Alec Underwood quartering an elk
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Taking the spirit of the National Park Service Centennial into the next century of public lands stewardship
We’ve spent the month of August celebrating “America’s best idea,” the national parks that have given so many sportsmen and women their earliest and most formative experiences on public lands. One staffer’s close encounter with a Yellowstone black bear fueled his lifelong curiosity for wildlife biology. Another staffer credits a national recreation area outside Los Angeles with turning city rats into public lands advocates (and giving her a place to rock climb.) These are the places where we learned the value of conservation funding, found out we were strong and resilient enough to survive, and spotted some seriously big game.
For me, it was in Colorado’s crown jewel, Rocky Mountain National Park, where I was fortunate to forge many of my fondest memories. Just 45 minutes from our front door, my family and I backpacked to the upper Big Thompson River, snowshoed to Bear Lake, and cross-country skied along the headwaters of the Colorado River. The panoramic view was supposed to be the payoff of our annual pilgrimage to the top of Trail Ridge Road, but the rock candy at the gift shop was always my main motivator. Whether I was climbing in Moraine Park or fishing Fall River, it was here where I—and many kids—developed a taste and appreciation for the profound and life-changing effects of the outdoors and America’s public lands.
Because of these experiences, I enjoy a fishless day just as much as an afternoon when I can’t keep them off my line. I may have learned the basics of fishing, what trout eat, and how to read a river in my own backyard, but Rocky Mountain National Park is where I learned to forget that I was fishing and just listen to a bugling elk or watch the fog clear from the valley floor on a crisp fall morning. If I’d never set foot in the park, I can guarantee you I’d still fish, but I might not venture as far up the trail or as deep into the backcountry as I do.
We have almost 85 million acres of national parks in America and more than 300 million people visited a national park last year—an all-time high. I think about all the kids in that group who must have experienced public lands for the very first time, and my own kids who are just starting to understand and appreciate the world beyond their schoolyard and city limits. During the warmer months, my wife and I regularly take our son and daughter out to experience the wonder of the national parks and other public lands, in the hopes that someday they will see the value in advocating for them. Sure, fishing is a sport we’d love to see our son and daughter embrace, but we’re just as happy to see them splashing and laughing in a creek or astounded by how the trees are so much bigger than their dad.
The parks are an entry-level introduction to a wilder world that our increasingly urban population might not have otherwise. The ripple effect of these formative experiences could be huge for these kids, and decision-makers are starting to understand that. Last year, President Obama launched his Every Kid in a Park initiative, granting free admission to every fourth grader—and their families—to every national park in the country. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, has subsequently issued Secretarial Orders supporting this.
As our commemoration of the National Park Service Centennial winds down, we embark on another 100 years of caring for our public lands system. And as sportsmen, we have more at stake than most. Our traditions may not be tied to the national parks themselves, but the conservation legacy of leaders like Theodore Roosevelt may come alive for our kids in their first visits to these iconic landscapes. We are all, certainly, better off for having the opportunity to enjoy them.
All month long, we’ve celebrated the National Park Service Centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. This is the final post. Thanks for reading, and remember to keep following #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Live vicariously through photographer Charlie Bulla and escape to Big Sky Country right now (we won’t tell your boss)
Along the southern edge of the one-million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, the vast Montana prairie abruptly falls away and becomes the rugged Missouri Breaks. Because of its pristine habitat and remote wildness, this area is known by sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts as some of the country’s most unique and productive country for elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.
Much of this country is public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and, for the first time in over 20 years, the agency is updating its Resource Management Plan (RMP) that will guide the future management of these important lands. The TRCP and other sportsmen’s groups are advocating for a new and important conservation tool called Backcountry Conservation Areas (BCAs), which would be used to protect the Breaks from fragmentation and development while maintaining Americans’ access for traditional uses, such as grazing, hunting, and range improvement.
The importance and beauty of these remote lands, and the need for a tool to help protect them, is hard to put into words. So we asked Charlie Bulla, a professional photographer, to capture the essence of the unique landscape of the Missouri Breaks. Having never been to this part of Montana, Bulla was blown away by what he saw, calling the landscape “visually timeless and so precious.” Bulla said his respect for public lands only grew as he explored the area.
Bulla returned with dozens of breathtaking pictures. We’re hoping these images serve as proof that the Missouri Breaks are more than worthy of conservation—they demand it.
How can you help conserve the Missouri Breaks? The BLM is making final touches to its draft RMP and is expected to release the draft to the public soon. When they do, your input and comments will matter. Help us urge the BLM to conserve the best backcountry in the Missouri Breaks. Sign up at sportsmenscountry.org to pledge your support for backcountry conservation, and we’ll keep you informed throughout the BLM’s planning process. Sportsmen like you should continue to have a say in the future management of this unique fish and wildlife habitat.
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.
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