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TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation
Hometown: Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania
Occupation: Retired Social Security Administration official, flyfishing guide, writer, educator
Conservation credentials: Currently co-chair of the Trout Management Committee at the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited. Previously served as council president and vice president, as well as a chapter president and officer.
For Dave Rothrock, picking up a fly rod as a boy was just the next natural step in a continued fascination with and pursuit of all things trout. He started tying flies before he even knew how to fish them, and he tells us that he still likes to photograph the bugs that trout like to eat. Rothrock’s most memorable fish encounter was his very first wild brown, which he landed after years of only having access to stockers, and it has ignited a lifelong commitment to clean water in Pennsylvania’s trout streams.
Here is his story.
I was set on my journey in the great world of the outdoors—from my first fish at the age of six to hunting for pheasants and deer—by my father. But really it was my love of trout that has made me what I am today. The wild trout fishing we have available here in Pennsylvania is arguably some of the best in the nation. Apparently, many others agree, since we have more trout anglers on the water throughout the year than any other state.
It was here that I caught my first wild brown trout. For about ten years I had only fished for hatchery-reared fish, but I was old enough to drive out to the Little Lehigh Creek in Allentown, Pa., for this trip. I knew from the moment I laid eyes on the 8-inch brownie that I had something special. Of course, back in the mid-1960s, I wasn’t familiar with catch and release as a concept, so all trout were harvested to be eaten. Wild trout were special in more ways than one!
These days, even though I have fished for trout from Michigan to Maine and Austria and Slovenia, I would choose my home state every time. (Maybe with a side trip to Maine for trophy brook trout—it’s the last remaining stronghold for native brookies here in the U.S.)
As a fanatic flyfisherman, and one who values wild trout over any other, I have come to realize that what I hold most dear would not exist without clean water. I have written about flies and flyfishing in numerous publications, and I enjoy guiding and teaching anglers of all skill levels with the goal of enabling them to be more effective and successful on the water. Clean water is the number one essential for any of this to be part of my life.
I was introduced to Trout Unlimited back in the earliest 1970s. It was at TU meetings that I first began to hear about conservation. I’ll confess I don’t remember any of what I heard at first, but it must have instilled in me this concept of giving back to something from which I’ve taken.
I also began to realize the connection between the trout I enjoyed catching and the need to protect the water they inhabit. I heard reports of streams holding more trout as a result of stream habitat improvements made by conservation-minded anglers and others. I learned that mayflies and brook trout, in particular, can help indicate the quality of the water and any trouble brewing.
Over the years I’ve tried to make good on my belief that I need to give back to the resource that provides me so much opportunity. It is only by so doing that we have the quality trout fishing that so many of us hold so dear.
The next generation of anglers recognizes the value of wild trout, and they are quick to point out weakness and flaws in management practices. Yet, when the opportunity arises for them to provide constructive input, or when a call goes out to help a stream in need, it seems they are nowhere to be found. I hope this starts to change.
Unless we see more young people taking an interest in fishing, to the point of being willing to speak up and take action when needed, the future of our traditions is in jeopardy.
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Updated as of Sept. 13, 2019: These changes to refuge access were finalized on September 10, 2019 after a public comment period. The Interior Department will indeed expand hunting and fishing opportunities on 77 national wildlife refuges and 15 fish hatcheries.
In a ceremony at Ottowa National Wildlife Refuge in Ohio this summer, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced a proposal to expand hunting and fishing access on some U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-run refuges and fish hatcheries and open new sportsmen’s access on others. This recognizes the value of hunting and fishing to the American economy and addresses one of the major threats to hunting and fishing participation—lost access.
“This announcement will benefit America’s sportsmen and women by providing access to prime hunting and fishing areas,” said Christy Plumer, TRCP’s chief conservation officer. “As public access remains a challenge across the nation, opportunities like this are a shining example of what we can do to support our outdoor recreation economy.”
A public comment period allowed Americans, including representatives of state agencies that work in partnership to manage wildlife on these public lands, a chance to weigh in on the changes. Important feedback and calls for clarification are addressed within the official rule posted to the Federal Register.
These are just a handful of the areas that will provide new hunting and fishing access to all Americans by the fall opener.
This series of islands in Lake Michigan, off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula, provide critical plant and wildlife habitat that would be open to hunting and fishing for the very first time. On Plum Island, once the site of a U.S. Coast Guard facility, shoreline-only fishing has been discussed, and deer hunting could be expanded to a section of Detroit Island. (According to the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands, special tags have been available since 2016 to manage the deer herd on Plum Island.)
Areas already open to some hunting on this refuge in Southwest Wyoming’s high desert plains would allow deer and elk hunting for the first time under the new proposal. Designated units are already open to fishing and hunting for mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, ducks, and sage grouse, which actually helped give the refuge its name. Seedskadee is a botched rendition of the native Crow’s name for the Green River: “sisk-a-dee-agie” or “River of the Prairie Chicken.”
The proposal would expand existing upland and big game hunting to additional acres on this refuge, which is home to both freshwater and saltwater marshes and some of the last remaining longleaf pine forest in the Southeast. This might include additional limited permits for deer, hogs, and turkeys.
This refuge, which straddles 120 miles of the Mississippi River along the Illinois-Missouri border, would expand its season dates for existing deer, turkey, and other upland game hunting to align with state seasons. The proposal would also offer hunters additional methods—currently there is a firearm season for antlerless deer on Fox Island and special permits for muzzleloader-only deer hunting in the 1,700-acre Delair Division.
Leadville National Fish Hatchery in Colorado and Iron River National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin would formally open lands for migratory gamebird, upland game, and big game hunting. Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Texas and Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery in Washington are proposing to formally open their lands to recreational fishing.
Always check and follow all refuge and state regulations before taking advantage of hunting and fishing opportunities on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands.
Top photo by Joseph McGowan/USFWS.
As the demographics of the West change, sportsmen and women can feel good about supporting working ranches that responsibly graze their livestock on public lands—these private landowners and land managers are key partners in conservation and often facilitate hunting and fishing access, unlike the condo complexes that might pop up without them
Private lands make up about 60 percent of the U.S., while hundreds of millions of acres are grazed by livestock. And though it may seem like sportsmen and women only have eyes for public lands, these private lands can also offer critical seasonal habitats and connectivity for fish and wildlife, as well as recreation access.
Working ranches are an incredibly important part of this public-private land fabric—not to mention the Western economy and way of life. But the reliance on public lands for grazing has remained a hot-button issue even after unregulated grazing was curbed by federal law decades ago.
Some of you may immediately think of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the armed confrontation over his failure to pay grazing fees to the federal government for the use of public lands. Others may have heard groups calling for the outright abolishment of all public land grazing. But smack dab in between these opposing and polarizing views lie most sportsmen and women and tens of thousands of hardworking families who own and manage millions of acres vital to fish and wildlife.
So why does this legitimate use of public lands still get a bad rap?
A Brief History of Grazing in the West
Livestock grazing on both private and public lands dates back to the homesteading era and westward expansion. As iconic and integral as ranching is to the West’s ethos and economy, grazing has also contributed to a long history of controversy and debate over public lands management, from the era of unmanaged sheep and cattle grazing after the Civil War to the Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s into the present day.
After decades of unregulated livestock use in the West led to overgrazing and degradation of rangeland and water resources, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934. Today, livestock grazing is much more heavily regulated, yet remains a hot topic, as grazing plays into the complex multiple-use management scheme that must address increasing demands on our federal public lands from a growing human population.
At the heart of this perpetual debate lies a wide range of issues surrounding private property valuation and rights, water quality and usage, endangered species, access to public lands, and habitat for fish and wildlife, among other things. Across Western landscapes, private lands often occur in a “checkerboard” arrangement with federal and state lands, further complicating issues and creating unique challenges for multiple-use management.
Despite the complexities of multiple-use management, maintaining economically viable ranches is of vital importance. The loss of family-owned ranches might mean development on some pretty special landscapes, loss of habitat for native species, or the end of “handshake agreements” for hunting and fishing access.
Not an Either-Or Proposition
So, why is public-land grazing so necessary to keeping these private-lands ranchers in business and on the land? To remain financially solvent, many ranches rely on their own acres AND federal grazing permits. Most of the time, they can’t have one without the other.
The Taylor Grazing Act put tens of millions of acres of public land into grazing districts and smaller units, or allotments. Ranchers apply for renewable 10-year permits to graze on these allotments. Each permittee must own their own base property near the allotment to be eligible and must pay for their use. So, not just anyone can graze their cattle on public lands.
Most Western ranches need both their deeded property and their federal grazing allotments to make an operation economically viable. If ranchers can’t sustain their businesses from the land they own and federal lands they have access to, most will undoubtedly hit a breaking point and sell to a willing buyer. And the sale of existing properties can present new challenges to sportsmen and women.
Private Lands in Other Hands
Much of what happens if a ranch must be sold depends on whether it has a perpetual or long-term easement in place, who buys the land, what their objectives are, and other factors driving the purchase and existing land condition. But a great reason to support responsible ranchers with public land resources is to avoid the risk of what could come next if they sell their property.
While many chunks of land would never be carved up for parking lots, luxury homes, condominiums, commercial real estate, or other development, sub-division of large tracts of land indeed is a real and ominous threat already pervasive across the West. Subdividing private lands does not usually bode well for wildlife conservation or our hunting and fishing access.
Land may transfer hands to another ranching operation—possibly even one with a stronger emphasis on voluntary conservation—but a new landowner could also choose not to re-enroll in a public access program or might move forward with converting wildlife-friendly rangeland to cropland.
The future of private land depends on many things that wind up looking like a roll of the dice in Vegas compared to keeping working lands in knowledgeable working hands.
Partners in Conservation
Landowners are critical to conservation success and thus must be considered necessary partners in conservation. They shouldn’t have to feel threatened by species restoration plans or other resource conservation efforts. Conservation should present opportunities for landowners to keep their lands productive and thriving for both livestock and fish and wildlife.
Ranchers are already doing on-the-ground work through programs like the Sage Grouse Initiative, Partners for Conservation, Working Lands for Wildlife, and Farm Bill conservation programs like Voluntary Public Access.
There can be negative impacts on habitat from improper livestock grazing, and there will likely continue to be issues and disagreements among private landowners and public land users on how public land should be managed. We are all equally accountable to natural resources held in the public trust, whether you own cattle, land, or a hunting license.
Assuming the worst of landowners or attacking their interests does nothing to further conservation. In most cases, they are the worthy stewards of their own lands and our public acres. And losing working ranchlands to development would not bode well for fish, wildlife, or sportsmen in the long run.
Recent angst over sage-grouse conservation, leasing in migration corridors, and water issues should encourage us to strengthen our relationships with all stakeholders interested in finding common ground for conservation and use of our public lands. That includes ranchers who rely on public lands for grazing. The path forward for public and private land management that will sustain conservation is one of continued collaboration and partnership—not polarization.
Aldo Leopold once said: “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” As the contemporary adage goes, the TRCP supports keeping “working lands in working hands.” We will continue working with our organizational partners, plus businesses, landowners, and decision-makers, to ensure that our landscapes provide all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.
Top photo by USDA NRCS Montana.
Protections for a popular chukar hunting destination and important big game winter range are included in one alternative, but not in the preferred
The Bureau of Land Management today released a draft plan for the Four Rivers Field Office in western Idaho. The plan, when completed, will guide land management decisions for 783,000 acres of public lands over the next several decades.
This area includes one of Idaho’s critical mule deer winter ranges and a popular chukar hunting destination, and sportsmen from across the Gem State are asking the BLM to reconsider its priorities going forward.
The draft Resource Management Plan is a first step in a public process of land-use planning that determines how habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, and development will be balanced in the future. The BLM typically proposes four management options for a planning area and names one preferred alternative.
The agency’s preferred alternative for the Four Rivers Field Office doesn’t properly consider management approaches that would conserve the Bennett Hills. Sportsmen-friendly conservation measures for these intact and undeveloped lands with outstanding big game habitat were drawn up, but not fully incorporated into the BLM’s preferred approach.
“A final Resource Management Plan should fully incorporate backcountry hunting areas and expand upon the limited opportunities currently included in the preferred alternative,” said Rob Thornberry, Idaho field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We urge the BLM to complete what they started.”
Thirty-nine outdoor-related businesses and eight sportsmen’s organizations support revising BLM’s Resource Management Plan to better serve the interests of Idaho’s hunters and other outdoor recreationists.
“I have hunted the Bennett Hills for almost 50 years, and I can state emphatically that it is a haven for an enormous amount of wildlife,” said Drew Wahlin, president of the Idaho Chukar Foundation. “It is a bird hunting destination and an essential winter area for the famed King Hill mule deer hunt. It is worthy of protections that help wildlife and sportsmen.”
These popular public lands in central and western Idaho help fuel the state’s $7.8-billion outdoor recreation economy, provide important wildlife habitat, and support various traditional uses of the land. These include IDFG Hunting Units 39, 43, 44, and 45.
“The Bennett Hills are an important hunting destination just a short drive from Boise and Twin Falls,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. “The BLM has an opportunity to do right by sportsmen and businesses through the resource management plan, and we are depending on the agency to incorporate measures in the final plan that will safeguard one of our best backcountry hunting areas near Mountain Home.”
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