There’d Be No Thrill in Drawing a Rare Tag Without Quality Habitat
On a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, this Wyoming couple had a revelation about the value of the backcountry
Some lucky hunters just learned the draw results for coveted elk, deer, and antelope tags in Wyoming, but hope hasn’t been dashed for the rest of us. Wyoming locals don’t look at the draw as make-or-break for the season. The truth is that the over-the-counter tags available to any Wyoming resident still promise pretty incredible hunting.
As a friend told me recently, “I get to hunt big bulls and big bucks in the places I did as a kid. I can go hunt a legendary mule deer unit in western Wyoming. I drew nothing and I am stoked!” He’s not alone.
This embarrassment of riches defines hunting in Wyoming. And this is why the TRCP and our partners are working so hard to grow support for Backcountry Conservation Areas (BCAs), a new management tool the Bureau of Land Management can use to protect essential areas of intact and undeveloped fish and wildlife habitat. By implementing BCAs and placing a strong emphasis on restoration to address modern management challenges, the BLM can ensure that all who visit these lands can experience a quality hunt, today and well into the future—no matter their luck in the lottery.
This is of special concern for the public lands around Rock Springs, where the BLM is revising plans that will affect the way these lands are managed for the next 20 years. It’s home to Unit 101—an area recently featured as one of Guy Eastman’s top five Wyoming deer hunts—where only a handful of mule deer tags are in such steep demand, there’s only a two-percent chance of drawing.
Patricia Hettick of Laramie, WY., beat those odds a few years ago, and she and her husband Buzz enjoyed a limited-quota, once-in-a-lifetime hunting experience in a unique area of our state. I asked Buzz to tell the tale, which illustrates just what’s at stake in Wyoming’s backcountry:
Right off the bat, we glassed up the big buck we had seen while scouting the night before. But, after several close calls, that buck walked into the vastness of the Red Desert, and out of our lives forever. Several days later, Pat connected on a great buck, but, for both of us, what we found out in the Red Desert was more than just a successful hunt. We had an opportunity to spend time in perhaps one of the most unique landscapes in Wyoming. At first blush, the landscape looks rather desolate, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is alive with all kinds of wildlife. We observed sage grouse, golden eagles, and prairie falcons. Nearly every day we saw large bull elk, multiple mule deer bucks, and dozens of pronghorns. We also saw coyotes, bobcats, badgers, and swift foxes.
The one constant on this hunt was that the areas that held the most wildlife were the areas that contained the least amount of development and roads. The remaining areas in the Red Desert that are somewhat free of development, need to be retained and afforded some kind of protection from further development. We owe it to future generations to enjoy the Red Desert, as it truly is one-of-a-kind.
The areas like Rifes Rim of Unit 101 where these wildlife are healthy are exactly what we all need to work to protect through Backcountry Conservation Areas. Luckily, the BLM’s planning process is a public one, and the TRCP has made it easy to get involved: Click here to make your voice heard today to secure the future of some of our greatest hunting opportunities in Wyoming.
Give yourself a reason to keep putting in for those tags. There’s no thrill of the draw without quality habitat to produce big bucks.
We All Benefit From Public Access, But Are You Willing to Step Up to Defend It?
The loss of a popular public access point hits home for our Oregon field rep, but luckily this story doesn’t end with a locked gate
At the TRCP, we’re always talking about the importance of sportsmen’s access to the strength of our outdoor recreation economy and the funding that eventually goes back into conservation. Access is a galvanizing issue for so many hunters and anglers because it’s tangible—it’s how we get on the water. It’s where we take our kids hunting or where we harvested our first mule deer. These special places are fully formed in our minds. They’re places that we’d fight to protect and be heartbroken to lose.
If you ask me what’s at stake when I think of public access, I picture a river in central Oregon, where a solo float or walk along the ridges leaves you mesmerized by rim-rock canyons full of mule deer and bighorn sheep and smelling of juniper. It’s the third-longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states, and while the river is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, much of it is surrounded by private land, limiting access to just a few spots. In fact, until a few years ago, there wasn’t a day-long float to be had in the lower 137 miles of the river.
A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that a major point of access—one that I use regularly—was closed by the county and state park. They just put up a locked gate. It kicked me into high gear to find out what was happening and if I could do anything to reverse this shocking decision.
Luckily, these issues are of public concern, and the county commissioners held a public meeting to address the closure. Local sportsmen, ranchers, and other groups turned out in support of public access and shared why this particular put-in was so important to the community. One sportsman said, “I’ve been fishing this river for 30 years and this access point allows me to float the river in a day.” In the end, the county agreed that a plan needed to be put in place to make this access point a legal boat ramp, where anglers had some assurances that they wouldn’t arrive to find a locked gate. In the end, all local agencies agreed to temporarily open this ramp until a permanent solution could be implemented.
Leaving the room, I felt like we’d won a small victory, but I also recognized that my voice in the public process is more effective than I thought.
Yours is, too. We’re all busy—school’s out and our kids have camp and music lessons and we just want to get out on the river before sundown. But, from this experience and many others, I can’t stress enough how important it is for sportsmen to show up, and speak up, for our access to public lands and waters.
Anglers, hunters, boaters, and outfitters need these opportunities, and we all need quality habitat once we get out there. Without it, hunting and fishing can’t contribute to our rural economies, and our traditions could be in serious jeopardy. Just one access point or parcel of public land means countless jobs, dollars, and hours afield for sportsmen and women.
If Lawmakers Could Get Behind These Conservation Basics, We’d All Win
At our 14th annual Western Media Summit, hosted in Fort Collins, Colo., from June 22 to 24, we stressed the value of growing conservation champions by urging our elected officials—from statehouses to the White House—to deliver on three basic principles
Without quality fish and wildlife habitat, public access to hunting and fishing, and a balanced approach to harnessing the economic value of our natural resources, our American sporting heritage would cease to exist. Think of the costs: Our jobs, communities, and the conservation funding made possible through license sales and other purchases, yes, but I’d also add family bonding time, personal health, spiritual inspiration, mental and physical challenges, and our primal connections to the land.
It’s not enough to personally fight the fight for healthy habitat, clean water, access, and opportunity. We need to create more champions in Washington and statehouses across the country, where battles are waged every day to stamp out bad conservation policy and threats to our hunting and fishing opportunities, to stand behind this basic sportsmen’s platform.
In a presidential election year with extremely high stakes, it’s no mistake that we brought together outdoor writers and editors to immerse themselves in these issues within a swing state that identifies heavily with outdoor recreation and access to our public lands and waters. In fact, Colorado was the perfect backdrop for tough, timely conversations about drought conditions, public land transfer, the strength of our outdoor recreation economy, and where the presidential candidates stand on these topics and others important to sportsmen.
These are the conversations that are organically taking place in many a Centennial State truck cab, including the one where I sat last Wednesday, riding back to town after a half-day of fishing the Cache la Poudre River with guide JB Bruning from St. Peter’s Fly Shop. I found that JB is as well-versed in the local water issues as any policy wonk in D.C., and that night, pollster Lori Weigel shared data showing that he’s probably not alone. Water conservation is a non-partisan issue unlike any other in the region, and these highly informed westerners will be looking to the next administration to support responsible solutions for what is perhaps the new normal—high water demand, dwindling water resources, and other threats to habitat and access.
Sportsmen, of course, have some serious skin in the game—here in Colorado that includes coldwater fisheries that allow folks like JB, his boss, and his colleagues to pay the bills. Across the West, it’s access to millions of acres of national public lands that are at risk of being sold or transferred to the states. Will Trump or Clinton deliver for sportsmen? Mike Toth, special projects editor for Field & Stream magazine and our candidate forum moderator, spoke separately with campaign surrogates Donald Trump Jr. and Congressman Mike Thompson—both avid hunters—to find out.
Trump Jr. reiterated that his father has broken with traditional conservative dogma to oppose the sale of national public lands, although as a voice in the elder Trump’s ear on matters important to hunters and anglers, he would be open to giving the states more of a role in managing federal lands. “For the lands to remain federal is very important to us, because it’s all about access,” said Trump Jr. “The way the states want it is they want the transfer of these lands and they want it unrestricted. They want to be able to do whatever they want with it. So, lands that used to belong to the entire people now belong to the states, and two minutes later they can sell it to fund a deficit, because they can’t run the sort of deficits the federal government can over longer periods of time.”
According to Colorado’s Park County commissioner Mike Brazell, who weighed in on the possible local impacts of public land transfer for a panel discussion later in the day, this would surely mean residents, including sportsmen, leaving his county for somewhere with greater outdoor opportunities. “I can’t imagine what my constituents would do without these public lands—they’d likely move,” said Brazell. “It’s why people live here.” He added that state control of federal lands would strain county budgets, and Colorado State Senator Larry Crowder said he saw this firsthand when the state tried to financially support Rocky Mountain National Park for just two weeks of the 2013 government shutdown. Opposition to the bad idea of land transfer was also a theme in Dan Ashe’s remarks over dinner that night. “We have to have zero tolerance, at every level of government, for divestiture of our public lands,” said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director. “We can’t let them get away with that.” (Read his speech in its entirety here.)
Trump Jr. also addressed the efficacy of the Endangered Species Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the possibility of an assault weapons ban, before taking a personal shot at Hillary Clinton’s lack of hunting experience. (For the uncut video, click here.) On Friday morning, Rep. Mike Thompson, speaking for the Democratic candidate, said sportsmen should take comfort in the fact that Clinton is up-front about not being a hunter. “When is the last time a presidential candidate said, ‘Hey, I don’t hunt’? Most of them go out and buy a yellow coat or orange coat and hold a shotgun or something. She’s been very honest about it. She says, ‘I’m not a hunter,’ but she supports hunting, she supports an individual’s right to own firearms,” said Thompson. He believes the fact that Clinton sent a true sportsman ally to address hunter and angler concerns shows that she takes the issues seriously, and he pointed to her stance on opening access into checkerboard public lands, opposing land transfer, vetoing legislation to overturn the Clean Water Rule, and doubling funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Click here to watch the full conversation.)
Funding was certainly on many minds during a panel discussion on Western water challenges, with leaders from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, Trout Unlimited, and the Colorado River Water Conservation District pointing to an overall need for flexible federal programs. This will be integral to innovative water conservation initiatives across the drought-stressed region, some inspired by work being done in the Gunnison River Basin, not far from Fort Collins. Programs like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program are helping to coordinate federal resources across entire watersheds in ways that are producing real benefits for people, fish, and farms. But, our panelists cautioned, even greater coordination, particularly across federal agencies, is needed.
Which brings us back to the need to create more conservation champions at every level of government. We know that sportsmen like you are willing to step up. So are outdoor recreation businesses, like Eagle Claw in Denver—Mike Jackson, VP of sales, marketing, and product development for the long-tenured hook manufacturer, says the value of quality habitat to their consumers and employees cannot be understated. First Lite’s Ryan Callaghan agrees: “We couldn’t put a lot of innovation into our product if you didn’t have these places to roam.” Partners outside the hook-and-bullet sphere, like the Outdoor Industry Association, are also behind us. “The Great Outdoors is like the highway system for getting our products used,” said Amy Roberts, executive director for OIA, an organization that saw the need to gather concrete data on the strength of the outdoor recreation economy. “A lot of lawmakers get excited when they see the numbers—not jobs versus the environment, but jobs tied to the environment,” explained Liz Hamilton, president of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
When all was said and done last week, I think we saw that, as much as the looming elections could set a new course, there is a lot of hope for sportsmen, habitat, and our uniquely American traditions. Hunters, anglers, conservation experts, and outdoor business leaders are smart, strategic, and, at times, unyielding. Surely we can persuade new allies to fight for policy that does right by all of us and the next generation of sportsmen.
Watch their unedited remarks from a forum with outdoor writers and reporters at the TRCP’s Western Media Summit
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Cameras rolled late last week as Donald Trump Jr., speaking on behalf of his father, and Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), serving as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, addressed the conservation attitudes of their candidates and responded to questions from outdoor writers and editors on issues important to sportsmen. Topics spanned public land transfer, sportsmen’s access, endangered species, increasing demand on water resources, energy regulation, gun control, and fisheries management. The Q&A was moderated by Mike Toth, special projects editor at Field & Stream.
Uncut video from the forum-style meetings at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Western Media Summit, an invitation-only media event hosted in Fort Collins, Colo., is now live on YouTube here and here.
“This is where we’ve probably broken away from a lot of the traditional conservative dogma on the issue, in that we do want federal lands to remain federal. That’s not to say that the states shouldn’t have a larger role perhaps in managing some of those lands. I think, you know, their scientists are there, they’re on the ground, they understand those issues, I think, certainly better than a lot of bureaucrats in D.C.” –Donald Trump Jr.
“[Clinton] doesn’t believe we should be selling public land. She’s been very straightforward about that. She gets it. She understands that not only is it important for people who hunt and fish and hike and recreate in the outdoors to have those public lands to do that, but it’s important to everything else that we care about. It’s important to clean air and clean water. It’s important to our economy.” –Rep. Mike Thompson
Learn more about the TRCP’s annual media summits here.
Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress.
The Senate will be in session this week and the House will be in recess until Tuesday, July 5.
The clock is ticking, as the House and Senate each only have one legislative week remaining before a six-week recess. That’s one week each before their set deadline of July 15 for passing all 12 appropriation bills. As plenty of obstacles continue to slow lawmakers down, it becomes increasingly likely that a continuing resolution or an omnibus spending package will be considered before September 30. The House recessed earlier than planned last Thursday due to a Democratic sit-in on gun control. However, the House did advance a conference report that would provide $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus in the military construction and veterans’ affairs spending bill.
Guns will likely be discussed in the Senate this week – the House is not in session – but ramifications remain unclear. Last week, the Senate halted floor activity to vote on a motion to table Senator Collins’ (R-Maine) bipartisan gun control amendment that would limit gun sales to persons on the terrorist watch list. The vote was considered a ‘test’ and the amendment may be discussed further this week; “The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” remains the business on the floor of the Senate, but cloture has not been filed on the legislation, and it is unclear how the Collins amendment might slow its path forward.
While gun-related measures may slow action on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to move on to other legislation this week, a motion to go to conference on the Mil-Con $1.1 billion package for Zika virus emergency funding; and House-passed legislation that would address the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
Lawmakers say they are ready to negotiate an energy bill—one that will not be vetoed. More closed-door meetings occurred last week with the “Big Six,” including Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). Rep. Bishop and Rep. Upton wrote their willingness to negotiate in a letter they released last week.
Even though the House is not in session this week conversations could continue, and Senate leadership could decide to bring the conference vote to the floor for consideration this week.
Greater sage-grouse conservation plans are under scrutiny. On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining will hold an oversight hearingon the implementation of the greater sage-grouse habitat conservation plans of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The subcommittee will discuss the federal agencies’ collaboration efforts with state agencies’ management plans.
Wildfires continue to be a hot topic as another bill is introduced. Introduced byChairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, “The Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act” addresses wildfire spending and forest management, including provisions such as allowing the U.S. Forest Service to expedite forest management procedures on 5,000 or less acres and providing a budget cap adjustment to fund wildfire suppression that may exceed a 10-year average cost. The bill is similar to Rep. Westerman’s (R-Ark.) legislation, which was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee after passing the House with a 262-167 vote.
A hearing on this bill have not been scheduled at this time.
Also on our radar:
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Legislation that would prevent the creation of a no-fishing zone in Biscayne National Park will be on the docket in a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee mark-up
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance Programs will be discussed in a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight hearing
HOW YOU CAN HELP
CHEERS TO CONSERVATION
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.