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The law that is broadly and affectionately known as PR ironically doesn’t allow state wildlife agencies to market hunting to a new generation of license buyers—the sportsmen and women we desperately need to keep funding conservation
By now, you probably know that every time you buy a hunting or fishing license and certain gear, you’re paying into a hugely successful system of conservation in America—where those of us who enjoy and take something from our natural resources also give back to fish and wildlife. You’re probably even aware of the two laws that made this happen: the Pittman-Robertson Act for hunting-related spending and the Dingell-Johnson Act for fishing-related spending.
But there’s a major difference between these policies that has become glaring as fishing participation has crept back up and hunting participation has taken a steep nosedive.
Between 2011 and 2016, the number of hunters declined by 16 percent. Hunters spend fewer days afield and less money on equipment on average than they used to. In that same time period, 2.7 million more Americans started fishing, and spending on fishing equipment increased by more than 36 percent.
This could be because about $12 million in funds created by the Dingell-Johnson Act annually go toward national efforts to recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) anglers. Meanwhile, no such provision is made in Pittman-Robertson.
Besides the next generation of sportsmen and women, state wildlife agencies have the most to lose if hunting and fishing participation declines, because many of these conservation-focused departments depend entirely on P-R and D-J dollars. But, as the laws are written, even a state department of natural resources with an excellent apprentice hunter program can’t so much as print up a poster to advertise it using P-R funding.
The ability to communicate with and educate the public about hunting is so much more important today than it was in the 1930s when this bill was written. At that time, more than half the country hunted or had access to someone who could likely show them how. This just isn’t the case anymore.
It’s time to modernize Pittman-Robertson and allocate just a small portion of its funds to R3 activities—the return on investment is likely to be millions of more active and engaged outdoorspeople paying into a conservation model that supports some of America’s greatest traditions. Failing to do so could create a conservation funding crisis like we’ve never seen before.
Legislation called Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act (H.R. 877) has been reintroduced this Congress and debated in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing earlier this year. After the August recess, we need to move this bill forward without delay and before we lose lawmakers’ attention to the chaos that comes with an election year.
Have you seen state agency efforts to attract and educate new hunters that deserve more of a PR spotlight? Tell us in the comments.
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: Cazenovia, Wisconsin
Occupation: Site and land management consultant and contractor; part-time manager of a 400-acre family farm
Conservation credentials: Helped raise $5,500 and led the effort to provide six dumpsters for the proper disposal of deer bones and carcasses to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in southwest Wisconsin. This kept an estimated 1,400 carcasses from being moved or disposed of in areas where CWD could infect other deer.
Conservation motto: “It’s not ours. It’s just our turn.”
Doug Duren has some stories, and you may have even heard a few. He’s a MeatEater podcast regular and good friend of Steven Rinella, but he’s also a lifelong conservationist who has lived closer to the land than many of us can say. In his neck of the woods, chronic wasting disease prevalence has been growing steadily, and Duren is concerned about the role that hunters are playing in the spread of this always-fatal deer disease.
That’s why he spearheaded a project with Hunt to Eat to raise enough funding to place six deer carcass disposal dumpsters across the region for the duration of the 2018 hunting season. (The brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils, and spleen of a deer are the parts most likely to hold the prions responsible for CWD, and bringing carcasses home, to a deer processor, or left in a traditional gut pile could pass the disease on.)
We’re proud to showcase Duren’s incredible work and conservation ethos. Here’s his story.
The person who introduced me to hunting, fishing, and the outdoors was my father, Vincent Duren. But, growing up in Wisconsin farm country, outdoor activities of all sorts were just a part of our lives.
Cazenovia is built around an 80-acre mill pond where all the local kids swam and fished. The hilly terrain of the Driftless Area is filled with trout streams and the farms are a mix of fields, wetlands, and woodlands. So, in the late 1960s and 70s, when I was a kid, my friends and I spent much of our time—after our farm chores were done, that is—exploring, fishing, and hunting this area.
These days, if I could hunt or fish anywhere, I wouldn’t have to go very far. I still love the Driftless Area of the Midwest and all the hunting and fishing opportunities it has to offer. My family has lived in this very special place for five generations, and I feel very fortunate to spend my days working and hunting in this part of the world.
Honestly, it’s enough for me.
But I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lot of memories wherever I find myself in the outdoors. I’ll tell you about a recent one. First, it’s important to note that I’ve known Steve Rinella for a decade or so now, and he and I have become pretty good friends who hunt and fish together fairly often—both on and off camera. I’ve made a lot of friends through Steve and the folks on his crew are some of my favorite people in the world.
Recently, Steve asked me to go on an Alaska caribou hunting trip that would be filmed. I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were joined on the trip by some of my favorite guys from the MeatEater crew: Janis Putelis, Chris Gill, Garrett Smith, and Brody Henderson. Also joining us on the trip was Mark Kenyon, a fellow Midwestern whitetail hunter.
And it turned out to be a series of amazing experiences: Driving through some amazing country. Pushing the weight limit of a Super Cub (much to the chagrin of the pilot.) Landing on what seemed like a postage-stamp-sized area in the alpine tundra. Seeing and being close to more than 5,000 caribou—never mind harvesting one of those amazing animals. The meals, the camaraderie, the incredible vistas, and even the weather couldn’t be beat.
The most amazing part of the trip for me was the encounter we had with a boar grizzly bear. It was the first evening, and we were all setting up camp, prepping gear for the next day, and settling in. Janis was looking for a good water source and was some distance away. Suddenly, I heard him yell, “Grizz!” from across the ridge, and we all stopped what we’re doing to look. Sure enough, there was a light-colored grizzly working its way up a ravine near our camp, eating blueberries “like he was angry at them,” as Steve says.
Steve and I walked over to the edge of the ravine with our binoculars to get a better look, and I was just dumbfounded by the beauty of it all. We were traded guesses at its age while tracking the bear as it worked its way up the ravine. Soon, I realized Steve was no longer at my side. A minute later was back with his .300 WinMag over his shoulder.
I said, “Well, clearly I’m in good hands, because I would have stood here like a dummy and watched that bear until he was on top of me.” Steve smiled and said we’d watch him a little bit more, but “we’ll have to let him know he’s not welcome here soon. If he wants to, he can cover the distance between us in a few seconds.”
We made some noise and tried to look as large as we could, to which the bear just stood up, regarded us with no expression, and then slowly wandered off. Even if nothing else happened on that trip, I would have gone home happy. The memory makes me smile with wonder and awe.
Conservation, too, has been part of my life as far back as I can remember. My family was in the timber and sawmill business for three generations, and the forest on our family farm has been sustainably managed for even longer than that.
I took a couple years off from college and worked for a reforestation company, traveling around with a bunch of other gypsies and hand-planting trees throughout the South. I went for the adventure, but that experience really showed me how important conservation was, no matter what I did or where I lived.
I also taught high school for a number of years in northern New Hampshire, where I worked on a trail maintenance crew in the White Mountains during the summers. The work was hard, the people were incredible, and I spent a lot of time in and caring for access to places that are awe inspiring.
I’ve worked in land management for nearly 30 years now, and conservation is one of the key elements and considerations in everything I do. There is such joy in it.
It’s from this perspective and with all this experience that I say chronic wasting disease is the biggest conservation challenge where I live. There are other concerns, like water quality, resource protections, and access issues, but nothing is as bigger crisis than CWD.
So, in 2018, the Adopt-a-Dumpster Program was born out of a need for proper deer carcass disposal in the CWD Endemic Area of southwest Wisconsin. The intent was to mitigate the spread of CWD by providing dumpster locations around the area where hunters could properly dispose of deer bones and carcasses, thus removing possible infected deer parts from the landscape. And in some cases, dumpsters were located at CWD testing locations.
Six dumpsters were fully funded for the 2018 hunting season, with partial funding provided for three other locations run and monitored by two organizations and one business. Throughout the season, we collected more than 39 tons’ worth of carcasses, and we learned valuable lessons that could help this effort expand.
We saw that our Adopt-a-Dumpster Program and other Adopt-a-Kiosk programs, because they involve and empower hunters and landowners, provide an opportunity for discussion and education about CWD and proper carcass disposal. This kind of interaction and advocacy is invaluable, especially as some efforts to control CWD get twisted to look like a loss of hunting rights.
Some areas were unable to secure a dumpster because there was not a solid waste provider in the region who was willing to take deer carcasses as part of their services or to their landfill. It would help if the Wisconsin State Legislature considered legislation requiring licensed landfills to accept and properly dispose of deer carcasses. Lawmakers could also allocate funding specifically for the disposal effort. A voluntary check-off box on deer license applications could be another source of dedicated funding for disposal.
Hunters will likely continue to support this kind of effort. And it follows that organizations and businesses concerned about the health of the deer herd or the future of hunting should get involved, too.
Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email email@example.com for a questionnaire.
New management guidelines address some priorities for hunters and anglers, while other important areas were excluded from needed management direction
Yesterday, the Rio Grande National Forest released its Final Environmental Impact Statement and final Land Management Plan for the forest. The planning process involved nearly five years of engagement by hunters and anglers and provides high-level direction for management of these crucial resources over the next 20 years. The final Rio Grande National Forest plan will be the first to be finalized under the new planning direction and will serve as an example for future forest plans.
Overall, sportsmen and women are considering the pluses and minuses regarding a new plan for the management of 1.86 million acres in southwestern Colorado that includes important big game winter and migratory habitats, vital riparian and aquatic areas, a stronghold for Rio Grande cutthroat trout, and thousands of acres of excellent backcountry hunting and fishing opportunities.
Some important aspects of the new planning rule will have big impacts on hunting and fishing. The Forest Service will be placing greater focus on landscape-level management, social and economic sustainability, ecological sustainability, plant and animal diversity, and the use of the best available scientific information. The Rio Grande plan addresses these areas of focus, but also lacks sufficient management direction for some areas that are crucial for fish and wildlife in the field office.
“This plan does well to ensure quality hunting and fishing opportunities over the life of the plan in some regards, while other areas need improvement” said Nick Payne, Colorado representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re glad that that the Forest Service took our community’s input throughout this process and incorporated some of it into the final plan. This includes the addition of bighorn sheep to the list of species of conservation concern, and the clear direction from the planning rule.”
“While the positive changes are appreciated,” Payne said, “it’s also important that the Forest Service take steps during the objection period to address ‘Special Interest Areas’ so they’re managed as needed to help maintain our outdoor traditions on the Rio Grande National Forest and surrounding lands. This 60-day objection period is our last chance to get this right.”
The release of the draft plan starts a 60-day objection period, ending October 1st, during which members of the public can raise objections to specific parts of the proposed plan.
Details on how to comment can be found here: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=46078
Amended plans for 5 million acres of sage grouse habitat follow a concerning trend
The U.S. Forest Service has released its final proposed amendments and records of decision for plans to conserve greater sage grouse habitat in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. The new plans replace forest plans from 2015, which helped to give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confidence that the bird did not yet require listing as threatened or endangered.
While these state-specific plans maintain the basic framework of the originals, which were created through years of collaborative effort, there is concern that the new plans do not provide the same safeguards for certain sagebrush habitats. Priority habitat has been reduced and there is more potential for development and mineral extraction within sage grouse habitat in the new plans.
Similar changes were made to the Bureau of Land Management’s sage grouse conservation plans earlier this year.
“While perhaps not surprising, these changes are another mixed bag, with some addressing legitimate concerns from the states and others rolling back smart protections for core sage grouse habitat,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Ultimately, we need federal land managers to commit to an approach that produces positive results for sage grouse habitat and populations. And we will continue working with the Forest Service, BLM, Western states, industry, and local partners to ensure that happens.”
The final plans identify and address potential environmental impacts for 19 national forest units with more than 5 million acres of potential greater sage grouse habitat. In this version, the strongest level of habitat protection given in the 2015 plans were weakened for more than 865,000 acres of sagebrush focal areas in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, and overall priority habitat management areas were reduced by about 160,000 acres.
General habitat management areas were removed altogether in Utah. While the original no-surface occupancy policy remains—meaning infrastructure for development cannot be built on priority habitat—the revised plans also give the Service and BLM more flexibility to waive these protections if they feel it’s necessary.
Unlike the BLM’s new stance on habitat mitigation, the Forest Service retained its compensatory mitigation requirements to offset the impacts of development in sage grouse habitat. However, for all states except Nevada, the plans shift the bottom-line goal for conservation away from a habitat gain to a no-net-loss standard.
This is really the least the agency can do to retain existing habitat, but it might not keep these birds off the endangered species list in the future, which was the goal when mitigation was included as a fundamental component of the 2015 plans. We can support better alignment with the states’ individual approaches to mitigation, but all habitat impacts must be mitigated and should also account for the future risk of losing the habitat.
The release of these new plans kicks off a 60-day objection period that will end October 1, 2019, and final decisions will be made by the Forest Service in December. At this point, it will be important for all federal agencies to move forward swiftly with implementation of these new plans to conserve sagebrush habitat and begin tracking the effectiveness of conservation measures.
Dr. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reminded us of this when the BLM plans were released: “The outcomes for sage grouse and sagebrush conservation and management must be legally defensible. If the agencies do not provide enough regulatory certainty, if there is too much flexibility leading to negative impacts on habitat, or if we find out later that actions were not effective, we will likely end up facing legal challenges deeper than those from the past. At that point, it’s difficult to see a future where sage grouse aren’t reconsidered for listing.”
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