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posted in: General

March 5, 2015

Open Fields: Where Access and Habitat Coexist

Jared Wiklund is Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s public relations specialist. Contact Wiklund at jwiklund@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter at @wiklund247.

Publicly accessible land is THE trending topic in the American outdoor recreation community and a major discussion point for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members. In fact, land access—or the current lack thereof—consistently ranks as one of the top reasons for members joining “The Habitat Organization.”

To help combat the access issue, the 2008 Farm Bill included a new provision called the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), commonly known as “Open Fields.”  The goal of this program is to encourage private landowners to voluntarily open their land to the public for wildlife-dependent recreation, including hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and a host of other conservation organizations have adamantly supported these provisions.

Image by Roger Hill.

Of course, VPA-HIP is important for more than just access. Private landowners control some very important pieces of the conservation puzzle and dictate wildlife habitat/populations in North America. The traditional conservation model for state and federal agencies  is based on land acquisition and easements. VPA-HIP partnerships are redefining the process to open private lands to public recreation and habitat conservation. VPA-HIP provides an excellent opportunity for landowners to have a positive impact on our natural resources with added incentives.

Funding for VPA-HIP helps state and tribal governments boost existing public access programs as well as implement new programs that increase access to private lands. USDA was originally authorized to spend $50 million on VPA-HIP from 2009‐2012, though delays and legislative action ultimately reduced spending to just $9.1 million in 2011. Thankfully, an additional $20 million was allocated in 2014, and USDA recently announced another $20 million in funding for this unique program at the 2015 National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic.

Contrary to what some may think, voluntary public access programs are not found solely in western states. An impressive list of states and tribes from across the country have participated in VPA-HIP to open private lands for public access:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Confederated Tribes
    and Bands of the
    Yakama Nation
    (Washington)
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Nearly 70 percent of land in the U.S. is in private ownership—a number that’s even higher in much of pheasant and bobwhite quail country.The more we can work with private land stewards for the betterment of natural resources, the brighter the future will be for wild things and wild places. If you are a proponent of public lands, we invite you to try hunting andrecreating on VPA-HIP land and to keep fighting for publicly-accessible lands with improved wildlife habitat.

 

One Response to “Open Fields: Where Access and Habitat Coexist”

  1. Keith Hess

    Hi, I’m a sportsman from Iowa. I guess I can understand why you support the farm bill since parts of support wildlife habitat. Seems to me the “good ole days” of the CRP program of the 80’s is long gone. There were a lot of pheasants and quail here then. Our lakes, creeks, rivers, and ponds here are polluted worse than ever in history because of the farming methods today. It seems to me the current farm bill rewards these farmers for destroying any minimal habitat the wild birds and critters have, and polluting the water systems with farm chemicals. Guess I’m not a big fan. Thanks, Keith.

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Whit Fosburgh

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posted in: General

March 3, 2015

America’s public lands are for all of us to use

Sportsmen have been called on to defend our public lands a lot lately. Short-sighted proposals have popped up in state legislatures all across the West this winter to transfer the ownership of our public lands away from the American people. Hunters and anglers have been on the front lines, often right on the steps of state capitols, defending more than a hundred years of our national outdoor legacy.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

One of those bad ideas has migrated to Washington, with the February 13 introduction of S.490, the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2015. This legislation would turn the management of energy production on millions of acres of American public lands over to the states. The logic behind this bill is that energy production should be the dominant use of public lands, and that literally every barrier should be removed to make sure that production occurs quickly and with little regard for fish and wildlife habitat or access, indeed with little regard for anything.

S.490 is crafted on the principle that states can regulate energy production on federal public lands more efficiently and more effectively than can the federal land management agencies. This may well be true if one believes federal public lands should be singularly focused on the production of energy. State regulations for energy development are generally targeted at maximizing profits on state, and frequently, on private, lands.  Our federal public lands were created for a higher purpose than rapid development at all costs. This legislation represents a reversal of the multiple use mandate that has been a foundational principle on federal public lands for more than a century. The American people own these lands and the American people must insist on having a say in their long-range management.

Energy development clearly has a place on federal lands, but it must be balanced with other uses and the public has a right to make its voice heard in that management.  The Federal Land Freedom Act, however, makes clear that the public will have no input on public lands decision making when it comes to energy development. The legislation ensures, in no uncertain terms, that the Administrative Procedures Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act will be specifically cut out of the process for determining where energy production ought to go, and where it ought not to go.

The notion that underlies this bill, and many of the other land transfer ideas we’ve seen in recent months, is that these federal lands that have not been industrialized are “unused” or “underutilized.” In introducing S.490, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) said “The states, not the federal government, are the ones best equipped to tend to the extensive unused and unprotected lands across the nation that the federal government has staked a claim to.”

Photo courtesy of Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinksi – International League of Conservation Photographers.

As any sportsmen can attest, the notion that if an area is not industrialized means it is unused is nonsense, and likely spoken by someone who has never left the comfort of his or her vehicle to experience our public lands.  It ignores the fact that our public lands are the backbone of the nation’s $646 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy.  It ignores the fact that 72 percent of hunters in the west rely on public lands to pursue their passion.  And it ignores the fact that wide open places, like Wyoming’s sage country (often referred to as “The Big Empty”) provides critical habitat for 350 different species, from sage-grouse and golden eagles to mule deer and pronghorn.

The reality is that this lack of development on some of our public lands provides access and opportunity for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts from around the country.  Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation power a rural economic boom that won’t ever go bust, so long as we take care of the habitat and the access.

Hunters and anglers are amongst the strongest champions of federal public lands, as witnessed by the rallies we are seeing across the West opposing selling off or transferring to the states our public lands. We must remain vigilant as well against proposals that don’t go quite so far as wholesale transfer, but that will just as surely forever change the public land landscape.

And we must help decision makers understand that these lands are far from unused.

What do you want our legacy to be? Sign the petition at http://sportsmensaccess.org.

Coby Tigert

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posted in: General

February 22, 2015

Over 200 sportsmen rally in Idaho to keep public lands public

Last Thursday, over 200 sportsmen and women  rallied on the steps of the Idaho State Capitol to demonstrate their support for keeping public lands in public hands. Hunters and anglers from across the state urged the Legislature to ensure long-term sportsmen’s access to the vast lands so important to the Idaho identity. Sportsmen representing the old and the young, men and women, outdoor businesses and veterans came together and spoke to the importance of these lands while Legislators listened with interest.

Photo courtesy of Coby Tigert.

Rally speakers raised many issues with a transfer of public lands, highlighting the potential losses of sporting opportunity, the loss of our personal heritage and the damage a land transfer would cause to the outdoor recreational economy. A federal land transfer would result in a fire sale of these lands. “What will we pass on to our future generations,” one speaker asked. “Another gate, another fine, another impediment created by the few owning what should belong to the many? Or will we protect the birthright that is intrinsic to American society?”

The next rally for public lands takes place on Wednesday, February 25 in Denver. 

What do you want our legacy to be? Sign the petition at http://sportsmensaccess.org.

Coby Tigert

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posted in: General

February 10, 2015

In Idaho and the West, sportsmen rally to “keep public lands public”

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.

Check out the recap and photos from the New Mexico public lands rally on January 29 in Santa Fe, NM. 

John Hamill

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posted in: General

February 9, 2015

New Mexico sportsmen rally to “keep their public lands public”

Photo courtesy of John Hamil.

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.

Photo courtesy of John Hamill.

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!

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