Winner Alert! Celebrating the Foliage, Fish, and Fall Hunts That Make Us #PublicLandsProud
Thanks to those of you in #PublicLandsProud nation who shared their best photos from your fall season spent on public lands! There were some really impressive submissions, and it was the tough job of our guest judge, Allie D’Andrea of First Lite, to ultimately select a winner. But after much deliberation, here are the winning shots:
Allie D’Andrea: “This photo steals the show for me, well the caption too. ‘Show them beautiful places, teach them conservation, and give them independence.’ Although I enjoy the solitude of public lands, I think sharing the beauty and experience with loved ones is particularly gratifying and makes the connection come full circle.” First runner-up: Instagrammer @ab_rio
Allie D’Andrea: “Let’s be honest, all of the landscape shots that were submitted into the #publiclandsproud photo contest were beautiful. It was the caption of this one (yes, you’ve swooned me with your words yet again!) in particular that strung a chord, ‘…feeling free and without a care in the world.'”
Allie D’Andrea:“Part of the romance of hunting public lands, to me, is the amount of hard work it requires. This photo bottles up that hard work in one shot, how the weight of your pack can feel so heavy yet so rewarding all at the same time.”
Thanks to everyone that tagged photos this year and showed the nation why we are #PublicLandsProud! You keep showing us what makes you #PublicLandsProud, and we’ll continue to protect your access to quality fish and wildlife habitat.
More Funding for Wildlife Refuges is Needed, But Midwesterners Won’t Wait
The communities around these five National Wildlife Refuges won’t let their public lands fall into disrepair—they’re stepping up to make conservation happen
The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) spans more than 150 million acres in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and with 337 refuges open to hunting and 276 boasting great fishing opportunities, these federal lands are a piece of our nation’s unique and complex public lands system. Despite the value of our public lands, gifted to future generations by people like Theodore Roosevelt and celebrated by sportsmen and Americans of every stripe, the agencies that work to maintain and restore habitat in parks, forests, and refuges have been systematically underfunded by Congress, fueling discontent with federal land managers.
However, when I recently visited five refuges in the Midwest with the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) Coalition, I saw collaborative attempts to close the gap created by lack of funds. Local communities weren’t resentful of the backlogs or shortfalls—they were stepping up to help.
These partnerships illustrate the power of public lands to bring people together, and the resulting enhancements are providing habitat connectivity between private and public lands and improved outdoor recreation opportunities that help drive local spending.
Here’s what cool, collaborative conservation looks like:
Prairie meets pavement. One of our nation’s newest refuges, the Hackmatack NWR in Ringwood, Illinois is in the process of conserving and connecting critical wetland, prairie, and oak savanna habitat in the greater Chicago, Rockford, and Milwaukee metropolitan areas. This refuge is mainly funded by the Friends of Hackmatack and partners, like the local Audubon and Ducks Unlimited chapters, and without this financial aid the refuge staff would not be able to conserve habitat for 109 species in the area. Friends of Hackmatack and on-the-ground nonprofits coordinate on restoration projects that enhance monarch butterflies and other pollinators’ habitat, too.
Private landowners, partners, and public dollars unite. Once the site of Aldo Leopold’s vacation home, the Leopold Wetlands Management District in Portage, Wisconsin honors the father of wildlife management by safeguarding 12,000 acres of Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs). The WPAs are areas where habitat is restored using funds from the sale of the Federal Duck Stamp to restore critical wetland and grassland habitat for migratory birds. The community plays a supportive role in maintaining and conserving these lands, as well. With help from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, private landowners can receive financial and technical assistance to improve waterfowl habitat on their own land adjacent to the refuge. Traveling with the CARE Coalition, I was fortunate enough to be welcomed by landowners Dave and Shelly, who showed us habitat improvements on their hundreds of acres of property. They explained how the Leopold Wetlands Management District’s fire management team schedules controlled burns to restore lupine vegetation for Karner blue butterflies, an endangered pollinator species, and to provide cover for upland game birds, such as pheasant.
Understaffed, but rallying on. The Necedah NWR in Tomah, Wisconsin hosts stopover habitat for migratory birds, including mallards, northern pintails, and other waterfowl species. While great jobs are available, many positions remain vacant at the refuge due to lack of funds. The current staff conducts critical wetland projects that enhance habitat for these birds. They’re hurting for additional staff, but they’ve done a fantastic job providing hunting and fishing services for the local community, including whitetail, waterfowl, and wild turkey hunts. The refuge also hosts the national Junior Duck Stamp contest where youth can submit their artwork and possibly have it displayed on the five-dollar stamp. While designing the stamps, children learn about wetlands and waterfowl conservation.
You break it, they fix it. During our time at the Upper Mississippi River NWR in the La Crosse, Minnesota, we saw the damage created by the Army Corps of Engineers through the lock and dams and dredging projects. The refuge staff is working on restoring the wetlands back to their original state by flooding the river and removing invasive species. The dredging of the Mississippi River in Winona, Minn., decreases sediment, but the Gulf Coast feels the burden because lands in Louisiana and other Gulf states are eroding. The importance of funding restoration projects in the river is critical for about 45 percent of the world’s canvasback duck population and for fisheries located in the Gulf of Mexico.
Vandalism creeping in. The Upper Mississippi River NWR is a great example of where people can exercise their right to access public forests, grasslands, and wetlands, even if they live in a populous city, Minneapolis. Another example, the Minnesota Valley NWR, provides education and access opportunities for Bloomington, a suburban area around the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, the refuge is understaffed and has difficulty keeping up enough of a presence to prevent vandalism, which also contributes to maintenance backlogs. Pollution, such as litter, is also a conservation challenge here, so volunteers and partners help fill the void by providing additional hands in restoring habitat.
While these collaborative efforts between local and federal agencies and organizations are something to celebrate, they can only do so much for the National Wildlife Refuge System without adequate funding. The NWRS needs more funding to help broaden collaborative efforts and not fatigue partners. When our public land managers see budget cuts, our hunting and fishing opportunities are on the chopping block. Congress has until December 9 to figure out the full funding picture for 2017 or punt these decisions to the next Congress. Whatever they decide, we’ll continue pushing for better investments in conservation as the cornerstone of our proud public lands traditions and the outdoor recreation economy that supports local spending.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The GOP sweeps D.C. With election results in, Republicans will hold the White House and majority in both chambers beginning next Congress. While Senate Republicans maintained their majority, things will be a little tighter in the 115th Congress, with Republicans holding 51 seats to the Democrats’ 48 seats. The Louisiana runoff is still being decided.
With turnover comes a shift in Congressional party leadership. In the next Congress, Senate Democrats will see a shift in leadership, but majority leadership will remain unchanged after a closed-door vote this week. Democrats postponed their elections until later this month.
Committee chair and ranking member seats in both chambers are also up for grabs. Both parties will make their picks in separate steering committee meetings in December. We’re keeping an eye on committees that deal with conservation funding, energy development on public lands, and more.
Here’s who’s vying for open spots:
Senate Minority Leader: Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is retiring at the end of the 114th Congress, and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will likely hold that position after the Senate Democratic Caucus votes on Wednesday.
Senate Minority Whip: Also on Wednesday, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is expected to run against Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in a potentially highly competitive race. The minority whip is the second highest minority ranking.
Senate Appropriations Committee: We suspect Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will replace ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) when she retires.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: Senator Thomas Carper (D-Del.) is likely to replace ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) is expected to succeed Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).
House Energy and Commerce Committee: Chairmanship will be up for grabs, as Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) reaches his term limit. Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), and Joe Barton (R-Texas) are being considered to replace him.
House Appropriations Committee: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) may replace Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) when he reaches his term limit at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, funding is a big question during lame duck season. As of Wednesday, November 8, Congress is sitting in a lame duck—the period that occurs after an election but before newly-elected representatives begin their terms—and the budget is going to be a critical item on the agenda. The current short-term continuing resolution holds spending at fiscal year 2016 levels, but it ends on Friday, December 9. As of Election Day, the odds are now longer for an omnibus funding agreement for the rest of fiscal year 2017—it seems increasingly likely lawmakers will pass an additional continuing resolution to maintain current funding levels through February or March. This allows President-elect Trump an opportunity to influence funding and policy priorities when he takes office.
Sage grouse conservation is still in the crosshairs. “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) continues to be negotiated in conference, and still includes Rep. Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) sage grouse provision that would halt conservation plans for the birds’ habitat on federal lands. The Senate-passed NDAA does not include a similar provision, and derailing any attempts to block the federal conservation plans is one of TRCP’s top policy priorities. The ‘big four’ (Chairmen John McCain and Mac Thornberry and Ranking Members Jack Reed and Adam Smith) are expected to resume negotiations this week.
But the Everglades may still get a much-needed boost. Senate and House public works and infrastructure staff have been working to combine their respective versions of “The Water Resource Protection Act” (WRDA) over the past month, resolving differences and creating a single piece of legislation. Both versions of WRDA included provisions to authorize $900 million in funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project and projects that use naturally-occurring infrastructure, such as marshes and wetlands. Additionally, lawmakers may decide that WRDA is the vehicle to provide emergency relief funds to combat lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, in which case it will become a must-pass bill.
From the AT to the Tetons, How a Career in Conservation Led to the TRCP
TRCP’s Idaho ambassador discusses his first bull elk, his love of the Snake River, and how his family cabin in Massachusetts started it all
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 Bob Breckenridge, our volunteer ambassador out of Idaho. He’s a veteran of conservation work who won’t let retirement stop him from giving something back to hunting and fishing, and we’re glad to have him on our side. Here’s what he loves about chasing Idaho elk, exploring the Tetons, and searching for giant, elusive browns on the Snake River.
TRCP: What’s your earliest memory in the outdoors and how do you spend your time outside these days?
Breckenridge: Just off the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts, my family cabin was built in the 1850s and had no running anything. Our family spent two weeks each summer in the woods, playing in our creek and having great times around the campfire. These days, I am often in the Tetons, or biking and hiking trails in Idaho. We have a cabin 12 miles east of Ashton, Idaho, that provides great access to fishing and hunting in Eastern Idaho.
TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?
Breckenridge: I recently retired from a career working on conservation and stewardship issues in Idaho and around the world, and I’m anxious to put my talents to good use for TRCP. I’m particularly well-versed in working with many environmental agencies, and as a volunteer I will help the TRCP spread the word about the importance of conservation and ensuring the future of our resources for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.
TRCP: How can everyday sportsmen make a difference for fish and wildlife? Why is it so important?
Breckenridge: Sportsmen and sportswomen should tap into their passion and speak up for millions of Americans who enjoy the outdoors. TRCP is in a position to reach across traditional boundaries, build consensus, harness the power of individual voices, and be an agent of positive change for fish and wildlife, anglers, and hunters.
TRCP: What’s the most pressing conservation issue where you live?
Breckenridge: In Idaho, fragmentation of critical habit is the most immediate conservation issue. Natural forces (fire and drought) and a number of anthropogenic pressures (development, roads, growth, etc.) cause large, continuous landscapes to be broken up into isolated patches of habitat, which is a bad situation for wildlife. Management of fragmentation pressures requires a comprehensive conservation strategy, which can only be tackled through strategic partnerships, like the ones TRCP is working to create.
TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt? What’s still on your bucket list?
Breckenridge: The hunt during which I shot my first bull elk in Idaho comes to mind. I hunted in northern Idaho’s Unit 10, and driving all the way up there from Idaho Falls gave me a lot of time to practice bugling. On the morning of opening day, I caught up with a bugling bull. After three hours pursuing him over several ridges, I shot him at 20 yards. He was my first bull—a nice six-point.
As for my bucket list, I would like to catch a five-pound brown on the South Fork of the Snake River, a public waterway that has been known to produce big trout.
TRCP: Where can we find you this fall?
Breckenridge: This fall I can be found floating the Salmon River and spending time mountain biking in the Targhee and Teton National Forests. I am also lucky enough to be going to Europe to explore three major rivers and travel from Amsterdam to Budapest. I’m interested to see how the Europeans have addressed conservation after being on their land for centuries longer than U.S. settlers. I will also be fishing the South Fork of the Snake and going on a black powder elk hunt once the weather cools.
We’ll be introducing more of our volunteer ambassadors throughout the fall. Read more about our other ambassadors here.
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.
A chance meeting with a young hunter holding her first-ever mule deer tag inspires a lifelong outdoorsman
Sometimes the success of a hunt is measured in inches of horn or pounds of meat, but I believe it is more often measured by less tangible things like the thrill of early morning panoramic views, the camaraderie of a scouting session, the laughter of friends and family over camp chores, and, sometimes, the brief interactions with other hunters you meet out there. It’s certainly a success if you learn something, and I recently got my lesson from a young girl on her very first mule deer hunt.
I was elk hunting with my friends the morning that Nevada’s muzzleloader mule deer season opened, when a man and his daughter dressed in camo rode up to us in a side-by-side UTV. We had pulled off to the side of the road to allow them to pass when the gentleman stopped to talk to us and asked what we were hunting. We told him I had an elk tag and asked if he was hunting mule deer. “My daughter has the tag,” he responded, and the girl, who I guessed was 14 years old, smiled from ear to ear.
In Nevada, youth tags are allocated by hunt unit and set aside for kids aged 12 to 15. Young tag-holders are allowed to hunt for either a buck or doe during the archery, muzzleloader, or general season in their respective units. This was established about 20 years ago, when Nevada sportsmen and the Nevada Department of Wildlife recognized that recruiting young hunters was the best way to ensure that our sports could continue. In a draw state for all big game tags, there was an excellent opportunity to give kids a better chance of successfully harvesting a muley—and give the state a better chance at hooking a lifelong license buyer.
The girl’s father asked if we had seen many deer, and we shared what intel we could. We’d seen quite a few deer, but the bucks were mostly young forked horns. The girl gushed about wanting to hold out for something bigger and I had to smile back at her infectious enthusiasm. They described where they’d seen a couple of good bull elk that morning, and the man pulled out his phone to show us some pictures of a very nice six-point bull and one that was even bigger. “If I were you,” the girl said excitedly, “I would go there now! Seriously, right now!” We wished each other luck, and my group drove off to follow-up on her advice.
When we did, in fact, see some very nice bulls in that part of the unit, my mind wandered back to the girl with the big smile, and I wished I’d exchanged contact information with her dad, so I could have followed up on her success. What a remarkable kid—polite and kindhearted, willing to spend the day with her dad on public lands far away from social media and friends. If she’s anything like my kids—or me, the first time I went deer hunting with my dad—she’ll be forever changed by the experience of having a tag in her pocket and all the possibility in the world.
Wherever she is, I wish her happy hunting.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.