The sale of your public lands is more possible now than ever

Yesterday the US Senate passed a budget resolution that, while it does not carry the weight of law – does serve as an internal instructional document, a broad outline of the policies and priorities that Congress will seek over the next few months to implement in legislation that most certainly will carry the weight of law. As such, it included a series of up or down votes that put members of the Senate on record on several issues important to sportsmen.

Photo courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

And, in general, it was not good news.  First, the numbers:

The Senate budget resolution would maintain sequestration for non-defense discretionary spending (including all conservation spending) and then cut an additional $236 billion over the 2017 to 2025 period.  The Senate budget would cut conservation funding in FY2016 by about $5 billion dollars relative to 2013 levels.  Conservation Funding wouldn’t return to its 2013 funding level of $41 billion until 2022.  If you adjust for inflation the cuts inflicted by the budget will be far worse.

And now the policy:

I’ll start with the two bright spots.  Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) amendment clarifies that all existing agricultural exemptions in the Clean Water Act, which date back to the early 1970s, should be maintained in the proposed Waters of the US rule.  That the amendment passed unanimously may signal that Congress may be willing to look at the facts on the proposed rule and not just the rhetoric from status quo stakeholders.  The next bright spot was an amendment offered by Senators Crapo (R-ID) and Wyden (D-OR) that changes the way we pay for catastrophic fires, which now eat up almost half of the Forest Service’s annual budget. The amendment had sufficient support that it was included in the manager’s report by acclimation.

Besides the basic funding levels, the giant alarm bell coming from the budget resolution was the amendment offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that essentially encourages Congress to “sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument…” The amendment passed 51-49. Here is a roll call of the vote.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

As most sportsmen know, transferring lands to the state or selling them off is a bad deal for sportsmen.  See www.sportsmensaccess.org for more information on the issue.  If Congress were to follow these instructions, all BLM lands, National Forests and even National Wildlife Refuges could go on the chopping block.  Heck, even national battlefields and historic sites could be transferred or sold.

All Democrats voted against the Murkowski amendment, and three Republicans — Senators Alexander (TN), Senator Ayotte (NH) and Senator Gardner (CO) — bucked leadership and sided with sportsmen.

The budget resolution does not carry the weight of law and is an easy place for members to make “symbolic” votes without actually changing the law.  But symbolic votes show what members think and what they think is important.

Make no mistake about it, the public lands vote on the budget resolution was a finger in the eye to sportsmen everywhere.  But the real action is still to come, the question is whether sportsmen and women will pay attention and make their elected representatives know what they think about selling off or giving away our public lands.

As a sportsman who cares about access to our federal public lands, you can do two things right away.

  1. Sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition at www.sportsmensaccess.org – and then forward it to two other friends and urge them to sign as well.
  2. Call your Senator’s office at (202) 224-3121 and thank them if they voted ‘No’ or voice your concern if they voted ‘Yes’ (see how they voted here).

Critter Madness Highlight Reel: Gobblers strut to a win

Make no mistake. Round two of Critter Madness 2015 was a nail-biter. Three of the eight matches were decided by only a handful of votes.

Yellowfin v. tarpon went down to the wire, with the tuna barely advancing with 52.5% percent of the vote. The mallard narrowly escaped an upset scare at the hands of the sharp-tailed grouse and advanced to the field of eight with 53.4% of the vote. And, after a match-up with record turnout and multiple lead changes, the wild turkey outlasted the pheasant in a true knock-down, drag-out fight.

Ali vs Fraiser. Lakers vs Celtics. USA vs the Soviets. And pheasant vs turkeys.

Of course, it wasn’t always close. After taking down the largemouth bass, the smallmouth bass was no match for the brook trout’s Cinderella run. Chinook salmon easily upset our saltwater fishing favorite, the blue marlin, 71.6% to 28.4%. And while we know westerners love their mule deer, it’s pretty clear that they love elk even more.

Now, it’s time for America to determine its regional champions. By the end of the day on Monday, we’ll know America’s favorite big game species, game bird, and saltwater and freshwater fish.

On the terrestrial side, we have a match-up of heavy-weights. Two staples of North American game, the whitetail and the elk, will lock antlers to see who will take home the title of America’s favorite big game species. The mallard and the turkey will face off, beak-to-beak, for the chance to be the avian representative in the Sportsmen’s Four.

While favorites have dominated on land, the aquatic bracket is wide open. Will the brook trout continue its Cinderella story to be our freshwater champion or will the rainbow trout leave the upset bid in its wake? In a matchup of two of America’s hardest hitters, will king salmon or yellowfin tuna emerge as your favorite saltwater game fish?

The stakes are higher now so we’re upping our prizes. Brett Fitzgerald of Florida won our second round prize, a brand new pair of Costa Sunglasses. For the round three, we’re going even bigger. On the March 30, we’ll draw our next winner and they’ll go home with a Abu Garcia Orra SX Low Profile baitcasting combo.

Choose America’s favorite game animal AND win this cool stuff? Now that’s what I’m talking about…

We’re giving out trophies soon, and as American sportsmen and women, you’re on the selection committee. What will you decide?

Log on to crittermadness.org today, cast your votes, and register to win some great prizes.

Looking for updates from earlier in the tournament? Check out our round one recap here or check out our tournament preview here.

Critter Madness fan prediction: elk will go all the way

Josh Grieser from Colorado Springs, Colo., was selected as the first winner of our Critter Madness bracket challenge, and we sent him some great gear from Orvis, Buck Knives, and Berkley. He plans to use his prizes on his next trip to Eleven Mile Canyon on the South Platte River, where he’s pictured here fishing for brown trout.

Josh Grieser fishing the South Platte River.

TRCP: Josh, which species do you see going all the way in our Critter Madness Tournament?

JG: I think Critter Madness is a great idea, and I think that elk are going to take the whole thing. I’d definitely like to see steelhead make it pretty far, because I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest and grew up fishing for them, but elk are high on every hunter’s list. I bet, across the country, almost everyone who likes to hunt would love a shot at a big bull at least once in their lifetime.

TRCP: Does that include you?

JG: Oh, yeah! My wife and I recently got into bowhunting for elk, and we’ve got a pretty intense off-season training regimen going, so we’ll be prepared to stalk in close. I love that, especially with archery, you really have to work for it and put in the miles. We’re also planning to put in for our first mule deer tag this year.

Congratulations, Josh, and we hope you have great hunting and fishing this year!

Vote now for your chance to win prizes from Abu Garcia, Remington, and Yeti.

Snapshots of Success: Lemhi Valley, Idaho

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Here is lesson three from Lemhi Valley, Idaho:

Joining forces to rejuvenate the Lemhi River: Lemhi River restoration

Immediately after Idaho rancher Merrill Beyeler met with a state fish and game officer to discuss how best to keep grazing cattle away from the Lemhi River, he started getting calls from neighbors.

Photo courtesy of Bill Mullins.

“My neighbors wanted to know if I was going to jail,” Beyeler said. “That’s how bad the mistrust was at the time.”

That was more than 20 years ago. Funding was scarce. But Merrill Beyeler’s initial conversation eventually brought together the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and state agencies, which found funding to improve fencing on Beyeler’s ranch. And a major conservation partnership began.

The Problem

Before the partnership, irrigation along the Lemhi resulted in polluted water, limited flow and increased water temperatures. Irrigators had also installed diversions that prevented traditional spawning migrations for Chinook salmon. Water quality and quantity suffered, and so did salmon populations.

But relationships improved. Local landowners and irrigators along the Lemhi eventually teamed up with The Nature Conservancy to use Bonneville Power Administration grant funding through the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program (CBWTP) to restore the river and redevelop the natural habitat for salmon and many other fish, wildlife and vegetation.

How It Worked

With funding from the CBWTP, project leaders acquired a 630-acre conservation easement allowing local landowners to protect 7.5 miles of river habitat. The project allows ranchers and landowners to continue their long-term stewardship of

The new channel.

their land while meeting the conservation needs of the ecosystem.

It’s not just the fish that benefit from the project. With help from The Nature Conservancy, farmers and ranchers in the Lemhi Valley installed high-efficiency sprinkler systems, which means less demand for river water for irrigation—and more water for fish.

Ranching and Stewardship

Merrill Beyeler, now a Republican state representative in Idaho, entered into a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy. The agreement allowed him to purchase another ranch with an existing easement, almost doubling the size of his property. The expansion of the property provides more flexibility while adjusting to the conservation standards set forth by the easement. Grazing areas can be rested and rotated with greater frequency, and cattle have been kept off sensitive riverbanks without negatively impacting the ranch’s bottom line.

Lemhi River chinook salmon.

In recent years, Beyeler has witnessed the Lemhi River rush back to life, rejuvenating the entire valley and the economy it supports. Fish and wildlife have reappeared, and local communities see children return to establish their own families and businesses. Merrill Beyeler sees conservation as a catalyst for economic opportunity, business diversity and community vitality.

Snapshots of Success: Grand Junction, Colorado

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Here is lesson two from Grand Junction, Colorado:

Sweet Success From  a Salty Situation: Colorado River salinity control and water flow restoration

Grand Valley canal.

Thanks to federal funding, innovative water managers and organizations like The Nature Conservancy, both endangered fish and local farmers benefit in Colorado’s Grand Valley surrounding the city of Grand Junction.

Cities as far away as Los Angeles and farmers as far downstream as Yuma, Arizona, also benefit from salinity control in the Grand Valley made possible by federal grants coordinated with major state, power user, and irrigator cost sharing.

How did it happen?

As part of a comprehensive program to control the loading of more than half a million tons of salt every year into the Colorado River from irrigation in the Grand Valley, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation engineers began lining sections of the 100-year old Government Highline Canal in the 1980s. The Highline Canal can divert over 1600 cubic feet of water per second from the Colorado River northeast of Grand Junction, and feeds several other irrigation systems in the Grand Valley on both sides of the river, including the Orchard Mesa Canal. Many farmers, meantime, took advantage of Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding to make on-farm irrigation improvements (such as installing pipes between the canal and farms) to control salinity loading.
It didn’t take long for all this cooperative salinity control to make irrigating in the valley much more efficient. But the combined diversions by the Government Highline Canal

and the Grand Valley Irrigation Company further downstream sometimes still de-watered a 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River that is critical habitat for two endangered fish species – the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

“Humpback Chub.” Photo courtesy of Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

Working with the Bureau of Reclamation, supportive water users and numerous other partners in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, The Nature Conservancy secured even more improvements in the efficiency of the Highline Canal. With these water savings, the Highline Canal reduced its river diversions and stored the saved water upstream, restoring flows in the river—all without reducing farm deliveries.

These most recent improvements to the Highline Canal funded by the Bureau of Reclamation through the endangered fish program include state-of-the-art computerized monitoring equipment and check dams within the main canal. Before, the Government Highline Canal often carried up to 650 cubic feet per second. Now the canal can run at a rate of about 150 cubic feet per second late in the irrigation season.

What’s next?

Today the long-term effort to keep salt out of the Colorado River runs parallel to the effort to restore the flow of water for endangered fish recovery—as water efficiency improvements near completion.

Read the full report. 

Critter Madness Highlight Reel: The Brook Trout’s Cinderella Story

No top seed is safe in March. All it takes is one precocious upstart, a late-game surge, and just a touch of luck to knock off a heavyweight.

Kansas knows it. Villanova knows it, too. But few may know it better than the largemouth bass.

During week one of Critter Madness 2015, the top-seeded largemouth bass faced off against the eight-seed brook trout. Five thousand votes later, America’s most pursued gamefish faced defeat. In the end, 55% of voters pulled for the Northeastern native, blowing the freshwater region wide open.

And there were a few other nail-biters. Bobwhite quail captured 40% of the vote in its matchup, putting up a strong fight against the heavily favored mallard. Yellowfin tuna narrowly edged out redfish, 55% to 45%. And the pronghorn handily upset the feral pig, 70% to 30%.

The sixteen species headed into round two weren’t the only winners last week. Congratulations to Josh Grieser of Colorado, who was selected from round one voters to take home an Orvis Gale Force backpack, a TRCP Buck knife, and a pair of Berkley pliers.

As we move into round two, things are about to get really interesting. America’s favorite game animals and sport fish face off head-to-head, beak-to-beak, and fin-to-fin. How will you choose between the elk and the mule deer? We know America loves its turkey hunts, but does it love a good pheasant hunt more? And will the brook trout continue its Cinderella story into the third round?

Log in. Vote for your favorites. Enter to win a pair of Costa sunglasses. And keep it locked on Critter Madness 2015.

Seven Reasons Why Wingshooters and Sage-Grouse Conservationists Should be Hopeful

Ongoing concern for sage-grouse resources was matched with guarded optimism by a room full of state, federal, and non-profit wildlife conservation professionals at a gathering during the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Omaha, Nebraska, last week. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership organized the event to celebrate the largest landscape-scale conservation effort in the history of contemporary wildlife management on behalf of this threatened game bird.

Sage-grouse in the company of other sagebrush species. Image courtesy of Sasha Nelson, Conservation Colorado.

The fact that a once abundant, widely-distributed, and liberally-harvested game species is now at population levels low enough to be considered for listing as threatened or endangered—that decision will be made in September—has greatly concerned many. But habitat loss impacts more than just sage-grouse. Sagebrush ecosystems are critically important to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including mule deer, pronghorn, and elk. Thriving populations of sage-grouse would indicate healthy sagebrush ecosystems, and this is the bigger-picture goal of those working to restore this troubled landscape, many of whom were in attendance as the TRCP expressed its gratitude for their efforts.

A presentation from the TRCP’s Tom Franklin at the NAWNRC reception.

Collaboration between the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the states has been augmented by the participation of sportsmen, conservation groups, academic and research institutions, private landowners, and a multitude of other stakeholders in the energy and agriculture industries. At the event, posters and displays from many TRCP partners, including the Sage Grouse Initiative, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North American Grouse Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Mule Deer Foundation, and the High Lonesome Ranch, demonstrated their efforts to conserve sage-grouse and sagebrush ecosystems

The highlight of the evening was a fascinating and impressive presentation by Jason Weller, Chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In its Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), the NRCS has played a tremendous role in working proactively with private landowners to balance sustainable ranching with sage-grouse conservation. Under Weller’s leadership, the NRCS is demonstrating solid results, continued investments, and committed stakeholders as they remain steadfast in their dedication to protecting and bringing back the greater sage-grouse. Weller shared some outstanding achievements of that program:

  • In the five years since SGI was started, NRCS has worked with 1,129 participating ranches in 11 western states, and SGI and its partners have invested $424.5 million and conserved 4.4 million acres—that’s an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.
  • These investments have focused attention on large populations by successfully targeting 75 percent of investments inside Priority Areas for Conservation (PACs).
  • Conservation easement acreage has increased 18-fold under SGI. Of the more than 450,000 acres of easement, more than 80 percent are inside occupied habitats and 94 percent provide permanent protection.
  • Conifer removal has reclaimed 405,241 acres of otherwise suitable habitat. Nearly half of these acres are in Oregon, where the threat to habitat has now been reduced by more than 68 percent on priority private lands in the state.
  • Additional resources are enabling SGI to nearly double past achievements, and an estimated 8 million acres should be conserved by 2018.
  • Taking a business-like approach, Weller is asking each state to come up with an investment strategy for the next four years.
  • SGI will receive $198 million from NRCS starting in 2015 – this is a new commitment to conservation well into the future. Combined with partner contributions, this will bring the total SGI investment to an estimated $751 million.

Event attendees were also treated to a sneak preview of “The Sagebrush Sea,” a new film about sagebrush and sage-grouse sponsored by the George B. Storer Foundation and produced by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology for the NATURE series on PBS. The episode will air on May 20.

A sage-grouse lek in western Wyoming. Image courtesy of John Dahlke.

As they celebrate the heroic progress made in the sagebrush-steppe ecosystems thus far, the TRCP and its partners are continuing to press federal, state, and private landowners to create solid plans and make sufficient commitments to keeping this iconic bird of the American West off the threatened or endangered lists.

TRCP testifies for conservation funding

This morning, our Director of Government Relations, Steve Kline, testified to the Subcommittee on Interior, Energy, and the Environment for the House Committee on Appropriations. You can read his oral testimony to the committee below. Links to the testimony and the TRCP press release follow:

Chairman Calvert, Ranking Member McCollum, and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Steve Kline, and I am the Director of Government Relations at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of more than 40 of the leading hunting and angling conservation organizations, that is working to guarantee every American quality places to hunt and fish.

My testimony today will focus on five specific funding areas: the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (or NAWCA), the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the State Wildlife Grants Program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and sage-grouse habitat conservation.

Keeping the greater sage-grouse off the endangered species list is a national conservation priority; achieving that goal requires coordination between states, federal land managers, and private landowners. But coordination must inevitably result in conservation—on-the-ground habitat restoration and resource decision-making that demonstrably results in more birds. By providing robust funding levels for sagebrush-steppe ecosystem conservation to the BLM, Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service in fiscal year 2016, Congress can help to ensure that land managers can conserve and restore sagebrush-steppe habitat, for the productive future of sage-grouse, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope.

Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Appropriations for NAWCA, State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, and Partners for Fish and Wildlife are also at the top of sportsmen’s priority list. Federal funding stakeholders often refer to their favorite programs as ―investments,‖ and that is a word that applies particularly well to these three grant programs, each of which can be measured by their returns in both matching dollars and conservation results. Each federal dollar invested in these grant programs is matched, on average, three times over by non-federal dollars, and in some cases the match is even more significant. What this means in application is that even a minimal increase in funding for these grant programs will have a major on-the-ground impact, and of course the reverse is true: even minimal reductions in funding to programs like NAWCA and Partners for Fish and Wildlife will have outsized negative impacts. For every dollar cut, at least three dollars, and in many cases much more, will not be used for measurable, boots-in-the-mud conservation work. Sportsmen have long supported NAWCA, State Wildlife Grants, and Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and—given the strong demand and bullish ROI—we encourage the Committee to consider reasonable funding increases for these three priorities.

Finally, my testimony today would not be complete without mentioning the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This year marks a seminal moment in this program’s history. If not reauthorized in September, the Fund will become unhitched from its dedicated funding source, offshore energy royalties. In September 2014, TRCP, along with 15 key national sporting groups, produced a report outlining the importance of LWCF to America’s hunters and anglers. I’d like to submit that report for the record, and note that this program is critical to the future of sportsmen and –women in this country. From improving access on federal lands to conserving private-land habitat with voluntary easements, LWCF is having a profoundly positive impact on the outdoor recreation landscape, and we encourage appropriators to provide robust funding levels for the program and to support a more permanent and mandatory solution this Congress.

“It is important to note that, fire borrowing is needlessly costing American taxpayers…”

I will close with a note of appreciation for this Committee’s support of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. While there is no need to get into the particulars of that legislation today, it is important to note that, fire borrowing is needlessly costing American taxpayers, as prevention programs are short-changed. The reality that appropriators must try and anticipate the cost of these natural disasters, and subsequently attempt to fund those costs via appropriated funds, comes with sweeping impacts across the entire Interior and related agencies’ portfolio. TRCP will continue to lead on this issue, and we look forward to working with the committee to move the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act over the finish line.

America’s natural resources are the infrastructure of a robust outdoor recreation economy, one that accounts for $646 billion in direct consumer spending and more than 6 million jobs. Of that total, hunting and angling powers a $90-billion annual economic engine, with billions more contributed directly to state and federal revenues.

Despite the obvious benefits of a robust outdoor recreation economy and productive, accessible natural resources, conservation programs are frequently the target of budgetary cuts that, while having virtually no meaningful impact on the federal deficit, have profoundly negative long-term impacts. In the end, we are costing ourselves far more resources than we’re saving—dollars and habitat. As I have illustrated today, returns on conservation investments include jobs, increased tax revenues, non-federal dollars that far outstrip the initial federal commitment, and importantly, better days afield for America’s hunters and anglers, who are part of an outdoor recreation tradition that is the envy of the world. With reasonable investments in those programs, we can all reap these many benefits.

Read our press release on the hearing here.

Snapshots of success: Sonoma County (California)

From California to New York, from Montana to Mississippi, hunters and anglers are leading important efforts to improve the quality and quantity of our water resources. The most successful conservation efforts are locally driven with a broad base of support, including federal financial and technical assistance.  They honor and respect the traditions of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching while protecting the resources we share.

In a report released on February 26, 2015, the TRCP showcases ten examples of collaborative, sportsmen-led efforts and the importance of federal funding that fuels them.  The lessons sportsmen have learned executing these projects tell a convincing story about the need for responsible water management and adequate funding.

Lesson one from Sonoma County, California:

Protecting Every Drop in the Russian River Watershed: The Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership

The Problem

In California’s fertile Sonoma County, the challenge of  agriculture and people—has become a way of life.

“People are having to truck water in during the summer, just to live—to flush their toilets, wash their dishes and have a glass of water at night before bed,” says Valerie Minton, the program director of the Sonoma Resource Conservation District.

The challenge in the Russian River watershed is to combat the scarcity of water without threatening Coho salmon, whose populations are suffering from low water levels—even dry riverbeds. It’s a challenge that requires an effective and balanced solution from a dynamic partnership.

Trout Unlimited and other members of Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership teamed up to use federal funding to redesign water use and efficiency across the watershed.

Finding Solutions

To benefit both people and fish, multiple efforts are underway to improve water use and conserve water through diversions, habitat restoration, catchment systems, off-stream ponds and tanks, and frost protection systems.

Critical funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal sources helped fund cooperative projects with landowners to improve flow in tributaries to the Russian River and Dry Creek.

With the many creeks and tributaries of the Russian River drying up, smaller fish were not surviving to make it back to the ocean to grow as adults. In years past, the 110-mile long Russian River hosted thousands of spawning salmon. But between 2000 and 2009, fewer than 100 salmon returned. The low numbers resulted in their placement on the Endangered Species List. The Russian River project is helping farmers and landowners reduce diversions during the driest part of the season, improving streamflow. Juvenile fish will then be able to survive over the dry season and migrate out to the ocean.

The Result

Trout Unlimited and other partners are taking full advantage of federal funding, and it’s working. More adult salmon and steelhead are returning and spawning since restoration work began. More than 500 adult coho returned for the 2012-13 winter.

Read the full report. 

What critter is going all the way to the final fur —er, four?

It’s a debate that has raged in drift boats, duck blinds, and around the campfire decades. Which game species reigns supreme? The majestic elk? The wily turkey? The powerful tarpon or the charismatic brook trout? Which species makes your heart thump and makes you reach for your rod or gun?

Well, America, we’re here to settle that question. Many folks may have basketball on the brain this March, but we at the TRCP have set out to crown a different kind of champion: America’s favorite game species.

We are proud to present “Critter Madness,” a 32-species tournament to determine which game animal is the favorite among America’s hunters and anglers. Using the irrefutable science of bracketology, we’ve matched up all your favorite game species head-to-head across four divisions: big game, upland birds and waterfowl, freshwater fish, and saltwater fish. Your votes determine which species will advance to the championship.

So have at it, America. It’s time for you to decide. Log on to crittermadness.org and cast your vote in each of 16 round-one match ups. How does a feral pig hunt stack up against a pronghorn chase? Does the dove have what it takes to knock off the pheasant? Would you rather hook a muskie or a smallmouth bass? Do you want to get your hands on a record-breaking yellowfin tuna or a larger-than-life redfish?

We’re also offering fantastic prizes at the conclusion of each round. Register and your name will be entered to win prizes like a Remington shotgun, a new Abu Garcia rod, or a custom TRCP Yeti cooler.

It’s about to get real. Mule deer versus bighorn sheep. Sharp-tails versus chukars. King salmon versus stripers. Steelhead versus walleye. Make sure your favorite doesn’t get bumped. Cast your vote today.