Public lands: Sportsmen’s most precious resource

Growing up in a small farming and ranching community in Central California in the 50s and 60s, I had access to private lands for hunting and fishing.  My brothers and I could literally walk out the back door of our home to hunt for doves and rabbits on our neighbor’s ranch. Larger, family-owned ranches in the area were readily accessible for deer and quail hunting and fishing for coastal steelhead.

Times have changed, and many of the lands I visited as a kid are no longer accessible. Some have been turned into subdivisions, and most of large ranches are either closed to public access, or hunting privileges have been leased to elite clubs where only the wealthy can afford to hunt. Fortunately, I have lived most of my adult life in Colorado and Arizona where there are abundant public lands available to pursue my passions.

Image courtesy of John Hamill.

Opportunities to hunt, fish and recreate on public lands are under attack in nine Western states, however, led by special interests intent on passing legislation that would require the transfer of federal lands to the states. This includes our national forests, national wildlife refuges and public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Attacks like these are not new. In 2012, the Arizona legislature passed a bill, vetoed by the Gov. Jan Brewer, that would have required Congress to turn over 25 million acres of public lands to the state by the end of 2014. Proposition 120, a ballot measure defeated by two thirds of Arizona voters, would have amended the state’s constitution to “declare Arizona’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state’s boundaries.” On the surface this may not seem like such a bad idea. However, when you dig into these proposals you find that the primary motivation can be to facilitate the sale of public lands to private interests to generate revenues and enable development.

Image courtesy of John Hamill.

Western states have a long history of selling their lands. In Nevada, nearly 2.7 million acres of state land have been sold; Utah has sold more than 50 percent of its land grant. The question of how the states would pay for the management of these lands complicates the issue further. Maintaining roads and recreation facilities, fighting wildfires and similar activities require funds that these states simply do not have. The only practical means to raise the funds would be to charge higher user fees, open more lands to development or sell the lands to private interests.

The transfer or “divestiture” of federal public lands to the states poses a threat to hunting and fishing as we know it today. While sportsmen may be frustrated with the federal government’s management of our public lands, transferring public lands to the states and making them available for sale to private interests is not in the best interest of fish and wildlife or hunting and fishing. Sportsmen need to fight to maintain control of and access to our most precious resource: our public lands.

To make you voice heard, I encourage you to write or call your elected official or support organizations like the TRCP, which is leading the fight on behalf of sportsmen. Finally, consider attending the sportsmen’s rallies in Santa Fe, Denver and Boise in the coming months. This is the time for action – not complacency!

TRCP’s Top 10 Underreported Conservation Stories

Here it is – our Top 10 Underreported Conservation Stories of 2014. These stories comprise a choice cross-section of important conservation-related topics that failed to register with the public over the past 12 months.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

Right now, these issues couldn’t be more relevant to American citizens and we’d like to refocus attention on the policy debates that have the greatest potential to alter Americans’ abilities to access and enjoy our fish and wildlife, lands and waters.

Conservation of our invaluable natural resources and upholding public access to enjoy these resources is in everyone’s interest, whether you fish for bass, trout or snook or hunt deer, pheasants or ducks – or simply appreciate open spaces and clean water.

Millions of acres of public lands off limits to the American people, a world-renowned – and critically threatened – Alaskan salmon fishery, unprecedented opportunities for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico and the threat to our nation’s public lands heritage – these are among the underreported conservation stories that made the 2014 TRCP list.

ALL TOP 10 STORIES

1. America’s National Forests and Parks for Sale?
2. Money Earmarked for Conservation Gets Spent Elsewhere
3. Budgeting Restrictions for Wildfire Management Burn Up Cash
4. World’s Largest Marine Reserve Embraces Recreational Fishing
5. Regulations for Management of 245 Million Acres of Public Land Being Rewritten for the First Time
6. Public Denied Access to 35 Million Acres of Public Lands
7. Gulf of Mexico Restoration Offers Once-in-a-Lifetime Conservation Opportunities
8. Federal Red Snapper Regulations Have Anglers Seeing Red
9. ‘Not Dead Yet’: Alaska’s Proposed Pebble Mine Still a Threat
10. While California Fights, Western Sportsmen and Ranchers Collaborate – and Win

Colorado maps its water future

In 2013, Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper directed the state’s water board to develop a strategy to guide water supply decision-making in the state. Fortunately, like hunters and anglers across the Colorado, Gov. Hickenlooper knows that healthy trout streams and productive habitat for elk, mule deer and other game species are essential to Colorado’s $9 billion outdoor economy and our sporting heritage. In fact, he has said that “every conversation about water should start with conservation.” (emphasis added)

Gross Reservoir, Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall

On December 10, 2014, the water board delivered the first draft of the state water plan to the governor, but not before over 7000 Colorado sportsmen spoke together in a telephone town hall about it. Callers talked about the importance and potential of conservation efforts, the risks associated with diverting more Colorado River water to the Front Range and how healthy stream flows affect hunters as well as anglers. You can listen to their discussion here.

The draft plan represents one significant milestone on the journey to a secure water future for Colorado, but there are many miles yet to go. The draft plan recognizes that we must protect healthy rivers for fish and wildlife and make more efficient use of our existing resources, but the plan needs to lay out specific directions to actually achieving those goals. Also, the draft plan leaves the door open for risky, large diversions of Colorado River water from the west slope to the Front Range.

In 2015, all Coloradans have an opportunity to tell Gov. Hickenlooper, his water board and others involved in the process exactly how important it is to protect the habitats where we hunt and fish. Visit Colorado Trout Unlimited to send a message to the governor and other officials.

South Dakota rancher lets the land point the way

TRCP Director of Government Relations Steve Kline reflects on his relationship with 2014 Leopold Conservation Award winner Lyle Perman of South Dakota. Read more about Lyle and the award here.

I remember the first time I met Lyle Perman.

I had been worried about recognizing him, but the worry was misplaced. His bolo tie and cowboy hat set him a world apart from the buttoned-up navy suits of downtown Washington, D.C. This was his first trip to the nation’s capital since he had visited the city with the College Republicans decades earlier. Now, the TRCP hosted his return as part of an effort to educate his South Dakota congressional delegation on the importance of conserving native prairie.

As a lobbyist, I can attest that most Hill meetings run about the same way, with little variation. But when you fly somebody like Lyle to Washington to meet with senators and representatives that he knows personally, the meetings take on an entirely different tone. First, the senator has to catch up on all the latest gossip from home, including a serious dissertation on the weather. In South Dakota, rain is still considered a blessing. Talk then turns to neighbors and church; only after a full debrief can the conversation focus on the comparatively mundane: Farm Bill conservation programs working to keep South Dakota’s essential grasslands intact.

Lyle’s farm in Lowry, SD. Image courtesy of Rock Hills Ranch.

Lyle understands that he must learn from his forebears, question the assumptions of conventional wisdom and heed the ample advice the land offers. His Rock Hills Ranch is among the last vestiges of a great American ocean of grass. Much of that epic landscape has been replaced by row crops, bit by the plow, the grass long ago turned upside down. Lyle has seen firsthand what that means for the long-term health of the place he loves, the place where he raised his family. A lifetime spent in the prairies has convinced him grass is what God intended to be here.

After showing Lyle Washington, D.C., I was thrilled just a few months later that he could show me Lowry, South Dakota, and the place he calls home. Two worlds connected by a Farm Bill and a friendship. I am thrilled that my friend Lyle and his family ranch have received this award, where two new generations (and two sets of twins!) roam the countryside and plan for the future of their grass.

The 2014 Leopold Conservation Award could not go to a  more deserving recipient. A tip of the cowboy hat from all of us here at the TRCP.

Private Lands Primer: A SAFE place for wildlife

Just before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly announced an additional 86,000 SAFE acres across seven states: Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. These acres are a boon to private landowners and sportsmen. But I’d wager that most hunters and anglers, and probably many farmers and ranchers, don’t know what SAFE is or just how beneficial the program can be.

Image courtesy of Katie McKalip.

For the unfamiliar, SAFE— State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement —is part of the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. The general CRP asks landowners to voluntarily conserve large tracts of previously cropped land to achieve a wide range of environmental benefits. As a part of CRP, SAFE is also a voluntary land conservation program, but here USDA works with landowners, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations and the public to identify strategic projects that conserve land in specific parts of the country. SAFE distinctively focuses on habitat for species that are threatened or endangered, have suffered significant population declines or are considered to be socially or economically valuable.

That last phrase, “socially or economically valuable,” is key for sportsmen. SAFE authorizes your local decision makers to identify which acres will best target the needs of “high-value” wildlife, and that includes for hunting and fishing. SAFE projects have provided habitat for the plains sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, American woodcock, northern bobwhite quail, ring-necked pheasant, a wide variety of waterfowl, cottontail rabbits, black bears, mule deer, elk, salmon, steelhead trout and many other species, across 36 states and in Puerto Rico. That’s nothing to shake a tail at.

Landowners can benefit from SAFE too especially at a time when crop prices are low and land prices are high. USDA offers a signing incentive of $100 per acre to landowners who convert idle cropland into SAFE; pays landowners up to 90 percent of the cost of planting trees, forbs and grasses that benefit wildlife; and provides guaranteed rental payments on that land for the length of a contract, usually for 10 to 15 years. SAFE can improve farm income while incentivizing on-the-ground practices that benefit our favorite critters on an ecosystem-wide scale.

Image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Although the extra 86,000 acres comprise only a fraction of the 24 million acres enrolled in CRP, at the TRCP we were thrilled by USDA’s announcement. Since SAFE’s introduction in 2007, many states have maxed out their allotted acres and maintain waiting lists for landowners hoping to enroll stream buffers, restored wetlands, newly seeded grasslands and longleaf pine stands in the program. The TRCP welcomes any additional chances to provide habitat for fish and wildlife and access for sportsmen.

Landowners can enroll qualified acres in a designated wildlife project in their state at any time. We especially encourage those in the seven states listed above to take advantage of this new opportunity. For more information, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation or visit a local USDA office.

Inside the CRomnibus: Conservation funding and policy riders

Image courtesy of the US Park Service.

Last night, congressional appropriators filed a $1 trillion fiscal year 2015 spending bill that would fund most government agencies through the fiscal year.

Despite a few funding shortfalls and policy riders, in total the TRCP considers the so-called “CRomnibus” a sound compromise for conservation funding. Given the overall need to address ongoing federal deficits, level funding for some of our priority programs represents a short-term win.

The bill will be considered by the House Rules Committee this afternoon and face a House vote Thursday; the Senate anticipates taking votes on the spending bill over the weekend. In order to prevent a government shutdown, Congress must pass the CRomnibus by Thursday or, more likely, enact a one- to two-day continuing resolution to buy themselves more time. In order to garner bipartisan support, the bill avoids new limits on significant EPA rules relating to climate change and water regulation and is largely free of controversial riders.

Several key conservation programs would receive level, if not increased, funding for FY2015. The North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program and Land and Water Conservation Fund would maintain current funding levels. The Forest Legacy Program would see a $2 million increase from FY14 enacted levels. The bill also prevents any regulation on the lead content of ammunition or fishing tackle covered under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

To the dismay of conservationists and sportsmen, the bill prohibits the Interior Department from writing or issuing a rule under the Endangered Species Act for the listings of any/all four subspecies of sage grouse in the coming year, although the full implications of this funding moratorium are still in the process of being interpreted at Interior. Sportsmen also are disappointed that the spending package would preclude a revision of federal wildfire funding, as the current funding mechanism has hamstrung the capacity and budget of the U.S. Forest Service in recent years.

Here are the funding levels for priority conservation programs:

National Wildlife Refuge System

  • $474.2 million for the Refuge System, a $2 million increase over last fiscal year.

EPA

  • U.S. EPA would be funded at $8.1 billion in FY15, a $60 million decrease from FY14 and $250 million more than the Obama administration asked for in its FY15 budget request.
  • EPA’s Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water state revolving funds will be given $2.35 billion, level with FY14 funding and roughly $600 million above the president’s request.

Department of the Interior and Related Agencies

  • The Department of Interior would receive $10.7 billion, slightly above the current $10.5 billion but down from Obama’s $10.9 billion request.
  • Secure Rural Schools would be zeroed out, a serious blow for Western forested counties that depend on the program to alleviate major declines in federal timber harvests. House leaders state they intend to find funding for the program early next year. Until then, they will push legislation to streamline timber sales.
  • Payment in Lieu of Taxes would receive $372 million with additional funding included in the National Defense Authorization Act.
  • State and Tribal Wildlife Grants would receive $58.695 million, level funding from FY14 enacted levels.
  • The North American Wetland Conservation Fund would receive $34.145, level funding from FY14.
  • Forest Legacy Programs would receive $53 million, a $2 million increase from FY14.
  • The Land & Water Conservation Fund will receive $306 million, level funding from FY14.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  • NOAA would receive $5.4 billion, an increase of about $126 million from FY14.

Agriculture

  • The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Programs, mandatory programs under the 2014 Farm Bill, would see roughly $200 million in reduced, mandatory spending for 2015.

Fisheries

  • National Fish Hatchery System Operations would receive $52,860,000 and maintains that Within 90 days of enactment of this Act, the Service shall publish an operations and maintenance plan for fiscal year 2015 for the National Fish Hatchery System that includes funding allocations by region, together with an explanation of the allocation methodology.

Sharing the sportsmen’s experience

Like many Americans, when my wife and I sit down over Thanksgiving dinner and reflect on what we are most grateful for, family and good health are always at the top of the list. Nothing makes this point more clearly than spending time with folks who don’t have those luxuries.

Photo courtesy of Neil Thagard.

Over the recent Thanksgiving weekend, my wife Catherine and I were privileged to participate in a hunt for javelina and Coues deer in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona. We were volunteering as spotters and guides with Outdoor Experience for All, or OE4A, an organization that offers outdoor experiences to young people diagnosed with life threatening illnesses, children of fallen heroes, and children with disabilities. While the youths in the program are the hunters, their entire families are encouraged to attend and participate in the hunts.

According to Catherine, “This weekend was one of the highlights of our hunting careers. It didn’t seem to matter that although many deer were seen, few were taken, as a great time was had by all.”

Photo courtesy of Neil Thagard.

We can’t speak highly enough of OE4A’s founder, Eddy Corona. He is a true humanitarian who selflessly provides these great experiences to some very deserving people. We commend him and all of the dedicated OE4A volunteers for their efforts.

OE4A’s mission is “to change lives one adventure at a time.” They believe that everyone who participates in an OE4A adventure, including volunteers, sponsors, parents and siblings, leaves camp with a new outlook on life. We echo that sentiment – and will definitely be volunteering for future OE4A hunts, as I’m pretty sure we gained as much from this experience as the participating families.

To find out more about OE4A go to www.outdoorexperienceforall.org

What does the future hold for water conservation?

Here’s just the thing to cure your case of the holiday blues: a cold, hard analysis of budget numbers for federal water conservation programs. But don’t click away just yet! This may be one of the most consequential things happening in Washington, D.C.,  in December before the 113th Congress adjourns.

To bring you up to speed, Congress, as it has done so often in recent years, failed to finalize spending decisions by the beginning of the new fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2014). Since then the federal government has operated on a continuing resolution, or CR, a stop-gap measure that maintains the prior year’s funding levels. The current CR expires on Dec. 11, 2014. Congress must pass a spending bill by then or risk shutting down the federal government. The incoming Republican majority has a strong desire to get spending decisions off the table now so they can focus on higher priority issues starting in January, but major disagreements still exist – both between the two parties and the House and Senate – so another CR may be necessary.

Assuming that Congress can reach an agreement on a spending bill for the rest of fiscal year 2015, it will be based upon the respective House and Senate proposals summarized below. Therefore, if you want to know about the future of water conservation funding in 2015, keep reading.

Bureau of Reclamation: First-time chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Mike Simpson deserves credit for producing a bill that is more favorable towards water conservation than previous House bills. His bill largely matches what the administration requested, which is about a 5 percent increase over current levels. Where Rep. Simpson disagrees with the administration, it is with a modest 2 percent decrease compared to the request. The one exception is the San Joaquin River Restoration Fund, which the House, as it has done in the past, refuses to fund.

On the Senate side, Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein continues her pattern of strong water conservation funding. Her bill matches the administration’s request except where she significantly exceeds it and includes a heavy investment in drought response: Overall WaterSMART funding is up 120 percent, funding for WaterSMART Grants is more than tripled and the Drought Response and Comprehensive Drought Plans program is increased by an order of magnitude. The bill also includes an extra $67 million not reflected in the chart above: $12 million for Fish Passage and Fish Screens, $35 million for Water Conservation and Delivery and $20 million for Environmental Restoration and Compliance.

The TRCP recently wrote to Congress with some sportsmen-conservation partners to commend both the House and Senate for their proposals and to ask that final spending decisions look more like the more sportsmen friendly Senate proposal.

Prediction: Sen. Feinstein has gotten her way in the past. Count on her to get it again, especially since California’s historic drought has been front page news since summer and she’s about to hand off the chairwoman’s gavel to her Republican counterpart. 

Fish and Wildlife Service: Within the Fish and Wildlife Service, the House and Senate are largely of one mind on funding. Each FWS program in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget is flat-funded or receives a small increase over current funding levels. The one exception is the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, which both houses cut. The cuts come mostly from the part of CESCF used for land acquisitions, with the Senate taking a particularly dim view towards land acquisition grants to states.

In addition, though both houses fund the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program at the same amount (and increase it over the requested level), the House places a stronger emphasis within that amount on competitive grants over formula grants to states. The House believes this will encourage multiple states to work together and with the FWS to conserve species named in settlement agreements so that an Endangered Species Act listing becomes unnecessary.

Prediction: This looks like a likely candidate for splitting the difference.

Environmental Protection Agency: The big ticket item at EPA is the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (not shown in the chart above due to scale). The House matches the requested level while the Senate adds an additional 42 percent to stay even with current funding levels (about $1.5 billion).

When it comes to geographic programs at the EPA, both houses fund them above the requested level, but only the Senate includes more funding than they currently receive. Specifically, both houses want to see an increase over the requested amount for the Great Lakes, while the Senate is friendlier to programs for the Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound and Lake Champlain, and the new program for Southern New England Estuaries (represented as “Other” in the chart above).

Both houses reject the requested increase in the Nonpoint Source (Sec. 319) Grants but stay even with current funding levels. Also, both houses reject the requested increase in the Wetlands Program: the Senate stays even with current funding but the House cuts it even further. The Wetlands Program includes the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program, which is particularly controversial in Congress right now due to the ongoing rulemaking effort to clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction.

Prediction: The administration consistently submits a low request for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund knowing Congress will restore its funding; this year shouldn’t be any different. Also, outgoing chair of the full appropriations committee Sen. Mikulski of Maryland will get her funding for the Chesapeake Bay. The real fight at EPA will be over policy riders, of which the House will ask for many.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: There aren’t any obvious trends in the competing proposals for water conservation at NOAA. Both the House and Senate come in under the administration’s request for Protected Species Research and Management, but they are also both above the current funding level. While the House severely cuts spending for Habitat Conservation and Restoration, the Senate boosts it past current funding levels and the administration’s request. Both houses exceed the administration’s request for Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund to keep it even with current spending.

Prediction: Another candidate for splitting the difference.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: In the post-earmark era where Congress has less ability to affect spending on any specific Corps project, both the House and Senate proposals match the administration’s request for projects included in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget. As a result, those line items are excluded from the chart above.

As for the rest of the Corps, both houses put considerably more money into so-called Continuing Authority Programs than requested because, according to the House, a CAP “provides a useful tool for the Corps to undertake small localized projects without the lengthy study and authorization process typical of most larger Corps projects.” (The Senate feels the same.) Both houses more than triple the requested amount for Project Modifications for Improvement of the Environment (Section 1135) and more than double the amount requested for Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration (Section 206).

Prediction: It’s good to be a CAP.

Experiencing the John Day River in Oregon – and addressing threats to public lands

Southeast and central Oregon are known for vast landscapes of sagebrush steppe and basalt rim rock. This wide open country provides important habitat for numerous species of big game, upland birds and trout. It also offers access to outstanding public lands hunting.

As a sportsman, outfitter and mother, I believe that one of the most important challenges of our time is to ensure that these places are conserved so that when my daughter grows up, she can enjoy the same experiences and opportunities that I have had.

Some of the state’s best hunting for mule deer and chukar, as well as fishing for steelhead, trout and smallmouth bass, occur on rivers and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

Photo by Mia Sheppard.

For example, the John Day River is the third longest undammed river in the Lower 48. It also is a stronghold for wild steelhead. The John Day is in my “backyard,” and, as a local fishing outfitter, I take pride in sharing this river with visitors and other anglers.

My husband and I have outfitted on the John Day River since 2001 and annually bring close to 180 people to the local area where they fish, shop, stay in hotels and eat at restaurants. Visitors are mesmerized by the rim rock canyons, the smell of juniper and the solitude experienced on a John Day River float. These experiences connect visitors with something greater than themselves while supporting a major component of Oregon’s rural economy. Public lands are a boon for those who travel from across the country and world to enjoy them, as well as those who call these places home.

As ardent public land users, we know firsthand that public lands in Oregon are faced with increasing pressures. Growing demands for renewable energy resources, uncharacteristic wild fires, fire suppression, invasive species, loss of public access, excessive road and trail densities, and contentious political debates have the potential to diminish the value of public lands for fish, wildlife and sportsmen.

Photo by Mia Sheppard.

These issues aren’t easy to deal with, but it’s our duty as sportsmen and recreational users to be a smarter, more powerful voice in the natural resource policy debate in order to ensure that the special places where we recreate are conserved, restored and enhanced. We must communicate to state and federal decision makers that the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat – and high quality hunting and fishing –  needs to be a management priority.

Intact and unfragmented public land habitats offer some of the best remaining hunting and fishing available on federal lands in the state of Oregon. These unique areas are valuable national resources that should be managed and conserved for future generations. Our hunting and angling heritage, as well as Oregon’s $12.8 billion outdoor recreation economy, depend on it.

Contact the BLM and let them know your public land is important for your hunting and fishing opportunities. 

Married to the river: commitment and the gateway to conservation

Photo courtesy of Catie Webster.

There are things that happen on the water that you have a very slim chance of seeing if you’re not out there regularly. I’d heard stories of behemoths chomping stoneflies, patterning sippers on glassy lakes, epic drake hatches, but I’d never experienced those things first hand. This past summer, I hung up the climbing shoes and mountain bike, and just fished. I wouldn’t waste my afternoons deciding what to do, and I’d make sure I was there when the days that we’re always waiting for finally happened.

I hit a drake hatch on the Gallatin that had trout leaping from the river like they were auditioning for Sea World. I found myself in the right place at the right time for the nocturnal stoneflies, had more nights than I can count throwing PMDs until well after dark, and caught almost every species of trout that swims in the state of Montana. I thought about how much I’d come to love my time on the river, and how much the investment I’d made in getting to know it meant to me, so when I was asked to speak at TEDxBoulder last month I knew that this would be a big part of my message.

I spoke about how our commitment to the things that we love enriches our ability to enjoy them. (And though I wasn’t talking about marriage and kids—I was talking about fishing—my theory certainly applies there.) I think that it’s important for us to see how investing our time and energy in the things that we care about perpetuates a cycle of conservation that not only benefits us personally, but benefits our greater ecosystem.

When we try to do too much, or when we sit the fence and avoid commitment all together, we are denying ourselves valuable experiences and wasting energy. I knew that by giving up the trail for the river, I might miss out on a few things, but I was sure that by focusing on what I really loved, I’d get to do it more and wouldn’t waste time figuring out my post-work and weekend plans. My gear was always packed and I didn’t think twice when someone asked if I wanted to go fishing.

Needless to say, I got pretty good at it, but something else happened that I wasn’t quite expecting.  When I used to fish a few times a year, I’d see trash on the river and think, “that’s terrible—I hope someone picks that up!”  But now that I’m out there nearly every day, I see that it’s my responsibility to leave no trace, to press barbs, to keep an eye on the water temps and handle fish as responsibly and respectfully as I can. I’ve gotten very familiar with the impact that my use has on the resource, and I’ve come to see first-hand the importance of making sure I’m doing everything that I can to tread lightly.

I know that I am engaging with a fragile species for my own enjoyment, and—because of what I get out of it, because of how much I love interacting with trout and being on the river—I know that it’s my responsibility not just to minimize my impact, but to get involved in maintaining the health of the resource and encourage others to do the same.

Because of a seemingly small decision that I made back in April—to focus my energy—I’ve found not just a love for these beautiful fish and their habitat, but a much deeper understanding of what they need and the importance of giving back.

 When I wrote this talk, I didn’t realize that what I was really speaking towards is stewardship—an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources—but that’s exactly what it’s about. And the more you do your thing, with time and stamina, stewardship becomes almost intuitive. And to all the people who’ve asked how they can get more involved in what they love, just keep doing it - whatever it is. Do it with passion and solidarity of focus and the places where your time and energy are most needed will become obvious. Then, commit to being a steward of the resources that bring you the greatest joy. Advocate for them. Protect them. Conserve them. Share them. 

Catie Webster is Director of Public Relations and Marketing for Mystery Ranch in Bozeman, Montana.