Opening more public land to hunting and fishing is something we can all agree on—and to leave a truly sportsmen-friendly legacy, Interior must match access achievements with a vision for habitat and conservation funding
As we round the corner into year two of the Trump administration, there is plenty to debate about the Interior department’s track record on conservation and how the agency plans to safeguard some of our best places to hunt and fish. It can be said with a straight face that we haven’t yet seen a conservation vision from the department, and what we have seen is predicated on addressing roadblocks to energy development.
I think what we can agree on is that DOI is moving things in a positive direction on public access to our nation’s public lands.
The Interior department’s focus on expanding access has been building since March of 2017, when Secretary Ryan Zinke signed the first of two hunting-and-fishing-focused Secretarial Orders. The first order, SO 3347, directed the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service to develop reports that (among other things) would identify ways to expand recreational access to public lands. Those reports can be accessed here and here, and they include some good ideas that would be positive for hunters and anglers.
Then, in August, DOI went forward with acquiring 4,176 acres of private land adjacent to the 16,000-acre Sabinoso Wilderness Area in New Mexico, which until that time was completely landlocked by private ranches. Because of this acquisition, the Sabinoso area is now open and accessible to all Americans. In November, the department finalized a process to open an additional 132,000 acres across 10 national wildlife refuges to recreational hunting and fishing.
Perhaps most significantly, Secretary Zinke issued his second secretarial order on hunting and fishing in September—SO 3356. Among other things, it directed the BLM, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce plans to expand access for hunting and fishing AND identify lands where access is currently limited. This might include areas that may be impractical or effectively impossible to access under current conditions via public roads or trails, but where there may be an opportunity to gain access through an easement, right-of-way, or land acquisition. The agencies will need to provide a report detailing such lands to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior.
Sportsmen know firsthand that just because public lands are public, it doesn’t guarantee that they’re accessible. Plus, many roads and trails have fallen into disrepair, barring further access. We believe that the action plans being developed by the agencies could help make major progress toward securing access to inaccessible lands.
We applaud what these orders stand for and would like to see them implemented thoughtfully and collaboratively with the locals who understand their public lands challenges best. However, if the administration is truly interested in seeing their access vision reach fruition, they must step forward and make sure that there is federal money to support these projects. This includes reauthorizing and funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund by the end of the 2018 fiscal year.
The LWCF is a federal program that uses royalties from offshore oil and gas development to finance land acquisitions and easements aimed at providing public access and conserving valuable habitats. Without this program, most acquisition projects aimed at expanding public access would not be possible. The 54-year-old program’s authorization will expire at the end of September, throwing into question DOI’s ability to secure access to landlocked parcels of public land.
There has been a lot of talk between Congress and the Administration about striking a budget deal for the remainder of 2018, and the president is expected to release his proposed 2019 budget by February 12. These budget processes represent a golden opportunity for the administration to not only support strong funding for LWCF, but also demonstrate a commitment to road and trail maintenance projects that benefit public land users.
Beyond expanding our access, American sportsmen and women are depending on the administration to create a parallel vision for habitat conservation on public lands. After all, access doesn’t matter if we don’t also have strong conservation policies to ensure that we’ll find healthy fish and game populations once we’re out there.
The TRCP remains committed to persuading the Interior department to do just that. If you want to add your voice, visit Sportsmen’s Country.