About Eric Petlock

Eric Petlock grew up chasing ducks and black-tailed deer in California and currently lives along the Nevada/California border. He has worked on sportsmen's and public lands issues in Nevada since 2008, where he has strong relationships within the community. Eric is working as part of a partnership between the TRCP and Nevada Bighorns Unlimited to advance BLM backcountry and build an active constituency of sportsmen in Nevada to ensure that renewable and conventional energy development projects are done responsibly.

The future of 245 million acres of public land

A lot of folks around the West are frustrated with federal land management agencies these days.

A ram harvested from BLM lands. Image courtesy of the BLM.

Our federal public lands are facing a lot of challenges, like catastrophic wildfires, the spread of noxious weeds like cheatgrass, public land grazing conflicts, conflicts over energy development, and the loss of key wildlife habitat. Agencies are running in circles trying to deal with these conflicts while making resource management decisions that will determine the future of multiple uses on our public lands. Simultaneously, agencies also must manage myriad lawsuits from multiple interests unhappy about the decisions being made. It seems the West is shrinking as more and more people are competing for our public land resources.

As sportsmen, we have our own list of priority public land policy issues: maintaining quality, unfragmented habitat; rehabilitating habitat that has been damaged; and improving existing habitat to make it more resilient and productive so that fish and wildlife can thrive. All of these are important aspects of public land management. We understand the need for development of our natural resources and recognize that economic vitality involves choices and compromise. But we also understand that in a world where high quality, undeveloped wild places are becoming scarcer, it is imperative that we work to identify and protect these public places through balanced management.

As federal agencies try to plan for the future, all these issues come into play. Blaming the agencies for everything wrong in the West is easy, but in reality agency decisions are usually the result of agency mandates – which can have controversial outcomes. Important to remember as well is that these policies and laws result from various interest groups working within the system to advance their particular interests. Often these groups are at odds with one another, and the agency is left to sort out the conflict and formulate a compromise, leaving both parties unhappy about the outcome.

 

Sportsmen must take action ‘early and often’

This might sound like a fatalist’s view, but to the contrary, the takeaway is that we all have a responsibility and a right to work within our democratic system to put forth our interests and values – and then see to it that these interests and values are implemented. Sportsmen are often conspicuously absent from agency decision making processes and sometimes fail to get involved until they are reacting to decisions that already have been made. Instead, we must get involved early and often.

Some of the lands at stake. Image courtesy of the BLM.

Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Land Management launched a new initiative to revamp its long term land use planning processes. Dubbed “Planning 2.0,” this initiative will comprise the most comprehensive overhauls of the BLM’s planning process in decades.

Recently, representatives from the TRCP and some of our partners attended meetings convened by the BLM in Denver, Colo., and Sacramento, Calif. These meetings began the process of gathering public input on Planning 2.0 and discussing how the BLM might make this process as effective as possible.

Altogether, the Denver and Sacramento meetings attracted close to 150 participants. In addition to representatives from a number of sportsmen’s organizations, the off highway vehicle community, other environmental and conservation organizations, state and local agencies, wild horse advocates and citizens at-large were represented. Each meeting lasted about four hours and included “breakout sessions” so that participants could discuss the goals set by the BLM for Planning 2.0

Some of the themes that emerged during the breakout sessions included the following:

  • Public involvement in the 2.0 process is a must – and should be maximized.
  • What is the definition of “landscape-level” planning? What is the BLM’s definition, and how will these boundaries be defined?
  • How will baseline data be gathered? How will “citizen science” or data gathered by citizen groups and other non-governmental organizations be compiled and used?
  • How can the BLM do a better job of enabling public engagement in the process?

Ultimately, some of the key takeaways comprised the following:

  • The BLM doesn’t have a clear definition of what defines a landscape, what elements would define boundaries, and how priorities would be set for various interests, e.g., wildlife, grazing, energy development.
  • The BLM must review what has and hasn’t worked with other agencies, particularly the U.S. Forest Service, with regard to public engagement and the process of gathering and integrating data and information provided by the public.
  • How will this new process improve the status quo regarding how politics impacts the process – and to what extent will powerful special interests such industry groups still be able to manipulate it to fit their agendas?

These meetings are just the beginning. Sportsmen and sportsmen’s interests must be at the table, working with other stakeholders to find common ground and resolving the conflicts that will inevitably arise. The TRCP and other partner groups will be providing input and advocating on behalf of sportsmen and wildlife conservation throughout this process. We hope this will lead to better policy – as well as conservation of some of our most important and valued Western public lands.

If future generations of Americans are going to enjoy our outdoor heritage, abundant wildlife and unspoiled landscapes, then we all have to get involved and make our voices heard. To learn more about Planning 2.0, visit the BLM website. 

Take action: Submit your comments to the BLM on the Planning 2.0 process. 

Sage Grouse Saga a Wake-Up Call for Sportsmen

These days, there’s a lot of talk out West about a game bird called the greater sage grouse. This chicken-sized bird lives in the sagebrush country in places like Wyoming, southern Idaho, southeastern Oregon and Nevada.

Western sportsmen have enjoyed hunting sage grouse in open sagebrush country for generations. Unfortunately this great tradition is in jeopardy. Populations have been declining for years, so much so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering the bird for possible listing as threatened and endangered – a decision that would end sage grouse hunting for the foreseeable future.

As sportsmen, maintaining robust populations of all kinds of wildlife should be one of our top priorities. That we could lose the opportunity to hunt such an iconic game bird should be a wake-up call.

Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The story of the sage grouse is a sadly familiar one; the loss of crucial habitat throughout the range has led to steadily declining populations. While there are places throughout the West where robust populations exist, the Fish and Wildlife Service is mostly concerned with the overall trend – not just in population numbers but also the continuing loss of quality habitat throughout the range.

Like another Western icon, the mule deer, sage grouse need a variety of habitat types, including summer and winter range and breeding areas, all of which are highly dependent on the West’s fickle – and often extreme – weather patterns. The decline of the sage grouse closely correlates with decreasing mule deer populations in the West. Each is highly dependent on healthy sage brush ecosystems, and as the health of the sagebrush ecosystem declines, so too do the populations of wildlife that rely on them.

One of the biggest threats to the sagebrush ecosystem is wildfire. Dramatic changes in the wildfire ecology in sagebrush country, has largely been driven by the proliferation of cheatgrass. Once this invasive exotic grass gets established, in and among sagebrush, it causes wildfires to burn hotter and faster. Instead of less intense, slow moving “cool fires” that tend to be beneficial, cheatgrass causes very hot, fast moving fires that completely destroy many hundreds of thousands of acres of prime sagebrush habitat. Then after the fires, cheatgrass outcompetes other native plants making it difficult for the beneficial natives to reestablish. The result is millions of acres converted from healthy sagebrush plant communities to cheatgrass monocultures, leading to more frequent and hotter-burning wildfires that are harder to contain – and often spread to other areas of healthy sagebrush, continuing the cycle.

Energy development such as oil, gas and wind energy is another major threat to sage grouse. Both traditional and renewable projects and their associated infrastructure like roads and pipelines reduce the quantity and quality of sagebrush habitat, translating into lost hunting opportunities down the road. While most sportsmen agree that we need domestic energy, the real challenge is going to be balancing this need with the need to protect high quality habitat here in the West.

The TRCP is working with sportsman’s groups and state fish and game agencies across the West to identify valuable public lands fish and wildlife habitat and develop strategies to conserve them. Here in Nevada, local sportsman’s organizations and the Nevada Department of Wildlife are partnering in this effort. We’re discovering that much of the high value habitat for animals like mule deer, pronghorn antelope and elk overlaps with areas of core sage grouse habitat. The lesson is clear: quality hunting and fishing relies on quality habitat and sage grouse conservation in sagebrush habitats will benefit multiple species of wildlife including those pursued by sportsmen.

An endangered listing for the sage grouse would have far reaching consequences here in the West – and not just for sportsmen. Ranching, mining, energy production and the economies of many small towns and rural areas all would feel the effects.

Photo courtesy of the USDA.

Sportsmen need to be aware of what’s going on and get involved. It’s not enough to avoid listing the sage grouse; we need to make sure that habitat conditions in the West are improving so that fish and wildlife populations remain healthy and so that sustainable harvest will continue to be part of our wildlife conservation heritage. The TRCP is working directly with our elected representatives in Washington, D.C., as well as with local and state governments to focus efforts on protecting existing habitat and developing new strategies to tackle this challenge. Sign up as a TRCP Western Sportsman Advocate to stay informed and take action on issues that affect our Western hunting and fishing heritage.

Conserving the Last of the Old West

Nevada is truly a sportsmen’s paradise, a place where you can still find vast expanses of public lands and feel like you’ve got it all to yourself. If you haven’t already had the opportunity to hunt or fish in the Silver State, I hope that someday you will.

The TRCP is working closely with sporting groups across the West to make sure that places like this will be available for future generations of hunters and anglers to enjoy, and we need your help.

It’s no secret that the continual development of new roads, power lines, pipelines, gas wells and wind farms on public lands creates pressure on our best fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing across the West. Energy development is important and necessary, but if we develop irresponsibly and in the wrong places, our outdoor traditions will suffer.  

The fragmentation and loss of key habitats are serious threats facing fish, wildlife and our sporting heritage. In Nevada, specific threats largely come from wind developments as well as transmission projects

Sportsmen are at the center of it all. The amount of quality habitat that could be lost just in our lifetimes is staggering. Hunters and anglers are at a crossroads, and the direction we move will have lasting ramifications for generations to come.

To that end, sportsmen across the West are getting involved in a grassroots effort to identify and conserve our highest value intact fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing areas on BLM lands. By promoting the creation of “backcountry conservation areas” (called “backcountry wildlife conservation areas” in Nevada), sportsmen are acting to maintain our sporting traditions and the Western way of life.

We need you to speak up for the responsible management of our best fish and wildlife habitat. Learn more and let the BLM know that Nevada’s backcountry lands are important to hunters and anglers.

“I feel pretty lucky to be able to work is such an amazing state. There are so many amazing places in the West, and each has its own special character. Nevada is one of those special places where you can still get away from crowds in vast unspoiled landscapes. Whether your passion is hunting for big game, pursuing upland birds, or fishing, the only way we’re going to protect the Western way of life is to get involved, stay informed and speak out – and then get out and enjoy our Western public lands.”

- TRCP’s Nevada Field Representative, Eric Petlock.

If we want to continue chasing big bull elk, mule deer, antelope and bighorn sheep in the West we must take action and get involved – and work together to conserve areas of core habitat key to the fish and wildlife we cherish. The more habitat we lose the more hunting and angling opportunity we will lose.

Learn more about the TRCP’s efforts to ensure backcountry conservation.

Public Lands Yield Iconic Game and Pristine Backcountry

This past August, I had the opportunity to hunt deer with archery equipment in central Nevada. This would be my first Nevada mule deer tag and I was able to hunt in a pristine backcountry area with abundant deer and little hunting pressure. I was blessed to have the opportunity to hunt this iconic animal in such a spectacular setting.

One reason Nevada consistently provides outstanding opportunities for hunting and fishing are the large areas of intact and undeveloped backcountry on Bureau of Land Management lands. Most people don’t realize it, but just over 86 percent of the land in Nevada is public land. It is these large intact areas of backcountry land that provide the core habitat that gives us some of the finest big game hunting in the West where trophy mule deer, elk, antelope and bighorn sheep are taken every season.

Large intact areas of backcountry land provide the core habitat that gives us some of the finest big game hunting in the West. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Unfortunately, throughout the West some of our best public lands are threatened by a massive wave of new energy development and deteriorating habitat conditions. Here in Nevada, poorly planned wind energy projects and transmission lines could threaten to further fragment prime fish and wildlife habitat. In other parts of the West, oil and gas developments are being proposed in some of the best remaining big game habitat.

As development pressures continue to grow, the TRCP and partners are working to maintain the high quality fish and wildlife values of our public lands. Western hunters and anglers are working through local land use plans in Colorado, Nevada and Oregon to conserve intact fish and wildlife habitat and are calling on the BLM to manage high value areas as backcountry conservation areas or BCAs.

BCAs would provide BLM land managers with clear guidelines that would help conserve our best wildlife habitat while protecting public access and at the same time would allow common-sense activities to restore habitat and honor existing rights like ranching.

Learn how you can help conserve backcountry and hunting and fishing heritage today.

Blown Radiators and Backcountry Muleys

I was already way behind schedule when I arrived at the trailhead in the middle of nowhere in central Nevada for my first archery mule deer hunt. A blown radiator had left me waiting several hours for a truck to tow me 60 miles to the nearest town for repairs. By the time I hiked the four miles to camp, it was 2:30 in the morning.

Needless to say, first light came quickly. After a bite to eat, I hiked up to a steep vantage point overlooking the canyon where I would be hunting.

I had seen a group of bucks in this canyon a few weeks earlier with my good friend and mentor Larry Johnson with Nevada Bighorns Unlimited. After three days of hunting, neither Larry nor I had gotten close enough to make a kill, and we both left empty handed. I had come back alone with the hopes of filling my tag.

After glassing a bit, I spotted some bucks feeding on a hillside several hundred yards up the canyon. I watched for a while and figured they would bed down in one of several stands of mahogany trees scattered throughout the canyon. I sat tight, hoping to intercept the bucks as they came to bed down.

As the sun rose higher, the group went downhill to some trees about 200 yards below where I sat. There was no way to sneak in on them without being seen, and at this point my lack of sleep was catching up to me. I took a rest, hoping the bucks might move later in the day.

When I awoke, I crept back up to check on the bucks. They were gone. Trying to stay calm, I scanned the canyon and eventually spotted the deer disappearing into trees on a ridge a thousand feet above me on the opposite side of the canyon. I wasn’t exactly sure where they were headed but figured they were going to bed down again somewhere where the afternoon breezes would be cooler.

Grabbing my pack and bow, I began the long hike across the canyon. A light rain was falling by the time I reached the other ridge. The sound of the rain masked my footsteps, and a steady southwesterly wind allowed me to move into the trees and search for the deer undetected. I moved slowly through the mahogany, stopping every few steps to glass. I was looking for movement – an ear twitch, antlers or the silhouette of a bedded buck.

I made several passes through the area with no luck and began to think that the deer had outsmarted me again. Finally, I glanced uphill and saw the unmistakable shape of a deer. I pulled out my rangefinder to check the distance: 32 yards.

Nocking an arrow, I moved to get a better look and see if antlers were attached to the deer. Just then, deer began standing up one by one in surrounding trees. They had seen me.

I froze as a buck stepped out into the open. He was a shooter. I instinctively drew my bow and released the arrow. I heard the thwack of the arrow hitting as the buck jumped and ran across the rocky hillside. After 20 yards he slowed, then stopped, began to stumble and fell to the ground. I later discovered that the broadhead had gone through his heart. It was over very quickly.

My first Nevada archery mule deer hunt makes me extraordinarily thankful for the abundant and unique hunting opportunities that abound in the West. Mine was the type of hunting about which every sportsman dreams – a spectacular setting, far from any roads or signs of civilization, lots of deer and few hunters. I was able to hunt in some of the greatest remaining mule deer habitat in the nation. Nevada has a lot of undeveloped backcountry, but even here, mule deer habitat is threatened.

Mule deer need large areas of undeveloped backcountry in order to thrive. As we lose habitat throughout the West, mule deer numbers decline as do our hunting opportunities.

Sportsmen recognize the importance of conserving these areas, but in order to ensure healthy wildlife populations, hunters and anglers must spread the word. Sportsmen must let federal land management agencies know what is at stake and that we are paying attention. High-quality hunting opportunities on public land comprise the backbone of America’s sporting heritage. It is staggering to think about how much great habitat has been lost in the last 30 years – and the ramifications if this trend is allowed to continue.

This is why the TRCP is working hard to conserve high-quality, intact habitat throughout the West. Get involved today and sign up as a TRCP Western Sportsman Advocate.