Yours, Mine, and Ours: Contamination and Blame

Local groups could keep mine waste out of rivers like the Animas if not for this legislative roadblock

By now, you’ve probably seen reports of the mine accident in Colorado and the disturbing images of the Animas River turned yellow by the release of 3 million gallons of water contaminated with mine wastes. This occurred after an EPA-supervised cleanup crew accidentally breached a debris dam inside the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, last Wednesday.

Image Courtesy of Joel Sowers.

As far as we know, there haven’t been reports of fish die-offs or drinking water contamination, and the river is starting to return to normal. The county has requested that the agency assist with analysis of the impacts to fish and wildlife, and outdoor recreation businesses are waiting for the all-clear to regain safe access to the Animas—we’ll be closely tracking news on all of this.

A great deal of blame has been directed at EPA—and deservedly so. Without question, there needs to be a full review of what went wrong and those responsible should be held accountable so this doesn’t happen again.

But we shouldn’t forget that while EPA may have caused this release, it didn’t create the pollution.

Our best estimate is that there are at least 161,000 abandoned mines, like the Gold King Mine, across the West. They are the dirty legacy of past mining booms that helped settle the region. The mines don’t just pollute our waterways after accidents; they are constantly leaking water polluted with heavy metals into rivers and streams—some at a trickle, and others at hundreds of gallons per minute. These mines were excavated prior to the creation of modern environmental laws that help ensure responsible mining practices, and there is no one to be held responsible for them now.

Federal agencies have stepped in to deal with the mess. Between 1997 and 2008, the EPA, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service spent $2.6 billion on abandoned mine cleanup, with EPA contributing the lion’s share ($2.2 billion).

Image Courtesy of Joe Ross.

Many other groups, like Trout Unlimited, want to help. TU wants to return fish to stretches of river so polluted by abandoned mines that they can no long support life, while watershed organizations want to revitalize their communities and boost their outdoor recreation economies and mining companies want to be good neighbors in the areas they operate. These good Samaritan and volunteer groups are stymied by provisions in environmental laws that would force them to be responsible for the entirety of an abandoned mine’s pollution should they even attempt a cleanup. That is a financial and technical burden that is impossible to bear. As a result, they can’t help clean up the worst of the pollution.

My former boss, Sen. Mark Udall (CO), repeatedly introduced legislation to fix this roadblock, and the time has come for other Western lawmakers to take up the cause and unleash the power of well-meaning groups to help clean up the West’s abandoned mines. As proven in the Gold King Mine incident, we can’t afford to leave anyone on the sidelines if they want to help.

Trout Unlimited has been fighting for years to address the problems of mine pollution in the West. To learn more about the abandoned mine problem and how to take action, go to sanjuancleanwater.org.

Grassroots Perspectives: What Sportsmen are Saying About the Clean Water Rule

With all the recent talk about Clean Water Act jurisdiction and the unceasing congressional attacks on a rule that protects wetlands and headwater streams, what seems to be getting lost is the message from hunters and anglers on the ground. Sportsmen care about clean water as much as anyone, and we’re the first to stand up and make ourselves heard when a favorite fishing hole is at risk or a wetland is impaired. And sportsmen have spoken up for our most cherished waters and wild places throughout the rulemaking process that led to the EPA’s recent announcement of the Clean Water Rule.

Tim Mauck and Dan Gibbs, lifelong sportsmen and county commissioners in Colorado, shared their view with the Denver Post, saying in a joint op-ed that “the Clean Water Rule keeps us moving forward in protecting and restoring our headwaters.” Mauck has also testified (not once, but twice) before Congress about the positive impacts that a restored Clean Water Act will have on his county and his sporting traditions.

Chris Hunt captured it succinctly in Hatch Magazine, where he said this rule “simply protects the waters that contribute to our sporting culture.”

No federal rule is perfect, and this one has been particularly contentious because of the many demands on our nation’s waters and wetlands, but sportsmen understand the great strides made for fish, wildlife, and habitat in the final clean water rule, which clarified significant Clean Water Act uncertainty. Now, as Bob Marshall wrote at Field & Stream, we are “infinitely better than where we were for the last 10 years, when the majority of our stream sides and waterfowl habitat, and many of our drinking water sources, were vulnerable to destruction.”

And champions of the rule aren’t just looking to improve their days afield. There are some whose livelihoods depend on quality fish and wildlife habitat. According to Dave Perkins, executive vice chairman of the Orvis Company: “The clean water rule is good for our business, which depends on clean, fishable water. Improving the quality of fishing in America translates directly to our bottom line, to the numbers of employees we hire right here in America, and to the health of our brick-and-mortar stores all over the country.”

Travis Campbell, president and CEO of Far Bank Enterprises, an integrated manufacturer and distributor of flyfishing products from Sage, Redington, and RIO, agrees. “My company depends on people enjoying their time recreating outside, especially in or near watersheds,” he said in a press release. “Clarifying which waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act isn’t a nice-to-have, it is a business imperative.”

Despite all the good that the final rule does for hunting and fishing, opponents are using hyperbolic misinformation to persuade their allies in Congress to attack the rule at every turn. This, too, has earned a response from sportsmen. “We must strongly oppose efforts to overturn the rule—and question the motives of those who would undermine it,” said Greg Munther, co-chair of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Consider everything Montana stands to lose if their efforts are successful.”

After nearly 15 years of Clean Water Act confusion and a multi-year rulemaking process that takes into account more than 400 meetings with stakeholders and over one million public comments, we finally have a restored Clean Water Act that protects fish and wildlife habitat and gives certainty to landowners. But the fight isn’t over.

We would do well to heed the words of Andy Kurkulis, owner of Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters and DuPage Fly Fishing Co. in Illinois: “Anyone who has ever swam in our beautiful Great Lakes, or fished or boated on our abundant rivers and waters has benefited immeasurably [from the Clean Water Act]. Now is the time to raise our voices in support of clean water—our economy, and future generations of hunters and anglers, depend on it.”

To read more feedback on the clean water rule from engaged sportsmen across the country, click here. Learn more by digging into TRCP’s Sportsman’s Tackle Box for Understanding the Clean Water Rule.

50 Days Left for Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a landmark American law, is up for reauthorization by Congress in less than 50 days, and 11 leading conservation organizations in Louisiana have expressed support—and urgency—for renewal of the law, which helps protect and improve habitat and sportsmen’s access.

This week, America’s Wetland Foundation, Audubon Louisiana, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Ducks Unlimited, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, the Land Trust for Louisiana, Louisiana Black Bear Conservation Coalition, Louisiana Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy of Louisiana, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the Trust for Public Land released the following statement:

Image courtesy of USFWS.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been enriching the lives of Americans for 50 years, creating thousands of public recreation sites from National Parks to neighborhood ballfields. Louisiana in particular has benefited from the LWCF, both in its federal and state components.

The LWCF played a major role in the development of Louisiana’s two National Parks, Jean Lafitte and Cane River Creole. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park has units in Acadia, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Orleans, and St. Landry Parishes, while Cane River Creole is located in Natchitoches. Between them, these parks have received over a million visitors since they have opened, including tourists from around the country and world.

The LWCF has been utilized to create and expand 12 of the 24 National Wildlife Refuges in Louisiana: Atchafalaya, Bayou Cocodrie, Bayou Sauvage, Big Branch, Black Bayou Lake, Bogue Chitto, Cat Island, Grand Cote, Lake Ophelia, Bayou Teche, Red River, and Tensas River. These Refuges provide critical wildlife habitat and prime areas for public hunting and fishing.

The LWCF has also helped fund over 700 state and local projects in Louisiana, in hundreds of cities and communities, including parks, boardwalks, boat ramps, and recreation centers. The Office of State Parks utilized the Fund to aid its state plan in 1965, and to develop and improve over 36 sites since then as the state administrator of LWCF. Local parish governments have    worked with private partners to match federal funds to benefit their residents and the tourists who visit their areas.

Projects completed and underway in Louisiana reflect the mission of the LWCF to promote outdoor recreation, and play an important role in the ‘Outdoors Economy’ that provides many benefits to our state, supporting 48,000 jobs, generating $225 million in annual state tax revenue, and producing $3.2 billion annually in retail sales and services. The LWCF is funded through offshore oil production revenues, rather than tax dollars, and is a specified recipient of a portion of revenues in the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), along with Gulf Coast States.

It is well understood now that the economic and environmental benefits of parks and refuges can extend beyond outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat. The area of the Red River National Wildlife Refuge added in 2014 included hundreds of acres that had been slated for development, but instead helped increase floodwater retention capacity in the recent (spring 2015) floods along the river. The Mollicy Farms Project on the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge, another project funded with the help of the LWCF, accommodated floodwaters that helped prevent a levee breach downstream in Monroe in 2009. Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, located just outside of New Orleans, contributes to the city’s natural and constructed hurricane protection system.

Flood retention, infrastructure support, and coastal resiliency and restoration are some of the wider benefits that point to the future potential of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to help Louisiana in years to come. We urge our Congressional delegation to support its reauthorization to help meet those needs.

The conservation groups cited a number of recent examples of the success of the LWCF in Louisiana and the diversity of the projects it has supported, including:

  • The Red River National Wildlife Refuge, which was expanded by over 1,700 acres with the help of the LWCF in 2014
  • The three newest National Wildlife Refuges in Louisiana, Cat Island, Bayou Teche, and Red River, which were all created with the help of the LWCF
  • A number of National Wildlife Refuges in Louisiana that have benefited from the LWCF, such as Atchafalaya, Bayou Cocodrie, Bayou Teche, Cat Island, Grand Cote, and Tensas, and played a key role in recovery efforts for the Louisiana Black Bear
  • Lake Arthur Park in Jefferson Davis Parish, which is being rebuilt through a LWCF grant
  • Improvements to the Camp Salmen Interpretative Trail in St. Tammany Parish, which were completed in 2014 through a LWCF grant
  • The town of Logansport, which utilized LWCF funds in 2013 to build a boardwalk near the Sabine River as part of Dennis Freeman Memorial Park
  • Bryan Park in Downsville, La., which was completed in 2012 using a LWCF grant
  • The pedestrian/bike path around University Lakes at Louisiana State University, which was completed in 2011 with the help of a LWCF grant

Park and recreation facilities funded through the LWCF are slated for completion over the next two years in Acadia, Concordia, Jefferson, LaSalle, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parishes. You might be surprised to learn what kinds of projects this important fund has made possible in your community.

It should come as no surprise that the sportsmen’s community is rallying around reauthorization of LWCF. But time is running out. Stay tuned for more information and how you can lend your voice.

Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access: Moosehead Mountain

In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds. This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.

A big game hunter’s bucket list might include a trip to the slopes of Alaska’s Brooks Range for Dall sheep or an excursion deep into the southwestern desert for beautiful little Coues deer. But, one thing is certain: That list will hold a hunt for big bull elk, and there is no better place to do that than on high-country public lands in Colorado.

In Part Four of our series, we head to the northwest part of Colorado.

Moosehead Mountain is in the northwest part of the state, south of Dinosaur National Monument and not far from the towns of Rangely and Dinosaur. Its elevation tops out at about 8,400 feet and the terrain is thick with sagebrush, mountain mahogany, pinyon pine, and juniper—all the makings of a classic glass-and-stalk hunt to get in front of moving elk. Cross paths with bands of pronghorns in the warmer months and big mule deer bucks transitioning from high country to low as the snows come in.

Image courtesy of Nick Payne.

This area serves as a portion of the home range for the second-largest elk herd in North America, including some truly big bulls scoring up to 370. It’s a wild place, remote and empty, and accessible to hunters on foot or on horseback. The bull tag for Game Management Unit 10 has been one of the most coveted big-game tags in America for decades.

Colorado elk hunters have been among the first citizens to oppose proposals for largescale transfer of federal lands to the states, because they know best what is at stake: their access to places like Moosehead Mountain and, quite possibly, the future of hunting in Colorado. Despite public opposition, some Colorado politicians are pushing the idea, and two land transfer bills were promoted by anti-government activists during the 2015 legislative session. More than 200 sportsmen and women rallied at the Colorado state capitol in opposition to this legislation, and the bills were defeated.

Currently, federal land managers are bound by law to manage public lands like Moosehead Mountain for multiple uses, such as for wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities. The state of Colorado has no such multiple-use mandate, and, to the contrary, its mandate is to maximize profits from state-held public lands, not to conserve resources or access to hunting and fishing. In fact, most state lands in Colorado are closed to hunting, fishing, shooting, and camping, and so sportsmen must remain diligent to put a stop to any proposals that threaten our ability to pursue these American traditions on federal public lands.

State management of these lands could result in unrestricted development, based solely on what will net the highest possible profits. It might even mean the outright sale of game-rich lands, like Moosehead Mountain, to private interests that will make a fortune selling access or high-priced hunts on what now belongs to every American hunter. If we want once-in-a-lifetime big-game hunts to be available to the average hunter, sportsmen need to continue to voice our opposition to this controversial idea.

Let’s cross Moosehead Mountain off our bucket lists because we’ve been there, not because we’re locked out forever.

Here are three ways you can support sportsmen’s access on public lands. 

Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.

Without Congressional Compromise, Conservation Will Come to a Halt

What 34 sportsmen’s groups have joined forces to ask of our nation’s lawmakers as they craft next year’s budget

Agreement in the year 2015 seems to be a rare thing—whether it’s among Republicans and Democrats or about Coke or Pepsi. Even hunters and anglers have loyalties that can lead to fireside arguments about smallmouth or cutthroat, ducks or deer. With so many options, disagreement just seems to be the natural status quo.

Image courtesy of Nicolas Raymond.

But there was absolutely no disagreement last week, when 34 of the nation’s leading hunting and angling conservation organizations, representing sportsmen and women from every region of the country, signed a letter urging Congressional leadership to begin negotiating a bipartisan budget deal.

Many of the issues that we work on at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership are regional by nature of being specific to certain terrain or species, like sage grouse, red snapper, or Prairie Potholes. It can sometimes be difficult, and understandably so, to get fishing groups interested in upland issues or to ask waterfowl groups to advocate for the sagebrush steppe. It’s not that these groups don’t care, it’s just that, with limited bandwidth and capacity, their focus on one core mission is essential. And so TRCP has made it our core mission to bring the widest swath of the sporting community to bear on the issues that truly impact the full spectrum of America’s hunters and anglers.

Few issues are more important to fish and wildlife habitat and the future of quality experiences afield than conservation funding.

The end of September marks the end of the federal fiscal year 2015, and as the fiscal year ends, so does the Murray-Ryan budget deal (formally known as the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015). It was negotiated in good faith by then-chairs of the House and Senate Budget Committees, Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, respectively. Its provisions allowed for a temporary lift from the onerous, sweeping, and automatic cuts referred to as “sequestration,” which would have fundamentally altered the landscape of fish and wildlife habitat conservation in the United States. However, the expiration of the deal means the return of sequestration and, in such a scenario, habitat projects often wind up on the cutting room floor. Access enhancement stops in its tracks. Conservation priorities wither on the vine.

That is, unless Congressional leaders can come together on a successor agreement to Murray-Ryan. Dozens of sporting-conservation groups have gone on the record in support of Congressional negotiations that result in a bipartisan budget agreement to provide for a meaningful reinvestment in conservation funding. Private lands, public lands, marine fisheries, water, and literally everything else in the universe of issues that sportsmen care about most would be dramatically impacted by the return of sequestration.

It is time for Congressional leaders to come together for this greatly needed compromise—we can all agree on that.

Glassing the Hill: August 3 – 7

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

The Senate will be in session this week. The House has adjourned for the August recess.

Two for the Road

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Last week, the Senate passed both a six-year highway bill reauthorization and a three-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund. The three-month extension was also passed by the House and signed by the President, effectively avoiding an expiration of the Highway Trust Fund on July 31 and giving the House time to craft its own version of a long-term highway bill in September and October.

Also last week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed their comprehensive bipartisan energy bill, which includes a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (You can see the legislation and amendments here.) The committee also passed legislation lifting the ban on crude oil export.

This week on the floor, the Senate will discuss cyber-security measures and consider bills to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

Also this week:
Tuesday, August 4
Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Regulatory Oversight hearing on litigation at EPA and FWS

Thursday, August 6
The first Republican presidential debate will air on Fox News at 9PM

 

Trout on the Fly, Newsrooms Under Pressure, and Wildlife as Inspiration

Day Three of our Western Media Summit

TRCP guests of all skill levels spend a morning flyfishing for trout on the Yellowstone River #publiclandsproud

Just as the sun was rising over the Gallatin Range, more than four dozen guests at TRCP’s Western Media Summit left Bozeman and drove southeast to the Yellowstone River for a morning of flyfishing on the final day of the conference. Eighteen guides piloted boats down the river, as anglers caught (and released) rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and whitefish, and the temperature climbed from the 50s into the 70s. As guests got to know their guides, and each other, the experience helped to put a personal face on the connection between access to these iconic public lands and waters and the businesses that rely on them: the sandwich shop where the guides bought guest lunches, the gas station where they fill up their trucks, the outfitter that books their services, the fly shop where they get their gear, and even the guy who shuttles their trucks and trailers the seven miles from the put-in to where they take their boats off the river.

Froma Harrop, syndicated opinion columnist: “You can’t ignore the politics behind conservation issues. We [as journalists] don’t have to be afraid of passion. That’s how you get people to listen to you. At the end of the day, people want to know what you think.”

After four hours of fishing, and with a few new tan lines, the group then gathered at the Bozeman offices of SITKA Gear for an afternoon of discussion. Led by a panel of four media professionals, and moderated by Outdoor Life Editor-in-Chief Andrew McKean, a conversation about reassessing the role of the conservation reporter got everyone in the room involved. Panelists examined how outdoor writing and conservation coverage is faring with shrinking newsrooms, thinning publications, and, perhaps, an increasingly selective pool of readers who have the content they want at their fingertips, whenever and wherever they want it. McKean asked the room if the outdoor media is partly responsible for creating a divide between “environmentalists” and “conservationists.” Gray Thornton of the Wild Sheep Foundation questioned whether sportsmen can reclaim the latter title, which many felt we have lost. Brett French, outdoor editor for the Billings Gazette, confessed that he felt like an endangered species—his role has become quite rare for the average daily newspaper. There was also some discussion of the partisan politics of conservation stories, and whether the potential for dissention among readers, publishers, or lawmakers makes telling these stories a risky proposition. Overall, journalists seemed to agree that immersive experiences, like the media summit, re-energize them to cover conservation—politics and all.

Jim Lyons, U.S. Department of the Interior: “Sage grouse restoration is the most complex issue I’ve ever worked on.”

The second panel discussion focused on the potential endangered species listing and controversial restoration strategies currently under review for the greater sage-grouse. Jim Lyons, the deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Tim Baker from the Montana Governor’s Office, and Rolling Stone Ranch Owner Jim Stone addressed the group with a timely update on the flurry of activity around the iconic game species. There are just 63 days until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s court-ordered deadline for determining whether or not the bird requires protection under the Endangered Species Act, and the panel was held on the same day as the deadline for state Governors to file their protests against BLM land management plans to benefit the birds in 10 Western states. TRCP’s senior scientist Dr. Ed Arnett led the discussion, pointing out that sage grouse conservation and the public lands transfer movement share a common thread: Critics are capitalizing on the discontent of sportsmen with the way federal land management is being done, but it’s not as simple as having state’s take over management. It will be necessary to have federal, state, and volunteer conservation efforts working in concert to avoid a listing, and it will be necessary for sportsmen to engage in a conversation around solutions to federal land management issues so we don’t lose those lands forever.

David Brinker, Sitka: “We support conservation simply because it’s the right thing to do.”

Following the sage-grouse panel, David Brinker, marketing director for SITKA Gear, welcomed the journalists to his company’s headquarters and explained how SITKA’s passion for conservation led them become a founding member of the nonprofit One Percent for Conservation. The initiative was created by SITKA staffer Jeff Sposito to enlist retailers and small businesses in the sporting community that are not required to contribute Pittman-Robertson excise taxes toward conservation efforts, hunter’s education, or shooting programs, and facilitate the donation of one percent of their profits to a hunting-related cause of their choice. The effort will be officially launched this winter.

Guests then filtered downstairs to the other half of the refurbished industrial warehouse to enjoy cocktails, pizza, Italian desserts, and a powerful speech by Shane Mahoney. The CEO of Conservation Visions, Inc., is also a filmmaker, writer, and TV personality with 30 years of experience in science, wildlife management, and policy innovation in the U.S. and Canada. He gravely told the group that we have much work to do to protect our great sporting traditions, public land and water resources, and health of all species. “Wildlife are a democratic resource. It is something to inspire us. It is something to give us joy. It is not some side show,” he said. His remarks received a standing ovation from the crowd.

TRCP’s Joel Webster (left) makes a great cast.

Perfect conditions for a day on the water

John Kruse, Northwestern Outdoors Radio: “I have to be able to personalize a conservation story, which may only be explained at the 150,000-foot level in a press release, for my listeners in the Pacific Northwest.”

Ed Arnett, TRCP: “This is about more than sage grouse. This is about an entire ecosystem that has been in peril for some time—an ecosystem that currently supports more than 350 species.”

Tim Baker, Office of the Governor of Montana: “The Endangered Species Act needs some victories.”

Jim Stone, owner of Rolling Stone Ranch: “The government does work. But it takes time to make broad changes to the way we manage our herds and landscapes. It’s to the benefit of all of us that we invest that time.”

Shane Mahoney, CEO of Conservation Visions: “Wildlife is a democratic resource. It is something to inspire us. It is something to give us joy. It is not some side show.”

This is how far out of touch Congress is with sportsmen

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about how Congress is ignoring the wishes of sportsmen and voting against clean water protections that are best for fish and wildlife. Now we have the data to prove it.

Our friends over at the National Wildlife Federation have released a poll showing just how broad and deep the support for restoring protections under the Clean Water Act runs among sportsmen. What did they find? A remarkable 83 percent of the hunters and anglers surveyed thought that the Environmental Protection Agency should apply the rules and standards of the Clean Water Act to smaller, headwater streams and wetlands—because we can’t clean up larger bodies of water without protecting the waters that flow into them, and because smaller streams and wetlands are crucial fish and wildlife habitat.

Whether or not to protect smaller streams and wetlands has been a politically contentious issue for nearly 15 years. The Clean Water Act protected the nation’s streams and wetlands from the time it was passed in 1972 until two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 left it unclear exactly which streams and wetlands could be covered by the law.

Image courtesy of Eric Petlock

In May, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers completed the clean water rule to clear up this confusion. After a multi-year process of holding more than 400 stakeholder meetings and generating over 800,000 supportive public comments, the agencies produced a rule welcomed by sportsmen. Dave Perkins, executive vice chairman of the Orvis Company, said, “The clean water rule is good for our business. Improving the quality of fishing in America translates directly to our bottom line, to the numbers of employees we hire right here in America, and to the health of our brick-and-mortar stores all over the country.”

Nevertheless, Congress is hell bent on stealing this victory from sportsmen. More than half of all senators are on record opposing the clean water rule, and the House has voted in the past to undermine it. Why does a majority of Congress oppose what an overwhelming majority of sportsmen want? That’s a question Jim Martin—conservation director at the Berkley Conservation Institute, a branch of one of the largest tackle manufacturers in the sportfishing industry—asks, too.

“If the support is so widespread why are politicians not voting to support the rule?” wonders Martin. “This poll quite clearly shows what the public supports. Now, it is up to the political leaders to determine if they support the interests of their constituents or special interests on the issue of protecting watersheds.”

These same political leaders will surely get another chance to stand with, or against, sportsmen for clean water, before the year is out. It is incumbent on hunters and anglers to let our leaders in Washington know where we stand, and how we expect them to represent our interests.

Contact your senators and representative directly to tell them you support the clean water rule.

A Wildlife-Friendly Ranch, Wading the Simms Factory Floor, and the Sound of 18,000 Names Hitting the Ground

Day Two of our Western Media Summit was packed with immersive experiences meant to give tangible context to complex issues, like federal conservation funding programs, public and private land management, and the outdoor recreation economy.

Mike Ellig (center with dark hat) shows Western Media Summit guests Randall Creek, one of several streams running through his property.

Before lunch, guests enjoyed a walking tour of the stunning 600-acre conservation easement on Oyler Ranch, a property that was originally homesteaded by the Oyler family in the 1860s and has been continuously grazed since the 1880s. This morning, its rivers, creeks, ponds, and vast green fields were framed by distant white-tipped mountains, dusted with fresh snow overnight. Mike Ellig, who runs Black Gold, a Montana company that manufactures premium bow sights, purchased the property from the Oyler family in 2014 and, with help from the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, immediately began executing a plan for restoration of the fish and wildlife habitat within the ranch’s conservation easement.

“I’ve always had a passion for outdoors,” Ellig explained. “It’s always been a dream of mine to have a place to do the things I love to do.” It just so happens that Ellig is also opening the land to others who love to do the same things—hunt and fish. He’s also using responsible grazing and agriculture practices while looking for opportunities to enhance habitat for trout, deer, bears, turkeys, pheasants, and beavers.

Mike Ellig, owner of the Oyler Ranch Conservation Easement: “I want to make this the nicest piece of property I can for myself, the fish and wildlife, and local hunters and anglers.”

Near Randall Creek, which flows through his property, he paused the tour at the side of 60-acre field, where he hopes to irrigate and create waterfowl habitat. One of his ponds, flanked by chokecherry trees (a favorite food source of local bears), is home to a turtle and two pairs of wood ducks, rarely found in the valley. Near a section of the West Gallatin that enters his land, cottonwood trees are beginning to grow back on the muddy banks of the fast-moving stream, after years of cows trampling the young trees.

“Mike Ellig is a great example of a landowner who is improving sportsmen’s access by opening up his private land to hunters and improving the habitat at the same time,” said Peter Brown with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. “I think something that is often overlooked about his contribution is that the conservation work he contracts out to local workers actually creates something like a dozen jobs. That’s on top of the benefit that this new public access point will provide to the outdoor recreation economy in Bozeman.”

Later in the day, TRCP’s Chief Conservation Officer Paul Wilkins turned the group’s attention to federal public lands, asking conservation and industry leaders, “Why do public lands matter?”  On the same day the TRCP reported that 18,000 sportsmen have signed our Unlocking Sportsmen’s Access petition and more than 174,000 letters have been sent to lawmakers opposing the transfer of federal public lands to the states, our panelists­ spoke passionately to the group of 40 gathered at Simms Fishing’s 60,000-square-foot Bozeman headquarters about the value of public lands and the importance of sportsmen’s access to local economies. Blake Henning from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ben Bulis from the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Joel Webster from the TRCP, and Ryan Busse, a business leader from the shooting sports industry discussed major threats to our public lands legacy and some great opportunities that media professionals have to tell the stories that will kill off this bad idea of handing control over federal lands to the states.

Simms Fishing’s Diane Bristol explains the manufacturing process for Simms iconic waders, while her colleague Rich Hohne observes.

Following the discussion, Diane Bristol, senior director of employee and community engagement for Simms, gave a tour of the production facilities where employees make the brand’s popular waders. She said that the company has 150 employees, having added 10 percent more positions in the past year, and they plan to keep growing. She showed TRCP guests several sections of the headquarters including the cutting room, repair center, testing area, seam taping machines, and custom graphics department. She also shared a bit about the company’s conservation mission: “Public lands and access to good fishing is crucial to our business, and our staff is passionate about these sports,” said Bristol. “I think today was a great opportunity for the media guests to see just how invested we are in conservation, through our work with TRCP and other groups, and in excellence for our products overall.”

Western Media Summit attendees walk across a field on the Oyler Ranch Conservation Easement as the sun finally breaks through, warming up a chilly morning.

Penelope Pierce, Executive Director, Gallatin Valley Land Trust: “Open, scenic vistas are what makes Montana, well, Montana.”

(from left to right): Peter Brown, Gallatin Valley Land Trust; Glenn Marx, Montana Association of Land Trusts; Clint Campbell, Kingfisher Consulting Inc.

Photographer Dusan Smetana takes a quiet moment to capture the beauty of the West Gallatin River.

Ben Bulis, American Fly Fishing Trade Association: “I don’t know what it’s like to not have public lands. It’s a scary concept.”

Blake Henning, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation: “I grew up in Nebraska and we had very little public lands, so I know how precious they are. I have fond memories of hunting on the public lands I have been able to access.”

Ryan Busse, shooting sports industry business leader: “Public lands are the fabric of an iconic Western landscape.”

 

Joel Webster, TRCP: “This is a call to the press: Spread the word that sportsmen will not tolerate the idea of land transfer.”

Costa Sunglasses provided sunglasses fittings and in front of their custom skiff.

Randy Newberg, host of “Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg” on the Sportsman Channel: “I grew up a hunter. When people ask who I am, I don’t say Randy Newburg, CPA—which I am—I say, ‘I am Randy Newberg, I’m a hunter.’ But without public lands, I wouldn’t be.”

 

Bison, Beer, and the Public Lands Backbone of Montana’s Economy

Welcome to the 13th Annual TRCP Western Media Summit, held July 27 to 30, in Bozeman, Mont. 

Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO, TRCP: “Bozeman exemplifies the outdoor economy.”

Influential policy makers, outdoor industry leaders, and more than two dozen members of the media kicked off three days of conservation discussion and discovery last night in Bozeman, Mont. The mission of the TRCP’s 13thannual Western Media Summit is to arm journalists to tell the most timely conservation stories impacting the Western states, including the controversial movement to transfer federal public lands to the states, the impending endangered species listing decision for the greater sage-grouse, and the economic value of safeguarding sportsmen’s access.

Despite the heavy rain, anomalous 48-degree temperatures, and dark clouds shrouding the nearby Gallatin Mountains, the ballroom of the Baxter Hotel, a refurbished landmark in the heart of historic Bozeman, was packed for the very first event of this year’s summit. The TRCP’s CEO and president, Whit Fosburgh, welcomed attendees by sharing some history of the organization’s longstanding tradition of bringing media together for a frank discussion of conservation over campfires and beer, with some hunting and fishing thrown in. He also praised the region for its significance to the summit’s themes. “We’re thrilled to be in Bozeman,” said Fosburgh.  “Conservation works in concert with good access to hunting and fishing and a thriving outdoor economy, and this town is a perfect example.”

TRCP Board Chair Weldon Baird also spoke, emphasizing the positive role that journalists play in explaining complex environmental issues and conservation policies to the public. “Over the next couple of days, we’d like to share what’s important to us as an organization, and we’d also like to hear from you,” said Baird.

Paul Wilkins, TRCP’s chief conservation officer, then stepped up to the podium to welcome the evening’s headlining speaker, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who recently vetoed a bill aimed at studying federal public lands in the state, likely to make the case for transferring or selling them. “Public lands are part of the Montana ethos and a big sector of our economy. They represent a promise to future generations. But perhaps, like no other time before, that promise could be in jeopardy,” said Bullock. “Out-of-state interests hiring lobbyists to float the idea that the states should demand their lands back from the federal government certainly haven’t fooled me or Montanans. The true cost would be too great for us, or any other state, to handle. So, I vetoed the one bill that made it to my desk.”

Montana Governor Steve Bullock: “Thank you Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership for being an unyielding advocate for sportsmen.”

Bullock also expressed gratitude for the media’s coverage of conservation issues. “Thank you to the journalists for what you do in educating the public about Montana’s and America’s public lands,” he said, pointing out that the gathering of science and policy experts with media at the TRCP summit could serve as an apt celebration for the end of Montana’s inaugural Open Land Month, established by Bullock’s executive order. “Our state is home to immeasurable opportunities to experience public lands and waterways, which I believe are a great equalizer,” he said. “Whether you’re a CEO or a single mom, you have access to them.”

Bullock, who will serve as governor through 2016, ultimately shared some of his conservation goals for Montana: He supports Congress setting aside partisan politics to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and he’d like to prevent a greater sage-grouse listing with cooperation from a diverse group of stakeholders. And, importantly, he said: “I’ll continue to stand and defend the public lands that Montanans hold so dear.”

Weldon Baird, TRCP Board Chair

(from left to right): Weldon Baird, TRCP Board Chair; Montana Governor Steve Bullock; Whit Fosburgh, TRCP President and CEO

More than 60 guests crowded into the ballroom of Bozeman’s Baxter Hotel for the opening night of TRCP’s Western Media Summit.