Do you have any thoughts on this post?
When it comes to our public lands, it is possible to have it all—healthy wildlife populations, accessible trail systems, and a vibrant outdoor recreation economy. But given the many uses and increasing pressures on our public lands, that won’t happen by accident.
As our recent analysis shows, about 40 percent of the most important elk habitat in Colorado is already impacted by motorized and non-motorized trail users. A clear framework for balanced land management offers our best chance of reducing conflicts between user groups while also minimizing impacts to our shared natural resources.
That’s why we’re calling on the Colorado Bureau of Land Management to set a clear, consistent direction and ensure informed management of the most important big game habitats on public lands. Here’s what you need to know.
In Colorado, we’re fortunate to have a variety of big game animals—such as elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn—and opportunities to recreate outdoors 365 days per year in some form or fashion. Wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation often overlap on public lands, and it’s clear that interest in, and usage of, public lands for recreation is increasing. From 2012 to 2017, trail-based recreation in Colorado increased by 44 percent, and visitation to Colorado state parks and BLM lands jumped by more than 20 percent every year for the past few years.
At the same time, in some parts of the state, guides, outfitters, hunters, and local business owners reliant on hunting-related income are frustrated, because the number of limited hunting licenses available for antlerless elk in Colorado is not even half of what it was 18 years ago, representing a loss of almost 70,000 cow elk tags. This is an attempt to stabilize the state’s elk herds, as elk cow-calf ratios have been declining for the last 20 years in much of the state, meaning our herds have lower success at producing and raising elk calves than they used to.
These declines are due to several factors, but chief among them is habitat loss.
As elk and other big game habitats are increasingly squeezed by residential, commercial, and industrial development, what habitat remains is often fragmented by roads, train lines, fences, and recreational trails. Studies investigating elk herds’ struggles to produce and raise offspring are ongoing in Colorado, and recreation-driven disturbance to elk is one of the major focuses for researchers.
Given the clear potential for adverse effects on big game herds by motorized and non-motorized recreation, the risk of increased conflict between stakeholder groups over competing management priorities is concerning. That’s why it is critical that an overarching strategy guides land-use management in a way that reflects the latest data and science and balances interests in order to facilitate consistent application of best planning and management practices and avoid further conflict and controversy.
However, despite the significant proportion of Colorado BLM public lands that overlap with high-priority big game habitat, and the abundance of mapped trails on those lands, there remains no clear, consistent direction for responsible recreation management on public lands managed by the agency.
Right now, however, Colorado BLM has the opportunity to incorporate the latest science on big game behavior and habitat needs and provide consistent recreation management direction to its field offices across the state through its ongoing Big Game Resource Management Plan Amendment process.
The BLM can reduce impacts to big game animals—including elk, deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep—in a number of ways. This includes directing recreational development outside of important big game habitat, where possible, or limiting route densities within important habitats and employing seasonal use limitations when and where it’s needed.
Ensuring that Colorado maintains its world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and thriving wildlife populations is a top priority for state agencies and elected officials. Governor Jared Polis’s 2020 executive order creating the Colorado Outdoor Regional Partnerships Initiative set in motion a process for developing a statewide Conservation and Recreation Plan to balance the needs of wildlife and recreational public land users. It will be informed by regionally developed priorities for recreation and conservation, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Habitat Conservation and Connectivity Plan, and, ideally, the BLM’s Big Game Resource Management Plan Amendment.
The BLM’s adoption of well-vetted management actions would help minimize big game habitat loss, compensate for some of the adverse impacts to Colorado big game herds, and facilitate responsible recreation development throughout the state. Join us in calling on the BLM to set this direction. Take action using our simple advocacy tool to push for the responsible management of recreation and big game habitats through the Big Game Resource Management Plan Amendment.
Photo: Dan Swackhammer
The Owyhee River begins in Northern Nevada and flows for more than 300 miles through some of the West’s wildest remaining country, forming an integral part of the sagebrush steppe landscape. According to the latest U.S. Census data, less than two people per square mile call this region home. For anyone who has spent a few nights in the river canyons or stared at the vast starry skies from the mountains and plateaus that define this place, its remote character is a defining feature.
What this region lacks in human population, it makes up for in wildlife. These canyons, encompassing more than 2.5 million acres of wilderness-quality lands, provide vital habitat for mule deer, elk, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and more than 200 other species. Anglers catch native red-band trout in the beaver ponds of the West Little Owyhee, cast for 20-inch browns in the reach below the Owyhee dam, and introduce their kids to fishing on the abundant and easy-to-fool smallmouth bass found throughout the river basin. Hunters in the area enjoy some of the best opportunities in the West for mule deer, bighorns, antelope, and chukar.
Until recently, its distance from population centers has allowed the Owyhee country to maintain its backcountry character. Today, increasing pressures from renewable energy, mining, oil and gas, and off-highway vehicles grow with each passing decade. The recent surge of growth around Boise and the outdoor recreation industry within the area from rafters, hunters, anglers, hot springs enthusiasts, and other recreation-seekers also presents difficult management challenges. The impacts of these increasing uses, combined with invasive annual grasses, wildfire, and climate-change-fueled drought, all threaten the unique fish and wildlife habitat within the region. While sagebrush steppe habitat faces many of the same challenges across the West, these pressures are particularly acute in the Owyhee country.
Both the health of the landscape and the rural economies of the nearby communities need more resources to address these issues. Thankfully, Oregon’s congressional delegation is seeking pragmatic solutions after multiple requests from the ranching, conservation, and Tribal communities. In 2019, Senator Ron Wyden introduced a bill after a series of many stakeholder meetings that sought to find common ground for legislation that would promote the long-term health of the landscape, while providing for economic development and the continued traditional uses of public lands. Debate of and refinements to that first bill have continued since then, and in September 2022, Sen. Wyden introduced a revised Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act (S.4860) that is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
In a nutshell, S. 4860 would:
At the outset of this decision-making process, the TRCP partnered with the Oregon Hunters Association, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Friends of the Owyhee, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Soul River Inc., and the Oregon Wild Sheep Foundation to form, organize, and engage a coalition of hunting- and fishing-based conservation organizations called the Owyhee Sportsmen. Since August 2019, the coalition has worked closely with the Oregon congressional delegation—especially Senator Wyden’s office—to provide input and recommendations on legislation that would improve the conservation of the region’s fish and wildlife habitat.
We continue to encourage our elected officials to work together to move S. 4860 forward in Congress. Our coalition is also focused on educating the public about the need to protect Oregon’s Owyhee canyonlands from development by highlighting the abundant opportunities the region provides for hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreators of all types.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the chance to hunt and fish together with several other members of the coalition to showcase the opportunities it provides for sportsmen and sportswomen. We were accompanied by Alpenglow Press Productions, who recently completed a film for our coalition that highlights a successful mule deer hunt in the heart of the Owyhees. We’re also finalizing a short film that tells the story of a flyfishing adventure in search of some of the Owyhee’s famous 20-inch brown trout.
There are few large areas of land and water left in the U.S. where one can get truly lost, where skies at night are completely free of artificial light, and where sportsmen and sportswomen can chase such iconic game animals, upland birds, and trout. Oregon’s Owyhee country is such a place, and we are committed to keeping it that way.
In a 2022 poll of hunters and anglers conducted for the TRCP, 19 percent saw climate change as having an impact on their ability to hunt and fish right now, while a combined 51 percent believe climate change will have some impact in the future—whether in five years, 20 years, or the next generation’s lifetime.
While not surprising, it is potentially dangerous to view climate change as a distant threat to fish and wildlife instead of a very present one. Intense storms, flooding, heatwaves, drought, and wildfires are ruining hunting and fishing conditions and access. Invasive species are pushing out native fish, while big game animals are displaying different behavior and migration patterns in reaction to weird and variable weather. Anglers are kept off the water by algal blooms or high water temperatures that threaten coldwater fisheries.
To help illustrate this, we set out to find hunters and anglers willing to share their experiences with these impacts of climate change. Here’s what we heard from you:
Changing weather patterns are recognizable, particularly to folks who have hunted or fished the same areas for a long time. One hunter writes, “Waterfowl hunting is nowhere what it used to be. Not enough cold fronts to push the birds down.” Another follower called out a major challenge for anglers: “Annual fishing closures in mid-summer on cold water river fisheries.”
The proliferation of wildlife disease and parasites came up a few times. “As a hunter in the Northeast, I would have to say the yearly spread of ticks into new areas and changing weather patterns. I hunt a friend’s property that he has owned over 25 years, and due to the elevation and cold winters he never had to deal with ticks. However, in the past two years they have started turning up on harvested deer and on people who spend time in the woods.”
A friend to the north writes about the effect this has on hunting opportunities: “Here in Ontario, the boundary between whitetail and moose range runs straight through the province, but as the climate warms, deer are moving further and further north, encroaching on moose habitat and bringing along parasitic brainworm. This, combined with the increase in winter ticks, is doing a real number on our moose, and getting a tag has become extremely difficult.”
One Instagram follower notes, “Historic temperature rises in the Arctic have delayed caribou migration by several weeks.” A climate-driven shift in animal movement and migration has outsized impacts on subsistence hunters in Alaska, a topic that author Seth Kantner previously wrote about on our blog.
According to the poll mentioned above, 72 percent of hunters and anglers believe that climate change is happening, and a majority agreed that climate change will affect their ability to hunt and fish one day. Hunters and anglers also believe that we can positively impact fish and wildlife habitat through human intervention—and that’s what we’re calling on decision-makers to support.
Want a cheat sheet on what to look for when it comes to climate change impacts? Download our two-page guide on 10 ways climate change is already affecting hunting and fishing.
And if you missed our call for real-life examples, you can still send us yours right here.
Are you voting for conservation and access this November? Our decision-makers, especially at the state and local level, have a much greater influence on these issues than you might realize. From your county seat to Capitol Hill, decisions are being made every day that will impact the health of fish and wildlife habitat, the availability of access to outdoor recreation, and the many uses of our public lands.
Simply put, your vote matters. Here are just a few of the positions you could see on the ballot where you live and what role these officials play in conservation.
Here in Wyoming and in many states, county commissioners are tasked with making a variety of decisions that affect wildlife, including those relating to the management of county roads, local representation in BLM and Forest Service land-use planning processes, and zoning on private land. For instance, when weighing a proposal to change zoning for land that overlaps with known big game migration corridors, an informed commission can work with landowners to ensure development is undertaken with appropriate consideration for potential impacts on our elk, deer, and pronghorn herds.
Every state legislature will vote on critical wildlife and conservation bills each year. During the last session here in Wyoming, thanks to advocacy efforts from hunters and anglers like you, the legislature passed a $70-million increase to the Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust. This landmark conservation victory will support critical habitat work across the state for decades to come—and it’s just one example of the impact of our state lawmakers.
In the past, our legislature has also considered bills supporting the transfer of or restriction of access to public lands. While these efforts have failed in prior sessions due to the strong constituency of public land advocates in Wyoming, new attempts to steal our heritage continue to emerge. It’s a good reminder for sportsmen and sportswomen to stay engaged in the political process.
Your state’s congressional delegation can support the passage of meaningful conservation and access legislation with impacts close to home and across the nation. An example of this is the recently passed MAPland Act, which directs federal agencies to digitize and make publicly available access easement data to landlocked public lands. This bipartisan legislation will bring huge benefits to hunters and anglers looking for legal access to what once looked like inaccessible parcels.
“The first duty of an American citizen, then, is that he shall work in politics; his second duty is that he shall do that work in a practical manner; and his third is that it shall be done in accord with the highest principles of honor and justice.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Voting isn’t the only way to make an impact for conservation, of course. As residents of the least populous state in the union, Wyomingites are uniquely situated to build relationships with our state and local decision makers to drive important conservation policy, but anyone can become more involved in shaping policy by seizing a few key opportunities. Whether commenting at public hearings, meeting with your state legislators, writing letters to the editor, or volunteering with a conservation group like the TRCP, there are numerous ways to adhere to Theodore Roosevelt’s vision for conservation advocacy.
(I’m tracking these kinds of opportunities for folks here in Wyoming, so if you’d like to take action beyond a petition signature or paper ballot, please contact me here.)
It’s important to say that the TRCP doesn’t endorse anyone in an election. But we do work to educate candidates on what matters to hunters and anglers, so whoever is elected walks into their new role knowing how they can best serve fish, wildlife, public lands, and our community.
With the general election approaching on November 8, 2022, and the 2023 state legislative session coming in January, we’d like to see candidates in Wyoming work with us and our partners on the following issues.
Public lands, waters, and wildlife are central to our way of life in Wyoming. Any proposal to transfer or privatize these resources is a non-starter for sportsmen and sportswomen.
Science-based management guided by the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation has proven itself as the most effective approach for recovering and sustaining wildlife populations. Decision makers can build on our conservation legacy by supporting the state agencies and dedicated biologists who manage our shared wildlife resources.
In Wyoming, 4 million acres of state and federal lands are surrounded by private holdings with no legal means of public access. Lawmakers should support cooperative solutions—including funding for voluntary access agreements—that respect private property rights and open access to these landlocked parcels.
Public-private partnerships such as Access Yes have opened over 2.6 million acres of private land to hunters and anglers in Wyoming. Lawmakers can continue to financially benefit landowners who steward wildlife habitat while providing public access by expanding funding for these programs.
Wyoming’s robust big game populations and the hunting opportunities they provide are threatened by the spread of wildlife diseases such as pneumonia in bighorn sheep and Chronic Wasting Disease in elk and deer. To address these issues head on, wildlife managers need support and funding from lawmakers.
Migration corridors and winter range support wildlife abundance that maximizes hunting opportunities and supports our rich outdoor heritage. Wyoming Game and Fish needs the tools necessary to conserve these habitats on public lands while also providing financial incentives to landowners to voluntarily conserve key habitats on private lands.
Wyomingites recognize that many of our best wildlife habitats need continued investment in on-the-ground stewardship work, such as habitat restoration and invasive weed control. Continuing to expand and support state programs such as the Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust will secure essential funding for these projects, while improving access to federal matching grants: a win-win for Wyoming’s fish and wildlife.
Wyoming’s pronghorn populations are declining, as are hunting opportunities. Supporting science-based management and policies that conserve the sagebrush ecosystem will help recover pronghorn and support other species, including greater sage grouse and mule deer.
4.2 million acres of state trust land in Wyoming provide important wildlife habitat and opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing. By utilizing wildlife friendly options to generate revenue in appropriate areas—such as conservation leasing— decisionmakers can support public education and steward the landscapes and wildlife that drive tourism and outdoor recreation, Wyoming’s second largest economic sector.
Multiple-use management includes resource extraction, habitat stewardship, and outdoor recreation. Sportsmen and sportswomen support the balanced use of our public lands—which includes both responsible development and the conservation of our natural resources—so that future generations can experience the same opportunities we enjoy today.
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