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In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds.
This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.
In Part Two of our series, we head to the Land of Enchantment to look at the Bootheel of New Mexico.
It is often said that living well is the best revenge. For a hunter, that could mean stalking a high-desert Coues deer buck in short sleeves, while your friends shiver in rain and snow far away to the north.
The Bootheel of far southwestern New Mexico is the answer to a lot of hunters’ winter prayers. Sprawling and mostly uninhabited, the Bootheel is almost one-third public lands, giving hunters room to roam on 488,320 acres managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. It’s a cholla and chaparral world, dry and bony until you get into some rainier and snowier altitudes in the mountains. The Peloncillos, Animas, and Guadalupes are the major ranges, towering from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. The high country encompasses an ecoregion called the Madrean forest, a mixture of piñon pine, junipers, and five different species of oak. There are wild places here, remote and requiring the utmost self-sufficiency, in the Big Hatchet Mountains and the Peloncillos.
The star of this country is the elusive little Coues deer, but there are plenty of other opportunities to spend long days afield. You can hunt three species of quail in one day, starting out in the lower country with Gambel’s and scaled quail and climbing the mountain flanks for the close-holding Mearn’s quail. There are javelinas, mule deer, rare desert bighorns, and a recovered population of Gould’s turkeys – the largest of all the wild turkey subspecies.
These experiences are made possible by public access to federal lands, but some New Mexicans, like so many Westerners, have a deep rooted distrust of the federal government. This distrust has been used by some politicians, who care little for the state’s hunting and outdoor heritage, to push for New Mexico’s federal public lands to be transferred to state control. But transferring the lands is not a viable solution to the conflicts over federal management, because the burdens of management far outweigh any benefits that would come to most residents. The financial burden, in particular, would include firefighting costs on federal lands, which exceeded $240 million in New Mexico in 2012 alone.
Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who opposes state takeover of federal public lands, told reporters, “The states would have no choice but to auction off the best public lands to cover costs. That would devastate our outdoor traditions like hunting and fishing as well as the 68,000 jobs associated without door recreation in New Mexico. These lands belong to all of us, and it is imperative that we keep it that way.”
Three bills were introduced during the 2015 New Mexico state legislative session that promoted the transfer of federal public lands to the state. More than 250 hunters and anglers rallied at the capitol to make a statement against this legislation, and local sportsmen’s groups worked with state legislators to put a stop to these misguided proposals. In the end, a bipartisan group of lawmakers helped to defeat these bills.
Sportsmen should be proud of this successful effort to stop public-land seizure bills in New Mexico, and we all must remain vigilant to prevent future proposals from gaining traction in the Land of Enchantment.
Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.
You may know the tale of Theodore Roosevelt’s Mississippi black bear hunt in the fall of 1902, his second year in office. After all, it’s one of the most famous hunts to have taken place on American soil, and it inspired the most famous toy in the world—the Teddy Bear.
But shortly after Roosevelt came to Mississippi in the early 1900s, over-hunting and agricultural development in the Delta’s swamps practically eliminated the Louisiana black bear from its native range in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. It was eventually listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1992, bringing about much concern from landowners, the timber industry, and wildlife professionals. This forward-thinking group hoped that the downward trend could be reversed and suitable black bear habitat within the region could be restored.
That same year, the Wetlands Reserve Program was instituted, building upon the successes of the Conservation Reserve Program, launched in 1985. Together, these programs resulted in the restoration of more than one million acres of black bear habitat, and black bear populations slowly began to rise across the bear’s historic range.
Now, Teddy’s bear is having a moment. After more than two decades of conservation efforts, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has proposed removing the Louisiana black bear from the list of threatened and endangered species under the ESA. “The Louisiana black bear symbolizes how the Endangered Species Act can be a remarkably effective tool to protect and recover threatened and endangered species when we work in close partnership with states and other stakeholders,” Jewell said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, state agencies, non-profit organizations, and private landowners are all to thank for the Louisiana black bear’s success.
According to Hunter Fordice, a landowner and son of Mississippi’s former governor, Kirk Fordice, “The first documented black bear cubs born in the Mississippi Delta in some 30 years were born in the middle of a 12-year-old Wetlands Reserve Program tract on my property in Issaquena County in 2007. The Wetlands Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program have restored hundreds of thousands of acres of bottomland hardwoods across the Lower Mississippi Valley, which in turn has provided habitat suitable for the Louisiana black bear to once again thrive in its historical home range. As a landowner, it is very gratifying to see these conservation programs working so well.”
We think Roosevelt would be proud to see the population’s rebound and to know that the next generation of outdoorsmen will share the woods with the bear that “bears” his nickname. To celebrate, let’s hear the story of this famous hunt.
Almost every aspect of Roosevelt’s 1902 hunt at Smede’s farm was the responsibility of the uneducated, but extremely intelligent, 56-year-old Holt Collier, who was born into slavery and served as a Confederate scout before becoming a legend for his hunting skills. Roosevelt (who announced that he was to be addressed only as “Colonel” throughout the hunt) expressed his desire to participate in the chase. However his demands for a shot on the very first day, and the timidity of his hosts, condemned him to a stationary blind. He was placed to have a clear shot when the bear, driven by Collier’s pack of nearly 40 dogs, would emerge from one of the dense cane thickets on the farm.
Roosevelt and his hunting partner, Huger Foote, waited on the stand all morning. Around mid-afternoon they broke for lunch, annoying Collier, who’d worked extremely hard to bring a bear to that exact spot only to find the stand abandoned. As Collier recalled,
“That was eight o’clock in the mornin’ when I hit the woods an’ roused my bear where I knowed I’d fin him. Den me an’ dat bear had a time, fightin’ an’ chargin’ an’ tryin’ to make him take a tree. Big ole bear but he wouldn’t climb nary tree. I could have killed him a thousand times… I sweated myself to death in that canebrake. So did the bear. By keeping between the bear and the river, I knew he’d sholy make for the water hole where I left the Cunnel [sic]. After a while the bear started that way and popped out of the gap where I said he’d go. But I didn’t hear a shot, and that pestered me… It sholy pervoked me because I’d promised the President to bring him a bear to that log, and there he was.”
–Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear by Minor Ferris Buchanan
It was at this time that the bear turned on the dogs. This put Collier in quite the quandary. He had been given specific orders to save the bear for Roosevelt, who was not to be found, and yet he had to protect the dogs from the deadly bear.
Collier dismounted, shouting at the bear. He approached the bear and tried to distract it as someone rode to camp to get the President. In the meantime, the bear and the dogs fought viciously, and at one point his prize dog was caught in the bear’s grip. Collier swung the stock of his gun and landed a blow to the base of the bear’s skull. Stunned, the bear dropped the dog and Collier seized the opportunity to place a lariat around the bear’s neck so that, when Roosevelt and Foote arrived several minutes later, the animal was tied to a tree.
President Roosevelt refused to claim the bear, citing a “true sportsmen’s code” which holds that the taking of any animal that does not have a sporting chance is forbidden. This famous hunting event inspired the first widespread discussion of the modern code of “fair chase,” a tenet of the Boone and Crockett Club which Roosevelt founded. It is the oldest conservation organization in North America and the second oldest in the world.
Although Roosevelt did not count the hunt as “successful,” the press thought it a most delightful story and spread word of it across the country. Roosevelt’s refusal to kill a defenseless animal was far more newsworthy than the taking of a trophy bear, and as the news spread, Brooklyn toy store owners Rose and Morris Michtom wrote to ask his permission to name their stuffed toy bears after him. The President approved, and “Teddy’s Bears” were born.
James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a Regular Member of the Boone and Crockett Club, and a member of the TRCP Policy Council.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate will be in session from Monday through Friday. The House will be in session from Monday through Thursday.
Congress may look like it’s getting an early start on spending bills, but we’re pretty sure they’re going nowhere for a while. This week, the House will vote on its appropriations bill for the Department of Interior and EPA. The spending plan would shortchange key conservation programs and target the Obama administration’s environmental and climate change programs. The bill allocates a total of $30.17 billion for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Forest Service. These disappointing numbers are $246 million below fiscal year 2015 funding levels and represent historically low funding for conservation.
Add to that some damaging policy riders—which would delay the listing of the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act and undermine the recently released clean water rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands—and you’ve got some serious political posturing. As many expected, the GOP-crafted appropriations bill also targets the EPA in a number of these riders and seeks to reduce EPA staff.
There is language prohibiting the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management from ordering new closures of public lands to hunting and recreational shooting.
Here are the highlights of the House spending bill:
The grass isn’t any greener for other agencies. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee will mark up its fiscal year 2016 spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration. The $20 billion spending package features significant cuts to key conservation programs:
The spending plan also features a controversial policy rider that would delay implementation of conservation compliance, a program that requires farmers receiving federal crop insurance to implement conservation practices aimed at improving soil and water quality. The rider would not preclude the U.S. Department of Agriculture from employing compliance, as needed, but would allow the agency to continue to provide subsidies for a year without requiring conservation compliance across the board.
More information on the bill can be found here.
This Week in Full:
Tuesday, June 23
Wednesday, June 24
Thursday, June 25
Conservation is underfunded in a fiscal year 2016 bill bogged down with riders
Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a funding bill for the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency that cuts funding for conservation to $2 billion below fiscal year 2010 levels. This results in less money for science, active management, habitat restoration, and sportsmen’s access.
The bill also includes a slew of riders that would block important habitat protections. The Clean Water Rule rider would block the protection of headwater and ephemeral streams that supply drinking water to one in three Americans and throw 20 million acres of wetlands critical to waterfowl back into legal limbo. The bill also includes a rider that would undermine the historic collaboration between 11 Western states and the Department of the Interior to conserve the greater sage-grouse and prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from finalizing its listing decision under the Endangered Species Act for another year.
“Not only does this bill sell sportsmen short, but its funding levels and policy provisions have made it unnecessarily controversial—it’s going nowhere and everyone knows it,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s time for both parties to roll up their sleeves and hammer out a successor to the Murray-Ryan Bipartisan Budget Act. A bipartisan budget deal is the only way Congress is going to be able to make the investments in conservation that American sportsmen deserve.”
The bill contains a few pro-sportsmen priorities, including steady funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a wildfire funding cap adjustment to bring an end to the practice of “fire borrowing.”
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.Learn More