MeatEater and TRCP Thank Montana Landowners Who Provide Hunter Access
Selected enrollees in FWP’s Block Management Access program received gifts and thank-you notes hand-delivered on behalf of Montana hunters
Forty-six Montana landowners who provide public access to hunters through the state’s Block Management Access program are receiving new Stihl chainsaws and $200 Visa Check Cards as well as handwritten thank-you notes in an effort organized by MeatEater and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
The recipients of these thank-you packages were randomly selected from across all seven of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ regions. Funding to support the effort was raised last year by TRCP and MeatEater through the Montana Farm and Ranch Access Appreciation Sweepstakes.
“Block Management Access is one of the most important programs for hunters in our state—both resident and non-resident alike—and we wanted enrollees to know how much the everyday Montana sportsman and sportswoman appreciates their generosity,” said Ryan Callaghan, director of conservation for MeatEater. “Delivering these gift packages and thank-you notes in person allowed us to shake hands, share stories, and learn more about the experiences of ranchers and other landowners who offer access to the public. Those types of face-to-face conversations have historically been a key part of the relationship between the hunting and landowner communities in our state.”
The entire statewide Block Management program provides approximately 600,000 hunter days each year on around 7 million acres of private land. Whether these properties are enrolled in Type 1 (reservations required) or Type 2 (self-administered access) Block Management, they provide outstanding opportunities for the general public to pursue a variety of species, particularly in areas where public land access may be limited.
Participation in the program by private landowners is entirely voluntary and determined on an annual basis. While landowners are compensated by the state primarily through per-hunter-day impact payments, those amounts are capped and far less than the rates that could be charged if a property owner decided to instead lease access to an individual or outfitter.
“The success of Montana’s Block Management Program relies on landowners across the state who provide excellent opportunities for hunters. We know access improves when landowners feel respected and appreciated for the access they provide. I’m grateful to the many hunters who stepped up through this campaign to show their appreciation to the block management cooperators,” said FWP Director Hank Worsech.
“Access is foremost among the challenges that face hunters across the country, and voluntary programs that open private property to sportsmen and sportswomen are critically important,” said Joel Webster, vice president of Western conservation for the TRCP. “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Block Management Access provides high quality opportunities all across our state, and we thought this would be a meaningful way to show how much the program means to the public and how much we appreciate the willingness of landowners to participate in it.”
In honor of TRCP’s 20th anniversary, here are some of our proudest moments as an organization and the biggest victories our team has helped to advance on behalf of hunters and anglers
The TRCP Is Founded to Fill a Serious Need 2002
After starting the modern conservation movement more than 100 years earlier, hunters and anglers had lost much of our relevance in federal policy by the early 2000s. Our community had so successfully committed to bringing back individual species—like ducks, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, elk, pronghorn antelope, native trout, and more—that we became fractured and lost sight of the broader issues of conservation.
This became apparent to James D. Range, a lifelong sportsman and longtime senior Republican staff member in the Senate, who had played a critical role in advancing some of the nation’s most important natural resources legislation, including the Clean Water Act. He knew that our community—if we banded together—could again be a powerful voice for conservation. And in 2002, he created the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to present a united front to decision-makers on the issues that matter to all hunters and anglers.
Roadless Rules Help Conserve Backcountry Habitat
Since the TRCP’s inception, we have advanced policies that conserve large blocks of intact habitat, including roadless areas on our national forests, to maximize hunting and fishing opportunities. Roadless area conservation was one of TRCP’s founding issues, and between 2002 and 2012, the TRCP helped to successfully conserve 58.5 million acres of habitat on public lands in 38 states.
Led by TRCP staff on the ground, sportsmen and sportswomen were a consistent, engaged, and reasonable presence throughout multi-year rulemaking processes in Idaho and Colorado. In 2008, we successfully advocated for strong conservation of backcountry habitat in a final rule for Idaho’s 9.3 million acres of roadless areas. Then, in 2012, recommendations from our community were incorporated into a final Colorado roadless rule that safeguarded 4.2 million acres of backcountry for future generations.
Finally, in October 2012, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the nationwide 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, resolving the issue nationally in a way that conserved these valued habitats and sporting destinations, while providing commonsense flexibility for habitat restoration. These efforts have helped fish and wildlife managers to maximize public hunting and fishing opportunities and safeguard vital habitat for the foreseeable future.
TRCP Defends Wetlands and the Clean Water Act
On Earth Day in 2004, President George W. Bush laid out a strategy to move beyond the “no net loss” policy for wetlands that his father established in 1989. This commitment to increasing wetlands acreage annually was one of TRCP’s signature issues at the time, but this early victory did not mean we could rest on our laurels.
In fact, just two years later, there was talk of the George W. Bush Administration weakening Clean Water Act protections for wetlands. Given his role in helping to write the nation’s bedrock law on clean water, TRCP’s co-founder Jim Range was understandably moved to act. He led a delegation to Texas and drove around Bush’s ranch with the president, ultimately convincing him to abandon plans to weaken the Clean Water Act.
In the 2010s, the TRCP was a key voice in advocating for Clean Water Act protections for both wetlands and headwater streams, after a series of Supreme Court cases and subsequent federal agency actions made it unclear which bodies of water the Act protects. In 2015, after an extensive public process and based on a massive study of hundreds of scientific articles about water quality, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adopted a rule to clarify federal jurisdiction over the “waters of the United States.” Though it was ultimately reversed, the rule was a major victory for hunters and anglers: It would have helped conserve the roughly 60 percent of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands that were at risk of being polluted or destroyed because of jurisdictional confusion.
TRCP Today: Our water resources team has expanded to support conservation solutions in the Delaware, Colorado, and Rio Grande river basins, and we continue to advocate for headwaters, wetlands, and prairie potholes. In June 2021, the EPA and Corps announced that they would reconsider which waters and wetlands should be protected under the Clean Water Act—again. Sportsmen and sportswomen are important stakeholders in this public process that could secure protections for critical fish and waterfowl habitat.
Farm Bill Conservation Expands 2008-present
Since his time on Capitol Hill, Jim Range had envisioned a brighter future for habitat and hunting and fishing access in rural America, where public land opportunities are scarce. Under his leadership, the TRCP championed “open fields,” a farm bill initiative that would incentivize private landowners to offer access to the public for hunting and fishing, ideally in concert with habitat improvements. What became the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program was established in the 2008 Farm Bill and built up in the two farm bills since. It is the only federal program dedicated to creating public access on private lands and a major victory for the TRCP. Unfortunately, Range never got to see “open fields” benefit sportsmen and sportswomen or expand to $49 million in projects across 26 states—he lost his battle with kidney cancer in early 2009 at the age of 63.
Though this loss was heartbreaking, TRCP’s focus on private land conservation never wavered. We pushed for a Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands initiative to help conserve working grasslands and prevent conversion and habitat fragmentation. We championed the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program, another CRP initiative, that has provided habitat for sharptail grouse, sage grouse, woodcock, bobwhite quail, pheasants, a wide variety of waterfowl, black bears, mule deer, elk, salmon, steelhead trout, and many other species across 36 states.
Hunters and Anglers Stop Public Land Grab
Despite the importance of America’s 640 million acres of public land to our hunting and fishing opportunities and our country’s unique outdoor legacy, special interests intensified their efforts to sell off or transfer them to the states in 2015. In response, the TRCP launched sportsmensaccess.org—the home base for hunters and anglers opposed to public land transfer with the latest news on threats to public access. More than 150 sporting groups and businesses joined the coalition and more than 50,000 individual hunters and anglers sent messages to their lawmakers to oppose public land sale and seizure. At the state level, TRCP field representatives across the West helped to beat back all but six of 37 bills advocating for the disposal of federal public lands, driving thousands of hunters and anglers to rally at state capitols and town hall meetings under the slogans #KeepItPublic and #PublicLandsProud.
One congressman, however, was a little slow to get the message. In February 2017, sportsmen and sportswomen flooded the inbox of former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) with letters, tweets, and Facebook messages about his unpopular and dangerous public land sale bill, H.R. 621. In a matter of weeks, more than 10,000 TRCP members contacted their own lawmakers, as well. Shortly after, Chaffetz dropped the legislation, which would have enabled the sale of 3.3 million acres of public lands to pay down the national debt, and he made his mea culpa to hunters and anglers on Instagram under a photo of him wearing a camo coat and holding his dog. Chaffetz retired from Congress that June.
TRCP Today: Presidents Trump and Biden made it clear that this idea would not gain traction on their watch, but the push to sell off public lands hasn’t gone away completely. The tug-of-war between Americans who are proud to have public lands as their birthright and those who seek to undermine these lands for short-term profits has never been tied to one individual bill, state, or lawmaker—it’s a longstanding ideological battle that puts conservation, access, and our hunting and fishing opportunities on the line.
Anglers Demand Better Federal Fisheries Management
After watching federal fisheries management focus almost exclusively on the commercial sector for years, the TRCP embarked on a new effort to improve fish stocks and seasons and urge decision-makers to recognize the value of anglers in this conversation. In 2013, we convened a coalition of groups and industry leaders to lay out a vision for better management of recreational fishing in federal waters. The result was a report outlining six recommendations for conserving marine recreational fisheries, championed by Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops and Scott Deal of Maverick Boats.
What became commonly referred to as the Morris-Deal Report—as well as TRCP-led workshops with fisheries managers, biologists, economists, and conservation groups—laid the groundwork for federal legislation that would bring marine fisheries management into the 21st century. In 2015, NOAA released its first-ever policy recognizing the value of recreational fishing, based on our recommendations, and TRCP staff was invited to testify in support of the Modern Fish Act in 2017. A year later, the bill was signed into law.
First Migration Corridor Conservation Policies Are Created 2015-present
The TRCP field team has worked diligently over the years to raise awareness with local decision-makers about the lack of conservation policies for big game migration corridors and seasonal habitats that, thanks to advances in GPS collars and wildlife research, we can now use to help direct habitat restoration and improvement and prevent incompatible development. These efforts made a big leap forward in February 2018, when then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362, which directed agencies to give more attention to habitats where mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and other species migrate, rest, and spend the winter months.
Since that time, the states and federal government have partnered to research big game movements and improve habitat for mule deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope. In addition, the Department and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided more than $15 million to implement the order, funds that were matched by about $30 million in state and private funds. This resulted in on-the-ground projects that range from restoring habitat to improving fencing. The order has inspired Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho to adopt their own migration corridor conservation programs, with additional states working to join them.
The TRCP continued to differentiate itself in the next great quest for public lands and outdoor recreation access. In 2018, as authorization for the iconic Land and Water Conservation Fund was nearing expiration, other groups created countdown clocks and posted increasingly urgent messages about the need for permanent authorization of this critical resource. While standing with our community to secure the future of the LWCF, we also went to work to quantify a widespread access problem that was tailor-made for LWCF to fix—inaccessible public lands. The TRCP partnered with the digital mapping company onX to identify 9.52 million acres of federal public lands in the West that are “landlocked” by private land with no permanent legal access.
Our first Unlocking Public Lands Report made national headlines just as the conversation around LWCF was heating up, and we were able to offer sound reasoning, based on data, for full funding at $900 million annually, with a minimum of three percent held aside to improve existing public land access, and a plan to take short-term approvals of this critical tool off the congressional to-do list by making authorization permanent. This was accomplished in 2020 through the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act and the Great American Outdoors Act (see below.)
Between 2018 and 2020, we expanded our work with onX to identify a total of 16.43 million acres of inaccessible public lands across 22 states. The company helped us provide land trusts and federal decision-makers with data about the scale and scope of public land access barriers in their area. We also began collaborating with the BLM and Forest Service to modernize their data to reflect existing road easements that provide the public with permanent, legal access across private lands.
It was at this point we discovered that many of the easement records were only kept in paper files at the back of dusty filing cabinets—at the time, the Forest Service and BLM had an estimated 50,000 recorded easements that were not available to the public in geospatial form. The average hunter or angler wouldn’t have known about these public access areas unless they’d walked into a field office to ask, and the agencies would have had trouble prioritizing future easements and land acquisition if this data was not all in one place.
TRCP Today: This year, at the urging of thousands of TRCP members, Congress passed the MAPLand Act—with unanimous support in the Senate—and President Joe Biden signed it into law on April 29. TRCP is presently working with members of Congress to fully fund MAPLand implementation, which includes digitizing and making publicly available information about public access, within a four-year period.
These bipartisan victories reflect the efforts of the entire hunting, fishing, and conservation community—no one group can take the credit. Where TRCP played an important role was in convening partners at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to forecast how hunters and anglers could advocate for conservation and outdoor recreation jobs, while improving habitat and public lands that were seeing an uptick in visitation during lockdowns. The result was our Conservation Works for America campaign, which outlined recommendations that were taken up in the IIJA and other major funding vehicles. It’s just the kind of victory Jim Range knew was possible if our community could work together.
Thank you for being here and supporting the TRCP, whether you discovered us this year or 20 years ago! We cannot do what we do for fish, wildlife, and hunting and fishing opportunities without the efforts of individual sportsmen and sportswomen who are committed to healthy habitats and safeguarding outdoor recreation access for the next generation. YOU are our inspiration.
House Passes the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
Landmark legislation that would invest in rebuilding at-risk fish and wildlife populations now requires Senate approval
The House of Representatives has passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 2773) in a 231-190 vote, bringing us one step closer to securing a solution that has been championed by the hunting and fishing community since 2016. The bill recently advanced out of committee in the Senate and awaits a floor vote in that chamber.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to provide an additional $1.4 billion in dedicated funding per year—$1.3 billion for state agencies and $97.5 million for Tribes—to improve habitat, recover wildlife populations, and restore the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities.
“House passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a defining victory for wildlife, habitat, outdoor recreation, and our economy, because we know that heading off wildlife threats is more effective—and costs less—than taking emergency action,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud members of the House for this step today and urge the Senate to take up and pass this bill without delay.”
State fish and wildlife agencies have identified more than 12,000 species in need of conservation action that would benefit from the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Included on that list are some species of particular concern to hunters and anglers, including ruffed grouse, greater sage grouse, coho salmon, and sockeye salmon.
Final passage would be a landmark achievement for this Congress, as it has become increasingly important to invest conservation dollars in efforts that get the best return, with layered benefits for fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation, our economy, and the safety of our communities. With many lawmakers looking to secure conservation wins they can point to ahead of reelection, the timing may be right to send RAWA to the president’s desk.
Forest Service Issues Anticipated Guidance for E-Bikes
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.
E-Bikes and Habitat Fragmentation
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:
Unless otherwise specified in your local travel management plan, e-bikes are allowed only on designated motorized trails or motorized-use areas on Forest Service lands and are subject to the same seasonal restrictions and closures as any other motorized vehicle.
E-bikes allow public land users to travel significantly farther into the backcountry and provide increased access for all. This may change trail-use characteristics, as well as the distribution of big game on the landscape in your favorite hunting areas.
If you choose to use an e-bike for hunting and fishing, pay close attention to the class-type (1, 2, or 3) and match your choice of e-bike to the applicable regulations in areas you want access, as identified by the Forest Service in the travel management plan for your hunting area.
Engage with the Forest Service on travel management planning in the areas you care about. Decisions on the designation of new e-bike only trails and e-bike access on existing trails will impact your hunting access, the distribution of big game, and whether you continue to have quality hunting opportunities in the areas you care about, which is why it is critical that hunters and anglers participate in local travel management planning processes.
The recently passed Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act requires the Forest Service and other land management agencies to create and make publicly available recreational access information as geospatial files that depict restrictions by vehicle type, including e-bikes. This will help hunters identify routes where they can and cannot ride their e-bikes in the future.
Senate Vote Sends MAPLand Act to the President’s Desk
Congress secures groundbreaking public land access win for hunters and anglers
The Senate has passed the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act, which would enhance recreational opportunities on public land by investing in modern mapping systems that allow outdoor enthusiasts to access the information they need using handheld GPS technology commonly found in smartphones.
The MAPLand Act has been a top priority for sportsmen and sportswomen across the country. It is sponsored by Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and co-sponsored by Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.Mex.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-N.H.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.).
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the MAPLand Act on November 18, 2021, with unanimous support. A companion bill (H.R. 3113) cleared the House earlier this month in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. That version, following last night’s passage in the Senate, now only awaits a signature from President Biden before becoming law.
“Hunters and anglers as well as our partners in the outdoor industry have been vocal champions of the MAPLand Act since it was first introduced, because we know that this common-sense investment will empower more people to get outside and discover new recreational opportunities,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Last night’s vote is a huge win in ensuring that our public lands system is accessible to all Americans, and we are grateful to both Democratic and Republican leadership for their support of this legislation.”
The MAPLand Act will direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available recreational access information as geospatial 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
“We appreciate the leadership shown by members of the Senate in seeing the MAPLand Act through to the finish line,” continued Fosburgh. “Hunters and anglers across the country have good reason to celebrate this moment, which again demonstrates that conservation and our uniquely American public lands system transcend partisanship.”
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CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
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.