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March 14, 2016

Happy 113th Birthday, National Wildlife Refuge System

Today, we celebrate 113 years of kids holding their first fish, birds finding a safe haven for nesting, boots getting muddy just miles outside the city, and conservation advancing on 560 National Wildlife Refuges across the country.

Cyrus Baird banding Wood Ducks at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida’s Pelican Island as the first wildlife refuge. Having worked at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, and as a frequent visitor to refuges all across the country, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits they offer to hunters, anglers, birdwatchers, trailrunners, and every American who loves to spend time outdoors.

And National Wildlife Refuges undoubtedly play a huge role in conservation in North America. With refuges in every U.S. state, spanning more than 150 million acres in total, the crucial habitat they provide is paramount for fish and wildlife. More than 700 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 1,000 species of fish call these areas home.

While many refuges are key stopover points for migratory birds, it’s not difficult to see why sportsmen flock to them, too. Thousands of hunters and anglers rely on National Wildlife Refuges each year for their hunting and fishing opportunities. In 2011, 46.5 million visitors to wildlife refuges pumped $2.4 billion into surrounding communities, supporting over 35,000 jobs.

Elk at the National Elk Refuge courtesy of Nick Dobric.

Now, more than ever, we should fight to keep refuges funded, maintained, and open to recreation. As most of you are well aware, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, became the focus of controversy earlier this year, when extremists seized refuge facilities and called for the federal government to hand over public lands. Public access was forcibly barred and efforts to manage invasive carp populations were blocked for 41 days. The economic and ecological effects may not be fully apparent for months or years.

The best way to celebrate the National Wildlife Refuge System at a time when public lands are under duress from this type of movement is simply to use and enjoy them—find your local refuge and take advantage of the opportunities provided there!

We’d love to hear about your experiences, too. Post your pics with #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and we’ll share our favorites.

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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.

Ariel Wiegard

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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.

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

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”

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.

Learn More
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