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.

T.R.’s Greatest Quotes and More—Right in Your Pocket

Did you know that the TRCP is on Instagram? In fact, Wired to Hunt called us one of the 70 Instagram accounts all hunters should follow. And we’re bringing plenty of feathers, fins, and fur to your feed in 2016. Need your weekly dose of inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt? We’ll be posting great quotes about conservation, hunting, wildlife, and civic duty from T.R. and other thought leaders. We’ll also share images from the field and behind-the-scenes glimpses of our staffers making an impact on the Hill and on the ground in your state. And, of course, we’ll continue to repost your fantastic #publiclandsproud images and news from our partners.

Start following us @theTRCP.

Last day to wow @fishbitemedia with your big-game #PublicLandsProud pics!

A photo posted by TRCP (@thetrcp) on

 

A Great Year in the Outdoors: Brought to You by Public Lands

To enjoy our best year of hunting and fishing yet, there can be no off-season for defending sportsmen’s access

As we flip the calendar to 2016, we’re given an opportunity to reflect on the past year. It also becomes painfully clear that we have many pages to turn before another fall season of hunting and fishing. For most sportsmen, fall is the culmination of a year’s worth of anticipation and preparation. It’s all-too-brief and usually departs imperceptibly, like a ghost buck on the edge of a field at last light.

Image courtesy of Coby Tigert.

Last year, I spent September chasing screaming elk near the Wyoming border. In October, I followed my bird dogs in pursuit of sharptails and partridges in the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area near Idaho Falls, Idaho. In November, I was trying to outsmart rutting whitetails along the Snake River. The brief opportunity to catch Macks as they ventured into shallower waters to spawn in Bear Lake or to fight a powerful Salmon River steelhead fresh from the ocean was all that could persuade me to leave the woods. As a hunter, I give that time grudgingly. As an outdoorsman, I appreciate the change of pace. A couple of late-October days wading cold water is not just good for the soul—it provides a needed respite for legs pushed to their limits over untold miles before I charge into high-desert rim rocks and canyons of the Owyhees for chukars or jump-shoot mallards on open eddies and backwaters of the Snake.

Fall wouldn’t be so special—and I wouldn’t yearn for it the way I do—without healthy fish and wildlife habitat and abundant public access to the places where we can take on these challenges. Certainly, for millions of sportsmen around the country, America’s public lands are essential to the hunting and fishing experiences we’ve come to expect.

Image courtesy of Coby Tigert.

No matter the season, we all have a joint stake in America’s network of 640 million public acres—national lands that provide the habitat needed for fish and wildlife to thrive and access for all of us to pursue our sports. This is a uniquely American concept, dating back to the days of Theodore Roosevelt, and serves as the basis of our sporting heritage. We should not take it for granted.

All year long, the TRCP will continue working to galvanize sportsmen and women against the public land transfer movement in the West—and in Washington, D.C.—and there can be no off-season when it comes to these efforts. The future of our hunting and fishing opportunities and the legacy we leave for our children depend on us standing up for public lands today.

So, while we all yearn for fall, and hopefully enjoy a good bit of meat still in the freezer, I urge you not to forget these feelings: that hunting season will always feel too damned short, but we’re privileged to enjoy. There truly is no other place in the world quite like this.

There is still time to speak up for your hunting access. Sign the petition or learn more at sportsmensaccess.org.

Your Must-Do List for the Off-Season

A big-game hunter should do more than just dream of next fall

Image courtesy of Joel Webster.

If you’re like me, you live for the fall. But now that the meat is cut up, packaged, and stacked high in my freezer, I’ve entered the post-big-game-season lull. My bow, rifle, and other gear have all been cleaned and put away. I’ll likely get out this winter to call in a few ducks and pull some fish through the ice, but my heart is in the mountains, and I’m still daydreaming about high-elevation basins full of bucks and bulls.

But a true big-game hunter should never stop preparing for the hunt. Here’s what I consider to be the key elements of the off-season:

Staying in shape. Climbing ridges and mountainsides is hard work, and it will wear you down if you keep skipping your workout. I like to stay on top of my fitness regimen throughout the year. If I need a break from the gym during the winter and summer months, I get outside and glass for deer and elk. It’s actually a great way to stay motivated—you literally keep your eyes on the prize.

Researching and applying for tags. One of my favorite things to do during the winter and spring is research hunting units and apply for special hunts. I don’t have the best luck when it comes to drawing special tags, but my bonus points are adding up, and I know that I’m bound to draw a coveted bighorn sheep or trophy mule deer tag at some point. This is also time I use to investigate new public hunting areas that have peaked my interest throughout the year. Opening day is no time to make fresh tracks in an area I’ve never researched.

Attending to equipment. From broken bootlaces to torn pants, it seems like something wears out every season. Now is the time to take care of this stuff, and make a few gear upgrades I’ve been dreaming about, so I’m not scrambling the night before a big trip. Many manufacturers and retailers mark down their gear this time of year, too.

Being an advocate. The wildlife we pursue depend on functional habitat, and sportsmen depend on access and opportunity. If we don’t get involved and advocate for these resources, other interest groups might soon be writing the rules. I like to encourage hunters and anglers to get involved at three levels: national, state, and local. At the national level, the TRCP is the best group to keep you posted on major opportunities to get involved and actions that could impact the entire country. We try and make it as easy as possible for sportsmen to engage, and when you do, it is meaningful—lawmakers do listen.

It’s also a good idea to join an organization that focuses its attention on the proceedings in your state’s legislature and fish and game commission. And, especially if you’re a public lands hunter, it is important that you keep an eye on how public lands are managed in your area. You can do this by taking a look at the local BLM field office or national forest website every month or two. Usually that’s where proposed actions are listed under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, log—this could be anything from proposed changes impacting access to discussion of industrial development, and the agencies are required to allow you an opportunity to provide comments. At this level, it is easy for proposed management actions to fly under the radar, and sportsmen wake up to what is happening after all of the decisions have been made.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to the TRCP staff if something requires our attention, or if you have any questions about getting involved. Want to do something today? Visit sportsmensaccess.org and support our public lands. You won’t regret that you did when you down that big buck or bull on public land next fall.

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!

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

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. 

Opportunity taken

The author with her bounty.
Image by Mia Sheppard.

I love the game of chasing chukar and watching bird dogs work the sagebrush of arid ranges in my home state of Oregon. Earlier this month, I decided to take my chances on another upland bird: the greater sage grouse. With the controversy surrounding the bird and its possible listing in 2015 under the Endangered Species Act, I decided to apply for a controlled hunt permit with the hope that this wouldn’t be my last opportunity to pursue the bird.

The sage grouse is a Western icon, known for its unique, breast-inflating courtship dance. It inhabits sagebrush rangelands throughout the West. State and federal agencies, ranchers, environmentalists and sportsmen are working diligently and cooperatively to prevent the bird’s ESA listing, which would eliminate any future opportunity for sportsmen to hunt sage grouse – and would have significant implications for other resource uses across 11 states.

The sagebrush ecosystem where these magnificent birds thrive is also home to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including many pursued by sportsmen. Mule deer, pronghorn, elk and other species all need healthy, intact sagebrush habitat for their survival. If we imaging a huge tent or umbrella with all these species protected beneath it, conserving sage grouse habitat translates into good wildlife and rangeland conservation. Sagebrush conservation is good for our nation’s economy, too, especially in rural communities.

Sustaining and enhancing large, intact sagebrush ecosystems is vital for sage grouse and conservation of more than 350 species of plants and animals that rely on these habitats.
Image by Mia Sheppard.

Oregon is one of the few states a person can hunt sage grouse with a controlled hunting permit, with a two-bird limit per permit. In 2013, 659 people hunted sage grouse throughout Central and Southeast Oregon. Each of these sportsmen spent money on gas, food, lodging and gear for each hunt, and those dollars get distributed across rural areas all across the state.

After the postcard arrived in the mail validating that I drew a permit, the pre-planning began. My shotgun had not been fired for months and needed to be fitted, so I delivered it to a local gunsmith. Next, I had to decide where to go. The area I drew was in the Lakeview Bureau of Land Management district. Within that unit there is more than 1 million acres of public land available for hunting. I called the district biologist and a couple ranchers for their recommendations on places to go. I studied the BLM district maps for access roads and coordinated meeting a friend who also drew a tag. The trip was coming together.

Image by Mia Sheppard.

With my gear packed and the dog ready to go, I began the five-hour journey to my destination. Some might wonder why I would hunt a bird that only has a bag limit of two and only a weeklong season. I see this as an opportunity to hunt a new place, experience wide-open spaces and watch bird dogs do what they do best – find birds!

The next morning we woke up early to get the dogs ready and drink that first cup of joe. Driving down the bumpy road anticipating the first bird, the dogs could sense our excitement. We parked near a spring, got the collars on the dogs and dusted off the guns. The sagebrush aroma filled my lungs, and Cedar, my pudalpointer, started working like a veteran. Though he never had hunted sage grouse before, he worked with authority searching for birds. This wasn’t his first rodeo.

We walked miles covering a flat, and after a few hours, we saw movement in the distance. It was a covey of sage grouse. The cover was low, and we were exposed, just like the birds, so we decided to walk a wide circle around them and approach them up wind. Keeping our eyes on the birds, we slowly moved in. They quickly spotted us and started walking. Soon they were out of shooting range, eventually flying off, splitting in two directions and landing a couple hundred yards away.

We decided to break apart and ambush the birds. Cedar and I worked the near side while Mellissa and her dogs worked in the distance. We eventually spotted the birds and moved in. They held, and Cedar crept in. The sage grouse looked at us. I moved in closer and closer. Finally they took wing. I took a shot, and a bird fell. Cedar circled around for the retrieve and pranced back with the smile of success.

Image by Mia Sheppard.

Sportsmen can’t afford another loss of opportunity if the sage grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act. Nor can sportsmen remain silent – our voices must be heard, and we must advocate for solid state and federal conservation plans for sage grouse that also will protect other species we enjoy pursuing. With hunter participation declining across the West, we must act and get involved to ensure sage grouse habitat is conserved and a listing is avoided. Sportsmen must define our own destiny and help conserve wildlife to retain all our opportunities – as well as those for future generations.

TRCP holds annual Western Media Summit Sept. 7-11, 2014

More than 60 members of the media and other stakeholders concerned about pressing sportsmen conservation issues attended TRCP’s annual Western Media Summit in Great Falls, Montana. The 10th annual summit explored public lands issues and water topics, including federal water budgeting, the “waters of the U.S.” rulemaking, BLM backcountry conservation and the agency’s Planning 2.0 process, and ongoing efforts to conserve sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystems. The following are highlights from the event with short presentation recaps and photos.

Monday, September 8 (Welcome Dinner)

Audience at 2014 TRCP Western Media Summit.

The opening night dinner followed a balmy day during which summit attendees toured the renowned elk hunting territory of Montana’s Missouri Breaks a small planes piloted by EcoFlight’s Bruce Gordon. That evening, TRCP CEO and President Whit Fosburgh welcomed guests at the dinner: “You guys – the writers, reporters and bloggers – are the first to get the word out on the issues we’re discussing here. We want you to leave the summit with plenty of stories that you can write about next week, next month or later this year.”

TRCP’s President and CEO Whit Fosburgh.

Dave Perkins, TRCP Board Chair, and Vice Chairman of The Orvis Co.: “Getting the word out is an important part of why we’re meeting this week.”

Dave Perkins, TRCP Board Chair/Orvis, Vice Chairman.

Laura Ziemer, Senior Counsel and Water Policy Advisor, Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project: “The Sun River is a story of enduring conservation success. It’s with great pleasure that we have the opportunity to tell this story.” [ED: summit attendees will tour the site tomorrow]

Laura Ziemer, Trout Unlimited.

Jimmy Hague, TRCP’s Director of Center for Water Resources: “We need a unified voice in the sportsmen community to get our positions known (about water resources).”

Jimmy Hague, TRCP’s Director of Center for Water Resources

Joel Webster, Director of Center for Western Lands, TRCP: “Public lands are increasingly important for the sporting public.”

Joel Webster, TRCP’s Center for Western Lands Director

Leon Szeptycki, professor at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, was the evening’s guest speaker. He spoke extensively about the severe drought conditions in the west, especially California, and contrasted with other regional droughts over the last 150 years. He noted that 80 percent of water usage in California is for irrigation. “The basic problem is we’re experiencing a bad drought, and it’s likely it will increase in severity and duration,” he said. Szeptycki offered several solutions to managing droughts including water markets, conservation and desalinization.

Leon Szeptycki, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Geoff Mullins, Chief Operating and Communications Officer: “We try to make the media summits interesting and fun.  We try to get everyone out in the field with a gun or a rod.”

Geoff Mullins, TRCP’s Chief Operating and Communications Officer

Many journalists brought their dogs to the TRCP event. Wyoming freelancer Chris Madson traveled to the summit with Flick, his Brittany spaniel, who made an appearance at the conclusion of the dinner. And Montanan Jack Ballard frolicked in the hotel lobby with Percy, his English setter.

Chris Madson

 

Jack Ballard

Many thanks to our sponsors for making this event a success: Remington Arms Company, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, Patagonia, Inc., Costa, The Orvis Co., Outdoor Industry Association, Simms Fishing Company, Trout Unlimited, Great Falls Tourism Business Improvement District, and Bowser Brewing Co.

 Learn what happened at Day Two of the 2014 Western Media Summit.

A Spring Turkey Hunt with the TRCP

TRCP Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard, a Minox Optics Adventure Team member, recently got the opportunity to chase Merriam’s turkeys in Wyoming in an area where he has arrowed numerous birds. This spring, Neil (along with his wife Catherine behind the camera) experienced cold weather with high winds and snow. On the few days he was able to hunt, he found birds, though he never connected.

However, this opportunity would not have been possible without access to public lands. The cooperation of private landowners and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department through the Access Yes program provides hunters and anglers access to otherwise inaccessible lands. For every dollar donated to the program, nearly 4.6 acres of access is provided to all hunters and anglers who hunt and fish in Wyoming – residents and non-residents alike. Many other states have similar access programs.

Watch a video of Neil’s hunt below. How important is access to you? Let us know on the TRCP Facebook page.