A Big Game Expert Becomes a Conservation Champion in Colorado

Meet the TRCP volunteer keeping a watchful eye on energy development and habitat management in elk country

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 John Ellenberger, our newest volunteer ambassador representing the great state of Colorado. For three decades, Ellenberger worked as a wildlife biologist and big game manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and he’s seen it all. Over the years, he’s also learned that, in conservation as in hunting and fishing, there’s a time for restraint—passing on a small bull to get a chance at a monster next year or sacrificing a productive hunt to share the experience with a squirmy grandchild—and a time for action. Learn more about our Colorado ambassador and why we’re glad to have him on our side.

TRCP’s Colorado ambassador with his rocky mountain bull. Photo courtesy of John Ellenberger.

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

Ellenberger: My earliest outdoor memory is going rabbit hunting with my Dad and older sister. I had to be only 3 or 4 years old at the time, so it didn’t take very long before my sister and I would get tired and didn’t want to walk anymore. Dad would then carry both of us, plus his shotgun, and any rabbits he had killed, back to our car. Now that I have children and grandchildren of my own, I have a great deal of respect for the patience that my father must have had. He was willing to take two youngsters hunting with him even though he knew it would likely result in his outing being cut short because we would get tired or bored. I applaud his efforts in attempting to include us in his outdoor activities, and I try to do the same with my grandkids now, no matter how short their attention spans.

TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?

Ellenberger: Approximately three or four years ago, Joel Webster called asking for help assessing the impacts of energy development on deer and elk habitat in northwestern Colorado. I was referred to TRCP because of my years of experience working as a wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the northwestern portion of the state. We developed a working relationship on that original issue and several others. The work TRCP was doing impressed me—your staff wasn’t simply blaming wildlife managers for declining wildlife populations or dropping hunter success rates. The organization understood the importance of protecting habitat as a way to preserve and protect wildlife populations, and you are willing to take that message to the public and try to influence them to take action in support of habitat protection issues. I wanted to be a part of that.

Beginning as a field biologist in the Northwest Region of the state in 1976, I worked for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife, for 33 years. I was the senior terrestrial biologist for the NW region of CDOW from 1979 to 1996, before becoming the state big game manager, and I held that position until I retired in 2004. My experience has provided me with a wealth of information about terrestrial wildlife populations in northwestern Colorado, I maintain good working relationships with wildlife managers, and I understand how the agency manages various wildlife populations for which they are responsible. Compared to the average sportsmen, all of this gives me a leg up when it comes to making science-based recommendations for conservation issues that the TRCP is involved in.

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

Ellenberger: Sportsmen can influence political decisions that affect wildlife populations and their habitat by first informing themselves about the issues and then contacting natural resource managers and elected officials to express their educated opinions and preferences. In Colorado and other Western states, there are numerous issues that have the potential to have negative impacts on wildlife populations and their habitats. Unless sportsmen share their opinions on projects affecting wildlife and wildlife habitat, decisions will be made that might negatively impact wildlife and sportsmen’s opportunities to utilize and enjoy wildlife resources.

In addition to hunting and fishing, Ellenberger enjoys hiking, mountain biking, and photographing wildlife. Photo courtesy of John Ellenberger.

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

Ellenberger: There are a number of important conservation issues in western Colorado, but first and foremost is the impact of energy development­—primarily drilling for natural gas—on wildlife and habitat. The need to oppose the transfer of ownership and management of public lands is also very important.

TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt? What’s still on your bucket list?

Ellenberger: One of my most memorable hunts was the year I drew a bull elk tag for unit 201 in northwest Colorado. On the first day of that hunt I called a young bull to within nine yards. Although I chose not to harvest that particular bull, it was very exciting to experience that animal up close and personal, to the point that I could watch him blink and flare his nostrils as he breathed. My patience paid off as I harvested a larger bull a few days later, but it was almost anti-climactic compared to the experience of calling in that first bull.

I have two sons-in-law and two grandchildren, and I hope to be able to instill a strong interest in hunting, fishing, and conservation in all of them. Hunting and fishing trips with them would be on my bucket list.

TRCP: Where can we find you this fall?

Ellenberger: I already had the opportunity to hunt bull elk during the first rifle elk season here in Colorado. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to harvest an animal, we saw a number of elk and the total experience was enjoyable. I plan to pursue chukar partridges later this fall, and if the warm weather continues, I hope to be able to make a few more fly fishing trips to the Gunnison River. In addition to hunting and fishing, I will be out and about hiking, mountain biking, and photographing wildlife.

From the AT to the Tetons, How a Career in Conservation Led to the TRCP

TRCP’s Idaho ambassador discusses his first bull elk, his love of the Snake River, and how his family cabin in Massachusetts started it all

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 Bob Breckenridge, our volunteer ambassador out of Idaho. He’s a veteran of conservation work who won’t let retirement stop him from giving something back to hunting and fishing, and we’re glad to have him on our side. Here’s what he loves about chasing Idaho elk, exploring the Tetons, and searching for giant, elusive browns on the Snake River.

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

Breckenridge: Just off the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts, my family cabin was built in the 1850s and had no running anything. Our family spent two weeks each summer in the woods, playing in our creek and having great times around the campfire. These days, I am often in the Tetons, or biking and hiking trails in Idaho. We have a cabin 12 miles east of Ashton, Idaho, that provides great access to fishing and hunting in Eastern Idaho.

Image courtesy of Bob Breckenridge.

TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?

Breckenridge: I recently retired from a career working on conservation and stewardship issues in Idaho and around the world, and I’m anxious to put my talents to good use for TRCP. I’m particularly well-versed in working with many environmental agencies, and as a volunteer I will help the TRCP spread the word about the importance of conservation and ensuring the future of our resources for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

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

Breckenridge: Sportsmen and sportswomen should tap into their passion and speak up for millions of Americans who enjoy the outdoors. TRCP is in a position to reach across traditional boundaries, build consensus, harness the power of individual voices, and be an agent of positive change for fish and wildlife, anglers, and hunters.

Image courtesy of Bob Breckenridge.

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

Breckenridge: In Idaho, fragmentation of critical habit is the most immediate conservation issue. Natural forces (fire and drought) and a number of anthropogenic pressures (development, roads, growth, etc.) cause large, continuous landscapes to be broken up into isolated patches of habitat, which is a bad situation for wildlife. Management of fragmentation pressures requires a comprehensive conservation strategy, which can only be tackled through strategic partnerships, like the ones TRCP is working to create.

TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt? What’s still on your bucket list?

Breckenridge: The hunt during which I shot my first bull elk in Idaho comes to mind. I hunted in northern Idaho’s Unit 10, and driving all the way up there from Idaho Falls gave me a lot of time to practice bugling. On the morning of opening day, I caught up with a bugling bull. After three hours pursuing him over several ridges, I shot him at 20 yards. He was my first bull—a nice six-point.

As for my bucket list, I would like to catch a five-pound brown on the South Fork of the Snake River, a public waterway that has been known to produce big trout.

Image courtesy of Bob Breckenridge.

TRCP: Where can we find you this fall?

Breckenridge: This fall I can be found floating the Salmon River and spending time mountain biking in the Targhee and Teton National Forests. I am also lucky enough to be going to Europe to explore three major rivers and travel from Amsterdam to Budapest. I’m interested to see how the Europeans have addressed conservation after being on their land for centuries longer than U.S. settlers. I will also be fishing the South Fork of the Snake and going on a black powder elk hunt once the weather cools.

We’ll be introducing more of our volunteer ambassadors throughout the fall. Read more about our other ambassadors here.

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.

Oregon’s Public Lands Are a Playground for TRCP’s Beaver State Ambassador

Ambassador Nathan Bailey wants to guarantee his boys have a place to hunt and fish

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 Nathan Bailey, our volunteer ambassador out of Oregon. Bailey has spent a lifetime chasing outdoor pursuits in rural Oregon. He’s determined today to share these experiences with his own kids, and make sure that public lands stay in public hands. Bailey’s commitment to conservation is a big asset for sportsmen and women in Oregon, and we’re proud to have him on our team.

Bailey with his trusty recurve. Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

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

Bailey: I grew up in the rural Southeast Oregon town named Chiloquin. Like most rural kids, my life consisted of outdoor activities; we had nothing else to do. I was also surrounded by acres and acres of public lands which offered us a playground beyond any young person’s dream. I can’t remember a time in my life when the outside world wasn’t a part of my daily activities. I was ice fishing before I could walk and have never missed a hunting season.

Today, not much has changed, as I continue to spend most of my time in outdoor pursuits. If I’m not guiding people down my home rivers – the Rogue and Williamson – you’ll find me tromping all over Southern Oregon in pursuit of elk, mule deer, and gamebirds of all sorts. I also love to gather wild berries, mushrooms, and anything else our public lands provide.

Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?

Bailey: TRCP impressed me in their approach to conservation. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a nonprofit that is so passionate about their cause, yet prudent enough to build bridges rather than walls. Being of the same mind, I can help build bridges through a professional sportsman’s influence. Alongside TRCP, I plan on giving sportsmen/women a voice in in the public forums that decide how we get to use OUR public land.

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

Bailey: First and foremost, hunters and anglers provide a lot of our nation’s conservation dollars. We need to educate the general public about that fact. Sportsmen need to have a strong voice in the law-making process to ensure that wildlife – and the resources that make strong populations possible – continue to be represented. We also need to support organizations who give us such a collective and powerful voice, such as the TRCP.

Wild trout, caught and released. Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

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

Bailey: TRANSFER OF PUBLIC LANDS. I can’t say it loudly enough. The big push out West is to sell off public lands. As a sportsmen who as a young man lost miles of river access, trust me when I tell you that we need to keep public lands in OUR HANDS!

TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt? What’s still on your bucket list?

Bailey: My most memorable hunt was in the Ochoco National Forest in Central Oregon. It was a youth hunt and I had all three of my boys with me. My two youngest stayed with me as we pushed a draw for the oldest.  I’ll never forget trying to get my youngest to silence the BBs that were sloshing around in his Red Ryder BB gun as we made our push.  The plan worked perfectly. We ran two cows right to my oldest, and he quickly harvested one of them. What a great day all the boys had providing for the family!

Bailey packing out elk quarters, a sign of success on public lands. Image courtesy of Nathan Bailey.

TRCP: Where can we find you this fall?

Bailey: I will be chasing wild elk through the cascade wilderness, swinging the Rogue for an elusive steelhead, waiting out a wily blacktail in a gnarled old oak tree, or whispering sweet nothings to a flock of mallards over a set of decoys in the Klamath Basin. It’s a blessing to live in Southern Oregon and have access to its abundant wild lands, and with the help of the TRCP, we can preserve our outdoor heritage to keep it that way.

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.

A New Opportunity to Conserve Our Backcountry and Keep Adventure Alive

Why Backcountry Conservation Areas make sense for eastern Oregon and many other areas important to hunters and anglers

When I was a youngster growing up in central Oregon, I remember how much my dad missed the desolate mountains and yawning deserts of the eastern part of our state—eastern Oregon became an emblem of the absolute best that hunting and fishing had to offer. It represented a dangerously vast and unpopulated place, with real-world consequences for those who dared to explore it. I’d heard countless stories about wild places like the Trout Creek Mountains, Oregon Canyonlands, and Owyhee River long before ever setting foot there.

Image courtesy of Bryan Huskey.

As a kid, I longed to know them, and over the past 40 years, I’ve come to love them.

I strongly believe that the sportsmen and women who frequent these landscapes are uniquely qualified to understand what kind of land management solutions make sense. These places are so remote and rugged that it can take the bulk of a day to drive across them. In recent years, fires and noxious weeds have taken a toll in some of the wildest parts of the backcountry, impacting some of the best chukar and mule deer habitat, and these areas continue to draw interest from industry.

Image courtesy of Bryan Huskey.

I think there is value in allowing parts of this country to remain a working landscape. That’s why I support a new management approach, called Backcountry Conservation Areas (BCA), which the Bureau of Land Management can use to conserve places like the Owyhee uplands and Oregon Canyonlands from fragmentation and development, while at the same time maintaining Americans’ access for traditional uses such as grazing, hunting, and range improvement. The TRCP has been working with many partners to make sure this tool is available to the agencies responsible for America’s public lands, so they can be protected from development while active management continues.

The author, Bryan Huskey, enjoying Oregon’s public lands. Image courtesy of Will Bales.

I want to see this habitat maintained, if not improved, and never developed for any means, and I want the same access I’ve known for my entire life, so I can take my kids to the places that inspire dreams and passion for this land—just as my dad did for me. Considering all the people who enjoy outdoor recreation in these areas, plus all the heritage and history here, including that of ranchers who use these lands, being able to manage them as Backcountry Conservation Areas is an outcome I can fully support.

Image courtesy of Bryan Huskey.

The BLM needs to hear from you, though, to make Backcountry Conservation Areas available to land managers in Oregon and across the West. TRCP has made it easy to speak up for the future of the places we love to hunt and fish—click here to make your opinion count.

Bryan Huskey is a photographer, filmmaker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast based in Boise, Idaho. His works span the topics of fishing & hunting, conservation, and the western lifestyle. Bryan is the founder of the Keepemwet movement which encourages best handling practices of catch & release fish. 

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.

Ankle-Deep and as Carefree as We Can Be on Montana’s Smith River

What does the future hold for this beloved waterway, built on a history of local collaboration and respect?

The crew is spread from here to hell and gone. Everybody is happy.

Dana, Allen, Kay, BJ, Margaret, and Cinclair are lounging in camp chairs they purposely planted in the rushing water. They are ankle-deep in the Smith River, one of Montana’s jewels and one of the West’s most famous floats. The temperatures are somewhere north of 90, and the parents and grandparents are cooling off after a round of chores that come with a five-day river trip.

The permitted section of the Smith runs for 58 miles and cuts through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

Grace is trying to get Chandler and Jillian to don their lifejackets and float through a riffle. The excited squeals of a ten-year-old and a six-year-old bounce off the canyon’s walls. Sophie and Claire are hiking to a rock outcropping across the river. Their progress is monitored closely by the riverside cocktail drinkers, who worry about snakes and climbing injuries. Jake is snorkeling, trying to find the river’s famed rainbows and browns. Kendall is awaiting Jake’s report as he sorts his fly box.

Cellphones are useless and nobody is thinking about Trump or Clinton, police shootings or terrorism. Our world has been reduced to the river’s quiet rhythm, buzzing insects, and the occasional roar of upstream winds. Our cocoon is enclosed by the canyon’s alabaster cliffs, the green hues of the forest, and painfully blue sky.

Jake Thornberry looks for rising trout during a gray drake hatch. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

The Smith’s Ancestry: Cooperation
Each year, more than 5,000 people experience this public treasure slicing between the Big Belt and Little Belt Mountains in central Montana. With a permit, you can fish 59 miles of the Smith, productive trout habitat stretching through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, even though 80 percent of the river’s banks are privately owned.

Use of this beloved river is the result of cooperation, ingenuity, and patience. The Smith is an economic driver today because of the foresight of Montanans, who started lobbying for its public use nearly 75 years ago.

“The cooperation that has led to the Smith’s success as an economic driver has also created a group of people who are invested in the river,” said Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. “We are all tied by the fact that we love the Smith and we don’t want it to change.”
People, including state officials, first floated the idea of a state park in 1953, but it failed due to fears that a park designation would draw crowds who would trample the special area and impinge on private landowner rights. Undaunted, a small group of Montana officials kept working to find a way to keep the river bottoms from being lost forever to private interests.

Mergansers are one of the many wildlife species that are found on the Smith River. Other species include Canada geese, deer, elk, beavers, and a variety of raptors. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

In 1970, public use of the river corridor got a boost from the Governor’s Council on Natural Resources and Development, which recommended that the Smith River not be developed as a state park but as the Smith State Recreational Waterway. This would permit the exchange of state lands for private lands and help set aside funding for acquiring easements.

Through a series of meetings between Smith River landowners and FWP starting that same year, a collaborative was formed to manage the river’s ever-growing use. In 1989, the Montana Legislature passed the Smith River Management Act, and in 1993, FWP instituted a permit system with daily launch limits. The state also negotiated leases of private property to create camping areas.

Regulations have evolved over the years and the river’s management is now a sterling example of how disparate interests—the Forest Service, counties, private landowners, business owners, state officials, and the recreating public—can partner to use public water that is largely surrounded by private property.

Wildflowers are a bonus on the picturesque float. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

A New Challenge
But the Smith River and its legion of fans face a new challenge: The Black Butte Copper Project. Tintina Resources, a Canadian subsidiary of an Australian mining corporation, is proposing a $218-million copper mine around Sheep Creek, which provides roughly half of the Smith’s headwaters. Mine-backers tout the company’s strong environmental record, plus the possibility of job creation and tax revenue. They say $2 billion in high-grade ore is ready to be mined by more than 200 people.

Conservation groups, such as Trout Unlimited, are concerned, arguing that Montana’s long list of hard-rock mining issues—the state has 17 Superfund sites—show an industry unfit to make claims that they will be good neighbors. The “good neighbor” argument isn’t gaining traction with locals either, according to rancher Willie Rahr. “Mining companies have been saying, ‘We have the best, newest technology’ for generations,” Rahr told the New York Times in 2015, “but something always happens.”

Early efforts to slow Tintina’s progress have been mixed. The mining company is currently awaiting state approval, and if all goes according to plan, the mine could be functional as early as 2020. Montana TU’s Farling said that timeline is unrealistic, but he is keeping a close eye on the slow-moving permit process. All the while, he continues to make the argument that the Smith is a sustainable economic driver—fishing alone generates $8 million annually—while the mine is unsustainable, shortsighted, and risky.

The very handsome author of this article smiles despite a daylong rainstorm on our fourth day. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

Looking Downstream
Back on the river, our camp chairs have been fished from the water and now ring the fire pit. Stars start to pop from the darkening skies. Fly rods and snorkeling gear have been stowed and three generations of two families discuss the river’s future. As carefree as we are out here, there’s room for concern.

Naturally, our crew decides the mine is too risky, but we have faith that the people who enjoy the famed river will unite, like they have in the past, to make a case for protecting this river and its headwaters. We don’t need to mine for riches—the real treasure was realized 75 years ago.

House Passes SHARE Act to Enhance Access for Hunting, Fishing, and Shooting

Vote marks next step in effort to pass broader package that benefits fish, wildlife, and America’s sportsmen

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (H.R. 2406), also known as the SHARE Act, to require federal land managers to promote and enhance sportsmen’s access to public hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting areas. Final passage of this bill is a critical next step towards sending a comprehensive sportsmen’s package to the president’s desk.

Photo by Dusan Smetana

“We’re happy to see this legislation clear the House and move forward with bipartisan support—it’s a step in the right direction for what we hope is a truly comprehensive final package that the president can sign into law,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“What’s important now is Senate action on a suite of sportsmen’s priorities, including provisions aimed not only at expanding access but also at investing in key habitat conservation programs. Open gates aren’t much good if there isn’t quality habitat behind them. We’ll continue to emphasize this point with Congress and America’s hunters and anglers,” says Fosburgh.

The SHARE Act was introduced in May 2015 by the bipartisan leadership of the House Sportsmen’s Caucus: Representatives Robert Wittman (R-Va.), Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), and Gene Green (D-Texas). It also passed in the last Congress but failed to reach the president’s desk.

Two Senate committees recently passed portions of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act which would provide the investments in habitat conservation that the House package currently lacks. Read more about those bills here and here.

Glassing The Hill: October 13-16

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

The Senate and House are not in session this week.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The week off marks an uncomfortable interlude. Last week ended with turmoil in the House of Representatives when Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) withdrew from the Speaker of the House candidacy pool. As a result, Speaker Boehner has indicated he will now stay on until a replacement has been found. Until then, it’s back to the drawing board for GOP members, since Congressmen Paul Ryan and Trey Gowdy continue to refuse the promotion, despite their party’s encouragement. Rep. Ryan, in particular, is under intense pressure to reconsider his decision and run for the speakership.

The turmoil in the House significantly complicates efforts from Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the President to reach a budget deal that would set funding levels through 2016, maintain the solvency of the highway trust fund, and raise the debt ceiling before November 5. With Boehner’s lame-duck status and no agreed-upon successor, it is unclear whether or not Boehner can corral his restive caucus into supporting a budget deal in the time remaining. It certainly looks like McCarthy’s withdrawal from the Speaker’s race slightly increases the odds of a government shutdown when the current CR expires on December 11.

Let’s hope everyone’s brainstorming budget solutions (preferable ones that include reauthorization of LWCF and a healthy investment in conservation) back home in their districts.

USDA’s Big (Ahem, $20M) Investment in Wildlife Habitat and Public Access

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started the week on a high note by announcing its $20-million dollar investment in giving you better access to hunting and fishing. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack shared the 15 projects that will receive funding under the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) “to enhance wildlife habitat, protect wildlife species, and encourage new opportunities for local businesses.”

Created in the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized in 2014, VPA-HIP awards money to states to expand or create public access for hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent outdoor recreation. The program offers financial incentives and reduces liability concerns for landowners who allow sportsmen to access their property, while also providing technical support for wildlife habitat improvement. Among the VPA projects selected this year are first-time awardees Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Oklahoma. These four new states bring the total impact of this program to three-fifths of the country, where deer, turkeys, ducks, and other wildlife will benefit.

Image courtesy of Cyrus Baird.

This will be the last round of VPA-HIP funding under the 2014 Farm Bill, under which $40 million was authorized for this program through 2018. That’s just a drop in the $956-billion Farm-Bill-bucket, but VPA is the only federal program aimed at enhancing public access to private lands for hunting and angling, making this $40 million extremely important.

Especially since more and more sportsmen and women are faced with fences, no-trespassing signs, or hefty access fees rather than publicly-accessible woods and waters. Lack of access is the greatest barrier to hunter and angler participation, recruitment, and retention, so access to privately-owned farms, ranches, and forests has become even more vital to the future of our uniquely American outdoor traditions. By helping landowners open new access, this program is breathing life into the hunting and angling community.

And our community shows up with our wallets: We spend $646 billion each year on our outdoor pursuits and support 6.1 million jobs directly related to publicly-accessible waters, prairies, forests, and mountains. And thanks to the sportsmen and women who buy hunting and fishing licenses and pay excise taxes on guns and ammo, our state fish and wildlife agencies receive dedicated conservation funding that improves habitat for game and non-game species alike.

Those are some serious dividends.

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.