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.

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.

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