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December 1, 2015

Glassing the Hill: November 30 – December 4

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Both the House and Senate have action scheduled for Monday through Thursday of this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Coming back to work after a long weekend is never easy. Upon their return from Thanksgiving break, members of Congress are facing a December 11 deadline for addressing a lot of legislative business. That list includes avoiding a government shutdown—again. Passage of an omnibus spending deal is becoming more and more tenuous, due to disagreements over policy riders dealing with Syrian refugee resettlement, healthcare funding extensions for 9/11 first-responders and victims, and the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan.

These policy rider debates are threatening to undo very good bipartisan work from late October, when Congress passed a bipartisan budget that would allow for reinvestment in discretionary programs (ahem, like conservation.) If Republicans and Democrats fail to reach an agreement, fiscal year 2016 spending may be forced onto a full-year continuing resolution (CR). This extended use of what was created to be a stopgap funding measure is viewed by many as just plain bad government. Either way, an omnibus or CR would likely fund the government through September 30, 2016.

A two-week stopgap highway bill extension also expires this Friday. Since the temporary measure was passed, House and Senate transportation leaders have been negotiating a long-term reauthorization, and the relevant Committee chairs have stated that no additional short-term extensions will be needed, implying that a final long-term Highway Bill will be on the House and Senate floor this week. Need a refresher on how this impacts hunting and fishing? The Highway Bill includes funding for Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service roads, which impact your access to public lands, as well as funding for transportation projects that improve fish and wildlife habitat.

Congress will also concentrate this month on renewing tax extenders before a January 1deadline. The proposed tax-break legislation would continue to benefit multinational banks, corporation research, and development programs and to subsidize wind energy production for two years. While the Senate continues consideration of healthcare legislation, the House will debate and vote on Representative Upton’s (R-MI) North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, and two joint resolutions (S.J.Res. 23 and S.J.Res. 24) of congressional disapproval of the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission rules. These votes on energy and climate will occur while President Obama attends the international climate summit in Paris.

What We’re Tracking

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Offshore oil and gas production, as discussed in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Well Control Rule and other energy policies

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Impacts of 35-year-old legislation to create and expand public lands in Alaska, to be reviewed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a hearing on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980

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November 24, 2015

Winner Alert! Capturing a Child’s First Hunt and a #PublicLandsProud Introduction

Thanks to everyone that keeps showing us why you’re #PublicLandsProud!

A big congratulations to Pat Fitzpatrick of Texas who is taking home a new pair of Costa Sunglasses and a copy of Steven Rinella’s new book for this winning shot of his son on his first quail hunt.

TRCP: You’ve shown us a favorite #publiclandsproud moment, now tell us the story behind the picture.

Pat Fitzpatrick: The photo was taken at Chaparral Wildlife Management Area on a youth hunt two weeks prior to the opening of the general quail season.  We usually don’t start hunting quail until Thanksgiving when temperatures have cooled enough for the dogs and rattlesnake encounters are unlikely but this season is shaping up to be one of the best in recent years and we couldn’t pass on the chance to see for ourselves.  As we geared up and prepped the dogs in the predawn light, we could hear covey calls in every direction from the truck.  Within minutes we had found our first covey and a few coveys later I snapped the photo of my son Sean walking in on a covey pointed by my setter Khaki.  We only hunted a few hours that morning, by lunch time the temperature had reached 90 degrees.  We moved several coveys that morning and fortunately no snakes, to top it off Sean and I had the chance to fire the opening shots on what should be a stellar quail season.

Image courtesy of Pat Fitzpatrick.

TRCP: How often do you visit public lands and why are they so special to you?

PF: Nearly all of my upland hunting takes place on public land and living in Texas, a place that is well known for its lack of public hunting opportunities, it can be a challenge.  Quail hunting on private land here is too expensive and it is cheaper to load up the truck and travel to public lands elsewhere.  Most of our hunts take place over the holidays when Sean is out of school.  Some of our favorite holiday memories are centered around quail camp and Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners cooked on a Coleman two burner stove resting on an open tailgate.  Looking forward to future seasons, Sean and I have talked about attempting to take each of the six quail species starting with the three we have here on public lands in Texas and working our way out west, hitting western public land for the remaining three species.

TRCP: If these public lands are lost, what do you and your fellow sportsmen stand to lose?

PF: We tend to think of the public land seizure issue as a Western states issue because most of these lands are located out West.  This is not a Western states issue, this is a National issue, these federal public lands belong to all of us as citizens of the United States.  My home state of Texas has a unique history among states that left Texas full control over its public domain.  Between the outright sale of state land or the sale of natural resources on state lands, Texas has evolved into what it is today, a vast amount of land with very little accessible to the public.  The transfer of federal lands to the states would result in the same thing, locked gates and pay to play access for hunters and other land users.

TRCP: When not out on public lands, where can we find you?

PF: When not chasing after bird dogs and quail, I live in The Woodlands, Texas and work in commercial construction.  I am married to my beautiful wife, Sharon, and have three kids Patrick, Madison and Sean.  Weekends during the off season consist of many youth baseball tournaments, football games and a little fly fishing in the Texas hill country or gulf coast.

Have a proud public lands picture to share? Tag with #PublicLandsProud and join the community!


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The Importance of Migration Corridors to Healthy Big Game Populations

Conservation can’t just happen at point A or point B, because travel conditions impact the health of species like mule deer

As the great Thanksgiving migration commences on Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss these intrepid travelers—the mule deer herd that makes one of the longest known annual migrations of their entire species in the Western U.S. Last year, research using global positioning system collars revealed that the deer travel about 150 miles from the Red Desert in south-central Wyoming to the high mountains near Jackson Hole.

Mule deer need to travel between seasonal ranges to capture greening vegetation in the spring and to reach their winter range in the fall. Image courtesy of Joe Riis.

This month, the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute and the Wyoming Migration Initiative convened more than 160 scientists, wildlife managers, landowners, industry groups, and conservation professionals in Laramie, Wyo., to share more cutting edge science on big-game migrations in the West. I was among the participants gathered to discuss the next chapter for conserving and maintaining these critical migration corridors. Here’s what I learned:

Travel Conditions Matter

If you’re a waterfowl hunter or an avid birder, you know all too well how important migration is for these creatures. You would also know the importance of what are known as “stopover” habitats—places where animals can rest and refuel during their migrations before continuing on their journey from point A to point B. Recent advances in technology have allowed scientists to gather information on the exact location of migration corridors and stopover habitats with far greater accuracy. Researcher Hall Sawyer found that radio-collared mule deer traveling from the Red Desert to Hoback Junction in Wyoming spend up to 95 percent of their migration period in stopover habitat. Without these places, deer might not make it to their winter range in a healthy enough condition to survive the harsh winter. Sawyer summed it up best by asking us to imagine driving a long distance between two cities with no hotels, gas stations, or grocery stores in between.

This just illustrates that you can make every effort in the world to protect and enhance winter range, but it won’t mean much if the animals simply can’t get there, or if they arrive in poor condition.

It doesn’t take too much effort to see why sportsmen should care about the lengths that mule deer go to reach summer and wintering habitat, and the conditions they’re met with in between. I suspect the giant muley buck that my friend Steven Rinella shot this fall moved a good distance between summer and winter ranges and undoubtedly stopped many times along the way. Would he have even seen a buck like this if that migration corridor had been severed by a highway or other barrier five years earlier? Many migration routes have been lost in this way over the past several decades, which could be a key factor in long-term declines for mule deer populations across the West. And of course we know that decreased hunter opportunity translates into loss of income for many businesses in rural communities that are so dependent on sportsmen’s dollars.

Steven Rinella, author and host of the MeatEater, with his public lands mule deer buck taken along a migration corridor. Conservation of these habitats yields greater opportunity and results for sportsmen. Image courtesy of Janis Putelis.

Wanted: Better Data, More Support

More research on migration corridors and stopover habitats is necessary for us to more holistically conserve big-game populations across the West. Most of the information currently available comes from years of observations by biologists, game wardens, and sportsmen, but it’s often anecdotal, at best. Very few migrations have been identified using the latest in GPS technology, which pinpoints animal movements and plots maps with incredible accuracy.

But beyond getting more data, we also need greater understanding and engagement from the people who manage, own, or otherwise impact these lands. The science is helping us understand what we need to do, but landowners, industry officials, and sportsmen will have to champion the effort, like we do for so many habitat challenges. Building trust, clarifying expectations, quelling fears, will pave the path toward finding solutions for protecting these habitats.

Along Comes Policy

Public awareness and good science becomes even more critical when you consider that there are currently no specific policy or management requirements for migration corridors or stopover habitats on federal or state lands open to the public. State wildlife agencies often make recommendations to protect migration corridors and stopovers, but there are no policy guarantees to back them up or hold anyone accountable, including those who negatively impact this habitat. We need greater assurances for the future. At this month’s conference, Under Secretary of Agriculture Robert Bonnie and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Jim Lyons shared their support for the conservation of migration corridors. Their agencies are exactly who we need to work with to develop a management strategy for migration corridors with policy assurances for the long-term commitment to improving conditions for big game and many other species.

Aldo Leopold noted that “to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” We’re long overdue for an intelligent plan that does more than just tinker with our big game populations. It’s time to get the wheels turning toward a solid future for the West’s extraordinary big game populations and our uniquely American hunting heritage.

Watch a video of the mule deer migrations:


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November 20, 2015

Colorado Has a Plan: Scale Back on Water Use and Protect Rivers and Streams

The plan sets a precedent for improving resiliency to drought and disaster without sacrificing fish and wildlife resources

On Thursday, the final version of a statewide plan for water conservation, the first of its kind in the Centennial State, was revealed at a Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting. The Colorado water plan is the result of a comprehensive two-year process to set statewide targets for cities and towns to meet in conserving precious water resources and ensuring the health of rivers and streams. The plan also includes proposed annual funding for river restoration projects and makes some assurances that new, costly, and controversial trans-mountain diversions will be avoided.

Image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.

“The final Colorado water plan is a milestone in the long-term effort to protect water resources, fish and wildlife habitat, and the needs of agricultural producers and Front Range communities,” says Jimmy Hague, director of the Center for Water Resources at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). “Hunters and anglers who submitted public feedback over the past year, during which 30,000 comments were considered, should be especially proud of their impacts on the planning process. It is clear that Colorado residents value the water resources that allow us to fish, kayak, and pursue healthy deer and elk.”

Earlier this year, the TRCP was joined by the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance, Colorado Wildlife Federation, Colorado Trout Unlimited, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers in calling for a plan that prioritizes healthy rivers and streams and discourages large new trans-mountain diversion projects. These five groups sent a letter to Gov. Hickenlooper and Colorado Water Conservation Board leadership in April 2015.

“Of course, it does no good if these precedent-setting goals are simply filed away—sportsmen must remain engaged in implementing the plan, as it was intended, and get support from Colorado lawmakers to make it a success,” says Hague.


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November 19, 2015

The Crown Jewels of Sportsmen’s Country Are Mule Deer, Elk, and Trout

From river breaks to high mesas, and from sage coulees to semi-arid mountain ranges, America’s 245 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands are some of the best places to hunt and fish remaining on the planet. Sportsmen and women in the West depend on publicly-accessible, healthy BLM lands to produce quality big game, robust fisheries, and sustainable opportunities for recreation.

These lands are Sportsmen’s Country—and it’s your turn to weigh in on how they are managed:

Image courtesy of Coby Tigert.

The Idaho High Divide is possibly the most unique and important public landscape in North America. This awe-inspiring terrain in eastern Idaho provides connectivity for species dependent on large landscapes and critical habitat for fish and wildlife species that are valued by sportsmen. Opportunity is incredibly diverse here: Hunters can pursue deer, elk, black bears, mountain lions, pronghorns, moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, while anglers can land grayling in high-mountain lakes and cutthroat trout, steelhead, Chinook salmon, and sturgeon in the mighty Salmon River.

Oregon’s Beulah Wildlife Management Unit contains Westfall and Beulah buttes in Eastern Oregon, and hunters and anglers come from all over to experience the high-quality hunting and solitude here. Of course, year-round Beulah WMU is an Oregonian’s playground. During 2010’s mule deer season, rifle hunters enjoyed a 53-percent success rate, harvesting 1,348 deer, but these are popular hunting grounds for archery hunters in pursuit of elk, as well.

Then, of course, in the heart of Oregon lies the mighty Deschutes River. This major tributary of the Columbia River on the east side of the Cascade Range wanders north through basalt cliff canyons and offers world-class trout fishing for anyone who chooses to reach the river canyon through public land.

Image courtesy of Coby Tigert.

New Mexico’s Otero Mesa provides excellent habitat and hunting opportunities for mule deer, Barbary sheep, bighorn sheep, and the state’s only remaining native pronghorn antelope herds. A large portion—about 1.2 million acres of public land—is managed by the BLM, and a resource management plan (RMP) is currently in development for the area. Now is the time to speak up for this complex ecosystem featuring many native plants and more than 1,000 other species of wildlife.

Northwest Colorado is home to the largest elk herd in North America and elk hunting is a huge part of the state’s identity. Even with a booming population and trophy bulls being harvested year after year, demand is so high for public lands elk hunts in this part of the state that it can take up to 20 years to draw a license.

Not too far away, the Piceance Basin ‘mule deer factory,’ the second-largest mule deer herd in North America, has been in decline in recent years, due to development pressures and more roads weaving through the core of the population’s range. Sportsmen continue to cherish the large bucks being produced in this area and are intimately involved in decisions being made about mule deer habitat to help ensure that this herd remains healthy for generations to come.

Image courtesy of Nick Payne.

The Arkansas River valley remains a crucial area for fish and wildlife and a haven for sportsmen in central Colorado, providing opportunities for bird and big game hunting and world-class wild trout fishing. Even more prized by sportsmen in this valley are its Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Each year, a few luck hunters have the opportunity to pursue them in a mostly-intact and undeveloped backcountry setting—factors that are known to produce the hunt of a lifetime.

Thousands of sportsmen flock to South Park every year from the Front Range and around the country to fish the gold-medal waters of the South Platte River drainage. Great fishing access on several of these streams and rivers would not be possible without the surrounding federal public lands, state lands, and cooperation between private landholders and various land management agencies. The stretch of the South Platte known as the Dream Stream is well-known by flyfisherman across the country for consistently producing large brown and rainbow trout.

Want to contact your lawmakers and stand up for your favorite public lands? You can do it in just a few clicks—starting with this one.



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.

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