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We prepare to celebrate opening day and all the traditions that come with it
Yesterday at sunrise, a cool, down-canyon breeze brushed my face and jarred my memories. Finally, fall is coming. I smiled as my mind drifted past the day’s chore list to what will surely be going on as I gather with some of my favorite hunting companions for the first night of elk camp.
My friend Mike’s camo will be airing out in the trees while he cooks. The meal will affect his pace tomorrow, but he loves food to much to care. My wife Linda will be checking her pack, making sure her water bottle is full and flashlight batteries are fresh. The best bugler in camp, she’ll be running ridges on opening morning and, as always, she’ll hear more elk than the rest of us combined.
My brother Mack and buddy Mark will huddle together, plotting their annual first-day hunt in “the bowl.” Mark, a football lineman in college, and my brother Mack, an outstanding high school quarterback too small for college ball, always strike me as a comical “Stan and Ollie” hunting team. But they get it done.
I’ll be sharpening broadheads and listening to their decades-old stories, embellished more and more each year. Soaking up the fire’s heat, I’ll check that my alarm is set. Elk season will start in the morning.
Heaven and Earth
Each September means archery elk season on Idaho’s 32 million acres of public lands. The cool nights and warm days in the high country are like heaven for a public lands hunter, perfect for chasing bugling bulls, taking afternoon naps, and enjoying long campfire conversations with old friends.
Our group has shared a camp in the Caribou National Forest for more than three decades, and we’ve explored every nook and cranny within ten miles of it. We’ve harvested dozens of animals there. Each of us has a favorite spot or two where we always get into elk.
Like most hunting buddies, the pursuit of wildlife and wild places brings us together. We are closer in these vast landscapes than we are in somebody’s living room.
Unfortunately, 640 million acres of our public playgrounds are being eyed by folks who would rather see ownership of America’s public lands transferred or sold off to the highest bidder, which would make these areas off-limits to sportsmen like us forever. The future of our hunting camp, and the ability to pass on our traditions to our children, depends on us standing up for public lands and our access.
The cool wind yesterday was a reminder that the season is near, and I still have a few chores left to tend to before we head for high country. As I walked back to my house, a sound erupted from my pocket—the elk bugle ringtone that signals an incoming call from Mike. He feels it, too. Fall is coming.
Make this part of your pre-season routine: Take action to protect our public lands legacy by signing the petition at sportsmensaccess.org.
How an unexpected dunk in the Everglades helped TRCP’s new Florida field representative become a proactive advocate for restoration – and how you can help too
Three months ago, for the first time ever, I fell off my skiff’s poling platform. I was flyfishing for tarpon in the Everglades with a friend when I lost my balance and tumbled backwards into the water five feet below. I was fortunate to miss the motor prop and only suffered from a painful combo of oyster abrasions, soreness, and wounded pride, plus plenty of mud and water up my nose, but it was a wake-up call.
I’d been thinking about the environmental crisis facing Florida, focusing on all that was wrong and problematic. I wasn’t immune to finger-pointing—at the Army Corps of Engineers, state and federal government, Florida agriculture, and unbridled growth—and the more I learned about the problems in Florida, the more stress I felt. Thinking about all of this had turned me into a downer, and frankly I wasn’t doing anyone any good by dwelling. My unexpected splashdown made me realize that I had to pick myself up, figuratively and literally, and work toward change.
Our challenges are great. Over the last few months, toxic algae blooms along the east and west coasts of Florida have been the focus of national media attention. Yet, the most significant cause of the disaster, the discharge of untreated and polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, still hasn’t been resolved. This is an environmental and quality-of-life disaster for sportsmen and women and all Florida residents.
With the National Park Service centennial this month, it’s important to point out what this means for Everglades National Park. While the park does protect a fraction of the Everglades’ waters from pollution and diversion, an effective conservation plan requires that action be taken over a large geographic, and political, landscape. If we don’t care for the entire watershed—Lake Okeechobee and all the rivers that flow south—then all that will be left of Everglades National Park will be a boundary on a map.
Florida fishermen won’t stand idly by and let that happen. As for me, I started with what I know: I love the Florida Everglades, both coasts, Florida Bay, the Florida Keys, and the fish, wildlife, and people these areas support. My local community and the next generation of sportsmen and women deserve to see Florida’s fisheries restored. I resolved to do my part in making that happen.
Then I got lucky. Very lucky.
Two months ago, I was hired as the TRCP’s Florida field representative and joined a team of colleagues who are focused on solutions for conservation issues impacting sportsmen and women across the country. This has given me hope and purpose.
Yes, I am still concerned about the challenges facing Florida, but I do what I can every day to by working with partners, diverse interest groups, and lawmakers to find solutions for the Florida Everglades that improve water quantity and quality for our wildlife, fish, and people. I’m learning that we can all become more effective advocates.
My fellow Florida sportsmen are still out fishing and hunting during this water crisis and, with all the local spending we drive through our sports, this is important. So is collaborating on solutions and presenting a unified front as we appeal to decision-makers to do what’s best for fish and wildlife.
That’s where you can help—sign the Now or Neverglades Declaration to show lawmakers that you support Everglades restoration. It took a humiliating fall off a poling platform to wake me up, but you can stay dry and make a positive difference today with just a few clicks of your mouse.
Hard-earned fish and forage in a national park that’s far from the crowds
Freshman-year procrastination still in full effect, a handful of my closest friends and I picked up the last of our food, fuel, and supplies on our way to the Queen IV ferry dock in Copper Harbor, Mich. We figured we had enough. Ready or not, we watched the shoreline creep away. Our weeklong public lands adventure in Isle Royale National Park had begun.
Isle Royale is a 45-mile-long island on the north end of Lake Superior. Only accessible by seaplane or on a wavy 3.5-hour ferry ride, the park hosts fewer visitors in a year than Yellowstone National Park sees in a single day, but that’s just the way we like it. None of us had ever attempted a trip like this. We were car campers at best, with most of our fishing days spent on the decks of our parents’ motorboats. Canoeing and portaging our way from one waterway to the next through a secluded national park would be exciting, unchartered territory.
The remote island is protected by 450 smaller islands and peppered with dozens of inland lakes, making the archipelago an ideal destination for anglers but also quite a challenge. Fishing while paddling six miles against the wind on big water proved difficult, and we ended our first day with sore backs, blistered hands, and exactly zero fish.
On day two, we tried a calmer three-mile paddle into a protected cove of Lake Superior. From here, we conducted the first of our trip’s seven portages, lugging our 60-pound backpacks to the destination, doubling back, and then making the trek a third time with our aluminum canoes over our heads.
No wonder we were the only fools doing this.
Our campsite that night was on an inland lake 2.5 miles in, making it a 7.5-mile afternoon. We were quickly rewarded, though, with a plethora of northern pike. We ate our fill that night.
It is critical for any hunter or angler to know the regulations of the area—it’s the part we all play in conservation—and we were armed with a Michigan fishing license for Lake Superior and its banks. We were surprised to learn that no license at all is needed to fish the island’s inland lakes, where you’re only limited by how much you can eat—no need to catch more than that, though you could. Additional rules apply, of course: Barbless hooks are required and, to keep the fishery productive, instead of minimum size requirements, park regs insist that we don’t keep fish above a certain size. Brook trout are off-limits, too.
Once we hit the island’s lakes, we couldn’t keep the fish out of our canoes. We caught northern pike, walleyes, and even some big lakers. We coated the fillets in fry mix and seasonings, then pan-fried them over our camp stove. Our remaining rations—flaked potatoes, pasta, beans, and rice—became side dishes instead of entrees. The chipmunks looked mighty jealous.
Even with the bounty of fish, we quickly realized that we underestimated the number of calories needed for six men on a weeklong backcountry excursion; our food supplies were getting low and we couldn’t eat enough. Fires are not allowed at most campsites, and frying fish over a camp stove uses quite a bit of fuel. Once we ran out, we’d have no way of cooking the fish or boiling water. We were saved when a group camping nearby watched us pull fish in one after another and commented on how tasty a fresh fish dinner would be. Turns out they had overpacked on fuel and were happy to shed some pack weight. Some good ol’ backcountry bartering ensued and we struck a deal: three filleted walleye for two cans of isobutene-propane.
We hit Lake Superior again the next day and pulled in a 41-inch northern pike, a Coho salmon, and two whitefish. We chilled the stringer in the frigid waters of the deepest and biggest of the Great Lakes to stretch our supply over multiple meals. Just when we thought it couldn’t get much better, we stumbled upon a jackpot of wild blueberries.
The park fed us, and I’ll never forget how proud I was of our self-reliance. With so few visitors, it felt like we owned those waters and wild areas. As the debate over federal land ownership continues, I realize this is exactly the case: We do own these lands. So, as we celebrate the National Park Service Centennial, I’m proud to remind others of the true value of public lands and the treasures they hold.
Even if you’re months away from your next backcountry hunt or hike, you can sign the petition to keep public lands in public hands right now.
Andrew Farron holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. He resides in Traverse City, Mich. with his fiancé, Sarah, and black Labrador, Luna. Andrew seems to always catch more – and bigger – fish than his older brother, Kevin.
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
News for Immediate Release
Aug. 18, 2016
Contact: Kristyn Brady, 617-501-6352, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sportsmen’s coalition launches CRPworks.org, an online hub for information and action supporting improvement of the Farm Bill’s Conservation Reserve Program
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hunters and anglers who agree that the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) works for wildlife, sportsmen, and landowners can now show their support for enhancing the program in the next Farm Bill. With the launch of CRPworks.org, a coalition of sportsmen’s groups—including the National Deer Alliance, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership—is rallying conservation advocates who want to see better investments in the CRP.
“During the latest CRP sign-up, landowners who demonstrated an overwhelming demand for voluntary conservation practices under CRP were met with the lowest acceptance rates in the program’s 30-year history,” says Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “That’s why we’re calling for sportsmen and women to support strong conservation provisions in the Farm Bill, including a larger and more robust CRP authorization that meets the demand from farmers, ranchers, and other landowners, who improve wildlife habitat and provide us with better recreational and access opportunities.”
Introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill, CRP once supported 37 million acres devoted to conserving soil, water, and wildlife habitat. But Congress has reduced the size of the program to just 24 million acres in the most recent Farm Bill. Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is turning down thousands of CRP applications from those who want to enroll millions of private acres in conservation.
The user-friendly website and advocacy app at CRPworks.org allows supporters to add their names to a petition asking lawmakers to reverse this trend, explaining that “without a strong CRP, the northern plains states would lose much of their duck breeding habitat, greater sage grouse in the West would be at greater risk of population decline, and brook trout would disappear from Eastern headwaters. Without CRP, 40 million sportsmen and women would lose access to private hunting and fishing grounds across rural America.”
Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of the National Deer Alliance, says, “Deer hunters know that CRP works for wildlife and habitat—we’ve got the big buck stories to prove it—so it’s important that sportsmen and women call for better investments in CRP and become a part of the solution, well ahead of the next Farm Bill. This website makes that process very easy.”
CRPworks.org will also house educational resources on the benefits of the program and the latest news about private land conservation. “CRP acres are often enrolled in access programs to provide public hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands, and where they’re not, CRP acres might provide critical wildlife habitat adjacent to the public lands that receive a lot of hunting pressure,” says Ariel Wiegard, agriculture and private lands policy director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This program has served as an important piece of landowners’ business plans and a vital part of working and wild landscapes for 30 years, so it deserves the attention of our lawmakers.”
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.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More