Sage grouse strutting near Boar’s Tusk in the Red Desert, Great Divide Basin area of Wyoming.
Courtesy of USDA sg
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Sage grouse strutting near Boar’s Tusk in the Red Desert, Great Divide Basin area of Wyoming.
Five friends on a four-hour charter get half their limit, but experience the full value of the Oregon coast’s recreational fishery—a critical segment of the local economy
Not only do I have a wonderful, beautiful girlfriend, but when I asked what she wanted to do for her birthday, Laura replied, “Go fishing!” Within a few minutes, I had lodging and a charter boat booked out on the coast of Oregon for the weekend. Oh, the things we do for love.
To accommodate the two of us plus three friends on one boat, we had to take an afternoon trip, meaning more sun, rougher seas, and unfortunately, a cooler bite. But, hey, it was an adventure on public water, and I knew anything was possible! Our captain, Bill, promised us a good time.
This wasn’t our first chartered trip, so we were pretty sure we’d limit out on rockfish and Dungeness crab, but we hoped to land one or two of the more elusive—and delicious—lingcod.
Our empty coolers sat in waiting. By our rough estimates, each angler had the potential to land around $350 worth of fresh seafood, meaning $95 for a four-hour charter was a financially-sound investment—and plenty of fun.
Within minutes of clearing the harbor, the excitement began. As gigantic gray whales surrounded the boat, Captain Bill, who has been doing this for more than twenty years, joked about charging us more for whale watching, and we all laughed. Bill’s two teenage sons spend their summers working as his deckhands, and make good money doing it. “If you live on the Oregon coast, you can bet that you’re logging trees, catching fish, or selling souvenirs to the tourists,” he said. “There’s not much else in terms of industry here.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that recreational fishing brought in $68.9 million for Oregon’s coastal communities in 2014 (commercial harvests netted an additional $160.3 million that year). According to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, the effects trickle down from there, accounting for a total of 15,759 direct and indirect jobs in coastal communities and $904 million of Oregon’s gross domestic product.
As for me and my friends, we were happy to be contributing to this important segment of the economy, yet determined to get our money’s worth, and within a few minutes of dropping our lines, I hooked a nice one. Captain Bill was giving me a hard time for the way I was battling with what he thought to be a measly rockfish, but once he saw that I had a two-foot blue-bellied lingcod hooked, he scampered backward to grab the net. I landed a rare and delicious blue beauty.
We high-fived and wondered who’d be next. Laura was all smiles and things were going great. But how the tides can turn.
When the bite went cold, conversation turned to politics, particularly the establishment of marine reserve areas, where fishing is not permitted. A compromise reached in 2012 limited the proposed reserve areas to a handful of designated waterways, comprising about 10 percent of the territorial sea, rather than banning all commercial and recreational fishing within three miles of the coast, where the overwhelming majority of recreational fishing and crabbing happens. Bill doesn’t have a problem with the current reserves, but he’s not interested in adding any more.
“I’d be out of a job!” he explained. “There has to be a better way of addressing fisheries mismanagement. We’re willing to follow the rules.” He explained that his wife is a marine fisheries technician for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (another one of those jobs related to the resource and the industry), and her work has helped to prove that bycatch fatalities were greatly exaggerated back when the statewide reserves were proposed. So were they even necessary?
“They can’t close down fishing entirely,” said Bill. We could see his point but, then, our poles remained unbent. Could we blame poor management? As it turns out, no. We hauled up about half our limit of crabs, about 35 keepers. And when we approached the docks, we saw that numerous anglers had returned with their entire limits. The fishery appeared to be faring quite well.
That night, on unwavering ground—thankfully—Laura and I spent four hours cracking and peeling the fresh crab, dipping it in garlic butter and eating our fill as we went. The taste of our own catch, which went from sea to stomach in the same day, was well worth the costs.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate and House are both in session this week after a seven-week recess.
With nineteen legislative days left to negotiate a spending bill, congressional leaders continue to disagree on how to keep the government funded when the new fiscal year begins on October 1. As the clock ticks, some prefer to pass a short-term spending bill through the end of 2016, which would theoretically allow time in December to craft an omnibus funding agreement for the rest of 2017. Others prefer a continuing resolution, which would extend the enacted funding levels from the current fiscal year into the first few months of 2017, allowing the new president and the new congress to address funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2017. This is the only thing Congress must do in the coming weeks, with a particularly abbreviated work period.
Sage grouse are still mixed up in the “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA). While the NDAA is must-pass legislation, conference talks have slowed due to disagreements about the bill. As you may remember, the House NDAA included Congressman Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) “The Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act,” which would bring state and federal agencies’ efforts to coordinate on sage-grouse conservation to a grinding halt. Thankfully, the Senate version of the NDAA does not include similar provisions.
In other sage grouse news, last week the Bureau of Land Management released the final seven instruction memorandums for the greater sage-grouse conservation plans, responding to local concerns about grazing and drilling. While federal and state agencies will continue implementing these collaborative plans, their future may be in the hands of lawmakers.
For the first time in nine years, lawmakers will meet to discuss a first comprehensive energy bill. Earlier this year, a package of high-priority legislation with habitat and conservation funding impacts was added to “The Energy Policy Modernization Act” (S. 2012) by Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). These provisions included the permanent reauthorization of “The Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act,” the reauthorization of the “North American Wetlands Conservation Act” through 2020, and the establishment of “The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act” program. The package passed with a vote of 97-0, an overwhelming victory for the sportsmen-conservation community. On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear conferees’ concerns with the Senate energy bill, including the habitat and conservation package, but Chairwoman Murkowski is optimistic about continuing to negotiate with conferees and finally passing the bill.
An amendment to address Louisiana flooding and habitat connectivity may come to the Senate floor before the end of the year. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced an amendment to “The Water Resource Development Act” (WRDA) that would require the Army Corps of Engineers to implement flood-control projects in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after devastating floods damaged area homes, as well as fish and wildlife habitat. Ultimately, projects would restore and mitigate habitat connectivity.
The overall bill would provide $9 billion in funds for water resource projects. It does not include the language on natural infrastructure provisions that sportsmen were hoping to see in the final bill, which passed the committee with a 19-1 vote earlier this year, but a motion to add those provisions is expected when WRDA reaches the Senate floor—most likely after a spending bill and the NDAA have been passed.
But there is even more work to do. Lawmakers are also faced with discussion of a bill that would set aside $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus, and a mark-up of “The Resilient Federal Forests Act,” (H.R. 2647), which would offer a wildfire funding fix and provide forest management provisions, has been set for next week.
What else we’re tracking:
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The Federal Power Act will be discussed at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing.
Four energy and natural resources bills, including Congressman Ryan Zinke’s (R-Mont.) “Certainity for States and Tribes Act,” will be the subject of a House Natural Resources Committee mark-up.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Discussions will continue on natural resources bills in the House Natural Resources Committee mark-up.
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.
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