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November 15, 2023

Nitz with giant snook 3-1200 crop-Credit Ryan Nitz

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November 14, 2023

West’s Senate Testimony Requests Long-Term Commitment for Big Game Migrations 

Appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, TRCP public lands director Madeleine West encouraged lawmakers to make strategic investments in migration research and conservation

Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was honored by the opportunity to participate in a hearing focused on wildlife corridor conservation held by the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife.

For many years, TRCP has worked with elected officials and state, Tribal, and federal agencies to support partnerships, policies, and funding that advance the research and conservation of big game migration corridors and crucial seasonal habitats. West’s testimony focused on the long-time bipartisan support for this work and the need for dedicated funding to maintain and grow several existing Department of the Interior-led programs created in 2018 through Secretarial Order 3362: Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors.

“All across the Western U.S., big game herds make seasonal movements year after year from their summer ranges to their winter ranges and back again—passing down migratory knowledge from one generation to the next,” said Madeleine West, director of the center for public lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “By making sure those seasonal habitats are connected by healthy, intact migration routes, we allow a multitude of species a greater ability to adapt and bolster their resilience to habitat changes now and into the future.”

West also highlighted how support for wildlife corridor conservation has persisted across three presidential administrations and continues to earn support from a bipartisan collection of governors in the West. She further articulated how this work was elevated in 2018 with the signing of Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3362. Secretarial Order 3362 instituted a suite of programs and financial incentives to support local efforts to improve data collection, conduct research, and complete on-the-ground conservation projects. The Biden administration furthered this work and has expanded their efforts to more directly include Tribal governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which now incentivizes big game corridor conservation on private lands.

Despite these successes, West cautioned that the discretionary nature of existing federal programs and funding sources creates uncertainty about the future of wildlife corridor conservation work, and she requested help from Congress.

“The federal programs established through SO 3362 have had an enormous impact in furthering the conservation and enhancement of big game migration corridors, but the discretionary nature of the programs and their funding raises concern for their longevity,” continued West. “With a dedicated and consistent approach, this bipartisan work could have greater predictability and durability and could benefit more wildlife species and additional state and Tribal jurisdictions.”

West specifically requested help from Congress to provide:

• Clear Congressional direction for federal agency programs that support the research, mapping, and conservation of wildlife corridors.

• Dedicated and consistent funding for research, mapping, and conservation programs.

• Increased coordination between federal, state, and Tribal agencies, as well as private landowners and hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations.

Learn more about TRCP’s work to conserve big game migration corridors here.

Watch West’s testimony below.

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MAPWaters Act Introduced, Considered in House Natural Resources Committee

Anglers and hunters applaud bill that would digitize recreational access information on federal waterways

Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership cheered the introduction of the Modernizing Access to Our Public Waters Act (H.R. 6127) and the bill’s consideration in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries.

The MAPWaters Act would improve recreation on federal waterways by investing in modern technology to provide anglers, hunters, boaters, and other water users the information they need to safely and legally access and utilize public waters administered by federal agencies.

The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Representative Blake Moore (R-Utah) and cosponsored by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.). 

“The MAPWaters Act will give Americans the confidence they need to partake in water-based recreation opportunities by directing federal agencies to clarify the complex rules of public waterways into accessible data in geospatial form,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This common-sense legislation will help recreationists stay safe and legal while enjoying the great outdoors.”

The MAPWaters Act builds on the success of the recent MAPLand Act by directing federal agencies to digitize water and fishing access and recreational use information on federal waterways and to make those resources readily available to the public. Federal waterways include any portion of a body of water managed, or partially managed, by one or more of the following federal agencies: the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service.

This newly digitized public information would include:

• Status information on which waterways are open or closed to entry or watercraft, including watercraft inspection or decontamination requirements.

• The areas of waterways with restrictions on motorized propulsion, horsepower, or gasoline fuel.

• Types of watercraft that are restricted on each area of a waterway, including the permissibility of canoes, rafts, motorboats, airboats, oversnow vehicles on frozen bodies of water, etc.

• The location and geographic boundaries of fishing restrictions on recreational and commercial fishing, including full or partial closures, no-take zones, and fishing restrictions within or surrounding marine protected areas.

• Fishing restrictions concerning specific types of equipment or bait, such as restrictions on the use of barbed hooks or live bait and requirements with respect to catch and release.

Much of this information is housed in agency documents and difficult for the public to discover and access. For example, in the Code of Federal Regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service includes 42 pages worth of National Wildlife Refuge specific recreation rules, many of which are tied to waterway navigation, use, and fishing.

The clarity and accessibility of regulations for both the public and the agencies entrusted to manage these waters will result in more Americans confidently accessing and enjoying their public waters.

“Knowing where to go fishing and what you can do when you get there is basic information all anglers need for a successful day on the water,” said Lindsay Slater, vice president of government affairs for Trout Unlimited. “The MAPWaters Act will standardize and simplify information for anglers to access and use waters managed by federal agencies, including decontamination requirements to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. We look forward to this bill becoming law and helping to better inform anglers who fish on public waters.”

“The MAPWaters Act will make spatial information on fishing and boating regulations more accessible, ensuring anglers can stay up-to-date with changing rules and restrictions,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs at the American Sportfishing Association. “By standardizing and digitizing information on federal waterways, MAPWaters will provide improved information on fishing piers, boat ramps, and access points, helping America’s 54.5 million anglers find new fishing spots. We thank Representatives Moore, Panetta, Fulcher, and Dingell for their leadership on this bill.”

“Access to water is just as important to hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationists as access to land,” said Laura Orvidas, CEO of onX. “Yet, regulations regarding water access are even more complex. Having water access information and regulations publicly available in a digital format is critical for communicating intended water use for responsible access and protecting aquatic species and their habitats. Through the MAPWaters Act, we can help empower the outdoor community to not only enjoy our nation’s vast waterways, but also recreate responsibly.”

“Improved national mapping data from federal agencies about watercraft restrictions and fishing regulations will help outdoor enthusiasts, anglers, and other water users discover and access new recreational opportunities,” said Zachary Pope, founder of TroutRoutes, a fishing focused navigation application. “For the benefit of millions of American anglers, we support this bill and encourage Congress to advance the MAPWaters Act into law.”

Photo credit: Noah Davis

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November 9, 2023

Hunters, Anglers, and Other Wildlife Conservationists Ready to Ensure Colorado Deer, Elk, Pronghorn, and Bighorn Sheep Habitats Are Conserved and Enhanced Statewide   

Draft plan provides opportunity for BLM and Colorado to synchronize oil and gas leasing, permitting, development, and mitigation protocols within high priority big game habitat

On November 9, the Colorado Bureau of Land Management published their Draft Big Game Corridors Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement. Colorado BLM lands are popular for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and many other forms of recreation. These millions of acres are also critical for the long-term survival of Colorado’s wildlife.  

The continued health of migratory big game populations depends on their ability to move between suitable habitats seasonally, year after year. Of the 8.4 million surface acres of BLM-managed public land in Colorado, millions of acres constitute high-priority seasonal and migratory habitats for big game animals such as elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep, and these high priority habitats are managed under 16 separate land use plans. This Plan Amendment offers a pathway for BLM to create a standardized approach across relevant field offices that facilitates responsible oil and gas development to avoid the highest value habitats for big game wherever possible, and minimize and mitigate direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse impacts to those species in areas where they cannot be entirely avoided.   

The Draft Plan Amendment’s action alternatives direct BLM to consider alternative locations for oil and gas operations to either avoid impacts to specified high priority habitat where feasible or minimize adverse impacts through surface disturbance limitations, and/or by paying for compensatory mitigation to offset disturbance, habitat loss, or habitat degradation. It would also prohibit surface occupancy and surface disturbance within bighorn sheep production areas and within 0.5 miles of CPW-mapped big game highway crossings and migratory pinch points.  

TRCP urges the BLM to incorporate into the final plan and analysis additional conservation and mitigation measures and a more comprehensive analysis of up-to-date science on the impacts of BLM’s range of programs and land uses on deer, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. We look forward to completing an in-depth analysis of this draft plan and engaging during the comment process to advocate for BLM oil and gas management that works seamlessly with the State of Colorado’s regulatory system, and effectively avoids and actively reduces direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse impacts to Colorado’s iconic big game herds.  

“The BLM should ensure strong conservation and mitigation protocols are included in their Final EIS and Plan Amendment to ensure they’re consistently conserving and restoring key remaining big game habitats according to current data and science, while still allowing for economic activity on BLM land,” said Liz Rose, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Colorado field representative.   

This draft plan is an important opportunity for the BLM and State of Colorado to better synchronize oil and gas leasing and permitting to provide more consistent and efficient cross-jurisdictional processes and successful conservation of habitats most important for the long-term viability of big game populations in the state. Currently, companies that seek to develop oil or gas resources on BLM-managed land in Colorado must complete federal leasing and permitting processes that differ from one BLM field office to the next, and which may differ significantly from requirements issued through individual county permitting processes. This is on top of a state permitting process administered by the Colorado Energy and Carbon Management Commission.  

“By updating BLM plans with the best available science and management practices and providing more regulatory consistency across the state, the BLM can better conserve Colorado’s iconic big game species, while supporting the responsible use of Colorado BLM lands and resources,” said Bryan Jones, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers’ coordinator for Colorado and Wyoming. 

“Colorado Wildlife Federation appreciates that 13 of BLM’s resource management plans in Colorado would be amended under its action alternatives,” said Suzanne O’Neill, Colorado Wildlife Federation’s executive director. “We favor closing those big game high priority habitats to new leasing that have only low, moderate or no-known oil and gas development potential. We continue to be disappointed that BLM has declined in this amendment process to address future siting and management of recreational and renewable energy development to reduce harm to big game habitats and connectivity.” 

The BLM’s original goals for this Plan Amendment were “to evaluate oil and gas program and other management decisions across existing BLM Colorado RMPs to promote conservation of big game corridors and other important big game habitat on BLM-administered land and minerals in Colorado.” While the Draft Plan Amendment would update the science and management practices in BLM’s oil and gas planning and management processes, other land uses outside of the scope of this plan amendment also have significant impacts on the survival of big game species – such as roads, renewable energy development and authorized and unauthorized recreational trail use. If not properly managed, these activities will continue to pose significant threats to big game species and their habitats. We encourage the BLM and the State of Colorado to address these other management challenges on BLM lands while the Plan Amendment process for oil and gas advances. 

The publication of the Draft Big Game Corridors Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement kicked off a 90-day public comment period that will close on February 6, 2024.   

Photo credit: Mark Byzewski

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November 8, 2023

In the Arena: Brian Flynn, Two Wolf Foundation

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Brian Flynn

Hometown: Hamilton, Montana
Occupation: U.S. Army Special Forces | Founder and Executive Director of the Two Wolf Foundation.
Conservation credentials: Through his leadership at the Two Wolf Foundation, Brian provides Veterans a chance to serve together again with purpose through conservation and stewardship projects on America’s public lands.

Following a distinguished career in the U.S. Army, lifelong outdoorsman Brian Flynn returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan and struggled with the challenges of transitioning to civilian life. Hunting, fishing, and the natural beauty of America’s public lands helped propel him through his darkest days and launched a personal journey of healing that ultimately led to the founding of the Two Wolf Foundation and a new mission to bring meaning and purpose to his fellow Veterans through conservation and land stewardship projects. We are inspired by his commitment to empowering and healing others through these experiences, and we’re proud to share his words with you.

Here is his story.

“Once the uniform comes off, it can feel like it’s just you, left to scrap it out alone. In the creation of Two Wolf Foundation, I saw conservation and land stewardship as a new mission, one that would need a team to accomplish it. This new mission would give us a chance to continue to serve together again with meaning and purpose.” 

Brian Flynn

My introduction to the outdoors began with weekend fishing adventures for largemouth bass with my father. Early childhood was a difficult time in my life, my parents divorced when I was very young, and I struggled as most do, trying to make sense of it all. Around the age of 8, I moved to southern California to live with my dad — not far from the world-famous largemouth bass haven of Lake Casitas. Every Saturday morning before the sun had time to rise over the Topatopa Mountains, we would head to the lake with a bag full of PB&J sandwiches and our spinning reels. Those early days of my life fishing for the next world record largemouth would become the foundation of my love for the outdoors. Fishing would serve as the primary outlet in my life, allowing me to disconnect from the stress and noise of a chaotic world while keeping me curious about each body of water I would encounter. 

Twenty years later, and what felt like a lifetime of war as a U.S. Army Green Beret (Special Forces), I returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan and found myself struggling with posttraumatic stress (which I wouldn’t admit until years later) and the laundry list of associated mental health struggles including depression, anxiety, and a general loss of joy in my life. One of my closest friends, and Special Forces teammate, recognized the bad shape I was in and took me to a local bow shop and said, “pick one out, we’re going deer hunting.”

I had fished nearly all my life, and hunting was totally new, yet I appreciated the challenge that archery hunting whitetail deer presented. I walked out of that shop with a brand-new Mathews ZXT, a handful of arrows, and a practice target. I had a lot to learn in a hurry and I became fully consumed by crafting a new set of skills that were necessary for a successful harvest in the woods of Tennessee and Kentucky.

It is hard to explain, but I believe that over the following years, hunting is what pulled me through one of the darkest times of my life. It brought me closer to people that I cared for, it gave me necessary solitude in nature to decompress, and it provided me with unparalleled moments of gratitude surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes filled with incredible sunrises and sunsets that I might not have ever seen.

On my personal journey of healing from the invisible wounds of war and the common struggles associated with transition from military service (loss of purpose, loss of identity, and loss of belonging) I was on a mission to relocate my family from the southeastern United States to the mountains and woods of the West.

On a scouting trip to Montana, my wife and I took a day trip to Bowman Lake, a remote alpine lake in Glacier National Park. After making the trek from Columbia Falls, down more than 40 miles of washboard dirt roads, we arrived at a small campground right on the lake. It was the most breathtaking view I have ever witnessed. Standing there on the shoreline, I was so overcome with joy, amazement, and awe from the towering mountains ascending straight from the water’s edge. My life’s calling was revealed. My new purpose would be to create moments like I was experiencing — a joyful and healing connection to nature — for my fellow warriors struggling with PTSD and associated mental health issues. The work to establish Two Wolf Foundation began immediately. 

The Two Wolf Foundation is a military veteran founded 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that organizes small teams of military veterans and former first responders to connect, serve, and grow stronger together in the accomplishment of a new mission: the conservation and stewardship of our public lands. 

I am very grateful to now call western Montana home. It is truly an outdoorsman’s paradise. Its abundant hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities provide more for me than I will ever be able to describe. I very recently started to fly fish, and now I would say that my dream day is hiking along a small mountain stream catching native Westslope Cutthroat trout right here in Montana. I am planning a trip next year with some friends to fish for native California Golden Trout in the Eastern Sierra. Ask me this question again in a year and I might have to change my answer…

Being involved in conservation and stewardship of our public lands has brought a whole new level of appreciation and meaning to the time that I spent outdoors. The power of nature and outdoor recreation to promote healing is undeniable. Time spent outdoors has proven measurable positive impacts on our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Being able to give back to these outdoor spaces that provide us with so much is incredibly special to me. Through participation in conservation and stewardship, I find myself cultivating a much deeper connection to the land and a sense of pride knowing that I am doing my part to ensure that these healing spaces will still be accessible for future generations.

One of the most impacting elements of Two Wolf Foundation’s Warrior Stewardship program is being able to serve again as a member of a team. It fosters a renewed sense of belonging. The transition from military service can be extremely difficult and very lonely as life in the military is built on the framework of community. Throughout a military career, you will rarely do anything alone, there is always a “battle buddy” — the squad, the platoon, the company, and so on. In my case, the SFOD-A (Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha), a twelve-man Special Forces team, was the hardest thing to lose. The bond and friendships built during deployment, training, and in the team room give you the greatest sense of belonging achievable. But once the uniform comes off, it can feel like it’s just you, left to scrap it out alone. In the creation of Two Wolf Foundation, I saw conservation and land stewardship as a new mission, one that would need a team to accomplish it. This new mission would give us a chance to continue to serve together again with meaning and purpose. 

Two Wolf Foundation piloted their first Warrior Stewardship Team in October 2022, putting together a team of six combat veterans that embarked on a 1,100-mile overland adventure from Montana to Arizona with a mission to assist the Arizona Trail Association and the AZT VETS program with badly needed trail maintenance on the Arizona National Scenic Trail within the Four Peaks Wilderness. Over the course of the 11-day expedition, the team camped and explored public lands across 4 different states and successfully improved 12 miles of the Arizona National Scenic Trail and contributed 369 volunteer hours. 

The health of our public lands is impacted by many things including habitat degradation, invasive species, and climate change. I know there are amazing people, and organizations like the TRCP, working daily to develop solutions to protect the land and wildlife. But the biggest problem I see every day within every recreationist’s control is litter and pollution. You don’t need to be a biodiversity scientist or wildlife biologist to have an immediate and positive impact on these natural ecosystems. You just need to be responsible enough to pack out your trash. Responsible recreation is everyone’s job. It is increasingly frustrating and sad to see trash left behind at every campsite, to see every forest trail littered with soda and beer cans.  

It is my commitment to give back to what pulled me through the darkest moments of my life. For years, I relied on one “treatment” to deal with the mental health struggles that I faced: self-medication (alcohol abuse and dependency). In that time, I had lost my connection to nature and the peace that it brings the mind, body, and spirit. I only focused on numbing whatever pain, sadness, and stress was plaguing me and booze was the self-destructive “easy button. With the unwavering support of my wife and a few amazing friends, I was able to rediscover how beneficial the outdoors was. Pretty simply, I realized that a sober day afield hunting, fishing, hiking, or camping simply made me feel better! Committing my renewed life to conservation and stewardship service is in the hope of sustaining this incredible resource for others who may find themselves struggling the way that I was.

The outdoors is the ultimate classroom and provides so many valuable life lessons. Whether hunting or fishing, you must be totally present and aware of your surroundings. The woods and the water teach patience, critical thinking, safety, and responsibility. As important as it is to learn these skills in austere environments, it is equally important that the next generation of hunters and anglers understand how their actions impact this invaluable natural resource. We must lead by example, knowing that one day the responsibility of caring for these special places will lie in their hands. In every wonderful memory created by an outdoor experience, the next generation’s commitment to conservation will ensure those same opportunities exist for generations to come. 

In the last year, Two Wolf Foundation has organized three additional Warrior Stewardship Teams that have participated in public land stewardship and conservation projects in Utah, Idaho, and Montana in collaboration with their 2023 stewardship partner, Tread Lightly!  

Learn more about the Two Wolf Foundation by visiting Two Wolf Foundation | The One You Feed 

Click here to learn more about TRCP’s commitment to habitat and clean water.

Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email us at info@trcp.org

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.

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