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Sportsmen have largely stamped out the public land transfer movement in the West, but it’s not enough to rally around public land ownership now that a new kind of threat is emerging in the nation’s capital
It was just two years ago when our hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands fell under siege across the West. In 2015, a total of 37 individual bills were proposed in 11 Western states, all aimed at taking away our public lands and handing them over to the states to be industrialized or sold off.
At first, sportsmen and women may have been blindsided by the intensity and breadth of this onslaught, but our community quickly reacted by organizing rallies, testifying at committee hearings, and writing elected officials about the value of public lands. These methods were effective, but in some cases, too little too late. When the dust settled on the 2015 state legislative sessions, six bills had passed in four states.
Luckily, only the federal government has the authority to sell or give away our national public lands, but this was six bills too many. Sportsmen were even more informed and vocal the following year, isolating land transfer legislation to the state of Utah in 2016. In 2017, all of these state bills have died, an indication that state legislators understand land transfer is a toxic idea, having been bombarded by the sporting community and other constituents.
Though talk of transferring public lands continues, we’ll go ahead and say it: We’ve won in the West
Sportsmen and women deserve to crack open a beer in celebration of recent victories, but we should do so with eyes wide open about the next threats to our public lands: The special interests and lobbyists have brought this fight to Washington, D.C., where they are working to take over our public lands in many carefully constructed, covert ways.
They want what they’ve always wanted—control of how these lands are managed, so they can open them up to unfettered development. Management, not ownership, was always the ultimate goal, and there are three primary ways to gain it:
The wholesale transfer or sale of national public lands to the states, what we’ve been fighting since 2015, was just the first attempt and some are still pushing it.It’s not enough to simply #keepitpublic now as a new #publiclands threat emerges in D.C. Click To Tweet
Giving local or state agencies the authority to manage America’s public lands while they remain in federal ownership may sound better, but it will have essentially the same outcome as giving away our lands. Let me be clear, we fully support existing state authority over fish and wildlife management, and we do not want to see that authority eroded. What we are talking about here is control over the management of your public lands, an entirely separate issue. By handing states management authority over public lands, BLM and national forest lands would be managed like school trust lands, where profit is king and outdoor recreation, like hunting and fishing, is an afterthought.
Negating the multiple-use mandate on federal lands would mean losing a carefully crafted balance between hunting, fishing, timber, grazing, and energy extraction. We’ve recently seen versions of this model proposed through the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act, which would enable states to take over the management of national public lands for industrial forest production, and a proposal from Congressman Rob Bishop that would give states veto authority over the management of sage-grouse habitat.
This method is basically land transfer disguised in more subtle packaging, and lawmakers are counting on the fact that you won’t understand their true intentions. But we see right through it.
If special interest groups don’t like the rules for balancing the many uses of public lands or taking local input into account on land management decisions, well then why not just change them? That’s essentially what they’re trying to do right now.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration seemed focused on rolling out a new executive order weekly to review or revise the rules guiding the management of our public lands. Now, a review of 11.3 million acres of existing national monuments is in (though the administration has yet to act on them) and DOI has completed a study focused on eliminating ‘burdens’ to energy production.
These processes may create opportunities for special interests to rewrite the rules of public-lands management and remove conservation standards for fish and wildlife, while smoothing the way for industrial development. It’s imperative that sportsmen remain closely involved when the rules are being evaluated or rewritten to ensure that our interests and the needs of fish and wildlife get a fair shake in the process.
Land transfer is bad news on its face—it’s always been easy for sportsmen to recognize that and say ‘no way.’ Attacks on how our public lands are managed are sneaky and lower profile, cloaked in confusing policy, yet every bit as dangerous.
The good news is that America’s public lands are still ours—they are a part of what makes our country unique and we still have a say. But our job is more difficult now. We need to remain as fired up as we have been about keeping public lands in public hands AND hold lawmakers accountable for subtle attacks on public land management.
These threats aren’t always easy to explain and don’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker, but that’s why we’re so committed to keeping you informed.
Head over to the new Sportsmen’s Country page to learn more about the not-so-obvious challenges we face on our public lands, because access means nothing without opportunity. Ownership of public lands is meaningless without quality habitat and abundant wildlife to pursue when we’re out there. If we rally around one and ignore the other, it’s possible for decision makers to make access promises while voting to undermine everything we want access to.
This was originally posted May 31, 2017, and has been updated.
The stars seem to be aligning around a major opportunity for sportsmen and women to unite with landowners, who want conservation assistance more than ever, and the decision makers who are focused on revitalizing rural America
Since the first modern Farm Bill in 1933, when Congress took action to address the Dust Bowl, this key piece of legislation has made conservation happen across our rural landscapes. But with the current five-year Farm Bill expiring next year, the upcoming debate over private land conservation and revitalizing farm businesses may coincide with one of the most auspicious times for rural America.
We’ve posted often about the ways that the federal Farm Bill helps improve private lands for the benefit of all Americans, especially sportsmen—after all, it’s the single largest pot of funding for conservation on private lands, and programs authorized by the Farm Bill make it one of the largest national drivers of conservation overall.
We want these trends to continue long into the future. Sportsmen and women have an extensive history of joining our allies in the farming community to work collaboratively on advancing conservation in the Farm Bill, and we’re committed to making it happen again in 2018. At this unique moment for America’s rural economies, we may have even more non-traditional partners rooting for our success.
No one knows the Back 40 better than the farmer who harvests his crops there, or the hunter who harvests a buck there each fall. So it’s no surprise that we also share opinions about making sure that private land can do good things for wildlife and fish without undercutting a farmer’s bottom line.
TRCP’s sportsmen’s poll, released earlier this summer, shows that 75 percent of sportsmen and women support providing financial incentives—such as those authorize by the Farm Bill—for farmers and ranchers to conserve land for habitat and clean water, open public access for hunting and fishing, and to practice sustainable farming and ranching methods.
A 2015 survey of farmers showed that 87 percent of farmers agree that it is important to develop wildlife habitat to improve hunting opportunities. There’s no doubt that many of them use Farm Bill programs to help do that work.
So, we agree that conservation is necessary and we need programs to help landowners make it happen.
When it comes to the vitality of rural America, the astounding $887-billion impact of the outdoor recreation economy can’t be ignored. According to the USDA, 228 rural counties are economically dependent on outdoor recreation.
Meanwhile, the farm economy is struggling, as crop prices have remained at devastating lows for the last few years. While you and I rely on our farmers to provide our food, fuel, and the fiber that makes our clothes, the simple act of hunting and fishing on and around private lands can provide a key source of revenue in agricultural communities.
With the potential for a ripple effect from conservation and voluntary public access to private land, the Farm Bill could be thought of as a jobs bill—not just for agricultural producers who need and want the support more than ever, but also for the outfitters, gear manufacturers, and service industry workers in areas where hunting and fishing becomes more vibrant.
This is why we’re all taking a seat at the table to hammer out a better Farm Bill. The presidential campaign and resulting dialogue has put rural America in the white-hot spotlight, and politicians on both sides are leveraging that fact to score wins back home. The upcoming bipartisan, must-pass Farm Bill is the best tool we have to improve rural economies and maintain a truly American way of life for sportsmen and farmers. Hunters and anglers are ready to make deals to get good habitat, clean water, and public access for hunting and fishing on the ground.
We brought this message to a group of 25 reporters in Minnesota this week, just as the renowned state fair was wrapping up and on the cusp of hunting season. We visited farmers and outdoorsmen to illustrate what these critical conservation programs mean at a local level, and what we saw was passion for healthy landscapes, sustainable livelihoods, and enduring traditions.
A new Farm Bill is on the way, and the connections between agriculture and recreation become clearer with every passing year. We need to tell our story and make sure that decision makers in D.C. know all of us are on the same team. With the right people at the table in this unique and critical time for conservation and rural America, we have the best possible chance of doing right by the land and the people who use it.
TRCP calls for a public report of findings on 27 national monuments that are overwhelmingly supported by American sportsmen and women
Today, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted a report to President Trump that outlined recommended actions for 27 national monuments, including 11.3 million acres of public land. A summary of the report released by the Department of the Interior is heavy on process and thin on the subject of the actual recommendations, including the number of monuments that might be cut back in size.
“These are our public lands, and the public deserves to know what the administration plans to do with them,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These recommendations have the potential to impact the future of world-class hunting and fishing on some of America’s finest public lands and set a precedent for the future status of all national monuments, even those created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906—but we won’t know until the results of this public process are made public.”
Although the report summary states that residents local to some monuments expressed concern over hunting and fishing restrictions, 22 of the 27 monuments reviewed are open to hunting and fishing and a number were created with the active support of sportsmen and women. Of the more than 1.3 million people who commented during the review period, more than 99 percent were in favor of keeping national monuments intact.
Similarly, a recent poll commissioned by the TRCP found that 77 percent of Republican and 80 percent of Democratic sportsmen and women support keeping the existing number and size of national monuments available for hunting and fishing.
Now that Zinke’s recommendations have gone to President Trump, sportsmen are anxiously awaiting further detail on the acres affected. Hunters and anglers will also be watching the White House. No president has ever attempted to eliminate a monument through executive action, and no president of the modern era has attempted to drastically reduce the size of a monument.
“We ask that President Trump support the legacy of sixteen past presidents from both sides of the aisle—eight Republicans and eight Democrats—by rejecting any proposal to shrink or undo any national monument through executive action,” says Fosburgh. “The future of some of America’s finest landscapes is directly tied to the health of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy, and with a major focus on jobs, the White House would do well to recognize how these public lands serve local communities as they are currently managed.”
We asked sportsmen and women to take action and more than 1,000 have submitted comments to the EPA in support of clean water—here are some of our favorites
One of the cool things about our democracy and the North American model of conserving fish and wildlife as a shared resource is that we as citizens often have the opportunity to take part in the public process of decision making. That’s why we let you know when you have the chance to speak out for your hunting and fishing access and opportunities—it’s our responsibility and a privilege.
We’ve seen it: When sportsmen and women take the time to tell their stories, it makes a difference.
A few years ago, Americans had hundreds of days to submit their feedback on a rulemaking that would help end the confusion around which streams and wetlands receive Clean Water Act protection. The final Clean Water Rule helps safeguard 20 million acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of headwater streams—that’s 60 percent of the country’s flowing waters.
But the current administration has started the process of repealing this rule meant to lift headwaters and wetlands out of regulatory confusion.
Without the rule, we risk seeing streams polluted and wetlands destroyed. Failing to recognize wetlands and headwaters as critical to clean water downstream means we’re fighting a losing battle in nearby watersheds, and making decisions on a case-by-case basis overburdens state and local water quality personnel.
Many sportsmen from across the country have already made their voices heard by submitting comments to the EPA about why they support the Clean Water Rule. We love that these folks have taken the time to make this issue personal—because it is. Here’s why they want decision-makers to stand up for our headwaters and wetlands.
Missouri native Jonathan took the time to write the EPA while deployed with the U.S. military, and from what he’s seen, our outdoor traditions make our country different from anywhere else. He told us that he feels a responsibility to stand up for the wise use of our country’s natural resources that are so noticeably absent in many other places in the world. He writes to the EPA:
I send this while deployed with the US Army. One of many things I look forward to about coming home is being able to resume enjoyment and utilization of the natural resources so abundant in the US. Please do the right thing and listen to those of us who took the time to write. As a sportsman, conservationist, and, above all, as an American, [I urge you to] please work to keep our natural resources secure.
For Alex from California, the sole objective of hunting and fishing is not the taking of an animal; it’s to feel connection with our natural world and see all your preparation and efforts pay off. He believes that these traditions are not only important, but also that they help build better people. He writes:
I will have my first son this November. I hope he has the opportunity to come of age hunting and fishing on public lands. I don’t want to have to explain to him that there was once a time where our wetlands and flowing water [were] protected and how we had access to them.
It seems that thinking about the future of clean water inevitably leads people to wonder about the future of hunting and fishing—and what their own children will experience. James writes:
I grew up fishing and hunting with my family, and now that I have children of my own, I’m worried that they won’t have access to the opportunities to spend time enjoying the streams, wetlands, and headwaters that I love if the Clean Water Rule is repealed. The thought of future generations in this nation missing out on one of our greatest resources is horrifying.
Other sportsmen remember a country without the Clean Water Act. Thomas from Michigan writes:
Every waterway matters. When I was a child, I had the unfortunate luck to become seriously ill after accidentally swallowing a gulp of water while swimming in Lake Erie. The town that I grew up in used to be called the Ecorse Creek or Ecorse River. Sixty years ago it had the distinction of being the dirtiest and most polluted river in the USA. We must not have those kind of distinctions ever again.
When the federal government creates or repeals a rule that government agencies and the American people will have to follow, they are required to have a comment period. When the Clean Water Rule was created in 2015, sportsmen and women had more than 200 days to comment on the proposed rule. Even with a recent extension of the current comment period, sportsmen and women will only have 60 days to make their voices heard.
This rule could impact our access and traditions, and we only have until September 27 to speak up.
Click HERE to tell the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to tell your story and urge decision-makers to uphold Clean Water Act protections for the headwater streams and wetlands that matter so much to our wildlife and traditions. If we want to preserve hunting and fishing opportunities for the next generation, we need to act now.
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