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August 23, 2023

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August 18, 2023

Sportsmen and Sportswomen Cheer BLM Decision to Conserve Bennett Hills

120,800 acres of big game winter range will be managed for the benefit of Idaho’s hunters and anglers

Idaho sportsmen and sportswomen today celebrated the Bureau of Land Management’s official move to conserve 120,800 acres of valuable big game habitat in the Bennett Hills north of Mountain Home.

The Idaho BLM state director has signed the Record of Decision for the Four Rivers Resource Management Plan, a document that will guide the agency’s management actions for more than 783,000 acres of public lands in central and western Idaho for the next two decades. Within the plan, BLM officials took action to conserve game migrations, winter ranges, and public access by creating the 120,800-acre Bennett Hills Backcountry Conservation Area.

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.

The new plan culminates roughly a decade of planning efforts by the BLM, state wildlife biologists, and the hunting community. Thirty-nine outdoor-related businesses and eight hunting and fishing organizations supported conservation measures in the Four Rivers RMP.

“The Bennett Hills are a bird hunting destination and an essential winter area for the famed King Hill mule deer hunt. It is worthy of protections that help wildlife and sportsmen,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation.

The BLM Four Rivers Field Office includes Idaho Department of Fish and Game Hunting Units 39, 43, 44, and 45 in the central and western portions of the state. These popular public lands help fuel Idaho’s multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy, provide important wildlife habitat, and support various traditional uses of the land.

“The Bennett Hills form key winter range for several of southern Idaho’s mule deer herds and provide local habitat for sage grouse and other upland birds,” said Ford Van Fossan, director of brand at First Lite. “As a member of Idaho’s hunting industry, First Lite is excited by efforts to conserve and enhance this critical part of the state’s natural heritage.”

“This area is prioritized by IDFG for the conservation of migratory habitats for six distinct mule deer, elk, and pronghorn herds,” said Rob Thornberry, Idaho field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “From limited-entry big game hunting in Units 44 and 45 to the over-the-counter opportunities in Units 39 and 43, you aren’t going to find a better place to hunt mule deer than on public lands managed by the Four Rivers BLM field office.”

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.

“Sportsmen and sportswomen thank the BLM for these management prescriptions that will help conserve a vast suite of wildlife species, including huntable species such as mule deer, elk, chukar, and sharp-tailed grouse,” continued Thornberry.

Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to public access here.

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August 17, 2023

TRCP to Engage Members in BLM Rock Springs Management Plan Comment Period

We encourage the BLM to conserve big game habitats & hunting and fishing areas

Today the Bureau of Land Management released a draft plan that—when completed—will guide land management decisions for 3.6 million acres of public lands overseen by its Rock Springs Field Office in southwest Wyoming. This area includes habitats that support the Red Desert-to-Hoback mule deer migration corridor, the longest of its kind in North America.

“The diverse landscapes of the Rock Springs Field Office contain critical winter range for migratory big game, core sage grouse habitat, and world-class hunting and fishing areas such as the Greater Little Mountain Area,” said Josh Metten, Wyoming field manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Wyomingites love this wild and working landscape and want to ensure that these public lands are managed so future generations may also experience their richness.”

The TRCP and partners have been involved in the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan revision efforts since scoping began in 2010. The draft RMP is an important step forward in a lengthy public process that determines how habitat, recreation, development, and other uses will be balanced in the future. This release kicks off a 90-day comment period where the public will have an opportunity to provide input on the preferred alternative and other management options developed by the Rock Springs Field Office. 

“Thousands of sportspeople recreate, hunt, fish, and work on the lands that will be managed by the Rock Springs RMP, all of whom have a vested interest in the outcome of this revision,” added Metten. “TRCP is committed to working with our membership, partners, state and local governments, and other key stakeholders to facilitate a successful outcome for the Rock Springs RMP that will benefit sportspeople.”

Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to public access here.

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August 16, 2023

Interactive Map Shows PA Streams Lacking the Conservation They Deserve

Explore the waterways that qualify for High Quality and Exceptional Value status but have been backlogged at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

If you’ve been following the TRCP for a while, you’ve likely seen us call for Pennsylvania anglers to take action in support of upgrading conservation safeguards that the PA Fish and Boat Commission can provide to our best trout streams. In this process, the commission opens a public comment period every three months and anglers are outspoken in their support of bestowing Wild Trout and Class A Wild Trout stream status where waterways are eligible.

Similarly, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection develops water quality standards designed to safeguard PA streams, rivers, and lakes and give the highest possible protections to our best waters. The agency designates qualified waters as High Quality or Exceptional Value to protect and maintain clean water where it already exists.

Unfortunately, a lengthy list of PA’s top wild trout streams qualify for the highest conservation safeguards at the DEP, but the agency has failed to implement these protections. And our trout streams have waited long enough.

Explore the map to see which streams in the Delaware River watershed are currently backlogged and pending designation by the DEP.
How Did So Many Streams Get Backlogged for Designation?

Waterways can be recommended for upgraded status by the DEP, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, or the public. After streams are proposed for additional designation, an arduous assessment by the DEP then follows. In fact, the evaluation of High Quality and Exceptional Value streams often represents years, if not decades, of work and detailed water surveys.

Even after this thorough process, though, some streams have not yet been designated. (See streams marked “Qualifies for Conservation” on the map.)

Many waters being considered right now are already recognized as wild trout waters and several are recognized as Class A wild trout waters by PFBC. (See streams marked “Recommended for Conservation” on the map.)

This means that not only do these waters sustain naturally reproducing populations of trout, but several of them are among the best in the state. These waters deserve top conservation safeguards, according to one state agency, but they await assessment and designation by the other. This has resulted in a lengthy backlog and delay in commonsense protections.

Why Is It Important to Clear the Backlog of Stream Designations?

Clearing the backlog is particularly important to our state’s $58-billion outdoor recreation economy right now. These additional protections are critical to helping the state manage and protect fish populations, especially as demands on 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.

TRCP polling shows that 92 percent of sportsmen and sportswomen in Pennsylvania support maintaining and strengthening clean water standards in the state, which is home to some of the best publicly accessible fishing that the East Coast has to offer. Providing additional conservation safeguards to the best wild trout streams also supports small businesses like tackle shops and fishing guide services that make up an important part of the robust outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania.

Take action now and tell the PA Department of Environmental Protection to clear the backlog and conserve our best waters.

Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program.

Beyond the Bullet

An unfortunate discovery resulted in the author’s conservation passion

I didn’t grow up in a hunting or fishing family. However, like most kids in Montana, I spent a lot of time outdoors rock climbing, camping, floating rivers, and skiing. My mom bought me my first fishing rod and tackle box—Tweedy Bird themed, of course—which I took to Flathead Lake to catch perch in the sailboat marina while my dad cursed at the old rusty motor that never seemed to start. I tried fly fishing, and it quickly became an obsession of mine. But I never thought I would become a hunter.

In college, I spent a lot of time at my boyfriend’s house. There, his roommates frequently made nachos, steaks, burgers, lasagna, and other amazing meals from the game meat they hunted. While it was apparent that the romantic relationship wasn’t going to last, I had fallen in love with the taste of elk, mule deer, and pronghorn, and knew I needed to become a self-sufficient hunter.

After taking hunter education, I didn’t really know the next step. No one in my family or friend group donned an orange vest and headed to the mountains looking for deer. Fortunately, I was able to join the University of Montana’s Backcountry Hunters & Anglers collegiate club, which opened up so many opportunities. I attended a Hunting for Sustainability course at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, where we learned about hunting ethics, techniques, and my favorite part: how to prepare different dishes with game meat.

Through the BHA Club, I also met Mike McTee, a researcher at the MPG Ranch in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, who came and presented on the impacts of lead from spent ammunition on non-target wildlife species. I was still so new to hunting that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the concept, but fast forward a year and it would hit home.

The lead-poisoned golden eagle that Leonard found while hunting.

The following hunting season I joined a family friend on a moose hunt, a once-in-a-lifetime tag for him. After two days of only spotting cow/calf pairs, he decided it was time to take a break from moose and try to help me fill my deer tag.

We drove to a Block Management Area—a great cooperative program between private landowners and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks that provides landowners compensation for offering free public hunting access to private land. After hunting up and down several drainages, we had yet to see an animal. Not even a coyote slunk through the draws. We decided to head back to the truck and try a different spot, but as we crested a coulee, a golden eagle suddenly appeared in the sagebrush in front of us.

Surprisingly, the huge raptor didn’t fly away. We could tell the eagle was alert but could also see something was wrong. The talons were clenched, and wings drooped forward. The bird was in trouble, and while I’m not a biologist, I knew enough to understand that this eagle would not survive if we left it there. Assuming the bird had been electrocuted by the power lines above us, I found the number for Wild Skies Raptor Center and called the wildlife rescue organization.

The founder, Brooke Tanner, answered the phone and instructed us on how to capture the bird and bring it safely to her center. We grabbed one of our hunting coats and slowly approached the bird. It made a feeble attempt to wobble away, then froze as we tossed the coat over the frail body. The eagle was so weak it didn’t fight back or even jostle was we scooped it up and drove to the house to place it in a dog kennel for safe transport to the rehabbers. I had never seen an eagle up close like that before, let alone held one.

After delivering the eagle to Brooke, she called me a few hours later to explain that the eagle was suffering from lead poisoning.

“Lead poisoning!?” I exclaimed. “Eagles aren’t licking lead paint off old barns!”

Lead bullet fragments.

Brooke then reminded me of what Mike McTee had said a year prior—when a hunter shoots an animal with a lead bullet, that bullet shatters into hundreds of tiny fragments. Those fragments end up in gut piles that scavengers, like golden eagles, take as a free meal. Like me, eagles enjoy the bounty of a successful harvest, however when eagles eat gut piles seasoned with lead fragments, the poison can result in a plethora of issues, including weakness, clenched talons, muscle wasting, blindness, and death.

I was floored. I had a lead bullet chambered when I found the eagle.

Brooke also explained to me that there are alternatives to lead bullets that I should investigate. I quickly found that copper bullets don’t fragment like lead, perform at a high-level, and leave a clean gut pile for scavengers. For me, this was a no-brainer transition.

Unfortunately, the golden eagle died two days later. The raptor was too far gone when we arrived to survive chelation, the treatment used on lead-poisoned birds.

This experience led me to my current profession. I’m now the Program Director for a Wyoming-based educational initiative, Sporting Lead-Free. Our mission is to encourage the voluntary use of lead-free ammunition and fishing tackle in the field and promote the conservation ethics of our sporting communities.

As hunters, we have the responsibility not only to the animals we harvest in the field, but to what happens beyond the bullet. Making the voluntary choice to switch to lead-free ammunition when we harvest our game will not only help non-target wildlife like eagles, but also removes one more point of attack on hunting.

Visit www.sportingleadfree.org to learn more about who we are, what we do, and find resources to help you switch to sporting lead free.

PC: Hannah Leonard

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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