A Conservation Convert Goes Back to School

Our summer intern leaves for the fall semester with a newfound appreciation for habitat conservation, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor recreation economy

Image courtesy of Shannon Fagan.

After a summer interning for the TRCP in Washington, D.C., I’m headed back to school with a whole new perspective on conservation policy, Congress, and the role of sportsmen. So, for my final blog, I’d like to share a little bit of what I learned about the TRCP and what they do for sportsmen and women across the country.

From day one, I was surprised by the range of issues that impact our ability to hunt and fish. For example, at first glance, the Farm Bill might not seem that important to sportsmen, but I learned that this giant bill encompasses many provisions that affect wildlife. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), in particular, helps establish and conserve habitat for quail, pheasants, waterfowl, whitetails, and countless other critters that are important to sportsmen. For you anglers out there, CRP also helps protect 170,000 stream miles through riparian buffers, which keep pollutants from reaching the water.

I was surprised that despite support from farmers, sportsmen, and both sides of the aisle, eligible CRP acreage has been shrinking, which means less habitat benefits for fish and wildlife. Not only did I see firsthand how the TRCP engaged in discussion with partners about how to protect the program, but I also got to sit courtside as we launched a #CRPWorks petition to urge lawmakers to build a better CRP in the next Farm Bill.

Because of the TRCP’s Sportsmen’s Access campaign and website, I learned a lot about the ongoing threats to America’s public lands, as well. I grew up on the east coast and I go to college in the Midwest, where folks are not as aware of talk about transferring public land to states, despite some local governments’ history of selling or closing off land to recreation.  At the TRCP, I gained valuable perspective on this issue from the Western field representatives, who live and work in the communities that would directly feel the impacts of these proposed policies, and the government relations team in D.C., who do their best to share this local sportsmen’s perspective with members of Congress.

I understand now that my name on a petition does make a difference, and when a stack of names—like the more than 32,000 on TRCP’s petition opposing public land transfer—appears on the desk of your Congressmen, it’s hard to ignore. I’m grateful that groups like the TRCP won’t let lawmakers forget that they aren’t standing with their constituents who hunt and fish if they support or vote for land transfer.

I’ve also learned that sometimes the provisions that aren’t included in legislation are just as important to sportsmen as the provisions that are. For example, the TRCP staff has spent a lot of time and energy trying to keep language that would effectively halt federal conservation plans to restore and protect greater sage-grouse habitat out of the National Defense Authorization Act. And, in a big win for public lands this May, lawmakers blocked a proposal to transfer the popular Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico for debt relief, a move that would have set a harmful precedent of privatizing public lands that are crucial to outdoor recreation.

Overall, I had an amazing summer here at the TRCP. I learned a ton about federal policy, habitat conservation, the outdoor recreation economy, and how they are interconnected. It’s been great to work with a dedicated staff that is also intelligent and incredibly kind. I came to D.C. as an outdoor enthusiast, and I’m leaving as a well-informed conservation advocate, ready to take action and support the ambitious community of conservation partners I’ve come to admire over the past few months. I look forward to seeing all the great things to come for conservation!

Shannon Fagan was the TRCP summer intern through the Demmer Scholar Program. She is now in her senior year at Michigan State University where she is majoring in Social Relations and Policy and minoring in Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy.

Glassing The Hill: September 12 – 16

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate and House are both in session this week.

Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

A major piece of water legislation will see a final vote early this week. The Senate will begin the week by wrapping up consideration of a two-year reauthorization of “The Water Resource Development Act.” The bill includes important provisions, such as the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which would restore natural water flows in Florida’s Everglades, and provisions that would aim to improve habitat connectivity.

Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee James Inhofe (R-Okla.) asked all Senators to file amendments by last Friday at noon. Two amendments passed with a voice vote, including revisions to the Rural Western Water program – a voluntary land sale or transfer program funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to enhance freshwater habitat. Chairman Inhofe and ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are negotiating on the remaining proposed amendments that will be debated on the Senate floor early this week.

Next, the Senate will decide how to fund the government through December 9. A short-term continuing resolution (CR) could include monetary aid to help combat lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, fund Zika virus relief, and assist with the $8.7 billion in damages from the flood disaster in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

House leadership also met last Friday to discuss what comes after a short-term CR. House Majority Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) suggested passing smaller packages, referred to as “minibuses,” which would fund agencies through multiple spending bills, instead of funding all agencies through a single omnibus package. These would be passed during the lame duck session, which occurs after an election but before a new administration is sworn in. More talks will follow in Congress in the coming weeks, but we expect the Senate to leave D.C. once the short-term CR passes on the Senate floor.

At the tail-end of another record wildfire season, a fire borrowing fix will be discussed by the Senate Agricultural Committee. Chairman Pat Roberts intends to offer a substitute amendment  to Congressman Bruce Westerman’s (R-Ark.) bill, “The Resilient Federal Forest Act” (H.R. 2647), which includes language from his bill, “The Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act.” Democrats on the Committee also intend to offer their own substitute language. Several committees continue to work on forestry and fire borrowing issues, with an eye towards having an agreement ready to move on an omnibus funding bill at the end of the year.

Over in the House, a new bill targets trapping on public lands. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) introduced “The Limiting Inhumane Federal Trapping for Public Safety Act” (H.R. 5954) last week. The bill would ban the use of body-gripping devices, such as steel-jaw spring traps, body-crushing traps, and foot and neck snares, on public lands, except to cull invasive species or protect endangered species. In other cases, non-lethal methods must prove to be ineffective before body-gripping traps could be used for control or protection.

What else we’re tracking:

Tuesday, September 13

Livestock grazing practices on public lands will be discussed at a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior hearing.

A ban on federal agency use of social media to lobby the public in support of pending rules will be considered at a House Rules Committee meeting.

Wednesday, September 14

The “Utah Public Lands Initiative Act” will be up for debate at a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing.

Thursday, September 15

Methane regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency are on the docket in a House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment hearing.

The Army Corps of Engineer chief’s report on water projects will be discussed at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing.

The Top Four Things Lawmakers Can Do for Conservation by the End of 2016

Congress gets back to work this week—here’s what we’ll be focused on while you’re out in your treestand or duck blind

It’s that time of year, when the nation’s hunters begin to sight-in rifles in preparation for the deer woods and clean last year’s feathers and shell casings out of the dove bucket. But for a few hunters, like me, who have to while away the days in Washington, the autumns of even-numbered years sometimes contain a flurry of activity that keeps us out of our duck blinds and deer stands: This is the end-of-the-year push to meet a cascade of tight political deadlines that come with an election and the official end of Congress. The end of the 114th Congress promises a similar array of action, some of which could have profound impacts on conservation policies that are important to sportsmen and women across the country.

Image courtesy of USDA/Flickr

Don’t Lock In 2016 Funding Levels
First and foremost, a comprehensive funding bill for fiscal year 2017 could be debated by Congress in November and December. We expect a stop-gap continuing resolution, meant to keep government running through mid-December, to be passed by Congress sometime in the next few weeks. This development, by design, leaves the window of opportunity open for a more deliberate funding bill—one that allows Congress to actually make funding decisions on a program-by-program level, instead of just funding everything at last year’s levels. Of course, as TRCP advocates for an omnibus funding bill, we’ll be lobbying for sensible increases in priority funding areas, like for Everglades restoration, North American Wetlands Conservation Act projects, and Farm Bill conservation programs.

Let Conservation Work for Sage Grouse
Of course, every potential opportunity in Washington seems to come with its share of risks, and anything that is deemed “must-pass” becomes a potential vehicle for last-minute mischief. What TRCP is most worried about is an effort to derail federal sage grouse conservation plans, a threat that has manifested itself not only as a rider in the appropriations process, but also as a provision within the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, annual legislation that keeps the military operating smoothly. The provision as it currently exists, and as TRCP has strenuously opposed in all its guises for months, would give state governors veto authority over conservation plans on federal public lands. This would not only threaten what might be perhaps the greatest western wildlife conservation effort in generations, but also represents an unprecedented shift in national public lands management authority.

Image courtesy of USDA/Flickr

Pass Sportsmen’s Act and Wildfire Funding Fix
Off the must-pass list, but certainly on the TRCP radar, are the ongoing negotiations between the House and Senate around comprehensive energy legislation, discussions that could produce agreement on some things that TRCP has prioritized, such as provisions to increase active management of our national forests, ending the damaging budgetary practice of ‘fire borrowing’ and, very importantly, a deal to finally get key provisions of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act on the President’s desk. Energy conference provisions that survive the negotiation process could become fodder for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill I mentioned earlier, as energy leaders search for a must-pass vehicle.

Give Habitat a Happy New Year
I always plan a duck hunt on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay for the last morning of the year. Here’s hoping we can close out 2016 with plenty of canvasbacks committed to the decoy spread and a Congressional session that ends with good tidings for conservation in the New Year. If we see better funding for key conservation programs, no bad sage grouse provisions, sensible improvements to national forest management, an end to fire borrowing, and all, or most of, the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act getting across the finish line, I’ll be celebrating.

Be the first to know about how these important issues are progressing and how you can get involved—sign up for The Roosevelt Report, and check back on the blog every Monday for a new Glassing the Hill, The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress.

 

Filling Coolers and Crunching Numbers on an Eat-What-You-Catch Adventure

Five friends on a four-hour charter get half their limit, but experience the full value of the Oregon coast’s recreational fishery—a critical segment of the local economy

Not only do I have a wonderful, beautiful girlfriend, but when I asked what she wanted to do for her birthday, Laura replied, “Go fishing!” Within a few minutes, I had lodging and a charter boat booked out on the coast of Oregon for the weekend. Oh, the things we do for love.

To accommodate the two of us plus three friends on one boat, we had to take an afternoon trip, meaning more sun, rougher seas, and unfortunately, a cooler bite. But, hey, it was an adventure on public water, and I knew anything was possible! Our captain, Bill, promised us a good time.

Kevin Farron, TRCP’s Western field associate, poses with his blue lingcod, a rare and delicious catch. Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

This wasn’t our first chartered trip, so we were pretty sure we’d limit out on rockfish and Dungeness crab, but we hoped to land one or two of the more elusive—and delicious—lingcod.

Our empty coolers sat in waiting. By our rough estimates, each angler had the potential to land around $350 worth of fresh seafood, meaning $95 for a four-hour charter was a financially-sound investment—and plenty of fun.

Within minutes of clearing the harbor, the excitement began. As gigantic gray whales surrounded the boat, Captain Bill, who has been doing this for more than twenty years, joked about charging us more for whale watching, and we all laughed. Bill’s two teenage sons spend their summers working as his deckhands, and make good money doing it. “If you live on the Oregon coast, you can bet that you’re logging trees, catching fish, or selling souvenirs to the tourists,” he said. “There’s not much else in terms of industry here.”

A bile pigment called biliverdin is the reason for the blue tint. Biologists are puzzled as to how the pigment gets into fish in the first place, and why only few lingcod are affected. Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that recreational fishing brought in $68.9 million for Oregon’s coastal communities in 2014 (commercial harvests netted an additional $160.3 million that year). According to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, the effects trickle down from there, accounting for a total of 15,759 direct and indirect jobs in coastal communities and $904 million of Oregon’s gross domestic product.

As for me and my friends, we were happy to be contributing to this important segment of the economy, yet determined to get our money’s worth, and within a few minutes of dropping our lines, I hooked a nice one. Captain Bill was giving me a hard time for the way I was battling with what he thought to be a measly rockfish, but once he saw that I had a two-foot blue-bellied lingcod hooked, he scampered backward to grab the net. I landed a rare and delicious blue beauty.

We high-fived and wondered who’d be next. Laura was all smiles and things were going great. But how the tides can turn.

The belly, the meat, the mouth, and the throat – nearly all of this fish was a brilliant, bright blue. Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

When the bite went cold, conversation turned to politics, particularly the establishment of marine reserve areas, where fishing is not permitted. A compromise reached in 2012 limited the proposed reserve areas to a handful of designated waterways, comprising about 10 percent of the territorial sea, rather than banning all commercial and recreational fishing within three miles of the coast, where the overwhelming majority of recreational fishing and crabbing happens. Bill doesn’t have a problem with the current reserves, but he’s not interested in adding any more.

“I’d be out of a job!” he explained. “There has to be a better way of addressing fisheries mismanagement. We’re willing to follow the rules.” He explained that his wife is a marine fisheries technician for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (another one of those jobs related to the resource and the industry), and her work has helped to prove that bycatch fatalities were greatly exaggerated back when the statewide reserves were proposed. So were they even necessary?

“They can’t close down fishing entirely,” said Bill. We could see his point but, then, our poles remained unbent. Could we blame poor management? As it turns out, no. We hauled up about half our limit of crabs, about 35 keepers. And when we approached the docks, we saw that numerous anglers had returned with their entire limits. The fishery appeared to be faring quite well.

Freshly shelled excess crab meat is vacuum-sealed and frozen – a treat for a future day. Image courtesy of Kevin Farron.

That night, on unwavering ground—thankfully—Laura and I spent four hours cracking and peeling the fresh crab, dipping it in garlic butter and eating our fill as we went. The taste of our own catch, which went from sea to stomach in the same day, was well worth the costs.


Glassing the Hill: September 6 – 9

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate and House are both in session this week after a seven-week recess.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

With nineteen legislative days left to negotiate a spending bill, congressional leaders continue to disagree on how to keep the government funded when the new fiscal year begins on October 1. As the clock ticks, some prefer to pass a short-term spending bill through the end of 2016, which would theoretically allow time in December to craft an omnibus funding agreement for the rest of 2017. Others prefer a continuing resolution, which would extend the enacted funding levels from the current fiscal year into the first few months of 2017, allowing the new president and the new congress to address funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2017.  This is the only thing Congress must do in the coming weeks, with a particularly abbreviated work period.

Sage grouse are still mixed up in the “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA). While the NDAA is must-pass legislation, conference talks have slowed due to disagreements about the bill. As you may remember, the House NDAA included Congressman Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) “The Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act,” which would bring state and federal agencies’ efforts to coordinate on sage-grouse conservation to a grinding halt. Thankfully, the Senate version of the NDAA does not include similar provisions.

In other sage grouse news, last week the Bureau of Land Management released the final seven instruction memorandums for the greater sage-grouse conservation plans, responding to local concerns about grazing and drilling. While federal and state agencies will continue implementing these collaborative plans, their future may be in the hands of lawmakers.

For the first time in nine years, lawmakers will meet to discuss a first comprehensive energy bill. Earlier this year, a package of high-priority legislation with habitat and conservation funding impacts was added to “The Energy Policy Modernization Act” (S. 2012) by Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). These provisions included the permanent reauthorization of “The Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act,” the reauthorization of the “North American Wetlands Conservation Act” through 2020, and the establishment of “The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act” program. The package passed with a vote of 97-0, an overwhelming victory for the sportsmen-conservation community. On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear conferees’ concerns with the Senate energy bill, including the habitat and conservation package, but Chairwoman Murkowski is optimistic about continuing to negotiate with conferees and finally passing the bill.

An amendment to address Louisiana flooding and habitat connectivity may come to the Senate floor before the end of the year. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced an amendment to “The Water Resource Development Act” (WRDA) that would require the Army Corps of Engineers to implement flood-control projects in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after devastating floods damaged area homes, as well as fish and wildlife habitat. Ultimately, projects would restore and mitigate habitat connectivity.

The overall bill would provide $9 billion in funds for water resource projects. It does not include the language on natural infrastructure provisions that sportsmen were hoping to see in the final bill, which passed the committee with a 19-1 vote earlier this year, but a motion to add those provisions is expected when WRDA reaches the Senate floor—most likely after a spending bill and the NDAA have been passed.

But there is even more work to do. Lawmakers are also faced with discussion of a bill that would set aside $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus, and a mark-up of “The Resilient Federal Forests Act,” (H.R. 2647), which would offer a wildfire funding fix and provide forest management provisions, has been set for next week.

 

What else we’re tracking:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Federal Power Act will be discussed at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing.

Four energy and natural resources bills, including Congressman Ryan Zinke’s (R-Mont.) “Certainity for States and Tribes Act,” will be the subject of a House Natural Resources Committee mark-up.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Discussions will continue on natural resources bills in the House Natural Resources Committee mark-up.

Our First TRCP Ambassador Puts Boots on the Ground for Conservation in Montana

Ambassador Alec Underwood’s commitment to the hunt—and to conservation—runs deep

Launching this fall, TRCP’s ambassador program calls on sportsmen-conservationists to help advance our goals by offering local volunteer support. These #PublicLandsProud hometown heroes are not willing to sit idly by as the wild places we love are lost. They know there’s more to our sports than just hunting, fishing, and going home.

Meet Alec Underwood, our first volunteer ambassador out of Missoula, Montana. One thing you can say about Underwood is that he finishes what he’s started—after blood-trailing a bull elk to where it was bedded down, he stalked up in just his socks, eventually losing track of where he placed his boots in the tall grass. He packed out nearly two miles in just his stocking feet. We’re sure Underwood’s commitment to conservation is just as steadfast, and we’re proud to have him stepping up for sportsmen and women in Montana.  

The author quartering an elk he harvested with his bow. Image courtesy of Trevor Anderson.

 TRCP: What’s your earliest memory in the outdoors and how do you spend your time outside these days?

Underwood: My earliest memory in the outdoors is standing near a small stream in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, where I grew up, with my dad. We didn’t have fly rods, but he showed me where to look for trout by throwing small twigs behind boulders and in eddies. I remember watching small brook trout come up and try to eat the twigs, and I thought that it was the coolest thing in the world. Those small moments inspired my whole lifestyle, which consists of fishing the countless great trout rivers of the West and chasing elk in the mountains of Montana each fall.

TRCP: How do you see yourself helping us achieve our conservation mission?

Underwood: I’ve worked for several state fish and wildlife management agencies, in conjunction with federal land management agencies, and that has given me a broad perspective of how successful conservation policies are achieved on the landscape. This understanding, plus my passion for conservation and background in wildlife biology, will certainly help me further the TRCP’s mission of guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish, in whatever small way I can.

TRCP: How can everyday sportsmen make a difference for fish and wildlife? Why is it so important?

Underwood: I think that it’s quite simple­—it all starts with passion. Sportsmen who use these resources must be devoted to protecting it. If you really care, don’t just pay your membership dues to whichever conservation organization you support. Go to that organization’s meetings. Invite your friends to those meetings. Lead by example and inspire others to care as much as you do.

Fly fishing a small stream in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Image courtesy of Alec Underwood.

TRCP: What’s the most pressing conservation issue where you live?

Underwood: The transfer of our federal public lands to state control is a real threat that would result in our treasured public lands disappearing forever through privatization. Sportsmen need to understand the severity of this issue. Once it happens, these lands will no longer be protected. The enormous amount of public lands and wilderness that we currently own (especially in the western US), and the opportunity for all of us to access these lands, is an incredible part of our heritage. Let’s keep it that way.

Mist rises above the Blackfoot River in Western Montana. Image courtesy of Alec Underwood.

TRCP: What current projects are you working on for the TRCP?

Underwood: I have been helping the TRCP become more involved in the BLM’s Regional Management Plan (RMP) planning process for the Missoula field office. The plan will set goals, objectives, and direction for approximately 156,000 acres of BLM land in the Missoula area. To fully comprehend the current status of these lands and how they might be affected with the new RMP, we’ve been meeting with officials from both Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the BLM. Being more involved with the revision process is something that can only help to strengthen the TRCP’s existing relationship with the BLM.

TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt?

Underwood: The most memorable was definitely when I took a raghorn bull with my bow last September. After calling the bull in to about seven yards, I couldn’t pass him up. My aim was true, but he bedded down and didn’t expire. So I took off my boots and made a final, short stalk. Hit again, the bull ran down into a draw and finally expired. Tall grass surrounded me, and I suddenly realized my mistake: I discarded my boots into the sea of grass without marking them on my GPS. Thirty minutes of searching later, I decided to quarter the elk before it got too hot. Then, resuming my search, I retraced my steps over and over until I accepted that I was going to have to do the unthinkable. I loaded both a front and hind quarter – as well as the backstraps – and began the most painful 1.8 mile bushwhack of my life. Every step of that first trip out, in just my socks, ached. I had a few buddies come with me to help pack out the last two quarters and the head, and though we combed that small slope for another twenty minutes, we never found those boots. My feet were sore for almost a week after, but I knew I had a good story. (And if you find a pair of Irish Setters in a burn, please let me know!)

Steelhead fishing Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Image courtesy of Alec Underwood.

TRCP: What’s still on your bucket list?

Underwood: A DIY Alaska caribou hunt is definitely on there.

TRCP: What’s your favorite Theodore Roosevelt quote?

Underwood: “In a civilized and cultivated country wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen. The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.”

To find out more about the TRCP Ambassador program, please contact TRCP’s deputy director of Western lands, Coby Tigert, at CTigert@trcp.org or 208-681-8011.

Back To Where It All Began on Public Lands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Like a Holiday Season for Hunters, Fall is Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everglades. Image courtesy of Audubon Florida.

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

Sanibel Island. Image courtesy of Napa Daily News.

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

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

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

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

Then I got lucky. Very lucky.

Ed Tamson Poling. Image courtesy of Robert Tamson.

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

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

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

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