Pittman-Robertson: 78 Years of Gearing Up for Good Conservation
On this day in 1937, one of the most important pieces of legislation in conservation history was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt—yep, that other Roosevelt—to dedicate excise taxes on guns, ammunition, and other hunting equipment toward funding conservation and habitat restoration throughout the country. Today, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, more commonly named the Pittman-Robertson Act for co-sponsors Senator Key Pittman and Congressman Absalom Robertson, can be directly linked to the revitalization and survival of wild turkeys, whitetail deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, wood ducks, black bears, Canada goose, desert bighorn sheep, and mountain lions in our country.
At the height of commercial and market hunting, and just as several species were on the brink of being over-hunted to the point of extinction, this important bill helped to create a permanent source of funding for conservation in the U.S. Estimates show that Pittman-Robertson has brought in over $8 billion for conservation since 1939—that’s a lot of gear.
Over 4 million acres of sensitive habitat have been acquired with these funds, and the management of wildlife on another 40 million acres has been underwritten with money from P-R and state-funded matches. This funding also ensures that we’re using the best science to assess habitat risks and needs, easily making it part of one of the most successful conservation stories ever.
All of this, of course, has come on the backs of sportsmen and women everywhere. Every time we purchase the latest shotgun or bow, or stock up on ammo, we are essentially helping our own cause, but the effects of P-R funding extend far beyond sportsmen. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that “almost all the lands purchased with P-R money are managed both for wildlife production and for other public uses,” such as hiking, camping, birdwatching, and picnicking.
So, when you’re at the store stocking up for opening day, go ahead and buy that extra box of shells—it’s worth it. The decisions we make today, at the cash register and in Washington, will have lasting effects on our sporting traditions.
Arizona Anglers and Fishing Guides List Six Ways to Enhance Lees Ferry Rainbow Trout Fishery
To address concerns over an unstable rainbow trout population in northwest Arizona’s Lees Ferry, a coalition of conservation and sportsmen’s groups and Marble Canyon fishing guides has submitted a list of recommendations to the federal and state agencies responsible for maintaining and improving the blue-ribbon fishery. The recommendations will be provided to the Bureau of Reclamation and National Park Service as they develop an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the adoption of a long-term experimental and management plan to determine Glen Canyon Dam operations and river restoration actions for next 15 to 20 years.
Currently, dam operations have direct and indirect effects on rainbow trout in the 16-mile stretch of the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Marble Canyon—an area commonly referred to as Lees Ferry. Completion of the dam in 1964 created a unique tailwater rainbow trout fishery that has grown in importance and reputation locally, regionally, and nationally. But varying water releases from the dam are currently affecting the production and diversity of insects in the river, the survival of young trout, and the growth and condition of adults.
The trout in Lees Ferry have experienced several significant population swings over the years, which has been bad news for local guiding and lodging businesses that depend on a reliable sport fishery. “Currently, the Lees Ferry trout fishery is ecologically unstable,” says John Hamill, Arizona field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Rainbow trout are exhibiting strong natural recruitment, but these populations aren’t fully supported by the amount and diversity of food in the river. Scientific studies also suggest that food supplies are also limiting to native fish populations downstream in Grand Canyon National Park.”
“Our goal is to make sure the trout fishery gets a fair shake in the EIS process,” Hamill says.
Here’s a summary of the recommendations:
Establish a more diverse and stable aquatic food base by experimenting with more stable flow regimes to bring back bigger bugs, like mayflies, stone flies, and caddis flies. A more diverse aquatic food base will also benefit the native fish community and other wildlife in the Colorado River corridor.
Conduct high-flow releases in the spring to improve the aquatic food base and enhance trout spawning and recruitment when needed.
Test the use of flows to manage trout in the Lees Ferry reach and reduce downstream migration. This could help minimize competition with and/or predation of endangered humpback chub.
Implement a water temperature control device that has the capacity to release both cold and warm water from the Glen Canyon Dam. Recent studies suggest that the amount of water in Lake Powell will likely decrease in the future as a result of increased water demands and climate change, leading to warmer water releases from the dam. This would seriously impact the Lees Ferry trout fishery and lead to an invasion of cool- and warm-water fish which would seriously impact native fish in Grand Canyon National Park.
Establish re-stocking and environmental compliance protocols for responding to potential catastrophic losses of the rainbow trout population in Lees Ferry.
Create action strategies to reduce or avoid the potential effects of poorly-oxygenated water passing through the reservoir. Though a rare occurrence, these conditions can pose a direct and immediate hazard to rainbow trout in Lees Ferry.
These recommendations aim to boost the Lees Ferry fishery without detriment to downstream resources. “Our recommendations will improve the quality of the trout fishery and benefit many other Colorado River resources below Glen Canyon Dam,” says John Jordan, conservation chair for Arizona Trout Unlimited. “We expect these steps to support the recovery of the endangered humpback chub, the improvement of camping beaches in Grand Canyon National Park, the development of hydropower generation, and the protection of archaeological sites.”
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.
A big game hunter’s bucket list might include a trip to the slopes of Alaska’s Brooks Range for Dall sheep or an excursion deep into the southwestern desert for beautiful little Coues deer. But, one thing is certain: That list will hold a hunt for big bull elk, and there is no better place to do that than on high-country public lands in Colorado.
In Part Six of our series, we head to the north-central part of Montana.
Thousands of years ago, the Missouri River in Montana ran north of where it is today. As the ice ages ended, the river took a new course below the Bears Paw Mountains, near the present-day town of Havre, cutting a wide channel through the fine clay soils of the plains. Rain and snow have since carved the earth into a vast and twisted maze of coulees and canyons, some of them hundreds of feet deep, marked by cliffs of yellow sandstone and weathered buttes, steep slopes of scree and gumbo soil.
The Breaks were one of the last places to be settled in the West. Much of the land went unclaimed while the region was homesteaded. A lot more of the land was abandoned later, when fierce winters and seemingly endless droughts forced even the toughest families to leave.
Today, most of the Missouri Breaks is public land in the care of the Bureau of Land Management. American hunters know it as perhaps the most unique and legendary elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep country in the world. If you’ve never seen it, ponder this: Mountain hunters are accustomed to going up into the hills to seek their quarry. In the Breaks, you hike down, eventually reaching the big river itself. This is the home of the second-largest elk herd in Montana and some of the West’s biggest trophy bulls.
Nothing comes easy here. There’s galling heat, clouds of mosquitoes, and big rattlers during bugling season. Sometimes in September there’s snow or gumbo mud that will defeat the most determined off-roader. By November, there’s howling blizzards and subzero temperatures. Here, you pack meat uphill and risk missing that one coulee that leads back to the truck. It’s a tough place, and that’s the way Missouri Breaks hunters like it.
So, imagine their dismay at hearing the Breaks are in the crosshairs of the movement to transfer public lands into state—and possible private—ownership. On June 24, 2014, the Montana GOP announced that it had taken a position of “shifting public land management away from Washington, D.C., control,” and interest in private ownership of Missouri Breaks land remains at a record high.
A Texas family recently purchased more than 300,000 acres in the area for hunting purposes. The once-abandoned and unclaimed lands, now rich with big game, solitude, and adventure, are the on-the-ground equivalent of diamonds and gold. If transferred to the state of Montana, these lands could be sold and closed forever to the average American sportsman.
We won this round, but those who want to seize your outdoor riches and opportunities for great adventure will be back with new proposals aimed at eliminating America’s public lands legacy. Sportsmen must be prepared to fight another day.
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.
TRCP President Takes Seat on Conservation Advisory Council
TRCP president and CEO will help advise federal agencies on ways to advance habitat conservation, hunting traditions, and sportsmen’s access.
Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, has been selected to serve on the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, a group established in 2010 to advise federal agencies on wildlife habitat conservation and hunting-related policy issues. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement last week.
This is the first time that Fosburgh will represent TRCP on the council, comprised of 18 discretionary members appointed by the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture and seven non-voting, ex officio members representing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, and Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
“I’m honored to work with this exemplary group of industry leaders, including many of TRCP’s coalition partners, to create better awareness of sportsmen’s issues in Washington and to benefit fish, wildlife, and public access through thoughtful conservation policy,” said Fosburgh.
The council is an official advisory group established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act to help promote and preserve America’s wildlife and hunting heritage for future generations. This group will provide advice on conservation endeavors that benefit wildlife resources and recreational hunting throughout fiscal year 2016. In fiscal year 2015, the council made recommendations on greater sage-grouse conservation measures, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the next phase of BLM land-use planning—all issues on which the TRCP has been actively engaged.
“The appointees to the Council represent top leadership within the conservation community and possess the expertise to provide us with insightful recommendations to better manage resources critical to America’s rural communities,” Secretary Vilsack said in a release. “Hunters were the nation’s first conservationists, and supporting America’s hunting heritage goes hand-in-hand with pursuing our conservation mission.”
Here are the new and returning appointees to the Council:
Jeffrey Crane, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
Late Thursday, a federal judge in North Dakota blocked the EPA’s new clean water rule just hours before it was due to take effect. Here’s our take:
“The EPA’s rule simply restores clean water protections to what they once were, a move that is essential for the future of outdoor recreation, public health, and the economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s disappointing that opponents of clean water would prefer legal maneuvers and confusion over clarity in the law, which benefits industry and conservation alike. To ensure the health of one in three Americans, who get their drinking water from streams currently without protection, and the $646-billion outdoor economy driven by hunters, anglers, and others who rely on clean water, this rule must be allowed to move forward.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.