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The hunting and angling community presses congressional decision-makers to reauthorize the expired Land and Water Conservation Fund without delay
On the heels of the midterm elections, 204 hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation organizations and businesses from 33 different states are urging federal lawmakers to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund with full, dedicated annual funding.
In this letter to congressional leadership, these groups—whose members, customers, and leaders represent a sizeable segment of America’s 40 million hunters and anglers—emphasize the LWCF’s remarkable 50-year track record of conserving habitat and expanding recreational access to America’s public land. They also express the urgent need for Congress to take action and reauthorize the LWCF program during the lame duck session.
“Sportsmen and women have been alarmed to see a lapse in authorization for this popular program, which has been vital to enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities, especially as we’re discovering that access challenges are keeping Americans from 9.52 million acres of public lands they already own,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
The TRCP and onX, the cutting-edge land data company behind the onX Hunt app, released new data on the scope of the landlocked public lands problem back in August. “Bills to reauthorize the LWCF have made good progress in committee, but Congress is running out of time to act. We’re depending on lawmakers to get this across the finish line before the end of the year, when even the best of intentions will be left on the cutting room floor,” says Fosburgh.
The LWCF, which lapsed on September 30, 2018, directs a portion of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing to fund local, state, and federal projects that benefit conservation and outdoor recreation. Since its creation in 1964, the program has invested more than $16 billion into conserving more than 5 million acres of public lands, among other achievements.
Both the House Natural Resources and Senate Energy and Natural Resources committees recently advanced their own versions of LWCF reauthorization legislation, H.R. 502 and S. 569. The House bill would reauthorize and fully fund the program while also dedicating 3 percent of LWCF dollars specifically to increasing public access on existing public lands. However, congressional leaders have yet to take action on this pending legislation, and the 115th Congress will end on January 3, 2019.
Signatories on the letter to lawmakers expressed concern that the program’s expiration could seriously hamper future efforts to conserve valuable habitats and expand public access to America’s public lands. “With campaign season behind us, we encourage Congress to focus on passing a permanent LWCF reauthorization, with full, dedicated annual funding,” says Ben Jones, president and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society. “Sportsmen and women across the nation depend on this critical program for access and habitat, and we simply cannot wait any longer.”
As hunting- and fishing-related businesses, many LWCF supporters emphasized the enormous economic impact of more than $887 billion in annual spending on outdoor recreation, one of the fastest-growing sectors of the American economy.
“Sportsmen and women across the country have made it clear that they want congressional leaders to work together on common-sense, bipartisan solutions like permanently reauthorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund — America’s most successful land conservation and outdoor recreation program,” says Andrew Black, public lands field director for the National Wildlife Federation. “Given its enormous benefits as a means of both conserving high-value landscapes and fueling economic growth, LWCF should be a lay-up for every member of Congress.”
“California’s public lands and waters are critical for migratory bird hunters, and we encourage our congressional delegation to make the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund a priority during the lame duck,” says Mark Hennelly, vice president of legislative affairs and public policy for California Waterfowl. “Expanded public access and the conservation of vital habitats depends on it.”
“We are hopeful that Congress will take advantage of the opportunity in the lame duck to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” says Linn Beck, chairman of the Wisconsin Council of Trout Unlimited. “Every day that the fund is expired is a day that hunters and anglers are being shorted money that should be going to conservation and public access. Americans across the political spectrum are counting on our leaders in Congress to work together and finish the job.”
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the nation’s principal program for funding conservation projects, but it lacks a dedicated trust fund to support conservation programs critical for New York State,” said Les Monostory, president of the New York Division of the Izaak Walton League of America. “Funds are needed for the purchase and enhancements to wildlife habitat, and for providing greater hunting and fishing access to our state’s public lands and waters.”
“As hunters and anglers, we see access to our public lands and waters and the conservation of quality habitat as critically important issues,” says Don Holmstrom, co-chair of the Colorado Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “From Sarvis Creek to the Blanca Wetlands LWCF has played an instrumental role in providing access to premier hunting and fishing opportunities throughout the state and across the country. LWCF has long enjoyed bipartisan support and has positively impacted nearly every American, regardless of how we choose to recreate. The Colorado Chapter of BHA urges Congress to permanently reauthorize and dedicate funding to LWCF.”
“From Miles City to Dillon, Montana sportsmen and women are out enjoying world-class elk and deer hunting on our public lands right now,” says Peter Muennich, founder and president of the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance. “We need the continued leadership of the Montana congressional delegation to push Congressional leaders to make LWCF reauthorization an immediate priority.”
“This a critical program for wildlife, conservation, and sportsmen’s access in Nevada and every other state,” says Larry Johnson, president of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife. “If Congress hopes to act in the interests of our outdoor heritage and public lands, it needs to reauthorize the LWCF permanently and at full funding without any delay.”
“LWCF has been a great tool for sportsman’s access and habitat conservation,” says Alex Martin, Vice President of Idaho Traditional Bowhunters. “We urge our Idaho representatives in Congress to reauthorize the LWCF permanently so that future generations of outdoor enthusiasts can experience the wonder of Idaho’s wild lands.”
When it comes to determining the next 20 years of management on our public lands, local sportsmen and other stakeholders have been engaged from the start—and our voices should carry weight
Our public lands. That phrase means a lot to me, and if you’re reading this, I bet it does to you too. As Americans, we’re uniquely privileged to enjoy the best that the outdoors has to offer, regardless of our income or station.
This is certainly true for the world-class elk, mule deer, wild trout, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep habitat of eastern Colorado, much of which is overseen by the BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office. Some of the other species you can pursue in this area, if you have the luck or ingenuity, include white-tailed ptarmigan, bobwhite and scaled quail, lake trout, waterfowl, moose, mountain goats, black bears, and wild turkeys.
So, when it comes to how these lands are managed, the stakes are high. And, right now, the BLM is rewriting the guidelines for the next two decades, or more, of public land management.
In the very near future, the Royal Gorge Field Office will have a new Resource Management Plan, which guides decision making for things like public-land access, development, and management objectives. Our community of hunting and fishing groups has already invested significant time and resources to see that the final guidelines for this region reflect Colorado’s values.
Government bureaucracy can be daunting, and the policy-making process grueling, but our coalition of 23 local businesses, more than 500 individual hunters and anglers, and seven sporting organizations has been consistently engaged in planning efforts for this area for more than 11 years.
There have been some challenges along the way, but we’ve been proud to work for Colorado’s habitat, access, and outdoor heritage. It’s not hard to see that these efforts are all about upholding the public-lands legacy that we’ve inherited from the likes of Theodore Roosevelt. We are aware of both the immediate consequences and long-term significance of this negotiation, and many of us have been inspired by the work and encouraged by the progress made so far.
In addition to having tradition and individual commitment on our side, there are other reasons to feel optimistic about the possible outcome. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has prioritized expanding and enhancing hunting opportunities (see Secretarial Order 3347), conserving big game migration corridors and winter habitats (see Secretarial Order 3362), and supporting recreational opportunities on public lands (see Secretarial Order 3356).
Importantly, to date, the Colorado BLM has done a great job listening to the local community—particularly sportsmen and women. Preliminary drafts prioritized maintaining and enhancing hunting and fishing opportunities on some of our most-celebrated landscapes, including the South Platte River, the South Park valley, and the Arkansas River canyon.
As decision-makers finalize the plan, it’s critical that they uphold the substantive results of the long-term process by managing these lands for the benefit of fish and wildlife, habitat, and sportsmen and women. Our coalition represents just a portion of the community that is counting on the Colorado BLM to move forward with what local stakeholders have asked for and supported in the Royal Gorge Field Office plan.
Over the years, we’ve been encouraged by the collaborative spirit and consideration of local preferences demonstrated throughout this process. Continuing along this path, with everyone on board, will no doubt result in a huge victory for sportsmen and our community.
Main photo by BLM-Colorado via tumblr
Sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly want state decision-makers to ensure robust funding for conservation programs that improve water quality and fish habitat
The majority of Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers want decision-makers in the state to invest in clean water and fish habitat, even if it means sportsmen and women have to open their own wallets to do so, according to polling data revealed today by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Public Opinion Strategies.
Once they were provided with basic information on how it would help conservation, nearly three-quarters of the hunters and anglers polled (74 percent) said they would agree to increase the state’s fishing license fee, which hasn’t been adjusted in more than a decade, despite the rising costs facing the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Sixty percent of respondents supported the fee increase without any additional information about how the money would be spent.
Even as the primary agency tasked with providing safe access to 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, the PFBC has been forced to scale back conservation efforts and operate with fewer wildlife conservation officers in recent years.
“This study shows that, regardless of political affiliation, sportsmen and women in the Keystone State are spurred to action by clean water issues that affect our hunting and fishing opportunities,” says Derek Eberly, Pennsylvania field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’ve always been willing to pay our fair share for conservation, but it’s time to pay a little more.”
Beyond the price of fishing licenses, 77 percent of poll respondents who hunt and fish were also willing to pay more in taxes to restore and/or maintain water quality and quantity in Pennsylvania, where healthy in-stream flows support strong fish populations. And 92 percent of the sportsmen and women polled said state lawmakers should strengthen or maintain the clean water laws and standards currently in place.
Other key results:
For two hunters on a bucket-list turkey hunting road trip, Kansas’s Farm-Bill-funded access program delivers
Like many hunters from the eastern United States, I’ve always wanted to head west across the Mississippi for an unforgettable hunting trip. Hitting the road with a good friend, taking in the wide-open landscape, and spending time in the woods with a tag in my pocket just couldn’t be more appealing.
I had the chance to fulfill this dream with my buddy and co-worker Travis only a few months ago, thanks to the generosity of a Kansas farmer named Ray. Travis got in touch with Ray through his brother, a farmer in our home state of North Carolina. Neither Travis nor I had met Ray in person, but he offered us a place to stay if we wanted to come out and hunt spring turkeys in the Sunflower State. We didn’t need much convincing to take advantage of the opportunity.
What’s particularly special about the land, and further proof of Ray’s generosity, is that it’s enrolled in the state’s walk-in access program, which is funded in part by the federal Farm Bill initiative known as the Voluntary Public Access Program. Landowners are encouraged to open private acres for public access to hunting and fishing, creating new outdoor recreation opportunities in areas with few public lands. Now that the 2014 Farm Bill has expired, walk-in access programs across the country face an uncertain future.
This is just one hunting story that wouldn’t have been possible without walk-in access on private land and Farm Bill funding.
Our journey started at 4:00 am when Travis picked me up at the farm, hoping that an early start would get us to our destination by nightfall. After crossing into Kansas, we planned to stop first in Topeka, both to stretch our legs and to buy hunting licenses and a pair of tags each.
Around 9:30 we arrived in the town of Liebenthal, where we met Ray as well as some of the local farmers and residents. Everyone couldn’t have been more welcoming. Later we unpacked our bedrolls at Ray’s, which was serving as something of a makeshift hunting lodge for his friends and family. After some more conversations and introductions, we went to sleep with plans to wake up at 5am.
Only a few hours later, our alarms sounded, and we headed out in the dark.
In addition to our gear and shotguns, each of us carried a Kansas turkey hunting guide book, which proved extremely valuable throughout the trip. These guides include a map that identifies lands enrolled in the Walk-In Hunter Access program. Having turkey hunted in Nebraska and Kansas the previous year, Travis was familiar with WIHA and raved about the opportunities we would enjoy.
The first morning, we made our way northwest to a block of WIHA land, clearly marked by signs on the boundary of the property as we drove. We located a spot next to a river which we found had cottonwood trees lining the water just after daybreak. From the road we could both see a large Rio Grande tom fanning several hens about a hundred yards off the road under a large cottonwood tree.
Right away, I jumped from the truck, got my turkey suit on, and loaded up a shotgun, telling Travis that I was going to put a stalk on my first Kansas turkey. He looked at me like I was crazy, but I had come 1,200 miles to hunt and the clock was ticking. Thirty minutes later, after crawling on my hands and knees to within forty yards of the birds before blowing them out, I returned to the truck disappointed.
After a quick huddle, Travis and I came up with an afternoon plan to ambush an old tom we’d seen roosted in some big cottonwood trees. Once we set up the blind, the wait began and we took turns resting while the other watched and listened for the turkeys returning to their roost. About an hour before sunset we heard our first gobble, which perked us right up. The tom was coming towards us on the hillside above, letting out a thunder gobble every twenty yards until I pulled the trigger. With a cloud of dust and the flop of feathers, I had my first Rio Grande tom in the bag.
Our wake-up call came early the next morning and it was Travis’s turn to find his bird. We headed south through LaCrosse and then east to another patch of WIHA land with a creek running through it. Water is scarce in central Kansas, and the cottonwood trees that grow nearby hold turkeys early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
Our initial set-up on some roosted birds fell apart when they flew down and quickly headed in the opposite direction from us. The wind began to blow hard out of the south and we were both tired, so Travis suggested getting the blind from the truck and hunkering down where we were. The rest of the day we watched for turkeys out of the blind’s portholes and caught up on our sleep.
Just before sunset, we both came to full attention as a large group of redhead turkeys began approaching from the other end of the meadow. As the birds got closer, we both realized they were the jakes from the group we’d seen come down that morning.
Travis was still looking at the jakes when I peered out of other side of the blind and spotted two giant toms coming out of the creek bottom. I told Travis to get to where I was and scrambled to move out of his way. After a shotgun blast rang out, Travis yelled “I got him” and turned around to celebrate. With two tags punched and a few days left in our trip, we started planning our next move. In the meantime, we repaid some of the locals for their hospitality by cooking up a dinner of wild turkey nuggets and roasted red potatoes.
After a day of rest, we loaded up early on the fourth morning and drove back to the WIHA property we’d hunted previously. Unable to sit still another day, I decided to spot-and-stalk a tom. Travis didn’t seem to have much confidence in the idea and wanted to stay in the blind, so I grabbed the decoy he’d brought and headed for bluffs above the valley.
Working my way across the top while glassing with my binoculars, I spotted a group of hens on the valley floor. I dropped down the slope and moved between the cedars to get within shooting range, letting the hens and then a group of jakes pass. My patience was rewarded. A very nice long-beard tom was about a minute behind the jakes, following slowly in their tracks.
I presented the decoy and then flipped the fan around to its rear, causing the tom to lock in and race towards me—just the reaction I was hoping for. Once the tom got within 20 yards I let go of the decoy and raised my shotgun, dropping him in his tracks a moment later.
I took a minute to thank God for my second turkey of the trip, collected my things and slung that old tom over my shoulder for the walk back up the valley floor.
The next morning we drove around looking for turkeys in fields with hopes that some would be accessible to us on WIHA land. South of Bison, we spotted three toms fanning several hens at the back of a crop field. It wasn’t long until we saw WIHA signs hanging on the fence row, and Travis turned onto the next road and pulled over at the nearest spot.
Once out of the truck, I grabbed the decoy and we began our stalk single-file, with me holding the decoy out in front. Our first movement took us roughly 500 yards to several round bales of hay in the middle of the crop field, but another 500 yards stood between us and the turkeys. We again hooked up single-file, shielding ourselves from view with the decoy, and headed straight across the open ground.
Once we were within 30 yards or so, two jakes and a tom locked in on the decoy and began running towards it. I urged Travis to shoot as the birds closed the distance, picking up their pace. When he finally pulled the trigger, I saw one of the birds go flopping across the field. Travis was tagged out in Kansas.
Between the opportunities we found on prime private land, the success we enjoyed turkey hunting, and all of the deer, quail, pheasants, and rabbits we saw, I couldn’t be positive enough about the experience we had in Kansas. And what made it all possible, in addition to the friendliness of everyone we met, was the outstanding opportunities made available through the Voluntary Public Access Program.
The opportunities this program creates on private land are a huge boon to hunters who have limited access at home or want to chase game in states that have very few public lands.
If you use walk-in access, or know someone who does, click here to tell Congress to increase funding for VPA in the upcoming Farm Bill.
Michael Hoyle is a criminal investigator for the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office in Newton, North Carolina, and a SWAT team sniper. When he’s not chasing criminals, writing reports, or training, he’s chasing feathers, fur, and fins throughout the United States and making the most of our public land. Hoyle has been hunting and fishing since he could walk and loves nothing more than to put his friends and family on fish and game. Find him on Instagram @Hoylesopenchokeremmy
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