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Here’s how the use of this new technology will be managed on national forests and grasslands and what it means for public land hunters and anglers
If you talk with hunters and anglers about electric bikes, or e-bikes, you will get a mixed response. Some embrace the obvious utility of e-bikes for accessing remote areas and for hauling gear and game. Others worry that widespread use of e-bikes—by dramatically increasing the ability of the average person to travel further into the backcountry—could potentially have a negative impact on our big game herds. Such concerns are warranted: Research clearly shows that high-volume trail use displaces big game, and in some areas high motorized route densities are associated with excessive elk harvest. Elk are particularly susceptible to these impacts, as they require large secure areas far from heavily used roads and trails to thrive.
On March 31, 2022, the Forest Service announced its final internal guidance on how e-bikes will be managed on national forests and grasslands. The long-anticipated update reaffirms the existing policy that e-bikes are now, and will continue to be, managed as a motorized use—that is, e-bikes will be allowed on all currently authorized roads and trails open to motorized use and not allowed on roads and trails closed to motorized use, seasonally or otherwise. At the same time, the guidance also outlines a process for the agency to evaluate requests for expanded e-bike access and establishes a new “e-bike only” trail category.
As an avid motorcyclist and mountain biker who has used two wheels to access my favorite hunting spots for many years, the new guidance is somewhat reassuring, but it also highlights the need for hunters and anglers to engage in local travel management planning to make sure quality hunting opportunities are maintained.
Here’s what you need to know about this update.
The purpose behind the new guidance is to provide direction for the agency to coordinate travel management planning with other federal, state, county, local, and tribal governments, to ensure, as much as possible, the continuity of recreational experiences across these jurisdictions. The guidance also directs the agency to consider how emerging technologies such as e-bikes provide opportunities for individuals that may otherwise be prevented from certain forms of recreation on our public lands.
The guidance categorizes e-bikes into Classes 1, 2, and 3, all of which are limited to a 750-watt-capable motor—essentially the same classification adopted in 2020 by the Bureau of Land Management. The biggest difference in the Forest Service’s guidance as compared to the BLM’s is that the Forest Service has elected, by default, to regulate all categories of e-bikes as motorized use. The Forest Service’s guidance also provides a process and specific criteria for evaluating new “e-bike only” trail designations and for allowing e-bikes on existing non-motorized trails.
When the Forest Service classifies trails and routes by allowable use during the travel management planning process, the agency emphasizes combinations of motorized and non-motorized uses on the same trails, but also recognizes that the best way to minimize conflicts among user groups may be to provide separate routes for each. As a result, the creation of a new “e-bike only” category could lead to a proliferation of additional trails if, for example, traditional mountain bikers can’t get along with e-bikers. In these cases, which—again—will be decided at the local level, e-bike compatibility with traditional mountain bikes will likely depend on the category of e-bike under consideration: class 1 e-bikes, which require pedaling and are limited to 20-miles per hour, are considered the most compatible with traditional mountain bikes.
Of particular interest to hunters is that the updated Forest Service guidance maintains limited use of motor vehicles (now specifically including e-bikes) for game retrieval within a limited distance of specific routes during big game hunting season. The particulars of when and where this is allowed will be made clear in individual travel management plans. And remember: While many hunters with traditional mountain bikes utilize gated roads closed to motorized use as a means of accessing hunting areas, hunters with e-bikes cannot do the same and are subject to the motorized use closure.
There are welcome provisions in the updated guidance that promote conservation and stewardship, and some provisions that are less clear. On the positive side, the specific criteria for designating trails and trail-use areas require that the agency considers the potential for “harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats.” Additionally, the policy explicitly calls out considerations for maintenance and administration of new trails in the context of budget and staffing, and it provides guidance to avoid adding new routes unless adequate budget and staffing for long-term maintenance have been identified. Both of these provisions promote conservation and well-designed, sustainable trail systems for access.
There are also provisions to address unauthorized routes, but some of the guidance regarding this issue remains problematic to those who care about the impact of these trails on habitat fragmentation. On the one hand, the policy prohibits use of unauthorized routes, calls for identifying unauthorized routes through travel analysis, and prioritizes addressing restoration and decommissioning of unauthorized routes when making travel management decisions. On the other hand, the policy acknowledges that some unauthorized routes are well sited and would enhance the system of designated routes. This seems to pave the way for continuation of the long-criticized practice of allowing unauthorized trail builders to have illegally built trails legitimized during travel management planning.
Whether or not you choose to embrace the use of e-bikes for hunting and fishing, as you would any new technology, here are some things to consider:
Photo credit: @maxsbenz
On the northern edge of the Great Basin lies a high-elevation, fault-block mountain that’s home to some of the healthiest remaining sagebrush steppe habitat in the nation. This expansive and relatively unfragmented ecosystem provides habitat for more than 300 species, from pygmy rabbits to iconic big game species like bighorn sheep, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope. Recently, researchers discovered that one of the longest pronghorn migration paths in North America traverses this landscape.
This place is known as the Greater Hart-Sheldon region, and it is wild, remote, and beautiful country.
Today, much of the public land in this area is managed for wildlife habitat and wildlife-related recreation activities via two of the largest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges in the Lower 48: the 575,000-acre Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and the 278,000-acre Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. While today the region provides hunters with outstanding opportunities to pursue some of the West’s most sought-after big game, 100 years ago one of its most iconic species was on the brink of collapse. And it was then that conservationists and hunters stepped in to establish these refuges as a way of conserving and connecting key summer and winter range habitats to help save the fleet-footed pronghorn antelope.
As the fastest land animal in North America, capable of speeds up to 60 miles an hour, pronghorns thrived in the Great Basin and across the Great Plains for more than a million years. In the early 1800s, these speedy mammals numbered in the tens of millions. But as railroads and waves of homesteaders transformed the Western landscape, pronghorn numbers began to rapidly decline.
Settlers hunted them for food and agricultural production invaded the best of the prairie and range habitat. In turn, pronghorn were pushed onto the unsuitable arid lands avoided by homesteaders. Market, subsistence, and sport hunting combined with rapid settlement and habitat loss spelled impending doom for this one-of-a-kind species. By the turn of the century, pronghorn populations were reduced to fewer than 15,000 animals across their native range.
In 1920, a biologist with the U.S. Biological Survey named E.R. Sans saw his first pronghorn in northwest Nevada. The experience was so remarkable that it left Sans—who knew full well the imperiled state of the species—with an inspired vision to create the first national wildlife refuges for pronghorn. At that time, what would later officially become the National Wildlife Refuge System was less than two decades old. President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island on Florida’s Indian River in 1903, and set aside another 55 refuges and preserves during his time in office. In the following years, other public lands received special protections to save iconic American wildlife, such as waterfowl at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge along the Oregon-California border (1908) and elk at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming (1912).
Sans worked with other concerned conservationists to enact legislation in Nevada that would authorize the governor to establish game range refuges. This resulted in, among others, the creation of a 400,000-acre refuge for pronghorn in Northern Washoe County in 1923. Four years later, Sans organized a tour of a 30,000-acre ranch just south of the Oregon border that he hoped might be acquired as the centerpiece headquarters for a larger pronghorn refuge that would eventually span across northern Nevada and south-central Oregon.
Among the members of the tour group was the president of the Audubon Society, T. Gilbert Pearson, who was so impressed with the idea that he secured $10,000 to purchase the land. Sans then contacted the Boone and Crockett Club, which agreed to match the sum and suggested that the new refuge be named after Charles Sheldon, an active and influential member of the club and an avid sportsman. In 1931, three years after the initial the purchase of the Last Chance Ranch, President Herbert Hoover established via executive order what was then known as the Charles Sheldon Wild Life Refuge.
Less than five years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded on the initial refuge by originally creating one contiguous refuge across Oregon and Nevada, known as the Hart Mountain Game Range, that encompassed more than 835,000 acres in Oregon alone. This order was soon replaced through two separate Executive Orders in 1936 that established the Charles Sheldon Antelope Range, which encompassed more than 500,000 acres along the Oregon-Nevada border, as well as the Hart Mountain Game Range, comprised of another 250,000 acres in Oregon. These game ranges were established for the purpose of “the conservation and development of natural wildlife resources [primarily pronghorn] and for the protection and improvement of public grazing lands and natural forage resources.”
Within the decade, observers marveled at the speed with which pronghorn populations had already rebounded. In 1938, Time Magazine highlighted the critical role played by the Greater Hart-Sheldon landscape:
The pronghorn’s amazing recovery is due mostly to State laws forbidding antelope hunting and to the creation by States and by the Federal Government of antelope refuges and ranges. Most important single refuge, because it contains the pronghorns’ fawning grounds, is the region around Oregon’s Hart Mountain. There mounted patrolmen travel over 276,000 acres of sagebrush inspecting the range, watch out for predatory animals and poachers.
That year, Time noted, Oregon’s pronghorn population neared 20,000 animals, a remarkable recovery from the estimated figure of 2,000 in 1911. The pronghorn’s rebound was dramatic enough that the state game commission decided to open a five-day hunting season—Oregon’s first in nearly thirty years—outside of the refuge. So plentiful were the herds that farmers were suffering crop damage from an animal that faced the brink of extinction only a few decades earlier.
The foresight of these historic conservation efforts from the 1920s and 30s proved to be a huge success story, and today pronghorn numbers are estimated to be stable at around 1 million animals across their range. More than 3,000 animals spend their summers and winters on the Hart and Sheldon Wildlife Refuges, which offer some of the most sought-after opportunities in the entire West to pursue the speed goat.
Each year, thousands of residents and non-residents alike apply for a chance to hunt the refuge; in 2021, more than 3,395 residents vied for the 41 available rifle buck tags. The popularity of these opportunities is attributable not only to the potential for the hunt of a lifetime on such a wild and remote landscape, but also to the powerful history of this place and its connection to the incredible recovery of the pronghorn.
In the course of our efforts to educate the hunting and fishing public about the significance of private land conservation and advocate for strong Farm Bill conservation programs, we have been introduced to some inspirational and hardworking groups making a big difference for fish and wildlife habitat. One of those groups is The KKAC Organization, based near the Arkansas-Mississippi border.
Founded by the Peers—a multi-generational farming family—The KKAC Organization began with a purpose of educating minority youth about agricultural production and business. But it quickly expanded to help farmers, ranchers, and landowners with estate planning, land management, and opportunities to take advantage of Farm Bill programs operated out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
KKAC saw a serious need in local communities, and their work has quickly made a difference for Black landowners, young people, and the hunters and anglers who are enjoying better habitat in two states that are primarily made up of private land. Here is their story. —Andrew Earl, TRCP Director of Government Relations
Our research indicates that around 1915, African Americans owned between 20 million and 30 million acres of land, or about 14 percent of the farmland in the country. Today, African Americans own around 1.5 percent of the production agricultural land in this country.
Many acres were lost due to discriminatory practices, and just bad public policy. Black landowners historically had limited access to loans and other resources at the USDA, where their applications were given less consideration. A Black producer could apply at the beginning of the year and not get the application funded until May or June. In the case that a Black producer’s loan was approved, they were required to have supervised credit—a joint accountholder or co-signer to OK anything purchased. In summary, the USDA refused to approve the loan in most cases, and the process was hostile for those Black agricultural producers who did receive a loan.
But approximately 30 percent of our land was lost due to our community’s failure to make wills and trusts to pass the land to the next generation.
In 2015, The KKAC Organization was initially founded to assist with agricultural production education for minority youth who did not understand the basic principles of growing crops. Still, we quickly expanded to address land retention and wealth-building issues for Black farmers.
Understanding the value of the land and agricultural production is essential to keeping these businesses going—this is why we want to educate as many young people as possible. We want our kids to understand the exciting dynamics of farming. They need to know that if you are a farmer, you are a business manager and need to know the basics of chemistry. If you own livestock, you need to know the basics of biology and the marketing process. If you own several acres of land, you might be considered “well-off.”
Eventually, we saw that as minority agricultural producers grew older, they felt that selling the land was the only option for financial benefit. But there are other options.
The Farm Bill’s Agriculture Conservation Easement Program allows landowners to receive near fair market value for land accepted into the program and still pass their land on to heirs, allowing land ownership to stay in the Black community. Many of these ACEP landowners also lease land to duck hunters, creating outdoor recreation access, or request permission from NRCS to sell trees once they mature. This also allows landowners to receive financial benefits from carbon credits.
Unfortunately, many landowners in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi still need to be educated about ACEP, woodland management, or other conservation efforts that could be financially beneficial. A large portion of the minority community does not understand that proper woodland management is as profitable as row crop production, if the wooded acres are properly managed. And these practices also help us conserve natural resources. That’s why we work hard to educate minority farmers on practices such as cover cropping, nutrient management, and land leveling. We believe that if farmers know their options, their farms can be more profitable and create wildlife habitat.
Progress can be slow, even for those landowners who understand the program benefits. In Arkansas, we helped more than 25 landowners apply for ACEP projects over three years, and unfortunately not a single one got funded. We recently secured Regional Conservation Partnership Program funding as an organization, so now we can be certain that at least 80 percent of the applicants will be funded through KKAC. We did not track all of our applicants in Mississippi, but we do believe that it is significantly more than our Arkansas count. Our organization is currently in the process of going back to obtain the number of Mississippi applicants that were driven by our outreach efforts over the past two to three years.
Over the next 50 years, KKAC hopes to have convinced the majority of our communities of the crucial importance of proper estate planning. We want The KKAC Organization and the new Heirs’ Property Clearinghouse—what we hope will become known as a reliable tool for clearing up issues with inherited property—to stop the loss of Black-owned land and ensure that the land that we own is being managed wisely.
Learn more about The KKAC Organization and follow their progress at kkac.org. Top photo by USDA/Lance Cheung.
Secretary Haaland announces new actions to conserve and enhance wildlife migration corridors in partnership with states and Tribes
Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated a U.S. Department of the Interior event announcing a suite of developments and commitments centered on wildlife migration and connectivity.
Secretary Deb Haaland participated in a live-streamed panel discussion on wildlife movement corridors and habitat connectivity, highlighting steps that the Biden Administration is taking to continue implementation of Secretarial Order 3362—signed in 2018 by then-Secretary Ryan Zinke—as well as plans to expand this work to include additional species and geographies.
“Migration corridors and other seasonal habitats are critical to maintaining wildlife abundance and public hunting opportunities in the West,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate Secretary Haaland’s leadership on this issue, and today’s announcement further demonstrates that wildlife migration conservation is an issue that spans political boundaries and is something that all Americans can agree on.”
In addition to the panel discussion, several announcements from the event promise a continuing commitment and further progress on the issue of wildlife migration, including:
Wildlife migration corridor conservation was highlighted in the May 2021 report, Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful. In August of that year, the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, and state of Wyoming announced new cooperative efforts to partner in the conservation and enhancement of wildlife migration corridors, which marked the Biden Administration’s first agency efforts to address the issue.
“As landscapes across the West green up with the arrival of spring weather, the seasonal movements of elk, mule deer, and pronghorns are on full display, which brings into focus the very significant challenges these animals face in reaching the habitats they need to survive,” continued Fosburgh. “Hunters and conservationists recognize both the importance of Interior’s leadership on this issue as well as the need for continued cooperation by the administration, states, Tribes, and private landowners, all of whom have critical roles to play in conservation.”
Photo: Bill Sincavage (@jakeysforkphoto)
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.Learn More