House Approves Investments in Chronic Wasting Disease Research
After sportsmen and women urged Congress to invest in solutions, spending bill contains new funding dedicated to combatting CWD in wild deer
A House spending bill for federal agriculture, interior, and environmental agencies (H.R. 3305) has passed with amendments that create new dedicated fundingto research, test for, and battle chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease discovered in deer and elk populations across more than half the U.S.
Led by Representatives Veasey, Gosar, Kind, and Abraham, an amendment to the House’s Agriculture Appropriations bill will send $15 million to the states to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer.
“Chronic wasting disease is a dangerous and contagious condition affecting deer, elk, and moose in 26 states and over 250 counties,”said Representative Marc Veasey (D-Texas).“The disease spreads to new counties and states every year, threatening our wild deer populations rises. State fish and wildlife agencies are doing their best to combat the spread of this disease with the limited resources they have, but they need more support from the federal government to ramp up their efforts and effectively respond to both new and ongoing outbreaks in wild deer populations. That’s why I introduced a bipartisan amendment to dedicate new resources in the fight to contain and eventually eradicate the disease. My amendment designates an additional $12 million to be sent to state fish and wildlife agencies, bringing the total to $15 million, and I was glad to see the it adopted by the House of Representatives.”
Reps. Gosar and Abraham successfully introduced a second amendment that will direct $1.72 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to research chronic wasting disease and improve the effectiveness of testing methods.
“Research into chronic wasting disease and enhanced testing methods will help give hunters the confidence they need to continue to harvest wild deer, elk, and moose,” said Representative Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) “I look forward to continuing to address threats posed by CWD in order to conserve resources for sportsmen and protect America’s hunting traditions.”
Together, these amendments allocate a total of $16.72 million to fighting CWD in wild deer. It’s the first time that some portion offunding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which maintains a certification program for captive deer operations that take precautions against CWD, could be used to benefit wild deer herds.
“This is a major milestone in our effort to combat CWD and preserve our hunting traditions,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of TRCP. “This new funding will support states in their efforts to keep deer herds healthy.We want to thank House appropriators for taking this first step, and we urge the Senate to prioritize these investments, as well, so Congress can pass legislation that tackles this epidemic head–on.”
The Senate has yet to release its version of the appropriations bill.
This news comes on the heels of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s advocacy push to include increased resources for responding to CWD in the Agriculture Appropriations bill. The TRCP has rallied more than 1,500 sportsmen and women to contact their lawmakers and ask for these investments.
Take action and urge senators to include these investments in their appropriations bills.
In a press briefing at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, onX founder Eric Siegfried and TRCP’s director of Western lands Joel Webster announced their preliminary findings on access barriers to trust lands in the state of Colorado, including:
More than 435,000 acres are landlocked by private land and cannot be reached at all by public roads or through adjacent federally managed public lands.
Meanwhile, 1.78 million acres of accessible lands are closed to public access by state policy.
A total of 558,000 acres of accessible trust lands are currently open to hunting and fishing because of collaborative agreements between the State Land Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
There are 2.78 million acres of state trust lands in total across Colorado. All Western states were granted lands by the federal government at statehood, and Colorado is the only state in the Mountain West that does not allow public access to the majority of its trust lands. Webster noted that Colorado’s restrictive access rules are actually a greater hindrance to outdoor recreation on state trust lands than the landlocked land issue, which makes it an outlier among other Western states.
Governor Jared Polis is taking proactive steps to address this challenge. “Colorado is arguably the most beautiful state in America, and I’m committed to expanding the public’s access to our treasured federal and state-owned land,” said Governor Polis. “I’m delighted that Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Public Access Program for sportsmen and women will be growing by more than 100,000 acres in time for the upcoming 2019 hunting season. We will continue looking at more opportunities to increase access in the near future.”
“We appreciate the collaborative work that has already gone into opening state trust lands to public access in Colorado and believe the state currently has perhaps the single greatest opportunity to expand public access in the West,” said TRCP’s Joel Webster. “Without a doubt, Governor Polis’s commitment to expanding public access should be encouraging to everyone who recreates in the outdoors. Other states have come up with innovative ideas for opening access to trust lands, and they offer a model for how Colorado could continue to tackle this issue.”
“Our company’s mission is to help people find places they can explore to create a memorable outdoor experience,” says onX founder Eric Siegfried. “State lands can be easily overlooked by the recreating public, and more can be done to make these lands accessible to all. We are looking forward to calculating the full extent of access challenges and highlighting constructive opportunities to open lands to the public.”
The full report will delve deeper into the issue of recreational access across 11 Western states by focusing on landlocked lands at the state level. It will be formally presented to the press and public at the TRCP Western Media Summit on August 19, 2019 in Seattle, Washington.
“We’re excited to partner once again with onX on a collaborative project that wouldn’t be possible without their world-class product and commitment to public access,” concluded Webster.
Sportfishing Groups Call for Science-Based Management of Gulf Menhaden
Marine Stewardship Council takes an irresponsible approach to fishery certification
The recreational fishing community is expressing concern about the process being used to certify the menhaden fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
Omega Protein and Daybrook Fisheries recently announced that SAI Global is recommending that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certify the menhaden fishery in the Gulf of Mexico as sustainable, despite ongoing concerns surrounding the industrial harvest of the small oily baitfish.
“There is a host of unknowns surrounding this industrial fishery, and yet the MSC continues to rapidly move forward,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “Sustainability obviously means different things to different people, and we continue to have significant concerns about this certification.”
Conservation groups and tens of thousands of anglers have all expressed concerns that menhaden management fails to account for the critical ecological role that menhaden play in the coastal ecosystem and their impacts to sportfish like snook, redfish, sharks, and other marine predators.
“No one yet knows how much Gulf menhaden is needed to fulfill its role as a primary prey species in the ecosystem,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs at the American Sportfishing Association. “There is work being done to determine that, but obviously the MSC didn’t consider that critical factor as a prerequisite for making its sustainability decision.”
“Every summer, anglers and charter captains see menhaden boats fishing right on top of Louisiana’s beaches and passes, in the same areas where important sportfish like redfish and speckled trout are feeding and spawning,” said Chris Macaluso, director of marine fisheries for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and an avid Louisiana angler. “For years, I’ve heard about and seen countless dead redfish floating in the same areas where menhaden boats recently fished. Recreational fishermen are right to be concerned, especially since there is so little information about what species are being affected the most from bycatch and how many non-targeted fish are being killed.”
“Menhaden provide the foundation of the entire Gulf recreational fishery, from redfish to tarpon,” said Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “Instead of a rushed process aimed at benefiting a few foreign companies, we should have a full science-based review of the fishery. There is too much at stake.”
SAI Global’s recommendation to certify Gulf menhaden as sustainable is a follow-up to the same recommendation for Atlantic menhaden made earlier this year. The Coastal Conservation Association, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, The Nature Conservancy, and Chesapeake Bay Foundation are all opposing the Atlantic menhaden certification.
In January of this year, the state of Virginia also formally notified the MSC of its opposition to certifying the Atlantic menhaden purse-seine fishery. In April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to protect menhaden in New York’s waters by prohibiting harvest by purse seine, essentially rejecting the industrial harvest of Atlantic menhaden altogether.
Why Public Land Grazing is So Important to the American West
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.
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.
Mystery Ranch is a Bozeman, Montana-based backpack and gear company that knows a thing or two about hauling heavy loads over unpredictable terrain. So, it’s only fitting that they’ve been carrying more than their weight in the world of conservation.
Here’s their story:
We have around 100 people working at Mystery Ranch—this includes folks in production, our warehouse, warranty and repair, operations, product development, accounting, sales, marketing, IT, customer service, and more. It’s an incredibly diverse workforce from all over Montana and the rest of the U.S. with different ages, interests, and backgrounds. Preferred outdoor activities run the gamut, from backcountry skiing, ice and rock climbing, and trail running to precision shooting, bow-hunting, and fly-fishing.
All of these activities require two key ingredients: public land and access to it. What we do here, and the packs and gear we design and build, fuels these passions.
Our location in Bozeman certainly helps us—it may sound cliché, but we really do live in one of the best places for folks who love being outside. All kinds of opportunities on the water or in the mountains are available right in our backyard. And that fuels a company culture that is open, friendly, and just plain fun.
Without question, the passions we pursue deepen our commitment to conservation. We support a wide-ranging group of organizations in whatever ways that we can. We donate products for auctions and raffles at events like the TRCP’s Capital Conservation Awards Dinner, and for several years have sponsored the Western Media Summit.
We also believe we should stand up on issues and initiatives that we know are important. Recently, we signed on to a letter from the business community calling for a balanced roadless rule for Alaska, and we’ve also supported the TRCP’s Sportsmen’s Country and Sportsmen’s Access campaigns. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that as a company we support those who do the vital work, educate, inspire, and make a difference.
This is especially true with our hunting and outdoor product lines—so many of our customers and employees are personally involved in groups that advocate for public lands, trail maintenance, public access, watershed improvements, or habitat expansion and protection.
We know that our business—and our individual opportunities—depend on these efforts, and we think there’s real strength in the overlapping values and interwoven missions of companies like ours and the causes we support.
In short, we build packs and gear for people who love the outdoors and fiercely defend it. That means protecting the rivers and streams we float and fish; ensuring the mountains we hike, hunt, and ski remain public; and working to see that these opportunities will be available today, tomorrow, and beyond.
You can learn more about Mystery Ranch and the causes they support at MysteryRanch.com.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.