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The authority to modify national monuments lies with Congress alone, and this path throws into question the future of all monuments—including those created with the support of hunters and anglers
Today, President Trump announced his plans to use executive authority to reduce the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership expressed serious concern about the larger implications of this decision, especially considering the importance of national monuments to sportsmen and women as part of our uniquely American public lands system.
“There is a right and a wrong way to go about this, and the administration’s decision to skirt Congress in these decisions threatens to upend 111 years of conservation in America, putting at risk the future of any monument created under the Antiquities Act dating back to 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt created Devils Tower,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. 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.
While adjustments to national monument boundaries were made by the executive branch long ago, no president has attempted to do so in more than 50 years, and such decisions have never been tested in a court of law, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“If a president can redraw national monuments at will, the integrity of the Antiquities Act is compromised and many of America’s finest public lands face an immediate risk of exploitation,” says Fosburgh. “The power to create national monuments under the Antiquities Act lies with the President, and that authority is to be kept in check by Congress alone. We have repeatedly asked the administration to walk a path that upholds this precedent. Instead, the legacy of 16 former presidents, and the future status of some of America’s most iconic public lands, will be thrown into question.”
The future may also be uncertain for the numerous national monuments cherished by the sporting community, like those outlined in a report supported by 28 hunting and fishing organizations and businesses. More than 20 hunting and fishing businesses recently sent a letter to the White House encouraging the administration to “set an example for how the Antiquities Act should be used responsibly.”
Top photo by the Bureau of Land Management via flickr.
Former wildlife agency leaders, scientists, and other natural resource professionals warn that any changes to BLM’s sage grouse conservation efforts should be based on science and focused on the sagebrush habitat that supports 350 species
In a letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke, DOI staff, and the BLM today, more than 100 wildlife and natural resources professionals urged the administration to stick to the science when considering any changes to federal sage grouse conservation plans.
These professionals—each with ten to 57 years’ experience in wildlife and natural resources management, research, and conservation—came together to respond to the Bureau of Land Management’s intent to consider amending the current federal sage-grouse conservation plans finalized in the summer of 2015. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s landmark decision not to list greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered that same year was predicated, in part, on the effectiveness of these plans for millions of acres of the bird’s core habitat.
Many consider this to be the greatest landscape-scale conservation planning effort of modern times. “In the many years I worked as a wildlife agency director, I learned that strong cooperation between state and federal agencies is essential for successful wildlife management, and the collective compromise that kept the greater sage grouse off of the threatened and endangered species list is a shining example of wildlife management done right,” says Willie Molini, former director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “I believe that it would be best to let the existing sage grouse habitat plans work for a couple of years before any significant changes are considered.”
The letter asks that the plans be implemented and analyzed for effectiveness before they are altered. At the very least, the group would like to see the BLM exhaust all existing administrative methods of changing the plans before considering amendments that could delay or drastically re-chart the course for conservation. If amendments must be considered, they should be supported by science and maintain strong conservation outcomes for sage grouse. “We do not support weakening restrictions on development within priority habitat and feel any such actions would not be supported scientifically,” they write.
“We have a long way to go to keep that ‘not warranted for listing’ decision intact for sage grouse,” says Dr. Jack Connelly, a former wildlife research biologist with the Idaho Game and Fish Department, who spent most of his 41-year career working on sage grouse habitat issues. “Major changes, delays, or management actions that are not supported by the best-available science could threaten the entire conservation strategy that got us to this point—and that level of coordination and planning was an exceptional accomplishment.”
Hunting and fishing groups have been at the negotiating table in sagebrush country for years and recognize that some changes to the plans may be necessary. But a total overhaul of the plans would only serve a select few stakeholders in a diverse Western economy that has a lot riding on conservation outcomes.
“No land-use management plan—state nor federal—is perfect, so these plans should be improved upon over time,” says Dr. Ed Arnett, senior scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Some changes to the plans may be acceptable right now, as long as they are science-based and don’t alter the entire course for conservation. We look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Interior and BLM to ensure sage grouse conservation is effective and also works for stakeholders across the West.”
The comment period on the BLM’s intent to consider amendments closed December 1. The agency will now begin analyzing feedback.
Signers include six former state agency directors, former U.S. Forest Service chiefs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service directors, sage grouse scientists, habitat specialists, and wildlife biologists employed by state and federal agencies, universities, and non-profit conservation organizations concerned about the future of sage grouse and sagebrush conservation.
Top photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via flickr.
The need for a ‘fire borrowing’ fix grows as the West burns
With elk and deer seasons right around the corner, I’ve been running, biking, and hiking as often as I can on the public lands near the TRCP’s Western office in Missoula, Mont. You’d think that my main challenge would be climbing a particularly steep mountain trail, but lately the real hurdle has been simply trying to breathe—the smell of smoke from the many active wildfires in western Montana clings to my clothing long after I’ve returned to my desk.
To make matters worse, many of our nearby public and private lands have been evacuated and remain closed because of the wildfires bearing down on our community. At worst, these wildfires are terrifying. At best, they’re a major inconvenience for those of us who are living for fall.
When the rains finally come and the smoke clears, we’ll look back at 2017 as being a nasty fire year in Montana and other areas of the West. It should also be the year when Congress finally fixes the wildfire funding crisis that has made it difficult for the U.S. Forest Service to do its job and has left our public lands even more susceptible to fire. It’s a cycle that’s fueling the flames.
Like all federal agencies, the Forest Service has an annual budget. It’s meant to underwrite maintenance of roads, trails, and campgrounds, and active management of our forests—projects like thinning trees and improving habitat through prescribed burns or other tactics. They also depend on that budget to pay for firefighting on public lands. The problem is that wildfire seasons are getting longer and more intense in the West, and when wildfire season is particularly intense, the Forest Service is required to pull money from other accounts to pay for fire suppression.
When this happens, forest management and maintenance projects get put on hold, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the agency to do its job. Since 2002, this cycle has been an ongoing issue for the Forest Service. In turn, other land-management programs have been neglected, resulting in unsatisfactory national forest management and increased frustration all around.
To put the current budget crisis in perspective, wildfire suppression costs made up 16 percent of the Forest Service’s budget in 1995. In 2015, wildfires cost the agency 50 percent of its budget for the whole year. More than 56 percent of the Forest Service budget is now spent on fire suppression, with the number expected to surpass two thirds of the budget by 2021 (four years sooner than previously predicted).
Without a fix for fire borrowing, there’s no doubt that the shortfall in funding will continue to fail us, leaving our forests vulnerable, poorly managed, or completely torched.
Fortunately, two widely supported bipartisan solutions are on the table, both of which would take steps to ensure that the most extreme wildfires would be granted suppression funding from the Disaster Relief Fund—the pool of money that is used in the case of catastrophic weather events like floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. In other words, the proposed legislation would ensure that large, dangerous, and expensive forest fires are treated like all other weather-related national disasters, which seems like common sense.
The first bill is the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which has strong support in Congress and from a diverse coalition of interests ranging from sportsmen to the timber industry and environmental community. A second bipartisan solution has been proposed by Senators Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The newest National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act includes a provision that would prohibit transferring funding away from non-fire programs and, at the same time, establishes a new source of funding for wildfire suppression through the Disaster Relief Fund.
Either of these much needed fixes directly addresses the continued erosion of agency budgets from the increased cost of wildfire fighting. This is the support we need for thoughtful, active management of our public lands—especially right now.
It is concerning that Congress has been unable to get a funding fix across the finish line in the last several years. It seems that the problem is forgotten as soon as fire season ends, but out-of-sight-out-of-mind conservation won’t take us far in maintaining the public lands legacy that Theodore Roosevelt helped create and that makes our country so unique.
My hope is that this year’s smoky summer will linger in lawmakers’ minds as much as the scent of it lingers on my pack. But it’s up to sportsmen and women to convince our elected officials that it’s time to extinguish the problem once and for all. With more than 2 million acres burned by September and likely millions more scorched in the months since, these solutions couldn’t come at a more pivotal time.
This post was originally published on August 15, 2017 and has since been updated.
Here’s to all the ways the outdoors inspire us to step up, grab a shovel, become a mentor, or spend with a purpose (and why it’s more critical than ever)
Having grown up in upstate New York, hunting and fishing have been omnipresent in my life for as long as I can remember. My family lived two miles back on a dirt road, with no neighbors except for the animals in the unbroken forest, complete with a native brook trout stream. When other kids went to the mall or watched TV, my brother and I were outside — often with a fly rod or shotgun in our hands.
Even as our lives progressed — college, jobs in the city, marriage, kids — those early years continued to guide us. And for all we got out of the outdoors, there came a time when we felt responsible for giving something back.
My brother and I both got jobs in conservation, but it has been my experience that most hunters and anglers feel this same sense of duty on some level. We volunteer, speak up on a particular issue, or donate money and/or labor to a group we believe in. And that continues to be critical, not only to our best conservation successes, but also to the path forward for our hunting and fishing traditions.
It is no accident that hunters and anglers have always been the driving force behind conservation in America, or that Theodore Roosevelt is generally remembered as the father of conservation in our country. He credited wild places and wildlife for his development as a man, and he feared that the rugged individualism the wilderness taught him would be lost if he didn’t succeed in making conservation the nation’s highest priority.
During his tenure as president, Roosevelt protected more than 240 million acres for national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife refuges. He and his colleagues ended market hunting and ushered in a system of principles now known as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Subsequent generations have expanded Roosevelt’s legacy by creating funding mechanisms, primarily through excise taxes and license fees, to pay for the professional management and acquisition of millions of acres for the public to enjoy.
I believe that the ethic of volunteerism prevalent in hunting and fishing stems from these same ideals: We should show our gratitude for all that we take from our natural resources by providing service, and we should ensure the future of a critical conservation funding source (as much as our uniquely American traditions) by taking new hunters and anglers outside.
Those who do not hunt or fish will probably never understand the draw. Unless you’ve done it, it’s impossible to know the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with catching a rising trout on a dry fly, or serving your own venison on Christmas Eve. You become part of the woods or the river, able to sense subtle changes all around and feel incredible empathy for the game you pursue — and that’s not always easy to explain. But as an outdoorsman, I was raised to appreciate the natural world that functions in an amazing, often brutal harmony, in spite of man’s alterations.
Today we all have a duty to understand and preserve this unique experience. Too often we take for granted what Roosevelt and generations of conservation-minded leaders have left us: a public lands network that is unparalleled in all the world, the best-managed fish and wildlife populations of any nation, and the ability for all Americans to hunt and fish, regardless of class or economic status. It is a system that benefits everyone, from the sportsman to the hiker to those who simply want to drink clean water or experience wide open spaces.
But Roosevelt’s legacy is under attack. For more than three decades, budgets for agencies that manage our public lands have been squeezed and shrunk. In the 1970s, conservation spending made up more than two percent of the federal budget; today it is only about one percent, and we’re projecting that piece of the pie will shrink even more in 2018.
Recreation facilities across the country are being closed or lie in disrepair. The U.S. Forest Service now spends more than half its annual budget fighting wildfires, up from less than 20 percent two decades ago. The financial crisis this creates for the agency hamstrings it from meeting the expectations of the public. There has also been a chorus of voices saying that our federal public lands—or the authority to manage them—should be turned over to the states.
Our public lands are fundamental to maintaining the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy, especially when you consider that 72 percent of Western hunters depend on public lands for their access. And those of us, like me, who spend a lot of time in the Northeast cherish our public lands, in part because we have so few of them. That’s why none of us can afford to sit back and assume that what we have been given will be here forever.
Today, on Giving Tuesday, our national day of magnanimity on the heels of a long weekend of feasting and gratitude, we’d like to thank you for all that you already do for conservation and perhaps urge you to do a little more. From buying an extra duck stamp (or two or three) to helping out at a kids’ fishing derby to reading a TRCP alert like this one and deciding to take action—it’s all extremely important work.
Support the work we do today by making a donation. And watch your email inbox for more chances to pitch in with your time or your stories. The American sportsman’s experience is valuable and worth preserving. No one else will do it for us.
Top photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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