While Forest Service Chases Down Wildfires, the Solution Gets Away From Us
TRCP’s new communications and operations associate grew up in wildfire country—now in D.C., she’s experiencing the impacts of fire in a completely different way
It was 4am on a school night when I woke up to sirens wailing in the streets. Firefighters were shouting into megaphones, informing us that our neighborhood was being evacuated. I couldn’t even finish brushing my teeth before first-responders were knocking on our door, making sure we were awake and on our way out. My family had already packed our SUV full of photo albums, social security cards, and sentimental odds and ends, so we piled in and headed across town to my aunt and uncle’s house.
Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, we didn’t really have winter, spring, or autumn. We didn’t have tornadoes, hurricanes, or blizzards. We had TV pilot season—and we had wildfires.
I still remember hiking around my old neighborhood and stumbling upon the last line of fire—that charred boundary between the thriving chaparral and its blackened mirror-image. It was about a quarter-mile from my house, and just a few hundred yards from a friend’s. It was jarring to see how close we were to the flames. Though I never lost my home to fire, I knew people who did. Last month a single wildfire in California took two lives and more than 250 homes.
Our wildfire epidemic has always felt personal to me, but now that I live in Washington, D.C., safely removed from immediate danger, I’m realizing that we all feel the burn—and the enormous costs—of fire suppression.
The U.S. Forest Service’s budgetary allocation for wildfire management has been soaring, siphoning money away from critical activities such as wildlife and fisheries habitat management. Meanwhile, the Service’s maintenance backlog has exceeded $5 billion. That’s because over half of the Service’s budget is now dedicated to wildfire management—up from 16 percent in 1995.
Even the remaining 48 percent of the budget, the portion not dedicated to wildfire management, isn’t secure, because “fire-borrowing” is crippling non-fire programs. Essentially, when firefighting costs exceed what’s been budgeted, the Service is forced to dip into other unrelated program budgets and spend cash meant for habitat restoration, water quality improvements, and new public access points for hunters and anglers.
The result of all of this is dramatic—instead of investing in preventative measures that benefit forest health, as well as suppression and rehabilitation efforts, we’re scrambling to control the damage as it’s happening. We’re chasing the problem down, instead of getting in front of it.
Living here in our nation’s capital, my relationship with wildfire has changed. I’m no longer worried about my house burning down, but I’m worried about the wild places that are at home in my heart and memories—the lands we all inherited from Theodore Roosevelt that are full of trees and wildlife and unrelenting beauty.
So, no, it’s not just the people within view of the fire line who should be paying attention to this problem. We need a wildfire funding fix, and we need it soon.
County Officials Support Proposed Changes in BLM’s Land-Use Planning
Western county commissioners and supervisors go on-record supporting the BLM’s land-use planning update after seeing pilot programs in action
Top county officials from Colorado, Montana, and California say the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed Planning 2.0 rule, which would update how the agency revises land-use plans in the West, will provide additional opportunities for public involvement earlier in the planning process and result in Resource Management Plans (RMPs) that better reflect the diverse needs of county citizens. They sent letters of support for Planning 2.0 to BLM Director Neil Kornze ahead of a House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing on the rule.
“We’re seeing that, in places where Planning 2.0 improvements have already been rolled out, there is support from elected officials and the public,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These are the people who will benefit from having more input on land management decisions and enjoy better hunting, fishing, and outdoor experiences because of it. After two oversight hearings in the House and one in the Senate, we hope this is finally made clear.”
The Board of County Commissioners for Missoula County, Mont., wrote to commend the BLM for its efforts to better address the diverse interests in their county and communities across the West. “The proposed rules continue to provide for coordination with state and local representatives” and “early public involvement will help resolve conflicts and produce a Resource Management Plan that better reflects the needs of our citizens as well as others who use public lands and have a stake in their future,” they wrote.
Similarly, Mike Brazell, chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Park County, Colo., writes that he and his colleagues support, in particular, the provisions that plan for additional public involvement earlier in the planning process, “including the chance to review preliminary resource management alternatives and preliminary rationales for those alternatives.” Writing on behalf of Humboldt County, Calif., supervisors from two districts (here and here) emphasized that encouraging public involvement early and often would be especially important given that the BLM’s Arcata Field Office will be using this more inclusive approach as it revises its existing RMP, which dates back to 1995.
As House lawmakers continue to examine the states’ role in Planning 2.0 tomorrow, nearly 8,000 hunters and anglers have signed a petition and sent letters of support for better BLM land-management tools that prioritize public access, conserve and enhance habitat, and balance energy and other development with the needs of fish and wildlife. More than 500 hunting and fishing businesses, sportsmen’s groups, and wildlife professionals have backed the idea that BLM lands are “Sportsmen’s Country” and should be managed in ways that support sportsmen’s values, including habitat conservation and access.
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.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.