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Today, the U.S. Geological Survey released a report that raises serious questions about the future of the greater sage grouse and its ecosystem.
Report findings showed an overall 80-percent decline in sage grouse populations in the western United States since 1965, with an average annual rate of loss estimated at 3 percent, a full percentage point higher than in previously available data prepared for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
“The fact that sage grouse populations are trending even further in the wrong direction should be taken very seriously by hunters, conservationists, wildlife managers, and all citizens of the American West,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “There is no question that this deeper range-wide loss of birds is indicative of the continued loss and degradation of habitat, and stakeholders at every level need to regroup fast to determine a path forward that creates lasting conservation impacts for these iconic game birds.”
In a separate report released on March 9, the USGS found that sagebrush habitat is being lost at an alarming rate due to mining and energy development, conversion to cropland, invasive grasses, and altered wildfire cycles. Since 2000, more than 20 percent of priority sage grouse habitat within the Great Basin alone has burned.
“Sagebrush ecosystems are experiencing declines that were unimaginable just 20 years ago due to cheatgrass invasion, fire, and other human disturbances,” said Ted Koch, executive director of the North American Grouse Partnership. “We know what it takes to stem the loss, now all we need is to regain the partnerships and the collective will to do it.”
Conservation efforts also will undoubtedly need to go beyond the current management plans to address rapidly changing and degrading habitats in the West.
“Restoring degraded habitat is now more important than ever for reversing trends in habitat loss in the sagebrush ecosystem,” said Joel Pedersen, president and CEO for the Mule Deer Foundation. “The Mule Deer Foundation will continue to ensure that funding for habitat restoration and enhancement is a top priority across the West and that projects get implemented on the ground to benefit sage grouse, mule deer, and other species.”
Conservation on private lands has played a vital role in sagebrush recovery since the inception of the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010. Continuing to engage landowners and incentivize conservation in sagebrush country will be critical into the future.
“Private landowner conservation efforts were critical to the success of getting the 2015 not-warranted decision for sage grouse,” said Howard Vincent, President and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “We need continued investments in the Sage Grouse Initiative and other private land incentive programs to ensure the long-term health of the sagebrush ecosystem and its occupants, including people that live and work there.”
While deeply concerned, the hunting and fishing community believes that with adequate funding, cooperation, and conservation plan implementation – coupled with massive investments in restoration – that a future listing of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act can be avoided. But time is running out.
“These new study findings are sounding an alarm that cannot be ignored,” said Dr. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Clearly the threats to sage grouse and their habitat are not being adequately addressed in a manner that sustains the species over the long-term. There’s still time to assess the situation and reverse these trends, but it is getting more difficult for the Fish and Wildlife Service to defend and maintain their 2015 not-warranted finding for sage grouse.”
Image courtesy of Jennifer Hall/USFWS.
Web Viewer for Montana and the Dakotas Spotlights Access Easements for Outdoor Recreation
In the world of policy, it can at times be difficult to show how a single piece of legislation could improve the lives of hunters and anglers. But thanks to a new digital resource from the Bureau of Land Management, we can come pretty close to showing the public what a game-changing access bill (MAPLand Act) can do.
The BLM recently released a web-viewer that incorporates a new GIS layer identifying public access routes to BLM lands in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. And this web-based tool not only presents hunters and other outdoor recreationists with a valuable resource for planning their next public land outing, it offers a glimpse of what would be available with the passage of the MAPLand Act. This bipartisan legislation is a top TRCP priority that could make a positive impact when it comes to identifying access opportunities on public land across the country.
On an antelope hunt several years ago, I stopped by the local BLM field office to ask about the legality of driving on certain unimproved roads in an area where I was hoping to spend the weekend. As is the case throughout much of the West, there were large parcels of BLM-managed public lands interspersed with privately owned lands, and a tangled network of dirt two-track roads connecting them all. Without any signage on the ground, I couldn’t tell which roads were open to public access where they crossed private lands, and which roads could only be used with the permission of the private landowner.
What happened next was surprising: to provide me with this information, the agency staffer had to manually find paper maps, scan them, and email me the files, which I could then reference on my phone’s PDF viewer. The legal documents that establish the public’s right to use a road—easements—were stored on PAPER records, and so the only way I could see which roads I could use was by looking at a paper map that had been annotated with colored pens and pencils! Different colors, it was explained, indicated the particular agency in charge of the road. Where there was a circle around a piece of road spanning private land, an accompanying note specified the particular document that had secured legal access. Getting any additional information about a specific easement would’ve required a review of the hard-copy files stored in the field office’s records.
For the past few years, I’ve kept that email with the scanned maps as a reference whenever I head down to that part of Montana, which has plenty of unimproved, unsigned roads that appear as lines on the map, but don’t clearly indicate one way or another whether they can be used by hunters to cross private property.
Next time, however, I won’t need to visit the local BLM office or ask so much of busy agency personnel. With the BLM’s new Public Land Access Web App, I can simply zoom in on the part of the state I’m interested in, and the routes offering public access across private land via easements are highlighted in yellow. When a user clicks on a highlighted segment, a pop-up offers additional details about the access agreement, including the relevant case file, the type of interest acquired by the BLM, and what type of access rights exist. That road segment, and any other segments to which the open easement info apply, changes to a bright green color.
The GIS layer underlying the web app was completed in October of last year. According to the BLM, it required a tremendous volume of research on the part of the agency’s realty specialists. Staff digitized 378 easement deeds and patent reservations from casefiles and records from the General Land Office, a now defunct federal agency that was something of a predecessor to the BLM. Many of these easements date back decades, and over time they collectively established public access to more than 2.8 million acres of public lands. Now in a digital format, these records can be used more easily by the public as well as the agency itself, particularly in management and acquisition decisions that would impact access. This layer was something of a pilot project for the BLM, which, like other public land agencies, has been working to modernize its access records with limited resources dedicated to this priority. The agency is now working to expand the Web App and access layer to include additional Western states.
Here’s where the MAPLand Act comes in. The Modernizing Access to Our Public Lands Act, S. 904, would provide agencies like the BLM, Forest Service, and National Parks Service with the direction and funding to establish and make publicly available the type of detailed, digital access records like those now available through the BLM Montana/Dakotas Public Land Access Web App. Not only would this include easements, which in most places are only held on paper files, but all sorts of other map-based recreational information. Such records would include information about legal easements and rights-of-way that provide public land access across private land; seasonal or vehicle-type restrictions on public roads and trails; boundaries of areas where any special rules or prohibitions apply to activities like target shooting or hunting; and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or subject to horsepower restrictions.
Most importantly, in a digitized format this information would be available to the public in an easy-to-find and easy-to-use interface. Whether in the field on your smartphone or planning your next public land adventure from home, a click of the mouse or a tap of your finger could bring up exactly what you need to know in order to stay legal and safe on your hunting or fishing trip. In addition to helping you take full advantage of existing opportunities, the agencies themselves would benefit from these resources by more effectively managing their holdings, reducing user conflict, identifying public lands with limited or nonexistent access, and taking proactive steps to expand recreational opportunities.
The reintroduction of the MAPLand Act in the Senate last week should be welcome news for sportsmen and sportswomen. A modern mapping system to serve the growing numbers of outdoor recreators is a long-overdue, common-sense investment. It is critical that lawmakers hear your voice on this issue.
This video is the first in a series detailing conservation projects powered by Pennsylvania’s Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund that benefit hunters and anglers. Since 1993, the Keystone Fund has continued to provide state-level matching dollars for a variety of conservation projects, including land acquisition, river conservation, and trail work. These videos are the result of a collaboration between the TRCP and Trout Unlimited where the goal is simply to celebrate conservation success stories that make us all proud to be able to hunt and fish in Pennsylvania. These videos highlight just a few of the projects powered by this critical source of conservation funding. For more information on the Keystone Fund, you can visit: https://keystonefund.org.
Brodhead Creek has drawn anglers to its banks for generations. Many of our country’s earliest hunting and fishing clubs, including the famous Henryville House, were started nearby and have played host to some of our country’s great conservationists and leaders—from Theodore Roosevelt to Theodore Gordon and Grover Cleveland to Gifford Pinchot. To this day, the Brodhead remains steeped in American flyfishing history and is regarded by many as an important landmark of the tradition in the United States.
However, we continue to have great fishing on the Brodhead because sportsmen and women who came before us recognized the damage caused by timber, tanning, and turpentine trades, which left many Pocono waters barren of trout, and worked diligently to restore the forests and headwater habitat of the creek. That same conservationist ethic is alive and well in Pennsylvania today, as hunters and anglers continue to work with watershed groups and land trusts to restore these waters to their former glory.
One example is the creation of the Brodhead Creek Heritage Center at ForEvergreen Nature Preserve, which was made possible through the state’s Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund.
In 2014, working alongside local municipalities, the Pocono Heritage Land Trust and Brodhead Watershed Association were able to secure the purchase of 40 acres of land and approximately a half-mile of Brodhead Creek. State conservation dollars provided by the Keystone Fund were matched and amplified by local funding sources to conserve this valuable habitat and establish new fishing access. Projects like this help to protect trout waters of the highest quality and most exceptional value to anglers and fish throughout the Poconos and Delaware River watershed.
Today, the ForEvergreen Preserve provides public access to one of American flyfishing’s most historically influential waters, while the Brodhead Creek Heritage Center located on the property provides education on the conservation legacy of hunters and anglers. In filming this video, a celebration of the Brodhead and what conservation funding can accomplish, we had the honor to join Eric Gusztaw from Western Pocono Trout Unlimited and Louise Troutman from the Pocono Heritage Land Trust. Watch to learn why the Keystone Fund is so important to hunters, anglers, and conservationists in this unique watershed.
*Correction: Eric Gusztaw is from Brodhead Creek TU, not Western Pocono TU as credited in the video.
This is a guest blog from Fred Ferguson, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications for Anoka-based outdoor gear maker Vista Outdoor Inc.
The solutions for a stronger, more resilient climate are a uniting force. Conservation, stewardship, and efficiencies are ideals that each political party can and should support. But for far too long, the national debate on climate has been coopted by preconceived notions of yesteryear and driven by the ideological extremes of both sides.
Policymakers in Washington, D.C. must come together to chart a new and better path. Relitigating old debates or rehashing the same outdated climate playbook will not cut it.
Americans have migrated back to nature in record numbers during the pandemic. Moving forward these families, enthusiasts and voters look for more from policymakers on climate. They expect elected leadership to unite and work for common solutions on this pressing issue.
The hunting and outdoor recreation industries have led the way in creating some of the nation’s most effective environmental laws, from the establishment of national forests and wildlife refuges to the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Leaders today should embrace these new outdoor trends and again turn to the outdoor industry as a model for advancing climate solutions.
Organizations like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Outdoor Industry Association are leading coalitions who believe that bipartisan climate solutions are governmental, business and societal imperatives. We are proud members of each organization and are supporting these industry-wide initiatives.
Outdoor recreation organizations and companies are uniquely positioned in that we sit in the crossroads of different industries, consumer groups and political interests. Yet despite our wide-ranging consumer interests, we agree that the climate is changing and that we can do something about it.
The hunting and outdoor industries have testified before Congress on the need for individuals, businesses and governments to work together to address climate and its changes. Moving ahead, we look forward to working with President Biden and his team, including Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. Her leadership in bringing together this coalition is needed and will serve our country well.
My company, Vista Outdoor, recently endorsed the Conservationists for Climate Solutions Policy Statement (Climate Statement). The Climate Statement is a first-of-its-kind framework that offers a comprehensive climate plan based in proven, bipartisan land and water management strategies. The Climate Statement outlines detailed solutions for policymakers in the areas of Agriculture, Forests, Rangelands, and Grasslands, Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, and Streams, Wetlands, Coastal Resilience and Adaptation.
The Climate Statement is endorsed by 41 outdoor associations. These associations, much like Vista Outdoor, cover the full range of outdoor interests, from the Trust for Public Land to the National Deer Alliance and Pheasants Forever. The geographic and political diversity of their membership demonstrates the power of pragmatic solutions and outlines a path forward for bipartisanship in Congress.
The Climate Statement is also good policy. Improved management of land, water and our natural resources can support national carbon sequestration and emissions reduction targets. These natural sequestration improvements are significant. A recent study found that the United States could mitigate 20% of its carbon emissions through natural solutions, which is equivalent to removing emissions from all cars and trucks on U.S. roads today.
Congress must take note of these bipartisan and expansive coalitions. Interest in the outdoors is surging and it’s imperative that our elected leaders respond and look to the outdoors as the path forward.
Fred Ferguson serves as Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications for Vista Outdoor Inc. (NYSE: VSTO) and its 34 consumer brands. In this capacity, Ferguson supports the investor relations portfolio and directly manages corporate communications, government relations and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting. Ferguson’s duties support corporate strategy and objectives while also bolstering brand-level planning and execution. Ferguson began with Vista Outdoor Inc. in 2017 following a career in the United States House of Representatives where he served as Chief of Staff to a senior Member of Congress.
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