Young conservationists to Sally Jewell: Listen

“How’s your energy level, guys?” I asked as we waited in the lobby of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“Good!”

“Fine.”

“Great.”

“Awesome.”

Each of the teenagers replied with focused enthusiasm, an attitude reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt. If any of the four in the group was nervous, it failed to show.

I was with the winners of an essay contest sponsored by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition dedicated to balancing conservation with the need for responsible energy development led in part by the TRCP. The contest’s theme was “the importance of public lands to me,” and the winners’ essays highlighted the forests, mountains, sagebrush steppe and backcountry waters that are as diverse as the winners themselves.

Hailing from across the country, the group traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and members of their states’ congressional delegations, and leaders in the conservation community.

I have read the winning essays (you should, too) and knew that the students possessed a high level of thoughtfulness and intellect. But I remember what it was like to be that age. One minute you are focused and kicking butt, and the next you are flustered and overwhelmed (did I just described my own life?). But let me tell you: These teens exceeded my expectations of young conservationists in America. We all should take notes.

I spent some time chatting with the group about their backgrounds, favorite game to hunt and impressions of the nation’s capital. Before we knew it, we were ushered into the elevator that took us up to the sixth floor to the secretary’s office.

I was excited to meet Secretary Jewell. I look up to her as a mountain climber, a woman, a leader, a champion for the outdoors and more. But I was most excited to hear what the teens had to say to her.

As the conversation unfolded between Jewell and Matt, Haley, Jarred and Rebecca, the contest winners, it was clear that the secretary was enthralled by what these young people had to say. They talked about what strategies should be employed to get more young people – and more people of color – outdoors. They discussed how time spent outdoors better prepares people for life. They told Jewell what they might prioritize if they were in her position. They talked about the importance of public service, our conservation heritage and more.

Not one person left Secretary Jewell’s office unchanged. Young people bring the unbridled depth and bright ideas that are crucial to the future of conservation.

If you know any young conservationists, hunters or anglers, spend some time talking with them. Use the winning essays to kick off a conversation about why our public lands and our hunting and fishing heritage are important. Listen to their ideas as to how we might engage more people in outdoor pursuits. And please, share your ideas below and on our Facebook page.

Pheasants Forever hosts nation’s largest upland event

Larry and Brenda Potterfield, owners of MidwayUSA, made a significant donation to Pheasants Forever’s “Forever Shooting Sports Program.” Accepting the donation on behalf of Pheasants Forever is the organization’s National Youth Leadership Council.

Pheasants Forever and its quail division, Quail Forever, hosted more than 21,064 attendees at its National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic this February in Milwaukee. The annual event is the largest in the country for wildlife habitat conservationists, bird dog owners and upland hunters.

Highlights included:

  • $1 million for youth programs. At the organization’s Saturday evening national banquet, Larry and Brenda Potterfield, owners and founders of MidwayUSA, presented Pheasants Forever with a check for $950,000 to be used for the organization’s Forever Shooting Sports program. Pheasants Forever also accepted gracious checks throughout the weekend from SportDOG Brand and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for $25,000 each. All told, the $1 million in contributions will be used to further Pheasants Forever’s youth programs throughout the country.
  • Recognizing conservation leaders. Pheasants Forever welcomed Rep. Paul Ryan as the keynote speaker at its national banquet. Wisconsin’s first district congressman is a former co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, and he recognized eight outstanding Wisconsin conservationists for their efforts in protecting wildlife habitat in the state.
  • Bird dogs steal the show. More than 500 turned out for the unique show open: a “Bird Dog Parade” that featured nearly 40 different sporting dog breeds.
  • Wildlife habitat improvement. Nearly 140 landowners went through the process of obtaining a wildlife habitat management plan for their properties at the event’s “Landowner Habitat Help Room.” Nearly 30,000 acres stand to be improved for wildlife because of these plans, all of which are drawn up with a professional wildlife biologist.

We hope to see you at National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic next year. Stay tuned!

Paul Ryan

Celebrate World Wetlands Day

February 2 is World Wetlands Day, a day to celebrate wetlands of global ecological significance, like the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades, and the important role wetlands of all shapes and sizes play in our lives.

Did you know that nine out of every 10 fish caught by recreational anglers in America depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles? Did you know that 75 percent of our nation’s migratory birds do as well? That’s why wetlands conservation is central to the TRCP’s mission to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.

However, the challenge is daunting. For the first time since the 1980s, annual wetland losses are on the rise. Wetland loss is most severe in coastal communities like those in the Gulf of Mexico where 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands disappear each year.

Coastal wetlands are vital to healthy marine fisheries and ecosystems, and the drastic loss of these wetlands is a threat to the future of recreational fishing. Working with recreational fishermen, the TRCP laid out a plan to preserve and protect coastal wetlands throughout the Gulf of Mexico basin.

The TRCP also launched the Barnyard to Boatyard Conservation Exchange to bring South Dakota farmers and ranchers together with Louisiana Gulf fishermen to see firsthand the challenges each faces making a living on the Mississippi River that connects them – and to seek solutions to conserve America’s great native prairies and coastal waters.

The TRCP is also laying the foundation for long-term conservation of wetlands by urging the administration to restore Clean Water Act protections to waters important to America’s sportsmen, such as those in the Prairie Pothole Region, which provides nesting habitat to as many as 70 percent of all the ducks in North America. Too many wetland acres are at risk of pollution and destruction because their Clean Water Act protections are in jeopardy.

Video: Our friend Steven Rinella, host of the show MeatEater on the Sportsman Channel, looks at how we can stem the tide of wetland loss in this video.

U.S. wetlands do much more than provide valuable fish and wildlife habitat. They are the source of drinking water for most Americans, they soak up flood waters, lessen the risk of flood damages, and they filter pollutants out of water that otherwise would have to be treated at great expense to cities and towns.

On World Wetlands Day, take time to think about local wetlands important to you and your family. Then consider taking action to support TRCP’s efforts.

Strength in numbers: TRCP unites sportsmen-conservationists at SHOT Show forum

Sportsmen and industry professionals travel from across the country – and, in many cases, from around the world – to attend the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show, or SHOT Show, every year. The show, which took place Jan. 14-17, is the largest and most comprehensive trade show for the shooting, hunting and related industries.

Attendees cite a wide range of reasons for coming to SHOT, and, with attendance at this year’s show topping a record-breaking 67,000, you’d be hard pressed to generalize about why so many consider it a can’t-miss event.

But one explanation resonates throughout the show’s 635,000 square feet of exhibition space and among the more than 1,600 exhibitors: economics.

The hunting and shooting industries have never been stronger in America. Data released by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which owns and manages SHOT, shows that spending by hunters and shooters had a total impact of more than $110 billion on the U.S. economy in 2011. This supports more than 866,000 jobs.

These numbers won’t surprise many in the sportsmen’s community, including the TRCP and our partner groups, who have been responding to legislative attacks on programs important to hunters and anglers, fish and wildlife, and conservation in America by citing data that illustrates the economic value of hunting, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation.

Hunting and fishing directly contribute more than $86 billion to the U.S. economy each year and support approximately 1.5 million non-exportable jobs. Sportsmen also are integral to the broader outdoor-recreation and conservation economy, which is responsible for $646 billion in direct consumer spending annually.

There is strength in numbers. Whether those numbers are impressive economic figures or the growing number of sportsmen raising our voices on Capitol Hill, the TRCP is channeling them to promote the outdoor traditions, sporting heritage and vast economic impact of sportsmen by bringing all the stakeholders in our community “to the table” to speak together in a unified voice.

To this end, at the 2014 SHOT Show the TRCP convened our third annual “Sportsmen’s Conservation Forum,” a meeting of some of the greatest minds in conservation, including CEOs, policy experts and influential members of the media, to discuss federal policy impacting sportsmen and the top-line priorities for our community in 2014. More than 40 sportsman leaders – among them U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, Howard Vincent of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Miles Moretti of the Mule Deer Foundation, “MeatEater” host Steven Rinella and Field & Stream Editor in Chief Anthony Licata – had a wide-ranging dialogue that touched on the federal budget and sportsmen’s values, the next farm bill, public hunting access (and obstacles to access) and the prospects for passage of comprehensive sportsmen’s legislation in 2014.

While the participants are committed hunters and shooters, all of them also have a stake in responsive policy that supports these outdoor traditions. And while the prospects for sportsman-focused policy and legislation in 2014 remain unclear, our community remains unwavering in our commitment to stand strong, present a united front, and show the strength both of our combined numbers and the economic influence of sportsmen – at events like the SHOT Show and elsewhere in the crucially important time to come.

Learn more about the TRCP’s work to promote strongly funded conservation programs and legislative measures important to sportsmen.

Wishing You the Best

It doesn’t matter whether you are a bass fisherman in Alabama or a pheasant hunter in South Dakota. America’s century-old commitment to conservation has been driven by sportsmen like you. Now is your chance to uphold America’s conservation legacy. Support our work.

“I Will Never Forget”

In many cultures, mountains and water have a special significance and attraction. In China, an ancient song titled “High Mountains and Flowing Water” represents cherished friendship. In the Bible, Psalm 23’s well-known verse three teaches, “He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul,” and those of us who pursue fly fishing in the mountains around moving water know the therapeutic value of a day spent on the water.

In 2007, a group in Bozeman decided that this experience would help aid in the recovery of our nation’s wounded warriors from the injuries, both physical and psychological, that they received during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From this idea sprang the Bozeman-based Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation for which I served as both the volunteer director of fly fishing operations and a board member from 2007-2010. During that time, the program grew from two five-day events to eight events that served 40-50 wounded warriors and their spouses each year.

The typical fishing experience is a five-day event that begins with equipment fitting, compliments of Simms Fishing Products, followed by a day of fly fishing instruction on a local pond; we call it Fly Fishing 101. Events typically conclude with two days of guided fishing and a sight-seeing trip into Yellowstone National Park.

Participants with injuries ranging from bilateral amputations to post-traumatic stress disorder come from military medical facilities across the U.S. and are fully equipped, accommodated and cared for during their stay by a group of dedicated Warriors and Quiet Waters volunteers.

I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters and another great therapeutic fly fishing program, Project Healing Waters, for seven years. During that time, I’ve seen first-hand the palpable impact that time spent in the mountains, around flowing water and fly fishing has on these wounded warriors and vets.

I could tell their stories myself, but the most powerful testimonies come directly from the participants themselves.

Fly fishing has given me a chance to ease my mind. There is no peace quite like being on the river surrounded by surreal beauty with only a friend, Mother Nature and yourself. When I leave the river, I feel rejuvenated and optimistic.”

- Avery, a wounded U.S. Army soldier

“I really wanted to mention the day we had at the creek. I had a great time, and even if I had not caught a single fish it would have still been tops. The scenery was great, the wildlife was awesome and I could have just sat on the bank and imagined I was in heaven. I will never forget my day on the creek. It was like a year’s worth of therapy wrapped into a single moment.”

- John C., U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class

Testimonies such as these underscore the importance of ensuring that all Americans can enjoy a day on the water or discover the camaraderie forged during trips afield. These experiences would be harder to come by if not for the groundwork laid by the forefathers of conservation like Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and others. And groups like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited help uphold our nation’s great conservation legacy.

We do this because these high mountains and flowing water experiences change lives, and, in some cases, they even save them. I will leave you with the following story from Chris, a U.S. Air Force wounded warrior:

While I was in the ICU, I died three times, flat-lined. I don’t recall much, except for the last time. The last time I flat-lined I do recall accepting it that my body just could not handle the stress of it any longer. Things were going dark for me, but I remembered a Warriors and Quiet Waters fishing trip that I took to Montana. I was fishing at the place where they filmed the movie A River Runs Through It. I saw the old train tracks, and I saw myself sitting on a rock just fishing, not trying too hard, but just relaxing. It was the most relaxing place ever for me. But, I knew I was going to die and this was it. But when this happened, I pictured my son sitting on the rock with me smiling away as we were fishing. Then, all the alarms were going off in ICU, but I accepted it and then everything went black. Four days or so later I woke up. I was out the entire time. I was told by the nurse I flat-lined three times and almost died. In her words it was a miracle I am still alive.

Images courtesy Dave Kumlien.

Join the TRCP in Shaping a Future for Conservation

Every day, hunters and anglers see wetlands drained and buffer strips bulldozed – and valuable acres once enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program plowed into corn fields. Guides cancel hunts with their clients because there are so few birds – and the habitat needed to support them is quickly disappearing. 

Click here to see how you can help.

Read John’s story and support the TRCP’s efforts to mobilize leaders and get a full Farm Bill through Congress.

Early Season Dove Hunting in North Dakota

Dove Field near Bismarck

The lands on which we hunted were managed to sustain wildlife while still being economically viable.  Photo by Katie McKalip.

“Here they come!” Randal hissed in my ear. “Get ready to shoot!”

The doves flew in a wild circle past the hay bale where we stood, their silhouettes fast moving against the North Dakota sky. I shouldered the Remington 20-gauge and fired once, twice.

The doves kept flying, heading south. In the distance, shots rang out, and two of the birds dropped. I heard laughter from the next hay bale and looked over in time to see my companions share a high five.

“I think the birds flew closer to them this time around,” Randal said diplomatically.

No matter. While my pride would have liked to down a bird, I was just happy to be afield on a gloriously unfolding September morning, with fine guns, old friends and new, and the wide-open Northern Plains before me.

I was east of Bismarck, N.D., at the TRCP’s Western Media Summit, an annual event that brings together some of the best and brightest in outdoors and natural resources journalism along with policy experts, conservationists and other influential names in the sportsmen’s community. For three days, we’d be talking about the most critical issues currently facing hunters, anglers and others who appreciate and enjoy our nation’s unique outdoor opportunities – and trying to figure out how to make decision-makers in Washington, D.C., heed the growing voice that is sportsmen as they set policy that affects our fish, wildlife and natural resources.

Our partner for the 2013 Western summit was Ducks Unlimited, which hosted our policy sessions at DU’s Great Plains Regional Office. DU staff members also graciously guided summit attendees during our field outings: early season dove hunting near Bismarck and walleye, pike and perch fishing on lakes fed by the Mighty Mo.

With me that morning were DU’s Randal Dell and Matt Shappell; Matt Miller, senior science writer for The Nature Conservancy and freelancer for publications ranging from Sports Afield to National Geographic Online; and Bill Klyn, international business development manager for Patagonia.

We were fortunate to be able to access excellent bird habitat that day. North Dakota, like so many other Great Plains states, has experienced a rapid loss of grassland ecosystems due to economic factors that incentivize the conversion of land to intense row-crop production. Rural landscapes have changed profoundly as a result.

Agricultural practices have changed, too. Converting from grass pasture to row crops has never been so potentially lucrative. Yet it still is possible – and speakers at the TRCP summit confirmed this – to minimize grassland loss and make a living off the intact prairie. In Bismarck, we heard from landowners who practice conscientious management strategies and invest in their land’s health – resulting in an economically sound operation that allows bird populations to thrive.

Our dove hunt that day brought these details into sharp focus. We were hunting on lands managed to sustain wildlife while still being economically viable. The growing pile of doves at our feet testified to the success of these management practices. But we also drove past a seemingly endless cornfield that until a year ago had been native prairie. The difference was palpable.

That’s why the TRCP media summits are important: They expose writers to ideas, places and practices that clearly illustrate the impacts of federal resource policy and the land management practices that result. When groups like DU and the TRCP advocate for stronger conservation programs in the Farm Bill, places like the fields and grasslands near Bismarck, N.D. – and the hunters who frequent them – all stand to gain.

Learn more about the TRCP media summits. Read articles in The Washington Post, The Bismarck Tribune and the TNC’s Cool Green Science published in the wake of the TRCP’s 2013 Western Media Summit.

 

The Feds Map Where U.S. Water Goes … and It’s Fascinating

The National Atlas of the United States is a periodic publication of a federal partnership led by the U.S. Geological Survey. It contains a wealth of data and maps to “capture and depict the patterns, conditions, and trends of American life.” Earlier this summer, this partnership released a tool that may change the way you think about the movement of water in America.

Streamer is an interactive mapping tool that lets you follow any major river or stream in America upstream to its headwaters or downstream to the ocean. With it you can see, starting from any point in America, where the water in your stream is coming from and going to. It’s like a Google map for rivers.

Take, for example, the Mississippi River. By clicking on the mouth of the Mississippi River where it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, you can get a map, like the one below, that shows every stream and river that drains into the Mississippi River. If you’re one of the 85 million people living in this area that touches 31 states, you live in one of the top five largest draining basins in the world, covering about one-third of the U.S. land mass.

StreamerWith maps like this, you can start to appreciate the interconnectedness of water. You can see that what happens to water in western Pennsylvania or eastern Colorado matters to what the water will be like in Louisiana. Keep this map in mind during upcoming debates about the Clean Water Act. Water doesn’t care about state boundaries. It simply flows inexorably, inevitably downhill. Therefore, sportsmen and women need effective federal protections to safeguard the fish, wildlife and habitat that sustain our proud sporting traditions.

This map also shows that what gets put into the water upstream in South Dakota eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s why the TRCP launched the Barnyard to Boatyard Conservation Exchange. In it, we brought South Dakota farmers and ranchers together with Louisiana Gulf fishermen to see firsthand the challenges each faces making a living on the Mississippi River that connects them – and to seek solutions to conserve America’s great native prairies and coastal waters.

Currently, pollution in the Mississippi River – large amounts of it coming from farming and ranching activities in the upper reaches of the river – enters the Gulf, killing aquatic life in an area the size of Connecticut. There have been positive developments. Minnesota just proposed a plan to reduce its pollution contribution by 20-35 percent. But there’s still a long way to go to protect this resource and preserve the recreational fishing and agricultural economies at either end of the river.

In the meantime, go play around with Streamer and see where your favorite stream leads.

Tegan’s Trout

Introduce someone to the splendor of our fish and wildlife resources this weekend. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

The fish pulls; she swings the pole back, lifting the line out of the water, the fish flops on the bank.  Excited at the catch, she smiles and releases the trout.  Moments such as this last a lifetime for a child.

For many of us, these childhood memories are enough to get us hooked on fishing for the long haul. But these days we are seeing fewer children spending time outdoors; we need to get our kids playing again.

The future of our fish and wildlife depends on teaching our children how to respect the resources. Passion for a sport starts with the parents and if we don’t encourage our children to fish or pursue outdoor activities then we lose the next generation of conservationists.

When kids play outside, they connect with the resources and develop an appreciation for the environment – something that is often lost on children who never get out of the house.

Take an opportunity this Saturday, Sept. 28, on National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day, to introduce a newcomer to our rich outdoor traditions.