Podcast: Increasing Public Land Access in the West
Joel Webster, Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Western Lands joins Dave and Nephi on Your Mountain Podcast to talk about public land access. Specifically, they discuss TRCP’s work with OnX to identify and map the 6.35 million acres of public lands in the West that have no permanent, public access. Topics include: the history of TRCP; the importance of access to the future of hunting; corner crossing; successful existing access partnerships with landowners; ideas for increasing access; Joel’s mountain; and so much more.
Rather than focus on what we need as hunters and anglers, let’s take a minute to appreciate what we have
Every year around this time, we pause from the everyday distractions of the modern world to acknowledge those things in our lives for which we’re truly thankful. From family and friends to health and security, many indispensable parts of our lives can be easy to take for granted.
But in the spirit of next week’s holiday, we thought we’d take a moment to express our gratitude to things and people—in no particular order—that make our lives as hunters and anglers, and our work as conservationists, so rewarding. Sportsmen and women have a lot to be thankful for in this country and it’s worth remembering what makes this way of life possible.
Access in Abundance, Both Public and Private
Whether it’s through the generosity of a landowner or the wealth of public lands owned by all, Americans enjoy a tremendous variety of opportunities to get outside and participate in our sporting traditions. We’re fortunate that our nation’s history saw the creation of both a vast public estate as well as a rich tradition of stewardship on family farms and ranches.
A Shared Mission Among Strong Partners
When new challenges emerge or opportunities arise in the world of conservation, bold leadership from our policy council and partner organizations ensure that we’ll know what’s going on, what’s at stake, and how to respond. On the issues that matter most to sportsmen and women, there is a robust community working tirelessly towards solutions that will secure a bright future for our fish and wildlife. Collaboration, consensus, and coordinated action allow us to present a united front and strengthen the voices of hunters and anglers.
Smart Policy and Dedicated Decisionmakers
This year, we have seen a lot of good ideas and top priorities gain traction in Congress, like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and dedicated funding for LWCF. For all that we hear about dysfunction in Washington, D.C., there are lawmakers and public officials who take seriously the interests of our community and advance legislation and policy to benefit fish, wildlife, and access to our nation’s best hunting and fishing.
A “Most Glorious Heritage”
As Americans, we benefit from a unique legacy of fish and wildlife stewardship, forged over more than a century by our predecessors in the sporting community. Every day on the water and trip afield, like every fish on the line or deer in the freezer, would not be possible without the hard work and problem-solving of earlier generations who took up the cause of conservation. These gifts are a powerful reminder that we must do our part if we hope to pass them on.
Businesses that See the Big Picture
Our work is made possible by the generosity of amazing corporate partners, such as SITKA GEAR’s pledge to match all new and increased donations to TRCP through December 31. We’re proud—and thankful—to have the support of industry-leading brands that recognize the critical role played by clean water, healthy habitat, and outdoor access in the economic futures of American businesses and communities.
Of course, we owe everything to the hunters and anglers who comprise our membership and those of our partner organizations. It should never be forgotten that countless individuals dedicate their own time and money so that future ranks of sportsmen and women will inherit a strong outdoor tradition. As this season of harvest culminates in one major meal next week, we’ll be raising a glass to YOU, the lifeblood of conservation. Thank you for all your support of our work and America’s hunting and fishing traditions.
Senate Committee Advances Key Public Lands Bills and DOI Nominee
Sportsmen and women can celebrate bipartisan support for mandatory LWCF funding, but a parks maintenance backlog bill doesn’t go far enough to create solutions for public lands
In a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting today, decision-makers voted to advance legislation to invest in public lands access and maintenance. The big win for sportsmen and women was bipartisan support for mandatory funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would provide certainty for the program and no longer require Congress to debate LWCF funding levels every year at appropriations time.
“Securing dedicated funding for the LWCF would represent one of the biggest legislative accomplishments for America’s public lands in recent memory,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As conservation’s share of the federal budget continues to shrink, it is extremely meaningful to see investments in habitat, access, and outdoor recreation uncoupled from a deeply entrenched federal appropriations process. We encourage lawmakers to move this bill swiftly to the Senate floor.”
The LWCF is funded through oil and gas revenues but Congress regularly diverts much of this funding for unrelated purposes.
Among other business, lawmakers on the committee also passed the Restore Our Parks Act, which would establish a fund to pay $1.3 billion per year toward the more than $11-billion deferred maintenance backlog on National Park Service lands over the next five years. Hunters and anglers argue that this does not go far enough to address crumbling infrastructure and facilities on all of America’s public lands, including an additional $5 billion in deferred projects on Forest Service lands.
A House bill would address paying down backlogs at not only the National Park Service, but also the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Without a plan to address these rising costs across the entire public land system, the result will be more closed roads, trails, and campgrounds—and less access for sportsmen and women,” says Fosburgh.
The committee also voted to advance Katharine MacGregor toward confirmation as the next deputy secretary of the Interior. The TRCP is supportive of her nomination, having worked with MacGregor on various DOI initiatives, including implementation of Secretarial Orders on hunting and fishing and the advancement of new policies and funding streams for migration corridors and crossings. Fosburgh wrote the following to committee leadership in October 2019: “We have found her to be accessible and willing to consider the perspectives of sportsmen and women, and we encourage the Senate to move forward with her confirmation as Deputy Secretary.”
This Congress continues to show an appetite for boosting outdoor recreation opportunities on lands open to all Americans
After a historic win for public lands across the U.S. in March—we’re talking, of course, about the milestone package of legislation that permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund and made many other improvements that benefit hunters and anglers—conservation and access advocates aren’t resting on their laurels. And Congress continues to show an appetite for passing commonsense legislation that boosts access, habitat, or funding for fish and wildlife resources, even with an incredible amount of to-dos lined up to distract them.
Here are five bills on the move that you should know about.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act
The CORE Act would safeguard approximately 400,000 acres of Colorado’s most rugged landscapes that define an outdoor way of life—particularly the sprawling Thompson Divide, where thousands of hunters pursue elk each year. Roughly half of the area is roadless and provides refuge for abundant fish and wildlife populations. The bill, which has benefited from the input and the support of a long list of diverse stakeholders, including sportsmen and women and business leaders, passed out of committee in July and succeeded in a 227-182 vote on the House floor this week.
Next step: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee should move forward with a legislative hearing on the CORE Act in the near future.
The Recreation Not Red-Tape Act
Across our nation’s public lands, hunters, anglers, guides, and outfitters find legal access difficult, but not always because of closed gates or lack of trails: A complicated and outmoded process for permitting outdoor recreation activities on public lands can keep kayaks in storage and guide vehicles stuck in park.
Supported by the TRCP and championed by partners like the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, the Outdoor Industry Association, and others, the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act seeks to improve access to public lands by modernizing the process of permitting for certain kinds of outdoor recreation—including by bringing that process online—and creating a system of National Recreation Areas. It would also help prioritize access improvements that benefit military veterans and emphasizes the need for adequate staffing of facilities on our public lands. Expert witnesses from the outdoor recreation industry testified in support of the RNR Act in both a House Small Business Committee hearing and a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing this week.
Next step: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee can now move forward with passage. In the House, the legislation has been referred to multiple committees, and an agreement should be reached by leadership to move this important and bipartisan legislation forward to the floor.
The Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act
Passed on the House floor this week with a bipartisan vote count, this bill would make permanent the 20-year mining withdrawals that were made administratively in 2012, aimed at protecting the lands around Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining. In a place that has long been associated with Theodore Roosevelt and is one of the most iconic landscapes in all the world, uranium mining poses an unacceptable risk to the region’s air and water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and critically important outdoor economy. H.R. 1373 has been a longtime priority of Arizona sportsmen and women.
Next step: The House passed the legislation this week by a vote of 236-185, and while there is not a Senate companion at this point, the legislation should be made a priority in that chamber, as well.
“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison–beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1903
The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act
Similar to the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, the SOAR Act is supported by businesses and nonprofits across the industry and would help ensure the continued growth of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy by further improving and modernizing the recreational permitting process on public lands.
The legislation reauthorizes the permitting authority of the BLM and Forest Service, and it brings the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation under the authority of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, allowing those agencies to retain and reinvest permit fees. Importantly, the bill also allows agencies to issue a single permit when a trip crosses an agency boundary, a significant improvement over current policy which requires multiple permits for the same trip.
S.1665 was also included in this week’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing, which featured testimony from leaders of the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, education and research initiatives, and the ski industry.
Next step: With hearings complete, it is time for both the House and Senate Committees to move this bill forward for floor votes.
The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019
Another effort to balance demands on public lands from energy development, this House bill would protect areas around Chaco Canyon—a world heritage site known for its archaeological significance and cultural importance—from oil and gas development. The legislation would make permanent a current administrative deferral of oil and gas leasing instituted by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt earlier this year. It was passed in a bipartisan 245–174 vote on the House floor this week. Besides the buildings and sacred dwellings still standing from the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries, Chaco Canyon is also home to pronghorn antelope and mule deer.
Next step:A Senate companion bill was introduced and debated in committee early this year. That will have to move to successful floor consideration in the Senate before these can be conferenced, likely as part of a bigger comprehensive public lands package.
14 Reasons to Celebrate Theodore Roosevelt on His Birthday
We’re not the only ones who look to America’s conservation president for inspiration
While conservation and partnership are key to our mission, perhaps the most important part of the TRCP’s moniker is our namesake, the patron saint of conservation, public lands policy, and progress for fish and wildlife populations: Theodore Roosevelt. Most would agree that this bespectacled badass set us all up to succeed in safeguarding what makes the wildest parts of our country special. And he was well known for touting the value of spending time outdoors to heal, find solitude, and test one’s strength.
May we always follow his example.
On Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday, October 27, we will wrap up a week-long celebration of his conservation legacy. Thanks for following along and for your support of the TRCP throughout the year. Today, we end the week with thoughts from our staff, partners, members, and industry friends on what T.R. means to them. Enjoy!
“My lesson taken from Roosevelt’s legacy is that conservation is always difficult, is always uncomfortable, and always inconvenient. Such was the case 115 years ago, and such is the case today; as it will always be.” — Randy Newberg, hunter and public lands advocate
“Theodore Roosevelt felt that all Americans should have the chance to prove themselves in the wild and enjoy the incredible natural resources that our forests, rivers, mountains, and prairies provide. His vision inspired the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and his forward-thinking actions have made all of us richer in our ability to access public lands for recreation. We strive to honor his legacy by continuing to build upon his vision.” Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
“Learning about T.R. in high school changed the course of my life. He inspired me to trust myself. Over the years, I have leaned on his words for strength—his ‘man in the arena’ speech taught me that failure was part of taking chances, but that it doesn’t define you.” — Christopher Hall, Talkeetna, Alaska
“These days, it’s easy to take for granted the things that Theodore Roosevelt fought so hard to establish, including opportunities to hunt and fish on public lands. Roosevelt’s birthday gives us an opportunity to reflect on the incredible vision for conservation and public lands that he instilled into the national conscience through sheer will and a determination to fight for future generations.” — Jared Mott, conservation director for the Izaak Walton League of America
“Teddy Roosevelt inspired me to grow a mustache. However, I know it’ll never be as thick as T.R.’s, a man who protected 230 million acres of land for public use. I won’t stop trying, nor will I stop roaming and exploring the land he set aside for me. Thank you, Teddy!” — Sloane Brown, hunting expert at YETI
“I don’t think it’s widely known that Teddy Roosevelt grew up sickly in urban New York City. This may have been what drew him to the wonders of nature and to experience the healing powers of time spent outside. No matter what the activity—hiking, hunting, or fishing—Teddy treasured the beauty of the outdoors and dedicated himself to preserving these places for future generations. Let’s continue this legacy of protecting our public lands and waters and connecting people with the incredible economic, social, and health benefits of outdoor recreation.” — Jessica Wahl, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable
“When I teach my students about the Progressive Era, I go above and beyond to stress the significant impact that T.R. made on this country, and particularly how he fought to change public perception of how our wildlife and other natural resources should be utilized. He not only championed our natural resources, but he significantly altered the president’s role in serving as the steward of our public resources. I hope that my teaching will help to pass on his legacy to future generations.” — Matthew Ryan, high school history teacher in Ohio
“For a man with all the means in the world at his disposal, T.R. took it upon himself to provide for all, not just the wealthy and privileged. He had ample opportunity to throw in the towel on his career with each milestone and accolade, but he kept going and fought with equal tenacity for causes both popular and unpopular, like the notions of public land and national forests open to all.” — Ryan Callaghan, conservation director for MeatEater
“The legacy of Theodore Roosevelt looms large in the mind of the avid angler as the result of our 26th president’s commitment to the conservation of public lands. His bold ideas and relentless pursuit to maintain the nation’s natural resources has created boundless opportunities for anglers to pursue one of America’s favorite pastimes. As we celebrate his 161st birthday, I am reminded of his efforts—as he would put it—’to work hard at work worth doing.’ All of us at ASA have worked hard and will continue to lead by his example to make sure public lands and waters remain open to foster the next generation of anglers.” — Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association
“Among the scores of conservation giants who have influenced our nation’s conservation history and ethic, critically few politicians make the list. POTUS Roosevelt truly stands out as one of America’s most stalwart and effective politicians advocating a pro-hunting and conservation-based idealism.” — Dan Forster, vice president and chief conservation officer of the Archery Trade Association
“Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy reminds me that when the world is too much, when I am hurting and need a reprieve, I can find the solace I need in the wilderness. He lost his wife and mother the very same day. That would break most people, and yet he retreated to the only place that could make him whole again, the open lands of the West, and came out of it a few years later a stronger, more determined man than ever. I never suffered a loss like his, but I suffered greatly for many years, and the countless hours spent in the woods, finally gaining some footing and developing as a hunter, have had the same end result for me. I am stronger, I am determined, and I will forge on.” — Cindy Stites, hunter and dedicated conservation volunteer in Indiana
“Every morning when I wake up, I try to ask myself, ‘What would Theodore Roosevelt do?’ If we all do that every day, our hunting and fishing opportunities and public lands legacy will be secure for future generations to ask that exact same question.” — Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
“I am blessed to work along the Carolina coast managing the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area. We have nearly 300 acres of old-growth maritime forest and estuarine habitat preserved in an area that has seen a tremendous amount of development over the past 50 years. Roosevelt’s dedication to conservation and land management is inspiring to so many of us, and his legacy will live on in the hearts of all who walk our trails and explore our shore.” — Wayne Justice, Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina
“Theodore Roosevelt was an avid sportsman and hunter, and his devotion to conserving our natural and cultural history established a precedent for our nation. It is because of trailblazers like Teddy Roosevelt that we continue to have the privilege of investing in conservation to benefit both wildlife and people. He believed in cherishing our natural resources, not wasting them, and is remembered as a true pioneer of conservation.” — Adam Putnam, CEO of Ducks Unlimited
“I credit TR and his example with my decision to leave the real estate business and pursue land conservation in the West full time. I also credit T.R.’s ability to work harder than anyone, have plenty of irons in the fire, and embrace the strenuous life with inspiring me to start my own podcast, which highlights innovators of the American West, like ranchers, writers, conservationists, athletes, adventurers, and artists. It’s no exaggeration that, other than my family, TR has been the biggest influence on my life and career.” — Ed Roberson, Colorado Springs, Colo.
“President Roosevelt preached the virtues of hard work and commitment, knowing a passion for outdoor pursuits would sustain the nation into the future. 161 years later, fly fishermen are still supporting conservation every day, ensuring we have healthy water, habitat, and fisheries.” — Patrick Berry, president and CEO of Fly Fishers International
How does Theodore Roosevelt inspire you? Tell us in the comments.
Top photo courtesy of Harvard College Library. HOLLIS Image: Roosevelt Class No. 520.3, 560.3
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.