The Silence of the Lambs

Bighorn lambs

A single truck accident wiped out one-third of the bighorn lambs in the lower Rock Creek drainage. Photo by Neil Thagard.

If you’ve ever doubted the fragility of our nation’s wildlife resources, a recent incident in western Montana will erase those doubts. A single truck accident wiped out one-third of the bighorn lambs in the lower Rock Creek drainage, the Missoulian reported.

This accident is particularly devastating given that the wild sheep in Rock Creek and across the West already was hammered by an outbreak of pneumonia, which is transmitted to bighorns by domestic sheep and goats. In addition to the wild sheep deaths directly attributable to pneumonia, the lingering effects of the disease are predicted to reduce bighorn numbers even further. Several years of poor lamb recruitment will follow a pneumonic outbreak, making the loss of those lambs in Rock Creek particularly tragic.

Physical separation of domestic sheep and goats from wild sheep is essential to prevent the transmission of the respiratory disease. Earlier this year the TRCP, working in concert with the Wild Sheep Foundation and others, successfully removed a damaging amendment to the House appropriations bill for interior, environment and related agencies. The rider would have prevented the implementation of a management plan designed to provide that critical separation between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep grazing on public lands in the Payette National Forest in Idaho. When you consider the fragile state of bighorns throughout the West, the importance of this initiative to help protect them is clear.

Stories like this drive home the importance of proactive wildlife management and highlight the critical work of TRCP and our partners, organizations that are working to ensure healthy fish and wildlife populations through science-based management and policy. Resource management based in current science remains crucially important to strong natural resources policy – not only to wildlife like bighorn sheep, but also to sportsmen.

The tragedy in Rock Creek reminds us that we can never take our fish and wildlife for granted and we must not falter in our efforts to ensure these precious natural resources remain for generations to come.

Watch an episode of “TRCP’s Conservation Field Notes” concerning wild sheep management.

Featured Conservation Leader: Kim Rhode

Olympic skeet shooter Kim Rhode talks with the TRCP about shooting, hunting and her Olympic experiences. Photo courtesy of americanrifleman.org.

Kim Rhode is a double trap and skeet shooter who made her debut in the 1996 Olympics where, at the age of 16, she became the youngest female gold medalist in the history of Olympic shooting. Since then she has medaled in the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Earlier this year, Kim took some time to speak with the TRCP about shooting, hunting and her Olympic experiences.

What are some of your earliest experiences with shooting?

Kim: Shooting has been passed down from generation-to-generation in my family. My grandfather was a hounds-man and an avid outdoorsman. He taught my dad, my dad taught my mom and they eventually taught me.

So you were a hunter before you ever tried skeet, trap and sporting clays?

Kim: Oh yes! I was into hunting prior to any competition. I hunted birds, deer, bear; I even went on a hunting trip to Africa. I’ve always been very active in the outdoors. I also love fishing for trout, salmon and steelhead.

Growing up we were very active. Those are some of the best memories of mine. Sitting around the campfire with my grandfathers and uncles telling hunting stories like, ‘the deer was THIS big!’ It was just fantastic. I hope to share my passion for the outdoors with my kids one day.

What was the first gun you ever shot and what are you shooting now?

Kim: Wow, I don’t even remember the first gun I ever shot. I know that when I first started competing I was using a Remington 1100 youth model. Then I went to a Perazzi.

I was so small at the time that I had a hard time getting any type of gas-operated gun to fit me. They were always too big and I was fighting the gun. The fit of your gun is something that’s so important in shooting.

What’s your favorite thing to hunt?

Kim: I have to say some of the bigger game but bird hunting is awesome too. It is super fun and exciting, especially when I get to go out with my family and friends.

I would imagine there aren’t many missed birds…

Kim: Well anyone who says they don’t miss is a liar. Everybody misses; the trick is to not miss when it counts the most.

What are some of your views on conservation?

Kim: Living here in Los Angeles, there are so many people who are completely out of touch with the outdoors. They just don’t go out and appreciate the beauty that’s out there. They spend so much time on the computer or watching television that they totally miss looking around and taking in the beauty and splendor of nature. One issue I see with our youth today is the technology factor, trying to get them off the games and get them outside.

It’s really important that children understand the heritage and the conservation side of things because it goes hand in hand with hunting and the outdoors. Hunting is about tradition and passing something on just as much as it is about land management and conservation.

Can you tell us what it’s like to win a medal at the Olympics?

Kim: It’s really about the journey. It’s not about the gold, the silver, the bronze or anything like that. Of course that is a fantastic part of it but when you’re standing on the podium, watching the American flag go to the top of the pole, you aren’t thinking about the medal. You are thinking about all the experiences that got you there. The journey is what keeps me going back – overcoming obstacles, succeeding when people say you can’t and representing your country. It’s such an honor. I’m so blessed.

Can Energy, Fish, Wildlife and Sportsmen Coexist?

Pronghorns

Photo by Dusan Smetana.

We know citizens of our nation need energy. But how do the needs of fish, wildlife and wild places fit into the equation?

Like energy, these natural resources are important – a fact that sportsmen know to be true. Yet, as forms of energy development such as oil, gas, solar, wind and geothermal continue to increase, the threats to public-lands hunting and fishing opportunities across the country can be overlooked or outright ignored.

While energy development is a legitimate use of our public lands, projects must be planned and pursued in a way that balances commodity production with conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and upholds the public’s opportunities to access and enjoy these lands, including for uses such as hunting and angling.

Balance. Let’s think about that concept for a moment. A recent study by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development illustrates several key facts of which sportsmen and all citizens should be aware:

  • While energy development, mining and other extractive industries remain an important part of the Western economy, employment in those sectors has been cyclical.
  •  Counties with a higher percentage of public lands managed for conservation and recreation report higher levels of job and population growth than those with higher percentages of lands managed for commodity production.

Think about it this way: Would you want your entire retirement portfolio in one company’s stock or even one mutual fund? Most people seek a balanced portfolio to weather economic storms and cycles. This is exactly what balancing energy and wildlife can provide our nation’s economy.

Sportsmen fuel an estimated $821 billion dollar per-year economy that provides reliable jobs and economic stability across the country, especially in rural communities. This reality must be a factor when we contemplate energy development that jeopardizes fish and wildlife habitat and our sporting opportunities.

Other recent studies have documented dramatic effects to fish and wildlife when the balance is upset. For example, after a decade of intensive oil and gas development in the Pinedale Anticline region in southwestern Wyoming, once-abundant mule deer populations plummeted more than 60 percent. Sage grouse and pronghorn also have sustained negative impacts in the region, resulting in fewer opportunities for sportsmen – and diminished economic benefits for communities.

Yet  some state and federal legislators are moving to eliminate or hinder bedrock conservation laws and programs that have benefited fish, wildlife and sportsmen for decades and sustain some of our best remaining habitats.

Federal energy legislation recently passed in the House of Representatives would undermine responsible public lands energy management and jeopardize our American sporting traditions by prioritizing energy development over other land uses and stifling the public’s ability to participate in decisions regarding the administration of our public resources. Moreover, the House bill is a solution in search of a problem: There are almost 40 million acres of public lands that have been leased for oil and gas development in the last decade. The energy industry is sitting on most of its drilling permits, waiting for prices to increase.

The TRCP is working to safeguard our sporting traditions and ensure that energy development is balanced with the needs of fish and wildlife. Our FACTS for Fish and Wildlife defines principles for balanced development. The TRCP Sportsmen Values Mapping Project utilizes your input to identify high-value areas – with the resulting maps demonstrating to decision makers where energy, fish and wildlife, and sportsmen’s values are or are not compatible.

The TRCP’s Center for Responsible Energy Development will continue to promote sportsmen’s values in land planning processes and in policy debates. We are committed to assuring that energy project planning and execution is balanced with – and not prioritized over – fish, wildlife and the economic benefits supported by you, the American sportsman.

Fishing A High Desert River

Malheur Country, Ore. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Southeast Oregon high desert is rugged and compelling country with over 4 million acres for the public to access. From the breaks of the Owyhee and Malheur Rivers to the rugged mountains of the Oregon Canyon Mountains, the topography is rich with sagebrush and native grass ecosystems supporting abundant wildlife.

Big game such as mule deer, California big horn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, as well as upland birds such as sage grouse, chukar, California quail and native trout are present here.

Redband trout. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

The redband trout population in the Malheur River is thought to be derived from the Columbia Basin redband trout when a lava flow isolated the basin from the Malheur River drainage 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.

I set out to explore the countryside and fish the rivers for trout. After hours of driving, a dusty stretch of road emerges where there’s no fence line blocking an entry to the river. It’s almost dark, and I set up camp and fall asleep to the sound of the river at my feet.

The call of a western meadowlark wakes me up at 5 a.m., reminding me of my childhood days in church listening to the choir hum Amazing Grace. I rise out of bed, brew some coffee, and change my fly to a subsurface beadhead because the river is moving fast and the visibility is about two feet.

The Malheur River. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

The bank is green with tall native grasses; I analyze the river, determining where a fish might lie. There’s a small pool whirling behind rocks and a soft seam hugging the bank. My first cast is to the grassy cut bank. I make a cast up stream, strip the line fast to stay with the current, take a couple steps up stream and cast again.

To find an aggressive fish, I keep covering the water. My next cast is behind a rock where the current is moving at a considerable pace. The trout explodes; cart wheeling and breaking the surface. She’s strong, pulling, not giving in. After a few minutes I get her to the bank, remove the hook and release her back to the cool waters of the high dessert. This is what I came here for.

Experiences such as this keep me coming back and fuel my enthusiasm to see these special places conserved for future generations. I’m proud to be working to ensure the conservation of these resources through my work with the TRCP.

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Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Mia Sheppard is TRCP’s Oregon field representative. She lives in Brightwood, Ore., with her husband and daughter. In her free time, she fishes for steelhead and trout throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Putting Sportsmen on the Map in Wyoming

TRCP’s Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard talks about the mapping project.

Maps can be a sportsman’s best friend; sportsmen look for those blank areas – devoid of roads – perhaps where two ridges might funnel game. Even land managers love maps, which allow them to plan out land use. They have unit maps with GIS layers ranging from vegetation type to core habitat for threatened and endangered species. Thanks to the TRCP’s Sportsmen Values Mapping Project, sportsmen now have a say in the development of these valuable maps.

The TRCP’s core mission lies in guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish – a mission that compelled us to launch the first of our state-based mapping project in Montana in 2007. Last year, we took our efforts on the road again and kicked off a similar project in Wyoming.

The Sportsmen Values Mapping Project captures hunter and angler input to delineate specific lands and waters important for hunting and fishing. Combined with critical habitat maps already in use by federal and state agencies, this information gives decision-makers an up-to-date look at the places sportsmen value the most.

Neil Thagard, TRCP’s Western outreach director, leads the TRCP’s engagement with sportsmen and mapping activities in Wyoming. Neil spent the past year traveling throughout the Cowboy State and meeting with sportsmen to gather input on the exact areas where they love to hunt and fish – areas they would like to see managed for continued use of hunting and fishing.

The TRCP’s ongoing collaboration and engagement with the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission resulted in the commission offering its support – and last year’s official endorsement – of the project and the TRCP’s efforts to involve Wyoming sportsmen in the mapping effort.

More than 20 meetings and 1,000 sportsmen later, a highly valuable set of maps is available to land managers – both at the state and federal levels – to help guide management decisions regarding resources important to hunting and angling. Neil unveiled the final maps to Wyoming officials, the news media and sportsmen last week. These maps will help accomplish the following:

  • identify trends in hunter or angler usage
  • further maintain or enhance access opportunities throughout the state
  • identify areas needing special conservation strategies to help preserve important game and fish resources

As anyone who has ever spent time in the backcountry knows, a map is only useful if you know where you want to go. The challenge now is to use the input to ensure the conservation of these key areas.

In coming years, the TRCP intends to expand the mapping project throughout the West.

What areas would you like to see conserved for future hunting and fishing – and where should the TRCP travel next to implement the Sportsmen Values Mapping Project? Leave us a comment.

View the map.

Bristol Bay: It’s All There…Now

In a recent article for Field & Stream, writer Hal Herring penned the following about Bristol Bay, Alaska:

“It’s all there in my mind, that land and the fish themselves, blood-red sockeye in cold green water, silvery kings thrashing in the shoals, the perfect dots on the side of an arctic char that look so much like tiny planets glowing in a twilight sky that it surely makes you wonder, really, how this world of ours came to be like this, and what it might mean, that a creature could be so beautiful.”

Herring is just one among many who sees the beauty and unrivaled resources found in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The proposed Pebble Mine represents an unprecedented threat to the area, its clean waters and wildlife habitat. Fed by nine major rivers and a wetland the size of Kentucky, Bristol Bay is home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon runs.

Up to 40 million adult salmon return to spawn in the Bristol Bay watershed each year, and more than 12,000 jobs are tied to the fisheries and natural resources there. The Pebble Mine – which would be 20 times larger than all of the mines in Alaska combined – is the wrong mine in the wrong place and must not be permitted.

The Environmental Protection Agency will be taking public comments on the Pebble Mine Project until July 23. Sportsmen stepped up for Bristol Bay earlier this spring and we need you to take action again to conserve this vital resource. Urge decision makers to protect Bristol Bay now and for future generations.

Here’s a must-watch video that captures the faces and voices of Bristol Bay at the EPA hearings last month.

Wetlands, Waterfowl and NAWCA

Everybody loves waterfowl. Those winged and web-footed creatures find their way into the hearts of sportsmen and anyone who spends time near bodies of water.

Waterfowl are so universally revered that the North American Wetlands Conservation Act was passed to fund wetlands and waterfowl conservation efforts in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Learn more on this week’s episode of “TRCP’s Conservation Field Notes.”

Join Steven Rinella of the hit TV show “MeatEater” as he hunts in Mexico and discusses how NAWCA conserves waterfowl, fish and wildlife resources across North America while producing a variety of environmental and economic benefits.

Be sure to tune in Sundays at 9 p.m. E/P on the Sportsman Channel to catch the latest episode of “MeatEater.

Sportsmen and the Farm Bill: A Match Made in Heaven

Iowa Barn

Photo by Scott Bauer/USDA.

Not long ago, I was graphically reminded of the critical importance of the Farm Bill to conservation of privately owned lands in the American West.

A map of our federal lands I saw during a presentation depicted the western half of the country largely in various shades of green, showing public ownership in one form or another. Lands east of the Great Plains, however, remained largely devoid of color, indicating areas under private ownership. I realized that here – on these lands that provide key habitat to fish and wildlife species prized by sportsmen, offer unmatched outdoor recreational opportunities and feed the world – the Farm Bill’s central role in our sporting heritage becomes paramount.

The current Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2012. In its present iteration, the bill has assisted farmers and landowners in conserving millions of acres of fish and wildlife habitat and making improvements to farming operation that have reduced soil erosion and nutrient runoff. If the bill is allowed to expire, private lands conservation in this country may come to a screeching halt.

By keeping nutrients and topsoil out of streams and rivers, Farm Bill conservation programs reduce the need for costly, often ineffective, water quality mitigation efforts. By conserving and restoring wetlands, these also can help reduce the impacts of downstream flooding as well as restore groundwater aquifers.

In places like the Chesapeake Bay and in Montana and Wyoming, Farm Bill programs help farmers reduce their potential regulatory burden. The Chesapeake Bay watershed initiative incentivizes farmers to reduce their nitrogen runoff to improve the health of the nation’s largest estuary, and the sage grouse initiative in the Inter-Mountain West assists ranchers in keeping this iconic bird off the endangered species list. As these conservation goals are met, farmers, ranchers and landowners can focus on making a living and not on the threat of new or expanding regulations.

For sportsmen, the list of benefits we derive from the Farm Bill is a long one. The bill’s conservation programs restore and conserve habitat for a litany of waterfowl and upland game birds, and the Voluntary Public Access program is the only federal program aimed at increasing public access to private lands for hunting and angling, thereby enhancing the quality of our days afield.

Learn more about Farm Bill programs.

Watch an episode of “TRCP’s Conservation Field Notes” in which Steven Rinella discusses key benefits of the Farm Bill.

Photo: A Hard Working Girl Gets A Redfish

Laura Morris Redfish

We received the following photo submission from Laura Morris,  the PR coordinator for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. Laura wrote, “Here’s what I was doing on my vacation! This was my first-ever redfish.” Congrats Laura!

Submit your photos on the TRCP Facebook page or send them to info@trcp.org. The winner will receive a “MeatEater” DVD!

Sportsmen to Congress: ‘Our Jobs Count, Too’

US Capitol

Photo courtesy NPS.gov.

When “jobs, jobs, jobs” seems to be the refrain coming from the halls of Congress, you’d think these elected officials would embrace the economic importance of our nation’s conservation programs. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives proved last week that it is not ready to give these programs the respect they deserve.

Funding levels and policy riders approved by the House Appropriations Committee in its fiscal year 2013 Interior appropriations bill would slash operating budgets for agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Numerous programs critically important to the sportsmen’s community, such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, face deep cuts and damaging impacts from policy riders in the bill. State and tribal wildlife grants, which support cooperative projects with states and private landowners to keep species from being listed under the Endangered Species Act, would be cut by 50 percent.

If the proposed cuts – including a $50 million reduction for the National Wildlife Refuge System – advance, look for major layoffs of biologists and law enforcement personnel, closures of visitor centers and reductions in such activities as managed hunts.

Ironically, the committee’s action comes on the heels of a report by the Outdoor Industry Association that documents the substantial economic contributions of hunting, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation. The report shows that outdoor recreation in the United States is big business, to the tune of $646 billion in direct consumer spending, $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue and $39.7 billion in state/local tax revenue each year.

Our recreation economy creates 6.1 million American jobs that cannot be exported overseas. Unfortunately, these facts were lost on members of the House Appropriations Committee, as it cut the very programs upon which the recreation economy depends.

While sportsmen are willing to help shoulder our share of the nation’s economic burdens, the fact remains that conservation programs did not create the budget deficit, and slashing conservation funding cannot solve the problem. As a percentage of federal spending, conservation has decreased from about 2.5 percent in the 1970s to about 1.25 percent today.

Congress could eliminate every conservation program and barely make a dent in the deficit. Moreover, as all of us who work on conservation projects in our communities know, every dollar of federal funds is leveraged several times over by state and private funds as well as volunteer labor.

The House can and must do better. All sportsmen need to make their voices heard: Conservation is a fundamental part of what makes America great, and it is central to our economy. Congress ignores this at its own peril.

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