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Ambassador Alec Underwood’s commitment to the hunt—and to conservation—runs deep
Launching this fall, TRCP’s ambassador program calls on sportsmen-conservationists to help advance our goals by offering local volunteer support. These #PublicLandsProud hometown heroes are not willing to sit idly by as the wild places we love are lost. They know there’s more to our sports than just hunting, fishing, and going home.
Meet Alec Underwood, our first volunteer ambassador out of Missoula, Montana. One thing you can say about Underwood is that he finishes what he’s started—after blood-trailing a bull elk to where it was bedded down, he stalked up in just his socks, eventually losing track of where he placed his boots in the tall grass. He packed out nearly two miles in just his stocking feet. We’re sure Underwood’s commitment to conservation is just as steadfast, and we’re proud to have him stepping up for sportsmen and women in Montana.
TRCP: What’s your earliest memory in the outdoors and how do you spend your time outside these days?
Underwood: My earliest memory in the outdoors is standing near a small stream in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, where I grew up, with my dad. We didn’t have fly rods, but he showed me where to look for trout by throwing small twigs behind boulders and in eddies. I remember watching small brook trout come up and try to eat the twigs, and I thought that it was the coolest thing in the world. Those small moments inspired my whole lifestyle, which consists of fishing the countless great trout rivers of the West and chasing elk in the mountains of Montana each fall.
TRCP: How do you see yourself helping us achieve our conservation mission?
Underwood: I’ve worked for several state fish and wildlife management agencies, in conjunction with federal land management agencies, and that has given me a broad perspective of how successful conservation policies are achieved on the landscape. This understanding, plus my passion for conservation and background in wildlife biology, will certainly help me further the TRCP’s mission of guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish, in whatever small way I can.
TRCP: How can everyday sportsmen make a difference for fish and wildlife? Why is it so important?
Underwood: I think that it’s quite simple—it all starts with passion. Sportsmen who use these resources must be devoted to protecting it. If you really care, don’t just pay your membership dues to whichever conservation organization you support. Go to that organization’s meetings. Invite your friends to those meetings. Lead by example and inspire others to care as much as you do.
TRCP: What’s the most pressing conservation issue where you live?
Underwood: The transfer of our federal public lands to state control is a real threat that would result in our treasured public lands disappearing forever through privatization. Sportsmen need to understand the severity of this issue. Once it happens, these lands will no longer be protected. The enormous amount of public lands and wilderness that we currently own (especially in the western US), and the opportunity for all of us to access these lands, is an incredible part of our heritage. Let’s keep it that way.
TRCP: What current projects are you working on for the TRCP?
Underwood: I have been helping the TRCP become more involved in the BLM’s Regional Management Plan (RMP) planning process for the Missoula field office. The plan will set goals, objectives, and direction for approximately 156,000 acres of BLM land in the Missoula area. To fully comprehend the current status of these lands and how they might be affected with the new RMP, we’ve been meeting with officials from both Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the BLM. Being more involved with the revision process is something that can only help to strengthen the TRCP’s existing relationship with the BLM.
TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt?
Underwood: The most memorable was definitely when I took a raghorn bull with my bow last September. After calling the bull in to about seven yards, I couldn’t pass him up. My aim was true, but he bedded down and didn’t expire. So I took off my boots and made a final, short stalk. Hit again, the bull ran down into a draw and finally expired. Tall grass surrounded me, and I suddenly realized my mistake: I discarded my boots into the sea of grass without marking them on my GPS. Thirty minutes of searching later, I decided to quarter the elk before it got too hot. Then, resuming my search, I retraced my steps over and over until I accepted that I was going to have to do the unthinkable. I loaded both a front and hind quarter – as well as the backstraps – and began the most painful 1.8 mile bushwhack of my life. Every step of that first trip out, in just my socks, ached. I had a few buddies come with me to help pack out the last two quarters and the head, and though we combed that small slope for another twenty minutes, we never found those boots. My feet were sore for almost a week after, but I knew I had a good story. (And if you find a pair of Irish Setters in a burn, please let me know!)
TRCP: What’s still on your bucket list?
Underwood: A DIY Alaska caribou hunt is definitely on there.
TRCP: What’s your favorite Theodore Roosevelt quote?
Underwood: “In a civilized and cultivated country wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen. The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.”
To find out more about the TRCP Ambassador program, please contact TRCP’s deputy director of Western lands, Coby Tigert, at CTigert@trcp.org or 208-681-8011.
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.
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