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America’s public lands agencies go through a planning process that may sound tedious, but it’s your chance to have a say in how habitat and hunting and fishing areas will be managed for 20 years or more—it’s your land, so be part of the plan
America’s public lands embody our nation’s ideals—they’re owned by every one of us and, no doubt, they offer opportunity to all, regardless of one’s background or standing. But public lands reflect our culture in yet another way: The American people themselves determine how these lands should be managed and in what condition they will be handed down to future generations.
This happens through the land-use planning process, the goal of which is to produce documents that outline how the Forest Service and BLM will balance the many demands on public lands in a particular area. Wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, grazing, timber harvest, and energy extraction each have their rightful place on our public lands, and this process ultimately determines where and when these various uses occur.
When organizations like the TRCP ask sportsmen and women to engage in the public process of planning for future public land use, it may sound like too much of a burden on your time—we ask you to read this, learn more, click here, show up, and speak out. But the land-use planning process is the American public’s best opportunity to see that our land is managed according to our values.
Here’s everything you need to know about land-use planning and how you can get involved.
This process begins with an assessment of the resources in, say, your local national forest or your local BLM field office, and a consideration of the various ways in which those resources could be utilized. Afterward, the public weighs in on these different options and voices its opinions on how its lands should best be managed.
The resulting product, usually some combination of proposals from several plans, sets the agency’s goals for the management of a given area over the ensuing decades.
Land-use plans guide every on-the-ground action of our land management agencies. They allocate resources and determine appropriate multiple uses for our land; they outline strategies to manage and conserve our resources; and they set up a process for measuring the success of these strategies over time. Decisions such as where to build and maintain roads and trails, how to balance wildlife habitat with development, and where to prioritize active habitat management take their shape from these critical documents.
The agencies that manage our public lands face competing claims and requests on a daily basis from various stakeholder groups. Land-use planning emerged during the 1970s, when our public lands faced escalating demands on natural resources and Congress directed the agencies to more conscientiously manage public lands for many uses.
Planning ensures that decisions across a landscape don’t collectively undermine the values that the American people believe should guide its management. It is a forward-looking process and ultimately will determine the outdoor legacy that today’s sportsmen and women will pass on to the next generation.
Each federal agency has its own specific process for planning, but they are all required to involve the public in the process by rules established in the National Environmental Policy Act.
This is why formal public comment periods are typically incorporated into two phases of the planning process—initially during the “scoping” period and then again after the completion of a draft land-use plan. National forest planning includes additional opportunities for the public to be involved early on, while the BLM’s “pre-planning” for Resource Management Plan (RMP) revisions is for the most part internally focused on budgets, staffing, etc.
In the scoping phase, the agency informs the public of its intention to revise or rewrite an existing land use plan. At this point, a public comment period offers hunters and anglers a critical opportunity to raise issues of concern and provide recommendations for public land management within the planning area.
After taking into account these comments, the agency will develop a draft land-use plan that outlines several potential options for how to manage the landscape, known as “proposed alternatives” in agency lingo. Generally speaking, they will range from minimal restrictions on extractive industries to maximum consideration for conservation priorities. The agency will also recommend one of these specific options—usually somewhere in-between these two extremes—as its preferred alternative.
Here, we know which way the agency is leaning, but another public comment period allows hunters and anglers to weigh in and influence the outcome of the process. The agency can include in the final plan any of the measures proposed in the full range of alternatives, so public comments can recommend the best ideas from any of the various options.
Even though one alternative is preferred, it isn’t over until it’s over.
The onus is on the BLM and Forest Service to be transparent about this process. The agencies must formally announce the duration of each comment period, as well as where, when, and how comments can be submitted. In addition to written submissions, the scoping and draft-plan phases allow the public to voice comments in person at meetings held by the agency in local communities. Both methods of input receive the same consideration, but sharing your story face-to-face can certainly make your concerns more compelling to agency personnel.
By law, the agency must consider all of these comments as the final land-use plan develops. That document must be reviewed by the governor of that state and can be formally protested by the public before it is formally adopted through a “record of decision.”
Although hunters and anglers have stepped up with overwhelming passion when threatened by proposals for public land transfer and disposal (remember the amazing response to Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s H.R. 621?), it’s difficult to bring that same energy to the proactive planning process.
Nonetheless, RMPs and Forest Plans couldn’t be more critical to the future of wildlife, access, and our public land traditions. These documents in large part determine whether development will be balanced with the interests of wildlife and sportsmen. They can ensure that our highest-value hunting and fishing grounds remain accessible and intact and that existing outdoor recreation opportunities will be defended—and improved—for future generations.
But that all depends on our community speaking up. You can be absolutely certain that other stakeholders will advocate for their interests during the planning process, so sportsmen and women can’t afford to sit on the sidelines.
Top photo: Eliot Phillips
A brief history of the Clean Water Act and how an EPA rule could strip many streams and wetlands of its protection
In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland was so polluted by the steel mills that lined its banks the water literally caught fire. Sparks from a passing train turned into flames that billowed five stories high, causing $50,000 worth of damage, destroying a bridge, and halting rail travel. It was a national media event that spurred Congress to pass a series of landmark environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, to clean up and protect America’s water.
Since the early 1970s, the Clean Water Act has been wildly successful, resulting in the restoration of hundreds of thousands of miles of rivers and streams that are now safe for fishing and swimming. The Act has helped hold polluters accountable and prevent 700 billion pounds of toxic pollutants from entering our nation’s waters each year.
Unfortunately, 40 years later the current administration is proposing to weaken its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act by redefining which waters are protected.
If you read the debate from when Congress passed the Act, it’s clear that Americans didn’t just want to protect large rivers that can accommodate barges. We wanted a comprehensive national program that preserved places like the Cuyahoga River in the east and the smaller headwaters trout streams in the West.
We must remember that intent as we gear up for yet another fight for clean water.
Some will falsely claim the Trump Administration’s proposed clean water rule is simply undoing what the Obama Administration put in place. But in 2015, the Obama Administration protected an additional 5 percent of streams under the Clean Water Act. Now the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are proposing to undo far more than that. The new rule would eliminate protections from more than 18 percent of the nation’s stream miles and more than 50 percent of our remaining wetlands, including critical habitat for fish, ducks, and other migratory birds.
This new proposal would reverse decades of protections that were put in place to ensure clean water would be available for future generations. If this plan goes into effect, every hunter and angler stands to lose.
So now what? As a partnership that exists to ensure all Americans have great places to hunt and fish, the TRCP asks sportsmen and women to raise their voices. With all the other threats to our nation’s waters, now is not the time for the federal government to abandon its responsibility to conserve the streams and wetlands that support healthy fisheries and flyways.
Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University Library.
Public comment period opens today on rule that would exclude many streams and wetlands from Clean Water Act protections
The Environmental Protection Agency today officially published a proposed rule that would roll back protections for 50 percent of wetlands and 18 percent of stream miles in America. This kickstarts a 60-day comment period for Americans to weigh in on the proposed rule, which does not include Clean Water Act protections for ephemeral streams—those that only flow after rainfall—and wetlands that are not connected to other waters.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is calling on individual sportsmen and women to respond by April 15 and urge the EPA not to overlook critical fish and waterfowl habitat.
“Clean water is vital to our hunting and fishing traditions and the booming outdoor recreation economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, the TRCP’s president and CEO. “This proposal disregards the importance of smaller streams and isolated wetlands and the Clean Water Act’s 40-year track record of improving America’s waterways. A rollback of this magnitude puts fish and wildlife at serious risk. The EPA must listen to the millions of sportsmen and women who rely on clean water.”
Before finalizing the 2015 clean water rule, the EPA held a 120-day comment period and ultimately allowed the public a total of 200 days to respond to the proposal. The EPA is now only giving the public just 60 days to submit feedback on the replacement rule.
“The agencies need to give sportsmen and women sufficient time to speak out, given the gravity of this rule,” said Fosburgh. “Sixty days is not enough.”
Callie Easterly’s work at The Conservation Fund is helping to expand hunting and fishing access on a national wildlife refuge by more than 12,000 acres—read the latest Q&A in our Women Conservationist Wednesday series
We love talking to women in the conservation workforce who are very clearly forces of nature themselves. Callie Easterly, a native Texan and the senior major gifts officer at The Conservation Fund, is no exception.
Forget for just a moment that she runs an incredible hunting lodge for the organization, hosting small parties of waterfowl hunters to showcase the benefits of wetland restoration projects. Now consider that in the span of eight years she went from receptionist to executive director of a nonprofit focused on getting inner city kids outdoors and in touch with their food. That’s before she helped build a sustainable grazing program on conserved lands in the unique Gulf coastal grasslands of Texas.
But back to that hunting lodge. It’s on the 12,376-acre Sabine Ranch, which will soon be added to McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge as public land open to hunting, fishing, hiking and birdwatching. And Callie helped raise the more than $30 million needed to piece the original ranch back together and convey the land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Her story is so compelling, it’s no wonder she can convince people to open their wallets for conservation. She shares a little bit of that story with us here.
TRCP: How were you introduced to the outdoors?
CALLIE EASTERLY: I grew up in a small town outside Houston with a lot of rice farms, and I started hunting deer with my dad on the Thanksgiving holidays. Our local grocery store offered these individual meat lockers to store your venison, and we basically lived off what we harvested. I shot my first deer when I was 9 years old and totally got the bug.
For a while, I lived in Seattle and did more fishing, but when I came back to Texas and met my husband—he’s an avid outdoorsman—I really got back into hunting. And I was able to marry it with my lifelong interest in gardening and knowing exactly where my food comes from.
TRCP: And what led you to work in conservation?
EASTERLY: It started out as kind of a fluke. I was working with adults with disabilities and interpreting sign language, and I loved being able to help people communicate, but I really felt like I was missing out on sharing this growing passion I had for gardening and food security. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it, but I quit my job and ended up working as a receptionist for a Houston nonprofit called Urban Harvest, which builds gardens at inner city schools and takes kids into the outdoor classroom to learn about nutrition.
After only a few weeks, their fundraising person quit and they needed someone to write a grant application—so I tried it. We got the grant and things just took off from there. By the end of my eight years there, I had become executive director and was meeting a lot of inspiring people in the food movement.
Eventually, I wanted to do more with sustainable agriculture, and I got the opportunity to go back to my roots—literally my hometown of Katy, Texas—and work for the Katy Prairie Conservancy. One of the preserves is a working cattle ranch, where I was able to build a program that uses cattle as a land management tool for the benefit of other wildlife and water quality. And when I got the call from The Conservation Fund, I’d been consulting for a number of organizations on how to harness those Gulf oil spill recovery dollars to improve wildlife habitat and shellfish populations. So, it’s been a slow growth into my role at Sabine Ranch today.
TRCP: So, why take people hunting to get them support the project?
EASTERLY: I think it helps to highlight hunting and conservation as a nice marriage of ideals. Actually bringing guests out into this fantastic waterfowl habitat to do something they enjoy helps them understand what we’re doing and why expanding the refuge is such a big win for Texas.
The habitat is unbelievable. The ranch is a key part of the largest contiguous marsh system in Texas, which buffers inland communities from saltwater intrusion and sends freshwater flows to the rest of the refuge. When The Conservation Fund purchased the land, it had been managed to almost pristine condition by the previous owner, and here’s how we could tell: Just three weeks after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, this land was bone dry. The wetlands were working exactly like they are supposed to, filtering stormwater and pushing it out to the Gulf cleaner than it was before.
I believe every problem in the world can be solved with education, and taking people on an epic hunt rarely fails to make people feel like we’re all in this together. The hunt itself is really fun, but it’s also a palatable introduction to conservation for many people.
TRCP: How do you think we can do a better job, as conservationists?
EASTERLY: We need to tell better stories. We need to broaden our target audience and, as nonprofits, be more accepting of smaller gifts—we’ll meet more potential champions in the process. I talk to young people and see what resonates with them. I might practice a pitch with a friend who doesn’t hunt and just watch for the moment they raise their eyebrows.
For a long time, the environmental movement has meant “no, no, no.” That “no” has alienated a lot of folks. We have to say “yes” sometimes. Cities have to grow, so we explain why some places should be conserved. You illustrate how the health of habitat and wildlife is connected to the health of cities. We paved over some prairies and now there are no geese; there’s no hunting. Houston didn’t grow up, it grew out—we paved over wetlands and now we’re flooding. You explain that it’s hard to go back.
TRCP: So many women are taking up hunting in adulthood because of their interest in knowing where their food comes from. How can a beginner find the confidence to get outside on her own and just go for it?
EASTERLY: I’ve felt that lack of confidence, too—you have to give yourself over to it and allow yourself to make mistakes. You’ll miss. You’ll use the wrong fly. It’s trial and error. The moments you improvise because you forgot some gear or fall in and get soaking wet are going to be the most memorable anyway.
I don’t know how we tell ourselves it’s OK to fail. All I know is that sometimes you’re in the marsh getting eaten alive by bugs, and you’re calling and calling and nothing comes in. It’s not your spread, there’s just no ducks. It won’t be the most epic experience every time.
So, focus on the camaraderie of being up before dawn, passing a thermos of coffee around, being cold and sleepy together, telling stories, and watching the sun rise with friends. You can’t force the perfect hunt. In the morning, when you’re excited about the mere possibility of what the day may hold—make that feeling endless.
Photos by Shannon Tompkins
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