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New conservation area would sustain voluntary agreements with willing landowners utilizing LWCF dollars
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to create a new conservation area in southwest Montana. As proposed, the Missouri Headwaters Conservation Area would advance a vision for the future of working agricultural lands in this region by allowing the use of Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to conserve working lands through voluntary agreements with landowners in portions of Beaverhead, Madison, Deer Lodge, Jefferson, and Silver Bow Counties.
“The proposed support from the Fish and Wildlife Service for private lands conservation means ranching will remain a strong pillar in this valley,” said Jeff Johnson, a rancher from Dell. “Ranching is tough work, and the development pressures on farms and ranches make it that much tougher. These financial resources are what we need to make sure working lands remain productive.”
The proposal would not allow fee title acquisition and—as proposed—would limit the scale of voluntary conservation easements within the project area to 250,000 acres. Given increasing development pressure on Montana farms and ranches, the conservation area would offer private landowners additional financial options to maintain their agricultural operations, while conserving valuable wildlife habitat.
“Southwest Montana provides some of the finest wildlife habitat and hunting country found anywhere,” said Chris Marchion with Anaconda Sportsman’s Club. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal for southwest Montana will make funding available to keep agricultural lands in production, while maintaining the wildlife habitat that supports our hunting traditions.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service has an extensive history of working with landowners to create private land conservation areas in Montana, and similar project areas have long existed on the Rocky Mountain Front and in the Blackfoot River Valley.
“Voluntary private lands conservation has been a success story for wildlife and working lands across Montana for decades,” said Joel Webster, VP of western conservation for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We are excited about this proposal to support Montana farms, ranches, and wildlife habitat, and we encourage the Fish and Wildlife Service to listen to local landowners as they refine the proposal.”
A public comment period is expected to commence on Sept. 20 and run through Oct. 26.
Learn more about TRCP’s conservation work in southwest Montana here.
Photo Credit: James Wicks
Paper Trails was filmed nearly a year ago, but the memories are still fresh for Mason
With a Wyoming pronghorn antelope hunt as a backdrop, Paper Trails and its characters, including Mason, uncover the challenges hunters and other outdoor recreationists face when accessing and navigating their public lands and describe what’s being done to improve that access.
TRCP: With hunting season around the corner, we have to ask—did you draw another pronghorn tag this year?
Mason: I didn’t, but two of my kids drew the same tag I had last year. So we’re excited to get back out there this season!
TRCP: The buck you took last year was great, and from the film it looked like you put in some serious work to find access. Can you talk about some of the challenges that arise when navigating public access in areas with mixed public-private ownership?
Mason: The biggest challenge is just to make sure you don’t trespass and cause frustrations for local landowners. I study maps and apps intently to ensure I know where to go and where not to go. Even with studying maps, though, there is nothing like ground-truthing. Sometimes access looks easy on a map, but then you get there, and the road on the map either doesn’t exist or isn’t a public road. It can be very frustrating, but very rewarding when you do it right and respect all landowners in the area.
We saw a lot of pronghorn and discovered new areas to access that I couldn’t in the past thanks to a walk-in program.
TRCP: What were your expectations going into the hunt?
Mason: I had hunted this area in the past, but it had been a while. My expectations were to see a few pronghorn on land I could hunt and then make the most of limited opportunities. Thankfully, though, we saw a lot of pronghorn and discovered new areas to access that I couldn’t in the past thanks to a walk-in program administered by the Wyoming Game & Fish and private landowners.
TRCP: Your buck didn’t take a step after the shot—what rifle and cartridge were you shooting?
Mason: I was using a Savage Impulse Mountain Hunter rifle in 6.5 PRC with a 143 grain ELD-X bullet from Hornady in their Precision Hunter line of ammunition. It definitely did the job quickly and cleanly. It was actually the first animal harvested with that new rifle, which was pretty cool for this film. That round is amazingly flat-shooting and accurate.
TRCP: What was uncovered during the research and filming of Paper Trails that surprised you the most?
Mason: The sheer volume of records that are managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, state county offices, etc. It truly was dumbfounding when we were in the Forest Service’s Missoula office, as well as the passion and attention to detail of their personnel like Will Pedde. They see it as their life’s work and are very dedicated to managing all of those records.
TRCP: How will you use the knowledge you gained from that hunt this season?
Mason: I plan to impress upon our audience at Eastmans’, as well as my children, on just how precious our access is to public land and how we all need to do our best to be good stewards on public and private lands to ensure we are able to have that access in the future.
TRCP: What’s your #1 tip for hunting pronghorn?
Mason: Don’t act sneaky! Hahaha…it seems the sneakier I try to act, the more I scare them off. I’ve discovered that if you act too interested in them, they’ll turn tail and be in the next county before you know it. Have patience and have fun. Pronghorn hunting is such a fun way to spend time with family and friends, so don’t take yourself too seriously when you’re out there.
TRCP: What made pronghorn the perfect hunt to highlight the challenges and opportunities of public access?
Mason: Pronghorn live in some of the most checkerboarded landscapes out West. To be successful year in and year out, it is imperative to hunt similar areas as often as possible and do your homework on public land access well in advance of the hunt itself. Pronghorn hunting is often a challenge to the public land hunter, which makes them the perfect species to highlight access opportunities.
TRCP: What are some of the tools you use to help identify and navigate public access?
Mason: Obviously onX has changed the game and made us all more intuitive hunters. I’m also a map geek and love pouring over maps, using a compass, and studying topography and landscape features to not only navigate public access, but also to understand where animals can predictably be out on the landscape, no matter what state I’m in.
TRCP: What advice about access would you give to hunters heading to a new area to hunt this season?
Mason: Start your research early, talk to game and fish officials, land management agencies, other hunters on forums, friends and family that have hunted that same area and/or that same species in the past, and just soak it all in. Life is a series of data points on a graph. Data points form clusters, and the clusters tell a story. It takes time, and each experience helps you have fun and be successful in the next opportunity. That goes for all things in life…not just hunting. I’m always gleaning information from everything and everyone around me in my day-to-day life.
Photo Credit: Eastmans’ Hunting Journals
Group supports access priorities and urges proactive planning to conserve habitat
Today, the Bureau of Land Management unveiled a new plan for managing outdoor recreation on the agency’s 245 million acres of federal public lands. The plan was dubbed by the BLM as a necessary step for the agency to “proactively meet modern demands for exceptional and unique outdoor experiences.”
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership agreed with the agency that a proactive recreation plan is needed for the BLM and responded favorably to the new proposal.
“Given skyrocketing visitation pressure on BLM lands, we concur that the agency needs to proactively manage recreation to provide access while prioritizing habitat conservation,” said Joel Webster, VP of western conservation with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate BLM’s recognition of the importance of securing access to landlocked public lands, implementing the MAPLand Act, and completing travel management planning, all while protecting sensitive resources like wildlife habitat.”
The BLM’s plan highlights four pathways to success. Each of those pathways offer specific directions for numerous management issues, including the need for the agency to acquire access; prioritize and embrace partnerships; expand diversity, equity, and inclusion to programs, exhibits, and signs; and to protect sensitive resources.
“TRCP plans to weigh in with the BLM on how to implement the plan, including ideas for expanding access for the public and providing for outdoor recreation, while ensuring fish and wildlife habitat continue to function on our public lands,” continued Webster. “We can have both expanded outdoor opportunities and robust wildlife populations, and it will require funding and a shared commitment to effectively manage for these different resource values.”
Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish here.
Photo Credit: James Wicks
Newly established Wildlife Management Areas and critical management updates seek to protect and enhance high-value habitat for big game
The over three million acres of public land that make up the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests in Western Colorado will soon have an updated management plan thanks to the hard work and years of public and partner engagement by Forest Service staff.
The GMUG National Forests comprise hunting units where approximately 50,000 big game hunting licenses are allocated annually, and support nearly 20 percent of the state’s iconic mule deer and elk populations. The GMUG currently hosts 3,000 miles of sanctioned recreational trails, four scenic byways, six peaks over 14,000 feet, 10 Wilderness areas, and over 3,600 miles of perennial streams. If the Forest Service adopts its preferred alternative in the final environmental impact statement and approves its draft record of decision, 834,000 acres (28% of the GMUG Forests) would be managed with a focus on conserving important seasonal habitats for big game and other wildlife species.
“The management objectives and guidelines specific to over 800,000 acres of newly defined Wildlife Management Areas that seek to maintain and improve habitat connectivity and function, including vegetation management projects designed to improve habitat long term, will benefit hunter and angler opportunity,” praised Liz Rose, TRCP’s Colorado field representative.
The proposed GMUG National Forests’ Revised Land Management Plan aims to protect and reinforce the forests’ value to recreationists, local communities, and wildlife through active and adaptive management as social and environmental pressures continue to change. A century of fire suppression combined with ever-increasing risks from drought and wildfire and unprecedented increases in recreational use means that planning, active management, and monitoring, all informed by the best available data and science, is needed to restore diverse, healthy, natural systems across the GMUG Forests.
“Wildlife need healthy forests in the near and long term and status quo is not an option for maintaining them,” explained Patt Dorsey, west region director of conservation operations for the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Forest restoration activities that maintain forest resilience are crucial on the landscape and project level.”
The proposed plan aims to steer future recreational trail expansion away from Wildlife Management Areas, designated and proposed Wilderness, and other special areas such as Research Natural Areas. Furthermore, in Wildlife Management Areas, the Forest Service intends to maintain a lower density of roads and trails in order to minimize habitat fragmentation and year-round disturbance to wildlife. This management standard will help make Wildlife Management Areas high-quality habitats for deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, Gunnison sage-grouse, and other wildlife. The TRCP looks forward to working with the Forest Service to finalize the proposed GMUG to benefit Colorado’s fish, wildlife, and outdoorspeople.
The Forest Service will accept formal objections during a 60-day objection period. Following this period, the Forest Service may revise its plan then issue a record of decision and adopt the plan as final. The TRCP encourages the Forest Service to adopt a final plan expeditiously so GMUG staff can begin 2024 with updated direction to improve fish, wildlife, and watershed health, and provide opportunities for people to safely, confidently, and successfully utilize and enjoy time spent on Colorado’s special public lands.
Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish here.
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