President’s budget good for sportsmen’s water priorities

Hooked trout. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Photo by Dusan Smetana.

President Obama’s budget request to Congress released on March 4 contains a number of spending priorities sportsmen should like. The budget proposes full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as strong funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and an increase in the price of the federal Duck Stamp. Important reforms to funding wildfire suppression also are proposed.

Of particular note for hunters and anglers who want to make sure we conserve water for access to quality aquatic habitat, the budget includes the strongest request to date for the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program. Among other things, WaterSMART supports cost-shared grants to develop local water solutions, and it funds, in partnership with the states, studies of how to reconcile the long-term water supply and demand needs in several river basins.

At a total of $52.1 million, the request maintains the strong investment Congress made in WaterSMART in its fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill and adds two new programs focused on drought response and building resilient infrastructure. (The details of those two new programs are to be announced.)

Perhaps more importantly, I’m told the budget also includes a request for Congress to raise the legal spending cap on WaterSMART by $200 million. Without such a move by Congress, many of the most important WaterSMART services will come to an end this year. (Documentation for this request should be available around March 10. I’ll update this post when more information becomes available.)  * Update: The Bureau of Reclamation’s FY15 Budget Justification is available here. The request for authority to spend another $200 million on WaterSMART is on p. 5 of the Appropriations Language section.

This request represents an important commitment to a highly successful program that is conserving 616,000 acre-feet of water annually – enough water for 2.5 million people each year. Much of the water conserved through this program will remain instream to support species recovery, such as salmon or endangered steelhead, or in reservoirs, thereby improving waterfowl habitat.

Legislation from Sen. Brian Schatz and five other Western senators that would extend the WaterSMART program already is working its way through Congress, reflecting support from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, too. Companion legislation in the House is forthcoming.

The president’s proposal may not play a significant role in the final spending decisions made by Congress, because Congress already has passed a budget for fiscal year 2015, and most Republicans have already panned it as a Democratic “wish list” in an election year. This is unfortunate, in part because we have just begun to see a return to normalcy in the annual budget and spending battles.

Nevertheless, sportsmen should be pleased by the priority federal decision makers are placing on a program that will help us make the most out of every drop of water we have. If Congress acts to maintain WaterSMART, we will continue to see improvements in water management, leading to more high-quality aquatic habitat and better access to hunting and fishing opportunities.

A busy fishing February in the Gulf

Garret Graves

Garret Graves. Photo courtesy of Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Wow! It’s difficult to believe that so much fishing news could be crammed into the year’s shortest month.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Louisiana was dealt a blow when Garret Graves, the top man in the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, tendered his resignation to make a run for Congress.

Graves’ experience in D.C. gave him a good start into such a volatile position in Louisiana government, and his energy in jump-starting several long-delayed coastal restoration projects was a welcome change from past administrations.

His six-year tenure was highlighted by the state’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, a course for prioritizing work estimated to run as high as $50 billion. The problem in past years was that the mountain was too high to climb, especially considering Louisiana has lost a couple-thousand square miles of coastal marshlands during the last 70 years.

Louisiana' s Sustainable Coast Master Plan

Louisiana’ s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. Image Courtesy of Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Somebody had to take the first giant step on that climb, and Graves did that.

As if anyone with that much to tackle needed more on his plate, 2010’s BP-Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was akin to adding an elephant’s weight on top of the monkey already on his back.

While Graves’ second-in-command, Jerome Zeringue, has taken this lead role, it’s sure that Graves’ command of Louisiana’s coastal problems, its solutions, the battles over freshwater diversions contained in the Coastal Master Plan and his stature gained in the BP multi-layered settlement plan will be missed.

So what does that have to do with fishing?

It’s acknowledged that Louisiana coastal marshes mean more than terrific redfish, speckled trout and flounder among other near-coast species as well as crabs and shrimp. They are also a vital nursery ground for a host of offshore species, including several snapper species.

Back in the late 1980s, when Louisiana was battling low redfish recruitment and the first inkling of the state’s gill-net war that would come years later, just a handful of marine biologists talked about the decline of the coastal marshes.

They mentioned the decline of the marsh habitat was productive in the short term because the decay and erosion added nutrients to the system, but they added that there was a point of no return when the habitat reached a critical point where its productivity would rapidly decline. The word “collapse” was used often when it comes to the marshes’ ability to provide and sustain so many coastal and offshore species.

From what’s happened on the west side of the Mississippi River, from Buras south and west through Yellow Cotton Bay and to the Gulf of Mexico, it appears the decline in speckled trout catches in the last three years is proving the biologists’ prediction made nearly 30 years ago. Yellow Cotton Bay, once a place unrivaled in the Gulf for its fall speckled trout run, isn’t even on the map anymore after being totally wiped away by Hurricane Katrina.

So, restoring the marshes and the Louisiana coastline has more plusses than saving homes, communities, the oil and gas production and supply chain for the country that starts along the state’s coast, and vital overwintering waterfowl habitat. These projects can go a long way to providing food for U.S. tables.

Need more about February?

GMFMC logo

Image courtesy of GMFMC.

When the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council talked about reallocation of the red snapper resources, who could’ve figured Amendment 28 would give recreational fishermen across the Gulf a chance to take an increased share of red snapper from a stock that’s recovered more quickly than anyone, even marine scientists, could have imagined?

A series of public hearings throughout the five Gulf States in March will be held to get comments about a change that would grant recreational anglers a 75-percent share (commercials would get 25 percent) of any annual quota approved by the GMFMC more than 9.12 million pounds. At 9.12 million pounds or less, the allocation continues to be split 51-49 percent respectively between commercials and recreationals.

A list of the hearings can be found on the GMFMC website: http://gulfcouncil.org.

If you can’t attend one of the hearings, comments will be accepted at: http://bit.ly/MS14U0.

What’s grand about February and leading into March is that redfish are biting darned near everywhere on the coast. It’s a transition time for speckled trout, but we’re closing in on the time when giant trout will begin blasting artificial baits in Calcasieu Lake, and the trout will move to the bridges in Lake Pontchartrain.

The bonus is that all the frigid conditions up north have lowered the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River (all the while knowing that the melt-off will run our rivers high in April, May and even June) and bass fishing is terrific in the cane-lined runs off the Mississippi and in the lakes, bayous and canals in the Atchafalaya Basin, the country’s largest overflow swamp.

 

SFRED winner Rebecca Brown: I love my home

A group of young outdoor enthusiasts traveled to Washington, D.C. from across the country after winning an essay contest sponsored by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of sportsmen and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited. The contest’s theme was “The Importance of Public Lands to Me,” and the essays highlight the forests, mountains, sagebrush steppe and backcountry waters of our public lands.

Hailing from both the East and West, the winners are Jarred Kay, 17, Flagstaff, Ariz.; Haley Powell, 17, Rock Springs, Wyo.; Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va.; Rebecca Brown, 17, Conrad, Mont.; and Noah Davis, 18, Greensburg, Pa.

Read the student’s essays below, and let us know what you think about their passion for public lands in the comments section:

I love my home – By Rebecca Brown

Rebecca Brown and friends at Glacier NP.

Rebecca Brown and friends at Glacier NP. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Brown.

I love my home. I always have, and always will. I’m not talking about the house I live in, the street it’s located on, or even the town. I’m talking about the state of Montana. It’s such a magnificent place, with its diverse terrain and variety of weather. In a relatively short drive, you can go from flat plains to towering peaks; from grassland to forest; over rolling hills, across rushing rivers, alongside rocky mountain walls; it’s an ever-changing, dynamic landscape, begging to be traveled.

I’ve lived here all my life, and will cherish this, my home, in my heart always.

If it weren’t for the protection of public lands, my Montana might be a very different place. The vast majority of my memories and experiences have happened on public lands. I learned to hunt deer, migratory and upland birds on the grassy plains and foothills. I learned to fish in public reservoirs and lakes. I’ve spent my summers swimming and boating in public waters. My love for aquatic recreation inspired me to build my own cedar-strip canoe. I find tremendous enjoyment in hiking mountain trails, encountering the different foliage, watching animal life, listening to the trickle of small creeks running alongside, and finding beautiful waterfalls.

When I take time to slow down from my busy life and stop to look at the land around me, I’m filled with wonder, admiration, and peace. I feel a gratitude for all the experiences I’ve had, very few of which would’ve been possible without the abundance of public lands in Montana.

I know I am not the only person to have stories and memories like these. Many people from all over the United States use and enjoy public lands each day.

It is important to keep an abundance of public lands in this country. They provide places to learn, to explore, and to admire. People learn to truly appreciate nature and the many resources it offers.

The national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, and wilderness areas that make up the protected public lands of America must continue to be protected for future generations. They make up about 28 percent of United States land, and exemplify the true beauty of our nation.

Rebecca Brown with public lands buck

Rebecca Brown with public lands buck. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Brown.

Even though most people may think of public lands as recreational locations, they also offer valuable natural resources. These include fresh water, fish and game, and other wildlife. Many sportsmen view these lands as simply that – sporting venues. People like my family, however, rely on these lands as a source of food – they are home to the fish and game we hunt for meat. We depend on the hunting season to provide us with meat for the rest of the year. If it weren’t for the ability to harvest game on public lands, we would have to pay outrageous fees to access private lands, and we couldn’t afford to hunt.

Public lands are key in helping with the conservation of our environment. In these areas, fresh water and clean air are abundant, and the plant life that thrives in them refreshes the earth’s biosphere.

It is critical for these lands to be protected and conserved for generations to come. The future inhabitants of this nation deserve to have the same positive experiences I’ve had, to drink the fresh water, breathe the clean air, and take full advantage of the opportunities to use public lands without the huge personal investment into private ownership that so many of us cannot afford.

Packing back into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Packing back into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Brown.

As I said before, I love my home. I love the fresh air and the wide open spaces. I’ve enjoyed learning tohunt, to fish, to swim, to canoe, to snowboard and waterski. I’ve had so very many amazing experiences and lessons, and they’ve all combined to give me a strong foundation for the rest of my life. I’ve learned skills and behaviors that will assist me in nearly anything I choose to do. The public lands of the United States need to be protected so other members of future generations can learn the same things I have, can have similar experiences and cherished memories. If these lands go unprotected, they could be bought up, locked up, and held ransom by corporations and the elite few that can afford private landholdings, and soon, citizens will have nowhere to go to hunt or to camp without having to spend large sums to do it.

If we don’t take action to protect the public use and conservation of our lands and the natural resources they contain, the future will be a very different place from the home that has made me who I am.

Rebecca Brown, 17, of Conrad, Mont., is a high school senior and the oldest of three sisters. Her father is a schoolteacher and her mother drives the school bus. She is working to obtain her pilot’s license. Rebecca enjoys hunting, fishing, boating, all types of water sports, snowboarding and hiking. She plans to study mechanical engineering at college in the fall. 

SFRED winner Noah Davis: A Day on Bell’s Gap Run in State Game Lands 158

A group of young outdoor enthusiasts traveled to Washington, D.C. from across the country after winning an essay contest sponsored by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of sportsmen and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited. The contest’s theme was “The Importance of Public Lands to Me,” and the essays highlight the forests, mountains, sagebrush steppe and backcountry waters of our public lands.

Hailing from both the East and West, the winners are Jarred Kay, 17, Flagstaff, Ariz.; Haley Powell, 17, Rock Springs, Wyo.; Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va.; Rebecca Brown, 17, Conrad, Mont.; and Noah Davis, 18, Greensburg, Pa.

Read the student’s essays below, and let us know what you think about their passion for public lands in the comments section:

A Day on Bell’s Gap Run in State Game Lands 158 – By Noah Davis

The trees still cling to the morning fog as I drive out of the valley into the mountains along the Allegheny Front, toward a lake of clouds nestled in the ridges. The early summer foliage acts as translucent glass, sending patterns of light down upon the hood of my truck. The pull-offs in the game lands are used mostly as snowplow turnarounds and are seldom occupied, except for the two weeks of rifle season when most Pennsylvanians head out with hopes for a deer.

I park next to a section of flowering raspberry and mind my step over the last remaining colt’s foot whose yellow blossom will turn to seed within the next couple of days. The 2wt. in my right hand was built by my barber this past winter, his name engraved above mine on the handle, a Royal Wulff imprinted above both.

My wading boots are treated more like hiking shoes that are always wet. With 23,000 acres of public land, I need to be able to move freely in order to explore this fine seam through the hollow, the miles of water that crease it. My goal today is to reach the waterfall before drifting my fly a couple of miles downstream.

The narrow gauge railroad that was used to pull timber from this far wilderness during the late 19th century can still be found in the occasional rusted rail. Two miles in, under the cover of ostrich ferns, I find a lamp knocked from an engine. On most of myjourneys here, I discover some artifact, an emblem of our past being reclaimed by the green world.

The farther I walk the older the trees become. Remnant stands of old growth hemlock shade the pools; rhododendrons as large as houses force me to crawl on all fours. Deer and porcupine scat make me wary of where I place my hand, and every grouse or woodcock that bursts into flight leaves my senses buzzing.

The sun has risen to a point in the sky that the dew on the backs of rhododendron leaves warms and begins to evaporate. At a crossing just below the first pool, I see the tracks of a fisher. Crouching behind a boulder, I string my olive line through the guides of my rod, inspect the quality of the tippet, and tie a Royal Wulff to complete the outfit.

I then stand, so my eyes can catch the light reflecting from the water, and wait for a signal near the small waterfall. It doesn’t take long this time of year. Bugs are always on the water: terrestrials all day, caddis at noon, and mayflies as I make my way down the mountain. This time it’s an ant that’s fallen in the water that causes the trout to rise at the tail of the pool. I raise my rod and flip my fly up into the current. Characteristic of brook trout, it doesn’t take long for my fly to be sipped below the foamy film.

The most beautiful aspect of small, remote, trout streams, like this one, is the variegation of colors. Every season possesses a certain brilliance. The spring with its thick-green bleeding into summer. Fall with maple-gold and oak-orange. The gray of late season, when I take to the woods a final time for deer. And the white that winter brings to the deep woods, its silence and space, a place to reconsider and think about what is still to come.

The eight inches of brook trout I hold in my left hand reflect all of these seasons and add still to their splendor. The white of winter confined to anal fins, the fires of autumn caught on the underside, and the dappled back which forces me to look up and see its mirror, light cascading through the canopy of summer in this present tense.

When the fish is again under its sunken log, I gaze up the hollow. Another piece of flat water is twenty yards up and a deep pool ten beyond that. I dip my face into the cool, and let it fall down my front as I stand.

In a world where the façade of ownership blinds and corrupts, public lands are the jewels that keep wildness a part of our lives. When people experience the natural world— where human intervention is minimal at best—there’s the chance to feel connected to something greater than ourselves. Public lands allow for the experience of hunting, fishing, hiking, berry-picking, bird-counting, and simply listening and watching.

It’s these last two acts that will save our forests and rivers: the ability to listen to and watch the earth, to join with its waters and trees and the lives that depend upon them.

Noah Davis, 18, of Tipton, Pa., is a first-year student at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., where he studies English and plays for the basketball team. He enjoys hunting and fishing, especially fly fishing for native brook trout on small streams. His own writing has been influenced by some of his favorite authors, including Rick Bass, David James Duncan and Aldo Leopold. 

SFRED winner Matthew Reilly: A spiritual tradition: The importance of public lands to me

A group of young outdoor enthusiasts traveled to Washington, D.C. from across the country after winning an essay contest sponsored by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of sportsmen and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited. The contest’s theme was “The Importance of Public Lands to Me,” and the essays highlight the forests, mountains, sagebrush steppe and backcountry waters of our public lands.

Hailing from both the East and West, the winners are Jarred Kay, 17, Flagstaff, Ariz.; Haley Powell, 17, Rock Springs, Wyo.; Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va.; Rebecca Brown, 17, Conrad, Mont.; and Noah Davis, 18, Greensburg, Pa.

Read the student’s essays below, and let us know what you think about their passion for public lands in the comments section:

A Spiritual Tradition: The Importance of Public Lands to Me – By Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va.

Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va. Photo courtesy of SFRED.org.

Modern society has convinced the outdoorsman in me that I was born too late. The rivers that I frequent are suppressed in spirit, their wonder restrained to their actual dimensions by urban sprawl, highways, and water treatment plants. When I take to the field, I thirst for the refreshing experience of new waters; but I lust for those places tucked away, out of sight, lost in nature—where their essence extends for miles through some black hole of the mind, never threatened by development or the idea that they might, in some dimension, end.

Development. My parents know what it means. Their age is told in their memories. There was a time when Charlottesville, Virginia, was not a city, but a town. Before Walmart and Sam’s Club took their anarchical perch above Route 29, farmer Matheny tended to his cows on the grassy pasture behind a blackboard fence and an illusion that things might never change. The Rivanna River, in the gulley behind Walton’s culturally obese babies, coursed higher and stronger through the rolling hills of the Piedmont, its lifeblood not yet stolen by the host of housing developments to come, its finned inhabitants still unrestrained by dams.

I hear these memories as a young child. Fear briefly enters and exits my mind. What will the world look like when I am grown? But at 8 years old, as far as I know, things don’t change.

I eventually learned my lesson.

The woodlot that was destined to be subdivided behind our newly furnished house was just large enough to be reminiscent of Maine’s “Big Woods” that I had learned of in Field & Stream. If I walked along the length of the creek bottom, in the shadows of towering ridges, I could escape with the perception of total isolation.

One spring, I happened upon a stream of moderate girth. I returned countless times in following seasons, slinging spinners and flies to feisty panfish and pickerel.

One day I was startled by the sight of two houses. Both were under construction; and their backyards had torn into the woodland veil protecting my secret gem, revealing it for all to see, eroding the banks, and slowing the current.

Sour and cynical over the soiling of my stream, I retreated into my mind to a place where rivers run free and woods seem endless, where constant human activity does not hamper the wildlife activity, and the flora is ornamental by God’s design, rather than that of a landscaper. It was from this experience that I began to crave wild lands removed from human occupation.By the time I earned my driver’s license I was a passionate fly fisherman, completely lost in the sport; and my search for new water took me to where my childhood fantasies existed in actuality—the Shenandoah National Park, where my dad had taken me to grouse hunt and trout fish at a very young age. Now, with the means to transport myself, I set off into the Blue Ridge when I yearn for the tug of a sprightly brook trout.

I drive west; and as the roads turn from pavement to gravel to dirt to nothing, and the hardwoods close in above my head as I’m intertwined into the deep, meandering hollows where the freestones run, the shackles of society and modern, complicated life disintegrate into the air.

I can fish my way through the gorge that the Rapidan River flows through in consensual ignorance. In my mind, the park does not end, but extends forever in every direction, as does the river; and the fish in its watery depths are virgin natives—refugees, like me.

When a brook trout comes to hand, my suspicion is upheld. The fiery brilliance that adorns its belly and pectorals, the olive river rock along its back, accented by strong blue and red bull’s eyes make me believe that they are a purity in nature, a stronghold of all that has been lost in the world, safeguarded, hidden in the bottom of a mountain stream.

But alas, I know this illusion is false. The trout in my hand is a species endangered by a host of manmade threats; and its range retreats into the mountaintops yearly. However, unlike the Piedmont stream of my childhood, this one is protected, forever sealed from peripheral development by 197,000 acres of federally protected land. To the brook trout, and to me, that thought is full of hope, as it is a symbol of like-minded individuals concerned with the state of the environment doing their best to secure recreational areas and wildlife havens for future generations, to preserve our spiritual haunts. In a word, it is a promise: For as long as I, and my children, live, places like Shenandoah will be protected and cherished by sportsmen.

 

Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va. He is a senior at Fluvanna County High School. His father introduced him early to outdoors activities, which he says “shaped my character and ambitions.” Fly fishing is one of his passions. Matthew is an outdoor writer and photographer who produces a weekly column, http://adventuresafield.blogspot.com

 

SFRED winner Haley Powell: Public lands and me

A group of young outdoor enthusiasts traveled to Washington, D.C. from across the country after winning an essay contest sponsored by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of sportsmen and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited. The contest’s theme was “The Importance of Public Lands to Me,” and the essays highlight the forests, mountains, sagebrush steppe and backcountry waters of our public lands.

Hailing from both the East and West, the winners are Jarred Kay, 17, Flagstaff, Ariz.; Haley Powell, 17, Rock Springs, Wyo.; Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va.; Rebecca Brown, 17, Conrad, Mont.; and Noah Davis, 18, Greensburg, Pa.

Read the student’s essays below, and let us know what you think about their passion for public lands in the comments section:

Public Lands and Me – By Haley Powell

Haley Powell

Haley Powell, 17, of Rock Springs, Wyo. Photo courtesy of SFRED.org.

Public lands are an opportunity, an opportunity to experience nature in a singular and transcendental way. Aristotle put it best when he said, “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” These lands, and access to them, allow people to experience the awe of witnessing and interacting with something truly marvelous and inescapably beautiful and to truly connect with the natural world. It is because our public lands hold this opportunity for not only me, but for everyone, that they retain a special place in my heart.

Whether you believe in a God or not in your everyday dealings, it is hard to deny that some sort of higher power was involved in creating the beautiful landscapes found throughout our country. The most beautiful places in my opinion, however, are the rivers and streams. Imagine yourself thigh-deep in a river. The rolling sound of the river, resembling boulders crashing together and rolling down a mountainside, is the only sound pervading your ears. The feeling of the water pushing against your legs is as constant as its cool temperature, but both of these fall back to the recesses of your consciousness as you take in the multitude of verdant skyscrapers arising from both sides of the bank, seemingly stretching endlessly into a cerulean sky. Your right hand comes back, gripping your fly rod tight, your left hand poised, waiting to release your extra, clutched fly line. The customary seconds of pause drift by as you take a deep breath in of cool, clean air, before that right hand comes forward with the grace of a conductor’s and the line flies through the eyes of your rod. It lands lightly on the surface of the water with the finesse of a dancer. You wait, poised. Your heartbeat quickens as you see that trout breach the surface and swallow your fly in one gulp. From then, it’s on. The tip of your rod raises as you set the hook, fighting against this wild creature, testing your strength against its as you painstakingly bring it closer. It’s within your grasp. You remove the hook and hold this gorgeous wild creature in your hands. Then, you guide it back under the surface, keeping your hands close to it as it regains its strength, like a parent teaching their child to ride a bike, before the trout swims away down the river. While this opportunity to connect one-on-one with nature exists on private lands, it is open for all to enjoy on public lands. This is why they are so special.

Being a part of nature is extremely important to me. I live in the great state of Wyoming, which contains the country’s first (and one of the most beautiful) national parks. This state has a reputation for having some of the most beautiful, sought-after natural areas and the wonderful luxury of a majority of them being public. Growing up in Rock Springs, Wyoming, I’m blessed that public lands are a part of everyday life, and as I’ve travelled to other states and talked to other people I have realized that not everyone is as fortunate as me. I can’t imagine waking up every day and not being able to go somewhere where there aren’t buildings or paved roads or lights. I can’t fathom not being able to experience my state’s native wildlife in their element. While these experiences are closer to me in Wyoming, these same lands and experiences belong to everyone and are available to everyone who makes this trip. Public lands are important to me because they’ve made my life a significantly better experience, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without them. Public lands have given me something I can’t live without. I’m inspired every day. The beauty of the landscape that surrounds me not only influences my artistic exploits, but my academic ones as well. I love learning how to conserve my environment and its creatures. Next year I will be attending the University of Wyoming and utilizing the skills that I have gained through participating in my school’s debate program to study environmental conservation and law. It is because of my opportunity to utilize my public lands and gain a love for them that I have found my calling in life.

Overall, public lands have significantly influenced my life, making them near and dear to my heart. I literally can’t imagine what my life would be like, much less where I would be now had I never been able to utilize and experience them. I hope that our public lands stay public, so that everyone can enjoy them as much as I have.

Haley Powell, 17, lives in Rock Springs, Wyo. Her interests include photography, reading, animals, camping, hiking, fishing and “basically anything outdoors.” She competes in speech and debate at her high school and competed in a national tournament last year. Haley plans to study zoology at the University of Wyoming. 

SFRED winner Jarred Kay: A life changing connection

A group of young outdoor enthusiasts traveled to Washington, D.C. from across the country after winning an essay contest sponsored by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of sportsmen and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited. The contest’s theme was “The Importance of Public Lands to Me,” and the essays highlight the forests, mountains, sagebrush steppe and backcountry waters of our public lands.

Hailing from both the East and West, the winners are Jarred Kay, 17, Flagstaff, Ariz.; Haley Powell, 17, Rock Springs, Wyo.; Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va.; Rebecca Brown, 17, Conrad, Mont.; and Noah Davis, 18, Greensburg, Pa.

Read the student’s essays below, and let us know what you think about their passion for public lands in the comments section:

A Life Changing Connection – By Jarred Kay

Many of my life’s biggest revelations have occurred outside while on public land: hunting in national forests, rafting through national parks, fishing on national lakes, and even understanding my history through national monuments. Throughout the time I have spent on our public land, I have gained understandings which I would have otherwise never acquired. Not only have I taken lessons away from these lands, but I have also taken away genuine joy. My access to public lands, especially for hunting, fishing, camping and hiking, has led me to a greater appreciation for my world and consequently, an aspiration to protect it.

Public lands hunt

Jarred Kay with an elk after a public lands hunt. Photo courtesy of Jarred Kay.

I have hunted and fished throughout my life. Without access to public lands such as the national forests, I would not be able to do so. To some, this may seem unimportant, but to me, hunting and fishing have taught me skills and ideas which nothing else ever could. I have directly learned how everyone survives: people used to hunt and fish in order to provide food for themselves and their families. However, in the past hundred years, many people have forgotten this important connection. As people have grown accustomed to grocery stores and “ready-to- eat” food, they have buried the origins of the very food which allows them to survive. I have consulted many people who oppose the killing of animals but still eat meat. Why do they contradict their own beliefs? These people have denied that their food was once part of a living animal; all they seem to know is that their meat is located in the grocery store next to the dairy and across the aisle holding the chips and soda. This unfortunate ignorance creates a dichotomy separating people from their surrounding world. As I have hunted and fished with my family, I have found a phenomenal connection to the world around me and consequently, my role in the world, not just my society.

Having access to public lands has given me opportunities which have allowed me to experience a joy unlike any other. One time, for instance, I was scouting with my uncle Barry. We were in the desert, close to the Navajo reservation. We decided to walk up on a ridge and glass over the lower land. After crawling under a barbed wire fence and reaching the top, I glanced down at my feet and noticed some unusual rocks. After a couple seconds, I realized that these were not rocks, but were shards of pottery and arrowheads. These were old Native American ruins. As we looked around us, we saw where buildings used to exist and partial walls only remained. There was no sign posted. It was no national monument or tourist stop, but this place was just as impressive and was located in the middle of the Coconino National Forest. When I found these remnants, I felt a sense of discovery and energy. I felt a connection with the land and even with the people who lived there before me: a connection and understanding which I have felt when I have been hunting, hiking, and even rafting. This is truly a unique and special feeling that can only be felt outside. My access to the national forest and other public lands allowed me to experience this feeling, and without it, I would not be the person I am today.

Jarred Kay enjoying public lands.

Jarred Kay enjoying public lands. Photo courtesy of Jarred Kay.

The experiences I have had in the national parks, another form of public land, have also molded me into the person I am today. Because they have been protected, I have become in awe of beauties which would have otherwise long ago become inaccessible. I have gone river rafting down the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River: an experience which has changed my life. The beauty I found here is unparalleled. I was so astounded by this elegance that it gave me a desire to continue to maintain the world by serving it in a way where other people can experience that beauty like I do.

I enjoy, more than anything else in the world, spending time outside. The most amazing memories in my life have come from being outside. Public lands, especially national forests, have given me feelings of being connected which I would have never felt before. When I stumbled upon those Native American ruins with shards of pottery and arrowheads, I felt like an explorer. Many people have probably come upon those ruins before but that feeling of discovery will always remain. None of these magnificent memories and encounters would exist without public land. From the lessons I have learned to the experiences I have had, access to public land has changed me, and I strive to promote that access so others can be changed by it like I have.

Jarred Kay, 17, of Flagstaff, Ariz, is a senior at Coconino High School, where he is an officer for the National Honor Society and on the student council. He plans to study pharmacy at the University of Arizona in the fall. He is an avid hunter and angler who enjoys mountain biking, hiking, skiing and river rafting. Jarred is on the board of directors of Grand Canyon Youth, a nonprofit that offers outdoor education opportunities in the Southwest for students nationwide

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.

Public input prompts red snapper changes

red snapper

Gulf red snapper. Photo by Geeklikepi/Wikimedia Commons.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission always considers the needs of the state’s recreational anglers. The latest example came out of the FWC’s recent meeting in Tampa, where the agency gave tentative approval to an earlier start to the red snapper season in state waters.

Why? So recreational anglers could fish for the popular species over the Memorial Day weekend.

For the past several years, the red snapper season started on June 1 in state and federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. At a meeting this past November, the FWC’s commissioners asked staff to come up with a rule to allow the season in state waters to start “the Saturday before Memorial Day to optimize angler fishing opportunities.” The 52-day 2014 season would open on May 24 and run through July 14. The current 40-day federal red snapper season is June 1-July 10.

The rule presentation to the FWC noted that the red snapper season in federal waters off Florida could be modified when state seasons do not match federal seasons. The rule goes before the FWC at its April meeting for final approval. The season’s length and dates also could be modified at that meeting by the FWC.

The week before the FWC meeting in Tampa, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met in Houston to discuss Reef Fish Amendment 28, which manages red snapper. The council chose the amendment alternative that maintains the red snapper allocation at 51 percent for commercial anglers and 49 percent for recreational anglers if the red snapper quota is less than or equal to 9.12 million pounds.

If the quota is greater than 9.12, and currently it is 11 million pounds, then recreationals get 75 percent of the amount in excess of 9.12 and commercials get the rest. According to the council, based on the current quota, recreational anglers would get 5.879 million pounds and commercial anglers would get 5.121.

At that same meeting, the council came up with a new alternative that would make the shares a little more balanced by giving recreationals 75 percent of the red snapper quota in excess of 10 million pounds.

Public hearings from Texas to Florida have been scheduled in March to get comments about the red snapper allocation. The council will hold a final public hearing in May on Amendment 28. Meeting dates are available here.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionThe FWC has scheduled public workshops next month for a recreational fishing permit that would result in better information about recreational fishing for a variety of species in the Gulf. The proposal for recreational reef fish data collection “would better define the population of offshore reef fish anglers for survey purposes using a mandatory permit or registry system.”

The proposal said the system would give fishery managers better information on nine Gulf reef species: red snapper, gag grouper, red grouper, black grouper, greater amberjack, lesser amberjack, banded rudderfish, vermilion snapper and gray triggerfish.

Workshops will be held from Fort Myers to Pensacola, and there also will be a phone conference for those who can’t attend a meeting. The list of workshops can be found here.

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