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Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

December 1, 2016

BLM Gets Locals More Involved in Public Land Management

By updating a decades-old rule, the agency is injecting more opportunities for the public to weigh in on land-use planning—and for sportsmen to make the case for habitat and recreation

The Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for overseeing 245 million acres of the nation’s public lands, has issued its final ‘Planning 2.0’ rule that will update how the agency plans for land management in the West.

The most significant change is the establishment of three additional public input periods early in the planning process to increase transparency and allow for more robust public involvement. Sportsmen and women are hopeful that these changes will increase public satisfaction in the land-use planning process and eventual management of public lands.

Image courtesy of Eric Petlock.

“Public lands are an asset to every American, and even though land-use planning has always been a public process, Planning 2.0 will allow people to weigh in early and often about the land-management decisions that impact the places they hunt and fish,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It doesn’t matter if you live in central Montana or southern New Mexico, you will now benefit from having a better seat at the table when the BLM is considering how to manage your public lands, and that means more opportunities to sustain quality hunting and fishing.”

Because of this, support for Planning 2.0 has come from sportsmen, but also from community leaders in Colorado, Montana, and California counties where Planning 2.0 principles were road-tested.

“As an elected official representing a rural Western county, I believe the BLM’s revised planning efforts are helping us get ahead of the game, by increasing opportunities for public input and allowing all parties to roll up their sleeves and get involved before land management decisions are set in stone,” says Mike Brazell, a county commissioner in Park County, Colo. “This thorough pre-planning will help to better manage landscapes for all the ways they are used—whether it be for hunting, fishing, trailrunning, timber production, or energy development—and support our community’s ability to maintain a high quality of life and healthy local economy.”

Migratory wildlife will also benefit from better management and conservation in the new planning rule. Where there once was no specific mention of wildlife migration corridors in BLM planning documentation, now field offices must consider identifying and locating migration corridors early in the process of planning for land use. That’s good news for big game animals and hunters.

“Migration corridors are a vital habitat component for big game like mule deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope in the West,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We’ve long seen the need for more formal recognition of these areas, where animals move, feed, and rest between seasonal ranges, and we’re confident that identifying these corridors early in the planning process will reduce conflicts, while yielding better experiences afield for sportsmen and women.”

More than 8,400 hunters and anglers have signed a petition and sent letters of support for better BLM land-management tools that prioritize public access, conserve and enhance habitat, and balance development with the needs of fish and wildlife. More than 500 hunting and fishing businesses, sportsmen’s groups, and wildlife professionals have also backed the idea that BLM lands are “Sportsmen’s Country” and should be managed in ways that support sportsmen’s values, including habitat conservation and access.

Learn more about Planning 2.0 and the benefits to hunting, fishing, and wildlife.

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Kevin Farron

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posted in: General

November 30, 2016

A Big Game Expert Becomes a Conservation Champion in Colorado

Meet the TRCP volunteer keeping a watchful eye on energy development and habitat management in elk country

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 John Ellenberger, our newest volunteer ambassador representing the great state of Colorado. For three decades, Ellenberger worked as a wildlife biologist and big game manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and he’s seen it all. Over the years, he’s also learned that, in conservation as in hunting and fishing, there’s a time for restraint—passing on a small bull to get a chance at a monster next year or sacrificing a productive hunt to share the experience with a squirmy grandchild—and a time for action. Learn more about our Colorado ambassador and why we’re glad to have him on our side.

TRCP’s Colorado ambassador with his rocky mountain bull. Photo courtesy of John Ellenberger.

TRCP: What’s your earliest memory in the outdoors and how do you spend your time outside these days?

Ellenberger: My earliest outdoor memory is going rabbit hunting with my Dad and older sister. I had to be only 3 or 4 years old at the time, so it didn’t take very long before my sister and I would get tired and didn’t want to walk anymore. Dad would then carry both of us, plus his shotgun, and any rabbits he had killed, back to our car. Now that I have children and grandchildren of my own, I have a great deal of respect for the patience that my father must have had. He was willing to take two youngsters hunting with him even though he knew it would likely result in his outing being cut short because we would get tired or bored. I applaud his efforts in attempting to include us in his outdoor activities, and I try to do the same with my grandkids now, no matter how short their attention spans.

TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?

Ellenberger: Approximately three or four years ago, Joel Webster called asking for help assessing the impacts of energy development on deer and elk habitat in northwestern Colorado. I was referred to TRCP because of my years of experience working as a wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the northwestern portion of the state. We developed a working relationship on that original issue and several others. The work TRCP was doing impressed me—your staff wasn’t simply blaming wildlife managers for declining wildlife populations or dropping hunter success rates. The organization understood the importance of protecting habitat as a way to preserve and protect wildlife populations, and you are willing to take that message to the public and try to influence them to take action in support of habitat protection issues. I wanted to be a part of that.

Beginning as a field biologist in the Northwest Region of the state in 1976, I worked for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife, for 33 years. I was the senior terrestrial biologist for the NW region of CDOW from 1979 to 1996, before becoming the state big game manager, and I held that position until I retired in 2004. My experience has provided me with a wealth of information about terrestrial wildlife populations in northwestern Colorado, I maintain good working relationships with wildlife managers, and I understand how the agency manages various wildlife populations for which they are responsible. Compared to the average sportsmen, all of this gives me a leg up when it comes to making science-based recommendations for conservation issues that the TRCP is involved in.

TRCP: How can everyday sportsmen make a difference for fish and wildlife? Why is it so important?

Ellenberger: Sportsmen can influence political decisions that affect wildlife populations and their habitat by first informing themselves about the issues and then contacting natural resource managers and elected officials to express their educated opinions and preferences. In Colorado and other Western states, there are numerous issues that have the potential to have negative impacts on wildlife populations and their habitats. Unless sportsmen share their opinions on projects affecting wildlife and wildlife habitat, decisions will be made that might negatively impact wildlife and sportsmen’s opportunities to utilize and enjoy wildlife resources.

In addition to hunting and fishing, Ellenberger enjoys hiking, mountain biking, and photographing wildlife. Photo courtesy of John Ellenberger.

TRCP: What’s the most pressing conservation issue where you live?

Ellenberger: There are a number of important conservation issues in western Colorado, but first and foremost is the impact of energy development­—primarily drilling for natural gas—on wildlife and habitat. The need to oppose the transfer of ownership and management of public lands is also very important.

TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt? What’s still on your bucket list?

Ellenberger: One of my most memorable hunts was the year I drew a bull elk tag for unit 201 in northwest Colorado. On the first day of that hunt I called a young bull to within nine yards. Although I chose not to harvest that particular bull, it was very exciting to experience that animal up close and personal, to the point that I could watch him blink and flare his nostrils as he breathed. My patience paid off as I harvested a larger bull a few days later, but it was almost anti-climactic compared to the experience of calling in that first bull.

I have two sons-in-law and two grandchildren, and I hope to be able to instill a strong interest in hunting, fishing, and conservation in all of them. Hunting and fishing trips with them would be on my bucket list.

TRCP: Where can we find you this fall?

Ellenberger: I already had the opportunity to hunt bull elk during the first rifle elk season here in Colorado. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to harvest an animal, we saw a number of elk and the total experience was enjoyable. I plan to pursue chukar partridges later this fall, and if the warm weather continues, I hope to be able to make a few more fly fishing trips to the Gunnison River. In addition to hunting and fishing, I will be out and about hiking, mountain biking, and photographing wildlife.

Julia Peebles

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posted in: General

November 29, 2016

Glassing the Hill: November 28 – December 2

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

The Senate and House are both in session this week, but lawmakers are eager to get out of town as soon as possible.

First thing’s first—funding. With only 16 legislative days left on the 2016 calendar, Senate and House leadership are running out of time to pass a new continuing resolution (CR)—which would keep spending at fiscal year 2016 levels—before the current CR expires on December 9. In the end-of-year funding crunch of previous years, we’ve kept a watchful eye out for dangerous riders, cuts, and provisions that would be bad for conservation, but the latest intel from Capitol Hill indicates that a clean CR should pass without any of these concerns, giving a new Congress until March 2017 to sort out long-term funding measures.

Temporary pass for sage grouse. Second on leadership’s must-pass shortlist is “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) conference report. Thankfully, a House-written provision that would undo federal and state collaboration on sage-grouse conservation plans was taken out during conference negotiations, and is not included in the final report.

Looks like a Congressional tug-of-war, and sportsmen’s provisions are the rope. The ticking clock doesn’t seem to be rushing energy bill conference negotiations. Here’s the play-by-play: The initial offer came from the Senate side. Then, on November 18, the House presented a counteroffer with no sportsmen’s provisions (reminder: good things for habitat and conservation funding) included. Just after Thanksgiving break, Senate conferees issued another counteroffer, which reinstated the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other sportsmen’s provisions—what the House had taken out. Some Republican leaders in the House seem likely to view the next Congress as more favorable for energy legislation, but both Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) are still enthusiastic about reaching the finish line this month.

Everglades boost might make it through this brief window. “The Water Resource Development Act” (WRDA) is another end-of-the-year conference that could come to the House and Senate floors. Last week, committees spent several hours in a closed-door meeting discussing reconciliation of the Senate and House version of WRDA. The Senate version authorizes twice the funding for water resources projects than the House version, but both bills include provisions for the Central Everglades Planning Project and nature-based infrastructure, such as marshes and dams. Since a spending package is expected to be clean, lawmakers could use WRDA as a vehicle to pass emergency funding for the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan—in which case, WRDA could pass this year.

The Democratic Party could see some surprising changes. This week, the Democratic Caucus will meet to vote on leadership positions. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the 13-year Democratic minority leader and former speaker of the House, will be challenged by three-term freshman Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). Rep. Ryan’s district is located in the Rust Belt, an area the Democrats failed to secure in the November 8 election.

 

What else we’re tracking:

Wednesday, November 30

Legislation on recreational permitting on public lands, as well as two other bills, will be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing.

Jonathan Stumpf

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posted in: General

November 22, 2016

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:

First place: Instagrammer @therouse

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.'”

Second runner-up: Instagrammer @alanwrites

 

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.

Julia Peebles

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posted in: General

November 17, 2016

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.

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amazing!

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.

Trout Unlimited restoration project in Bloomington, Wisconsin.

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.

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