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September 23, 2016

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Celebrate National Public Lands Day by Showing the Land Some Love

This Saturday, September 24, is a day for celebrating our heritage – and you can join in by giving back

I love being outside, and I’m guessing that if you’ve found your way to this blog, then you do too. I am happy to live in Washington, DC, because it means I get to work at the TRCP, spending my days fighting for conservation and ensuring that that 640 million acres of public land remain public and remain accessible. However, lately, I’ve been neglecting my need to see the sky, smell the trees, and get my hands dirty. Sportsmen have a long history of getting their hands dirty – literally and figuratively – for conservation, and sometimes I just need to get out there and the work with my own two hands.

This Saturday, Sept 24, I’m going to get my on-the-ground fix – and you can too. In celebration of National Public Lands Day, parks, recreation areas, and more are hosting volunteer events all over the country. Additionally, if you’re in the Wyoming area, consider joining us at a Public Lands Day Celebration in Laramie.

Here are a few examples of Public Lands Day volunteer opportunities, in case you want to join me in celebrating our sporting heritage by taking care of our favorite spaces. Don’t see an event for your area listed here? Check in with your nearby public land agency and find events or start by browsing Find Your Park to find a spot near you.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park. Photo courtesy of Dani Dagan.

Click here for more information on National Public Lands Day. Whether or not you get your hands dirty this Saturday, take the future of our public lands into your hands by signing the Sportsmen’s Access petition.

 

Where: Pipestone National Monument, Pipestone, Minn.

What: Seed collection from native tall grass prairie

More information

 

Where: Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Western Ky. and Tenn.

What: Trail clean-up and work day

More information

 

Where: Red Top Mountain State Park, Cartersville, Ga.

What: Improve outdoor classroom

More information

 

Where: Don Carter State Park, Gainesville, Ga.

What: Shore sweep and trash clean-up

More information

 

Where: Yellowstone National Park

What: Trail maintenance

More information

 

Where: Colt Creek State Park, Lakeland, Fla.

What: Mulching

More information

 

Where: Lake Kissimmee State Park, Lake Wales, Fla.

What: Invasive weed removal

More information

 

Where: Lake Louisa State Park, Clermont, Fla.

What: Invasive weed and vegetation removal

More information

 

Where: 19 sites across Indiana

What: Trash clean-up, garden maintenance, trail work, invasive species removal, and more.

More information

 

Where: Poudre Wilderness, Northern Colo.

What: Trail maintenance

More information

 

Where: Hidden Canyon Community Park, Carlsbad, Calif.

What: Trail maintenance

More information

 

Where: Detroit Lake Campground shoreline, Detroit, Ore.

What: Shoreline and riverside clean-up

More information

 

 

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September 20, 2016

105 Hunting and Fishing Businesses Oppose Congressional Meddling on Sage Grouse Conservation

News for Immediate Release

Sep. 20, 2016

Contact: Kristyn Brady, 617-501-6352, kbrady@trcp.org

One year after the historic decision not to list the greater sage grouse for endangered species protection, retailers, outfitters, and gear manufacturers from across the country call on Congress to let sage grouse conservation work

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, more than 100 hunting, fishing, and wildlife-related businesses are asking lawmakers to block attempts to undo collaborative conservation efforts that benefit the greater sage grouse.

As representatives of a $646-billion outdoor recreation industry that depends on sportsmen having access to healthy fish and wildlife habitat, business owners from 14 states have sent a letter that calls on Congressional leadership to oppose language or riders to any legislation that would force the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to abandon their own sage grouse conservation plans in favor of plans developed by the states.

Almost exactly one year ago, on September 22, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the range-wide population of greater sage grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, following historic collaboration by federal and state agencies, industry, private landowners, sportsmen, and other stakeholders. This achievement, business leaders write, “should also be seen as a boon for business.”

However, some in Congress are attempting to derail the process by crafting language meant to block the federal conservation plans and attaching it to the only legislation moving in Washington, D.C.—the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and appropriations bills that keep the federal government operating.

“Sportsmen and outdoor business owners across the country are disappointed that Congress continues to play politics with our national defense and other must-pass legislation by attempting to insert unrelated and detrimental language about sage-grouse conservation into bills,” says Ryan Callaghan, marketing manager for First Lite. “Healthy sagebrush is important not only for sage grouse, but also for mule deer, pronghorns, and elk, and to our customers that pursue these species each fall.”

Ed Arnett, senior scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, adds that if language contained in the riders were to become law, it would throw into question decades of statutory precedent, several environmental laws, and the subsequent legal decisions around those laws. “Federal, state, and private landowner efforts are all needed to create on-the-ground results for sage grouse, and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision last fall was predicated on all of these plans working in concert,” says Arnett. “Implementation must be allowed to continue.”

Business owners across the Western U.S. are counting on it. “There’s a lot that goes on in Congress that is confusing, frustrating or seemingly unrelated to what we care about as sportsmen, but when your bottom line—not to mention the activities you love and hope to pass on to your grandkids—depends on the health of an entire ecosystem, you pay attention,” says Melissa Herz of Herz Gun Dogs in Bend, Oregon. “We can’t allow the sagebrush landscape, vibrant with 350 species of plants and animals that rely on the same habitat as sage grouse, to become just a pawn in a political game, and we cannot waver on conservation plans that were put in place for good reason.”

The House version of the NDAA has already passed with provisions that would be detrimental to sage grouse conservation. The Senate is expected to consider its version of the bill, which does not include any language on sage grouse, in the coming weeks. Sportsmen’s groups and businesses have made it clear to lawmakers that the best thing they can do for sage grouse is ensure that state and federal land managers get the resources they need to implement their respective plans and that conservation efforts on private lands continue.

Undoing federal conservation plans might be the best way to ensure a listing, which is bad news for just about everyone.

Read the letter from 105 hunting and fishing businesses here.

Learn more about how conditions have improved for sage grouse in the year since the decision not to list the species.

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.

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105 Sportsmen Businesses Agree: Don’t Mess With Sage Grouse Conservation

One year after the historic decision not to list the greater sage grouse for endangered species protection, retailers, outfitters, and gear manufacturers from across the country call on Congress to let sage grouse conservation work

Today, more than 100 hunting, fishing, and wildlife-related businesses are asking lawmakers to block attempts to undo collaborative conservation efforts that benefit the greater sage grouse.

As representatives of a $646-billion outdoor recreation industry that depends on sportsmen having access to healthy fish and wildlife habitat, business owners from 14 states have sent a letter that calls on Congressional leadership to oppose language or riders to any legislation that would force the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to abandon their own sage grouse conservation plans in favor of plans developed by the states.

Image courtesy of Department of Interior.

Almost exactly one year ago, on September 22, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the range-wide population of greater sage grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, following historic collaboration by federal and state agencies, industry, private landowners, sportsmen, and other stakeholders. This achievement, business leaders write, “should also be seen as a boon for business.”

However, some in Congress are attempting to derail the process by crafting language meant to block the federal conservation plans and attaching it to the only legislation moving in Washington, D.C.—the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and appropriations bills that keep the federal government operating.

“Sportsmen and outdoor business owners across the country are disappointed that Congress continues to play politics with our national defense and other must-pass legislation by attempting to insert unrelated and detrimental language about sage-grouse conservation into bills,” says Ryan Callaghan, marketing manager for First Lite, a hunting clothing company based in Ketchum, Idaho. “Healthy sagebrush is important not only for sage grouse, but also for mule deer, pronghorns, and elk, and to our customers that pursue these species each fall.”

Ed Arnett, senior scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, adds that if language contained in the riders were to become law, it would throw into question decades of statutory precedent, several environmental laws, and the subsequent legal decisions around those laws. “Federal, state, and private landowner efforts are all needed to create on-the-ground results for sage grouse, and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision last fall was predicated on all of these plans working in concert,” says Arnett. “Implementation must be allowed to continue.”

Business owners across the Western U.S. are counting on it. “There’s a lot that goes on in Congress that is confusing, frustrating or seemingly unrelated to what we care about as sportsmen, but when your bottom line—not to mention the activities you love and hope to pass on to your grandkids—depends on the health of an entire ecosystem, you pay attention,” says Melissa Herz of Herz Gun Dogs in Bend, Oregon. “We can’t allow the sagebrush landscape, vibrant with 350 species of plants and animals that rely on the same habitat as sage grouse, to become just a pawn in a political game, and we cannot waver on conservation plans that were put in place for good reason.”

The House version of the NDAA has already passed with provisions that would be detrimental to sage grouse conservation. The Senate is expected to consider its version of the bill, which does not include any language on sage grouse, in the coming weeks. Sportsmen’s groups and businesses have made it clear to lawmakers that the best thing they can do for sage grouse is ensure that state and federal land managers get the resources they need to implement their respective plans and that conservation efforts on private lands continue.

Undoing federal conservation plans might be the best way to ensure a listing, which is bad news for just about everyone.

Read the letter from 105 hunting and fishing businesses here.

Learn more about how conditions have improved for sage grouse in the year since the decision not to list the species.

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Sage Grouse Still Face Issues One Year After Conservation Milestone

On the anniversary of the historic decision not to list the greater sage grouse for endangered species protection, population numbers are up—but there’s still plenty of work to do

Shortly after first light on opening day, my Labs and I maneuvered through the sagebrush in northwest Colorado searching for sage grouse. As we approached a fenced-off meadow, I noticed there were tags on the wires, markers designed to deter grouse from flying into the fence, which many ranchers and others are using to reduce accidental deaths. There definitely had to be birds in the area.

No sooner had I rested my gun on a wooden post to cross the fence when the sagebrush in front of me exploded with the unmistakable sound of a covey flush, and ten sage grouse flew off safely into the sagebrush sea.

Just four years earlier, I’d been hiking what felt like forever in one of my favorite Wyoming honey holes and no birds were to be found. I’d sat on a hillside wondering, “How did we get to this point?” How could a gamebird once so common, widely distributed, and liberally harvested have become so scarce?

That was in the fall of 2012, when drought continued to plague the West. Grouse numbers were low just about everywhere. In fact, the following spring yielded the second-lowest number of male sage grouse attending their breeding grounds in nearly 50 years. But it was more than just drought affecting sage grouse. More than half of the species range had been lost to development, cropland conversion, fire, or invasive juniper trees that the birds generally don’t like. The threats to habitat were so great and bird numbers so low that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was considering whether to protect sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

Almost exactly one year ago, the agency decided that the bird was not warranted for listing, and this was heralded as a landmark success for collaborative conservation. On a perfect Saturday morning afield with my dogs, fortunate enough to be hunting sage grouse again, I might agree. But sage grouse are not yet in the clear—here’s why.

The Best Laid Plans

A listing would have dealt a crippling blow to the West and its economy. So, voluntarily, yet with the hammer of the ESA looming overhead, state and federal agencies, private landowners, and numerous stakeholders undertook what will be remembered as perhaps the largest coordinated conservation planning effort in the history of contemporary wildlife management.

Wyoming led the way for the states and dove in head first in 2008, launching its own version of a conservation strategy. Today, all states within the bird’s habitat have some version of a conservation plan for sage grouse. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recognized early on how vital private landowners are to sagebrush conservation and initiated its own strategy, the Sage Grouse Initiative, in 2010. The NRCS immediately began advising and cutting checks to willing landowners to help improve conditions for sage grouse. The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service also began their own historic collaboration and developed conservation measures that would amend more than 100 land-use plans to better conserve and manage the sagebrush ecosystem. Finally, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) and the Department of Interior led planning and coordination efforts to combat wildfire and invasive species, like cheatgrass, that threaten sagebrush habitat.

It paid off. On September 22, 2015, the USFWS decided that sage grouse did not require ESA protections. However, that decision was predicated on strong conservation plans, especially on federal public lands, and with assurances that they would be implemented and effective.

Many of the states are implementing their plans. Some like Wyoming have been doing it for several years, but others are barely getting started. Now, one year after finalizing their plans, the BLM just issued guidance to all its field offices on how sage grouse conservation is to be implemented on our public lands.

Hopefully the actual implementation of federal plans doesn’t get as bogged down.

Healthy sagebrush ecosystems support 350 species of plants and animals, including those important to sportsmen, and help support ranching and outdoor recreation economies. Image courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Onward and Upward

So where are we today? Bird numbers are up across most of the range. According to WAFWA, 2015 saw a dramatic increase in males attending their leks—a 63-percent increase over what was recorded in 2013. Many have touted these numbers as evidence that the plans are working, but conditions have been naturally favorable. In 2014, rain finally found its way back to much of sagebrush country, improving habitat and helping to bridge the gap while conservation plans were developed. But there’s no doubt that ongoing conservation efforts are helping too—and it can only get better with more widespread support for the whole suite of conservation plans.

On the private lands front, NRCS has continued to sign on landowners under the Sage Grouse Initiative, with more than 1,200 participating so far. The Initiative has cleared 457,000 acres of encroaching juniper to open up sagebrush habitat, protected more than 400,000 acres from development, improved rangeland and grazing practices that benefit both grouse and livestock on nearly 2.8 million acres, and marked nearly 630 miles of fences to help grouse avoid collisions with deadly wires.

While hunting has never been identified as a major threat to sage grouse, sportsmen sacrificed opportunity in most states either with outright closures or curtailed seasons and smaller bag limits. But we also contributed to the solution with hundreds of millions dollars from hunting licenses, fees, and Pittman-Robertson funding dedicated by the states to sage grouse research and conservation.

Don’t Mess With Success

But not everyone agrees with all of the conservation efforts that are planned or ongoing. The strength of the federal land-use plans has been called into question in no less than six pending lawsuits in which the plans are being called either too onerous or not rigorous enough.

Unfortunately, some in Congress continue to meddle with success by trying to force the federal agencies to use only state-developed plans. The problem is that some state plans cannot stand alone to address the threats to sage grouse, and many are based on voluntary efforts with weak assurances they will be fully implemented. Lawmakers who would rather see state plans adopted across the bird’s range are attaching legislation to the only things moving through Congress—our national defense spending bill and other appropriations bills that keep the government funded.

There should be no language in any future legislation that seeks to delay, defund, or otherwise undo the federal sage grouse conservation plans on millions of acres of America’s public lands, and 105 business leaders agree. These retailers, outfitters, and gear manufacturers, who rely on sportsmen having access to quality fish and wildlife habitat, are urging lawmakers to let sage grouse conservation happen. Read the letter here.

The True Test of Conservation

It’s still far too early to claim victory for sage grouse, and quite honestly, I think we dodged the proverbial bullet. Without rain over the past three years, we may have seen a different scenario play out last fall. The documented increases in bird numbers only reflect a short-term uptick; the long-term trend is still one of gradual decline.

The true test of conservation is yet to come.

If oil prices perhaps break $60 per barrel or if we experience another drought in sagebrush country, then we’ll get to see how well the conservation plans really work. All game bird populations go through cycles, and sage grouse numbers will always fluctuate. But what we do next will determine if the species can emerge from particularly tough times.

Photo by Jennifer Strickland, USFWS

The Next Chapter

As for my sage grouse hunt last weekend, the story ends like this: I saw exactly where the covey put down, and soon afterward my dogs and I were on the birds. Once again, I heard the telltale sound of flapping wings, and two shots later we had finished our quest for the iconic bird of the West.

How will the story end for sage grouse across their range? That chapter is still being written.

We must stay on track with implementing the conservation plans—all of them—that were so crucial to the not-warranted decision made one year ago. And we must be wary of political meddling. Congress should ensure that there is adequate funding to implement conservation plans and support the states and private landowners. A new presidential administration will take over soon, and no matter who wins, they too must stay the course for sagebrush conservation.

We have little time to spare, as drought will once again hit the American West, as it always has, and pressures to extract resources from the land will continue to compete with our conservation goals.

Sure, as sportsmen, we want to continue to have opportunities to pursue these birds, trek through brushy landscapes with our dogs, and hear the flush of flapping wings. But, as Americans, we should be proud of a collaborative process that’s working—one that represents our scientists, land managers, private landowners, elected officials, and businesses working together—and see it through to a happy ending for the sagebrush sea.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

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