annual occurrence that is becoming all too commonplace – or an algal bloom in Lake Erie that cut off drinking water to 400,000 Ohioans would have persuaded Congress to consider ways to improve water quality. But the House is going in the opposite direction, and it threatens to continue the acceleration we are seeing in wetland loss and risks to headwater streams.
Fortunately, the legislation approved by the House stands little chance of becoming law in the near term. But these types of attacks against hunter and angler priorities should give all sportsmen pause. If we don’t let Congress know where we stand, they may eventually succeed.
To see if your member of Congress supported this attack on fisheries and waterfowl habitat, click here. (A “Yes” vote represents a vote against sportsmen in this case.)
More than 60 members of the media and other stakeholders concerned about pressing sportsmen conservation issues attended TRCP’s annual Western Media Summit in Great Falls, Montana. The 10th annual summit explored public lands issues and water topics, including federal water budgeting, the “waters of the U.S.” rulemaking, BLM backcountry conservation and the agency’s Planning 2.0 process, and ongoing efforts to conserve sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystems. The following are highlights from the event with short presentation recaps and photos.
Following a cold, misty morning of fishing on the Missouri River and hunting, Summit attendees gathered at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center for the final sessions and closing night dinner. The first session covered the Bureau of Land Management Conversation and Planning about public lands and featured Don Thomas, Traditional Bowhunter Magazine; Hal Herring, TRCP Field Representative; Ryan Callaghan, First Lite; and moderator Joel Webster, TRCP. The panel explored how sportsmen are working to conserve lands in and around the beautiful Missouri River Breaks. At the conclusion of the session, Ryan Callaghan revealed that more than 90 hunting- and fishing-dependent businesses signed a letter to the Bureau of Land Management urging the BLM to sustain public lands to hunt and fish, stand up for outdoor-related businesses, and support high-quality habitat.
The final session of the afternoon focused on sage grouse conservation and balancing multiple land uses. Panelists included Dr. Ed Arnett, TRCP; Tim Baker, Policy Advisor for Natural Resources, the Governor’s Office (MT); Ken Mayer, Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; and Dan Bailey, Pheasants Forever.
Before dinner was served at the Center, Jim Martin, TRCP Board Vice Chair, gave a rousing speech where he hammered home the theme that the job of the TRCP is to amplify the voice of the sportsman. “The Media Summit is the beating heart of TRCP,” he said. He also announced that he was stepping down from the Board.
Attendees also had the opportunity to participate in a sunglass fitting by Summit sponsor Costa, led by Peter Vandergrift, the sunglass manufacturer’s flying fishing community leader.
Don Thomas, Co-Editor, Bowhunter Magazine: “The Breaks can’t be managed in bits and pieces. There needs to conservation on the Breaks.”
Hal Herring, Montana Field Representative, TRCP, on the Cemetery Road Backcountry: “This is sage grouse core territory. The wealth of this piece of ground is astounding. This is a big wildlife-rich area.”
Ryan Callaghan, Marketing Manager, First Lite: “Public land hunting is absolutely paramount to our business.”
Joel Webster, Director of the TRCP Center for Western Lands: “You think no one cares about a piece of land until you try to do something with it.”
Dr. Ed Arnett, Director of the TRCP Center for Responsible Energy Development: “Sage grouse are a unique and iconic species in the West. This is a species that loves big open species. This is why we love the West.”
Tim Baker, Policy Advisor for Natural Resources, Governor’s Office (MT): “Sixty-four percent of sage grouse habitat is in private land and that is a particular problem.”
Dan Bailey, Montana Regional Representative, Pheasants Forever, on sage grouse habitat: “These are romantic ecosystems…where the deer and the antelope play.”
The Deseret News’ Amy Joi O’Donoghue poses with a pair of Costa sunglasses prior to the Summit’s closing night dinner.
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