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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.
In early August, I joined a group of volunteers with Impact Outdoors New Mexico on behalf of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to help complete three projects on a local landowner’s property near Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The projects benefited wildlife, hunters, and the ranching operation.
Impact Outdoors is a nonprofit organization dedicated to impacting communities through education, conservation, and meaningful outdoor opportunities like hunting and fishing. By fostering strong relationships and community, for both veterans and youth, Impact Outdoors builds a cadre of strong volunteers who possess a deep passion for the outdoors. Through Impact Outdoors, many of the youth and veterans volunteer their time to assist with habitat restoration on public and private lands.
Private landowners play instrumental roles for conservation, ensuring that public and private working lands are conserved and managed correctly benefits us all. Thanks to a great working relationship with a landowner near Santa Rose, NM, volunteers with Impact Outdoors had already been able to help restore wetlands, fence off riparian zones to protect cattle from over grazing and restore native grasses, and install water valves to ensure water gets to the appropriate locations on the property. Due to these past efforts, the leopard frog, which is listed as a species of conservation concern in New Mexico, has returned to the property.
The Hermit Peak and Calf Canyon Fire in 2022 burned northwest in the headwaters of the Pecos River and was the largest fire in New Mexico State history. This property is irrigated with water from the Pecos River. After the fire the region received large amounts of rain causing a carbon kill off in the river. Due to the quick actions of the landowner and Impact Outdoors NM they were able to keep the carbon out of the restored wetlands and maintain an intact macroinvertebrate source to reestablish in the Pecos River.
In a continuation of this important conservation work, I joined about 30 volunteers from Impact Outdoors NM as they set about tackling three new projects in coordination with the landowner. We installed a catwalk over a ditch headgate to ensure the landowners safety when changing water allocations for irrigation and providing water to the wetlands. We built a fully accessible duck blind that will accommodate a track chair and allow it to fully turn around. Lastly, we built a ramp and pully system that allows a layout boat to be launched into the wetlands allowing a hunter using a wheelchair to hunt waterfowl from the water with a volunteer from Impact Outdoors beside them in the water in waders.
The event was a great success and the completion of the three projects helped prepare the way for youth and veterans to have a quality location to hunt turkeys and waterfowl as well as fish this fall.
Wildlife and hunters win big in the BLM’s Four Rivers record of decision
Last week, after nearly eight years in the making, the Idaho Office of the Bureau of Land Management signed a Record of Decision on revisions to the Four Rivers Field Office resource management plan.
“This win for hunters is because Idaho’s outdoor community—hunters, outdoor business owners, wildlife professionals, conservationists, and outdoor recreationists—came together to ask for sensible, active management to perpetuate huntable wildlife populations in perpetuity,” said Rob Thornberry, Idaho field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We owe a huge thanks to our wonderful hunting and fishing community.”
The plan, which will set guidance in the 783,000-acre field office for decades to come, includes a major win for hunters: a 120,800-acre Backcountry Conservation Area where BLM “will promote public access to support wildlife-dependent recreation and hunting opportunities and facilitate the long-term maintenance of big game wildlife populations,” according to the ROD.
When successfully implemented by the BLM, the Bennett Hills BCA will be managed to:
• Protect and enhance public access to world-class hunting.
• Conserve intact wildlife habitat, including crucial big game winter range and migratory habitats for six distinct mule deer, elk, and pronghorn herds.
• Prioritize management practices that restore habitat and control noxious weeds (i.e. treat cheat grass, control conifer encroachment, and allow water developments).
• Support and maintain traditional uses of the land such as ranching and hunting.
In addition to the conservation of the Bennett Hills, the new resource management plan will continue wildlife-friendly management in the Boise Foothills and the conservation of habitat for both long-billed curlew south of Emmett and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse near New Meadows.
Release of the final plan follows roughly a decade-long effort by TRCP to make BCAs a reality. That path included the release of a draft environmental impact statement and resource management plan in May 2019 where the agency’s preferred alternative excluded all wildlife protections from the plan, such as the then-proposed BCA, 11 Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and one area identified as Lands with Wilderness Character.
The TRCP worked with Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Idaho Chukar Foundation, and other independent hunters and anglers to facilitate the return of wildlife friendly protections, including reinstating the Bennet Hills BCA and Boise Front ACEC, to the final plan. The Boise Front ACEC is a key piece in this public land conglomeration puzzle because the area annually hosts thousands of wintering deer, elk, and pronghorn. Like the Bennett Hills BCA, it is critical for the long-term viability of deer, elk, and pronghorn.
Thirty-nine Idaho-based sporting businesses also advocated that BLM include significant conservation measures within the final plan.
Drew Wahlin, executive director of the Idaho Chukar Foundation, echoed those comments and gave special praise to the BLM.
“BLM deserves a huge thank you,” said Wahlin. “These conservation measures wouldn’t have been possible without the thoughtful leadership of BLM.”
Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish here.
Anglers are campaigning to update the designations of some Pennsylvania waterways to reflect the exceptional status of their wild trout populations and water quality
Four times each year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission proposes streams to be added to the Wild Trout and Class A lists. Right now, there are 59 Wild Trout streams that represent the best of our best waters. Those eligible for protection during this comment period include streams that are well-known to local anglers, such as Baptism Creek in Chester County and numerous trout-filled tributaries of Johnson Creek and the Lackawaxen River in Pike and Wayne counties.
Pennsylvania sportsmen and sportswomen have a chance to influence this process and seal the deal for our best trout streams—here’s why you should take action today.
With 86,000 miles of streams and about 4,000 inland lakes, Pennsylvania is home to some of the best publicly accessible fishing that the East Coast has to offer, including phenomenal trout and bass fishing. With opportunities like these, it’s no wonder that 1.2 million Pennsylvanians fished their local waterways in 2020, helping contribute to the state’s $58-billion outdoor recreation economy.
Since 2010, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has worked with sportsmen and local universities to distinguish our best waters through the Unassessed Waters Program. Based on the UWP’s evaluation, stream sections that meet a set of criteria are eligible for certain protections. For example, streams that have abundant populations of wild rainbow, brown, and brook trout can be eligible for Wild Trout Stream or Class A Stream designations. Protecting these streams ensures that the outdoor recreation industry continues to thrive and that future generations can enjoy the same (or better) fishing opportunities.
Tackle shops and fishing guides are among the businesses that make up an important part of the robust outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania. And giving special consideration to the best wild trout streams supports these small businesses. “When I worked in the local fly shop, the Class A list provided a great reference to point people in the right direction to find trout water,” says Matthew Marran, a flyfishing guide and former fly shop worker in the Delaware River Basin. “As a guide, I depend on Class A waters to put clients on wild trout with consistency and confidence. And I’m seeing more and more people ask when booking to fish exclusively for wild trout.”
In these cases, what’s in a name really matters: Wild Trout and Class A streams qualify for additional protections from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, including the limitation of activities around these streams that would degrade water quality. The Wild Trout Stream title designates a water as a Coldwater Fishery and protects surrounding wetlands from development. Similarly, streams that qualify for the Class A designation get additional recognition as high-quality waters, which restricts in-stream discharges and guards against habitat degradation.
These designations from the PFBC are critical to helping the state manage and protect fish populations, especially as demands on Pennsylvania’s water resources continue to increase. When you consider that roughly 40 percent of streams across the state are NOT suitable for fishing, swimming, and/or drinking water, according to the DEP, it makes sense to safeguard the exceptional waterways that already meet top standards and support outdoor recreation that drives our economy.
Fortunately, sportsmen and sportswomen understand the importance of this process. A TRCP survey found that 92 percent of Pennsylvania sportsmen and women support designating streams when they meet the right criteria.
Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers have an important opportunity to conserve more critical streams. If we don’t speak up, these exceptional waterways could easily be degraded and eventually lost to pollution.
Take action now and tell the PA Fish and Boat Commission that you value these protections for clean water and fish habitat.
This blog was originally posted in November 2019 and has been updated for each quarterly public comment period. The current comment period ends on September 18, 2023. Photos by Derek Eberly.
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.Learn More