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Idaho is much more than potatoes.
From the inland rainforests of its panhandle, south through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and out to the high desert and canyons of the Owyhees, Idaho is defined by public lands. More than 60 percent of the state, or 34 million acres, is public lands that offer sportsmen fantastic opportunities.
Anglers enjoy high mountain lakes and streams rich with trout and deep river canyons offering salmon, steelhead and sturgeon. Hunters pursue 10 species of big game on Idaho’s public lands. Upland bird hunters chase numerous species, from Columbia sharptails to spruce grouse.
I’ve spent my life tramping the public lands of Idaho in pursuit of steelhead, cutthroat trout, chukars, mule deer, mountain goats and many other critters. I have experienced the joy of introducing my kids to hunting and fishing here. But these opportunities may not exist for future generations if some groups have their way. Efforts are afoot in Idaho and eight other Western states to wrest public lands from the federal government and put them under state ownership.
America’s public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands – provide hunting and fishing opportunities to millions of Americans. They represent the uniquely American values of freedom and adventure that are the envy of the world. While few sportsmen would say that federal management of our lands is perfect, most of us recognize that the cost of managing these lands would far exceed the revenue they would provide to the states. State ownership would result in these areas being developed or sold.
Transferring public lands to the states and making them available for sale to private interests is not in the best interest of fish and wildlife or hunting and fishing. Once privatized, these lands would become off limits to most sportsmen forever. And Idaho has a history of selling its lands. Nearly one third of the lands given to Idaho at statehood have been sold, resulting in hunters and fishermen losing access to more than a million acres.
Sportsmen are speaking up and asking decision makers to end this discussion that threatens our Western heritage and the freedom to roam America’s wide open spaces. Sportsmen’s rallies already have drawn hundreds of hunters and anglers to state capitols in Montana and New Mexico. More events are planned for Idaho and Colorado.
Join with your fellow sportsmen at the public lands rally in Boise on Feb. 12. Keep our public lands in public hands and send a clear message to your state legislators, governor, and members of Congress by signing the online petition. And if you’re in Denver, Colorado on February 25, consider attending this public land rally too.
There is a growing movement across nine Western states to pass legislation that would demand the transfer of federal public lands to the states. On January 29, 2015, TRCP staff and members participated in a rally at the New Mexico State Capitol to oppose this very bad idea. The rally was attended by over 250 New Mexicans, some of whom traveled over 300 miles to let their governor and State legislators know that they are opposed to the idea of spending state tax dollars to even study this idea.
Unlike many of the proponents of the land transfers these weren’t paid lobbyists or special interests – they were hunters, anglers, horsemen, wood cutters, campers, Native Americans, and veterans—real Americans who depend on public lands for recreation and spiritual renewal.
While some are frustrated with current Federal land management practices and policies, they recognize that the State of New Mexico doesn’t have the funds or the multiple-use mandates to responsibly manage public lands (e.g., maintain roads/recreation facilities, prevent or fight wildfires, restore areas that are damaged by wildfires, prevent abuses, etc.).
They fear that the State would simply use the lands to promote development and/or sell them to raise the money needed to manage them. They recognize transferring ownership of public lands to the State poses a significant threat to many of their closely held traditions and core values.
At a time when many American’s feel disenfranchised by our government and political leadership, at least for one afternoon at the New Mexico State Capitol, common citizens showed up to express their support for something they are passionate about: keeping their public lands public.
The transfer of federal public lands to the states poses a threat to hunting and fishing as we know it today. Sportsmen need to continue to fight to maintain control and access to our most precious resource, our public lands. To make you voice heard, go to www.sportsmensaccess.org and sign the petition to stop the seizure of your public lands. Finally, consider attending public land rallies that are being planned in Denver, Colorado and in Boise, Idaho. This is the time for action not complacency!
The U.S. Forest Service recently issued instructions for the Shoshone National Forest to manage the Francs Peak and Wood River areas, near the town of Cody, to maintain their intact and undeveloped character. This action is in response to objections that were filed by the TRCP and other organizations in March 2014 – objections that prompted a national level review.
Earlier in 2014, last-minute changes were made to the Shoshone’s revised forest plan to create motorized trails in an area that is known to provide valuable wildlife habitat and high quality hunting and fishing. This change would have negatively impacted fish and wildlife as well as the sportsmen and -women who utilize the Francs Peak and Wood River areas. The Forest Service itself identified these areas as containing high fish and wildlife values – the region is home to many species including mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears and black bears. In particular, the Shoshone hosts the largest native population of bighorn sheep in the U.S. forest system, and these areas are important to their sustainability.
During the revision of the Shoshone’s forest plan, the TRCP remained focused on ensuring that science-based analysis is used to conserve valuable fish and wildlife habitats as well as uphold hunter and angler interests. While providing public access to these areas is important, new motorized routes through the key habitat on Francs Peak and Wood River would have diminished fish and wildlife – and ultimately hurt sportsmen.
The TRCP appreciates the U.S. Forest Service’s consideration of our concerns during this review and decision making process. Thanks also are in order to others that were deeply involved, such as our partners at Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Trout Unlimited, Wild Sheep Foundation and Wyoming Wildlife Federation. Without the engagement of a committed group of sportsmen, this decision to conserve fish and wildlife – and further sportsmen’s interests – may never have come to pass.
Today, President Barack Obama released his fiscal year 2016 budget request to Congress. The president’s call for doing away with sequestration and increasing spending by $74 billion would provide a welcome investment in sportsmen’s conservation priorities. But the president’s budget request is just that – a request to a GOP-led Congress that will assuredly trim his proposals substantially.
Yet the president’s emphasis on increased investment in conservation programs represents a positive start to the federal budget process and certainly suggests an increased urgency by the administration to contribute more toward natural resource conservation. While a complete rollback of sequestration cuts is unlikely, these proposals enable us to see the reference points in the debate between the administration and Congress.
Many of the TRCP’s priorities received level funding or sizeable increases in the president’s budget request:
An additional $78 million was provided for the conservation of sage steppe landscapes. This funding will be critical in joint state/federal efforts to prevent the listing of the sage grouse and reverse declines in other game species like mule deer.
The U.S. Forest Service would receive an increase of $30 million for the road and trail maintenance backlog, thereby helping provide public access to public lands. The budget would create a new pilot program, called the Integrated Resource Restoration Program, to address urgently needed road decommissioning, trail repair and removal of fish passage barriers, especially in areas where Forest Service roads may contribute to water quality problems in streams and water bodies. Decommissioned roads often cause blowouts and prevent access to the most popular recreation sites. This program is important for both sportsmen’s access and habitat restoration and enhancement. The budget also prioritizes “the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) to foster collaborative, science-based restoration on priority forest landscapes across the Nation.” The CFLRP would support jobs, provide a reliable wood supply, restore forest health and reduce the costs of fire suppression.
In addition, the president’s budget includes a vital provision to end wildfire borrowing. This reflects stipulations in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, legislation re-introduced in Congress this year that would classify the most extreme wildfires as natural disasters, enabling the use of federal emergency dollars to fund their suppression. This provision calls for wildfires whose suppression costs exceed 70 percent of the 10-year suppression cost average to be funded similarly to other natural disasters, restoring upwards of $400 million to the U.S. Forest Service budget. The TRCP strongly supports this bill.
Unfortunately, the president’s budget request would compound the injury Congress inflicted when it cut $402 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Program in last year’s “CRomnibus” funding bill. The president’s budget would cut the CSP by $54 million annually beginning in 2017, or $486 million over the next 10 years. Thankfully however, two priority programs at USDA would be well funded by the president: the celebrated new Regional Conservation Partnership Program would receive $330 million; the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, which encourages private land owners to voluntarily open their land to hunters and anglers, has retained $40 million through 2018 as authorized by the Farm Bill.
Sportsmen should consider this budget a victory and sign of renewed interest by the president in conservation investments. This is only the beginning of the debate. Congress will rightly scrutinize the president’s budget request and advance its own plan. As Congress begins this process, the TRCP is ready to make the case that conservation is always a good investment.
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