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Congress avoids a federal shutdown, but allows the best tool for opening landlocked public lands to expire
Midnight last night marked the end of fiscal year 2018 and the expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that makes critical investments in fish and wildlife habitat and sportsmen’s access on public land. This lapse in authorization effectively represents a loss of potential for millions of dollars in important conservation funding.
“Despite strong bipartisan support for the LWCF, congressional gridlock has effectively created a one-two punch for outdoor recreation opportunities in America—continued inaction would stall efforts not only to conserve key fish and wildlife habitats, but also suspend our best tool for opening access into 9.52 million acres of existing public lands that are entirely isolated by private holdings,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
In August 2018, the TRCP released a report with leading app-makers onX to quantify the scope of the landlocked public lands problem in the 13 Western states.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used for more than 50 years to invest billions into the acquisition of lands and enhance access to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation. Thousands of Americans who enjoy our public lands have reached out to Congress to express overwhelming support for a renewal of LWCF. Despite this, Congress still failed to act on what may be the most significant and bipartisan public lands conservation initiative in the country.
“Congress will have opportunities after the mid-term elections to not only reauthorize LWCF but make that authorization permanent with full funding, so that generations of Americans can continue to benefit from this sensible and long-standing investment,” says Fosburgh. “Lawmakers must avail themselves of those opportunities.”
BLM public lands are critical to our hunting and fishing access, but a new study finds that they also support outdoor recreation businesses and local economies in a big way
Total direct spending for hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing on the 246 million acres of America’s public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management in the western U.S. totaled more than $2 billion in 2016, according to a new study on wildlife-related recreation spending unveiled yesterday.
Visits to BLM public lands also supported 26,500 jobs, generated more than $1 billion in salaries and wages, and produced more than $421 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.
The research was conducted by the independent firm Southwick Associates Inc. with support from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Wildlife Management Institute, Trout Unlimited, Archery Trade Association, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.
Southwick’s analysis found that visits in 2016 to BLM-managed lands in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming for the purpose of wildlife-related recreation resulted in more than $3 billion in total economic output.
“Our research found that recreation associated with fish and wildlife on BLM lands is a significant jobs generator, providing income for rural communities for decade after decade with minimal investment compared to other industries,” says Rob Southwick of Southwick Associates. “Smart business and planning call for managing BLM’s fish and wildlife-related resources as important economic assets.”
“These findings confirm what many of us have known all along: BLM public lands are critically important for public hunting and fishing in America, and these activities are good for businesses and local communities alike,” says Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This report should be a foundational resource as decision-makers consider the economic effects of wildlife habitat conservation on BLM public lands.”
“Hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching are long-standing traditions in the U.S., and public lands and waters offer some of the best places to enjoy these pursuits,” says Matt Skroch, an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts. “The report underscores the importance to communities in the West of wildlife and its associated public lands habitat and provides a strong economic argument for conserving our wildlife heritage on BLM lands.”
Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, adds, “This study shows that our public lands provide not just incredible places to hunt and fish; they also boost the economies of local communities while contributing billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.”
“You can’t put a price on the importance of public lands for our outdoor traditions, but this study shows that you can put a price on the economic impact of these special places,” says Corey Fisher, Trout Unlimited’s public lands policy director. “We’ve long known that public lands are critical to the health of our trout and salmon fisheries, and we now know just how valuable fishing on these lands is for the bottom line of businesses large and small.”
“As advocates for the fly-fishing industry on conservation, access, and business issues, we see firsthand the benefits public lands bring to local economies. As a nation, we must continue to protect access to our public lands; they are an invaluable asset to the people of the United States and our economy,” says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.
“This study shows that the West’s sporting heritage on public lands, including bow hunting and other archery-related recreation, is a significant driver of jobs and revenue for local communities,” says Dan Forster, president of the Archery Trade Association. “Maintaining this heritage, along with the habitat that our wildlife depend on, is an important priority for our community as well as public land agencies.”
Southwick Associates calculated the economic contribution generated by the spending of visitors who engaged in wildlife-related recreation activities on BLM lands in 11 western states and Alaska. The researchers based their calculations on 2016 visitation data from the BLM and spending data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation.
Top photo by Michael Aleo
Only recently has LWCF funding been specifically purposed with unlocking our inaccessible public lands, meaning that we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to establishing access to isolated parcels
When the TRCP and onX began the research for our recent inaccessible public lands report, “Off Limits, But Within Reach,” the primary goal was to produce the most accurate calculation of landlocked public lands possible. But in addition to determining that the thirteen Western states contain more than 9.52 million acres of landlocked federal public lands, we also uncovered another startling finding: the work to open access to these inaccessible public lands has largely just begun.
As part of the report, we wanted to highlight successful examples of acquisition projects that provided public access to the two different types of landlocked public lands: checkerboard and isolated parcels. Checkerboard lands are remnants of a bygone era when the federal government gave railroad companies alternating sections of land that met corner-to-corner, whereas isolated parcels are tracts of public land entirely enclosed by surrounding private holdings.
Searching for these real-world examples, we called every expert we could imagine within the land trust community and the federal land management agencies. There was no shortage of great LWCF-funded checkerboard consolidation projects, but we were shocked by how difficult it was to find an example of a LWCF-funded project that opened access to an isolated parcel. In fact, our research turned up only one isolated parcel access success story nationwide: Western Rivers Conservancy’s Thirtymile Project along the John Day River in eastern Oregon.
As we came to realize, isolated parcels haven’t been prioritized for access acquisition in the past because of the way that LWCF projects were traditionally “scored” by the federal agencies when being considered for funding.
While the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been around since 1965—using revenue from offshore oil and gas development to fund outdoor recreation projects—the Fund has primarily been used by the federal agencies to benefit public lands by conserving resources like wildlife habitat, clean water, and special places. Acquisition projects that consolidate checkerboard lands not only improve or establish new access to public lands, they also prevent habitat fragmentation and the future development of intact landscapes, and thus often check the necessary boxes to score highly under the traditional rating system.
While the long-term use of LWCF dollars has benefited millions of Americans and advanced countless projects that were worth their weight in gold—including many that benefitted access— it wasn’t until 2012 that Congress mandated an annual portion of the Fund be used exclusively to address the issue of limited or nonexistent access to public lands. The timing of that change made sense, given that private land access issues weren’t a major concern when the fund was originally created—in decades past, most sportsmen and women could obtain landowner permission without too much difficulty. And so acquisition projects to unlock isolated parcels of public land for hunters and anglers only very recently became a priority for LWCF funding.
As a result, our research found that in places like the BLM Miles City Field Office of eastern Montana, nearly one million acres of federally managed public lands sit entirely inaccessible to the public, yet not a single LWCF project has been completed in the area to fund public access. The story is much the same in other areas with a similarly high concentration of landlocked lands, such as the BLM Buffalo Field Office in eastern Wyoming.
Sportsmen and women should not see this situation as a failure, but rather as a sign that this important work is now just getting started and that we still have much to do. In fact, many lawmakers appear to recognize the need to fund access acquisition and on September 13, the House Natural Resources Committee passed HR 502, a bipartisan and well-reasoned LWCF-reauthorization bill that includes up to $27 million annually for access acquisition—twice the amount that has been previously available.
While last week’s development represents an encouraging opportunity, the House committee’s actions on LWCF were just one of many needed steps to save this vital program before its scheduled expiration on September 30. With no clear resolution in sight, there’s a very real risk that sportsmen and women will lose the best available tool to open access to landlocked public lands across the West when we need it most.
Take action today to encourage your lawmakers to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund with full, dedicated annual funding before it expires on September 30. Your future ability to access more than 9.52 million additional acres of our public lands depends on it.
Photo courtesy of BLM Wyoming
First Lite is an industry leader for public lands, wildlife, and sportsmen’s access, and they doubled all donations to TRCP through their Round Up for Conservation Program in recognition of National Public Lands Day
In many respects, the history of the hunting clothing-and-accessories company First Lite is one of those classic stories of a great idea turned into a booming business. What started in 2007 as a two-man show offering only a handful of merino wool garments has grown into an industry leader with a full line of technical hunting apparel for both men and women that now employs sixteen enthusiastic hunters and anglers at their headquarters in Ketchum, Idaho.
Although much has changed in the last eleven years of operations, some things have remained constant—among them a core commitment to the cause of conservation, which is why TRCP is proud to have First Lite as a corporate partner. Like many hunters, co-founders Kenton Carruth and Scott Robinson have long felt an obligation to give back to wildlife and wild places in ways that go beyond the bare minimum of buying a license.
From their base of operations in the Wood River Valley, with views of the Pioneer range out the front door and Bald Mountain out the back, it’s plain to see why. Excellent mule deer and elk hunting can be found right outside of town in the Sawtooth National Forest, and anglers enjoy a variety of opportunities on nearby lakes, rivers, and mountain streams.
In their case, too, conservation makes good business sense. From day one, First Lite has catered to the needs of backcountry hunters, fully recognizing that the future of the company depends on the availability of quality public land opportunities for sportsmen and women. “By surveying our customer base we’ve found that over 80 % of our customers hunt on public lands with over 50% hunting public lands exclusively,” says Carruth. “If we didn’t step up and support our customer, why would they support us?”
Conventional wisdom would likely advise a growing business to shy away from controversy, but First Lite jumps into the fray when it comes to topics like public land transfer. Oftentimes leading the charge is Ryan Callaghan, the company’s full-time Director of Conservation and Public Relations, who has earned a well-deserved reputation as a tireless and outspoken public lands advocate. A Montana native who worked as a river and hunting guide until joining First Lite, Callaghan wants to make sure others enjoy the same opportunities he’s had. “My path hasn’t been traditional in any way,” he notes, “but I certainly wouldn’t be here without working on public lands. There is not a single decision I make today that isn’t rooted in some hard earned lesson guiding and playing on public lands.”
In addition to speaking out on the issues that impact sportsmen and women, First Lite has pioneered an innovative way of encouraging others to join the cause. In 2015, they launched Round Up for Conservation, a program that allows customers to round up the cost of their purchase to a specified dollar amount, with the difference directed to conservation groups such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the National Wildlife Federation, and Pheasants Forever.
These good deeds have not gone unnoticed. First Lite’s efforts in the conservation sphere have garnered awards such as the Shift Festival Award for Business Leadership, the Open Country Award from Outdoor Life magazine, and the Larry Fischer Award presented by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. In the hunting and fishing industry, their brand is second to none when it comes to conservation, which has earned them the attention of the broader outdoor recreation community as well.
Despite this recognition, First Lite continues to improve and expand its efforts to unite sportsmen around issues of habitat and access. The most recent project is a newsletter aimed at bringing more exposure to the work of their conservation partners, TRCP included. In short, they want to carry the flag for the causes they support, while also helping their customers become more informed about the current threats and opportunities when it comes to public lands and waters.
Callaghan boils it all down to a simple principle—doing the right thing. “Long before we ever had a strategy in place, we knew what was right when it comes to public lands and hunter access. We’re lucky that we can use our platform and success as a company to support the things we care so much about.”
Photo credit: DirtMyth
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More