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March 10, 2016

This Well-Worn Turkey Vest Holds Years of Hunting Stories (And My Calls)

Talk about ‘the fabric of our lives’

When we get together as a staff, as we did last month to open the TRCP’s new Western office, discussion inevitably turns to new hunting and fishing gear and gadgets. Between us, we probably have enough inventory for a Bass Pro Shop’s store, and I’m certainly not immune to the appeal of a new camo pattern or unmarked slate call. Still, while a new spring season brings the temptation of new gear, there are a few items in my closet that I’d have trouble replacing.

Image courtesy of Cyrus Baird.

The gloves I’ll use this turkey season are the ones I stole from my dad years ago. He bought them back in the 80s, and they looked less tattered back then. I’ll hunt in the same camo jumpsuit I wore when I was a kid—also my fathers—although I don’t have to roll the legs and sleeves up anymore.

And I still use the first turkey vest I ever bought new, going on 15 years ago. An older Field & Stream model, now sporting faded fabric and some tears, it’s easily one of the most dated pieces in my spring get-up. When I first brought it home, it was two sizes too big for me—now, it’s two sizes too small. Its pockets are coated with the chalk I carry around to tune up my handmade cedar box-calls. The foam pad has seen better days and some of the zippers have stopped working, but I can’t picture setting up on a gobbler without it.

Of course, at the TRCP, we also talk a lot about preserving our hunting and fishing traditions and carrying on the legacy of one of the greatest conservation heroes in our country’s history. You see, it isn’t sentimental to look back, if there are lessons to be learned.

I was wearing my old vest when I killed my first turkey at age 13. It was a beautiful 20-pound tom that I could barely carry over my shoulder, its 11-inch beard swaying by its lolling head. I was also wearing it the time that I foolishly activated the trigger lock on my Remington 870 out in the field—the key was at home—leaving my gun functionally useless as turkeys gobbled at me all morning. (My dad still teases me for that.)

Image courtesy of Cyrus Baird.

It has seen countless spring sunrises in several states. It has been between my back and many a pine tree and creek-bottom hardwood. It has been through pouring rain and oppressive heat. It may be the reason I’m still so bad at math, since I used to skip my first-period class in high school to go hunting. The experiences I’ve had in this vest most likely drove my decision to work in wildlife conservation.

Something about wearing a worn-in article of clothing on a hunt just feels right. As I take in my surrounding with my eyes, my gear is actually soaking up the elements, bringing me closer to the places I love to be outdoors. I’m still a sucker for all the new high-tech fabrics and thoughtful improvements of contemporary gear, but it’s tough to part with my more seasoned apparel, embedded with so many memories.

So, when the last stitch on my old turkey vest looks like it’s about to unravel, I think I’ll just put it away until my own kids are old enough to slide their skinny arms into its oversized and faded frame. When that day comes around, I hope I’ll be able to tell them how today’s sportsmen helped ensure that we could rest our backs on a pine tree and converse with a wiley gobbler.

Until then, turkey season is calling.

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254 Groups Agree: Don’t Re-Open the Farm Bill

Congress needs to stay committed to funding levels set in 2014, and more sportsmen’s groups than ever before are joining the outcry. 

Yesterday, a broad coalition of 254 organizations—representing hunting and fishing, agriculture, nutrition, conservation, rural development, finance, forestry, energy, trade, local government, labor, equipment manufacturing, and crop insurance—delivered a letter to Congressional leadership urging them to reject calls for cuts to any Farm Bill program in the ongoing discussion of fiscal year 2017 spending bills. This diverse group includes a greater proportion of conservation and sportsmen’s groups than any previous coalition.

It took Congress over three years of debate and compromise to send the 2014 Farm Bill to President Obama’s desk with bipartisan support. The result of that unprecedented effort was a Farm Bill that consolidated more than 100 programs and is estimated to save as much as $23 billion before 2024.

Many of the Farm Bill’s reforms impact sportsmen. On one hand, we saw the Conservation Reserve Program dramatically reduced from 32 million acres to just 24 million acres. On the other hand, the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program will deliver $1.2 billion through 2018 to projects benefitting clean water, soil health, and wildlife habitat.

Just as for sportsmen, there is some good and some bad in the Farm Bill for every one of the groups that signed the letter, but now is not the time to revisit the merits of the legislation. The conservation, farm, and food stakeholders all agreed to these reforms, so we want to see them preserved through the end of the current Farm Bill—not trimmed or debated again before their time.

Make no bones about it—when the Farm Bill needs to be reauthorized in 2018, all of us, including the TRCP, will fight for improvements to the programs that we care about. But, for now, we agree: Congress should uphold the existing agreement, and not re-open the Farm Bill this year.

You can read the letter here.


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This Year’s “Critter Madness” Interspecies Grudge-Match Starts Monday

Bring your best bracket game and help name America’s favorite game or fish species

While most of the country has hoops on the brain, we’ll be thinking about hooves—not to mention fins, wings, and spurs. Because, as March Madness rolls around, the TRCP is once again setting out to crown a different kind of champion: America’s favorite game and fish species.

Last year, the brook trout made a Cinderella run, but in the end, it was the mighty elk who took home the title in our first-ever bracket-style tournament. Will the bugle sound again? Or does your favorite species have what it takes?

Here’s your chance to settle the score.

On March 14, we’ll launch the second annual “Critter Madness” tournament,  with 16 species competing for the hearts of hunters and anglers through April 2. Using the irrefutable science of bracketology, we’ve matched up all your favorite critters head-to-head across four divisions: big game, upland birds and waterfowl, freshwater fish, and saltwater fish. Your votes determine which species will advance to the championship.

We’re also offering fantastic prizes at the conclusion of each round. Register now and your name will be entered in all four raffles—you could walk away with a pair of Costa Del Mar sunglasses, a new Abu Garcia rod, a custom TRCP Yeti cooler, or a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun.

If it’s bragging rights you crave, get your friends online to vote and make sure your favorite species doesn’t get bumped. Use #CritterMadness on Facebook and Twitter to tell everyone which critter is going all the way to the Final Fur—er, Four. Post a photo of you with your championship pick, and we’ll repost our favorites.

Register now, and we’ll email you Monday with a reminder to vote. Then log on to crittermadness.org and check out the round-one match-ups.

Let the madness begin!


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March 8, 2016

Glassing the Hill: March 7 – 11

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

The Senate will be in session this week. The House is not in session.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

That feeling like your pack is filled with rocks, and today’s the easiest leg of the trip. The Senate finally looks poised to wrap-up consideration of a bill to address opioid abuse—here’s why this matters to sportsmen: The drawn out process surprised many in the upper chamber and could be a sign that even the least controversial issues will continue to get snared in a web of election year politics and Supreme Court transitions.

So, what’s the outlook for the sticky stuff? With the Senate calendar in flux, the bipartisan Senate Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 continues to remain in the mix for potential floor time, and Senator Lisa Murkowski has set up a process whereby some provisions of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act would get a vote as an amendment to the Energy Bill. However, several other key provisions of that same package would be left behind. Senator Vitter has placed a hold on the Energy Bill in order to address one of those orphaned provisions, which deals with red snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico. Senator Lee has another hold on the package, citing objections to providing aid in Flint, Michigan. Until these issues are resolved, the Energy Bill, and the Flint aid package with it, have no clear path forward.

What We’re Tracking

More budget hearings related to the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Department of Energy budget requests for fiscal year 2017

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

State and federal land management, up for debate in an intriguing Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing titled, “Cooperative Federalism: State Perspectives on EPA Regulatory Actions and the Role of States as Co-Regulators”


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March 3, 2016

Plugging Our Phones—and Our Kids—into the Power of the Outdoors

What if our smart devices were part of a smart solution for fish and wildlife?

Like most parents, I have kids’ games on my smartphone. They come in handy when our three- and four-year-old daughters get restless in the backseat on road trips. (Believe me, after an hour on I-95, I would give them fillet knives and Irish whiskey if I thought it would quiet them down.)

This past summer, we did our longest road trip yet—a 7-hour nerve-shredder, punctuated by many bathroom stops, from our home in Washington, D.C., to my in-laws’ cottage on Squantz Pond in Connecticut. As we sat in traffic at 10 p.m. on the Tappan Zee Bridge, I found myself praying to Steve Jobs that my iPhone’s battery would hold out for another hour. It did, and my father-in-law and I did break out the whiskey after we got the kids to bed. Then my wife and I hid our phones in our duffle bags and swore that our daughters would spend the rest of the weekend outside, even if it meant we had to drag them.

We didn’t have to. That summer weekend, my daughters discovered the thrill of jumping in the lake, throwing sticks into the water, making sand-soup in a bucket, listening to the rain from under the boat house awning, and—to my great delight—fishing. We caught perch, walleye, and sunfish, which my daughters insisted on petting before we let them go.

Not once did they request screen-time with our gadgets.

This is the magic of the outdoors. It clears away the stressors that clutter our lives and facilitates connection rather than diversion. Anyone who has spent even one day afield knows this intuitively, but now there is a growing mountain of scientific evidence that, well, the mountains—and streams, prairies, forests, and oceans—are just what our text-stressed brains need. Florence William’s story in the January 2016 issue of Natural Geographic summarized this emerging science on the importance of nature beautifully.

So how do we make sure our kids have quality places to get outside? That’s our mission here at the TRCP—guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. And we spend a lot of time identifying the challenges to our mission, like lack of funding for game and non-game species, lack of access, fragmentation of habitat from development, and, yes, the increasing suck of screen-time.

The average child in America spends about 50 hours a week in front of a screen of some kind. And this explosion of smart devices has occurred at the same time that funding for conservation of fish and wildlife resources has imploded. In the last several decades, the percentage of the federal budget devoted to conservation has been cut in half.

What if our beloved smartphones were part of the solution? In 2015, about 2.5 billion smart devices—phones, tablets, and PCs—were sold worldwide. Even if the U.S. market is only 10 percent of that, a one-dollar tax on all smart device sales in the U.S. could generate $250 million annually for conservation and access—the very things we need to feel the joy my girls discovered on the lake. What mom or dad wouldn’t pay an extra dollar on a $199 iPhone if it meant better parks and abundant wildlife?

To my knowledge, no one is pushing for this idea yet, but it’s the kind of creative solution that we should be working on. This week, a panel of leaders from the energy, business, and conservation sectors revealed one possible strategy. And we suspect there are other good ideas out there. If you have one, let us know. Sportsmen need these places to play, and so do our kids.

It’s a lot safer than sharp knives and whiskey.



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.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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