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How a float through the Owyhee River’s backcountry showcased a need for long-term flexible management
Drawn to the solitude and beauty of desert rivers, I recently set out with family and friends to raft the winding waters of the Owyhee River. Over the last six years, I’ve fished for bass and hunted chukars along the breaks, traveling past miles of public land. Starting in Nevada and meandering through Idaho and Oregon to the Snake River, the Owyhee is 346 miles long, shaped more than 12 million years ago by volcanic eruptions. You see the evidence as it cuts through vertical canyon walls of basalt, rhyolite, and volcanic ash.
It has a rich history, and petroglyphs, the images that were carved or picked into rocks up to 7,000 years ago, are a frequent sight. But this wild country also holds the future of many of our sporting traditions, with opportunities to pursue mule deer, California bighorn sheep, chukars, smallmouth bass, and wild trout.
Our trip started in the community of Rome, Ore., at the boat ramp located on BLM public land. As we launched our 15-foot inflatable raft, all tension faded away, and the oars set a rhythm. In harmony with the moving water, we followed the river, taking in the topography and staying on course by following the map and river markers.
Soon, we were rowing Class III and IV rapids, fishing for bass, scanning the hills for wildlife, and camping along the river. I’m a visitor here, but for some people, this is where they make a living and local hunters have filled their freezers with the Owyhee’s big game and birds for decades.
For my friend Dave, who has outfitted fishermen on this river for 20 years and is with us on this trip, this is a place that he would like to see kept the way it is, or made even better. Just how to manage these lands is a delicate balancing act—one that could be up for debate.
The Owyhee River corridor was dedicated by Congress as a Wild and Scenic River in 1984 to protect 120 miles of the free-flowing river and preserve the cultural values of the landscape around it. Adjacent to protected stretches are backcountry areas that are not permanently protected that provide important migration corridors for wildlife, grazing leases for ranchers, and great upland hunting opportunities. All of this is managed by the BLM’s Vale District office, which is responsible for balancing the demands on this valuable and intact backcountry.
The Owyhee country is an arid, hot desert, vulnerable to wild fires, noxious weeds, and illegal off-road vehicle use. For sportsmen and women to continue to enjoy the Owyhee backcountry areas for hunting and fishing, it is critical that the wildlife habitat is conserved and land-management is flexible enough to allow continual management needs of the entire landscape.
This is why we’re working at the local level to encourage the implementation of backcountry conservation management areas through the agency’s Resource Management Plan, which serves as the outline for the BLM to manage public lands in a healthy way for wildlife and multiple uses. Every 20 years or so, the BLM Vale District amends their Resource Management Plan dictating how the BLM lands in the district are managed. This involves a public process through which citizens can give feedback on the management of areas outside protected corridors like the Owyhee River.A float through #Oregon's Owyhee River showcases a need for long-term flexible #backcountry land mgmt: Click To Tweet
Given the aridity of the landscape, some active management is necessary to control wildfires, minimize the spread of noxious weeds, and maintain habitat quality. Backcountry conservation management areas make sense, because they are flexible enough to allow active management while protecting these special places.
The TRCP and our partners have recommended that backcountry areas are managed under the principle of multiple use—to conserve intact, undeveloped lands that contain important wildlife habitats, provide high-quality recreation opportunities, and retain other traditional uses of the land. If you enjoy visiting and using BLM lands, it’s important that you understand this is a public process and share your input as a sportsman on how these lands are a managed.
You can email the Vale District BLM Field Office at firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know that backcountry conservation management areas will maintain management flexibility, while protecting special places where you love to hunt and fish. Share how important these lands are for you and future generations of hunters and anglers.
Our freedoms, public lands, and outdoor heritage provide the foundation for unique opportunities and experiences found only in America
Independence. Liberty. Freedom. These powerful words and concepts are inherent in the DNA of every American. But nowhere are they felt more viscerally than in the outdoors.
As kids, we learn about the Founding Fathers and the “Spirit of 76.” We swell with pride when we think about the sacrifices made in our nation’s history and this grand experiment called the United States of America. There is no other place like it in the world.
This holds true for our outdoor legacy and hunting and fishing traditions as well. Nowhere else offers the opportunity for everyone to pursue the happiness felt by getting outside and far afield to explore, hunt, fish, and experience our natural wonders. Going back through our history—from those who first settled on our shores, to the pioneers who moved west, to the modern-day sportsmen and women who take on the challenges of the backcountry—testing oneself against nature is part of who we are.
More than one hundred years ago, our 26th president turned out to be a force of nature. Theodore Roosevelt spoke often about the values of living a “strenuous life” and a “life of the open.” We have him and his vision to thank for establishing much of our current public lands system and the fundamentals of conservation that help us keep those lands thriving.
The basic principles of the North American model of conservation and wildlife management establish the democracy of hunting and maintain that our fish and wildlife are a public resource belonging to all Americans. Nowhere but in the U.S. does one have the freedom to just go hunt or fish on some 640 million acres of public lands that belong to all of us.
That is special and worth celebrating.Nowhere are American independence, liberty, and freedom felt more viscerally than in the outdoors Click To Tweet
Recently, I have been fortunate to spend some time traveling, during which the unique value of our natural resources and privilege of access really hit home for me. I crossed off a bucket list item by taking an epic road trip from Florida to Las Vegas, and as I drove this great country, the vastness and variety of landscapes and resources we have—and how they shape our national character—made a distinct impression.
There is a striking dichotomy of seeing iconic natural wonders, like the Mississippi River or the Grand Canyon, juxtaposed with wonders of manmade ingenuity, like thousands of wind turbines on the plains west of Amarillo or the Hoover Dam. For the most part, we have tamed the land since our founding and discovered how to use the blessings of our vast natural resources to make this the most prosperous nation on Earth. With that prosperity comes a great responsibility to use these resources wisely, conserve them for future generations, and maintain some of the country’s most unique qualities—the abundance of our national public lands and fish and wildlife populations that make America so great.
There are those who have proposed selling off our public lands or transferring their ownership to make a quick buck, or because they don’t like how things are being run. Some have undercut our public lands by failing to provide government agencies with the proper financial resources, personnel, or leadership to effectively manage them. Both tactics are shortsighted and discount the great value these lands provide as the foundational infrastructure for a robust $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.
Each time we take to the woods or water, we are enjoying freedoms found in few other places in the world. On this Independence Day, l, for one, am thankful for that freedom and for our unique outdoor heritage. And, like the architects of our democracy and its conservation principles, I will not stand idly by as this independence is stripped back or chipped away.
You can support our heritage and safeguard the responsible management our public lands by signing the petition at sportsmensaccess.org.
A package of bills introduced today has bipartisan support and will benefit habitat, access, and conservation funding
Only hours ahead of their departure for the Fourth of July recess, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), and a bipartisan group of senators introduced S. 1514, a strong package of bills that would benefit fish and wildlife habitat nationwide, while funding critical watershed restoration efforts in the Mid-Atlantic and improving access for recreational shooters on public lands.
“What makes this effort different from sportsmen’s packages of the more recent past is that, right from the outset, it deals with meaningful conservation priorities by reauthorizing and instituting programs that will actually enhance fish and wildlife populations, habitat, and access,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Sen. Barrasso, Sen. Cardin, Sen. Boozman, Sen. Klobuchar, Sen. Capito, and Sen. Baldwin for their leadership and recognition of what American hunters and anglers value.”
The legislation is not without controversy, but a provision to delist gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes has bipartisan support from lawmakers and has been recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “When we take recovered species off the list, we strengthen the Endangered Species Act by making truly endangered species a priority—species shouldn’t stay on the list forever,” adds Fosburgh. “We trust in state fish and wildlife agencies to manage wildlife, and science indicates this is the next step for wolves.”
With the bipartisan support of the Chairman and members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, this legislation has a good chance of moving forward quickly.
Hunting, fishing, and wildlife partners reveal top priorities for conservation of private lands ahead of what may be the only Senate hearing to address the topic ahead of the next Farm Bill
In advance of the Senate Committee for Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s June 29 hearing on the future direction for the 2018 Farm Bill, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has announced its “Sportsmen’s Priorities for Conservation and Access in the 2018 Farm Bill,” developed over months of consensus-building discussions with 24 organizational members of the TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group.
These priorities will serve as the rallying point for the community of hunters, anglers, and conservationists whose outdoor traditions depend on the policies and funding provided through the Farm Bill.
“When it comes to conservation of fish and wildlife habitat in this country, you can’t ignore that 70 percent of American lands are privately owned, and a majority of that acreage is in some form of agriculture,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our community’s priorities for the next Farm Bill underscore the point that in order to guarantee quality places to hunt and fish, sportsmen need to work with our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and foresters to ensure productive habitat and clean water. Early on in these debates, we must be united around providing adequate funding and policy tools to support voluntary conservation activities on private lands, and we’re optimistic that tomorrow’s hearing—possibly the only Senate hearing that will address sportsmen’s 2018 Farm Bill priorities—will put a spotlight on these issues.”
The hearing takes place at a time when Congress and the administration are discussing ways to tighten an already trim conservation budget for the Farm Bill. Changes in the 2014 bill resulted in $4 billion in cuts from the conservation title alone. But the sportsmen’s community is urging Congress to restore some of the funding for private lands conservation—for programs including the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Conservation Reserve Program, and Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program—in 2018.
“Private and working lands are crucial to the conservation of soil, water, and fish and wildlife resources, and as the largest source of federal funding for private lands conservation, the Farm Bill has far-reaching effects on fish and wildlife populations across the country,” says Ron Regan, executive director of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. “AFWA is looking forward to tomorrow’s hearing on conservation and forestry in the 2018 Farm Bill, and we are committed to working with the Senate Agriculture Committee and others in Congress to pass a new Farm Bill that reflects the priorities of the Association, as well as those of the wider sportsmen’s and conservation community, in order to promote recreational access and healthy fish and wildlife habitat for the benefit of all Americans.”
Several of the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing will be speaking about forestry in the Farm Bill, which is also a top priority for hunters and anglers. The forestry provisions of the Farm Bill are unique among the legislation’s conservation programs in that they address both private and public lands, which is critical to taking on landscape-scale concerns, including habitat connectivity and recreational access.
“We appreciate the committee’s bipartisan efforts to continue to improve farm bill programs for forest landowners,” says Becky Humphries, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Forestry in the Farm Bill is about partnerships—between USDA and individual landowners, the states, and organizations like NWTF. We’re eager to hear from tomorrow’s witnesses on the successes and strengths of those partnerships, and on ways to advance them in 2018. The sportsmen’s and wildlife communities have long argued that long-term conservation and active management of our nations forests are critical to the future of wildlife habitat, water quality, and rural economies across much of our country, and the Farm Bill offers us a great opportunity to incentivize better practices on both private and public lands.”
Header image courtesy of USDA/Flickr.
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