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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimony on the Bipartisan Sportsman’s Act of 2015

This morning, our president Whit Fosburgh testified on behalf of S. 556, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. You can read his oral testimony to the committee below and the link to the archived webcast follows:

My name is Whit Fosburgh, and I am the President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of more than 40 national hunting, fishing and conservation groups dedicated to guaranteeing that all Americans have quality places to hunt and fish.

Image by the US Government.

First, I want to thank the committee for the invitation to testify today, and especially Chairwoman Murkowski and Senator Heinrich, for introducing S. 556, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, and bringing it before the committee.  When combined with the companion bill that will make its way through the Environment Committee, the Sportsmen’s Act will make a direct and lasting contribution to hunting, fishing and conservation in America.

Approximately 40 million Americans hunt and fish every year.  Together, hunters and anglers annually spend more than $90 billion to pursue their passions.   They are a key part of the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy, and through excise taxes, license fees, permits and stamps, and voluntary contributions of money and labor, sportsmen have, for more than 75 years, paid their way.  As a result, American fish and wildlife management is the envy of the world.

But federal policy and funding are key to maintaining the North American Model of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and helping people of all walks of life get afield.

Image by Joel Webster.

Hunters and anglers need two things to practice their sports: access and opportunity.  They need places to go to hunt and fish, and when they get there, they need healthy populations of fish and game.

S. 556 is important in both regards.

Section 101 reiterates that our public lands are opening for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting unless they are specifically closed, and it establishes a public process should it makes sense to close certain areas.  This is consistent with the way our public lands have been managed since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, but it provides our land managers with added clarity in this era of competing demands on our public lands.

Sections 201 and 202 directly address the issue of decreasing access to our public lands.  According to various studies, lack of access is one of the most often cited reasons why people stop hunting and fishing.  Part of this is due to non-stop urban and suburban sprawl, where farms and forests turn into malls and condos.

Another part of this is fewer private landowners who allow public access.  The 2014 Farm Bill, with its Open Fields provision, was an important step toward providing incentives to private landowners to allow hunting, fishing and/or access on their lands.

But in the West, more than 70 percent of hunters hunt on public lands.  Nationally, about half of all hunters hunt some or all of the time on public lands.  But even those lands are getting harder and harder to access.

Image by Ken and Cathy Beck.

In the old days, you could ask most landowners to cross their lands to access adjoining public lands.  But as ownership patterns change, such access becomes more difficult.  Today, it is estimated that more than 30 million acres of public lands are largely inaccessible to the public.

Senator Heinrich’s HUNT Act (Section 202) seeks to identify those landlocked public lands and to plan ways in which access to those lands might be improved.

Complementary to the HUNT Act is Section 201, Making Public Lands Public, which would direct that a small percentage of the Land and Water Conservation Fund target projects that expand access to our public lands.

For more than 50 years, LWCF has been an incredibly important program for conserving habitat and providing sportsmen’s access, and Section 201 would help ensure that this legacy of access will continue.  I want to specifically note that my colleague on the panel, Jeff Crane, has been pushing for Making Public Lands Public for many years, and to thank him for his persistence.

I would also request that a copy of the report, endorsed by more than 20 organizations, entitled The Land and Water Conservation Fund and America’s sportsmen and women: A 50-year legacy of increased access and improved habitat, be submitted for the hearing record.

I should also note that the authorization for the LWCF expires later this year, and that 1.5 percent of nothing is nothing.  We look forward to working with the chairwoman and the committee to make sure that LWCF is reauthorized and fully funded.

The final provision that I want to discuss is Section 203, the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. Before its expiration in 2011, FLTFA had leveraged strategic federal land sales to fund 39 priority land conservation projects across the American West, including many of which expanded sportsmen’s access to world class hunting and fishing opportunities. In total, more than 27,000 acres of excess properties were sold to purchase more than 18,000 acres of high priority fish and wildlife, recreation and/or scenic lands.

Like Making Public Lands Public, FLTFA achieves real, on-the-ground conservation goals, without costing the American taxpayer.

Image courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The companion bill to S.556 that the Environment Committee will consider includes several other key provisions for habitat and access, including reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and, I hope, the National Fish Habitat Conservation Partnership Act.

TRCP’s testimony starts at 45:40.

In closing, I want to thank the Committee for considering the Bipartisan Sportsmen Act of 2015.  I also want to make the plea that committee members and the whole Senate continue to set aside partisan politics on behalf of America’s sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts.  Conservation has, for more than a century, been non-partisan.  But as we have seen in the last two Congresses, similarly meritorious sportsmen’s acts died as the desire to score political points overrode the needs of America’s sportsmen.

I think I speak for all 40+ of our partner groups when I say that we stand ready to work with you and your colleagues to make sure that this doesn’t not happen again, and to pass this critical legislation that will help ensure that all Americans have quality places to hunt and fish now and for generations to come.

Read our full written testimony here.

Making sunglasses and conserving our outdoor legacy

Ed Moody is the VP of Product Development at Costa Sunglasses and is responsible for driving product design and technology. Ed was awarded the 2014 Mississippi Wildlife Conservationist of the Year Award from the MS Association of Conservation Districts and sits on the TRCP Corporate Council.

Over the 23 years I have been at Costa, our message and our passions have remained the same: making the greatest sunglasses on the planet and protecting our resources.  I was raised in a small town in Western North Carolina, a fishing and hunting paradise.  After graduating from college and moving to Florida, it became clear to me that I would be much happier working in a company that shared my interests.  After walking in the door at Costa, I knew this was going to be my home!

Image by Costa.

For Costa, conservation is all about sustainable fishing.  Many fisheries that should be vibrant and healthy are all but devoid of native fish because they have fallen victim to poor fishing practices, unregulated development, lack of watershed protection or all of the above.

From spearheading and supporting important scientific research fish tagging programs like Project Permit with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and Don Hammond’s Project Dolphin, to hosting a concert for more than 9,000 University of Alabama students to raise money for the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and The Billfish Foundation, Costa works hard to make a difference in the name of sustainable sport fishing.

Costa has also worked to develop sport fishing business models that can protect and preserve not just indigenous fish species, but entire cultures. In 2012, Costa premiered the feature film, “Jungle Fish,” a story about how fly fishing can save the fate of an Amerindian village in Guyana. It’s a story Costa hopes to see replicated around the world, and actively works with government leaders in the U.S. and globally to make happen.

That is what makes the relationship we have with the TRCP so important.  We can’t do this as a single company and we can’t do this as scattered, passionate, interested groups.  The TRCP is the best hope hunters and fisherman have for giving a voice to our needs and organizing all stakeholders into a focused vision of our outdoor legacy.

Hunting for conservation solutions: 6 themes from Pheasant Fest & the Commodity Classic

Last month I attended two very different events. First was the Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic, the world’s largest gathering of upland hunters and conservationists. Next was the Commodity Classic, a farmer-focused convention led by some of the country’s biggest commodity agriculture groups. Despite their differences, I was encouraged to see many common themes that we can build upon as we work on next generation agriculture and conservation policy. Here are six takeaways:

“Rooster” greets Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic attendees.

  1. American exceptionalism is alive and well. In his Commodity Classic speech, USDA Secretary Vilsack told a cheering crowd that agriculture is at the center of the American success story—because just 1% of the population farms, the rest of us are free to fulfill our individual passions, talents, and appetites more so than in any other nation. Likewise, sportsmen proudly serve as the lynchpin of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Sportsmen pay for conservation, management, and enhancement of species and habitat so that all Americans can enjoy wild resources, unlike in many countries where hunting is restricted to people with wealth, private land, or other special privileges.
  2. We must tell our stories.People are drawn to hunting and farming by stories, a shared heritage, and traditions passed down through generations. However, the average age of farmers is going up (it currently stands at 58), wild lands are disappearing, and conservation funding is perennially at risk. We must recruit new farmers, hunters, and anglers if we want to remain number one

    Dogs at Pheasant Fest and the Quail Classic and combines at the Commodities Classic.

  3. Quality gear is essential. Whether it’s guns, dogs, tractors, or satellite systems, the quality of a sportsman’s or farmer’s gear can make or break their season. It’s probably why I saw adults act like kids in a candy store, both when snuggling an eight pound Deutsch-Kurzhaar puppy and eyeballing a 120-foot wide John Deere planter.
  4. …but it all starts with soil. If your native top soil is gone or damaged, you’ve lost your ability to grow anything for food or habitat. Even water quality and flood control in our cities are affected by farmland soil. These days, everyone—farmer, hunter, rural or urban—is paying attention to soil health.

    Pollinators are critical at both events.

  5. The humble insect could drive the future of conservation. One-third of human food depends on pollinator species populations which are threatened by habitat loss. Farmers and conservationists are taking notice. The good news: what’s good for bees and butterflies is good for birds, and we can expect to see a number of innovative approaches to pollinator health in the next few years.

    Sportsmen and agricultural interests building partnerships in the name of better habitat.

  6. Sportsmen and farmers agree: a successful Farm Bill is based on partnerships. Together we helped pass and implement the 2014 Farm Bill, and whether there will even be another Farm Bill may hinge on our shared ability to conserve habitat while keeping farming profitable. We will need to work together now more than ever. It’s heartening to know that we all share some common ground.

Western Governors Tackle Drought Impacts on Hunting, Fishing

On January 28-29, 2015, I attended a forum presented by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) titled Drought Impacts and Solutions for Recreation and Tourism. Over 40 participants attended from state natural resources and tourism agencies, private companies and nonprofit organizations to discuss drought impacts, innovative drought solutions and technologies, and policy approaches to mitigating the effects of drought in the outdoor recreation and tourism sectors.

Jimmy Hague, Director of the Center for Water Resources at TRCP, speaks to the WGA forum on “Drought Impacts and Solutions for Recreation and Tourism” about the importance of federal support for innovative, cooperative water solutions.

This was the fifth and final meeting in a series focused on drought as part of an initiative Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s started as chairman of the WGA. The drought forum is designed so states and industry can identify ways to avoid or mitigate the impacts of drought through sharing best practices and case studies of government policies and business improvements seen throughout the West. The results of these efforts will be released and discussed in a report with recommendations at the WGA annual meeting in Lake Tahoe, NV, on June 24-26.

WGA has a nice summary of the two-day event, including a video of the case study discussion of New Mexico’s River Stewards Initiative. What’s most notable about the recreation forum is that it occurred at all. Increasingly, leaders across the West are realizing that hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits are integral parts of our American heritage and economy, a realization that is reflected in state water plans, polling data and economic analyses time and again. WGA should be commended for saying we, including sportsmen, are all in this together, and preserving hunting and fishing must be prioritized in any drought planning process.

I was the only presenter or attendee with a primary interest in the federal role in drought response. Though the states must and should take the lead in managing water resources within their borders, the federal government has an inherent interest in making sure the western U.S. doesn’t run out of water. The feds can do so using two main tools, which is the message I gave at the forum: (1) encouraging cooperative stakeholder processes and (2) funding cooperative solutions. The TRCP is tracking federal programs that do these two things in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget and has profiled ten of the best examples of successes from these programs in a report released on February 26, both of which I’ve written about before (e.g., here and here).

While the drought forum met its main goal of creating a dialogue about problems, best practices and solutions, it’s unclear whether WGA has the ability to move the dialogue into action. There was little talk about replicating the best practices discussed or commitment to changing state policies that may be stifling innovative solutions. Sportsmen should look to the WGA report and recommendations in June to be the judge. In the meantime, sportsmen can help by joining the WGA mailing list at westgov.org and providing comments on the findings of individual drought forum meetings at the Drought Forum website.

Open Fields: Where Access and Habitat Coexist

Jared Wiklund is Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s public relations specialist. Contact Wiklund at jwiklund@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter at @wiklund247.

Publicly accessible land is THE trending topic in the American outdoor recreation community and a major discussion point for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members. In fact, land access—or the current lack thereof—consistently ranks as one of the top reasons for members joining “The Habitat Organization.”

To help combat the access issue, the 2008 Farm Bill included a new provision called the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), commonly known as “Open Fields.”  The goal of this program is to encourage private landowners to voluntarily open their land to the public for wildlife-dependent recreation, including hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and a host of other conservation organizations have adamantly supported these provisions.

Image by Roger Hill.

Of course, VPA-HIP is important for more than just access. Private landowners control some very important pieces of the conservation puzzle and dictate wildlife habitat/populations in North America. The traditional conservation model for state and federal agencies  is based on land acquisition and easements. VPA-HIP partnerships are redefining the process to open private lands to public recreation and habitat conservation. VPA-HIP provides an excellent opportunity for landowners to have a positive impact on our natural resources with added incentives.

Funding for VPA-HIP helps state and tribal governments boost existing public access programs as well as implement new programs that increase access to private lands. USDA was originally authorized to spend $50 million on VPA-HIP from 2009‐2012, though delays and legislative action ultimately reduced spending to just $9.1 million in 2011. Thankfully, an additional $20 million was allocated in 2014, and USDA recently announced another $20 million in funding for this unique program at the 2015 National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic.

Contrary to what some may think, voluntary public access programs are not found solely in western states. An impressive list of states and tribes from across the country have participated in VPA-HIP to open private lands for public access:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Confederated Tribes
    and Bands of the
    Yakama Nation
    (Washington)
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Nearly 70 percent of land in the U.S. is in private ownership—a number that’s even higher in much of pheasant and bobwhite quail country.The more we can work with private land stewards for the betterment of natural resources, the brighter the future will be for wild things and wild places. If you are a proponent of public lands, we invite you to try hunting andrecreating on VPA-HIP land and to keep fighting for publicly-accessible lands with improved wildlife habitat.

 

America’s public lands are for all of us to use

Sportsmen have been called on to defend our public lands a lot lately. Short-sighted proposals have popped up in state legislatures all across the West this winter to transfer the ownership of our public lands away from the American people. Hunters and anglers have been on the front lines, often right on the steps of state capitols, defending more than a hundred years of our national outdoor legacy.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

One of those bad ideas has migrated to Washington, with the February 13 introduction of S.490, the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2015. This legislation would turn the management of energy production on millions of acres of American public lands over to the states. The logic behind this bill is that energy production should be the dominant use of public lands, and that literally every barrier should be removed to make sure that production occurs quickly and with little regard for fish and wildlife habitat or access, indeed with little regard for anything.

S.490 is crafted on the principle that states can regulate energy production on federal public lands more efficiently and more effectively than can the federal land management agencies. This may well be true if one believes federal public lands should be singularly focused on the production of energy. State regulations for energy development are generally targeted at maximizing profits on state, and frequently, on private, lands.  Our federal public lands were created for a higher purpose than rapid development at all costs. This legislation represents a reversal of the multiple use mandate that has been a foundational principle on federal public lands for more than a century. The American people own these lands and the American people must insist on having a say in their long-range management.

Energy development clearly has a place on federal lands, but it must be balanced with other uses and the public has a right to make its voice heard in that management.  The Federal Land Freedom Act, however, makes clear that the public will have no input on public lands decision making when it comes to energy development. The legislation ensures, in no uncertain terms, that the Administrative Procedures Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act will be specifically cut out of the process for determining where energy production ought to go, and where it ought not to go.

The notion that underlies this bill, and many of the other land transfer ideas we’ve seen in recent months, is that these federal lands that have not been industrialized are “unused” or “underutilized.” In introducing S.490, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) said “The states, not the federal government, are the ones best equipped to tend to the extensive unused and unprotected lands across the nation that the federal government has staked a claim to.”

Photo courtesy of Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinksi – International League of Conservation Photographers.

As any sportsmen can attest, the notion that if an area is not industrialized means it is unused is nonsense, and likely spoken by someone who has never left the comfort of his or her vehicle to experience our public lands.  It ignores the fact that our public lands are the backbone of the nation’s $646 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy.  It ignores the fact that 72 percent of hunters in the west rely on public lands to pursue their passion.  And it ignores the fact that wide open places, like Wyoming’s sage country (often referred to as “The Big Empty”) provides critical habitat for 350 different species, from sage-grouse and golden eagles to mule deer and pronghorn.

The reality is that this lack of development on some of our public lands provides access and opportunity for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts from around the country.  Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation power a rural economic boom that won’t ever go bust, so long as we take care of the habitat and the access.

Hunters and anglers are amongst the strongest champions of federal public lands, as witnessed by the rallies we are seeing across the West opposing selling off or transferring to the states our public lands. We must remain vigilant as well against proposals that don’t go quite so far as wholesale transfer, but that will just as surely forever change the public land landscape.

And we must help decision makers understand that these lands are far from unused.

What do you want our legacy to be? Sign the petition at http://sportsmensaccess.org.

Snapshots of Success

Given all of the media coverage of drought in the West, pollution shutting off public drinking water in Ohio and West Virginia, and interstate lawsuits over water supplies, you may be tempted to think we have a very bleak water future ahead. Without a doubt, we have serious water challenges now and in the future. However, across the nation, sportsmen are demonstrating that federally supported collaborative water conservation partnerships work.

It’s not all bad news.

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

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

But crises, like those we see in the drought-stricken West, demonstrate that we have failed to get ahead of the problem of managing water resources for mutual benefit and multiple uses. If we are to get ahead of the curve, we must replicate and scale up the successes of collaborative partnerships like those described in Snapshots of Success: Protecting America’s watersheds, fish and wildlife, and the livelihoods of sportsmen.

Over 200 sportsmen rally in Idaho to keep public lands public

Last Thursday, over 200 sportsmen and women  rallied on the steps of the Idaho State Capitol to demonstrate their support for keeping public lands in public hands. Hunters and anglers from across the state urged the Legislature to ensure long-term sportsmen’s access to the vast lands so important to the Idaho identity. Sportsmen representing the old and the young, men and women, outdoor businesses and veterans came together and spoke to the importance of these lands while Legislators listened with interest.

Photo courtesy of Coby Tigert.

Rally speakers raised many issues with a transfer of public lands, highlighting the potential losses of sporting opportunity, the loss of our personal heritage and the damage a land transfer would cause to the outdoor recreational economy. A federal land transfer would result in a fire sale of these lands. “What will we pass on to our future generations,” one speaker asked. “Another gate, another fine, another impediment created by the few owning what should belong to the many? Or will we protect the birthright that is intrinsic to American society?”

The next rally for public lands takes place on Wednesday, February 25 in Denver. 

What do you want our legacy to be? Sign the petition at http://sportsmensaccess.org.

Join sportsmen in Colorado to stand up for public lands

Politically extreme groups in Colorado and throughout the West are attempting to hijack federal public lands through takeovers that would undermine local, public-driven efforts towards responsible management of important hunting and fishing lands.

Now is the time to get the message to legislators and other decision-makers that our public lands must stay in our hands.

Join sportsmen from across Colorado to rally in support of public lands!

Rally details:
February 25th, 2015
12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Colorado State Capitol, West Steps
200 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80203

RSVP here and on the Facebook event page to get event updates. Invite your friends!

Click here for directions to the rally site.

After the rally, sportsmen will be meeting at Stoney’s Bar and Grill for drinks, appetizers and raffles!

Reception details:
February 25th, 2015
2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Stoney’s Bar and Grill
1111 Lincoln St, Denver, CO 80203

Can’t make the rally? Want federal and state officials to stand up for your sporting heritage?

Sign our petition today!