Back To Where It All Began on Public Lands

Taking the spirit of the National Park Service Centennial into the next century of public lands stewardship

We’ve spent the month of August celebrating “America’s best idea,” the national parks that have given so many sportsmen and women their earliest and most formative experiences on public lands. One staffer’s close encounter with a Yellowstone black bear fueled his lifelong curiosity for wildlife biology. Another staffer credits a national recreation area outside Los Angeles with turning city rats into public lands advocates (and giving her a place to rock climb.) These are the places where we learned the value of conservation funding, found out we were strong and resilient enough to survive, and spotted some seriously big game.

For me, it was in Colorado’s crown jewel, Rocky Mountain National Park, where I was fortunate to forge many of my fondest memories. Just 45 minutes from our front door, my family and I backpacked to the upper Big Thompson River, snowshoed to Bear Lake, and cross-country skied along the headwaters of the Colorado River. The panoramic view was supposed to be the payoff of our annual pilgrimage to the top of Trail Ridge Road, but the rock candy at the gift shop was always my main motivator. Whether I was climbing in Moraine Park or fishing Fall River, it was here where I—and many kids—developed a taste and appreciation for the profound and life-changing effects of the outdoors and America’s public lands.

The author and his sister as children in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Stumpf.

Because of these experiences, I enjoy a fishless day just as much as an afternoon when I can’t keep them off my line. I may have learned the basics of fishing, what trout eat, and how to read a river in my own backyard, but Rocky Mountain National Park is where I learned to forget that I was fishing and just listen to a bugling elk or watch the fog clear from the valley floor on a crisp fall morning. If I’d never set foot in the park, I can guarantee you I’d still fish, but I might not venture as far up the trail or as deep into the backcountry as I do.

We have almost 85 million acres of national parks in America and more than 300 million people visited a national park last year—an all-time high. I think about all the kids in that group who must have experienced public lands for the very first time, and my own kids who are just starting to understand and appreciate the world beyond their schoolyard and city limits. During the warmer months, my wife and I regularly take our son and daughter out to experience the wonder of the national parks and other public lands, in the hopes that someday they will see the value in advocating for them. Sure, fishing is a sport we’d love to see our son and daughter embrace, but we’re just as happy to see them splashing and laughing in a creek or astounded by how the trees are so much bigger than their dad.

Five-year-old Eliza is just one of many kids experiencing the national parks for the first time this summer. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Stumpf.

The parks are an entry-level introduction to a wilder world that our increasingly urban population might not have otherwise. The ripple effect of these formative experiences could be huge for these kids, and decision-makers are starting to understand that. Last year, President Obama launched his Every Kid in a Park initiative, granting free admission to every fourth grader—and their families—to every national park in the country. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, has subsequently issued Secretarial Orders supporting this.

As our commemoration of the National Park Service Centennial winds down, we embark on another 100 years of caring for our public lands system. And as sportsmen, we have more at stake than most. Our traditions may not be tied to the national parks themselves, but the conservation legacy of leaders like Theodore Roosevelt may come alive for our kids in their first visits to these iconic landscapes. We are all, certainly, better off for having the opportunity to enjoy them.

All month long, we’ve celebrated the National Park Service Centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. This is the final post. Thanks for reading, and remember to keep following #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

A Landscape Worthy of Conservation: Explore Montana’s Missouri Breaks in Photos

Live vicariously through photographer Charlie Bulla and escape to Big Sky Country right now (we won’t tell your boss)

Along the southern edge of the one-million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, the vast Montana prairie abruptly falls away and becomes the rugged Missouri Breaks. Because of its pristine habitat and remote wildness, this area is known by sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts as some of the country’s most unique and productive country for elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.

Ponderosa pine stands are found throughout the Missouri Breaks area. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

The sun shines on your public lands in Big Sky Country. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

Much of this country is public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and, for the first time in over 20 years, the agency is updating its Resource Management Plan (RMP) that will guide the future management of these important lands. The TRCP and other sportsmen’s groups are advocating for a new and important conservation tool called Backcountry Conservation Areas (BCAs), which would be used to protect the Breaks from fragmentation and development while maintaining Americans’ access for traditional uses, such as grazing, hunting, and range improvement.

Remnants of recent fires dot the landscape, stimulating new plant growth. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

Rainbows are a common site as storms move across the landscape. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

The importance and beauty of these remote lands, and the need for a tool to help protect them, is hard to put into words. So we asked Charlie Bulla, a professional photographer, to capture the essence of the unique landscape of the Missouri Breaks. Having never been to this part of Montana, Bulla was blown away by what he saw, calling the landscape “visually timeless and so precious.” Bulla said his respect for public lands only grew as he explored the area.

Rain-soaked soil is referred to as “gumbo,” making travel challenging. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

Every time of day brings a new set of colors. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

Bulla returned with dozens of breathtaking pictures. We’re hoping these images serve as proof that the Missouri Breaks are more than worthy of conservation—they demand it.

Bringing much needed moisture, spring rain storms can be seen miles away. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

The Missouri Breaks are a destination for hunters and rock hounds alike. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

How can you help conserve the Missouri Breaks? The BLM is making final touches to its draft RMP and is expected to release the draft to the public soon. When they do, your input and comments will matter. Help us urge the BLM to conserve the best backcountry in the Missouri Breaks. Sign up at sportsmenscountry.org to pledge your support for backcountry conservation, and we’ll keep you informed throughout the BLM’s planning process. Sportsmen like you should continue to have a say in the future management of this unique fish and wildlife habitat.

A young bull elk begins this year’s antler growth. Image Courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

 

Like a Holiday Season for Hunters, Fall is Coming

We prepare to celebrate opening day and all the traditions that come with it 

Yesterday at sunrise, a cool, down-canyon breeze brushed my face and jarred my memories. Finally, fall is coming. I smiled as my mind drifted past the day’s chore list to what will surely be going on as I gather with some of my favorite hunting companions for the first night of elk camp.

My friend Mike’s camo will be airing out in the trees while he cooks. The meal will affect his pace tomorrow, but he loves food to much to care. My wife Linda will be checking her pack, making sure her water bottle is full and flashlight batteries are fresh. The best bugler in camp, she’ll be running ridges on opening morning and, as always, she’ll hear more elk than the rest of us combined.

The author’s elk camp accommodations: a tepee. Image courtesy of Coby Tigert.

My brother Mack and buddy Mark will huddle together, plotting their annual first-day hunt in “the bowl.” Mark, a football lineman in college, and my brother Mack, an outstanding high school quarterback too small for college ball, always strike me as a comical “Stan and Ollie” hunting team. But they get it done.

I’ll be sharpening broadheads and listening to their decades-old stories, embellished more and more each year. Soaking up the fire’s heat, I’ll check that my alarm is set. Elk season will start in the morning.

Heaven and Earth
Each September means archery elk season on Idaho’s 32 million acres of public lands. The cool nights and warm days in the high country are like heaven for a public lands hunter, perfect for chasing bugling bulls, taking afternoon naps, and enjoying long campfire conversations with old friends.

The author’s wife, Linda, took this mule deer with her recurve. Image courtesy of Coby Tigert.

Our group has shared a camp in the Caribou National Forest for more than three decades, and we’ve explored every nook and cranny within ten miles of it. We’ve harvested dozens of animals there. Each of us has a favorite spot or two where we always get into elk.

Like most hunting buddies, the pursuit of wildlife and wild places brings us together. We are closer in these vast landscapes than we are in somebody’s living room.

September in Idaho could mean snowfall at elk camp. Image courtesy of Coby Tigert.

Unfortunately, 640 million acres of our public playgrounds are being eyed by folks who would rather see ownership of America’s public lands transferred or sold off to the highest bidder, which would make these areas off-limits to sportsmen like us forever. The future of our hunting camp, and the ability to pass on our traditions to our children, depends on us standing up for public lands and our access.

The cool wind yesterday was a reminder that the season is near, and I still have a few chores left to tend to before we head for high country. As I walked back to my house, a sound erupted from my pocket—the elk bugle ringtone that signals an incoming call from Mike. He feels it, too. Fall is coming.

Make this part of your pre-season routine: Take action to protect our public lands legacy by signing the petition at sportsmensaccess.org.

Now or Neverglades: A Region and a National Park at a Crossroads

How an unexpected dunk in the Everglades helped TRCP’s new Florida field representative become a proactive advocate for restoration – and how you can help too

Three months ago, for the first time ever, I fell off my skiff’s poling platform. I was flyfishing for tarpon in the Everglades with a friend when I lost my balance and tumbled backwards into the water five feet below. I was fortunate to miss the motor prop and only suffered from a painful combo of oyster abrasions, soreness, and wounded pride, plus plenty of mud and water up my nose, but it was a wake-up call.

Everglades. Image courtesy of Audubon Florida.

I’d been thinking about the environmental crisis facing Florida, focusing on all that was wrong and problematic. I wasn’t immune to finger-pointing—at the Army Corps of Engineers, state and federal government, Florida agriculture, and unbridled growth—and the more I learned about the problems in Florida, the more stress I felt. Thinking about all of this had turned me into a downer, and frankly I wasn’t doing anyone any good by dwelling. My unexpected splashdown made me realize that I had to pick myself up, figuratively and literally, and work toward change.

Sanibel Island. Image courtesy of Napa Daily News.

Our challenges are great. Over the last few months, toxic algae blooms along the east and west coasts of Florida have been the focus of national media attention. Yet, the most significant cause of the disaster, the discharge of untreated and polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, still hasn’t been resolved. This is an environmental and quality-of-life disaster for sportsmen and women and all Florida residents.

With the National Park Service centennial this month, it’s important to point out what this means for Everglades National Park. While the park does protect a fraction of the Everglades’ waters from pollution and diversion, an effective conservation plan requires that action be taken over a large geographic, and political, landscape. If we don’t care for the entire watershed—Lake Okeechobee and all the rivers that flow south—then all that will be left of Everglades National Park will be a boundary on a map.

Caption: The Everglades historically flowed south. Today, high water is diverted east and west to coastal communities. Illustrations courtesy of US Army Corps of Engineers.

Florida fishermen won’t stand idly by and let that happen. As for me, I started with what I know: I love the Florida Everglades, both coasts, Florida Bay, the Florida Keys, and the fish, wildlife, and people these areas support. My local community and the next generation of sportsmen and women deserve to see Florida’s fisheries restored. I resolved to do my part in making that happen.

Then I got lucky. Very lucky.

Ed Tamson Poling. Image courtesy of Robert Tamson.

Two months ago, I was hired as the TRCP’s Florida field representative and joined a team of colleagues who are focused on solutions for conservation issues impacting sportsmen and women across the country. This has given me hope and purpose.

Yes, I am still concerned about the challenges facing Florida, but I do what I can every day to by working with partners, diverse interest groups, and lawmakers to find solutions for the Florida Everglades that improve water quantity and quality for our wildlife, fish, and people. I’m learning that we can all become more effective advocates.

My fellow Florida sportsmen are still out fishing and hunting during this water crisis and, with all the local spending we drive through our sports, this is important. So is collaborating on solutions and presenting a unified front as we appeal to decision-makers to do what’s best for fish and wildlife.

That’s where you can help—sign the Now or Neverglades Declaration to show lawmakers that you support Everglades restoration. It took a humiliating fall off a poling platform to wake me up, but you can stay dry and make a positive difference today with just a few clicks of your mouse.

Celebrating Our National Parks: Public Lands Feed the Soul (and Six Hungry Young Men)

Hard-earned fish and forage in a national park that’s far from the crowds

Freshman-year procrastination still in full effect, a handful of my closest friends and I picked up the last of our food, fuel, and supplies on our way to the Queen IV ferry dock in Copper Harbor, Mich. We figured we had enough. Ready or not, we watched the shoreline creep away. Our weeklong public lands adventure in Isle Royale National Park had begun.

Isle Royale is a 45-mile-long island on the north end of Lake Superior. Only accessible by seaplane or on a wavy 3.5-hour ferry ride, the park hosts fewer visitors in a year than Yellowstone National Park sees in a single day, but that’s just the way we like it. None of us had ever attempted a trip like this. We were car campers at best, with most of our fishing days spent on the decks of our parents’ motorboats. Canoeing and portaging our way from one waterway to the next through a secluded national park would be exciting, unchartered territory.

Lunch break and rock hunting at one of the many historic light houses of Isle Royale. Image courtesy of Ethan Hornacek.

The remote island is protected by 450 smaller islands and peppered with dozens of inland lakes, making the archipelago an ideal destination for anglers but also quite a challenge. Fishing while paddling six miles against the wind on big water proved difficult, and we ended our first day with sore backs, blistered hands, and exactly zero fish.

On day two, we tried a calmer three-mile paddle into a protected cove of Lake Superior. From here, we conducted the first of our trip’s seven portages, lugging our 60-pound backpacks to the destination, doubling back, and then making the trek a third time with our aluminum canoes over our heads.

No wonder we were the only fools doing this.

Our campsite that night was on an inland lake 2.5 miles in, making it a 7.5-mile afternoon. We were quickly rewarded, though, with a plethora of northern pike. We ate our fill that night.

The author holds up his bruiser of a lake trout caught jigging on Siskiwit Lake, Isle Royale’s largest inland lake at 4,150 acres. Image courtesy of Ethan Hornacek.

It is critical for any hunter or angler to know the regulations of the area—it’s the part we all play in conservation—and we were armed with a Michigan fishing license for Lake Superior and its banks. We were surprised to learn that no license at all is needed to fish the island’s inland lakes, where you’re only limited by how much you can eat—no need to catch more than that, though you could. Additional rules apply, of course: Barbless hooks are required and, to keep the fishery productive, instead of minimum size requirements, park regs insist that we don’t keep fish above a certain size. Brook trout are off-limits, too.

Once we hit the island’s lakes, we couldn’t keep the fish out of our canoes. We caught northern pike, walleyes, and even some big lakers. We coated the fillets in fry mix and seasonings, then pan-fried them over our camp stove. Our remaining rations—flaked potatoes, pasta, beans, and rice—became side dishes instead of entrees. The chipmunks looked mighty jealous.

Even with the bounty of fish, we quickly realized that we underestimated the number of calories needed for six men on a weeklong backcountry excursion; our food supplies were getting low and we couldn’t eat enough. Fires are not allowed at most campsites, and frying fish over a camp stove uses quite a bit of fuel. Once we ran out, we’d have no way of cooking the fish or boiling water. We were saved when a group camping nearby watched us pull fish in one after another and commented on how tasty a fresh fish dinner would be. Turns out they had overpacked on fuel and were happy to shed some pack weight. Some good ol’ backcountry bartering ensued and we struck a deal: three filleted walleye for two cans of isobutene-propane.

We hit Lake Superior again the next day and pulled in a 41-inch northern pike, a Coho salmon, and two whitefish. We chilled the stringer in the frigid waters of the deepest and biggest of the Great Lakes to stretch our supply over multiple meals. Just when we thought it couldn’t get much better, we stumbled upon a jackpot of wild blueberries.

Late August is berry season on Isle Royale, and there are no bears to compete with at this National Park. Pictured here, wild blueberries. Image courtesy of Ethan Hornacek.

The park fed us, and I’ll never forget how proud I was of our self-reliance. With so few visitors, it felt like we owned those waters and wild areas. As the debate over federal land ownership continues, I realize this is exactly the case: We do own these lands. So, as we celebrate the National Park Service Centennial, I’m proud to remind others of the true value of public lands and the treasures they hold.

Even if you’re months away from your next backcountry hunt or hike, you can sign the petition to keep public lands in public hands right now.

Andrew Farron holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. He resides in Traverse City, Mich. with his fiancé, Sarah, and black Labrador, Luna. Andrew seems to always catch more – and bigger – fish than his older brother, Kevin.

All month long, we’re celebrating the National Park Service centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. Check back here for new posts from the TRCP staff and special guests, and follow the hashtag #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

 

Why the National Parks Are Great Neighbors to Public Land Hunters and Anglers

While not all national parks are open to hunting and fishing, these iconic landscapes are responsible for growing some of the critters that wind up in our favorite spots come opening day

All month long, and particularly this Thursday, August 25, our country is celebrating 100 years of the National Park Service. And with stunning and iconic landscapes in places like Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yosemite, it’s easy to see why there is so much to commemorate. But as a sportsman who loves to hunt and fish, I celebrate the parks for a slightly different reason.

You see, most national parks provide safe harbor for deer and elk where they can grow into giants. Those animals become accessible to hunters when they leave park boundaries and wander onto multiple-use public lands, like BLM lands and national forests, for any number of reasons, including to reach their winter ranges. As a result, hunting units surrounding national parks often provide some of the best big game hunting available. Those are the kinds of places where I want to spend my time.

Image courtesy of Lisa Thao/Flickr.

Most sportsmen are familiar with the famed elk migrations out of Yellowstone National Park but, while the total herd numbers aren’t what they used to be, the public lands adjacent to the park are still known as great places to hunt trophy bulls. Great Basin National Park in Nevada has a reputation for producing big mule deer that wander into neighboring multiple-use public lands during the hunting season, and quality mule deer depend on the habitat in and around Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Experienced sportsmen know that units located adjacent to many of the national parks are simply great places to find big bucks and bulls.

The same goes for great fishing. While national parks are generally open to fishing, the protected mountains within many parks provide cool, clean headwaters for many of the nation’s best trout streams flowing outside of the parks. The South Fork of the Snake River in Wyoming and eastern Idaho offers some of the best trout fishing anywhere, thanks to the abundant snowpack and pristine headwaters within Grand Teton National Park. The North Fork of the Flathead River in northwest Montana is an amazing place to catch a cutthroat on a dry fly, in part due to the protected landscapes of Glacier National Park. And let’s not forget the mighty Yellowstone and Madison Rivers, two great trout streams with seemingly endless miles of fishable water, both born within Yellowstone National Park.

Image courtesy of Bureau of Land Management.

So, if you’re a sportsman who appreciates quality habitat and public hunting and fishing, give thanks for America’s national parks this week and the next time you shoulder your rifle or tie a fly on your line. These lands make great neighbors, supporting our sporting heritage in a unique way, and that’s worth celebrating.

All month long, we’re celebrating the National Park Service centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. Check back here for new posts from the TRCP staff and special guests, and follow the hashtag #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Beyond the Parks: Hidden Gems of the National Park Service

While America’s iconic national parks get all the glory, the National Park Service Centennial is also a time to celebrate these three types of public lands and what they offer sportsmen

Being from California and living most of my life in the West, I have spent a whole lot of time on public lands. Between hiking, climbing rocks, and road-tripping in my free time, and working as a wildlife field technician after college, I have logged countless hours learning what folks are (and are not) allowed to do on various types of public land. I have learned that they are not all created equal, and while national parks get a lot of publicity and love, the exclusion of hunting and fishing – not to mention heavy crowds – can leave sportsmen behind.

In honor of the National Parks Centennial, I’d like to shine the spotlight on a few National Parks Service lands that aren’t national parks ­– there are, in fact, more than 20 NPS designations. The opportunities that exist on these lands just might surprise you.

 

Badlands National Park. Image courtesy of Dani Dagan.

National Recreation Areas

A special designation for areas located around major water reservoirs or urban centers, all 18 national recreation areas allow fishing and/or hunting of some kind. However, before you pack up your rod, rifle, or bow, be aware that the rules vary from unit to unit. In the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SAMO), for example, hunting is only allowed on private property nested within park boundaries.

I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, just a 15-minute ride away from SAMO—a huge patchwork landscape of federal, state, and private property, and even a strip of the pacific coast, that’s full of rock climbing opportunities and purple sage. This was where I fell in love with fresh air and solitude, and to this day the smell of sage makes me feel like I’m on summer vacation. Later, when I was working as a wildlife intern at SAMO, I saw firsthand the value of this multi-purpose land designation, which focused on human use rather than pristine preservation, as a “gateway drug” – turning city rats into public lands advocates.

Biological survey site in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Image courtesy of Dani Dagan.

National Seashores and Lakeshores

Just last week, I visited Assateague Island, a national seashore with opportunities for shore fishing and limited hunting seasons for waterfowl, foxes, rabbits, and mourning doves. There are ten national seashores and four national lakeshores in the country, and fishing and/or hunting is permitted on all of them. Again, site regulations may vary. For example, at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore,  Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore hunting is prohibited, but fishing for trout and salmon is permitted—and popular.

Assateague Island National Seashore permits fishing, oversand parking, hunting, crabbing, and an assortment of other recreational activities. Image courtesy of Dani Dagan.

National Preserves

There are 19 national preserves, where extractive activities, including hunting and fishing, are permitted. Some of these are adjacent to other NPS lands that prohibit hunting and fishing, allowing for multiple uses of a contiguous landscape.

Theodore Roosevelt Island

I’d like to give a final shout out an NPS site that allows neither hunting nor fishing, but does pay homage to our number one guy here at TRCP. If you’ve ever visited Washington, D.C., you may have noticed that the presidential monuments are governed by NPS. Theodore Roosevelt Island is no exception. However, in contrast to those massive blocks of expertly sculpted concrete and stone, T.R.’s capitol city memorial is a lush island comprised of upland woods and swampy bottoms—very fitting for the foremost conservationist president.

Trailhead on Theodore Roosevelt Island. Image courtesy of Dani Dagan.

The island is a legitimate hiking destination in its own right. In fact, the friend I visited with had been there several times, just to walk the trails, without ever noticing the manicured memorial at its heart.  And I think that’s how T.R. would have wanted it – he urged Americans to not only protect our land, but immerse ourselves in it.

Image courtesy of Dani Dagan.

As we celebrate the National Park Service Centennial this month, I hope that sportsmen and women across the country can be proud of our stake in all of these uniquely American public lands—for every icon, there’s a hidden gem. While the NPS centennial campaign may be branded “find your park,” we hope everyone to finds their public land, whatever designation it may be. With all the opportunities they offer us to wet a line, glass a ridgeline, see our breath in a morning duck blind, or just to be transported from our everyday lives, they all deserve to be celebrated and enjoyed.

All month long, we’re celebrating the National Park Service centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. Check back here for new posts from the TRCP staff and special guests, and follow the hashtag #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Now Is the Time to Tell Lawmakers that CRP Works for Wildlife, Sportsmen, and Landowners

With our launch of CRPworks.org, we’re asking sportsmen to help us call for a better Conservation Reserve Program well ahead of the next Farm Bill

At an outdoor show like the Deer & Turkey Expo in Bloomington, Ill., it’s tough to be the conservation group with a couple of clipboards, a petition, and a handful of stickers to seal the deal. We’d much rather be handing out free samples of wild-game sausage or demonstrating how to hand-knap arrowheads, but it’s just not who we are. Still, last weekend we were delighted to speak to so many sportsmen and landowners who were just as enthusiastic about conservation on private lands as they were about testing bows and tasting venison.

On the whole, these folks agreed that CRP—the Conserve Reserve Program, which incentivizes landowners to put a portion of their acreage into conservation—works for wildlife, sportsmen, and farmers. And they were more than willing to ask their lawmakers for a better CRP.

Images courtesy of Kristyn Brady.

Now, with the help of some of our partners, we’ve made this easy to do. With the launch of CRPworks.org, a coalition of sportsmen’s groups—including the National Deer Alliance, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, and the TRCP—is rallying conservation advocates who support enhancing the program in the next Farm Bill.

“During the latest CRP sign-up, landowners who demonstrated an overwhelming demand for voluntary conservation practices under CRP were met with the lowest acceptance rates in the program’s 30-year history,” says Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “That’s why we’re calling for sportsmen and women to support strong conservation provisions in the Farm Bill, including a larger and more robust CRP authorization that meets the demand from farmers, ranchers, and other landowners, who improve wildlife habitat and provide us with better recreational and access opportunities.”

Introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill, CRP once supported 37 million acres devoted to conserving soil, water, and wildlife habitat. But Congress has reduced the size of the program to just 24 million acres in the most recent Farm Bill. Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is turning down thousands of CRP applications from those who want to enroll millions of private acres in conservation.

The user-friendly website and advocacy app at CRPworks.org allows supporters to add their names to a petition asking lawmakers to reverse this trend, explaining that “without a strong CRP, the northern plains states would lose much of their duck breeding habitat, greater sage grouse in the West would be at greater risk of population decline, and brook trout would disappear from Eastern headwaters. Without CRP, 40 million sportsmen and women would lose access to private hunting and fishing grounds across rural America.”

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of the National Deer Alliance, says, “Deer hunters know that CRP works for wildlife and habitat—we’ve got the big buck stories to prove it—so it’s important that sportsmen and women call for better investments in CRP and become a part of the solution, well ahead of the next Farm Bill. This website makes that process very easy.”

CRPworks.org will also house educational resources on the benefits of the program and the latest news about private land conservation. “CRP acres are often enrolled in access programs to provide public hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands, and where they’re not, CRP acres might provide critical wildlife habitat adjacent to the public lands that receive a lot of hunting pressure,” says Ariel Wiegard, agriculture and private lands policy director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This program has served as an important piece of landowners’ business plans and a vital part of working and wild landscapes for 30 years, so it deserves the attention of our lawmakers.”

Learn more about the game and fish species that have benefited from the Conservation Reserve Program here, and sign the petition at CRPworks.org.




For the Sake of Conservation, Sportsmen Share Fishing and Hunting Treasure Maps

New data will help land management agencies prioritize the conservation needs of Arizona’s most valued hunting and fishing areas

When it comes to telling others about their “secret” spots, hunters and anglers are famous for holding their cards close to their game vests and wading jackets. Yet, more than 1,200 Arizona sportsmen have willingly tipped their hands to identify their favorite destinations on a map. It’s all part of a national initiative to conserve fish and wildlife habitat while protecting and improving public access for hunting and angling.

This statewide effort was recently completed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), in cooperation with Arizona sportsmen’s groups. Maps from the Sportsmen’s Values Mapping Project are now available to the public and to state and federal agencies.

Image courtesy of Arizona Fish and Game Department.

“Some of the most valued public hunting and fishing areas in Arizona are at risk because of deteriorating habitat conditions, limited access and increased development pressures,” says John Hamill, TRCP’s field representative in Arizona. “With the help of sportsmen, we’ve been able to pinpoint lands that are cherished for their hunting and fishing values, so that land managers can prioritize habitat conservation and the enhancement of public access in these areas.”

Maps for 15 species or species groups—including elk, mule deer, whitetails, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, turkeys, quail, doves, waterfowl, predators, and fish—are now available on the department’s website. On each map, the most highly valued areas are in red and orange, moderately high-valued areas are in yellow, and less highly valued areas are in green. The maps allow the user to view, pan, and zoom in or out to explore the most highly valued hunting and angling locations in Arizona. The species are also ranked for popularity based on the survey responses.

While the maps will be useful to sportsmen, they were largely developed to guide conservation efforts. The maps have been assembled in a geographic information system (GIS), where they can be overlaid with maps of critical habitat, land ownership, and other data.

The resulting maps will provide important and previously unavailable data to state and federal agencies for the following purposes:

  • To balance other land uses with the needs of fish, wildlife, hunters and anglers.
  • To identify areas where public access needs to be maintained or improved.
  • To identify areas needing stronger conservation efforts, or expansion of hunting and angling opportunities.
  • To identify key high-use areas warranting special conservation strategies, because of their value to sportsmen.
  • To justify actions and funding requests aimed at conserving highly valued wildlife habitat, and hunting and fishing areas.

Last fall, a random sampling of 7,500 Arizona hunting and fishing license holders were mailed a postcard inviting them to participate in the survey. Those who received a postcard were directed to a specially designed website where they could highlight on a map their most valued hunting and fishing destinations. The survey also included questions about why sportsmen identified a particular area as being important. The most highly valued areas are typically those that offer the greatest chance of harvesting game, contain trophy-size game or fish, are closest to home, or have traditionally been the area that sportsman or family has hunted or fished. The results demonstrate the importance of maintaining quality fish and wildlife habitat and providing readily available public access for hunting and angling.

The Sportsmen’s Values Mapping Project is a national initiative that was launched in 2007 by the TRCP. The project has been endorsed by the Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, an alliance of more than two dozen Arizona sportsmen’s groups. Learn more about the Arizona project here.

Value Mapping has also been completed in Montana and Wyoming. The project is ongoing in Idaho.

When It Comes to Conservation, We’re Less Divided Than You Think

Many groups are willing to check politics at the door to focus on the best possible management of our public lands

Amidst a historic and unprecedented election season, it seems that our country is more divided—politically and ideologically—than ever. Unfortunately, the conservation and management of our public lands fall prey to this division, and the resulting log jams in Congress, as well. It makes the work we do at the TRCP difficult at times, yet ultimately very rewarding.

In my career—and while I’ve been hunting, fishing, and exploring every nook and cranny of Colorado—I’ve learned a valuable lesson about how much common ground we actually share when it comes to the conservation of our public lands. I’ve spent much of my time at TRCP sitting down with every kind of public land stakeholder: gun shop owners in Cortez, big game guides in Collbran, wildlife biologists in Meeker, politicians in Denver, environmental activists in Salida, and oil and gas operators visiting from Texas. Early on, it was easy to make some assumptions about these different groups and their views on land management, but the reality is different.

Image courtesy of Nick Payne.

What I find when I’m actually face-to-face with these folks is that nearly all of us want the same thing: public lands that we can enjoy in perpetuity; public lands that continue to provide opportunities for outdoor experiences with our families and friends. Even oil and gas developers—whose primary goal is to generate revenue that supports their business—see the value in responsibly managing lands for all the ways American citizens have come to enjoy them.

I’ve realized that no one actually wants this planet to become a barren wasteland, devoid of wildlife and natural places.

Here’s a perfect example. Recently, I joined representatives from the Colorado Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, and Trout Unlimited to meet with officials from the Colorado State Land Board about the 3,500-acre James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area. These are state-owned lands surrounded by 13,000 acres of backcountry BLM lands that hold crucial migration, stopover, and winter habitat for elk. I explained that we’ve been working closely with the BLM on the Royal Gorge Resource Management Plan, which will dictate management of 6.8 million acres of subsurface lands and 670,000 acres of surface lands that surround the state wildlife area.

South Park and Arkansas River drainage.

Unfortunately, the state lands were on the auction block for private oil and gas leasing, and this was contrary to ongoing collaborative efforts to create a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the greater South Park area. As many sportsmen know, the main goal of the State Land Board is to maximize revenue from state lands, which is why 82 percent of state lands in Colorado are closed to hunting and fishing. So, I was sure we were in for an uphill battle in asking the board to defer these leases until after the MLP process had been completed. But, after we stated our case, bolstered by a letter of support from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, we were surprisingly successful.

Contrary to their stated mission, the state board voted 4 to 1 to defer the leases. This is a case where sound judgment and collaboration led to a positive outcome for the management of our public lands. Common sense won out over dogma. In the end, it may be that these lands are the most appropriate place to responsibly develop our energy resources, but at least we’ll know that, through the MLP, the proper time, effort, and consideration have been put into ensuring that this is the case.

Gold medal waters of Colorado’s South Platte River. Image courtesy Nick Payne.

Of course, many of us will continue to disagree on the specifics of how our public lands should be conserved, used, and managed. Yet it’s only the most extreme ideologues, driven politically or by their bottom line, who aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and collaborate on reasonable solutions. It’s time that the rest of us stand up and force these snags to the side. The conservation and management of our public lands should not be a politically driven issue. It should be the commitment we make to future generations. And I believe we’re less divided than we think.