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A new certificate program in Montana helps hunters understand more about conservation, ethics, and respect for private land in order to gain access to more of it
Asking permission to hunt on someone’s land is a vulnerable proposition. There’s a tremendous upside for your access close to home, but it all depends on the landowner taking a bet on you, your skills, and how you’ll treat their property. And we all know that one bad actor can make this ask even more challenging for others.
That’s why a Montana non-profit with an eye toward improving sportsman-landowner relations and hunting access has created a program to certify sportsmen and women that they can vouch for with private landowners—some of whom have never opened their gates to hunters before.
“Landowners might not know what they’re going to get—it really makes a difference when someone comes to your property with an understanding of your needs, respect for your land, and respect for the wildlife,” says George Bettas, project coordinator for One Montana’s new Montana Hunter Advancement Program, which was created to promote safe, ethical, and responsible hunting on enrolled private lands through its Master Hunter certification course. “Our goal is to send out skilled, ethical hunters who landowners know they can trust, to hopefully create new opportunities on properties that have provided little to no access for hunters in the past.”
The certification program has a core curriculum with three parts: A history of conservation and hunting ethics, a section on the value of agriculture and the landowner’s perspective, and a field session for testing and improving competency with a rifle or bow. They will accept 30 applicants into the pilot course for rifle hunters this spring. The cost is $200, which covers a weekend worth of instruction, ammo, provided lunches, and facilities—but scholarships are available. Program leaders are looking for a diverse range of ages, backgrounds, and skill levels for the pilot course.
Part of the process is generating an awareness of a visiting hunter’s impact on the farm or ranch, and what kinds of activities may be happening on private land at certain times of year. Bettas hopes this will help create a bond between landowners and sportsmen, who will know enough to avoid crossing freshly seeded winter wheat or tearing up an access road with tire chains just to get closer to a downed animal. He believes more educated, ethical hunters are less likely to put themselves in danger, take a shot where they can’t recover the animal, or give up on a critical contract with the landowner—to help manage wildlife that damage crops or property.
“I’m confident that when we send the first 30 graduates out to hunt the available properties, they will be great ambassadors for hunting, and the landowners are going to want them back again,” says Bettas.
Certified Montana Master Hunters will be able to access an online reservation system for enrolled properties made possible by Huntable.com, an Airbnb-like service that allows landowners to approve certain dates and know who is going to show up when.
There has been some criticism on the group’s Facebook page about the course being “elitist,” but Bettas stresses that anyone with some hunting experience can apply and potentially receive assistance with the fee. “Overall the response has been tremendous, and we hope to eventually make some of the coursework available online for anyone who is interested,” he says.
With the decline in hunter participation and a wave of out-of-state and urban buyers taking over properties that have traditionally been open to hunting and fishing, sportsmen’s access and landowner certainty about who they are letting use their property are as critical as ever in Montana. The TRCP has been supportive of the Hunter Advancement Program and certificate course, because it enhances access, promotes conservation ideals, and helps to retain active hunters who keep the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy flourishing. And farmers and ranchers who believe the best of hunters and anglers can often have an outsize impact on the health of fish and wildlife habitat, too.
Of course, you don’t need to be certified to build a relationship of mutual respect with a private landowner. But it’s pretty cool to see this example of a solution that brings both sides together to find common ground.
Montana residents can apply for the program here until April 1. For the pilot course, just 30 rifle hunters will be selected, and scholarships are available. Visit mtmasterhunter.com for details and to watch for future courses.
Hunters and anglers have much to celebrate as lawmakers include a long-awaited fix for “fire borrowing” and many other wins for conservation in their must-pass spending bill
[This post has been updated.]
On March 21, Congress introduced its fiscal year 2018 spending bill with plenty for sportsmen and women to celebrate, including robust funding levels for conservation, a comprehensive fire borrowing fix, positive forest management reforms, and reauthorization of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA). The House and Senate passed the bill Thursday and it was signed by the president on Friday.
“We are thrilled and relieved to see bipartisan support for many provisions in this spending bill that will benefit fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy, but hunters and anglers especially have reason to cheer for the wildfire funding fix, which will ensure that the Forest Service can get back to the business of maintaining healthy habitat and excellent facilities,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“This kind of deal doesn’t get done without the hard work of many people, including conservation groups, sportsmen, industry stakeholders, and all levels of government—from appropriators and authorizers to leadership. The hunting and fishing community should be proud of what our decision makers have accomplished in finding consensus,” says Fosburgh.
Provisions in the spending bill will finally help us shift away from the current model of funding for wildfire suppression and recovery, where the U.S. Forest Service is forced to dip into other accounts after running out of appropriated funds during catastrophic fire seasons.
There are two components to the fix: It freezes the ten-year average cost of fire suppression upon which appropriated funds are based and permits funding costs above that ten-year average using natural disaster funding. This ends the need for ever-increasing appropriations for fire and halts the steady erosion of funds for non-fire activities at the Forest Service, which currently spends more than half of its budget on fire suppression activities.
The language is equivalent to provisions supported by the TRCP and our partners in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (S. 1842 and H.R. 2862).
There is also bipartisan support for provisions that will help the Forest Service expedite active management of forest habitat. Combined with the fire funding fix, the agency will not only have more tools to work on habitat restoration, they’ll have the funding to accomplish it.
The spending bill is a windfall for conservation funding, with Congress rejecting many of the steep cuts in the president’s budget proposal and giving most agencies a sizable boost, including:
Finally, the spending bill would permanently reauthorize FLTFA, a critical conservation tool for Western lands that ensures revenues from the sale of small or low-value parcels of BLM land are used to buy new public lands with hunting and fishing access or high-value habitat. Right now, proceeds from surplus sales simply go to the general treasury. The TRCP has been supportive of thoughtful FLTFA reauthorization bills introduced this session by Rep. Rob Bishop, Sen. Martin Heinrich, and Sen. Dean Heller.
If BLM employees want to showcase ALL the facets of the agency’s multiple-use mission—here are the cards we’d love to see them carry
Since last week, news outlets from the Washington Post to Outside magazine have highlighted the significance of the imagery displayed prominently on “vision cards” outlining the BLM’s mission, values, and guiding principles for agency employees. A goal of improving the “health and productivity of the land to support the BLM multiple-use mission” is clearly stated on the back of the card, which is perforated to be worn clipped to a lanyard or ID badge, but the prominent illustrations are of an oil derrick and two ranchers on horseback with cattle in the distance.
The full text on the card reads: [Front] “The Bureau of Land Management. Our Vision: To enhance the quality of life for all citizens through the balanced stewardship of America’s public lands and resources. Our Mission: To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Our Values: To serve with honesty, integrity, accountability, respect, courage, and commitment to make a difference.”
[Back] “Our Guiding Principles: To improve the health and productivity of the land to support the BLM multiple-use mission. To cultivate community-based conservation, citizen-centered stewardship, and partnership through consultation, cooperation, and communication. To respect, value, and support our employees, giving them resources and opportunities to succeed. To pursue excellence in business practices, improve accountability to our stakeholders, and deliver better service to our customers.”
It’s possible that they simply ran out of space to depict the fish and wildlife habitat in their charge or the American hunters and anglers who rely on BLM public lands for their access. So, we took a crack at designing a few alternative versions that we’d love to see BLM employees sport around.
BLM employees are indeed VIPs when it comes to supporting the ability of countless sportsmen and women—regardless of their means—to pursue hunting and fishing on public land. And the agency is tasked with helping to conserve habitat and species that are critical to the future of our traditions.
The BLM is committed to representing all stakeholders and delivering better service to its “customers”—the American people. We all deserve to be heard about the public land management decisions that may affect our businesses, communities, families, and traditions.
We might be biased, but when it comes to the difficult work of balancing many demands on our public lands, there is no greater source of inspiration than Theodore Roosevelt. He said:
We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.
I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.
Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.
We could all use that reminder every now and then. If you agree, click the Facebook icon on each image to easily share our vision cards on social media or print your own right now.
Cards designed by our friends at Sage Lion Media
Members of a local sportsmen’s group helped to open up 40,000 acres of state trust land in New Mexico by providing materials, volunteers, and a little elbow grease
In central New Mexico, 40,000 acres of state-owned public hunting land can be found beyond a two-track road that, until recently, dead-ended at a fence. This state trust land—home to mule deer, cougars, oryxes, pronghorns and more—is surrounded by private land, and was all but inaccessible after a gate between a ranch and state trust lands was removed and fenced over.
For a long time, all we could do was point to this spot on a map and wish we could get there. Until a group of sportsmen and women joined state officials to create a DIY solution.
There are state trust lands in 32 of New Mexico’s 33 counties. When New Mexico became a state, it was stipulated that such lands, totaling 13.4 million acres, were to be held in trust for the benefit of public schools, universities, and other beneficiary institutions. And each acre of land is designated to a specific beneficiary.
The New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands, an elected official, is charged with generating and optimizing revenue from state trust lands to support public education and other institutions, while simultaneously working to protect, conserve, and maintain these lands for future generations. The State Land Office leases lands for grazing, agriculture, commercial use, renewable energy, oil and gas drilling, mining, and other surface and subsurface activities.
Because hunting, fishing, and trapping are key tools of fish and wildlife management, sportsmen and women are granted access to most state trust lands through easements purchased by the New Mexico Game Commission. But being allowed to hunt and fish on public land is only meaningful if we can access it.
Recently, the Commissioner of Public Lands ordered that the State Land Office make it a priority to identify and restore vehicular access to New Mexico state trust lands within the Chupadera Mesa Area, which are largely surrounded by private property and have historically been inaccessible to public land hunters. One particular pinch point was created when a gate between state trust lands and a ranch was removed, and the only entry point large enough for vehicular access was fenced over.
The State Land Office first approached the Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen about the project in October 2017. Our group has forged positive relationships with government agencies and helped with hundreds of volunteer projects since the organization was founded in the early 1970s. They appealed to the club to purchase materials and provide volunteers to help complete construction of a gate that would reestablish opportunities to hunt and trap in the state land beyond the ranch.
So, in December, I went along with other members of DACAS, our families, and representatives of the State Land Office and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to get the job done. Fortunately, DACAS was left a generous endowment by one of its founding members to be used for scholarships in the Wildlife Department of New Mexico State University and to benefit future hunting, fishing, and trapping anywhere in New Mexico. This project was a perfect place to invest these funds to help make a difference. It took two months to coordinate volunteers and materials and three days to construct and finish the gate. And when we were done with our part, we all gathered to fire up the disco for an elk burrito lunch and stories of past hunts. A weekend afternoon is a small price to pay for access to 40,000 acres that will allow the next generation of sportsmen and women to have their own stories to tell.
It seems that when local hunters and anglers get involved and put our weight behind a solution, success is nearly always possible. The Chupadera Mesa Hunter Access Project has successfully enhanced hunting opportunities in eastern Socorro County, and I couldn’t be more proud of what our crew accomplished. But I know that a project of this scale may seem daunting to others out there, even those who truly want to make a difference.
Start small. As access to our public lands becomes increasingly pressured across the West, it is even more critical that we be willing partners with our state and federal agencies to ensure that we have quality places to hunt, fish, and trap for the foreseeable future. But we should keep an eye on the shots being called—locally and nationally.
Sign up for our updates, and we’ll let you know how to get engaged in a meaningful way. Then, sign the Sportsmen’s Country petition to let lawmakers know that we won’t take access promises over balanced management of our best fish and wildlife resources.
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.Learn More