Trump’s Pick for Interior is the Best Cabinet Nominee for Sportsmen, So Far
Congressman Ryan Zinke has been solid on public lands and outdoor recreation
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership affirms that America’s hunters and anglers can be optimistic about the management of public lands and sportsmen’s access under President-elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior. After days of rumors, the transition team confirmed Trump’s intent to nominate U.S. Congressman Ryan Zinke in a statement today.
“Zinke is someone we can work with,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “He’s shown the courage to buck his own party on the issue of selling or transferring public lands that provide 72 percent of Western sportsmen with access to great hunting and fishing. He’s a lifelong outdoorsman, who we’ve found to be receptive to sportsmen’s interests in Montana and D.C. We won’t agree with him on everything, but we think he’s someone who will listen and has the right instincts.”
In June, Zinke was the only member of the House Natural Resources Committee to cross party lines and vote against a bill that would allow states to acquire up to two million acres of national forest lands to be managed primarily for timber production, locking Americans out of our public lands. Later this summer, he resigned as a delegate to the Republican nominating convention because of the party’s position on the transfer of federal public lands to the states. Zinke is also in favor of full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenues from offshore oil and gas production to conserve important natural resources and open public access.
The Secretary of the Interior oversees management of public lands, minerals, and endangered species. Senior officials nominated to lead other Cabinet departments will be just as critical to the future of hunting and fishing.
“The Secretary of Agriculture is another leadership position that will drive habitat and access improvements in America through Farm Bill programs, and we simply cannot have someone in that seat who is hostile to conservation,” says Fosburgh.
When One Program Opens Access and Improves Habitat, Everyone Wins
We dig into the across-the-board benefits of a key Farm Bill conservation program on private lands
For every walk-in access sign there are numerous forces at play, granting you permission to use the land and ensuring quality habitat for critters. On private acres, your experience might be thanks in part to Farm Bill conservation programs. One in particular, the Volunteer Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program, provides $40 million specifically to support quality hunting and fishing access on private land—but its benefits don’t stop there.
Private land access helps keeps the sport alive.
Westerners are flush with public lands, while the rest of the nation’s sportsmen and women make do with smaller, isolated public patches that may not be close to home. Some of the non-Westerners among us may travel to Big Sky Country once a year, but access can be a significant barrier for beginning hunters and anglers or anyone who doesn’t have a big-ticket trip with out-of-state license fees in his or her budget.
@TheTRCP Hunting has gotten too expensive for an average huntress on her own…
As its name suggests, VPA-HIP has two primary goals: securing public access and improving habitat. Authorized and funded in the 2008 Farm Bill and renewed in the 2014 Farm Bill, VPA-HIP helps states incentivize landowners to implement conservation-minded practices, such as clearing a forest understory of invasive plant species or creating stream buffers. In exchange, landowners allows the public to hunt, fish, trap, and observe wildlife on their property.
In short, VPA-HIP invests money in states like Illinois, Nebraska, Connecticut, and South Dakota—often in parts of the country where public lands are relatively scarce—to help give more Americans opportunities to hunt and fish.
Local economies get a boost.
Last month, TRCP’s government affairs director Steve Kline spent some time chasing upland birds on private land in eastern Montana, and he’ll be the first to tell you that hunting season supports rural economies. At this time of year, even in otherwise sleepy towns, you’ll see bustling restaurants, packed sporting goods stores, and busy streets—and the economy is better for it.
The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) calculated the actual economic impact in a 2012 study and found that for the $9.1 million invested into VPA-HIP in 2011, 322 jobs were created and $18.1 million in gear- and travel-related spending was associated with hunters accessing newly enrolled private lands. That’s double the investment!
And that figure only covers direct spending. The economic boost echoes down the entire supply chain with more production, jobs, and higher profits, which stimulates even more spending. The report calculates that once those amplifying effects are taken into account, the return on investment for VPA-HIP funds was actually more than $73 million in a single year.
This isn’t just free money.
A common point of criticism for incentive programs like VPA-HIP is that the government shouldn’t give handouts to the agriculture industry. However, this money isn’t free. VPA-HIP isn’t a charity, it’s a payment for services rendered to wildlife and the public. Landowners invest funds into habitat improvements, which critters need to survive. Instead of laying crops all the way up to a stream’s edge, for example, VPA-HIP dollars help a landowner create buffers to keep water clean so fish and waterfowl can thrive. After all, access is basically worthless without quality habitat.
Furthermore, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)—the branch of the USDA that governs VPA-HIP—is highly selective when it comes to choosing grant recipients. NRCS prioritizes funding for state and tribal applications that maximize acreage, ensure appropriate wildlife habitat, and are likely to receive matches from other funding sources. States that receive grants are then responsible for deciding which landowners may enroll, and they are similarly selective. Wisconsin, for example, prioritizes larger properties with more usable cover, as well as lands that are in close proximity to existing public hunting or fishing grounds. This kind of scrutiny ensures that every dollar invested creates the largest possible benefit to the public and to wildlife.
Everybody’s a winner!
Sometimes public lands and agricultural lands are viewed as polar opposites fighting for a share of resources in a no-sum game. But when it comes to VPA-HIP, that paradigm is shattered. When landowners and agricultural producers transform acres into valuable wildlife habitat, they’re improving conditions for the critters we love to pursue, while receiving compensation and technical assistance. It’s important to their business plans because, often, the land that is least productive for crop production is the most valuable for wildlife anyway. On top of all that, the public gains access to otherwise closed-off lands. That means more places for moms and dads to take their kids hunting or fishing, more kids growing up loving the outdoors, and more hearts beating for conservation far into the future.
A Farm Bill Program Filling Bag Limits and Bar Stools in Montana
Sleepy towns awaken across Big Sky Country as hunters flood in to take advantage of opportunities to access private land with great wildlife habitat
I willingly endure a 60-mile daily commute from my home on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore to downtown Washington, D.C., in order to raise my family amidst the farm fields and tidewaters of Chesapeake Bay country and to wake up on bitter winter weekends just eight miles from my duck blind and deer stand. My love of the slower pace of rural places, and my affinity for the cackle of pheasants, also brings me to the northeast corner of Montana each fall, when good friends converge on the Eastern Hi-Line with a few great bird dogs.
Perched on the prairies, this isn’t the blanket of national public lands some think of when Montana comes to mind. This is country dominated by small grains and big expanses of private lands grazing, where a breeze blowing less than 20 miles per hour barely registers with the locals.
It is a hard place to scratch out a living. Abandoned homesteads are eerie reminders that this is a place where rail cars and cattle far outnumber people. But, when we pull over to prepare a push through a particularly promising cattail slough or a birdy-looking Russian olive windbreak, we never fail to see pickup trucks with blaze-orange hats on the dash cruise by us on the gravel section roads. The Main Street diners sling bacon and black coffee as fast as they can in the morning, and there’s not an open barstool to be found in the evenings.
Hunting season brings a lot of activity to these otherwise quiet locales, the kind of places one hesitates to call ‘towns’—they are more like places where the speed limit changes. But they come to life as bird hunters with open wallets come from across the country to walk the coulees and draws. You get the sense that, in an economic setting otherwise completely dominated by agriculture of one form or another, hunting season represents a financial bright spot for businesses of all kinds, from the aforementioned bars and restaurants to hardware stores, sporting goods stores, motels, grocers, and gas stations. What may be a week-long vacation for some out-of-town hunter helps to smooth the fiscal bumps inherent in any small town business plan.
This economic windfall depends, almost entirely, on private acres. I hunted for four full days, harvesting pheasants, sharptail grouse, and Hungarian partridge, and never stepped foot on a publicly-owned acre. But thanks to Montana’s fantastic Block Management Program and their Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program, both made possible in part by the federal Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), high quality and productive private acres beckon the upland hunter. These programs—and programs like them all over the country—provide incentives to willing landowners to make their farms and ranches accessible to hunters, and they represent a kind of critical infrastructure for local economies. These programs are the fuel that keeps the economic engine of rural America humming.
Just as importantly, VPA-HIP (and the state programs it supports) help landowners to maintain or restore habitat on their property. It wouldn’t be much of a hunting season without something to hunt, and thanks to the Farm Bill’s investment in private lands conservation our dogs were able to scare up plenty of birds.
We’re celebrating VPA-HIP at a critical time. This year’s presidential election illustrated clearly how disconnected rural Americans feel from the rest of the nation, and revealed the worry that a huge segment of our country possesses about their future economic stability. We should let the full motels and packed diners of the Montana prairies during hunting season illustrate that the next chapter of America’s rural revalorization should start with outdoor recreation.
A Thanksgiving toast to the important things: family, friends, and the healing power of days afield
We tend to write about what sportsmen stand to lose—public lands access, healthy streams, sage grouse habitat, and more. But, in honor of Thanksgiving, we want to focus on appreciating what we have. And there’s a lot to be thankful for.
“I’m thankful for wild places that inspire and humble me, even when the deer are scarce.” –Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO, TRCP
“I’m thankful for every opportunity to spend time outdoors with family and friends. Whether you’re new to the sport or very experienced, the natural world is inspiring. And around the holidays it’s the best place to reconnect with the people you love.” —David Perkins, vice chairman, The Orvis Company
“Why we fish? The look of curiosity and wonder on the face of your nephew when he scores his first catch! What to be thankful for? On your next visit he asks, ‘Uncle Geoff, will you take me fishing again?’” –Geoff Mullins, chief operating officer, TRCP
“I’m thankful for the state and federal biologists who recover and manage America’s rich wildlife and habitats so I can watch sandhill cranes circle overhead by the thousands on their way south, or spy a mountain goat billy on a ridgetop above while scanning for elk below, or hear wood thrushes and wood ducks while waiting for a turkey to walk by.” —Mike Leahy, public lands conservation and sportsmen’s policy, National Wildlife Federation
“I’m thankful for crappy weather, pouring rain, and November storms rolling in off the North Pacific. Those rains beckon wild winter steelhead. Riding those storms are ducks and geese. I’m a Washingtonian; there are few things I love more than gearing up and stepping into the elements.” —Chase Gunnell, Conservation Northwest
“I’m thankful for the work I get to do in Washington, DC, ensuring wildlife professionals can continue to sustain wildlife resources and their habitats for the benefit of the American people. I’m also thankful for the quick escapes from the political scene to the surrounding landscape — hiking, kayaking, and hunting in the rivers and forests nearby — so I can remain connected to the resources we work so hard to conserve on the Hill.” —Keith Norris, director of government affairs and partnerships, The Wildlife Society
“The week before Thanksgiving, we managed to pack four bulls and three bucks into our Montana hunting camp. The freezers are full, and it was a good time with family and friends. I’m thankful for the opportunity to recharge—and I’m ready to tackle what’s to come.” —Joel Webster, Western lands director, TRCP
“In this polarized climate, let’s be thankful for the binding power of turkey. Now’s the time for gathering with friends and loved ones, whether at the table or outside — both environments can be potent equalizers.” —Geoff Mueller, senior editor, The Drake Magazine
“I’m thankful for public access, which allows me to build incredible memories with my family, friends, and dogs. I’m grateful that access is an important initiative locally and nationally—I appreciate all of the folks that are fighting to keep it!” –Diane Bristol, senior director of employee and community engagement, Simms Fishing
“I am thankful that I live in a country and state that puts the protection of natural resources and wild places as a high priority. I am thankful that my kids have been raised in an area that is beautiful and abundant with wildlife. I am thankful to be a witness to the efforts of sportsmen and other” —Scott Laird, Montana field representative, TRCP
“I’m grateful to be married to a man who loves to fish as much as I do and doesn’t mind when catch more than he does. I’m also grateful for public access to float, healthy rivers, and wild steelhead.” —Mia Sheppard, Oregon field representative, TRCP
“I’m thankful for the friends and teachers, often one and the same, that have shared their knowledge and love of fly-fishing with me. It’s through their good humor, contagious love of the sport and the complete thrill in finally hitting trout on wet and dry flies this year that have made even the coldest, toughest days on the river all the better.” —Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer, TRCP
“I’m thankful that I was lucky enough to have a father who taught me and my brother to hunt and fish. I can’t imagine my life without those pursuits, which have ultimately become my profession. My son is due to be born around Thanksgiving this year and I can’t wait to pass our family outdoor traditions on to him.” –Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO, National Deer Alliance
“I am very thankful that my wife and daughter support my efforts to save the Everglades and remind me not to get skin cancer!” —Ed Tamson, Florida field representative, TRCP
“I am grateful for the all mentors who encouraged me, took me afield, and made the hunting and fishing sports accessible through their patience and commitment. Their lessons are with me every time I set foot on a range, in a river, or on the first rung of a ladder stand, and every shot I’ve made or fish I’ve landed since has been a product of their generosity.” —Kristyn Brady, director of communications, TRCP
“It’s easy to forget the big things when we are wrapped up in modern day society, but nature has a way of grounding us and prioritizing things. We are born to be outside and I am immensely grateful to get to watch the sun rise while standing knee deep in the river, or getting a first glimpse of a big adipose on a steelhead as it quietly wakes in front of me, and I am especially thankful to watch my baby boy’s face light up, the same way mine does, as he gently touches a fish before we release it.” —Russell Miller, Marketing Manager, Sage/Redington/Rio
Why Orvis is Committed to Conservation and Public Lands Access for All
A Q&A with vice chairman David Perkins on Montana’s public lands riches, the fascinating science of conservation, and why giving back to groups like the TRCP is just good business sense
We feel pretty lucky to have a great partner in The Orvis Company—these guys obviously love hunting and fishing as much as we do, but they’ve also built their business model around giving back to the resources that support our best days afield. And, no matter where you shop for your gear, the folks at Orvis believe in your ability to access public lands.
That’s why this month for our Public Lands Challenge, Orvis will match every new donation to the TRCP dollar for dollar. And, if you’ve donated before—we appreciate it, by the way!—they’ll also match any increase to your previous gift, doubling your impact for public lands access and enhancements.
David Perkins, vice chairman of The Orvis Company, explains why this effort is important enough to spend more than 5 percent of their pre-tax profits on conservation efforts, and what makes him #PublicLandsProud.
TRCP: Orvis has a donated more than $20 million to conservation since its inception—why is the company so committed to conservation values and how do you engage your customers in the process of giving back?
David Perkins: Quite simply, our bottom line depends on sportsmen and women enjoying the natural resources in our country, and organizations like the TRCP have led the way in proving that if we’re not actively working to enhance habitat or protect our access to public lands, we could lose it. It’s a personal commitment to conservation, but it’s also just good business.
TRCP: What is your earliest memory in the outdoors, and when was your first aha moment about our responsibility to the places we love to hunt and fish?
DP: When I was about ten years old, my father taught me that in order for us to hunt ruffed grouse, like I loved doing, there needed to be early successional forest—the kind of young trees that grow back after a clearing effect, like a fire. I remember being so surprised, since it seemed counterintuitive. By cutting, you actually create habitat for these birds. That stuck with me. I think, since then, I’ve always been fascinated by conservation science and how different species interact with each other and the environment. As hunters and anglers, we’re a part of that. So, people need to be educated, and we all have to be willing to give back to sustain the things we enjoy.
TRCP: Why this issue? What makes you #PublicLandsProud?
DP: Public lands are our largest landscape, and not everyone can afford to access private lands. We have to safeguard those opportunities. I hunt public lands in Montana, and enjoy the state’s generous public stream access, and that makes me #PublicLandsProud. But, it’s a cycle: If people can’t access these lands, they can’t use them and appreciate them, so we’ll have fewer people to fight for them.
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.