The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate will be in session this week. The House has adjourned for the August recess.
Two for the Road
Last week, the Senate passed both a six-year highway bill reauthorization and a three-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund. The three-month extension was also passed by the House and signed by the President, effectively avoiding an expiration of the Highway Trust Fund on July 31 and giving the House time to craft its own version of a long-term highway bill in September and October.
Also last week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed their comprehensive bipartisan energy bill, which includes a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (You can see the legislation and amendments here.) The committee also passed legislation lifting the ban on crude oil export.
This week on the floor, the Senate will discuss cyber-security measures and consider bills to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
Trout on the Fly, Newsrooms Under Pressure, and Wildlife as Inspiration
Day Three of our Western Media Summit
Just as the sun was rising over the Gallatin Range, more than four dozen guests at TRCP’s Western Media Summit left Bozeman and drove southeast to the Yellowstone River for a morning of flyfishing on the final day of the conference. Eighteen guides piloted boats down the river, as anglers caught (and released) rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and whitefish, and the temperature climbed from the 50s into the 70s. As guests got to know their guides, and each other, the experience helped to put a personal face on the connection between access to these iconic public lands and waters and the businesses that rely on them: the sandwich shop where the guides bought guest lunches, the gas station where they fill up their trucks, the outfitter that books their services, the fly shop where they get their gear, and even the guy who shuttles their trucks and trailers the seven miles from the put-in to where they take their boats off the river.
After four hours of fishing, and with a few new tan lines, the group then gathered at the Bozeman offices of SITKA Gear for an afternoon of discussion. Led by a panel of four media professionals, and moderated by Outdoor Life Editor-in-Chief Andrew McKean, a conversation about reassessing the role of the conservation reporter got everyone in the room involved. Panelists examined how outdoor writing and conservation coverage is faring with shrinking newsrooms, thinning publications, and, perhaps, an increasingly selective pool of readers who have the content they want at their fingertips, whenever and wherever they want it. McKean asked the room if the outdoor media is partly responsible for creating a divide between “environmentalists” and “conservationists.” Gray Thornton of the Wild Sheep Foundation questioned whether sportsmen can reclaim the latter title, which many felt we have lost. Brett French, outdoor editor for the Billings Gazette, confessed that he felt like an endangered species—his role has become quite rare for the average daily newspaper. There was also some discussion of the partisan politics of conservation stories, and whether the potential for dissention among readers, publishers, or lawmakers makes telling these stories a risky proposition. Overall, journalists seemed to agree that immersive experiences, like the media summit, re-energize them to cover conservation—politics and all.
The second panel discussion focused on the potential endangered species listing and controversial restoration strategies currently under review for the greater sage-grouse. Jim Lyons, the deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Tim Baker from the Montana Governor’s Office, and Rolling Stone Ranch Owner Jim Stone addressed the group with a timely update on the flurry of activity around the iconic game species. There are just 63 days until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s court-ordered deadline for determining whether or not the bird requires protection under the Endangered Species Act, and the panel was held on the same day as the deadline for state Governors to file their protests against BLM land management plans to benefit the birds in 10 Western states. TRCP’s senior scientist Dr. Ed Arnett led the discussion, pointing out that sage grouse conservation and the public lands transfer movement share a common thread: Critics are capitalizing on the discontent of sportsmen with the way federal land management is being done, but it’s not as simple as having state’s take over management. It will be necessary to have federal, state, and volunteer conservation efforts working in concert to avoid a listing, and it will be necessary for sportsmen to engage in a conversation around solutions to federal land management issues so we don’t lose those lands forever.
Following the sage-grouse panel, David Brinker, marketing director for SITKA Gear, welcomed the journalists to his company’s headquarters and explained how SITKA’s passion for conservation led them become a founding member of the nonprofit One Percent for Conservation. The initiative was created by SITKA staffer Jeff Sposito to enlist retailers and small businesses in the sporting community that are not required to contribute Pittman-Robertson excise taxes toward conservation efforts, hunter’s education, or shooting programs, and facilitate the donation of one percent of their profits to a hunting-related cause of their choice. The effort will be officially launched this winter.
Guests then filtered downstairs to the other half of the refurbished industrial warehouse to enjoy cocktails, pizza, Italian desserts, and a powerful speech by Shane Mahoney. The CEO of Conservation Visions, Inc., is also a filmmaker, writer, and TV personality with 30 years of experience in science, wildlife management, and policy innovation in the U.S. and Canada. He gravely told the group that we have much work to do to protect our great sporting traditions, public land and water resources, and health of all species. “Wildlife are a democratic resource. It is something to inspire us. It is something to give us joy. It is not some side show,” he said. His remarks received a standing ovation from the crowd.
This is how far out of touch Congress is with sportsmen
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about how Congress is ignoring the wishes of sportsmen and voting against clean water protections that are best for fish and wildlife. Now we have the data to prove it.
Our friends over at the National Wildlife Federation have released a poll showing just how broad and deep the support for restoring protections under the Clean Water Act runs among sportsmen. What did they find? A remarkable 83 percent of the hunters and anglers surveyed thought that the Environmental Protection Agency should apply the rules and standards of the Clean Water Act to smaller, headwater streams and wetlands—because we can’t clean up larger bodies of water without protecting the waters that flow into them, and because smaller streams and wetlands are crucial fish and wildlife habitat.
Whether or not to protect smaller streams and wetlands has been a politically contentious issue for nearly 15 years. The Clean Water Act protected the nation’s streams and wetlands from the time it was passed in 1972 until two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 left it unclear exactly which streams and wetlands could be covered by the law.
In May, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers completed the clean water rule to clear up this confusion. After a multi-year process of holding more than 400 stakeholder meetings and generating over 800,000 supportive public comments, the agencies produced a rule welcomed by sportsmen. Dave Perkins, executive vice chairman of the Orvis Company, said, “The clean water rule is good for our business. Improving the quality of fishing in America translates directly to our bottom line, to the numbers of employees we hire right here in America, and to the health of our brick-and-mortar stores all over the country.”
Nevertheless, Congress is hell bent on stealing this victory from sportsmen. More than half of all senators are on record opposing the clean water rule, and the House has voted in the past to undermine it. Why does a majority of Congress oppose what an overwhelming majority of sportsmen want? That’s a question Jim Martin—conservation director at the Berkley Conservation Institute, a branch of one of the largest tackle manufacturers in the sportfishing industry—asks, too.
“If the support is so widespread why are politicians not voting to support the rule?” wonders Martin. “This poll quite clearly shows what the public supports. Now, it is up to the political leaders to determine if they support the interests of their constituents or special interests on the issue of protecting watersheds.”
These same political leaders will surely get another chance to stand with, or against, sportsmen for clean water, before the year is out. It is incumbent on hunters and anglers to let our leaders in Washington know where we stand, and how we expect them to represent our interests.
A Wildlife-Friendly Ranch, Wading the Simms Factory Floor, and the Sound of 18,000 Names Hitting the Ground
Day Two of our Western Media Summit was packed with immersive experiences meant to give tangible context to complex issues, like federal conservation funding programs, public and private land management, and the outdoor recreation economy.
Before lunch, guests enjoyed a walking tour of the stunning 600-acre conservation easement on Oyler Ranch, a property that was originally homesteaded by the Oyler family in the 1860s and has been continuously grazed since the 1880s. This morning, its rivers, creeks, ponds, and vast green fields were framed by distant white-tipped mountains, dusted with fresh snow overnight. Mike Ellig, who runs Black Gold, a Montana company that manufactures premium bow sights, purchased the property from the Oyler family in 2014 and, with help from the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, immediately began executing a plan for restoration of the fish and wildlife habitat within the ranch’s conservation easement.
“I’ve always had a passion for outdoors,” Ellig explained. “It’s always been a dream of mine to have a place to do the things I love to do.” It just so happens that Ellig is also opening the land to others who love to do the same things—hunt and fish. He’s also using responsible grazing and agriculture practices while looking for opportunities to enhance habitat for trout, deer, bears, turkeys, pheasants, and beavers.
Near Randall Creek, which flows through his property, he paused the tour at the side of 60-acre field, where he hopes to irrigate and create waterfowl habitat. One of his ponds, flanked by chokecherry trees (a favorite food source of local bears), is home to a turtle and two pairs of wood ducks, rarely found in the valley. Near a section of the West Gallatin that enters his land, cottonwood trees are beginning to grow back on the muddy banks of the fast-moving stream, after years of cows trampling the young trees.
“Mike Ellig is a great example of a landowner who is improving sportsmen’s access by opening up his private land to hunters and improving the habitat at the same time,” said Peter Brown with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. “I think something that is often overlooked about his contribution is that the conservation work he contracts out to local workers actually creates something like a dozen jobs. That’s on top of the benefit that this new public access point will provide to the outdoor recreation economy in Bozeman.”
Later in the day, TRCP’s Chief Conservation Officer Paul Wilkins turned the group’s attention to federal public lands, asking conservation and industry leaders, “Why do public lands matter?” On the same day the TRCP reported that 18,000 sportsmen have signed our Unlocking Sportsmen’s Access petition and more than 174,000 letters have been sent to lawmakers opposing the transfer of federal public lands to the states, our panelists spoke passionately to the group of 40 gathered at Simms Fishing’s 60,000-square-foot Bozeman headquarters about the value of public lands and the importance of sportsmen’s access to local economies. Blake Henning from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ben Bulis from the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Joel Webster from the TRCP, and Ryan Busse, a business leader from the shooting sports industry discussed major threats to our public lands legacy and some great opportunities that media professionals have to tell the stories that will kill off this bad idea of handing control over federal lands to the states.
Following the discussion, Diane Bristol, senior director of employee and community engagement for Simms, gave a tour of the production facilities where employees make the brand’s popular waders. She said that the company has 150 employees, having added 10 percent more positions in the past year, and they plan to keep growing. She showed TRCP guests several sections of the headquarters including the cutting room, repair center, testing area, seam taping machines, and custom graphics department. She also shared a bit about the company’s conservation mission: “Public lands and access to good fishing is crucial to our business, and our staff is passionate about these sports,” said Bristol. “I think today was a great opportunity for the media guests to see just how invested we are in conservation, through our work with TRCP and other groups, and in excellence for our products overall.”
Bison, Beer, and the Public Lands Backbone of Montana’s Economy
Welcome to the 13th Annual TRCP Western Media Summit, held July 27 to 30, in Bozeman, Mont.
Influential policy makers, outdoor industry leaders, and more than two dozen members of the media kicked off three days of conservation discussion and discovery last night in Bozeman, Mont. The mission of the TRCP’s 13thannual Western Media Summit is to arm journalists to tell the most timely conservation stories impacting the Western states, including the controversial movement to transfer federal public lands to the states, the impending endangered species listing decision for the greater sage-grouse, and the economic value of safeguarding sportsmen’s access.
Despite the heavy rain, anomalous 48-degree temperatures, and dark clouds shrouding the nearby Gallatin Mountains, the ballroom of the Baxter Hotel, a refurbished landmark in the heart of historic Bozeman, was packed for the very first event of this year’s summit. The TRCP’s CEO and president, Whit Fosburgh, welcomed attendees by sharing some history of the organization’s longstanding tradition of bringing media together for a frank discussion of conservation over campfires and beer, with some hunting and fishing thrown in. He also praised the region for its significance to the summit’s themes. “We’re thrilled to be in Bozeman,” said Fosburgh. “Conservation works in concert with good access to hunting and fishing and a thriving outdoor economy, and this town is a perfect example.”
TRCP Board Chair Weldon Baird also spoke, emphasizing the positive role that journalists play in explaining complex environmental issues and conservation policies to the public. “Over the next couple of days, we’d like to share what’s important to us as an organization, and we’d also like to hear from you,” said Baird.
Paul Wilkins, TRCP’s chief conservation officer, then stepped up to the podium to welcome the evening’s headlining speaker, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who recently vetoed a bill aimed at studying federal public lands in the state, likely to make the case for transferring or selling them. “Public lands are part of the Montana ethos and a big sector of our economy. They represent a promise to future generations. But perhaps, like no other time before, that promise could be in jeopardy,” said Bullock. “Out-of-state interests hiring lobbyists to float the idea that the states should demand their lands back from the federal government certainly haven’t fooled me or Montanans. The true cost would be too great for us, or any other state, to handle. So, I vetoed the one bill that made it to my desk.”
Bullock also expressed gratitude for the media’s coverage of conservation issues. “Thank you to the journalists for what you do in educating the public about Montana’s and America’s public lands,” he said, pointing out that the gathering of science and policy experts with media at the TRCP summit could serve as an apt celebration for the end of Montana’s inaugural Open Land Month, established by Bullock’s executive order. “Our state is home to immeasurable opportunities to experience public lands and waterways, which I believe are a great equalizer,” he said. “Whether you’re a CEO or a single mom, you have access to them.”
Bullock, who will serve as governor through 2016, ultimately shared some of his conservation goals for Montana: He supports Congress setting aside partisan politics to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and he’d like to prevent a greater sage-grouse listing with cooperation from a diverse group of stakeholders. And, importantly, he said: “I’ll continue to stand and defend the public lands that Montanans hold so dear.”
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CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
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.