Randall Williams

June 16, 2021

Senate Subcommittee Considers MAPLand, Other Priority Public Land Bills

Hunters and anglers urge lawmakers to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and improve access

Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining heard testimony in support of a suite of public lands bills championed by hunters and anglers, including the bipartisan MAPLand Act, introduced by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) in March.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership submitted testimony on behalf of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (S. 173), Ruby Mountains Protection Act (S. 609), and the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act (S. 904).

The majority of this testimony focused on explaining the challenges posed to outdoor recreationists by outdated and incomplete public land access mapping data. The MAPLandAct would enhance recreational opportunities on public land by investing in modern mapping systems that would allow outdoor enthusiasts to access the information they need using handheld GPS technology commonly found in smartphones.

“We are encouraged to see the committee listen to the voices of hunters and anglers by giving these bills an expeditious hearing,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The MAPLand Act will allow more Americans to get outdoors and share in the public land legacy that belongs to us all, while the CORE Act and the Ruby Mountains Protection Act secure some of the best fish and wildlife habitats for future generations of sportsmen and sportswomen. We hope these bills move through committee without delay and ask that lawmakers in both the House and Senate support these priorities that will strengthen our hunting and fishing heritage.”

In its formal testimony, the TRCP noted that:

• The MAPLand Act “would help address [access] challenges and inequities by moving our federal land management agencies into the modern era, so that public land users of all types can use digital mapping systems and smartphone applications to easily identify new opportunities for access and recreation, while understanding the rules to reduce conflict with private landowners, prevent resource damage, and avoid violations of the law.”

• The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act “would conserve landscapes in western Colorado that include headwaters and habitats crucial to the health of Colorado River cutthroat trout, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep and many others. The future of our hunting and fishing traditions and the North American Model of Wildlife Management depend on our ability to conserve quality habitat and to address the needs of wildlife in the face of dynamic challenges with increasing complexities.”

• The Ruby Mountain Protection Act “offers an important opportunity to conserve habitat and our outdoor traditions in one of the most spectacular places in our nation, and the TRCP thanks the committee for considering this legislation. The Ruby Mountains of Nevada support breathtaking views and valuable fish and wildlife resources, including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, mountain goats, and Lahontan cutthroat trout. We are thankful that the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a vital stopover of the Pacific Flyway, has been included in the leasing withdrawal area.”

The TRCP’s full testimony can be read here.

 

Photo: Craig Okraska/Maven

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Randall Williams

June 8, 2021

House Committee Considers the MAPLand Act

Sportsmen and sportswomen call for swift passage of important public land access legislation

Hunters and anglers around the nation voiced support for the bipartisan Modernizing Access to our Public Land (MAPLand) Act as the bill received its first hearing in the 117th Congress.

The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Tuesday for the MAPLand Act (H.R. 3113), introduced by Representative Blake Moore (R-Utah) and co-sponsored by Representatives Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.).

The bill will enhance recreational opportunities on public land by investing in modern mapping systems that allow outdoor enthusiasts to access the information they need using computer applications and the handheld GPS technology commonly found in smartphones.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to public lands, incomplete and inconsistent mapping data prevents outdoor recreationists as well as land management agencies—including the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Army Corps of Engineers—from utilizing the full benefit of these technologies,” noted the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in its formal testimony.

The MAPLand Act will direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available recreational access information as GIS files. Such records include information about:

• legal easements and rights-of-way across private land;
• year-round or seasonal closures on roads and trails;
• road-specific restrictions by vehicle-type;
• boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting;
• and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or have horsepower restrictions.

Last year, a coalition of 150+ hunting- and fishing-related businesses called on Congress to support the bill, highlighting the importance of public land access to the $778-billion outdoor recreation economy.

A companion bill in the Senate was introduced in March of this year by Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) alongside Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).

“The events of the past year have helped to put in perspective the importance of outdoor access, and this bill would make it easier for Americans from all walks of life and varying experience levels to take advantage of the opportunities we all share,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Hunters, anglers, and the countless other Americans who enjoy recreating on our public lands extend their appreciation to the members of the subcommittee for their attention to this issue and ask lawmakers in both the House and Senate to support the MAPLand Act.”

TRCP’s full testimony in support of the MAPLand Act can be read HERE.

 

Photo: Craig Okraska/Maven

Randall Williams

May 14, 2021

More Hunting and Fishing Coming to a National Wildlife Refuge Near You

Interior Department proposes another wave of expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on wildlife refuges and other public lands

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intention to allow hunting and fishing on an additional 2.1 million acres of land across 90 national wildlife refuges and one national fish hatchery.

This follows similar moves to expand access under the Trump Administration in 2019 and 2020, which we called out as one of the recent successes the Biden Administration could build upon to benefit sportsmen and sportswomen. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the expansion proposed in this rule is the largest in recent history—including last year’s, which itself was larger than the previous five rules combined.

If the rule is finalized after a public comment period, Americans will be able to hunt and fish on seven wildlife refuges previously off-limits to these activities and access new lands on another 83 refuges. Public lands in all 50 states are included in the new proposed rule, and the changes would go into effect in time for the 2021-2022 hunting seasons.

All told, the new rule would boost the total number of huntable national wildlife refuges to 434 and make fishing available on 378. The Fish and Wildlife Service is also working with states to make sure hunting and fishing regulations on federal refuges are more consistent with local laws and seasons.

Why Allow Hunting and Fishing on Refuges?

It comes as a surprise to some that hunting and fishing are allowed on refuges, which were established to conserve, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and their habitats. These lands, however, are not off-limits to other uses, and six wildlife-related activities are prioritized by law: hunting, fishing, photography, wildlife watching, environmental education, and interpretation.

When, where, and how hunting or fishing is allowed is dependent on several factors, and the decision to permit these activities is made on a case-by-case and unit-by-unit basis by local refuge managers and biologists. Considerations include objectives of each refuge or hatchery, its biological soundness, and the public demand for and economic feasibility of providing recreation while protecting other resources. Learn more about the history of allowing hunting and fishing on refuges here.

More Access Equals More Opportunity

“Hunters and anglers are some of our most ardent conservationists and they play an important role in ensuring the future of diverse and healthy wildlife populations,” says USFWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “Our lands have also provided a much-needed outlet to thousands during the pandemic and we hope these additional opportunities will provide a further connection with nature, recreation and enjoyment.”

Here are 26 places across six regions where this proposal may enhance your hunting and fishing opportunities by this fall.

The West

Some of the proposed changes in the West would open new opportunities for species or types of hunting that were not previously available. In Montana, for instance, both the Charles M. Russell NWR and the UL Bend NWR would allow mountain lion hunting on acres of the refuges already open to other types of hunting. Similarly, both the Las Vegas NWR in New Mexico and the Camas NWR in Idaho would allow elk hunting, which would be the first big game hunting opportunity offered by either refuge.

On the Ouray NWR in Utah, pronghorn and sandhill crane hunting would be allowed in areas already open to sportsmen and sportswomen pursuing other species. Likewise, the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming would allow deer and pronghorn hunting in areas already open to other hunts.

The Southwest

In some places, hunters would see a sea-change in opportunity. On the Muleshoe NWR in Texas, sportsmen and women will be able to hunt whitetail deer, mule deer, quail, and doves, which would amount to the refuge’s first big game, upland game, and migratory bird hunting seasons.

The Southeast

While some changes create hunting and fishing opportunities where they previously did not exist, others expand existing opportunities to a greater area of the refuge. For example, in addition to opening migratory bird hunting for the first time, changes proposed for the Mackay Island NWR in North Carolina/Virgina would also expand current opportunities for deer hunting.

Several refuges would create additional opportunities through youth-only hunts. Among those proposed in Arkansas are a youth deer hunt on the Big Lake NWR, a youth turkey hunt on the Bald Knob NWR, and youth hunts for deer, rabbits, and squirrels on the Holla Bend NWR.

Anglers in the region would for the first time get to enjoy sportfishing on the Grand Bay NWR, which straddles Alabama-Mississippi border, and the Florida Panther NWR in Florida, while waterfowlers in Alabama would see the first-ever duck and goose hunting season on the Choctaw NWR.

The Mid-Atlantic

Both the Great Swamp NWR and the Supawna Meadows NWR in New Jersey could offer new opportunities to hunt, among other species, turkeys, and both could also expand existing deer hunting opportunities.

In Virginia, the proposed rule would open migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and sportfishing for the first time at the Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, while also expanding existing opportunities there for whitetail hunting. The Great Dismal Swamp NWR, James River NWR, Occoquan Bay NWR, Prequile NWR, and Rappahannock River Valley NWR would all allow turkey and coyote hunting for the first time, among other opportunities.

The Midwest

In Michigan, the Harbor Island NWR would allow migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and sportfishing for the first time, while also expanding current opportunities for deer hunting and bear hunting to additional acreage within the refuge.

The Northeast

In Maine, waterfowl hunters would enjoy the first-ever migratory bird hunting opportunities at the Franklin Island NWR and the Pond Island NWR, which also extends into New Hampshire. Likewise, anglers would for the first time be able to fish at the Pine Tree State’s Green Lake National Fish Hatchery.

A complete list of the proposed changes to hunting and fishing access can be found here.

 

Top photo by Wyman Meinzer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via flickr.

Randall Williams

May 12, 2021

House Lawmakers Reintroduce MAPLand Act to Improve Public Land Access

Legislation invests in digitized, integrated mapping resources for outdoor recreation

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated the reintroduction of a House bill that will enhance outdoor recreation on public lands by investing in modern technology that allows sportsmen and sportswomen to know exactly which lands and waters they can access.

U.S. Representatives Blake Moore (R-Utah), Kim Schrier (D-WA), Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), and Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced the bipartisan Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The MAPLand Act would digitize recreational access information and make those resources available to the public. The legislation would also provide federal land management agencies with funding and guidance to create comprehensive databases of available map-based agency records related to recreational access and use.

“Access is one of the most important issues facing hunters and anglers today, and the MAPLand Act is a commonsense investment to ensure all Americans can take full advantage of the recreational opportunities on our public lands,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “In addition to making it easier for public land users to stay safe and follow the rules while in the field or on the water, this bill would allow our agencies to manage and plan more effectively while also reducing the potential for access-related conflicts between recreators and private landowners. Simply put, this legislation promises to help more people get outdoors. We appreciate these representatives’ leadership to introduce this bill in the House and our community is eager to help move the MAPLand Act through Congress.”

The bill includes language to digitize information about:
• legal easements and rights-of-way across private land;
• year-round or seasonal closures of roads and trails, as well as restrictions on vehicle-type;
• boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting;
• and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or have horsepower restrictions.

Currently, many of the easement records that identify legal means of access into lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are stored at the local or regional level in paper files. This makes it difficult for hunters, anglers, and even the agencies themselves to identify public access opportunities. For example, of the 37,000 existing easements held by the U.S. Forest Service, the agency estimated in 2020 that only 5,000 had been converted into digital files.

In addition to improving the public’s ability to access public lands, the bill would help land management agencies — in cooperation with private landowners — prioritize projects to acquire new public land access or improve existing access. According to a report by the TRCP and onX, a digital-mapping company, more than 9.52 million acres of federally managed public lands in the West lack permanent legal public access because they are surrounded entirely by private lands. Digitizing easement records would be the first step towards addressing this challenge systematically.

Last year, more than 150 hunting- and fishing- related businesses signed a joint letter calling on congressional leadership to pass the MAPLand Act. From gear manufacturers and media companies to guides, outfitters, and retailers, the letter signers emphasized the importance of outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands to their bottom lines.
In addition, conservation groups across the country applauded the leadership shown by lawmakers to invest in the future of America’s public lands system.

The bill was also introduced in the Senate in March by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) alongside Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Barrasso (R-WY), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Steve Daines (R-Mont), and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz).

 

Photo: Maven/Craig Okraska

Chris Macaluso

May 11, 2021

Sediment-Built Marshes Where Drag-Screaming Redfish Await

Why are some anglers writing off one of our best options for restoring these disappearing habitats?

Four League Bay might be the most remote destination on Louisiana’s coast. Even with a 300-horsepower outboard pushing a 24-foot bay boat, the ride from Terrebonne Parish’s Falgout Canal west to Four League takes nearly an hour of weaving through fresh and brackish marshes, bayous, lakes, and bays. Most of them are slalom courses of crab-trap floats. Alligators spring from the banks, and blue wing teal headed back to the Dakotas from their wintering grounds in Central and South America take flight.

My good fishing buddy Todd Masson and I had been trying to get on the boat with Capt. Lloyd Landry for nearly two months, cancelling and rescheduling throughout the early spring as strong thunderstorms and unseasonably cold fronts pushed through Louisiana. Had we known that tropical storm and hurricane-force winds would sweep across the area just a couple hours after we returned to the marina, we might have cancelled again.

That day, the forecast gave us about a 5-hour window before thunderstorms were due to arrive. So, we put a stiff southeast wind at our backs and headed to some of the most unmolested, beautifully intact marsh in all of Louisiana to catch some hard-pulling, drag-screaming redfish.

Many Louisiana anglers write off Western Terrebonne Parish, especially the marshes and shorelines of Four League Bay, during the spring because the area is inundated with freshwater pouring from the Atchafalaya River. The assumption is that the 240,000 cubic feet per second of fresh, sediment-rich water that is building new marsh annually in the Atchafalaya Delta chases away the redfish and speckled trout.

The annual floods that scare away some coastal anglers are the exact reason the area teems with fish and the marshes are so healthy and intact. The nutrient-rich freshwater from the river mixes with the Gulf’s saltwater, creating a diverse forage of shrimp, crabs, pogies, crawfish, bluegill, mullet, and an assortment of other prey. The suspended sediment in the river water feeds the marsh, giving it a more stable soil structure for plants to root and submerged grass beds to grow.

It’s the perfect environment for fat, healthy redfish.

We picked a protected shoreline about seven miles from the river’s mouth. A handful of casts and Masson connected with a thick 20-inch redfish. A minute later, a bruising 29-inch red crushed a soft-plastic grub at the end of my line.

 

 

That pattern continued throughout the morning as Landry guided us into protected pockets and shorelines, picking away at healthy, well-fed redfish and black drum until the thunderstorms pushed us east to the marina just after noon.

Had the winds not limited our search area, we were set to chase speckled trout as well. Landry had been catching them in open lakes and bays as they transitioned from wintering grounds in interior marshes into their spring and summer feeding and spawning areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

We had options. Despite the strong winds that kept most anglers off the water that day, the benefit of healthy marshes laden with submerged freshwater grasses is that there are ponds and protected shorelines to duck into and hide—this works well for both fish and fishermen.

 

 

In far too many places along Louisiana’s coast, the options are running out. Marshes that have been cut off from annual, life-giving Mississippi River sediment by levees are more vulnerable to erosion from hurricanes or any other high-wind events. They are sinking below the water line, too, as seas gradually rise while the marsh subsides.

Nearly 2,000 square miles of wetlands, some of the most productive fish and wildlife habitat in the world, have been lost in the Mississippi River Delta, especially the basins between the mouth of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers, in the last century. To stem that loss and build back some marsh, the state of Louisiana is moving toward construction of sediment diversions both east and west of the Mississippi River below New Orleans. These structures will help to mimic the annual flooding that is sustaining and growing the marshes near the Atchafalaya River’s mouth—the processes that originally built all the marshes, swamps, and barrier islands of South Louisiana.

Some anglers and commercial fishermen are objecting strongly to the projects, claiming the freshwater will eliminate fishing. But there are few options for fixing this broken system other than using every single available sediment resource, especially the suspended sediment that comes with annual floods along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers. Without reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta, another 500 square miles of wetlands could be lost in the next century.

Anglers and fish have had to adjust to losing habitat far too frequently over the last 50 years in coastal Louisiana. Making adjustments as we regain habitat is something that I, and many other anglers, welcome.

Anglers need options. Without sediment diversions and all other efforts to rebuild and sustain our coast, we just might run out.

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.

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