posted in: General

August 8, 2016

Celebrating Our National Parks: Students Trade Spring Break Beaches for Park Service Projects

This spring, our policy intern volunteered with a group of other college students to help tackle the NPS’s maintenance backlog across the country—here’s what she learned

For many college students, spring break means piling into a car, driving to Florida, and spending a week on the beach. But this spring, I spent a week with eight other students volunteering for the National Park Service (NPS) through my university’s Alternative Spring Break program. Organized by schools across the country, students get the chance to learn about issues impacting communities near and far from home through hands-on service opportunities. As a volunteer at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Georgia, I saw firsthand just some of the issues that our National Park Service is facing as we celebrate the agency’s 100th anniversary.

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

Fort Oglethorpe wasn’t the most glamorous destination, but it gave us an opportunity to work directly with park rangers at one of the 412 areas of the National Park System, which covers more than 84 million acres. They put us to work on Glen Falls Trail, one of the most popular places to hike in the park, and we spent our week removing invasive species that threaten native biodiversity, building rock stairs to make the trail more accessible, and pruning overgrown vegetation, like thornbushes that had the potential to injure hikers.

We also focused on making the mile-long trail safer by widening it, removing hazards like fallen trees, and improving drainage, so the trail wasn’t as heavily impacted by storms. The staff at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park greatly appreciated our commitment to enhancing their park and working on projects they didn’t have the resources to complete on their own. By removing all the garbage on the trail, we even made a small contribution to the fish and wildlife in the area.

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

These projects represent just a few drops in the bucket of deferred maintenance projects that are plaguing federal land management agencies, like the NPS, that don’t receive adequate funding. Earlier this year, the park service alone reported a $12 billion maintenance backlog. NPS seasonal and full-time staff was also cut from 21,897 people in 2010 to 17,967 employees this year, despite an annual increase in national park visitation. But the issue is a lot more complex than some would make it seem. The NPS has no way to track exactly how many visitors hike or walk their dogs down Glen Falls Trail, so it’s easier for Congress to underestimate how much money the rangers need to maintain these areas.

Knowing how strained the agency’s budget has become, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened that park staff spend any time removing the amount of trash we found that week. As the daughter of a sportsman, I learned at a young age to “leave no trace,” and I grew to understand why, after catching my fair share of flip flops and chip bags (a big disappointment when I thought I was reeling in a particularly shiny fish). It detracts from our outdoor experiences and, in some cases, keeps someone else from doing their job.

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

So, I offer this advice as we celebrate the NPS Centennial this summer: Find your park and respect it. Teach kids and grandkids that America’s public lands are unique in all the world. Tell your lawmakers to fund conservation and support the agencies who care for our national parks and other public resources. You can also check out NPS Volunteer Days to help get the job done a little faster.

All month long, we’re celebrating the National Park Service centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. Check back here for new posts from the TRCP staff and special guests, and follow the hashtag #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Shannon Fagan is the TRCP summer intern through the Demmer Scholar Program. She is going into her senior year at Michigan State University where she is majoring in Social Relations and Policy and minoring in Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy.

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Jonathan Stumpf


posted in: General

August 4, 2016

Meet Our Second #PublicLandsProud Contest Judges: Charity and Ian Rutter

Ian and Charity Rutter own and operate R&R Fly Fishing, a fly fishing guide service located in Townsend, Tenn. They have two children and are active members with Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, spending many of their off days volunteering with fisheries biologists in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains. Their professional lives are spent treating anglers to the wild trout streams of the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park and on East Tennessee’s tailwaters, rivers, and lakes. Charity and Ian have traveled across the country to share their knowledge and passion for fly fishing, and together, the Rutters have written and photographed multiple books on the subject. Their publications and presentations encourage people to get outside and enjoy the sport of fly fishing.

From now through August 31, Charity and Ian are guest judging your best “National parks, national treasures” photos for this round of the #PublicLandsProud photo contest. They’re looking for a winning photo that for photos that don’t necessarily highlight the best-known places but rather these equally impressive scenes that most people miss, so make sure your national parks moment beckons! And watch the TRCP Instagram account this week too, as Charity and Ian will be taking over our account the week of August 15 and giving us a glimpse into their lives on public lands.

TRCP: How do the Rutters like to spend time outside?

Charity & Ian: Public lands are more than just our livelihood, they are the source and reason for our outdoor lifestyle. We are “solar powered” people, so living a life outside is required for our good health and happiness. We spend time as a family camping, hiking, fishing, boating, swimming, backpacking, and exploring as many wild places as we can. We hunt, forage wild mushrooms, and teach our children how to recognize all the flora and fauna that surround us. We teach them how to live outside and have respect for our rivers and mountains. We volunteer for stream restoration projects, river cleanups and educating the children in our public schools on the importance of clean water and air through the Trout in the Classroom program.

TRCP: What makes a great photo of a summer day spent on public lands? What will you be looking for in the winning photo?

Charity: I love to see photos that highlight the little things that surround us every day in nature – the tiny wildflower or mushroom, a salamander on a rock, or the dew drops on a fern in the woods. I love the natural light that beams through the trees as if putting a spotlight on a mossy rock or creating a sparkle on the water.

Ian: Public lands are known for iconic scenes often seen on posters and calendars, but in my experience, it’s the places that are out of sight of a road or more than a few steps off a trail that catch my attention; I’m looking for photos that don’t necessarily highlight the best-known places but rather these equally impressive scenes that most people miss.

Image courtesy of Charity Rutter.

TRCP: What make the Rutters #PublicLandsProud?

Charity & Ian: Public lands provide a resource that can be used by everyone. We are proud to be involved in volunteer work that helps restore native brook trout in the Smokies. We take our ownership in public lands seriously and dedicate ourselves to educating others on the importance of public lands and clean water. We’re proud to live in a country that gives us and our children the freedom to explore so many wild places.

Show us your #PublicLandsProud moment and you could be featured on our blog and win a #PublicLandsProud prize package. It includes a new pair of Costa sunglasses, a copy of Steven Rinella’s new book, The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game, a Simms TRCP-branded hat, a First Lite merino wool neck gaiter, TRCP/Sitka-branded YETI rambler tumbler, Orvis fishing shirt, and Bantam buck knife. 

Steve Kline


posted in: General

August 2, 2016

Is It Finally Time to Talk About What Sportsmen Need in this Election?

With the conventions over, the heat of campaign season is before us—and it’s not too late to voice your concern for conservation priorities

The confetti and balloons have been swept from the floors of both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, marking the traditional beginning of the general election season, a flurry of activity that will run through November 8. We all know what to expect: commercials, debates, door-knocking, bumper stickers, yard signs, and social media posts from our friends. Of course, in the midst of all this, the one thing that all Americans seem to agree on is that they have already grown weary of an election that has been going on for well over a year.

Image courtesy of Wikicommons

As a delegate myself, to the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, I can attest that the messages the parties and candidates seek to deliver, both to those in the room and those watching from their living rooms, are pretty similar and follow a predictable course. A heavy dose of keeping American families safe, growing the economy, and creating good-paying jobs, plus assurances of competence and clarity of vision. The formula was alive and well in Cleveland and Philadelphia. It is the tale as old as time.

But after listening to the convention speeches of both candidates, and many other speakers, any sportsman would feel overlooked. Both parties missed a golden opportunity to communicate with an essential constituency, one important to anyone who hopes to actually win a national election. Neither candidate made a direct pitch to the more than 40 million Americans who hunt and fish, and in the process, contribute nearly $100 billion to the national economy.

What would a real pitch to sportsmen look like? A commitment to renewing the investment in fish and wildlife habitat conservation programs that benefit all Americans. A pledge to defend the values of common opportunity implicit in our national public lands. A vow to support the conservation of our private working lands. Perhaps a promise to enhance recreational access to our nation’s woods, fields, and waters.

Many candidates for elected office at all levels have created, or will soon create, sportsmen’s coalitions to support their candidacy, an acknowledgement that hunters and anglers are an important constituency, one that turns out to vote in higher numbers than many other subsets of the population. But we often don’t demand enough from candidates in exchange for our votes. So, this campaign season, attend a candidate forum or town hall, and ask questions about sportsmen’s priorities. Utilize your Facebook and Twitter accounts to put issues important to hunters and anglers in front of the candidates. Email their campaigns, in a thoughtful way, to share the things sportsmen and women in your part of the world are thinking about.

Candidates often profess to champion what America’s sportsmen care about, but it is up to us to let them know.

Ed Arnett


posted in: General

Celebrating our National Parks: How One Visit to Yellowstone Shaped the Rest of My Life

Our senior scientist can trace his career aspirations back to a single moment involving a Yellowstone black bear, the back of his grandfather’s pickup, and a fresh view of the American West

I was 12 years old and mere feet away from the black bear standing on its hind legs, peering into the bed of our pickup truck. Safe in the truck cab with my grandparents, windows rolled up tight, I was transfixed as the bear crawled into the back and rooted around for a cooler to raid. He came up empty after a few minutes and moved on to the next vehicle in his search for a free meal. The pickup was left with some minor scratches, but the bear encounter left a major impression on me. That afternoon in 1975, I departed Yellowstone National Park thrilled, curious, and full of new experiences. Little did I know, I’d just been catapulted onto the path of my own professional destiny.

Image courtesy of Ed Arnett

I suspect few of us go on to actually become what we said we wanted to be in grade school, or even have the chance to do so. I, for one, have never deviated—I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, and I’ve never looked back. Even before that journey to visit several of our national parks, the skids were thoroughly greased from years of hunting, fishing, and being outdoors as much as possible. I spent hours watching many of Walt Disney’s documentary films on animals and every episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom—the Animal Planet or Crocodile Hunter of my youth. I was determined to follow New York Tribune editor Horace Greely’s advice from 1871 and “Go West” as a young man to pursue my dreams.

And indeed I did—right after high school, I headed first to the West Slope of Colorado for college in Glenwood Springs and then onto Montana State University to complete a Bachelor’s degree in wildlife management. Where could one possibly get a better wildlife education than a 90–minute drive away from the park’s northern entrance? On my way to Bozeman for the fall semester, I returned to Yellowstone for the first time in nearly a decade and retraced much of the route I’d traveled with my family years earlier. While attending the university, I took my time in Yellowstone for granted—I went to the park whenever I wanted, and it became a showcase for my friends and family when they came to visit me.

In my adult life, I’ve been back to Yellowstone umpteen times, seen hundreds of bears, and had many soul-stirring experiences. I’m sure I’m not alone. In the last 100 years, our National Park System has no doubt helped inspire many an imagination and spark a sense of adventure for children and adults alike.

TRCP’s senior scientist Ed Arnett with author/historian Dayton Duncan after his keynote speech celebrating our national parks at the Western Governors Association annual summer meeting in Jackson, Wyoming. Image courtesy of Ed Arnett.

It turns out that another of those children was historian, author, and filmmaker Dayton Duncan, who conspired with Ken Burns to co-produce the fabulous documentary series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” He revealed his own youthful adventures, ones that were eerily similar to my own, as keynote speaker at this summer’s Western Governors’ Association Meeting in Jackson, Wyo. He held back tears as he described how his mother took the family on a journey to see the national parks, including Yellowstone, and as he spoke, all I could see were visions of my own family and me on our adventures in the park. I couldn’t resist going up to Dayton afterward to thank him for such a great tribute to the National Park System. I told him that he could have been describing my own experiences as a child.

Dayton Duncan and I were lucky—our families took the initiative to get us into the car and out to see the treasured gems of our public lands system. No parent should ever underestimate the power of these outdoor experiences for their children. There’s no better time to visit the national parks as America celebrates 100 years of their wild power and serenity. The next generation of biologists, authors, filmmakers, and other advocates of the great outdoors could be born on that next trip to your public lands.

Find your park here, and perhaps, like me, you’ll find your path out there.

All month long, we’re celebrating the National Park Service centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. Check back here for new posts from the TRCP staff and special guests, and follow the hashtag #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Rob Thornberry


posted in: General

July 28, 2016

Ankle-Deep and as Carefree as We Can Be on Montana’s Smith River

What does the future hold for this beloved waterway, built on a history of local collaboration and respect?

The crew is spread from here to hell and gone. Everybody is happy.

Dana, Allen, Kay, BJ, Margaret, and Cinclair are lounging in camp chairs they purposely planted in the rushing water. They are ankle-deep in the Smith River, one of Montana’s jewels and one of the West’s most famous floats. The temperatures are somewhere north of 90, and the parents and grandparents are cooling off after a round of chores that come with a five-day river trip.

The permitted section of the Smith runs for 58 miles and cuts through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

Grace is trying to get Chandler and Jillian to don their lifejackets and float through a riffle. The excited squeals of a ten-year-old and a six-year-old bounce off the canyon’s walls. Sophie and Claire are hiking to a rock outcropping across the river. Their progress is monitored closely by the riverside cocktail drinkers, who worry about snakes and climbing injuries. Jake is snorkeling, trying to find the river’s famed rainbows and browns. Kendall is awaiting Jake’s report as he sorts his fly box.

Cellphones are useless and nobody is thinking about Trump or Clinton, police shootings or terrorism. Our world has been reduced to the river’s quiet rhythm, buzzing insects, and the occasional roar of upstream winds. Our cocoon is enclosed by the canyon’s alabaster cliffs, the green hues of the forest, and painfully blue sky.

Jake Thornberry looks for rising trout during a gray drake hatch. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

The Smith’s Ancestry: Cooperation
Each year, more than 5,000 people experience this public treasure slicing between the Big Belt and Little Belt Mountains in central Montana. With a permit, you can fish 59 miles of the Smith, productive trout habitat stretching through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, even though 80 percent of the river’s banks are privately owned.

Use of this beloved river is the result of cooperation, ingenuity, and patience. The Smith is an economic driver today because of the foresight of Montanans, who started lobbying for its public use nearly 75 years ago.

“The cooperation that has led to the Smith’s success as an economic driver has also created a group of people who are invested in the river,” said Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. “We are all tied by the fact that we love the Smith and we don’t want it to change.”
People, including state officials, first floated the idea of a state park in 1953, but it failed due to fears that a park designation would draw crowds who would trample the special area and impinge on private landowner rights. Undaunted, a small group of Montana officials kept working to find a way to keep the river bottoms from being lost forever to private interests.

Mergansers are one of the many wildlife species that are found on the Smith River. Other species include Canada geese, deer, elk, beavers, and a variety of raptors. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

In 1970, public use of the river corridor got a boost from the Governor’s Council on Natural Resources and Development, which recommended that the Smith River not be developed as a state park but as the Smith State Recreational Waterway. This would permit the exchange of state lands for private lands and help set aside funding for acquiring easements.

Through a series of meetings between Smith River landowners and FWP starting that same year, a collaborative was formed to manage the river’s ever-growing use. In 1989, the Montana Legislature passed the Smith River Management Act, and in 1993, FWP instituted a permit system with daily launch limits. The state also negotiated leases of private property to create camping areas.

Regulations have evolved over the years and the river’s management is now a sterling example of how disparate interests—the Forest Service, counties, private landowners, business owners, state officials, and the recreating public—can partner to use public water that is largely surrounded by private property.

Wildflowers are a bonus on the picturesque float. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

A New Challenge
But the Smith River and its legion of fans face a new challenge: The Black Butte Copper Project. Tintina Resources, a Canadian subsidiary of an Australian mining corporation, is proposing a $218-million copper mine around Sheep Creek, which provides roughly half of the Smith’s headwaters. Mine-backers tout the company’s strong environmental record, plus the possibility of job creation and tax revenue. They say $2 billion in high-grade ore is ready to be mined by more than 200 people.

Conservation groups, such as Trout Unlimited, are concerned, arguing that Montana’s long list of hard-rock mining issues—the state has 17 Superfund sites—show an industry unfit to make claims that they will be good neighbors. The “good neighbor” argument isn’t gaining traction with locals either, according to rancher Willie Rahr. “Mining companies have been saying, ‘We have the best, newest technology’ for generations,” Rahr told the New York Times in 2015, “but something always happens.”

Early efforts to slow Tintina’s progress have been mixed. The mining company is currently awaiting state approval, and if all goes according to plan, the mine could be functional as early as 2020. Montana TU’s Farling said that timeline is unrealistic, but he is keeping a close eye on the slow-moving permit process. All the while, he continues to make the argument that the Smith is a sustainable economic driver—fishing alone generates $8 million annually—while the mine is unsustainable, shortsighted, and risky.

The very handsome author of this article smiles despite a daylong rainstorm on our fourth day. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

Looking Downstream
Back on the river, our camp chairs have been fished from the water and now ring the fire pit. Stars start to pop from the darkening skies. Fly rods and snorkeling gear have been stowed and three generations of two families discuss the river’s future. As carefree as we are out here, there’s room for concern.

Naturally, our crew decides the mine is too risky, but we have faith that the people who enjoy the famed river will unite, like they have in the past, to make a case for protecting this river and its headwaters. We don’t need to mine for riches—the real treasure was realized 75 years ago.



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.

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