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November 20, 2014

Married to the river: commitment and the gateway to conservation

Photo courtesy of Catie Webster.

There are things that happen on the water that you have a very slim chance of seeing if you’re not out there regularly. I’d heard stories of behemoths chomping stoneflies, patterning sippers on glassy lakes, epic drake hatches, but I’d never experienced those things first hand. This past summer, I hung up the climbing shoes and mountain bike, and just fished. I wouldn’t waste my afternoons deciding what to do, and I’d make sure I was there when the days that we’re always waiting for finally happened.

I hit a drake hatch on the Gallatin that had trout leaping from the river like they were auditioning for Sea World. I found myself in the right place at the right time for the nocturnal stoneflies, had more nights than I can count throwing PMDs until well after dark, and caught almost every species of trout that swims in the state of Montana. I thought about how much I’d come to love my time on the river, and how much the investment I’d made in getting to know it meant to me, so when I was asked to speak at TEDxBoulder last month I knew that this would be a big part of my message.

I spoke about how our commitment to the things that we love enriches our ability to enjoy them. (And though I wasn’t talking about marriage and kids—I was talking about fishing—my theory certainly applies there.) I think that it’s important for us to see how investing our time and energy in the things that we care about perpetuates a cycle of conservation that not only benefits us personally, but benefits our greater ecosystem.

When we try to do too much, or when we sit the fence and avoid commitment all together, we are denying ourselves valuable experiences and wasting energy. I knew that by giving up the trail for the river, I might miss out on a few things, but I was sure that by focusing on what I really loved, I’d get to do it more and wouldn’t waste time figuring out my post-work and weekend plans. My gear was always packed and I didn’t think twice when someone asked if I wanted to go fishing.

Needless to say, I got pretty good at it, but something else happened that I wasn’t quite expecting.  When I used to fish a few times a year, I’d see trash on the river and think, “that’s terrible—I hope someone picks that up!”  But now that I’m out there nearly every day, I see that it’s my responsibility to leave no trace, to press barbs, to keep an eye on the water temps and handle fish as responsibly and respectfully as I can. I’ve gotten very familiar with the impact that my use has on the resource, and I’ve come to see first-hand the importance of making sure I’m doing everything that I can to tread lightly.

I know that I am engaging with a fragile species for my own enjoyment, and—because of what I get out of it, because of how much I love interacting with trout and being on the river—I know that it’s my responsibility not just to minimize my impact, but to get involved in maintaining the health of the resource and encourage others to do the same.

Because of a seemingly small decision that I made back in April—to focus my energy—I’ve found not just a love for these beautiful fish and their habitat, but a much deeper understanding of what they need and the importance of giving back.

 When I wrote this talk, I didn’t realize that what I was really speaking towards is stewardship—an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources—but that’s exactly what it’s about. And the more you do your thing, with time and stamina, stewardship becomes almost intuitive. And to all the people who’ve asked how they can get more involved in what they love, just keep doing it – whatever it is. Do it with passion and solidarity of focus and the places where your time and energy are most needed will become obvious. Then, commit to being a steward of the resources that bring you the greatest joy. Advocate for them. Protect them. Conserve them. Share them. 

Catie Webster is Director of Public Relations and Marketing for Mystery Ranch in Bozeman, Montana.

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November 18, 2014


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November 12, 2014

The future of 245 million acres of public land

A lot of folks around the West are frustrated with federal land management agencies these days.

A ram harvested from BLM lands. Image courtesy of the BLM.

Our federal public lands are facing a lot of challenges, like catastrophic wildfires, the spread of noxious weeds like cheatgrass, public land grazing conflicts, conflicts over energy development, and the loss of key wildlife habitat. Agencies are running in circles trying to deal with these conflicts while making resource management decisions that will determine the future of multiple uses on our public lands. Simultaneously, agencies also must manage myriad lawsuits from multiple interests unhappy about the decisions being made. It seems the West is shrinking as more and more people are competing for our public land resources.

As sportsmen, we have our own list of priority public land policy issues: maintaining quality, unfragmented habitat; rehabilitating habitat that has been damaged; and improving existing habitat to make it more resilient and productive so that fish and wildlife can thrive. All of these are important aspects of public land management. We understand the need for development of our natural resources and recognize that economic vitality involves choices and compromise. But we also understand that in a world where high quality, undeveloped wild places are becoming scarcer, it is imperative that we work to identify and protect these public places through balanced management.

As federal agencies try to plan for the future, all these issues come into play. Blaming the agencies for everything wrong in the West is easy, but in reality agency decisions are usually the result of agency mandates – which can have controversial outcomes. Important to remember as well is that these policies and laws result from various interest groups working within the system to advance their particular interests. Often these groups are at odds with one another, and the agency is left to sort out the conflict and formulate a compromise, leaving both parties unhappy about the outcome.


Sportsmen must take action ‘early and often’

This might sound like a fatalist’s view, but to the contrary, the takeaway is that we all have a responsibility and a right to work within our democratic system to put forth our interests and values – and then see to it that these interests and values are implemented. Sportsmen are often conspicuously absent from agency decision making processes and sometimes fail to get involved until they are reacting to decisions that already have been made. Instead, we must get involved early and often.

Some of the lands at stake. Image courtesy of the BLM.

Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Land Management launched a new initiative to revamp its long term land use planning processes. Dubbed “Planning 2.0,” this initiative will comprise the most comprehensive overhauls of the BLM’s planning process in decades.

Recently, representatives from the TRCP and some of our partners attended meetings convened by the BLM in Denver, Colo., and Sacramento, Calif. These meetings began the process of gathering public input on Planning 2.0 and discussing how the BLM might make this process as effective as possible.

Altogether, the Denver and Sacramento meetings attracted close to 150 participants. In addition to representatives from a number of sportsmen’s organizations, the off highway vehicle community, other environmental and conservation organizations, state and local agencies, wild horse advocates and citizens at-large were represented. Each meeting lasted about four hours and included “breakout sessions” so that participants could discuss the goals set by the BLM for Planning 2.0

Some of the themes that emerged during the breakout sessions included the following:

  • Public involvement in the 2.0 process is a must – and should be maximized.
  • What is the definition of “landscape-level” planning? What is the BLM’s definition, and how will these boundaries be defined?
  • How will baseline data be gathered? How will “citizen science” or data gathered by citizen groups and other non-governmental organizations be compiled and used?
  • How can the BLM do a better job of enabling public engagement in the process?

Ultimately, some of the key takeaways comprised the following:

  • The BLM doesn’t have a clear definition of what defines a landscape, what elements would define boundaries, and how priorities would be set for various interests, e.g., wildlife, grazing, energy development.
  • The BLM must review what has and hasn’t worked with other agencies, particularly the U.S. Forest Service, with regard to public engagement and the process of gathering and integrating data and information provided by the public.
  • How will this new process improve the status quo regarding how politics impacts the process – and to what extent will powerful special interests such industry groups still be able to manipulate it to fit their agendas?

These meetings are just the beginning. Sportsmen and sportsmen’s interests must be at the table, working with other stakeholders to find common ground and resolving the conflicts that will inevitably arise. The TRCP and other partner groups will be providing input and advocating on behalf of sportsmen and wildlife conservation throughout this process. We hope this will lead to better policy – as well as conservation of some of our most important and valued Western public lands.

If future generations of Americans are going to enjoy our outdoor heritage, abundant wildlife and unspoiled landscapes, then we all have to get involved and make our voices heard. To learn more about Planning 2.0, visit the BLM website. 

Take action: Submit your comments to the BLM on the Planning 2.0 process. 


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November 4, 2014

Remembering Jim Range – and his dogs

Fall means many things to sportsmen – elk in the Missouri Breaks, whitetails in the hardwood forests of Pennsylvania, ringnecks in South Dakota.

For many of us at the TRCP, fall brings to mind Jim Range – and his dogs.

TRCP’s co-founder and visionary, Jim was known and beloved by so many. A lifelong sportsman who served as chief counsel to Sen. Howard Baker during the years when the senator was majority leader, Range played a critical role in advancing some of the nation’s most important natural resources legislation, including the Clean Water Act.

Defined by his passions, Jim was a consummate leader and bridge builder, as well as an enthusiastic hunter of birds and big game and a devoted trout fisherman. His capacity for seeing past differences and finding the common ground among diverse interests, both within the sportsmen’s community and outside it, set the course for the TRCP and our mission.

Jim Range harbored a particular love of upland hunting, and the sharp-tailed grouse held a special place in his heart. Bob St. Pierre, vice president of communications for Pheasants Forever, recalls Jim saying while on a hunt, “I love everything about these birds. The environs where they live, the way they flush and laugh at you as they fly away. I love the taste of their meat, the simple beauty of each feather, their fur-covered feet, and the rose hips all around. I love everything about these darned sharpies.”

Like all upland hunters, Jim was especially fond of his dogs. They featured prominently in his life and his stories, and they served as cherished companions, friends and foils. Plague, Tench, Jambo and Sky are familiar to so many who knew him.

Jim died in 2009 – far too young, following a short battle with cancer – but his legacy lives on. And so do his dogs. The TRCP recently received word that Sky, Jim’s German wirehair, continues to chase birds every chance he gets. Taken in by John Neel Range, Jim’s brother, Sky travels as far afield as eastern Montana on occasion, where he spent some time last month hunting there with John, his son Jake, and Jake’s black Lab Jambo. (The Range family tradition of naming dogs continues.)

Sky on a trip to Montana. Image courtesy of the Range family.

“Sky spends a lot of time at our farm in Tennessee,” said Carol Walker Range, John’s wife. “He’s become an Eastern grouse dog most of the time, although he does a pretty good job at our annual dove hunt.”

We at the TRCP think Jim would be glad to hear it.

In addition to his leadership of the TRCP, Jim Range served on the boards of Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, the Wetlands America Trust, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, the American Sportfishing Association, the American Bird Conservancy, the Pacific Forest Trust, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, and the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. Read more about Jim Range and the fund established in his name, the Jim Range Conservation Fund.


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October 28, 2014

What do Colorado water leaders have in common with the A-Team?

“I love it when a plan comes together.”
– John “Hannibal” Smith

As my favorite leader of a crack commando unit sent to prison for a crime they didn’t commit used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Colorado hunters and anglers likewise should know that a plan is coming together in their state right now – and how these activities will impact the water they need for access to quality days afield.

Back in 2013, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper started a process to develop the state’s first-ever water plan, because there could be as much as 500,000 acre-feet more demand for water than there is water available in the state by 2050. Hickenlooper wants the Colorado Water Planto deal with this problem by combining plans from individual river basins in a way that comports with Colorado values, such as vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, a robust outdoor economy and healthy watersheds, rivers and wildlife.

Fishing on the Gunnison river. Image by Kate Ter Haar.

Since the state’s outdoor legacy is built upon healthy streams that can support fish and wildlife, Colorado sportsmen’s organizations have been actively engaged in the process since the beginning. Back in May, six groups – the Colorado Wildlife Federation, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Bull Moose Sportsmen, National Wildlife Federation and the TRCPwrote to Hickenlooper asking him to address the needs of sportsmen in the water plan. Specifically, the groups said the final plan needed four essential components:

  1. Keep Colorado’s rivers healthy and flowing
  2. Increase water efficiency and conservation in Colorado’s cities and towns
  3. Modernize agriculture and water‐sharing practices
  4. Avoid new, large trans‐mountain diversion projects

These values are widely held by all Coloradans, not just sportsmen. According to a recent poll, 90 percent of Coloradans said that keeping Colorado’s rivers and streams healthy and flowing is extremely important or very important.

Also earlier this year, the TRCP asked Colorado sportsmen to weigh in with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency tasked with drafting the plan, to reinforce these four priorities. As you can see from this timeline, the CWCB should deliver its draft plan to Hickenlooper by the end of the year.

Maintaining waters resources is critical for Colorado’s 2.3 million hunters and anglers, not to mention the $3.0 billion out-of-state visitors bring to the state each year while enjoying Colorado’s fish and wildlife. For the sake of the state’s economy and Colorado’s sporting traditions, the TRCP and its partners will be asking sportsmen to urge Gov. Hickenlooper to make healthy rivers and streams a priority as Colorado finalizes the plan in 2015.



Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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