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July 19, 2021

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July 14, 2021

MAPLand Act Moves Closer to Finish Line in the House

Bipartisan public land access bill gets unanimous approval in House committee

The House Natural Resources Committee has passed important legislation to create comprehensive digital mapping records for recreational access opportunities on public land.

The Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act received a markup in the House Natural Resources Committee and passed with unanimous support. With only a few minor technical modifications, the bill will now be referred to the floor for consideration by the full chamber.

“We thank the members of the committee for supporting this legislation, which has become a top-line priority for hunters and anglers across the country,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen are counting on the House to bring this bill to an expeditious vote so that this important work can begin as soon as possible.”
Introduced in the House and Senate earlier this year with bipartisan support, the MAPLand Act would direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available all recreational access information in a format that can be used with computer mapping programs and GPS applications.

These records include 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.

“Without a doubt, the loss of access is one of the most pressing issues facing today’s hunters and anglers,” said Fosburgh. “Our community appreciates the leadership shown by lawmakers from both parties to help move the MAPLand Act. We are encouraged by the bill’s progress, and we will continue to speak in support of this commonsense investment in public land recreational opportunities.”

 

Photo: Craig Okraska/Maven

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July 13, 2021

Hunters and Anglers Unveil Vision for National Wildlife Refuges

Leading conservation groups and industry brands release report with recommendations for the future of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service-managed public lands

A new report from 32 hunting- and fishing-related conservation organizations and businesses celebrates the successes of the National Wildlife Refuge System in supporting species conservation and outdoor recreation, and outlines twelve key principles that should guide its management and future proposals for its expansion. This comes as hunters and anglers are enjoying new opportunities on national wildlife refuges, and as the administration continues to define its conservation priorities.

“President Theodore Roosevelt, who more than anyone recognized the inextricable connection between conservation and hunting, established the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903 at Pelican Island,” said Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute. “Continuing in that proud tradition, I was privileged to serve as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the 100th anniversary of the refuge system and throughout my tenure worked to encourage hunting and fishing programs on these lands, for which Roosevelt cared so deeply. In opening our refuges to more Americans and planning for expanded opportunities throughout the system, the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to carry out an important mission that is essential to the future of hunting and fishing—as well as that of conservation—in this country.”

According to the report, “strategic and locally supported expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System would help to provide all Americans with increased access to nature regardless of their income or background, to conserve biodiversity, and to sustain fish and wildlife habitat connectivity.”

“Sportsmen and sportswomen have been the National Wildlife Refuge System’s earliest advocates, most outspoken supporters, and most generous contributors, which helps explain why our community has such a strong investment in building on the system’s proven framework,” said Christy Plumer, chief policy officer for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defines the future of the refuge system—including the potential expansion of refuges—we see an opportunity to ensure that the system continues to benefit numerous species as well as public fishing and hunting.”

Recent events make the report’s release particularly timely. In 2019 and 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service increased hunting and fishing opportunities on a combined 4 million acres within the refuge system, and the agency recently proposed expanded opportunities on an additional 2.1 million acres. Then, in March 2021, several federal agencies released “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful,” which outlines a ten-year roadmap for conserving at least 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030. Specifically mentioned is a recommendation to work “with States, local communities, and others to explore where there is support to enhance the National Wildlife Refuge System.”

“Not only does the National Wildlife Refuge System conserve irreplaceable habitat for trout and salmon, these public lands also offer world class angling opportunities. Strengthening the refuge system is crucial to help make fish and wildlife populations more resilient to the effects of climate change,” said Corey Fisher, public lands policy director with Trout Unlimited. “This report provides constructive guideposts for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enhance the refuge system for future generations, and this needs to be coupled with a commitment from Congress to ensure that the agency has the resources and funding necessary to steward wildlife refuges across the nation.”

At the report’s core are recommendations in the form of twelve tenets that, if followed, would help generate broad support from the hunting and fishing community for proposed new or expanded refuges. These principles address concerns ranging from public access and sporting opportunities to state fish and wildlife management authority, as well as funding and administrative priorities.

“Durable land conservation requires open dialogue, strong partnerships, and an interest in finding common ground,” said John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Hunters and anglers are proven collaborators, and there is a need for our community to remain at the table to help shape a future for the National Wildlife Refuge System that we and others can call a success.”

The report includes feature profiles of four refuges within the system that offer diverse opportunities for hunters and anglers and explains some of the history and characteristics that make these landscapes unique. The voices of local sportsmen and sportswomen help to explain the value of each refuge to nearby communities in places ranging from rural southwest Wyoming to the urban spaces of greater Detroit, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio.

“Among all of our public lands, national wildlife refuges play an important role in providing Americans access to the outdoors, and include outstanding deer habitats throughout the country,” said Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of the National Deer Association. “Sportsmen and sportswomen have a profound appreciation for the opportunities provided by the refuge system and there can be no doubt that the hunting community will speak up to ensure this legacy lives on for future generations.”

See the full list of policy recommendations and read the report at TRCP.org/refuges.

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July 8, 2021

Harvesting My First Turkey with the MeatEater Himself

TRCP’s fall 2020 sweepstakes winner has the ultimate Rinella-fan experience in Michigan

In the midst of the pandemic last fall, the TRCP was forced to take its signature in-person fundraising gala and host the whole thing online. Steven Rinella, a TRCP Board Member, served as co-emcee and graciously offered to be part of our first-ever nationwide sweepstakes, as well. Hundreds of sportsmen and sportswomen entered for a chance to join a turkey hunt in Michigan with the MeatEater crew, including Rinella and Janis Putelis, but only one could win: Austin Snow of Colorado Springs, Colo. Here’s his story.

I didn’t grow up hunting, but when I decided to give it a try, my childhood friend Kevin suggested that I purchase the two-volume “Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game,” by Steven Rinella. Over the next five years, these two books were invaluable to me as I became obsessed with learning how to hunt big and small game. In that time, I learned more and more about MeatEater and Rinella: the hunter, writer, entrepreneur, cook, entertainer, and conservationist.

Needless to say, I’m a fan. I’d been looking for a conservation organization to support, so the chance to donate to a good cause while putting in for a once-in-a-lifetime hunt with Steve was impossible to resist.

After a few weeks of not giving my entry a second thought, I received an email saying I had won and that I could bring two guests on what promised to be a memorable experience. It was only fitting that Kevin join us, after introducing me to MeatEater, and I asked my brother Jake, as well.

Months later, we were picked up at the airport in Michigan by the world-record turkey caller Guy Zuck. Along with his wife and son, Guy takes care of the property we’d be hunting, and in our time there, I saw him do everything from taking care of boats and guns to processing and cooking harvested animals. He’s also happy to help people improve their turkey calling skills.

Upon arrival, we received a tour and then patterned the shotguns we would be using. TRCP Board member Matt Cook, our gracious host, welcomed us with a few hilarious stories from the ranch—some involving the MeatEater gang—to help prepare us for the days ahead.

A short while later, Steve and the rest of the crew walk through the door. Over a meal of walleye fish tacos, we discussed our plan of attack for the morning and decided who would hunt with whom. Jake was paired with Janis, Kevin with Cal, and Steve and Seth would hunt with me.

I’d barely slept when 4:30 AM came around. After a few crow calls before sunrise, we heard some gobblers off in the distance and picked a spot to set up. Steve and I posted up on the same tree so he could talk me through the experience of my first turkey hunt. Seth was on a tree just behind us to capture some footage.

After about an hour of calling and a few interactions with some hens, the tom we’d been hearing got louder and louder. Anticipating a shot opportunity, Steve was offering some last-minute guidance when all of a sudden the biggest turkey I’ve ever seen in my life came charging in, full strut. I freaked out and rushed my shot, resulting in a clean miss, but the giant bird doubled back and gave me the very rare chance for a follow up. The second shot got him down and I approached shaking from the cold and the adrenaline.

That was that. Not many people can say their first turkey was called in by Seth “the Flip-Flop Flesher” Morris and Steven Rinella.

 

After filling my tag, I set decoys as we worked to get Seth a bird that evening. All along the way the MeatEater crew gave me pointers, teaching me the difference between the sign from males and females, as well as some of the physical differences between jakes and toms.

The next morning, I had the sincere pleasure of sitting in a blind with Guy Zuck. Although the birds were stubborn, I could easily tell that Guy was on a different level when it comes to turkey calling. If Steve and Seth have master’s degrees in turkey calling, Guy has a Ph.D. in clucks, yelps, and purrs—PLUS a master’s in turkey behavioral psychology.

Later in the day, Steve and I sat still watching about eight hens graze a field until sunset, while deer worked their way out of the woods. It was another beautiful, cold Michigan evening with a symphony of birds all around us.

I spent the last morning with Steve in a blind. I must say, Steve’s all business out there in the woods, but if you find yourself hunting with a stranger in close quarters, he’s the most down-to-earth guy you could ask for.

Not long into the afternoon, Jake got a bird—his first, as well. They’d roosted some birds the evening before and relocated them that morning. At some point, Jake drifted off for a quick nap, only to catch a glimpse of a bird right when he awoke. Janis grabbed the tom’s attention with a few calls, and he came straight into Jake’s shooting lane on his way towards the decoys. When all was said and done, Jake had a 24-pound bird—his first—and Janis was just as excited as he was.

Later, Seth joined my brother and Janis just in time to see “the Latvian Eagle” pop a nice-size jake for himself.

I wanted to give Steve some time to hunt for himself on the last evening, so Guy and his son took our trio out fishing on the lake. We caught close to 20 bluegills, one yellow perch, and saw a couple of massive beavers, calling it a day just after sunset.

I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have hunted with sportsmen of this caliber. I can easily say the MeatEater crew put on a master class. Plus, between Cal’s Coues deer chili, some elk meat marinara sauce over spaghetti, and Janis’s turkey schnitzel, we ate like kings. It was such a great first turkey hunt that I awkwardly gave Steve a man-hug before we all parted ways for the airport.

I’m truly grateful to the TRCP, MeatEater, Matt Cook, and his whole crew for making it happen. I know that it was just the first of many spring gobbler hunts for me and my family. I am now a lifelong turkey hunter.

The next opportunity to win a hunt with the MeatEater crew will be announced in August. In the meantime, enter to win some great gear and prizes while celebrating the private landowners who provide public access for hunting and fishing through Montana’s Block Management Program.

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July 1, 2021

House Passes Highway Bill with Strong Investments in Habitat and Access

Senate must now act to establish a first-of-its-kind federal grant program for wildlife crossings and advance other important conservation priorities

Washington, D.C. — In a 221-201 floor vote today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the INVEST in America Act, a five-year highway bill with much-needed funding for fish and wildlife habitat connectivity, climate resilience, and road and trail maintenance across public lands.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is particularly encouraged to see the advancement of a new $100-million-per-year grant program that would help states construct more wildlife-friendly road crossing structures, including over- and underpasses, that benefit migrating big game and many other species. An amendment was also successfully passed to establish a new grant program to fund and support culvert restoration projects, which will help restore essential anadromous fish passages across the nation.

“It’s the right time to invest in America’s transportation infrastructure and jobs, and it’s highly appropriate that we look out for fish and wildlife habitat as we make largescale improvements,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This may be our best chance to knit together fragmented migration corridors and fish habitat, especially now that we know more about the way animals use seasonal habitats and exactly how development affects their movement patterns. The science and technology have advanced, but we can’t create solutions without the dedicated funding provided in this bill, which would create the first national wildlife crossings initiative of its kind and help prioritize culvert restoration across the country.”

The bill also includes an amendment that authorizes the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program through 2030 and requires the U.S. Forest Service to develop a national strategy for using the program—which would have a direct impact on public land access and hunting and fishing opportunities on Forest Service lands. The Forest Service also gets a share of the $555 million per year included in INVEST for the Federal Land Transportation Program, but the TRCP and partners will continue to push for more balance here.

Importantly, INVEST would also:

  • Reauthorize the Sport Fish Restoration Program, the well-known conservation fund that draws from angler license and gear purchases.
  • Create a Community Resilience and Restoration Fund and competitive grant program at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, authorized at $100 million per year.
  • Increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program to $40 billion over five years. Fifteen percent of these funds would be set aside to encourage states to invest in natural systems and nature-based approaches to addressing local water quality challenges.

The Senate surface transportation bill includes the culvert provisions but only $350 million over five years for wildlife crossings. It also includes a climate resilience program that is not in the House bill. The two versions will need to be reconciled before the president can sign off and advance the much-needed conservation provisions mentioned above.

 

Top image courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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